Monday, July 19, 2010

The Many Sides of Helen Stratton







It's been a busy season up here in the studio. I'm juggling the details of a few upcoming Dover books, just finished my first foray into sign painting...(that's a long story...) and there's prep work beginning for the upcoming Illuxcon...more prep for me than the usual show—just to get started. In any case, I've been away from here too long, and finally have enough material on one artist I've been looking at for some time, to make a worthy post.

A while back while working on Once Upon a Time, I found a volume of Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales illustrated by Helen Stratton (active 1892-1924). There's not much info to be found on Stratton, and the work I've been able to find from her is different in every job—not a recommended career trait for an illustrator. But there are some beautiful qualities in the entire range of her work, and she could put down some dark spooky scenes with the best of them. Her work on the 1899 Andersen's Tales is intense—There are probably 400 pieces of line art in the 320 page volume. She mastered working in line, one job this size might have been enough to develop a whole new grasp of a medium. To the right are some of my favorites. For some time, the only other work I'd found by her was from Heroic Legends, by Agnes Herbertson, no date. I like her color work here, her line is still present, and she still uses value well to separate (or combine) different planes within an image. Recently I found a third volume with her work, A Book of Myths, 1914. Again, a slightly different style, the color work here is almost without any line, very sensitive, and perhaps more personal. Not as strong, for my money. Like many of the day, I think her best work was her line art, the demand for color work in the teens and twenties led her in a direction she was not as well-suited for. If you can catch a look at that work in Andersen's Tales, I'd highly recommend it.

Afterward- Don't get me wrong, I think her color work has some really nice qualities. I particularly like her palette. But in comparison to her line work, I'd prefer the line. JM

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