Thursday, June 25, 2009

Get Your Little People in Line

This week I have a new book that hit the Dover Site. This is a CD-ROM and Book collection; called Imps, Elves, Fairies and Goblins. For those of you unfamiliar with what exactly this is, I'll give you a short explanation—Dover publishes hundreds of books, that have an accompanying CD in the inside back cover. These "CD-ROM- Books" contain royalty-free images, everything from vintage fruit crate labels, to Victorian fashion photography, to, well, Imps, Elves, Fairies and Goblins. An average disc might contain 200 or more images, for use on whatever you can think of. The book gives you easy reference, and the disc gives you the convenience of having a digital file without having to scan the clip-art. Most of the work in this line of books comes from the public-domain, meaning that original copyrights have expired, leaving these images free to whoever wants to reproduce them.

The V I E W interest in this title is that the images in Imps, Elves, Fairies and Goblins are all from books from as early as Daniel Maclise's pieces, probably from the 1850's, and on through children's stories, folk, and fairy tales for the next half century and then some. This collection is all black and white line work, but there are some great drawings and characterizations here that may lead you elsewhere. Here are a few of my favorites:

Reginald (1879-1950)and Horace Knowles- from their edition of Norse Fairy Tales, 1910
H. J. Ford (1860-1940) -He did so much terrific line work—this scene is jammed with great characters—that goblin on the turtle looks as if it could have come straight from a modern fantasy role-playing book—
Walter Crane (1845-1915)-The animation of these figures and the clever design of this chapter head are a real statement to the depth this artist had to offer, far different from the often static scenes he is known for. From his adaptation of Grimm.
Laurence Housman, (1865-1959)— I cannot put my finger on what makes this guys work so compelling- something about the flow of his compositions—really outstanding stuff. It has been documented that he gave up illustration due to failing eyesight, understandable when you study his line work... These works are from his rendition of Rossetti's Goblin Market, which Dover published for years, though sadly, no more.

In illustration today-
I wanted to comment that though I look deep into illustration's past here, I am an active and practicing illustrator currently— and thought I would share this with others of similar situation-
longtime friend and fellow illustrator Jeremy McHugh and his buddies at have put together an informative and entertaining podcast on the trials and tribulations of the profession today- with special regard to the fantasy and sci-fi markets, they cover everything from references to techniques; dealing with contracts, and book reviews. It has become weekly listening both in studio and on occaisional commutes.

See ya next week. Jeff

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Man and the Myth

Most of what fills this blog are comments on book illustration. It is the form of illustration that I'm the closest to— both by virtue of the books that I compile, and the illustration I do myself. There are tons of great illustrators out there, that did very little (if anything) for the book market—for many reasons. Book work does not pay the best. In books, you have to produce a large body of work—it is a bigger commitment. Magazines are faster, usually pay a bit more, and it's normally 1-3 pieces. Advertising is king in regards to a paycheck. Do a job for a corporate client or ad agency, those jobs can really pay some bills.

One of the best known advertising illustrators of the early 20th century was J. C. Leyendecker (1874-1951). J. C., or Joe, was the older of two brothers—Frank was also a fairly successful illustrator. The brothers Leyendecker were born in Germany, raised and apprenticed in Chicago, studied in Paris, and became a huge stars in New York. (Again, that magic date...where was he in 1900? Moving from Chicago to NY, 26 years old, a year after painting his first Saturday Evening Post cover...)

J. C.'s major contributions—Preceding Norman Rockwell, he was the leading illustrator of the Saturday Evening Post (321 Covers!) and his ability to produce a smart, strong, male image led more than one clothier to his studio door. The product that his art would carry and sell for decades was the Arrow Shirt collar. (Top image, Arrow Collar ad, 1912) Advertising clients like Arrow made Leyendecker a wealthy man, and he went through money as fast as it came in.

Both brothers painted in a similar style, having some tell-tale features that separate a Leyendecker work from others. STRONG brush strokes. Lines often look chiseled; sculpted, almost. Beautiful directional qualities. Contour of the primary figure is the most important design element. Keeps the statement strong and simple, and that attention to profile makes the image communicate efficiently.

While doing research for a project, I came across a box of clipped illustrations, mostly from Century Magazine. In the bottom of this pile, I found three Leyendecker pages—far less commercial than what I had known him for. Two were from an article (Written by Teddy Roosevelt, no less) on the Ancient Irish Sagas (January, 1907 issue). The pieces depict Cuchulain in Battle, and Queen Meave, both leading figures in Celtic mythology. The Cuchulain piece has always captivated me- great details, while getting in real close, showing the chariot, with only a hint of the horse. The other image is Old Testament— also from Century, it is for a poem called The Death of Eve, by William Vaughn Moody. This depiction of Eve—and son Cain—is unlike any I have ever seen, with the low mist making the figures feel like giants. A big step from an Arrow shirt. I have to wonder if J. C. enjoyed such imaginative diversions from his bigger, commercial clientele. I certainly appreciate them.

Jim Vadeboncoeur's bio of JCL at Bud Plant
American Art's great Leyendecker page

Back soon


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Knightly Inspirations

Ah, the summer months are almost upon us. The challenges of commitment have made some appearance recently, with some lapse in regular posts. I have a full dance card at the moment, with many projects relating to things here. In the last few weeks I sent a collection of Fairy images to press, wrapped up a very interesting set of images on Mermaids, and am about to finish the "polishing" steps of my new book on Willy Pogány. Throw in a few illustration assignments, my full-time job and a four-day fishing trip, ok, I'm busy. I have two big treats for the next two entries, so sit back and get set-

Maybe 20 years ago,Time-Life Books came out with a series on folklore and mythology called "The Enchanted World" This series of large-size hardcovers were richly illustrated, both with classic public-domain imagery, and brand new illustration from some of the big name illustrators of the day. Having just graduated art school, this was great material, and great reference- I signed on to receive all the books as they came out. I found a few inspirations among the artists in those pages, but one that really floored me was William Russell Flint. (1880-1969)

Flint was Scottish by birth, spent most of his life in Britain, and was knighted(!) for his artistic achievements in 1962. As usual, there is a good look at his work in relation to illustration at Jim Vadeboncouer's site at Bud Plant-
There is plenty of info on him scattered about the web, and he still has a healthy and active representation marketing his prints today.

There are a few things about Flint that drew me to his work—First was his design sense. The early picture that I saw in the Time-Life volume was the opening image on the page here, from the "Odyssey". These figures and visual devices are assembled in a way that continuously leads the viewer around the image area. The second thing that almost perplexed me was the use of medium—namely, watercolor. Really? Watercolor? It was these Flint pieces that convinced me that it could be used as a serious medium for illustration, that it could be used with accuracy and control.

Unfortunately for us illustration junkies, Flint's career in illustration was comparably short to his many years of creative output. He started with the Illustrated London News in 1903, and gave us some great plate books for about 25 years, including The Odyssey, Le Morte D'Arthur, The Canturbury Tales, and a number of editions on the works of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas. In the early 1930's, he made the leap that so many attempt, but so few succeed—he became accepted in gallery art; both for his landscapes, and his exquisite figure work. It is primarily this latter work that drives interest in his art today, but his illustration is still held in high esteem, from all quarters.