Author Archives: Margaret Chodos-Irvine

A Movement of Ideas

W Morris-book text

“Don’t copy any style at all, but make your own”  – William Morris

I have never had anyone tell me that they don’t like the designs of William Morris and his circle of artists/artisans, nor have I ever heard anyone complain that they are too ornate, too flowery or too pretty. You cannot deny the beauty of their complex patterns and rich colors. They transcend what usually would be considered merely decorative.

I don’t know if an interior decorator of today would choose a William Morris wallpaper pattern for a home that wasn’t undergoing some sort of period restoration, but in smaller amounts – calendars, cards, notebooks – the designs appear as delicate, ornate treasures. Somehow they combine the beauty and abundance of nature with the precision and control of design in a perfect balance.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I took the train to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London. She is design student at Pratt in New York. This was kind of a pilgrimage for both of us. (Once again, I must apologize for the poor quality of some of the photos. I have no choice but to take them on the fly, and the lighting in this museum made it particularly hard to get good pictures. I hope that they will at least give you the feeling of being right there with me, looking over my shoulder, so to speak).

I knew of William Morris as a designer and craftsman, but I didn’t know his first fame came as a poet and writer.

He also was a translator, weaver, embroiderer, stained-glass artist, type designer, calligrapher, publisher, wood-carver, political activist –  and owner and manager of a highly successful interior design retail shop. Could he sing?

In the late 1800s, William Morris helped start what was to be known as the Arts and Crafts Movement; what he considered to be a  “movement of ideas’ rather than a distinct visual style. Members believed tin social reform, education, environmental sustainability and self-sufficiency, as well as hand-craftsmanship, designing from nature and sympathetic use of materials.

In addition, Morris believed that no one should design an object without a full understanding of how it was going to be produced, which explains why he was driven to master so many crafts himself.

Morris’s first wallpaper design was inspired by the rose trellis in his garden.

W Morris-Trellis wallpaper (1862)

You can see in this drawing how he drew and redrew as he revised his ideas, working the same piece until it was complete. He believed this approach was the best way to maintain the harmony and integrity of the work.

W Morris-Trellis wallpaper design (1862)

He hadn’t yet gained full confidence in his drawing abilities so he asked his friend and colleague Phillip Webb to draw the birds. He was 28 at that point.

Here are more of Morris’s drawings:

W Morris-Design for African Marigold textile (1876)W Morris-Lily and Pomegranate design for wallpaper (1886)W Morris-Wallpaper for Queen Victoria

As a printmaker, I can appreciate that Morris insisted that his wallpapers be hand-printed from carved wooden blocks. Even though the technique was slower and more arduous than machine-printing, the results were far better and thus were worth the extra effort. Printmakers are artisans at heart.

W Morris-Hand-carved woodblock was used by the M & Co printers to make Daffodil pattern

Morris also designed textiles and researched the use of organic pigments and dyes.

This copy of Herball or Generall Historie of Plants was Morris’ own book that he had studied since he was a child. This page shows the roots of the madder plant which produce the madder rose dye.

W Morris-herbal

Not only were the color tones of the organic pigments more natural and better suited to his designs, they caused less pollution than the aniline dyes that had become prevalent by then.

W Morris-Brother Rabbit printed cotton (designed 1882)W Morris-cloth detail W Morris-Strawberry Thief printed cotton (design registered in 1883)

At age 49, to the surprise of many of his colleagues and friends, Morris became a revolutionary socialist. He felt that the British government was an hypocrisy, taxing the poor while favoring the rich (sound familiar?). It bothered him that only the wealthy could afford the high-quality goods that Morris & Company produced. “To apply art to useful wares…is not a frivolity, but a part of the serious business of life.”

He became a well-recognized public figure.

Funny Folks-W Morris cartoon

Morris envisioned an “ecotopia” society, where people lived communally with no central government, private property or currency. He attended protests, gave lectures, and published books.

He founded the Kelmscott Press:

W Morris-Kelmscott frontispieceW Morris-PsycheW Morris-Troy type Parlement of Foules   W Morris-Amonges thise povre folk

His youngest daughter, May Morris, also became an accomplished designer and textile artist.

