Lately, a flurry of trending videos and images have been dedicated to cute, cozy animals. These little critters are often anthropomorphic, donning human clothes and participating in activities such as baking pies and curling up in an armchair with a good book. There is something so adorable about little animals acting like miniature humans. In fact, psychologists have found that when humans see small, cute things it stimulates a bonding behavior . While anthropomorphized animals were often used in the art of ancient civilizations, their existence through our modern lens of cuteness can be credited to Beatrix Potter (1866-1943). Potter was an author, illustrator, and conservationist. She wrote over sixty books, but is best known for The Tales of Peter Rabbit. Peter Rabbit is a mischievous bunny who wears a little blue jacket and gets into all sorts of trouble. His lasting fame speaks to society's love for these little critters, and helps us understand not only the popularity of anthropomorphism in children’s illustrations but also the online trends of today.
Children's books, movies, and illustrations have an extensive,lively history of anthropomorphism. Books intended for kids didn’t really exist until the 18th century. Their existence happened to coincide with a surge in naturalism, which heralded the inherent truth in the scientific method and the organic world. Thus, children’s media became deeply interwoven with anthropomorphism. From The Tales of Peter Rabbit to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, stories of humanistic animals burst from the seams of children’s libraries. It is this relationship that could, in part, explain the surge of cozy animals ubiquitous on Instagram and TikTok feeds. The majority of users on these platforms are adults—these works align with the popular idea of ‘healing your inner child.’ This concept recognizes an adult's past wounds inflicted in childhood, and encourages self-love and self-compassion in order to heal. These little critters evoke feelings of nostalgia while creating a space where one can suspend their disbelief and fall into a world of child-like whimsy and delight.
A great example of this trend is knitter India Rose Crawford. With 1.3M followers on Instagram and 1.0M on TikTok , her works are incredibly well-known and still growing in popularity. Crawford creates adorable videos that feature little knitted frogs. The frogs bake pies, go on picnics, fly kites, and pick fresh berries. They often wear knitted sweaters and overalls, occasionally sporting outfits that pay homage to The Hobbit or Pride and Prejudice. Crawford has also created cozy living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms for her frogs to reside in. The frogs’ movements in the videos are smooth and feel organic, making it that much easier to suspend disbelief and engage in a world of human-like frogs living their best lives.
Another popular fiber art form used to create these anthropomorphic animals is known as needle felting. Artist Holly Kirby does just this. Her creatures, called woodlanders, feel minimalistic in nature; they have simple cute faces and wear minimal accessories. They are donned in knitted scarves or beanies and carry little backpacks, often housing even smaller felted animals poking their heads out from within. Kirby offers a broad range of felted animals including dogs, giraffes, pandas, alpacas, squirrels, ducks, and bears. Each woodlander looks as though they are ready for an adventure. Her works are utterly adorable—her expert use of felt renders them all the more cozy and soft.
While knitted and felted anthropomorphic animals are gaining popularity, their appearance in two dimensional form in children’s illustrations has remained steady. From Beatrix Potter to current illustrators, these critters have been inhabiting these pages for years. There are many artists whose illustrations emulate this style, including Stephanie Graegin. Graegin has illustrated about 25children’s books and was part of a group of 32 illustrators who came together to create a book celebrating Beatrix Potter. Her works often feature cats and porcupines who read books, color pictures and eat creamsicles. On her Instagram, these drawings are often done in pencil with a few select colors added to the images.For example, during Christmas last year, Graegin completed an entire series of animals prepping for the holiday season. The only colors used in these images were red and green to match the classic Christmas colors. Her creatures went shopping, made gingerbread houses, and wrote letters to Santa.
Aspiring children’s illustrators also participate in these adorable depictions, exemplified by the artist Jillian Danies. Her work is often minimalistic, relinquishing backgrounds in favor of focusing on the animals themselves. From chipmunks in sweaters sipping a hot drink to a little bird wearing a beanie with a pompom on top, her little critters are simply delightful. At times however, she does add more vibrant scenery to her illustrations. From a mouse baking a pie to a cozy owl napping in an armchair, the added scenery gives extra life to her world of animals. Danies’s work is done in a combination of watercolor and pencil, which gives her works a soft warm tone.
There is something comforting and calming about these works—possibly because they are all just so adorable and lovable. There is just something very lighthearted and warm about imagining little lives for all these anthropomorphic animals. They create a sense of nostalgia in their viewers that fits in with the current narratives surrounding the idea of ‘healing your inner child.’ These critters create a soft space that invites one to pause and think about something that brings their inner child joy. From knitting to needle felting and watercolor, this cozy creature art has carved out a lasting space whose lineage traces back to Beatrix Potter and her timeless bunny, Peter Rabbit. While these animals are currently trending among adults, their existence in children’s books has been constant, perpetually melting the hearts of readers for generations.
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