How Did Eric Carle Illustrate His Books?

Eric Carle isn’t only famous for his children’s books but for the specific kind of illustrations in those books. Moreover, Carle himself illustrated his books, like The Hungry Caterpillar. But how did Eric Carle do that exactly?

Eric Carle illustrated his books using the collage technique. By coloring tissue paper and gluing it on a piece of paper, Carle created colorful collages of animals and bugs. Carle also used to illustrate other children’s books. Carle’s own first illustrated children’s book was 1,2,3, to the Zoo.

You might already be familiar with Eric Carle’s books and memorable illustrations, but did you ever wonder how he did those because they’re not ordinary drawings? That’s what I’ll cover in this article, as well as describe his technique and why it’s suitable for his books.

How Eric Carle Used Collage To Illustrate His Books

Having various illustrations in kids’ books isn’t something new, as many writers do it. Modern kids’ books always come with colorful and cartoony images for kids to rely on, while older children’s books use minimal or no illustrations.

Those with illustrations weren’t that impressive either, as they were usually simple ink drawings without any color. Today, however, kids’ books offer numerous illustration techniques. One of those, although not that common, is the collage, which was Eric Carle’s personal favorite.

If you’re interested in this topic, check my other article Why Do Books Have Images? where I give a detailed answer regarding images in books.

So, what’s collage technique anyway?

Collage Technique

The collage technique became popular during the 20th century when artists experimented with materials and forms. A collage is when an artist uses various materials and glues them together on paper or fabric, and the idea was to create one piece of art using materials that usually don’t go together.

Different kinds of materials you can use for the collage technique include:

  • Different types of paper, including something written on them
  • Fabric
  • Small everyday objects
  • Pictures
  • Pieces of plastic

How Eric Carle Became Famous For His Collage Art

Before Eric Carle graced us with one of the most memorable kids’ books—The Hungry Caterpillar—he worked as a graphic designer. And before he was known as a children’s books author, he was an artist and produced collage art even then.

That’s how Bill Martin Jr., another writer, noticed Carle’s talent and asked him to illustrate Martin’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Arguably, the more memorable part of that book, which was immensely successful, was Carle’s unique collage drawings.

Carle must’ve found his other passion then because he decided to write children’s books.

From then on, all his books came with his collage art also, which certainly made Carle a popular author of children’s literature. More importantly, his art technique made collage art more popular too, which wasn’t doing well before Carle’s illustrations.

Soon, kids wanted to imitate the art style, and teachers obliged. That turned Carle into a kid’s “rock star.”

Eric Carle’s Collage Illustration Technique

Luckily, Eric Carle didn’t keep his illustration technique a secret, as he loved to share his talent and knowledge with kids and adults alike. So, let’s see his technique when creating collage art in his books.

Let’s start with the material. Carle wasn’t fancy about the tools he used for his art—go figure. Basic tools and materials Carle used for his collage illustrations included:

  • Tissue paper
  • Paint
  • Different kinds of paper clippings
  • A razor blade
  • Glue
  • A pencil

The first step for Carle was to sketch on a piece of paper using a pencil. He’d start coloring tissue paper when he was happy with the look. You can buy colored tissue paper in stores, but Carle noticed they lose color over time.

So, he decided to use acrylic paint and do the coloring himself. Imagine all that commitment.

He’d paint various patterns and shapes on the tissue paper and let it dry. After that, he’d cut different tissue papers with a simple razor blade according to the shape on the sketch. When he was happy with the shape, he’d glue it to a larger blank piece of paper.

To add some “spice,” Carle used several types of paper clippings, usually with letters or words on them.

Here’s a short video showing Carle’s process while working on Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? You’ll get a sense of his technique and style:

Which Books Did Eric Carle Illustrate?

Believe it or not, Carle illustrated over 70 books. Some were his own, and some included various clients. Here are a few more notable books Eric Carle illustrated:

  • The Hungry Caterpillar
  • The Very Lonely Firefly
  • The Very Quiet Cricket
  • 1, 2, 3, to the Zoo
  • The Tiny Seed

Why Did He Use Collage?

Regardless of personal tastes, many people wonder why Eric Carle chose collage as his main, and only, illustrating method. After all, isn’t it easier to just draw and color something? There’s just so much work with the collage.

Reasons why Eric Carle used collage to illustrate his books include:

  • Carle personally preferred this technique.
  • Kids love this technique.
  • Kids can replicate a collage on their own.
  • Collages require more effort than standard drawings.
  • This technique incorporates different art techniques into one.

How Eric Carle’s Collage Legacy Lives On Today

Even though Eric Carle passed away in 2021, he left quite a legacy behind him for future generations. He won’t be remembered only for his popular kids’ book but for his illustrations as well.

There are a few ways Carle’s legacy will live on long after his death.

Most importantly, there’s the Carle Museum dedicated to promoting his works, especially his art. There, you can view different exhibitions of his collage illustrations, as well as learn about his techniques through educational programs.

His legacy will also live on through the books he wrote that come with Carle’s original illustrations. Teachers play an important role also, through art assignments that imitate Carle’s illustrations.

Lastly, he also wrote a book, You Can Make a Collage: A Simple How-to Book, explaining his approach to collage illustrations.

Final Thoughts

Eric Carle used his collage technique to illustrate his children’s books. He didn’t just use colored tissue paper but painted it to preserve the colors for longer. Afterward, he would find his most suitable paint patterns and arrange them on a sketch.

Lastly, he secured different pieces of tissue paper with glue, creating a collage.

Today, you can visit the Eric Carle Museum to see his art or learn about Carl’s collage technique. The collage technique’s perfect for kids’ books because of their colorful and abstract look of animals and bugs.


Recent Posts Protection Status