Psychedelic Wonderland: the 2010 calendar

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So I had a bright idea at the end of September… Instead of rehashing old work for a CafePress calendar design, I thought I’d try something new. I hadn’t done any artwork for myself all year, everything I’d been working on was a commission of some sort. In addition to that, I’d spent a large portion of the year delving deeper into the psychedelic music of the late Sixties, especially the wealth of obscure British bands to be found on the seemingly endless series of compilations which have trickled out over the past two decades. Everyone is familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit but, as I’ve noted before, themes from, and allusions to, the Alice books run through British psychedelia to an even greater degree. The Beatles put Lewis Carroll in their pantheon of influences on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and Wonderland’s atmosphere of Victorian surrealism chimed perfectly with a resurgence of interest in Victorian art and design.

So at the end of September, mulling over ideas, I picked up one of my Lewis Carroll volumes and looked at the chapter list: 12 chapters…12 months…I could do a psychedelic Alice in Wonderland! The only drawback was being weighed down by ongoing work which meant that anything I did would have to be created quickly and easily. I reckoned it was manageable if I put a few rules in place first: try and rough out a chapter a day; make copious use of clip art decoration and scanned engravings; keep things bold and florid without worrying too much about fidelity to minor story points. In theory I could do the whole thing in about two weeks if I kept on schedule. As it turns out the whole thing took me three weeks as I got increasingly involved with illustrating the story. You can see the results below and larger copies of the pictures here. Two years ago I was saying I probably wouldn’t ever illustrate Lewis Carroll. That was true at the time since I couldn’t find an approach to the stories that would sustain my interest and (possibly) bring something new to the books. Seeing Alice’s adventures through the psychotropic prism of the late Sixties showed me the way into Wonderland. What’s needed now is to do the same next year for Looking-Glass Land. Watch this space.

Some notes on the pictures follow below.

Update: By popular demand, this calendar is now available again.

Continue reading “Psychedelic Wonderland: the 2010 calendar”

Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs

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I should have mentioned this a lot sooner considering the museum sent me a copy of the exhibition prospectus. Maison d’Ailleurs is the Museum of Science Fiction, Utopia and Extraordinary Journeys in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, and their current exhibition is Lines of Flight—Mervyn Peake, the Illustrated Work. Yverdon-les-Bains is too out of the way for most of us but the event gives me another excuse to draw attention to Peake’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll; some of the drawings from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and The Hunting of the Snark are among the works on display until February 14, 2010.

Mervyn Peake (1911–1968) is celebrated today as the writer of the extraordinary series of novels about Titus Groan (often referred to as the Gormenghast books). Yet, during his lifetime he was more known for his graphic work.

From 1939 and for almost two decades, Peake produced illustrations both for his own work (Captain Slaughterboard; Rhymes without Reason) and for classics (Household Tales by the brothers Grimm; Alice in Wonderland; Treasure Island). His mastery of the pen and the pencil were unrivalled. Visually, his style could be disarmingly economical, using very pure and clean single lines to create a striking sense of volume. But with cross-hatching and dots Peake could also make his drawings look like engravings, providing the characters and objects he depicted, or the background to them, with rich and varied textures and a wide range of shades. (More.)

For more of Peake’s illustration work, see Mervynpeake.org.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Charles Robinson’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Humpty Dumpty variations
Alice in Wonderland by Jonathan Miller
The art of Charles Robinson, 1870–1937
Lovecraftian horror at Maison d’Ailleurs
The Illustrators of Alice

Charles Robinson’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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As you might expect, the Internet Archive has a lot of Alice in Wonderland adaptations, including a silent film version whose poor picture quality makes any attempt to watch it a chore. Among the many books in their collection one of the best is this illustrated edition from 1907 by Charles Robinson, brother of the equally talented William Heath. The full-page illustrations are especially good for their swirling embellishments, and I like the way he establishes the playing card motifs very early on. But the PDF version of the book also shows his inventive page layouts with narrow vignettes cutting through the text and the margins featuring tiny figures running about. The colour plates aren’t so impressive but his black-and-white work makes up for that.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Humpty Dumpty variations
Alice in Wonderland by Jonathan Miller
The art of Charles Robinson, 1870–1937
The Illustrators of Alice

The art of Charles Robinson, 1870–1937

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‘Fair and False’, Songs and Sonnets by William Shakespeare (1915).

