In Philip Pullman's new novel, The Secret Commonwealth, while on board a train, our heroine Lyra Silvertonguewatches an old man use a pack of pictorial cards to tell a story to a little boy. After a while, he tells the child to draw a card from the pack. "As before, the picture seamlessly continued the landscape of the previous one, and Lyra saw that the whole pack must be like that, and it must be possible to put them together in an uncountable number of ways" (p. 534). What a wonderful device! I thought when I read the passage. Had Pullman made it up? No: he names that kind of card pack on the next page: MYRIORAMA. Read More
Picturing a World
A propos of nothing—it's just that it tickled my fancy—I'm posting this image from an 1897 children's book. In a series of unrelated full-page illustrations, the book purports to depict England as it was when Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 and as it was sixty years later. Interesting to see which inventions added up to the latest word in modernity in 1897 (also to see what books grown-ups bought for children). Via the superb blog, Art and Artists.
To aid a description in my fantasy novella-in-progress, I wanted a good image of a volvelle or "wheel chart" and had the fun of searching for one on the 'net. How about this example?!? Of course, in the real book, the device lies as flat as so many layers can, but bravo to the digitizers at the Berlin State Library for creating such a delicious, virtual, pop-up version. For links to additional pictures and resources, read on.
After the death of her husband in 1904, the real Jeanette had a career in journalism, first at the Chattanooga Daily Times and then, from 1911–1921, at McCall's Magazine in New York City, where she was an associate editor. I believe she was an art editor; in any case, she would have known the art department at 236 W. 37th St. and would, I think, have been pleased with the self-possessed look on this reader's face. The lap robe and tea cup appeal to me, too; and I'm happy to imagine my fictional heroine Mattie settling down with this issue four years after the conclusion of ANONYMITY.
Yesterday, I attended a meeting about changes to a Massachusetts program to promote solar energy in the Commonwealth and then came home to read Terri Windling's blog post on Art and Activism. The post is illustrated by absorbing gouache and watercolor paintings by the wonderful artist, Kristin Bjornerud. Her pictures can inspire writers, maybe by literally suggesting a story line, maybe by leading to idiosyncratic explorations of what she calls "dream logic."
Windling quotes Bjonerud as saying, "My aim is to create contemporary fairy tales that act as a medium through which we may consider our ethical obligations to the natural world and to each other. Retelling and reshaping stories helps us to understand how we are entangled, where we meet, and how our differences may be viewed as disguises of our sameness."
Blog post tip: Kathleen Jennings is one of my favorite illustrators working today and the late Diana Wynne Jones one of my favorite authors. Lovely to learn that Jennings has designed the cover for an Israeli edition of Jones's Power of Three. Check out Jennings' post for her preliminary sketches—it's always interesting to see how artists work.
Well, maybe not our image of women artists or ourselves as storytellers, but, hey! it's summer. Have fun with your own painting or writing. Happy August.
Yesterday, I spotted a plant about to bloom in a neighbor's herbaceous border, knew I knew what it was, and couldn't come up with the name. Well, it was a Crown Imperial. This morning, a post at Gurney Journey sent me to Eugène Grasset's La Plante et ses Applications ornementales (1896). Grasset offers floral studies of plants followed by abstract designs derived from them; and there was my flower.
As it happened, yesterday I also attended a reading of a new play, an historical drama. It fell short of its topic. Looking at Grasset's illustrations today, I'm not sure whether the play failed because it lacked sufficient historical depth or because it did not transmute fact into something different from reportage. (I know it lacked complex characters!)
What's worth remembering in our own work is that the same material can be handled many ways. We need to explore them, impose our own structures and approaches, and then scrutinize the results ruthlessly.
Before settling in to work on my fantasy novella this morning, I made the mistake of skimming the news. After that, I needed a better picture in my mind's eye, for sure, so I visited Terry Windling's Dartmoor Mythic Arts page, which, in turn, took me to Virginia Lee's home page and this mysterious landscape. I allowed myself to poke around at her website and found her illustrated edition of The Frog Bride by Antonia Barber, one of my favorite children's book authors. At Better World Books, I found a copy and ordered it. If you don't know that venue, its profits go to literacy programs, and it provides a carbon offset feature for shipping (at the grand cost of $0.04 in this case!). It's much more worth supporting than the behemoth Amazon. Sales of used books do not profit authors (don't I know!), but they do help circulate work on the budgets that so many of us book lovers can afford.
This etching of the Tower of London, ca. 1884, appears in a recent post, Ernest George's Old London, at Spitalsfield Life. It's one of those images helpful to an historical novelist in imagining a monument that felt old in Victorian times but not spic-and-span touristy. The steps up from the water are a reminder of how the River Thames was used for transportation, and the trees hint at a more dishevelled place than the Tower today. They are even a faint echo of the fruit orchard that grew on the hillside in the Middle Ages. Teresa McLean, in her Medieval English Gardens (1980), reports that in 1275, the royal gardener there planted 100 cherry trees, 500 osier willows, 4 quince trees, 3 peach trees, gooseberry bushes, and a quart of lily bulbs (pp, 235–236). Check out Ernest George's other etchings and see what they suggest to you.