Tao Nyeu’s work splices natural and domestic scenes together to a mesmerizingly adorable effect through the combined use of silkscreens and etchings. To date she has published three picture books as well as contributed to two anthologies, each work with a focus on friendship and non-conformity. Her storylines are peaceful and approachable for all ages with an emphasis on kindness and the value of independent thought (like when Squid and Octopus wear cowboy boots as hats).
Everyday chores are intertwined with natural scenery in Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always, Bunny Days, and Wonder Bear. Cleaning tools are anthropomorphized (such as the emotional vacuum cleaner that sucks up the dusty bunnies), domestic routines are the main source of action (cleaning, gardening, food preparation, sewing, etc.). The three most prevalent motifs in her illustrations follow this domestic theme: knitting, tea, and gardening.
Characters celebrate the resolution of a conflict with tea parties, conversations are accompanied with tea, and background characters casually drink from mugs. Likewise, knitting, knitted clothes, or items that appear to be crocheted crop up on the majority of pages throughout each book. Even grass looks like a patchwork quilt, coral resembles crocheted round balls, and backgrounds are patterned similar to stitchwork. Both Bear and Squid are usually depicted knitting, wearing something knitted, or giving a friend a knitted gift.
Gardening slips into the stories in a variety of forms. Mr. Goat is tending to his garden, characters have flowers inside and outside of their homes, Wonder Bear sprouts from magical seeds, and many of their possessions are decorated with flowers.
Each of these motifs are stitched into extremely murky areas of the natural world. The floor of the ocean, rabbit holes, and outer space are alien and completely hostile to human life, but mixed with the domestic scenes they are the cutest. It’s an aesthetic that is rarely pulled off this successfully.
The few completed works Nyeu has released could suck you in for hours. Her illustrations have already won multiple awards (the Ezra Jack Keats Award, the Golden Kite Honor, the Original Art Show Founder’s Award, the Marion Vannett Ridgway Honor, the New York Book Show award, and one of Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Books of the Year) and I can’t wait to get my hands on anything else she puts out.
Her unpublished work is available through her website at http://www.taonyeu.com/v2/.