May Morris-Honeysuckle wallpaperMay Morris-embroidery detail

Morris & Co. also sold ceramic ware and tiles.

the Martin Brothers-bottle  William De Morgan-Bottle with design of cranes killing snakes (1888 - 1907) Sands End Pottery, Fulham, London, England   William De Morgan-Lion Rampant

What I have shown here is a very small sampling of what the William Morris Gallery has to offer. Next, my daughter and I hope to visit Kelmscott Manor in the Cotswolds. That will be another pilgrimage for another day!

Library Love Revisited

BL signage

Two years ago I wrote about my deep appreciation for my local library in Seattle. Now I live in London, where public libraries as we now know them got started.

Founded in 1753 as part of the British Museum, The British Library is the grandmother of them all. It was originally intended as a kind of national museum created to build on its initial collection of books, manuscripts and prints. Over time, as it’s collections increased to include drawings, scientific materials, maps, music, stamps, coins, periodicals – anything printed with historic significance – it became clear that it needed its own facility to house and exhibit its treasures. The current British Library was formally opened in 1998 near St. Pancras station.

In planning my first visit to the British Library, I scheduled myself a (free) tour of the Conservation Center. There, I saw the staff working on a number of current projects: preparing 19th century maps for an exhibition in India; repairing the disintegrating bindings of letters of state from Oliver Cromwell’s era; building boxes for a Franz Kafka award for magic realism and a torch from the 2012 London Olympics; mounting original, handwritten lyrics by John Lennon. Sorry, no photos allowed, but I did take pictures of some of the Royal binding stamps in the hallway.

BL royal binding stamps 2 BL royal stamp

I also visited the library’s permanent exhibit on the first floor. There it displays some of its most impressive treasures. These include a Gutenberg Bible, pages from Da Vinci’s notebooks, and Shakespeare’s first folio. The Magna Carta is usually there, but it is off display for a future exhibit. Some of my favorite items there are: Jane Austen’s writing desk; a page from the 11th century Beowulf poem; a letter from Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII to Cardinal Wolsey, dated 1528; a Kufic Qur’an from AD 850;

BL Kuric Quran

The Guthlac Roll, a 12th – 13th century scroll showing events in the Life of saint Guthlac of Crowland;

BL Guthlac Roll-Angels Visit Guthlac BL Guthlac Roll-Demons Attack Guthlac

The various scripts and handwriting were fascinating to see all in one room. From Florence Nightingale’s wispy report on her nursing staff in the Crimea (1854-56), to John Lennon’s lyrics for “A Hard Day’s Night” scrawled on the back of a birthday card for his son, Julian. Sorry, no photos here either.

In the center of the building is the King’s Library, a towering glass-encased structure that houses the foundation of the library – King George III ‘s book collection. It consists of 65,000 printed books and 19,000 pamphlets from Britain, Europe and North America from the mid 15th to the early 19th centuries. I guess he was a bookish sort of king.

BL Kings Library wall

Then there was the “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination” exhibit which ends later this month. The history of British Gothic literature from its beginnings  in 1764 with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, to present day Whitby Goth culture. It appears to be true that Goth with never die.

The items chosen for this exhibit included some I expected, and others I didn’t. I took a few photos of pieces that intrigued me. If there was a no-camera sign posted, I failed to see it…

“The Nightmare,” by Henry Fuseli (1782). It combines “the supernatural, the macabre and the erotic to brilliant effect” and “highlights the importance of the unconscious,” all classic Goth elements.

BL Henry Fuseli-The Nightmare

William Blake’s Time “in his character of destroyer, mowing down indiscriminately the frail inhabitants of this world.”BL William Blake-Time as Destoyer

The Wicker Colossus of the Druids from a 1771 travel guide to England and Wales, illustrating the legend that the Druids made human sacrifices by burning people inside giant wicker effigies. Is this where the idea for Burning Man came from?BL Wicker Colossus of the Druids

Caricaturist James Gillray’s “Tales of Wonder!,” (1802) is a satirical look at the excesses of Gothic novels and the “excitable imaginations of those who read them. “BL Tales of Wonder-James Gillray

The original manuscript of Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley, with comments in the margins by Percy Shelley.BL Frankenstein ms-Mary Shelley w comments by Percy Shelley

Arthur Rackham contributed to Gothic literature, as in this illustration for Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Oval Portrait,” (1842).BL The Oval Portrait-Rackham

“The Man of the Crowd,” another short story by Edgar Allen Poe, here illustrated by John Buckland Wright (1932).

