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?
Picturing a World
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!
Ninety percent of the authors' names are at least recognizable today, but wouldn't a list of "One Hundred Novels That Boys have cared to Read" look different today?!? (Harry Potter, anyone?) And what about girls, then and now? To be fair, St. Bernard's was, and is, a boys-only school, so the list fitted its population. Still, I'd love to see a list of what their sisters cared to read in 1914. Little Women would probably be at the top, and not just alphabetically for Alcott!
Website alert: An article by Peter Carey on writing The True History of the Kelly Gang has just introduced me to the series of paintings by Sidney Nolan that inspired the novel, one of his best. No doubt about it, encountering these strange pictures could set off a wild desire to tell stories! For more images, see also Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly—in Pictures.
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.
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.
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.
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."
An author may collaborate with an artist to produce a book (see my previous post on L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow). Authors who also draw or paint as amateurs may produce illustrations either skillful enough or charming enough to be used by their publishers (e.g., J. R. R. Tolkien and Arthur Ransome). It's something altogether different, however, when an accomplished artist uses sketches and drawings as part of the process of writing a novel. I'm thinking of Mervyn Peake because I've just been reading his Gormenghast novels.
As a lover of illustrated books, I've been thinking about how their stories and pictures relate. Which has primacy, the text or the illustration? One quick criterion: the text is likely to be supreme if it has been illustrated by more than one artist—even if the original illustrator worked closely with the author.
Take the example of L. Frank Baum and W. W. Denslow. They worked as a team on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and held joint copyright. An article in the online Public Domain Review, which publishes a selection of pages from that first edition, shows just how delightfully successful they were in blending story, picture, and page design. The edition I grew up with had a set of illustrations by Eveyln Copelman, which were commissioned by Bobbs Merrill after World War II to take advantage of the popularity of the Judy Garland movie. Even as a child, although I loved the book, I wasn't that crazy about these pictures.