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Picturing a World

London portraits without people

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!

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Book and Illustration (8) Antarctica

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.

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Book and illustration (7): Little Grey Men

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!

 

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Pollards and wattle

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?

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Love your tools

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!

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Book and Illustration (6): Little, Big

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.

 

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Book and illustration (5) Tatterdemalion

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.

 

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Book and illustration (4): Lost Words

Jackie Morris's superb paintings and Robert MacFarlane's intriguing "spells" combine in The Lost Words to make a book that is greater than the sum of its equally splendid parts. You would treasure a print of any of the pictures; you might memorize one of the clever acrostic verses (spells as MacFarlane punningly calls them) to chant against the evils of our days. Together with the book's size, depth of color printing, and lovely page design (including a set of puzzles that delight once you figure out what they are doing), they combine into a classic.

 

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Book and illustration (3) Gently Falling Snow (again)

Throughout December, I treated myself to slowly working through Jackie Morris's Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, which was as wonderful as I had hoped. Now with Christmas behind me, I am going through it again, and it's better than ever.

 

In a post at Folklore Thursday, Some Words about the Quiet Music, Morris tells how the book originated in designs for Christmas cards in support of Help Musicians UK and how the imagery led to stories. And not only hers: "The cards began to gather their own stories, connections made between those who sent them, received, later found cards."

 

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Christmas in the Country

I still have my childhood copy of Christmas in the Country. It was garish when it was new. Now it is foxed and stained, but I read it every year. Maybe it's why I've always loved to imagine animals observing Christmas in the barn.  For grown-ups, here is Thomas Hardy's lovely, wistful version of the idea: 

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