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.

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