So far, in my Book and Illustration series, I have talked about illustrated fiction. For that matter, most of my blog is about how various kinds of images stimulate visualizations for creative writing. But art plays a big role in the page design and impact of non-fiction, too. Right now, I'm reading The Continent of Antarctica by Julian Dowdeswell and Michael Hambrey, which is heavily illustrated with page after page of stunning photographs. Yet here and there, Edward Adrian Wilson's watercolors are reproduced also. Besides being of historic interest, they add a different texture and subjective beauty to layouts. In this picture of a leopard seal chasing penguins (which appears between two photographs on p. 176), the sweep of the artist's lines introduce a sense of motion and felt immediacy.
Picturing a World
No, the Little Grey Men involved do not include Michael Bloomberg. They are gnomes invented in the 1940's by Denys Watkins-Pitchford, who wrote stories as B.B. and illustrated them under his own name. A post on Nature, gnomes, and the power of story at Terri Windling's blog, Myth and Moor, put me onto his novel for children, The Little Grey Men. Actually, I had already recently encountered the book in Philip Pullman's Daemon Voices, which handsomely reproduces one of the illustrations (p. 256).
Pullman says of "B.B.": "In some ways he was a limited writer, but the honesty and passion with which he talks about wild things and wild places suffuses his best passages with a love of landscape, and specifically the English landscape, that is irresistible." True!
In trying to impose order on my messy computer folders this morning, I came across this image I had saved months ago from a manuscript digitzed at the excellent Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland. Artist Jean Colombe provided eight full-page illustrations for a manuscript (ca. 1470) of Le Mortifiement de Vaine Plaisance (1455) by King René of Anjou. To be honest, I have not tried to read the manuscript nor find out just what the allegorical meaning of this particular picture is. What I strikes me in this detail are the pollarded trees and the wattle fences, the different roofs (slate and tile), the slope of the hill between parts of a village, and the hint of a setting for a story. Kathleen Jennings recommends loving your tools as a way to jumpstart creativity. Manuscript illuminations are one of mine. What are yours?
Blog post alert: How's this for Valentine's Day? Instead of romantic daydreams, what about treasuring the objects and tools that enable you to fulfill your creative impulses? At her lively blog Tanaudel, one of my favorite illustrators, Kathleen Jennings, has an stimulating recent post, Loving the tools, on a notebook into which she dabbed colors and then free associated to capture her personal responses to them. It was a way of getting back into painting after an illness. In conclusion, she says: "Anyway, I've been talking with a few friends who have stalled on projects or pursuits recently, and this is for them. Perhaps, with no project in mind, just get out, handle, order, comment on, your tools and materials. Make friends again." And if you don't know Jennings' own work, do visit her website and get to know her!
Ninety percent of the authors' names are at least recognizable today, but wouldn't a list of "One Hundred Novels That Boys have cared to Read" look different today?!? (Harry Potter, anyone?) And what about girls, then and now? To be fair, St. Bernard's was, and is, a boys-only school, so the list fitted its population. Still, I'd love to see a list of what their sisters cared to read in 1914. Little Women would probably be at the top, and not just alphabetically for Alcott!
Website alert: An article by Peter Carey on writing The True History of the Kelly Gang has just introduced me to the series of paintings by Sidney Nolan that inspired the novel, one of his best. No doubt about it, encountering these strange pictures could set off a wild desire to tell stories! For more images, see also Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly—in Pictures.
Sixteen years in the making and still counting. An Incunabula Press project to publish a fine edition of John Crowley's fantasy novel, Little Big was officially launched in February 2004. It is to be illustrated—or decorated—with details from artist Peter Milton's surrealistic etchings. Hopes for publication in 2010 led to the design of the title page. The Little, Big website allows you to read a sample chapter on line.
What interests me for this series of blog posts is the idea of combining an existing novel with totally unrelated existing artwork. People ask, would I like to see an illustrated edition of Where the Light Falls? Well, of course! I began this blog to show readers the paintings, sketches, and photographs that influenced me while writing the novel. An e-book with links to such works would be one method of illustrating it.
From the dust jacket: "Tatterdemalion is a collaboration between writer Sylvia V. Linsteadt and painter Rima Staines. Together they have created a vivid post-apocalyptic novel in which the northern California of the future is imagined through images and stories rooted deep in the traditions of European folk tales."
I bought a hardback copy of the Unbound edition of Tatterdemalion because I love Rima Staines' art but can't afford an original painting. If I understand Linsteadt's post, A Needle, An Egg, A Novel Being Born at Folklore Thursday, she, too was responding to the pictures but the two of them created the novel together. Certainly, their contributions combine synergistically to elicit dreams, fears, imaginings of what the future holds for the human and more-than-human world. It's a book that haunts me.