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Picturing a World

Peake illustrations

Blog post alert: The British Library has announced acquisition of 300 drawings by the writer and artist, Mervyn Peake.  You can read about it in a blog post by curator Zoë Wilcox, Mervyn Peake's scariest drawings saved for the nation. In covering the story, The Guardian quotes Wilcox: "We know that he drew whenever he got stuck with his writing, in order to help him imagine what his characters might say and how they might speak." For those of us with no training (and little talent), doodles still might be an interesting way to unlock creativity.

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London, 1809

Blog post alert: And now today's Spitalsfield Life. The Microcosm of London has nearly forty highly detailed images of life in London, which can be enlarged to high resolution. It was tempting to show you only a screenshot of that fireplace on the right. Think about it: an open fire in an auction room! Indispensable if you are writing Regency fiction and stimulating in all sorts of ways.

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Little Visitors

A recent post at Spitalfields Life reproduces this picture and the pages it illustrates. In The Little Visitors, two girls visit a knowledgeable aunt in the English countryside. She teaches them many things and tells the story of how she once rescued a slave boy by purchasing him to give him his freedom. For us, the fraught layers of history, agency, privilege, etc., make this picture and its story complicated. But the idea of two clever girls in Regency England visiting a learned aunt? Now, that offers possibilities for flights of compositional fancy!

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Biscuit tin

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.

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Tan wins the Greenaway

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.

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Jennings’ Undine Love

Kathleen Jennings, 2020 illus. for "Undine Love"

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!

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Kathleen Jennings’ ink blots

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!)

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Emma

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.

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Bridge tallies

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!

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Paris Booksellers

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.

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