For those of us who have been looking forward to The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of Philip Pullman's Book of Dust, it's a whoo-hoo moment to see publicity for it. I love snazzy art work by Christopher Wormell. And an excerpt in the Guardian promises that Pullman has lost none of his story-teller's prowess. I won't throw away the summer wishing October were here; but when it comes, what fun!
Picturing a World
Website alert: For background to a story I'm writing, I have begun reading The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution by Deborah E. Harkness. The first chapter is about a community on Lime Street near a now-demolished church that had the delicious name of St. Dionysius Backchurch. To see where it was, I Googled and found the wonderful Agas Map site that lets you, not only enlarge, but search the image for streets, churches, and landmarks by name. Anyone interested in Tudor London or maps in general, check it out!
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.
Blog post tip: James Gurney has a post on the Sorollo Museum's new exhibition of sketches by the artist.
How many million (billion?) images of Nôtre-Dame de Paris have been posted in the last forty-eight hours? There can't be too many.
Blog post tip: Like much at Terri Windling's Myth and Moor, a recent post—On home, land, and the view out the window—rings true to the mythic-arts side of my imagination. Even better for me, it is illustrated with images from one of Jeanette's exact contemporaries, Elizabeth Forbes (1859–1912) who spent time in Pont-Aven as well as working at the center of the Newlyn art colony in Cornwall. Check it out!
Sketches, studies, and unfinished work of any kind have an appealing immediacy. They are good for characterizing artists, and good reminders that rough drafts, false starts, and revision are all part of writing any sort of story. Cecilia Beaux's autobiography, Background with Figures, was a key source for me when I was researching Where the Light Falls. Wouldn't I have loved to have this image then! For anyone who wants a quick look at Beaux and the Breton art scene, the blog my daily art display has a good post on Beaux in Concarneau, the summer of 1888.
Worried about cultural appropriation? Then what to make of a Chinese wallpaper produced for an English market, hung by a Yorkshire aristocrat, and added to by extra birds cut out of her copy of John Jacob Audubon's extraordinary Birds of America (one of 200 printed)? I ran across the story in The Papered Wall and chased it further in The 19th-Century Lady Who Used Audubon's Birds for Wallpaper, which has a terrific five-minute YouTube about the room and its other commissioned East-Meets-West treasures. The room is also the topic of the Audubon Society's DIY for Aristocrats: Rare Audubon Prints Turned Into Fancy-Pants Wallpaper, which has a link to hi-rez images of Audubon's plates (including the Columbia Jay).