Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowday, Wyeth style

I start this post in the immediate aftermath of a Northeast blizzard, one strong enough to shut down the railroad, and grant me a snow-day to follow the Christmas break.

It occurred to me that a new bunch of N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) prints that have trickled into the studio share this wintry vision. Living where I do, it's not uncommon to see some snow on the ground from December to March, and it always surprised me that it doesn't show up in more work, from anyone who lives in the north. N. C. must've liked the snow as well, because looking over a group of his early works, a large percentage of them are snow scenes, including one of my most favorite Wyeth pieces. Seemed like a good theme to explore on a snow-day. Without taking it for granted—Newell Convers Wyeth is one of the most important illustrators of the twentieth century. He joined Howard Pyle, studying under him at the Brandywine, and Wyeth soon became Pyle's star pupil. Wyeth had an incredibly prolific career in both book and magazine work. He was also the patriarch of what became America's first family of art, with his son Andrew Wyeth, and grandson Jamie Wyeth being the central figures of three generations of Wyeth artists.

The images— a few nice covers from The Popular Magazine, including this cover with a Yukon adventure look to it- Polar bear, Native Americans, a trusty Colt .45. A second features one of N.C.'s strong solitary thinkers, in this case, a poacher...
A few plates from The Outing Magazine, January 1907- from a story entitled "How they Opened the Snow Road"
and a pair of plates from two classics—
The frontispiece from Mark Twain's last novel, The Mysterious Stranger (a read which I enjoyed tremendously in my college days)
and a piece I have the highest amount of respect for, from Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow, (also a good read)

Wyeth used snow in many of these pieces the way he used dust in his even earlier (or contemporary) western themed works—providing a light field, it helps him to increase contrast and strengthen shadows. He also frequently simplified figurative areas into definitive shapes, and obscured the details of distant backgrounds that would otherwise distract from the focus of the piece.

Stay warm. See you in the New Year, here's to a good one!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ring out Solstice Bells

The Solstice arrives this coming Tuesday. Marking the longest night of the year, it has special meaning to many people. This year's is especially spectacular, as it is not only coupled with a full moon, but also a FULL LUNAR ECLIPSE, visible all over the US. Holy Druids.

These old-world calender events always make me think of the myths and legends that make use of such happenings. Having just acquired a long sought-after book featuring some great pieces from Celtic myth, this seems like an appropriate enough occasion to share them.

Stephen Reid (1873-1948) is not a name you will come across in any (but the most thorough) of the books on Golden Age illustrators. His work was very good when he was at top form—but it was not always consistent. In his later work he went to an opaque medium, and lost a good deal of the sensitivity he captured here. Reid managed to hit a lot of the subjects I am passionate about—pirates, medieval history, and Celtic myth. These first four plates are a selection from The High Deeds of Finn and Other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland, by T. W. Rolleston, Harrap. 1910. This is what I just got a hold of, happy centennial, Finn. Featuring Reid's earlier watercolor work, his palette choice and usage of transitioning color manages to lend a nice dream-like feeling to these pieces, which benefit the faerie/other-worldly aspects of the setting. The last image is from an even earlier work, by Eleanor Hull—which is one of the pieces that inspired me to hunt down these color plates. I have a copy of that volume with the color on the way...I'll post those for St. Patrick's day. . .


Speaking of "working Joe" illustrators—
One of the things I love to do here is find the folks who gave a real go of it, but never achieved the stardom of those few—and might have gotten lost a bit in the past 100 years or so. Reid definitely fits that category. He seemed to stick around for a while, I guess he was a nice guy who handed in his work on time, but maybe didn't do AWESOME work all of the time.
This past week I found another blog entry who looked at this situation with real insight. Let me share that with you, and thanks to David Apatoff at Illustrationart for putting these thoughts down.


Be careful with your golden sickle cutting the mistletoe.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Often overlooked Warwick Goble

In a recent mail to someone I 'd mentioned British illustrator Warwick Goble. (1862-1943) Then I went to link to a VIEW post as to better explain my point, and found that I too, had somewhat overlooked Warwick Goble. Time to correct that, as he is certainly worth a look at.

Goble had a solid career in illustration, and was well entrenched in magazine work when the gift-book boom hit Britain after 1905. Goble was often in the shadow of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, but he rose to their level on more than one occasion. After roughly 15 years in magazine and paper work, Goble got a break from Macmillan, who in 1909 signed him on to be their gift-book illustrator, granting him steady—if war interrupted—work for the next decade. Like Dulac, tales of the exotic east held a special interest, and would reoccur as his subject of choice repeatedly. Like those two aforementioned giants, Goble worked primarily with a watercolor treatment over line work.

Goble also made a few serious benchmarks in fantasy/sci-fi work, with the very first illustrations for H. G. Well's War of the Worlds, (Ink-wash pieces in Pearson's magazine, April-December 1897) and also he was the first illustrator to tackle the words of that young (at the time) Oxford professor, J. R. R. Tolkien. Not bad credits for the resumé, eh? Shown here- images from The Fairy Book, 1913, Folktales of Bengal, 1912, The Tolkien image from The Book of Fairy Poetry, 1920, and lastly a look at Goble's vision of Wells's tripods...

Greetings to everyone I got to see at Illuxcon. My presentation on The Influence of Golden Age Illustration of Fantasy Art Today was well attended and received. If it rears it's head in a video format of some kind, I'll be sure to let you know. The show was a much needed shot in the arm, and I'm already looking forward to next year. Apologies for the delay in the posting—the past month has been frantic with the show, and many, many family events....