BL John Buyckland Wright-Poe-The Man of the Crowd

Oh abhorred Monster! Frankenstein, illustrated by Lynd Ward (1934)BL Frankenstein-Lynd Ward

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in lurid technicolor!BL-Hound poster

No Terror and Wonder show would be complete without zombies. BL-Zombies poster

Even Gothic drama has its humorous side. “The Curse of The Were-Rabbit” (2005), is described by co-creator Nick Park as “the world’s first vegetarian horror film.” BL Nick Park-Were-Rabbit

I finished my full, bookish day with a round through the British Library Bookstore. I bought a dozen or so postcards to send to my American friends (and some to keep for myself). The world of books is a place in which I am quite happy to linger. If you are a library lover, you will enjoy it too.

An Afternoon at Foster’s

Fosters Books-Master Stephen

Imagine what the quintessential British bookstore might look like. If you picture a little shop in an 18th century building stocked untidily with old and unusual books from floorboards to rafters, then you could be thinking of Foster’s Bookshop in Chiswick, London.

The owner Stephen Foster is a second generation bookseller who bills himself as a purveyor of “outmoded educational tools and antiquated entertainment devices.” He looks the part, don’t you think?

I had stopped in the shop a few times since moving here, and thought it would make a good blog post source, so I made an appointment with Stephen to come in and photograph some of his children’s books – if he wouldn’t mind.

What I had thought would be a half-hour visit turned into the better part of an afternoon, talking and viewing.

The first volume he took down from his shelves was a 1906 (U.S.) edition of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, by J. M. Barrie, illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

Rackham-Peter Pan-book coverRackham-Peter Pan-title page

Stephen told me that he grew up near Kensington Gardens and that he and his siblings visited the park often when they were young. Walking through the park where Peter Pan’s stories took place must have been wondrous for a child. Would that not make you believe in fairies, too?

Rackham-Peter Pan-little boatRackham-Peter Pan-hoursRackham-Peter Pan-web

Most Americans think of Peter Pan as Disney portrayed him in the 1953 animated film – an impish young boy in a pea green suit and elf slippers. That is nothing like J. M. Barrie’s original character as shown by Rackham – an infant wandering the park and befriending it’s otherworldly denizens after closing time.

Rackham-Peter Pan-boat under bridge Rackham-Peter Pan-kite Rackham-Peter Pan-swansRackham-Peter Pan-tulipRackham-Peter Pan-flying Rackham-Peter Pan-king Rackham-Peter Pan-Broad WalkRackham-Peter Pan-fairies Rackham-Peter Pan-hidingRackham-Peter Pan-stars

I clearly remember the first time I saw illustrations by Arthur Rackham. It was in a little bookstore owned by a friend of my parents, and she carried a number of publications from Green Tiger Press, which specializes in reproducing antique and vintage illustrations. I was a pre-teen who was still enthralled by fairy tales, and who drew a lot. Rackham was like God.

A few years later I visited London with my parents, and was ecstatic to find whole books about Arthur Rackham that I could purchase and take home with me. I spent hours looking at the illustrations in those books, wishing I could see more of his work, but 19th century picture books were not something a teenager could easily access in the U.S. in the 1970s, at least not in my home town in California. I had to be content with the few images that had been chosen for reproduction.

Until last week.

Next Stephen pulled down a 1905 edition of Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving, also illustrated by Rackham.

Rackham-Rip V W-cover Rackham-Rip V W-title page Rackham-Rip V W-intro page

Because there were so many illustrations in each volume Stephen showed me, only a few of which I had seen before, I was determined to take as many pictures as possible to share here. The photos aren’t great – I was taking them under poor lighting on the only space in the shop that wasn’t piled high with books and prints – but I hope they will still give you some of the thrill that I felt turning those pages to reveal so many wonderful images.

