Monday, February 23, 2009

Little known, Frederic Richardson throws out some great Dragon

This one is a bit off the beaten path, even for me. Not too long ago I happened upon a copy of a book called: The Queen's Museum and Other Fanciful Tales, by Frank R. Stockton. It was an old book in a juvenile section, ripe for illustration possibility ... but what made me pull it down was the author—Frank R. Stockton. I had done a cover (illustration) for a book Stockton wrote on pirates. He had gone over a good deal of the available source material on the subject, and made it a bit more readable to the average person in or around 1908. I had understood him to be a fairly successful writer of that time, and here was something else he had done.

The Roman numerals on the front cover place this book at 1906. it has 10 color plates, with additional full color title page and cover plate. I will be the first to admit here, that not all of the plates in this book made me jump. Richardson was primarily an illustrator of children's stories, and his work usually has a simplified, flat look to it. Perhaps it was the success that some of the British book illustrators were having at this time that encouraged him to put a little more into these pieces. There are a few that really, really shine— see The Griffin and the Minor Canon, second plate, or The Bee-man of Orn, third. Each chapter is decorated with a line head-piece, showing Richardson as a solid enough ink artist, but with nothing like Arthur Rackham's fluidity, or William Heath Robinson's outstanding sense of contrast within space. Still, his characters show true personality, and some solid design.

The scans here are shown with minimal repairs to the copy I was working from. I have had to consider here some adjustment of color. It's a huge issue, actually, that could easily cover a few entries. I will make a point here though— when working from printed material that is a century old, you can't just adjust the color levels like it was some snapshot at your uncle's retirement party. Well, you can, and a lot of people do, but I do not feel that is proper in respect to the work. There is fade to consider, paper acidity, printing accuracy and artistic intent. All of these contribute to the subtlety of color in these old images.

While I sometimes like to push up to a rich black, or a clean white, it is not always the best way to represent an illustration. (Without seeing the original, there is no way of knowing the artist's intent, period) I practice compromise, with a slight lean to additional contrast. This means I don't print or display exactly what I scan, nor will I push the paper tone to white, but I will bring the tone to about halfway between what it was, and white. While it is truly a compromise, and I've heard comment that "better" images are available online than some of what my books have put out there, I believe this approach presents a cleaner image that is truer to what might have been produced at the time. I can easily make it look better to my eye, but I can't know how far that might be from what was intended. If there is interest in this topic, we'll revisit it ...

Until then, to find a bit on Frederick Richardson, try these sites-

An amazing thing is beginning to happen:
I can share these images with you freely because at 103 years old, they are in what is known as "Public Domain". This means that all copyright protections on them have expired, and it is now information that belongs to anyone who cares to work with them. The amazing part, is that this ENTIRE BOOK is available online, illustrations and all, for free download. Type—Stockton, The Queen's Museum—in a Google search, and the first hit should get you there. (OK, Just hit the link, I'm learning as I go here, folks...) You can catch the rest of the plates, and the story too.

See you next week—Jeff

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fantastic Color Works by Franklin Booth

The Flying Islands of the Night.

Title sounds interesting, doesn't it? The story is a fantasy, written in the form of a play, by American poet James Whitcomb Riley. (1849-1916) I am a great fan of a fantastic story, and I will not pretend to have read this—but the format alone removes it from standard comparisons. The story carries a feeling of Shakespeare colliding with Jules Verne. The writing is © 1891, but what makes this something worth commenting on, is an edition that was put out by the Bobbs-Merrill company in 1913.

Franklin Booth (1874-1948) is fairly well-known among fans of Golden-Age illustration. He created a style for himself while trying to imitate the art he was seeing printed at the turn of the century, mostly as wood-engravings. Only Booth did not know this was a printing technique ... he sought out to create pen and ink work that gave this effect of tone from lines. It is both maddening and brilliant, and he became great at it.

Like many illustrators who excel in their black and white work, Booth never gets the praise for his color work that it might otherwise deserve. Booth put out some beautiful color work, with a great sense of space, and very dynamic compositions that push the viewer all over that rectangle. And he had a good sense of color, as well. While I may see some influence of Edmund Dulac in the plate "So empty are my arms, so full my heart" (last of the four images), I also see parallels between Booth's color work and the brilliant graphic novel work of Charles Vess, who is kicking out great stuff today.

I had the good fortune to come across a copy of this volume, with 15 of the 16 plates in place. (As a collector of books, this is a travesty, but as a collector of illustration, this–and perhaps a library stamp–may allow you to obtain early images that you might not otherwise be able to afford...)

To start digging on Booth, try these sites-

and there are two very good books of his work, currently in print-
Franklin Booth; American Illustrator, Manual Auad (contains 3 color plates from Flying Islands)
Franklin Booth; Painter with a Pen, John Fleskes (focuses on Booth's great line work)

Hats off to two incredible blogs I have found since starting this project.
The above mentioned
and another recently pointed out to me (which knocked me over...)

See you next week—Jeff

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Willy Pogány's Masterwork

VIEW has come into being because I am constantly immersed in and searching for new material concerning vintage illustration. While there is a lot of information out there, much of it is scattered, fragmented, and some of it is difficult or expensive to access.

This blog is about what I happen across that makes me say WOW!—Things I find that I may have not seen before, find in a rare or forgotten place, and a few things will surface that simply continue to interest me again and again. It will be about what I'm working on, looking at, or finding inspiration in. Mostly, I am hoping to make some of this great work accessible again, to those who will truly appreciate it.

With that being said-

Most of the past month has been spent combing over the work of Willy Pogány. As an art student in NYC twenty some-odd years ago, I found a book with his illustrations in a used book shop, which I ponied up the funds for because it had a potentially interesting story, and some very interesting illustration, and I had never heard of this guy before. Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century, and I am going through almost 30 volumes that contain his work for an upcoming project.

Pogány is not a household name, though he was very successful throughout his career. There are some good (though concise) biographies of him online, and opinions of his work vary almost as much as his styles and mediums do. I've been a fan of his work almost since I picked up that book those many years ago, but it was very recently that I had a chance to explore his work in Samuel Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Pogány's take on this long poem, published in London in 1910 by Harrap, is easily one of the most impressive books I have ever seen. Pogány's line work is among the best of the period, but what really makes this book something special is his own book design. Book manufacturing just before WWI was at a peak that we will likely never see again. Harrap pulled out all the stops for this book, and Pogány created a work that has to be seen from title to tailpiece. Entirely hand lettered. Art and decoration throughout. Tipped-in plates as well as pages printed with multiple color passes. Perhaps the best part, a sense of composition that really makes you want to travel over every spread.

Here is some of what I mean.

I later found a good deal of images from the volume posted on this site-

This book is very hard to find, and very pricey when you find one. But take a look at it if you can. It is an incredible visual feast.

To start digging on Pogány, try these sites-

See you next week—Jeff