Three-dimensional pop-ups, removable artwork, flaps and tabs, and art activity suggestions and materials are among the many interactive components of Princeton Architectural Press’s new Meet the Artist! series, which debuts this month with Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso. Written by Patricia Geis, a graphic designer, author, and illustrator, the paper-over-board series marks the press’s first foray into the children’s book market. A third volume, Henri Matisse, is due in September.
Meet the Artist! originated with Combel Editiorial in Barcelona, which has published several other children’s series by Geis. “I had this series in the back of my mind for a long time, beginning with finding a book about Velázquez’s Las Meninas, a painting full of mysteries and anecdotes,” explained the author, a native of Spain who lives in Barcelona. “When in 1995 Combel asked me to work on an art series, it all came together. I work very closely with the editors and production staff – each project truly is a joint venture.”
A Meet the Artist! book, she continued, begins with extensive research into the artist’s life and work. “Once you process all that information, you come to one of the most difficult parts: making the decision about which facts to leave and which ones to omit, in order to be concise but still transmit the essence of the artist,” she explained. “Then you have to find the best and easiest possible way to explain it, sometimes without words, just letting the reader experience or come up with their own conclusions.”
Helping to accomplish that storytelling goal are Meet the Artist!’s sophisticated paper engineering and art activities – making a Cubist collage inspired by Picasso, or assembling a sculptural circus à la Calder. Careful consideration was given to each of the book’s moving parts. “We wanted to give all of the interactive elements a purpose, so that they weren’t simply decorative,” Geis said. “Through the interactive elements we wanted to surprise, to make a point, to create suspense, to play, to raise questions, to make kids think.”
Finding a U.S. Home
Rob Shaeffer, acquisitions editor at large for Princeton Architectural Press, which is owned by Chronicle Books, first spotted the Meet the Artist! titles at the 2012 London Book Fair. Combel Editorial had Calder and Andy Warhol (which was released in Spain but is not scheduled for U.S. publication) on display at its booth. “I was immediately impressed by the books,” he recalled. “What appealed to me from the get-go is that they have a tremendous amount of substance in terms of the text, but also have the interactive elements and an art activity at the end. It’s very unusual to find all three components.”
Shaeffer, who acquired world English rights to the series, explained that Combel arranged for the English translations of Calder and Picasso, and Princeton Architectural Press edited the translations for the U.S. market. The same will be done with Matisse, which Shaeffer urged Combel to create in time to have it available in the U.S. for the October opening of an exhibit of the artist’s cutouts at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
“We will tie into museum exhibits with this series whenever we can,” he said. “Our books, which are sold by the Chronicle sales reps, have always found a niche in museum stores, high-end gift and specialty stores, and independent bookstores, and we expect these to be the key outlets for Meet the Artist!”
Shaeffer said that Princeton Architectural Press, which began in 1981 primarily as a publisher of books on architecture and architectural theory but has since diversified its list, plans to add to its children’s offerings beyond Meet the Artist! This fall, in addition to Matisse, the press will publish two architecture-themed books for children by Didier Cornille: Who Built That? Modern Houses and Who Built That? Skyscrapers, originally published in France by Helium Editions. “We will continue to look for high-quality children’s art books in areas that are not over-published,” Shaeffer said. “Meet the Artist! has given us this great opportunity to enter the children’s market.”
Meet the Artist!: Alexander Calder by Patricia Geis. Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95 Mar. ISBN 978-1-61689-251-7
Meet the Artist!: Pablo Picasso by Patricia Geis. Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95 Mar. ISBN 978-1-61689-225-8