Vrolijk is Mies van Hout’s first picture book without outside involvement from another writer. Inspired by a children’s workshop where she experimented with oil pastels, she developed a new technique, which she then went on to use in her own picture book.
While Van Hout’s previous work with gouache and acrylics left space for air and light, in this new picture book she worked on black paper. This gives the pages an intriguing sort of darkness, with the somewhat sketch-like illustrations shining out.
At a time when children are growing up with emoticons, Van Hout gives a new interpretation to emotions. On every spread, a different fish swims towards the viewer, with its mood articulated in expressive letters on the page next to it by the artist herself (including in the seven translations that have been published so far). Van Hout placed her fish directly onto paper without making any preliminary sketches. A proud fish swims with its nose held high, while a nervous one is composed of a jumble of shaky lines. A school of fish that, whether they’re sad or surprised, will certainly make the reader feel pretty cheerful.