Rackham-Rip V W-certain biscuit-bakersRackham-Rip V W-kite Rackham-Rip V W-These fairy mountains Rackham-Rip V W-hen-pecked Rackham-Rip V W-daughter and grand daughterRackham-Rip V W-window Rackham-Rip V W-his knees smote Rackham-Rip V W-Kaatskill MountainsRackham-Rip V W-making friendsRackham-Rip V W-new moon Rackham-Rip V W-postscript

I learned a few things from studying Rackham as a teen that I still keep in mind when I work: Don’t just illustrate what the author describes – imagine scenes beyond the text; if you limit your palette to a only three or four colors, nothing in your image will “clash” with anything else. It is part of why Rackham’s illustrations are so pleasingly quiet, visually.

My favorite image of Rackham’s as a teen was from Undine. The coquettish creature coming up from the sea had a lot of appeal to me then. I wondered what that look in her eyes was about, and what story the other pictures from the book would tell. I had only seen a few.

Rackham-Undine-Undine

And there it was, between Spike Milligan and The Hobbit.

Rackham-Undine-cover of 1912 US edition

Okay, so I went all out here. I took photos of pretty much every image in the book, just in case there was another teenager out there who wondered the same thing about this girl.

The story is similar to The Little Mermaid. Lots of romance and melodrama and a moralistic ending.

Rackham-Undine-frontespieceRackham-Undine-Contents tableRackham-Undine-webbed pair Rackham-Undine-list of illustrations headRackham-Undine-This is the story Chapter I How the knight came to the fishermanRackham-Undine-fearsome forest Chapter IIHow Undine had come to the Fisherman Rackham-Undine-beautiful little girl Rackham-Undine-infancyRackham-Undine-flood Rackham-Undine-Knight Rackham-Undine-false goldRackham-Undine-storm “At length they all pointed thier stained fingers at me” Rackham-Undine-Little niece and KülhlebornRackham-Undine-framed spotCHAPTER X HOW THEY FARED IN THE CITY Bertalda Rackham-Undine-a mark“Bertalda in the Black Valley” “Soon she was lost to sight in the Danube” “He could see Undine beneath the crystal vault” CHAPTER XIVTHE BLACK VALLEYRackham-Undine-Chapter XVIIRackham-Undine-bearded spotCHAPTER XVIIIHOW THE KNIGHT HULDBRAND IS MARRIED CHAPTER XIXHOW THE KNIGHT BULDBRAND WAS BURIED

Even the endpapers are beautiful.

Rackham-Undine-endpaper

I hope this wasn’t too much of a good thing for you.

If you like old books and happen to be in London, you should add Foster’s Bookshop to your sightseeing list. It will be worth the tube ride to Chiswick.

Fosters Books-more books

I plan to go back and peruse the shelves further, and I’m sure another blog post will come of it. At least, that will be my excuse for taking more photos…

 

Boom Boom Arrives

Boom Boom by Sarvinder Naberhaus

Some of you may remember me working on a book titled BOOM BOOM (by Sarvinder Naberhaus) from some of my earlier posts here and here. I finished the illustrations in June, 2013. The book came out on October 7 of this year. That’s roughly 15 months of waiting. Long enough for me to almost forget about it. But not quite.

I received my artists’ copies last week. Opening a book that I’ve illustrated for the first time is like revisiting an old friend in a new house. I feel excitement, as well as a bit of trepidation. The art can no longer stand alone; it must work as part of a BOOK. Will it all come together? Will readers enjoy the pictures? Did I miss something when I sent it off to press, that now will be painfully obvious?

Most important: Do the images speak the way I intended them to? The biggest challenge of this particular book was that there is no story, no characters, no narrative arc to follow. Naberhaus’s text consists of sixteen words, each repeated twice. The only thread which links them together is how the couplets progress through the seasons:

Boom
Boom

Flash
Flash

Drip
Drip

Splash
Splash

This isn’t the first time I have created a visual story to accompany a non-narrative text. I did the same with Light Up The Night, among others. While having a story to follow can simplify the process of illustrating a book, my aim is always to augment a story through the illustrations, so my approach with BOOM BOOM just meant taking that idea to it’s full extent.

