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Picturing a World

Gaudy Skies

In November, I bought the new 25th Anniversary edition of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights for its woodcut illustrations by Chris Wormell. The book was a Christmas present to myself, which I saved for reading after New Year's Day. I'm finding that it does indeed enhance the reading to turn the page to a spectacular illustration like the one shown here. (As it happens, Wormell's color palette is reflected in a fascinating post at Gurney Journey on Polar Stratospheric Clouds.)

I was delighted to learn recently that Wormell is now working on illustrations for The Subtle Knife, the second volume in Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. You can watch Wormell demonstrate his artistic technique in a six-minute video here.
He uses old-fashioned wooden blocks and cutting tools to produce a picture, then scans it to edit on a computer, which seems analogous to writing a first draft on yellow legal pads, then editing electronically. There is no one right way to work, but it's interesting to hear Wormell's reasons for sticking with the older method. As readers of this blog know, in a world that grows more and more virtual every year (especially in these zoom-through-the-pandemic days), I find it terribly important to experience the physical, tactile world directly. Furthermore, when I compose with a pencil on paper, I feel an emotional attachment to my work. My guess is that an graphic artist feels the same about his chisel and a block of wood.


Now if we can only get outside to see a gaudy sky for inspiration!

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