Foreword Reviews

The Fine Art of Dirty Pigs: About the Cover of the Next Foreword Reviews

Editor’s Note: We consider every issue of Foreword Reviews *to be its own piece of art. From the page layouts and the art within, to the reviews themselves, and of course the actual books, we want everything about Foreword to be beautiful. And that starts with each issue’s cover. In our new #CoverReveal series, get the story behind the cover art. Here, we cover the second of our two March/April 2017 covers. Part one: Meet Starr Flagg: The Comic-Book Heroine on the Cover of the Next Foreword Reviews

The impact of children’s books on how children cultivate their worldview is hard to quantify. What’s hard to question however, is how books can inspire creativity. In Gus’s Garage, we watch the creative juices flow through an anthropomorphic pig and mechanic as he up-cycles the materials from his mechanics business into new and original pieces of art.

Gus’s Garage was one of our favorite picture books of the upcoming spring season (read our review here), and that’s due in no small part to the visuals created by the book’s author and artist Leo Timmers, who hand-painted each page. Since only the most beautiful covered-in-dirt pig could grace the cover of Foreword Reviews, we wanted to learn how Gus came to be, so we reached out to Timmers to learn about his creative process, recycling, and pigs.

How did you create the illustrations for the book—what medium/tools do you use and what is your process?

It’s all hand-painted acrylics. I only used a computer to figure out how to arrange the pile of old stuff and to see how this junkyard would look at every stage when objects are being used one by one until they are all gone. All the garages were painted over and over again.

I’m now in a phase where paint, and the possibilities of acrylics in particular, interest me more than ever. I can use paint in a transparent way, or very thick. I carve in the paint with my nails, or use a toothbrush and splash it on the paper.

All these techniques give rhythm and texture to a piece. I love how with experience new possibilities open up. I have the feeling I just scratch the surface. I allow coincidence more than before, but of course in very controlled and stylized composition.

When you were creating Gus, why did you choose a pig?

Well, he was there from the first sketch. It just made very good sense. All the animals have a problem with who they are. The giraffe has a cold neck, the walrus misses the water and so on. What’s the problem of a pig? He gets dirty! There are many books about it and it’s kind of a classic idea: the dirty pig covered with mud. And due to his pink skin color, it is very easy to gradually let him get dirtier and dirtier. Kids can identify with that, I think.

Are you a big recycler and DIY fan?

As a kid I made everything myself. With wood, cardboard shoeboxes, tape—I made just about anything! I really loved to do that and sometimes I think that the sense of space and volume in my work is also a result of making things in “3D.” I’m not a big DIY guy, but in our house there’s not much new stuff. We love vintage, old object. We like to roam secondhand markets and find old records, objects, or books. So in that sense we’re big recyclers!

What author or illustrator working today would you love to work with or do you particularly admire?

There are many contemporary illustrators that I love, but I have to say that illustration in itself doesn’t really interest me that much. Making a pretty picture doesn’t make a great book. I see a lot of pretty illustrations, which I can admire for their virtuosity and craft. But for me the real picture book artists are the ones who combine words and pictures in and interesting way.

Picture book artists are visual storytellers, and not just illustrators of a text. In this regard I like the work of Oliver Jeffers, Shaun Tan, Mo Willems, Ole Könnecke, Jon Klassen, and many more. But I learned the most from history and the grand masters like Sendak, Lionni, Ungerer, Velthuijs, Hergé, Schultz…

Seth Dellon
Seth Dellon is the Associate Publisher of Foreword Reviews. You can meet him or hear him speak at most of the events Foreword attends, and contact him at

Seth Dellon

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