Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Visions of Camelot

Visions of Camelot: Great Illustrations of King Arthur and his Court

My relationship with Dover Publications goes back almost 11 years. Much longer if you look at the time their books have been influencing me. Dover prides itself in making available the hard-to-find, both in texts, and in images.

Having put together a handful of books for Dover— my favorites have been those connected by a central theme. The first like this was Poe: Illustrated. The idea and format were well enough received that we've been able to do a few more, the latest having hit Dover's site this week. This theme is a selection of Arthurian imagery.

Visions of Camelot, (now available here on Dover's site) is my fourth title with this approach. There are classic images you might expect, like a selection of Aubrey Beardsley's iconic line pieces from the 1894 Le Morte D'Arthur ; and a generous sampling of Howard Pyle's decorative ink style. Color works from such illustration giants as Walter Crane (one of his last books), Arthur Rackham, and N.C. Wyeth. In keeping with Dover's history, there are some rare gems as well—a nice group by British watercolor legend, Sir William Russell Flint, from early in his career, and seven pages of art-deco styled Arthur by Thomas Mackenzie. If Arthurian legend interests you, this collection of over 140 images gives you some of the best imagery created from 1893-1923, stylistically ranging from Victorian to Art-Deco.

From top to bottom on the right- The Crane plates are from 1911.They are less decorative, and more illustrative than his typical work, but they perform the task admirably. This plate, "Beaumins wins the fight at the ford," breaks from Crane's usual stoic poses, to throw the viewer full into the action.

Willy Pogany here is at his best- I love his work on Wagner's Ring Trilogy. 1911-1915. The plate from Parsifal places a classic grail knight at the throat of a dragon, complete with damsel and grail-shield. Note the tremendous restraint on Pogany's part—the image is two colors, only the thin halo around the knights head is printed in Brown-gold.

Howard Pyle's work (#3) got me into all of this. Like Gordon Grant, mentioned last week, (see below) Pyle uses ink to make lines that read as areas of values, an inking technique brought over from the days of preparing plates for engravers.

The last plate, is one of those scarce William Russell Flint pieces. Originally from a two-volume set, "She was a great huntress and daily she used to hunt, and ever she bare her bow with her." This piece has some great design qualities, and Flint's whole group reads to me as a powerful influence on the watercolor work of modern day master Alan Lee.

See you next week—Jeff

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gordon Grant, Down to the Sea in Ships

OK, lost my way for a bit there. As an illustrator and a freelancer, sometimes the workload gets busier than others. Busy, is generally a good thing. There does come a time when some form of sacrifice is made to make a deadline, and it has been that kind of time, so the V I E W took a little break. If I am lucky, it will happen again . . . but I'm back, and here is a bit of an intro to an illustrator who for most of his career worked in an area which greatly interests me— marine illustration. For all those who know my recent works, it is apparent that the sea has taken up a good amount of my attention as a painter/illustrator. This is one of the guys whose work inspires me—

Gordon Grant

Grant (1875-1962) was right in the thick of the Golden Age, being 25 in 1900. He found a specialized market and a personal strength in nautical subjects that gave him a path divergent from many of his contemporaries. There was a good deal of work with this theme at that time, both in fiction and in the reporting of the day; so much so, in fact, that there was more than one illustrator that made quite a good name for themselves even with this very narrow focus—W. J. Aylward and Anton Otto Fisher both come to mind immediately. Each of them may get a deeper look from VIEW down the road.

Grant's work has a very personal look to it, it often retains a lot of the freshness of a direct sketch. It's this drawing quality that separates him from most of the other marine illustrators out there at the time, and still to this day gives his work a first-person authenticity. In many of the publications he produced, a sketchbook style page is presented as the end product, with a certain degree of looseness, bold strokes, and solid inked-in shadows. As an inker, he is superb. His understanding of light and the limits of the ink line are woven in and out of each other to form some fantastic interpretations. Many years ago, I said to a friend that in a great ink drawing, the viewer no longer "sees" the line. ( I was describing Howard Pyle's work at the time) Grant's work does that, he paints values with ink lines.

