SALT LAKE CITY — While visiting the Musee Picasso in Paris, Utah author Amy Newbold marveled at Picasso's work and innovation. She mused to her sister, who was with her at the time, "I wonder how he would have painted a snowman.”
Her sister suggested that was a great idea for a picture book, and Amy agreed. Afterward, the concept wouldn't go away. "I began thinking of artists I would include, and how I would format the book, and that was the beginning," Newbold said in a recent interview.
Eventually, that initial idea became the picture book "If Picasso Painted a Snowman," which features the art styles of 17 historic artists and a re-imagining of one of their most famous paintings with — what else — a snowman. Picasso, the inspiration for the idea, is included, as well as Georgia O'Keeffe, Salvador Dali and Grant Wood, to name a few.
But instead of the familiar Starry Night from van Gogh, a snowman sits among the swirling sky. Piet Mondrian's traditional black-lined squares and rectangles become a white face with carrot nose.
"After seeing so much art in France," Newbold said. "I wanted to inspire my children and encourage their creativity."
Her idea didn't only inspire her children, but her illustrator husband. Greg Newbold has been illustrating picture books for 20 years, but working with his wife was a unique and enjoyable experience.
"Typically I never meet or even talk to the authors of my picture books," Greg Newbold said. "This was a different situation and it was nice to be able to discuss ideas and issues and try to figure out how best to solve them."
Amy Newbold agreed that while they worked together in a lot of ways to create this book, they still had to let each other do what they do best.
"We trust each other, so we can give each other honest feedback. He has read and listened to the manuscript so many times, and I have given him my thoughts on the illustrations. At the end of the day, however, I took a step back and let him create the illustrations, and he worked with what I gave him as text." Amy Newbold said.
To complete his wife's story, Greg Newbold re-created each famous painting featured in the book, taking about three months to paint his own snowman version.
Both Amy and Greg Newbold wanted the pictures to look like that of the original artists as much as possible, to invoke knowledge of these important people, their work and individual style.
"This book is about exploring different art styles, and the creation of the paintings required quite a bit of exploration as well. I dug in to learn about each artist, trying to figure out what materials and methods they used and looking for their personal stylistic fingerprints," Greg Newbold said. "Every great artist has things that they do that make them unique, and it was up to me to figure out their 'handwriting' in order to successfully emulate their styles."
The husband and wife team also included a helpful illustrated guide to lead the reader through each piece and give hints at their original artist.
"Our daughter had an adorable dwarf hamster named Max, and I modeled our Max after him. He has no dialogue, but shows up in most of the spreads, sometimes sporting characteristics of the artist, like Monet’s beret or Dali’s signature moustache," Greg Newbold said. "Other times he carries some of the tools of the trade or just leaves a little evidence that he has been there as in the trail of paw prints he tracks away from the Jackson Pollock."
To further inspire the artist inside each reader, there is short biographical information on each featured artist as well as a blank canvas page to photocopy and try to draw their own snowman.
It was difficult for the Newbolds to only choose 17 artists, as they admire so many. But throughout the process, they both pitched in and included their personal favorites as well as those representing a diverse style. They even discovered new artists and facts about the ones they already loved.
For those they couldn't include, the couple has the solution.
"We have recently signed on to create a companion book for 'If Picasso Painted a Snowman,'" Greg Newbold said. "It will feature different artists and a different theme, but will follow a similar format."
If you go …
What: "If Picasso Painted a Snowman" book signing
When: Friday and Saturday, Dec. 15 and Dec. 16, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
Where: Deseret Book, 45 W. South Temple