The idea of a story created in front of our eyes, the ‘third wall’ removed and the artist’s pencil visible, is nothing new. In the 1950s Harold’s Purple Crayon and Looney Tunes cartoons like Duck Amuck both upended the conventions of their form. More recently we’ve seen the like of Allan Ahlberg’s Pencil and Kathryn Otoshi’s Draw the Line create a narrative out of the creation of illustrations. But perhaps the purest expression yet comes in the form of Suzy Lee’s icy delight, simply entitled ‘Lines’.
This wordless picture book begins enigmatically with front endpapers showing a pencil and rubber laid out on a roughly sketched piece of paper. Lee then makes a scribble which twists into the title page and continues overleaf to reveal a grey line bade on ice by a bobble hatted skater.
She twists and turns over the following pages, lines growing thicker as she grows in confidence.
Soon the page is awash with a blur of lines as she spins and jumps.
Inevitably this good grace cannot last, and something goes wrong. The girl loses her balance and crashes onto the ice, rubbing out lines as she goes. Her frustration is mirrored by a spread showing the paper scrumpled into a ball.
The next page reveals the creased paper, flattened out with the girl looking dazed in the corner. She is joined by another skater, sliding happily along on her behind. Then the page fills up with many more, enjoying the ice in whatever way they can.
The pursuit of perfection of the first half gives way to unalloyed pleasure. In learning to let go and enjoy the ice in a different way, Lee is also showing how it is important for the artist to embrace happy mistakes and let their pencil take them in unexpected directions.
Lines is published by Chronicle Books