More illustrated gems from the collection of books at the Internet Archive. Charles Robinson, as mentioned earlier, was the older brother of illustrator William Heath (there was also a third illustrator brother in the family, Thomas). Charles was so prolific it’s difficult to choose one work over the many examples available in the Internet Archive, so here’s a brief selection from different books. If you only look at one of these, his oft-reprinted edition of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson is especially fine. There’s a distinct Art Nouveau flavour to much of Charles Robinson’s work and he also devoted more attention to page layout than his younger brother, many of his drawings being presented within sinuous frames and augmented by some very elegant lettering. If they haven’t been digitised already at Fontcraft’s Scriptorium, some of these type designs would make great fonts.

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A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (1895).

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Lullaby-land : Songs of Childhood by Eugene Field (1897).

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Fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen (1899).

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‘The Red Shoes’, Fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen (1899).

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The Story of the Weathercock by Evelyn Sharp (1907).

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The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde (1913).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

The Age of Enchantment: Beardsley, Dulac and their Contemporaries

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“Everything about her was white.” Illustration by Edmund Dulac for
The Dreamer of Dreams by Queen Marie of Roumania (1915).

A major exhibition of British fantasy illustration opens at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this Wednesday, running to February 17th, 2008. Considering the huge resurgence of popularity in fantasy for children I’m surprised none of the UK galleries have done this before now. The Dulwich organisers have chosen a suitably wintry picture by the wonderful Edmund Dulac to promote the exhibition which—intentionally or not—happens to look like a precursor of the poster art for The Golden Compass.

With the death of Aubrey Beardsley in 1898, the world of the illustrated book underwent a dramatic change. Gone were the degenerate images of scandal and deviance. The age of decadence was softened to delight rather than to shock. Whimsy and a pastel toned world of childish delights and an innocent exoticism unfolded in the pages of familiar fables, classic tales and those children’s stories like The Arabian Nights and Hans Andersens’ Stories. These were published with lavish colour plates and fine bindings: these were the coffee table books of a new age.

As a result a new generation of illustrators emerged. This new group of artists was intent upon borrowing from the past, especially the fantasies of the rococo, the rich decorative elements of the Orient, the Near East, and fairy worlds of the Victorians. The masters of this new art form were artists like Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielson, whose inventive book productions, with those of Arthur Rackham, became legendary. Disciples gathered, like Jessie King and Annie French, the Scottish masters of the ethereal and the poetic, the Detmold Brothers, masters of natural fantasy, as well as those who remained in Beardsley’s shadow: the warped yet fascinating works of Sidney Sime, a joyously eccentric coal-miner turned artist, Laurence Housman, master of the fairy tale, the precious inventions from the classics by Charles Ricketts, the Irish fantasies of Harry Clarke, himself a master of stained glass as well as the gift book, and the rich and exotic world of Alaistair. Children’s stories were transformed by the imaginations of a group still bowing to the Victorians Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway and the fairies of Richard Doyle but these were now given a more colourful intensity by Charles Robinson, Patten Wilson, Anning Bell, Bernard Sleigh and Maxwell Armfield.

The exhibition of British fantasy illustration will be the first such exhibition in Britain and the first worldwide for over 20 years (the last being in New York in 1979). All works, of which over 100 are planned, will come largely from British museums and private collections, many of these will never have been seen publicly before in Britain.

The exhibition is curated by Rodney Engen.

AS Byatt reviewed the exhibition for The Guardian and also looked at the sinister perversity underlying many of the Edwardian fairy tales.

Edmund Dulac at Art Passions

Books by Queen Marie of Roumania:
The Dreamer of Dreams (1915; illus: Edmund Dulac)
The Stealers of Light (1916; illus: Edmund Dulac)
Vom Wunder der Tränen (1938; illus: Sulamith Wülfing)

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Masonic fonts and the designer’s dark materials