When I wrote my last post, I had just left London for Seattle. I am over my jet-lag now and my cultural re-entry is underway. It is great to reconnect with friends and family on the same continent, but I DO miss London. What a richly laden place that is.
And the Victoria and Albert is a richly laden museum. As I mentioned in my first post about my visit to the V & A Museum’s Prints and Drawings Study Rooms, one of the objects I viewed that day was the original volume of Walter Crane’s designs for The Baby’s Bouquet, a companion to his earlier Baby’s Opera. Fifty-six pen and watercolour drawings in a bound, 7 1/4″ X 7 1/2″ booklet – created in the 1870s and published in 1877.
In my notes from that day I wrote,
OMG! This is the most beautiful thing ever!!! I can’t believe I am here touching this! I can’t believe it’s allowed!
Clearly, I was thrilled. It is truly exquisite. The illustrations appear to have been made contiguously in the bound book, with no correction fluid or paste-ins. There are some suggestions and notes for the engraver. Inside the cover there is a mini-mock up with a few endpaper ideas.
Preliminary pencil drawings can be seen under the watercolour. Crane’s touch with the brush (or pen) is light and confident. It is as though he never had a moment of doubt about any aspect of what he was doing.
I was curious to see a published edition of the book for comparison, but wasn’t able to until recently, when I joined Julie Paschkis and Jennifer Kennard on a book field trip to the University of Washington Rare Books Library. Jennifer made an advance appointment for us, and I requested to see their copy of an 1879 edition.
The published version is beautiful as well, but very different from the original. Engraving was the technique that allowed illustrations to be printed with the press technology of the time. Each colour was cut into a different plate, then inked and printed separately.
Watercolour washes have variations in value and tone that are made when the paintbrush moves across the surface of the paper with varying amounts of pigment. Wood engraving is a form of relief printing from a wood block. What isn’t meant to print is cut away. A thin layer of ink is then rolled across the surface of raised lines. The image is transferred to paper through the use of pressure. Watercolour and wood engraving are extremely different techniques.
The engraver, Edmund Evans, based his prints on Crane’s drawings, but made many artistic additions of his own. I don’t know if Edmunds was someone Crane knew personally and worked with repeatedly, but one would think so. Crane must have been able to trust him to take his creation and transform it so dramatically. Either way, both books exemplify two artists and masters of their craft. I will show photos of Crane’s originals along with the prints so you can compare for yourself.
Some images are more different than others. Who do you think decided to add the target and turn the boy’s head?
This image appeared in the original version, but was eliminated in the final.
This image was changed in format to become a two-page spread with a full-page image. Crane’s handwritten notes show below the drawing.
Some colours deepen from the original sketches.
Some palettes change more dramatically.
In this piece, you can see how a fairly simple painted background…
…becomes more complex when transformed into an engraving. There are four blocks cut and printed – yellow, red, blue and black. Notice how finely the lines are carved.
I think you will agree that both the drawn and painted sketches and the cut and printed final illustrations are beautiful. I leave it to you to decide which you prefer. You can dance Looby Light while you think about it.
GOOD EARLY MORNING FROM MS. I CANNOT WRITE CONCERNING THE EXCELLENT INFORMATION WRITTEN ON IN THIS ARTICLE ON WALTER CRANE’S ILLUSTRATIONS AND THE ENGRAVER’S WORK – EDMUND EVANS. TOO MANY YEARS HAVE PASSED SINCE I TOOK A UNIVERSITY COURSE IN BOOKS LIBRARIES AND SOCIETIES AND THE FIRST COURSE IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE-EARLY ILLUSTRATIONS AND ARTISTS. THANK YOU. How is MS Julie P? Great work, atk
Margaret, thank you for sharing this with us. Looking at the engravings, sometimes I saw why he made changes, other times I haven’t a clue. Maybe that worker’s rebellion. Long ago when I did technical drawings using rapidographs, If I had a big space of black to fill in, first I’d draw to my hearts to content. Then fill it in.
But I digress. I love this. Fascinating.
Hidden doodles! What a wonderful idea. I too used rapidigraphs back in the day. I don’t think I would have the patience now.
Yea, all that clogging up, filling and cleaning. Me neither.
Fascinating comparisons. Thank you. One medium has tools that seem fluid and friendly, like paint and brushes; the other tough and stand-offish like hard wood and engravers tools but both of them go looby-light.
Amazing — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a compare/contrast with these techniques. Though, text girl that I am, I think I love the phrase “dressed and decorated” best.
I agree, that is a great way to describe what he did with the text.
Yes fascinating. And all of it beautiful. Thank you so much for this. Why do all the women have that Greek nose straight from the brow do you think?
It’s funny you should mention that – I was just thinking the very same thing myself! Then I remembered that Lily Langtry, the famous actress and mistress of Edward VII, had this unusual Grecian profile, and was considered the greatest beauty of her time – the late 1870s, when Crane’s book was published. Clearly, Crane was one of many British artists who worshipped the “Jersey Lily”, as the perfection of beauty. Even Oscar Wilde called her the new Helen of Troy. It’s called a praxitelean profile – named after the ancient Greek sculptor. Take a peek at photos of Lily Langtry on Google, and you’ll see what I mean.
Thanks for these glorious illustrations, Margaret – I find myself preferring the engravings. The watercolours look a bit wishy washy and insipid by comparison. Perhaps it’s the strong defining lines of the engravings, that give them more ‘oomph’.
Thank you for pointing that out, Dierdre. William Morris’s wife Jane had that same kind of profile and she was a model for many of artists in his group.
I loved studying the comparisons-the transformation reminded me of how, in 1983, I was asked to do color separations for my 1st book, 4 separate overlays of gray shades aiming to create the subtle gradations of watercolor. What a nightmare! Luckily, at the last moment the publisher went to laser separation. In Crane’s era there was no such laser option. I do think Evans had a great deal of say on the finished look of the pieces. I can’t believe that the 2 artists weren’t in communication-but perhaps that was not neccesary for 2 such masters. Thanks, I really enjoyed this look into the past of illustration reproduction.
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