Monday, December 19, 2011

Fine Lines and Solid Blacks, V. III.

If you've followed this blog for some time, you know I'm a big fan of the work of British illustrator H. J. Ford. In conversation with a friend recently , we were discussing that appreciation, when he brought up John D. Batten. (1860-1932). I'd been aware of Batten, but I hadn't really explored his work until this came up.

At times in their careers, the works of Batten and Ford might have been nearly indistinguishable. Primarily line artists, both Batten and Ford often relied on intricate frames to surround their scenes, sometimes with a hand-written caption. Both worked in mythology and fairy stories—and both formed partnerships with writer/historians that explored fairy tales, and made minor heroes out of the illustrators to generations of children. The Batten/Joseph Jacobs partnership thrived throughout the 1890s, when they produced six books— English Fairy Tales, Celtic Fairy Tales, More English Fairy Tales, More Celtic Fairy Tales, Indian Fairy Tales, and The Book of Wonder Voyages. Indian Fairy Tales, in particular, yielded some great pieces of ink work. The last three here are from that book—"The Demon with the Matted Hair" is a fantastic piece of creature design. Tusks and a beak. During my undergrad work, long ago, I did a large ink piece with a complex Celtic frame—which I realize now, was modeled after Batten's style.


My first semester teaching History of Illustration and Animation has wrapped up, and I hope to invest more time in the blog again to help it happen more regularly. Have a great holiday.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Getting things Dunn

Last week was "Illustration Week" in NYC. It was declared so by the mayor—and gave NYC an excuse to tout the rich history of illustration that has passed through it, in the publishing houses, the schools, and of course the illustrators themselves. The Society of Illustrators made the most of it, with a week of special guests, lectures, and events. I was happy to add my two cents late in the week with a lecture on the illustrations of Alice in Wonderland, previewing my upcoming Dover book to the Lewis Carroll Society of North America— who happened to hold their annual Fall meeting in NYC that same week. It was a busy week following up a trip to Illuxcon, which all means a longer than usual absence from the blog. Let's get back on track.

I try not to turn to book reviews for subject matter when posting—but one came into the studio recently, that so completely covers an artist I've wanted to feature, that I can't ignore the book and the material it so masterfully displays. Harvey Dunn (1884-1952) came through Howard Pyle's Brandywine school, but with a direction all his own (primarily, a western one). I've looked for works by Dunn before with the hope of compiling a post of his works, but until now his work has not been as well collected as some of his other Pyle school alums. The right man for this challenge was Walt Reed. Walt is a legend in American illustration. He and his son Roger run Illustration House in NYC—a gallery for original illustration works, and Walt is the author behind numerous major books on illustration, most importantly, The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000. I consider this book the first stop for much of the research I do, and it would be required reading for my class were it still in print.

Harvey Dunn: Illustrator and Painter of the Pioneer West is expertly compiled, both in its selection of images and the accompanying texts. The section that I find most interesting is in the end of the volume, where a small book called "An Evening in the Classroom" from 1934 has been reprinted in its entirety, giving fantastic insight into Dunn's teaching approach. Don't let this one slip by you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

W.H. Robinson's Color Bulls-Eye

What do I mean by that... you ask? I mean, he hit dead center on this one with his color work.

A few months ago while profiling the Calla Fall 11 releases (there's still one Golden Age reprint left to discuss) I posted a selection of William Heath Robinson's (British, 1872-1944) line work from Midsummer Night's Dream. WHR's line in that volume is beautifully clean and balanced, while the characters are intricate and full of personality. It's gorgeous ink work—but I chose not to review the color plates in that volume. I can't say the color work (in MSND) has the same impact on me as the ink work; the color is fine, but the ink work is excellent.

In other internet wanderings, I come across plates for a volume that W. H. Robinson produced in 1909. A Song of the English, by Rudyard Kipling. In this volume, the line work, while plentiful, is rather ordinary, but the color work here absolutely sings. I did some homework, and found that only the earliest copies contained all 30 of the color images... and they fetch quite a price. but good things come to those who wait, and after some time, I came across a nice copy which I can share with you today. Each of these five images is shown with the surrounding piece of line-work frame, printed in a soft color on the text stock, which frames the tipped-in full-color illustration. All of the plates for the volume are visible here, if you have a yearning to see the whole set.

or the whole volume, poem, line work, and all, here

The poem is about the grand Empire of Britain, which was quite extraordinary when Kipling wrote it in 1896. (The poem was originally published as part of the The Seven Seas) The dated qualities of the poem, and the attitudes that may not be universally favorable, may detract a bit from the books value in today's market, but the illustrations are some of W. H. Robinson's best. Subtlety, symbolism, solid figures, beautiful color.

