A poor student in my current fantasy story occupies a sparsely furnished attic room and makes do with a storage chest for a desk. It was enchanting, therefore, to come across this 10th C illumination of St. John: William's desk leapt right out. I've been debating whether to give the young man a writing board or portable desk (I think I will), but what really caught my attention was that box the good saint is sitting on. It looks like a biscuit tin! I collect images of medieval scribes at work and room interiors, and I've never seen anything like it.
Picturing a World
Yea! Shaun Tan, the wonderful, original, astonishing artist who is also a wonderful, original, astonishing writer, has won the Kate Greenaway medal. It's hard for me to say which of his books is my favorite—maybe Tales from Outer Suburbia, maybe Rules of Summer, two picture books that capture the wackiness of childhood and modern life. I also love The Singing Bones, retellings of Grimms' fairy tales with Tan's odd sculptures to illustrate them. And now Tales from the Inner City, deeply strange and incisive. I pre-ordered it and read it slowly when it came out, a story at a time. Each leaves you saying, "Oh," softly, sadly, a little ashamed to be human, but grateful to the more-than-human world for being and to Tan for expanding your perception of it. For more about the award, click here.
A post, Undine Love: Reprint, new art, at Kathleen Jennings' blog took me to the reprint of her story, "Undine Love," in full at Tor. What a treat—both the story and the silhouettes! They are a reminder that updating a fairy tale or folkloric motif can be a great way to begin a story of your own. The backbone of plot comes essentially ready-made, leaving you free to work on other aspects of composition—setting, character, dialogue, incidents (as opposed to the underlying structure). The talent to illustrate would be a big bonus—and might just affect the tone and finished piece. Wish I had the talent and the training!
Another Jennings blog alert: What did I tell you? Kathleen Jennings' Tanaudel blog is always worth looking at. I love her post this week on Inkblots as creative stimuli. You wouldn't even have to be as good an artist as she is to make blots, doodle pictures, and then string a few together to make a story—at least as an exercise. (Though, let's be honest, some of us might want to keep the results private instead of giving them to the world!)
A semi-staged dramatization of Jane Austen's Emma is a Christmas bon-bon scheduled at Shakespeare & Co., in Lenox, Mass., and a group of us has already ordered tickets. Fingers crossed that the company can safely perform in December!
Ahead of the play, I read Emma recently and therefore smiled at this pretty, pretty, instantly recognizable depiction of Harriet Smith meeting Elizabeth Martin and her brother in Ford's linen drapery shop. It appears in the May 25th blog post by James Gurney, and it sent me searching further. I turned up an interesting web essay on Jane Austen's Emma at 200, including mention of Henry and Charles Brocks' illustrations for late-19thC "chocolate-box" editions of Austen's work. How these particular illustrations continue to influence readers' visualizations and moviemaker's visions of Austen might be a topic worth following up.
During Massachusetts' stay-at-home order, I have been sorting family papers and came across these two vibrant, witty little watercolors by Knoxville artist, Mary Etta Grainger (1880–1963). I knew they were souvenirs from a bridge party; but, not being a bridge player myself, I did not know what to call them. A little poking around on the web introduced me to "bridge tallies." They are like dance cards. At a bridge party, guests sign each other's cards to assure a rotation at different tables. Sets of printed tallies were all the rage in the 1920's, and you can see scads of them at the Laura M. Mueller Bridge Tally Card Collection. But how much more delicious to receive a unique, individualized card!
Yesterday, I was tempted to illustrate the post on Bookshop with an image of Paris booksellers along the Seine but couldn't think of a particular one, so I went with the organization's logo instead. But isn't this print by Tavik František Šimon a lovely follow-up? If my character-in-progress Mattie went to Paris in 1908, she would find such a scene, which would have little changed from when Edward browsed there in Where the Light Falls—and booksellers on the quai are still there, for that matter, in the real Paris, not fictional at all. Since it may be a while, however, before any of us are traveling much except in imagination, try browsing the graphic art of Tavik František Šimon as if you were at a print seller's stall.
Blog post alert: Rebecca Wright At Dennis Severs' House at Spitalfields Life has several of illustrator Rebecca Wright's interiors of the historic Dennis Severs' house on Folgate Street in London. The house belonged to Huguenot silk weavers. My character Jeanette would love to see 21st C versions of her "portraits without people." Check it out!
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.
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!