Vladimir Radunsky, an illustrator who used an abundance of artistic styles to create captivating children’s books about subjects including Albert Einstein, a rapping dog, and a towering stalk of asparagus, died Sept. 11 at a hospital near his home in Rome. He was 64.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Eugenia Radunsky, who did not specify the cause but said he had had multiple myeloma for years.
Mr. Radunsky illustrated more than 30 children’s books, some of which he also wrote, during a career that began in the 1980s.
He was adept at achieving different narrative effects by harnessing different styles.
In the fairy tale “The Mighty Asparagus” (2004), which he wrote and illustrated, he used Chagall-like figures to convey motion and energy on one page, then adopted the elegant formality of a Renaissance painting to show deliberation on the next.
His illustrations brought drama to ideas that children might find difficult, like particle physics and the speed of light.
He switched from brush strokes to pointillism to convey young Einstein’s understanding of the atom on one page of “On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein” (2013), written by Jennifer Berne.
“The ever-inventive illustrator Vladimir Radunsky — inspired to take liberties with the natural laws that Einstein pondered — presents Albert riding serenely, hands free, upward on a sunbeam,” Abby McGanney Nolan wrote in a review in The Washington Post.
Mr. Radunsky often worked in gouache on textured, colored paper, and at first glance his illustrations might seem casually done.
In a telephone interview Thursday, author and illustrator Chris Raschka described Mr. Radunsky’s artistic approach in “Mother Goose of Pudding Lane,” a forthcoming book they created together, as “beautiful portraits” interspersed with “perfectly childlike” doodles that “only a trained artist could make.”
“He was trained as an architect and was a gifted draftsman,” said Raschka, who collaborated with Mr. Radunsky on several books.
“He could paint in a very traditional manner, but he loved to obscure the paintings with scribbled drawings.” (“Mother Goose of Pudding Lane” is to be published next year.)
Mr. Radunsky’s books often employed unusual designs. In “Hip Hop Dog” (2010), written by Raschka, the often-rhyming words of the story spiral around the page, compelling readers to rotate the book like a record or compact disc.
Mr. Radunsky also created the original cover for Louis Sachar’s novel “Holes” (1998), which won a National Book Award and a Newbery Medal and was made into a movie in 2003; illustrated a children’s-book version of “Advice to Little Girls,” a short story by Mark Twain; and made images for three books based on Woody Guthrie lyrics.
Mr. Radunsky illustrated more than 30 children’s books, some of which he also wrote, during a career that began in the 1980s. His illustrations brought drama to ideas that children might find difficult, like particle physics and the speed of light.
He collaborated with Mikhail Baryshnikov on “Because” (2007), which told the story of a dancing grandmother.
In an interview with USA Today, Baryshnikov was loath to take credit.
“I’m more like Vladimir’s sidekick,” he said. “It was mostly his idea. He did most of the work.”
Vladimir Victorovich Radunsky was born March 1, 1954, into a secular Jewish family in Perm, Russia, where his father, Victor, was teaching at a naval school.
The family eventually moved to Moscow, where his father worked as a computer hardware engineer and his mother, Maria (Ilinichna) Radunsky, was a teacher.
Mr. Radunsky planned to become a doctor but found that he was more interested in art and design.
In 1973, he began studying at the Moscow Architectural Institute, but he did not complete his master’s degree because he and his brother, Alexander, applied to leave Russia in the late 1970s as part of a program that allowed Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel if they could prove they had relatives there.
While they were waiting for approval, Mr. Radunsky was not allowed to continue his education.
During their long wait, Mr. Radunsky worked with notable designers like Mikhail Anikst before he was finally granted permission to leave Russia in 1982. He made his way to Vienna, and from there to New York instead of Israel.
In New York, Mr. Radunsky worked as a mover and a messenger while putting together a design portfolio by night. His first design job in the United States was as an art director for a medical publisher.
He married Eugenia Uritsky in 1987 and, the next year, published his first children’s book, “The Riddle.” Based on a Catalan folk tale, it was written by Adele Vernon and illustrated by Mr. Radunsky and Robert Rayevsky.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Radunsky leaves his brother; two daughters, Anna and Alexandra Radunsky; and his mother.
Raschka said Mr. Radunsky moved with his family to Rome when his daughters were still fairly young because he wanted “to be surrounded by beautiful things.”
Mr. Radunsky also worked in other media.
He staged an art show of clothing designed for animals at the Nina Lumer Gallery in Milan for Fashion Week in 2008 and designed costumes and, with another designer, the sets for a 2017-18 production of the ballet “Don Quixote” at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome.
Raschka said the effortless look of Mr. Radunsky’s illustrations was actually achieved through painstaking labor.
“He would say to me, if I gave him a drawing that he thought was overworked, ‘There’s too much sweat visible in that,’ ” Raschka said.