Friday, 17 March 2017


Life in an English Village
Illustrated by Edward Bawden

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With an introductory essay by Noel Carrington
Published by Penguin Books, 1949

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This isn’t an easy book to find, but is an absolute gift for any illustrator, especially those who love observational drawing. 

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In the postwar era, Britain was actively celebrated, and this book is a testament to that wave of enthusiasm for the way life was lived and how it looked. Noel Carrington writes in his introductory essay that the village had been idealised; photographed ‘so that no modern intrusion spoiled the old world character of his chosen beauty spot’, and that the advertising sign or the petrol station would be edited out of view, and out of the consciousness of the town dweller. Bawden's original lithographs in this little book are there to help redress the balance and capture life as it was really lived at the time.

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Bawden records a range of people in their environments, going about their everyday activities. We see the vicar in his study, a woman mopping the church floor, mechanics at work in the garage, the barman pulling pints. The detailed surroundings are treated with as much respect as the village characters, and do much of the storytelling. These scenes are drawn with such honesty that, changes in fashion aside, many of them could be scenes from the local shop, pub, butchers or garage today. (Figure 01)

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The drawn line is so important in these images. Adding to the drawing, over-drawing, as people come in or out or change position, Bawden presents us with a sense of the moment being observed, of real life being lived before him. These are not perfect, preserved, staged tableaux, but busy people being captured with a crisp and immediate line. (Figure 02)

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This collection of sixteen six-colour plates, and the accompanying, thought-provoking essay is one of my favourites to dip into for a burst of inspiration.


Home
Written and Illustrated by Carson Ellis

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Published by Walker Books, 2015

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What a gem of a book. Through confident watercolour shapes, patterned detail and a beautifully chosen limited colour palette, this book celebrates different types of homes. Ellis shifts between the familiarity of city flats with graffitied walls and smoking chimneys (Fig 01) to fantastical underwater castles or tiny fairy-land houses. The everyday nudges up against the magical, and both are equally evocative and believable.

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(Fig 01)

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Ellis’s attention to detail rewards re-reading. Her ability to capture the weary curve of the roadie’s back as he pushes along a speaker, (Fig 02) or the cheeky toothy grin of the trouser-less roof-climbing child (Fig 03) is a testament to her narrative skill. The decorative pattern-making to depict stones, tiles, stripy socks, feathers, foliage, clothing, folk art or net curtains (Fig 04) is well-balanced against the stronger shapes and adds warmth to each spread.

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(Fig 02)


(Fig 03)

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It is wonderful to see such a rich range of dark colour in a book for children. Alongside the lighter tones of teal, peach, browns and vibrant red, are delicious deep tones of indigo, umber and rich black. Every page uses white through to these inky dark colours - a deft use of the tonally broad limited colour palette.

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(Fig 04)

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The variety of homes are drawn together at the end of the book with the artist in her own space. The clues to other spreads (the icon from babushka’s cottage or the mermaid from the messy home) decorate the studio space as she works on an illustration from the book we are reading (Fig 05). Immediately you want to start again and seek out the details page by page.

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(Fig 05)

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I can imagine sitting with this book with a very young child, relishing each detail. I know this would spark conversation with an older child - where would you live? or whose home is this? But this would also be treasured by anyone interested in illustration and design and the book as a beautiful object.

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Do look up more of Carson's work. It is beautiful. 


http://www.carsonellis.com/




My Brother's Ghost
Cover by Gillian Tyler

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Written by Allan Ahlberg
Published by Penguin Books Ltd, 2000

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I have a habit of buying books because I love the cover, and this is why I picked up this delightful, hand-sized short story.

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Gillian Tyler’s cover is whimsical, light and airy. Her hand-lettering sits comfortably alongside her ink work, the variety of 
mark-making adding a sense of movement that is supported by the softly tinted, subtle colour.

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It is lovely to see a cover for a ghost story that doesn’t emphasise the spooky element of haunting, and this reflects the feeling of the tale itself. Ahlberg’s ghost is Tom, the ten year old brother of troubled narrator, Frances, and her younger brother, Harry. The orphaned siblings have a bleak existence in 1950 England, and life with their unsympathetic aunt is made all the harder once the protective Tom has died. Luckily, Tom comes back to help the younger children through tough times. 

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Ahlberg keeps the tale so grounded in the everyday, that the presence of a ghost seems almost matter of fact. Take these two sentences describing Tom’s funeral:

‘And it was cold, I remember that, the low November sunlight glittering on the wet headstones. There was the sound of traffic from the road, the rumble of the presses in the nearby Creda factory.


It was Harry who saw him first. He grabbed my sleeve but said nothing. I looked… and there was Tom. He had his hands in his pockets, his jacket collar up. His hair was uncombed, as wild as ever. And he was leaning against a tree.’

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You can judge this book by its cover. It is gentle, warm and touching. 


Do look up more of Gillian Tyler’s work. It is beautiful. 


www.gilliantyler.co.uk

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


The Illustrated Story of England
Illustrated by John Bradley

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Written by Christopher Hibbert
Published by Phaidon Press Ltd, London, 2016
ISBN 9788857605173

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I couldn’t help it. I was supposed to be doing my Christmas shopping and was working my way through my ‘to-do’ list of gifts to buy. Then I saw this book: beautiful cover design; bold illustration; well-considered production values. I couldn’t put it down. It was in my hand on the way to the till and has been alternating between my ‘inspiration pile’ in the studio and my bedside reading table ever since.

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For me, John Broadley’s illustrations are the hook. Whilst evoking a woodcut, chapbook naivety, these black and white images remain powerfully contemporary in look and feel. Broadley deftly uses pattern as decoration, as design and as texture, cloning and pasting chunks of pattern into strong shapes to build the overall image alongside the immediacy of the inked line. 

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Broadley can switch between evoking the atmosphere of Guy Fawkes under the houses of Parliament by building up tonal layers of mark-making (figure 1), and an exaggerated design from the patterned surface of Little Moreton Hall (figure 2) to creating a patchwork like arrangement of texture in his Black Death landscape (figure 3) or the crisp shape of the Suffragette vignette (figure 4). 

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Broadley slips between these approaches seamlessly, each spread of the 250 page book enlivened by this fresh, warm approach. This is richly illustrated and put together with care - the end papers (figure 5) and steel blue chapter dividers emphasise the fact that this is an edition to treasure.

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Do look up more of John Bradley's work. It is beautiful. 

http://www.johnbradleyillustrator.com/