In more current times, if any of you folks are heading off to Illuxcon, in Altoona, PA in a few weeks, (for the Illustration conference that happens there annually) keep an eye out for me—I'll have some of my books along with my own work at the Showcase event on Friday night.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Different Quality of Line

Scottish artist Jessie M. King—(1875-1949) created a more emotionally driven image—Unlike most of her contemporaries at the turn of the century, King was interested in portraying a highly stylized figure, and illustration that communicated by its design as well as by its illustrative properties.

King would become quite popular as a book designer and illustrator in her early career, but it was her design sense that sets her apart, making her work readily identifiable. Frail lines, (I read one description as gossamer— which fits nicely) usually flat figure treatments, often set within a framework. The caption or accompanying text was often woven within the construct of the piece. King's form of calligraphy was so distinct that it can be used today, through a font which bears the name of a "center" she formed for women artists, Greengate. (I've actually used it frequently, and only now discovered it to be based on her lettering...)

Brought to my attention recently through the latest Calla Edition releases- the first two here are from that volume, (which is Oscar Wilde's fairy tale collection—A House of Pomegranates, illustrated in 1915) and a few from some others, to show a bit more variety. The black-and-white line piece is from a 1901 book entitled Modern Pen Drawings. It is captioned "Pelleas et Mélisande," and would have been among her earliest published works. The final two pieces are from a portfolio of drawings that King had published in a Christmas issue of The Studio, in 1913—


My class at Montclair U. is moving along nicely... we looked at some of Jessie King's line work this past week.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A New Chapter, and finally—N. C. Wyeth

It's a lot of change this month. My son started college—it's a bit more quiet at home.

Next week, I'm going back to school, in a way somewhat relevant to this blog. After working out the timing with Dover, I'm about to start teaching
The World of Illustration and Animation at Montclair State University, in NJ.
Not too different from the kind of stuff I've been doing here at VIEW, but much deeper and more thorough. I'm working to iron out how this is all going to come together, and I'll try to keep you posted— I imagine that I'll be finding lots of good stuff to share here.


Last post I mentioned the release of my new book on N. C. Wyeth, 1882-1945. The book's title is Great Illustrations by N. C. Wyeth. I've been a fan of Wyeth's work since my teenage years. When he was on top of his game, Wyeth was one of the best painters going. He is considered by many to be the star student to come from Howard Pyle's "Brandywine School." From Needham Mass, Newell Convers Wyeth traveled to Pyle's Wilmington, Del. school with hopes to enroll in the Fall of 1902, and there began one of the most storied careers in the field of illustration. Wyeth's work was hugely influential, not only for its qualities, but also due to its reach. The years he spent doing work for the Scribner's Illustrated Classics created a shelf full of volumes with images that have been burned into our memories, and reprinted for decades.

Great Illustrations by N. C. Wyeth reviews work of his earlier career, before easel painting became a larger part of his output. There are the classic pieces—images from Treasure Island, Robin Hood, and King Arthur— his early western work, and magazine and advertising illustrations that have rarely been reprinted. One of the real finds reprinted in this collection, is a three page article written by Wyeth himself in 1919, on the quest "For Better Illustration." For me, it was great to discover works I was not as familiar with, like these pieces from The Pike County Ballads, 1912, (the steamer and the bar scene) and The Courtship of Miles Standish, 1920. (The last piece, with bright candles and the back-lit figure.)


Congrats and kudos to my friends and colleagues who are currently showing their work as a part of FIT/NYC's first class of MFA illustration grads. If you're in or around NYC, stop by the museum at FIT for a real treat.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thomas MacKenzie, in with good company

Summer greetings to you all, especially those who signed on in the past few weeks! There's been a lot of activity in the studio, a few projects I can't discuss just yet, and some things coming together as we, err, speak.

