Both Pascal Campion and Phoebe Wahl create illustrations around the themes of family, home, and everyday moments. I’m a big fan of both of them, so I’ll basically have their entire body of work in the back of my mind while writing, but here are some links to them handling very similar subject matter: PC1, PC2, PC3, PW1, PW2, PW3 so you can follow along 🙂
A first thought: Pascal Campion has tended to live in cities and near beaches. He currently lives/works in California. Phoebe Wahl has primarily lived in the countryside of the Pacific Northwest. As both create work based on ‘everyday life’, this difference is fairly important. Now, onto the artwork!
Campion’s work has a heightened sense of light and shadow. He casts hard shadows when reality would make them softer, and makes surfaces feel extra shiny with exaggerated reflections. To me this makes his work feel light and airy, atmospheric and evocative. They feel like memories, or over-exposed photographs. The light sets the overall tone for the illustration. Here’s a few different moods: 1, 2.
Wahl on the other hand seems to virtually ignore lighting. This is fairly common in children’s illustration. I assume that’s because it allows objects to stay as their ‘local’ colour and value (the colour you think of them). It’s similar to the sort of natural light you get on an overcast day. No heavy shadows, no weird colour shifts. It can act as an invisible sort of light, in that the lighting itself doesn’t draw any attention. Your focus instead goes to the actions, the environment, and everything else about a picture.
Some of these differences can probably be attributed to location. The PNW is a much cloudier area than California… but I think there’s also something to be said for it revealing something about how each sees the world, and what matters to them. Is the light important to you? Does it set the scene and remind you of the moment? Or is it something that fades to the background? Instead, can you remember the people, the objects, the conversation, but not whether it was sunny or cloudy. I’m making assumptions, of course, but creating art involves making decisions about the hierarchy of elements. It’s clear that to Campion light is vitally important, and to Wahl it is less so.
So what is important to Wahl? How does she set the scene and create the mood?
To me, it seems that it’s through the objects themselves. Through the environment. She lavishes attention on the patterns of clothing, on background details, on creating an environment that welcomes you in and tells you exactly where you are. It feels like home because it’s messy and clashes. But she’s careful enough with her colours and values to ensure that it doesn’t really clash. It just feels busy and bustling. Her perspective is accurate enough that it doesn’t feel wrong – jars sit on the bench, people stand on the floor – but she doesn’t feel the need to ensure that it would actually work as a 3D-space (her floor plans would look absurd), because it’s more important to show the feel of the space. She wants a window or an oven in the background, so there it goes.
Campion, on the other hand, does use quite realistic perspective, but his environments are a support to the emotional moment (conveyed primarily through the lighting), rather than a focus in and of themselves. He includes some background elements and some patterned detail so that things won’t feel empty, or bland, and to give a little character to the scene. But he lets individual objects group together into light or shadow. You see them only if you spend time looking at the image for a while.
A final note
A landscape style view from each illustrator: PC, PW. These are both images about weather, about place, about shared experience. They both invite you to remember times that were similar in your own life. They both have little details, encouraging you to look around the image. They use different methods for calling up memories, but both are effective.
Overall, Wahl’s work has a solidity to it. She depicts people working hard, celebrating life and caring for one another (where caring is very much a doing word.) This is supported by her decision to focus on the environment and objects. Her work is about the action, more than the feeling, and it gives a sense of repetition. Our lives are carried out regardless of the time of day, or the weather. Maybe you bake cookies with your Grandma every week. Wahl’s one image represents the surety of that happening every single week. Campion, on the other hand, is capturing fleeting moments of excitement, contentment, closeness. His images are about that one second within a life. It’s the one moment baking cookies with your Grandma when the wind blew through the house and she laughed and how you felt just then.
I hope this was enjoyable for someone! I’ll probably do a few more of these comparisons before crossing back to my own work and considering the different decisions that I can make 🙂