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


Brian Bowes said...

Great Stuff Jeff,

Thanks for posting such a rich area of history. I enjoy and am inspired by what I see. Thanks so much.

heidi Younger Illustration said...

I LOVE your Blog Jeff! Looking forward to all the enrichment you have to offer about the vast history of Illustration!
Neat 0 !