I had thought to take a break from previewing Calla Editions, but then I got an advance copy of Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, In Rhyme.

My first look at Thomas MacKenzie's illustration happened about three years ago. While working on Arabian Nights Illustrated in 2008, The good team in our acquisition office got their hands on a copy of this volume (Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp, In Rhyme, 1919) for me to consider adding the material to the collection. It was also about the time when the whole idea of reprinting beautifully illustrated books in near facsimile reproduction (The idea that would become the Calla line of books) was taking shape. What makes Aladdin a gem is not the 12 solidly stylish color plates—but add to that the line work that is woven into the text throughout the entire book—and while it's earlier printing was on a rough, porous stock that did not reproduce the blacks with great clarity, Calla reset the text, to match the spacing, but provide cleaner reading. I had not expected to be so impressed with this volume, but it really surprised me.

MacKenzie (1887-1944) was new to me. There is influence from the likes of Harry Clarke, and back to Aubrey Beardsley. Other names like Alistair, and Kay Neilsen aren't far from thought. Excellent company, to be sure. The next book he would illustrate was King Arthur and His Knights. Seven of those plates appear in Visions of Camelot. Though busy in the early twenties, his career was short-lived, and after a half-dozen titles or so, he did not return to illustration.
Spirit of the Ages offers a set of all twelve of the color illustrations, here. They appear a bit over-saturated to my eye, but that is a matter of opinion.

A full version of an early edition of the book can be seen here-


My newest book- Great Illustrations by N. C. Wyeth— has just been made available on the Dover site This week-
Want an idea of what's in it? check out the table of contents-
I'll be back next post, with a better look at this new collection- Til then-

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Edmund Dulac's Fairy tale forte

In continuing my previews of the upcoming Calla releases, we are brought to an Edmund Dulac's illustrated edition—The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales, retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Quite a while ago, I spent some time on VIEW looking at two of the "edges" of Dulac's range- his more sophisticated works, and the Alphabet book he did early in his career. As a subject, The French fairy tales collected here are much more to the heart of Dulac's work, maybe only Arabian Nights material being more centric. This is considered by most to be among his best works, and with 30 full-page plates, it's hard to not find a few that are really special. Shown here, some of my favorites, from (Top to bottom) The frontispiece, from "The Sleeping Beauty," one from "Bluebeard," where Dulac let his love for Arabian themes come through—Two plates from "Cinderella," which as depicted here have a solidly French approach, and lastly a plate from "Beauty and the Beast," which may be one of Dulac's best-known fairy images.

Dulac was French-born, and likely would have been familiar with some of these tales from his own youth. Regardless of his history with the tale, it is quite evident there was a real passion put into the illustrations, they succeed on so many levels.

There are tales here that nearly all of us are familiar with—mostly due to the saturation our culture has with animated films—but there are also some stories which we may not be as quick to remember and are well worth revisiting. Quiller-Couch was quite an authority on writing and on children's stories in his day, and a solid writer on his own, to boot.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A master watercolorist rediscovers Wonderland

1907 was a HUGE year for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Originally published in 1865, Carroll's copyright was up in 1907. (copyright at that time was not the near-century of protection it can be today) The popularity of the tale meant nearly every major publisher in Britain, and many in the US, had a new illustrated edition in the works. The most anticipated one at the time, was that of Arthur Rackham. Rackham's success in the gift-book market was already solid, and it remained to see how his Alice would hold up against the ingrained images of Alice's first artist, Sir John Tenniel.
After the flurry of 1907 releases hit the markets, one notable edition arrived a year later. (Probably due to the magnitude of the task) In 1908, an edition published by Thomas Nelson and Sons (London, Edinburgh, Dublin and New York) was released, with 92 full color illustrations by Harry Rountree (1878-1950). 92 color pieces. Rountree was an incredibly deft watercolorist. Unlike Rackham, Edmund Dulac or many others of the day, Rountree did not always rely on a solid line for his watercolor to fill (or did so rarely)—his style was different—His paintings often take true advantage of the watercolor as a medium, and display a sense of light that few other illustrators before him had captured. He also had the ability to present more realistic settings, without losing any of the charm that his characters portrayed . I am still in awe of the fact that this was in fact, a full-color print run, in 1908.
There are a few reasons why more of us are not familiar with this brilliant edition. The full-color run made it an expensive purchase in 1908. With a half a dozen editions out the previous year, most households that would be interested already held a new copy of Alice, and many of those would not be interested in a second one. The added delay of the full-color production would prove a costly one. Later printings featured some of the art, but rarely all of it—and Rountree would do two other editions of Alice in his career, but neither would contain this amount of color.
The edition today is prized among Alice collectors, and it did elevate Rountree's status in the market even further, putting his future on very solid ground. Rountree's animal work was to be the mainstay of his career in illustration. He was active in both books and magazines. Born in New Zealand, he came to London in 1901, and after an initial struggle, became part of the wave of success that period publishing brought illustrators of the day.

