Picturing a World
Serendipity + disparate connections = story possibility. Recently, my husband and I took a drive along a rural back road. In the side yard of a pretty 19th C farmhouse, a black bear was asleep. When we stopped, it roused and ambled away. On our return down the same road later, there it was again. When I e-mailed a niece about it, she replied, "The Napping Bear—it could be a pub or home goods store or anything." I thought of Barbara Firth's illustration for Martin Waddell's Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? and bingo! a children's bookstore. Now to figure out what happens there.
A few years ago, I borrowed a library copy of The Hobbit illustrated by Alan Lee. On the back of the jacket was an illustration of Bilbo joining the dwarves in front of the Green Dragon pub which was not included inside. Oh, well, I decided to spring for a second-hand copy just for the pictures and ordered on line what I thought was the right edition. When it arrived, lo and behold, its jacket was different. No Green Dragon. Phooey. To my amusement, when I searched for the illustration this summer, it turned up at a website with exactly my story of disappointment about the Green Dragon jacket illustration. That set me thinking about the difference between fan fiction and fan illustration.
Blog post alerts: Two recent posts set me thinking about the exercises and games creative people use to hone their skills or explore their art. The first is The Wiggle Game, which illustrates a parlor game played by painters in Old Lyme, Connecticut: One would draw a set of random squiggles for the others to expand into pictures. The second is Tropes to Taste, which explores an exercise for altering worn-out devices and descriptions in fiction. Personally, I have never carried out such mechanical exercises in any sustained way, but I love reading about them. And I love Stillwater and Koo on the endpapers of Jon J. Muth's Zen Ties!
Ottilia Adelborg (1855–1936) is another of the Scandinavian female artists who was an almost exact contemporary of the real (and the fictional!) Jeanette. She studied at the Swedish Royal Academy at the same time Jeanette was in Paris and may have studied in France later herself. She became a children's book writer and illustrator. The English-language edition of her Clean Peter is available online.
She also illustrated other writer's books, such as The Wonderful Adventure of Nils Holgersson by Selma Lagerlöf, for which this watercolor is a preliminary design. I haven't read the Lagerlöf book (which is available in a new translation), but this picture of a daydreaming boy and a tiny figure climbing out of the chest could suggest a story just by itself, don't you think? Or prompt a poem about the nature of imagination?
At bedtime, I'm rereading Kelly Barnhill's excellent middle-school novel, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. This time, what struck me when I took the book off the shelf was the cover art by Yuta Onoda. Flat, poster-style art works well for making a jacket visible across a room, and Japanese manga-anime styles can thus be very effective. But just look at the volume and motion achieved in billowing skirt of the girl's cloak! And the depth and contrast created by the fiery band below the shadowy city under that huge moon with the swirling origami birds. This isn't cartoon work.
I explored Onoda's website and was led by it to my next YA choice, How Do You Live?—which is even better when you open out the book and find that the jacket is wraparound. Maybe you can't judge a book by its cover—but, as the publishing industry knows, it sometimes helps!
Back to a possible future for my character, Jeanette Palmer, and Japonisme. I have thought for a long time that children's book illustrations could be one direction for her career to take. In that connection, the Red Rose Girls offer lots of hints. And now, although I don't yet know a thing about it really, the influence of Japanese woodcuts on early twentieth century illustrators seems clear. So hurrah for Helen Hyde! She actually went to Japan and learned woodcut technique. A quick search on-line has quickly turned up three informative, well illustrated websites to get me started: (1) An American in Japan: Helen Hyde. (2) Pioneering Women Printmakers: Helen Hyde and Lilian May Miller in Japan. And (3) In Memoriam Helen Hyde, American Japoniste. If you only look at the picture, enjoy!
Although bulb spears and even daffodil buds are showing in south-facing patches, we've still got snow on the ground here in the Berkshires. A little shivering among the flowers? With a bend in meaning from the original, this example of the paper engineering art of Ukrainian illustrator Yevgeniya Yeretskaya seems a perfect way to say goodbye, Winter—hello, S-S-Spring!
My latest reading from the books I gave myself at Christmas is the new YA fantasy, Tyger by S. F. Said. It is set at Midwinter in the harsh London of an alternative universe, where Muslims must live in a Ghetto and aristocrats own slaves. It is anti-colonial, for sure, and demonstrates the harm done by in prejudice and injustice. Yet unlike R. F. Kuang's Babel (see previous post), it is full of love, courage, and loyalty.