The book that I found Gordon Grant in was The Book of Old Ships by Henry B. Culver. This book is in print today and is readily available. It contains no less than 80 line drawings by Grant, recording most of the major sailing-ship designs from Egyptian galleys to the Clipper. They are accurate, remarkably efficient ink drawings backed with good research; they make for great reference. Grants' book work with Culver would continue, from The Book of Old Ships in 1924, to Forty Famous Ships in 1936. This book has some of Grant's color work as well, which are for the most part finely colored drawings. Again, solid research, even with notes and specs on the ships in the appendix. Two other titles I own, that have the sketchbook approach, are 1932's Greasy Luck; A Whaling Sketchbook. This book tells a great tale in its images and notes, of an occupation no longer practiced. And last is the Gordon Grant Sketchbook. This little Watson-Guptill book is really a facsimile sketchbook, full of floating characters, side-turned compositions, and no text. Spontaneous, energetic studies.

Check out Jim Vadeboncoeur's bio of Grant here. (In connection with Bud Plant)

And here is work by a great modern-day maritime painter, (R. C. Moore) also inspired by Grant, who is the primary force behind the great ship work on a certain ship based card game-


Next week I expect the release of my latest book with Dover Publications, Visions of Camelot, Great Illustrations of King Arthur and His Court. When the book is posted, I'll give a little sample of what's in it. The topic has been one I've wanted to compile for as long as I've been putting books like this together.


Thanks to all those who have said hi, signed on, and like what they've seen. Keep the comments coming, it will help shape what we are looking at here. Jeff

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Visiting Vernon Hill

I apologize for being late this week. I've been occupied hanging (and gathering, and framing...) a show of my own work. After a Northeast snow-day delay, it was finally put up on the night of the 3rd, and hopefully things will resume their normal frantic pace, instead of the frenzied crisis pace I've been on this past week. Onto discussion-
Vernon Hill

Maybe five years ago, I came across a great book—
Fantasy by Brigid Peppin, Subtitled; Book Illustration, 1860-1920. The book came out in 1975, and it has a wealth of information—both on the stars of the era, like Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, and the nearly forgotten; those who put out one or two real solid entries, and then faded into obscurity. Like many, my own interests had led me to become familiar with the bigger names, but some of these lesser-known artists and works were gold! Many illustrators have had a peak moment, when they were firing on all cylinders and producing some stunning stuff. But what if you can't maintain that standard, for 20, or even 10 years? What if it was two books? These folks don't have collections of their work in print. A book like Peppin's opened a door for me to find a huge new group of influences in my work, and it also contributed to my wanting to share some of these artists with others, through my own book work, and now with this blog—

One artist I "met for the first time" within the pages of Peppin's book, was Vernon Hill.

Hill (British, 1887-?) appears to have been busy as an illustrator for just a few years, 1910-1912—though he remained tied to the art field for some time. Through the 20's and 30's Hill produced etchings, and designed (and produced?) sculpture for numerous buildings, mostly religious. A good look at his sculptural work can be seen here. The work on the sculpture link tells us that he was working at least until the 50's. No record of his passing could be found. WHAT AN INCREDIBLE SHAME this man didn't do more illustration. The mixture of symbolism, personal style,(taste for material) and technique (meaning his use of wide value-range graphite medium) produce some work here that is nearly unique. The samples I found in the Peppin book are from a limited edition book produced in 1912, called Ballads Weird and Wonderful, which I was eventually able to get my hands on. The scans at the right, are from this book.

While digging up material to explain who Hill was and what he did, I came across one site that had already done a lot of this digging, in a similar fashion to my own intent. Moment of dilemma ... do I go on as planned, at the risk of being redundant? I came to the decision that the web is a strange and complex netting, and it is unlikely (though not impossible) that many of you who are here, have also been there. So I show you Vernon Hill, but I also will refer you to this excellent blog, where Vernon Hill caught the attention of another illustrator, Mr. John Coulhart. It is on Mr. Coulhart's site that I found out, like last week's entry, this book is available as an entirely free pdf download. Tip of the hat to you, Mr. Coulhart.

The other fantastic site I found, featured incredible scans of Hill's 1910 Arcadian Calendar. Nearly the whole thing, and good quality images- This is very cool stuff that Tim Burton would love. Although Hill's work is fairly consistent at this time, both in style and substance, there is precious little of it—enjoy it here.


I also thought it would be worthwhile to show another sample of the great scanning dilemma. (Faithful reproduction vs. "correction") Color, as mentioned last week, is not alone in this issue—shown here are two files of the same image, the left being a direct scan, the right being a "corrected" file, with a fuller range of contrast and tone. While most will find the right image more appealing, how do we know that it wasn't intentional that the values were limited? It all comes into opinion, and how an image like this is reproduced today is very subjective.

See you next week—Jeff