When considering which edition of Alice to bring to the Calla imprint, The Rountree Edition—due to its rarity, the brilliant full-color images, and the sheer depth of them—made me a strong backer for its joining the list. The Calla Edition is scheduled for a September release.

The Story of Wicked Tim
digital version of a 1914(ish) Rountree book

And some Rountree work currently available through the Chris Beetles gallery, in London.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Virginia Frances Sterrett, wish you could have stayed a while longer

Occasionally, there is a bright flash that flares up in an art field- only to be made dark again when that light is quickly put out. It seems to me that an unusual number of creatives, writers and artists alike, led noticeably shorter lives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now, it may be that everyone led shorter lives, but, I'm not looking at life-stories across the board, It's the creatives that interest me.

One of these cases belongs to the life of American illustrator Virginia Frances Sterrett. (1900-1931)

Sterrett had a difficult youth—her mother died when Virginia was just 9, and her father had died even earlier— and Virginia was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 19. While dealing with the disease over the next decade, she managed to complete illustration commissions for three books between bouts of sickness—Old French Fairy Tales (1920), Tanglewood Tales (1921), and Arabian Nights, 1928.

Her work shows a good deal of eastern and art deco influence. Much of it makes use of flat shapes that function as near silhouettes, while other pieces use simple backdrops for complex and delicate figures to set against. Her art is exceptional in these areas, however, and a beautiful sense of color and design permeates all of her work.

Despite her short life, and just this trio of volumes, she has a better web presence than many illustrators of the day. I bring her to your attention only because you may not have stumbled upon her yet, and her work and her story are worthy of review.

View all of those illustrations here-

and a short bio here-


Shakespeare Illustrated,
now available through Dover Publications—due in stock at Amazon on July 3rd

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fine Lines & Solid Blacks, V. II

William Heath Robinson's A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Brothers Robinson. Throughout the history of illustration— there have been repeated instances of siblings who have found measured success as individual illustrators. Usually there are marked similarities in style and execution, but sometimes there are differences, that will put one ahead of another—at least in commercial success.

In the case of the brothers Robinson, there was not a just pair of brothers, but three. Thomas Heath, (1869-1950), Charles, (1870-1937), and William Heath, (1872-1944). The mutual success they shared is quite amazing, with their total output in Golden Age volumes having tremendous influence, especially when looked at combined. The three of them have far too much to look at or discuss in a single VIEW post, so I'm going to start with the youngest, and by today's measure, the most recognized, William Heath.

As mentioned in the last post, in the current Calla season, one of the volumes I'm particularly stoked about is W. H. Robinson's Illustrated volume of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. W. H. Robinson did do some stellar color work in his career, some of which I hope to show you this summer— but I want to look at the absolutely incredible line art he did for A Midsummer Night's Dream. The book (1914) contained 12 color plates, and 51 line illustrations, many of which were full page. W. H. Robinson had an incredible eye for deciphering contrast, and his inky shadows have some of the best shapes of any line work of the period. Here are a few of my favorite pages and pieces-

W. H. Robinson's career took an unusual turn at the beginning of World War I, when he began designing some strange, complex contraptions (in a comic form) to do simple mundane tasks. This form of cartoon became immensely popular, and while there were dozens of illustrators who could do a fair Fairy-tale page, this kind of design and humor were nearly unique to W. H. Robinson—so he made the most of it, and spent a good deal of his later career doing that type of work.

Jim Vadeboncouer's W. H. Robinson Bio


Yes, An Edmund Dulac Treasury, my latest compilation work, is now available! Shakespeare Illustrated should be right on its tail, here in a few weeks....