Yesterday (17th May 2016) PJ Lynch was announced as the new Laureate na nÓg, or Irish Children’s Laureate, for 2016-2018, following in the footsteps of Siobhán Parkinson, Niamh Sharkey and Eoin Colfer. The announcement was made by President Michael D Higgins at the Arts Council offices in Merrion Square. The Laureate na nÓg website states that ‘The laureate is chosen as a result of their internationally recognised body of high quality children’s writing or illustration and the considerably positive impact they have had on readers as well as other writers and illustrators […]The honour has been established to engage young people with high quality literature and to underline the importance of children’s literature in our cultural and imaginative life.’ Given his pivotal role in ushering in the current golden era of Irish picturebook illustration and his fine body of work, PJ Lynch is a worthy candidate. PJ Lynch is a renowned illustrator who has recently moved into writing, he is the author and illustrator of his most recent title The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower.
Belfast-born PJ Lynch graduated from the Brighton College of Art in 1984. His first book, A Bag of Moonshine (a collection of English folk tales by Alan Garner) was published in 1986 and won him the Mother Goose Award (now discontinued) for most promising newcomer to illustration. He is a two-time winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal ‘for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people’, for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey in 1995 and When Jessie Came Across the Sea in 1997. He has also won the Christopher Medal three times, as well as awards from Children’s Books Ireland, the American Library Association, the Reading Association of Ireland and IBBY (International Books on Board for Young People). He is probably best known for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, written by Susan Wojiechowski. This touching story saw the development of the painterly realistic style for which Lynch has been acclaimed. A twentieth anniversary edition was published last year, and a film and a play have been made. Lynch has illustrated over twenty books, a mixture of realistic and fantastical tales including Oscar Wilde Stories for Children, East o’ the Sun West o’ the Moon, The Mysterious Traveller, The Gift of the Magi and The Names Upon the Harp to name but a few. His next book will be Patrick and the President, written by Ryan Tubridy, about John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland.
Lynch’s early work was in pen and ink, but he now predominantly works in watercolour. Features of his style include dramatic perspectives, a focus on the effects of light, meaningful use of the gaze and detailed depiction of textures. His research is meticulous and coupled with his use of models and photographs results in illustrations that are convincing and (even in the case of fantastical stories) grounded in reality. Last year saw his first book illustrated in charcoal. This book, Once upon a Place, is a collection of stories and poems by some of Ireland’s best writers for children, all illustrated by Lynch. It was produced as part of Eoin Colfer’s storytelling project during his term as laureate. Lynch has been doing live charcoal drawings at events since, and seeing his illustrations come to life before your eyes is nothing short of magical. Lynch is a very versatile artist, not only in terms of medium (watercolour, pen and ink, oils, charcoal), but also format. As well as book illustrations he has also created posters for Opera Ireland and the Abbey Theatre, stamps for An Post, murals, book covers for the likes of Marita Conlon McKenna’s renowned Famine Trilogy (Under the Hawthorn Tree, Wildflower Girl and Fields of Home) and most recently he designed a stunning mosaic for the Marian Shrine in Knock, Co.Mayo.
During his term as laureate, Lynch will be focusing on the interaction between words and pictures, and the power of illustration. Speaking about his appointment Lynch said: ‘Being named the new Laureate is one of the proudest moments of my career. I want to explore the magic that happens when words and pictures come together. My theme as Laureate na nÓg will be “The Big Picture” – I plan to do a regular podcast involving live drawing or demonstrating techniques and I’ll invite guests to talk about their drawing passions. I would also love to create a landmark image in a prominent place or places in Ireland as a permanent reminder of the power of pictures to incite the imagination.’ At a time when there is such a focus on illustration in children’s books – with Chris Riddell’s appointment as UK children’s laureate and Sarah McIntyre’s ongoing #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign – it is great to see a leading Irish illustrator (who is highly regarded on the international stage) as our new Laureate na nÓg. As Jenny Murray of Children’s Books Ireland has said, ‘it is a richly deserved honour.’
(c) Jenny Duffy