So what story did I want to tell? It needed to be a story that I felt an emotional connection to in order for the images to tell a compelling tale. When I thought about the stories that I have written thus far, I saw a common theme between them: Friendship. Finding, making, losing, keeping friends . . . these were the most valuable lessons I learned growing up. Who doesn’t remember those experiences which teach us about how we may, or may not, fit in?

BoomBoom6-7 Chodos-Irvine WS

So I had sixteen words and thirty-two pages to get my story told. The text opens with the onomatopoeic first few lines suggesting a potentially frightening storm. I saw a shy little boy terrified by the loud thunder and flashing lightening, and a more outgoing, slightly bigger little girl enjoying the excitement, yet feeling concern over her preschool-mate. After the storm passes, she brings him out to share in the fun of splashing in puddles.

BoomBoom10-11 Chodos-Irvine WS

But the best friendships travel on two-way streets, so in the following sequence, the boy is the one to comfort the girl.

Bloom
Bloom

Buzz
Buzz

Blow
Blow

Fuzz
Fuzz

Boom Boom pg 14 Chodos-Irvine

BoomBoom15 Chodos-Irvine WS

The seasons progress to Winter, and through their friendship, they enrich their larger community and establish their place within the group.

Crinkle
Crinkle

Crunch
Crunch

Fall
Fall

Bunch
Bunch

BoomBoom20-21 Chodos-Irvine WS

BoomBoom22-23 Chodos-Irvine WS

It sounds better in pictures.

Swirl
Swirl

Blow
Blow

Silent
Silent

Snow
Snow

BoomBoom 24-25 Chodos-Irvine WS

Boom Boom pg 26-27 Chodos-Irvine

BoomBoom32 Chodos-Irvine WS

I enjoyed the freedom that the sparse text gave me to explore my own visuals, and I think it came together well. If you have the time, go check it out at your local bookstore or library and see what you think.

And if I do see anything that I missed before, well, I’m not telling!

In The House of Illustration

blake-arrow sign

I have been living in London almost three weeks now. My jet lag has worn off. My post-flight cold is gone. I am settling in and learning how to get around this amazing city.

For my first post as “foreign correspondent” for Books Around The Table, I chose to visit Sir Quentin Blake‘s “Inside Stories”, the inaugural exhibition at the recently  opened House of Illustration gallery space.

House of Illustration was begun in 2002 by a group of UK illustrators, led by Blake, to establish the world’s first “home for the art of illustration.” Over the next decade, the founders worked to raise awareness and garner funding to find a permanent home. In July of this year, they opened its doors in Granary Square, near King’s Cross, London.

House of Illustration’s gallery and education space is the place to see, learn about, and enjoy illustration in all its forms, from adverts to animation, picture books to political cartoons and scientific drawings to fashion design.”

Blake pledged his massive archive of original drawings and illustrated books to House of Illustration, so it is fitting that the opening show be of his work.

I know Sir Quentin Blake’s work best from his illustrations for Roald Dahl’s books, but he has done hundreds of others (not all of them for children) that many of us from the US aren’t as familiar with. It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many of his illustrations at once, but even more valuable to see his thoughts, notes and preliminary sketches included as well.

blake-entry

The entry to the exhibit immediately immerses you in Blake’s world with a floor-to-ceiling drawing of his studio space. The case beneath presents you with insights into how Blake approaches his art.

Blake-What does

(You must excuse the poor quality of these interior photographs, as I was surreptitiously snapping these shots with my smart phone on the sly. I risked admonishment for you, so please don’t turn me in to the authorities).

blake-clown

blake-the essence

Q Blake-sketches for the Twits

Q Blake-Mr & Mrs Twit

One entire room was devoted to Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. This was the part of the show that impressed me most deeply. Blake managed to balance sadness and joy with delicacy and subtlety. Perfect in its gentleness. I’m still thinking about those images.

Q Blake-Happy Sad face

Blake-Sometimes sad

Blake-one candle

Blake-many candles

Blake defines illustration as “drawing with a purpose.” That is the most accurate, least condescending definition that I have heard to date. It doesn’t try to fit it somewhere along a hierarchy between fine art and craft. It just says what it is.

And this is just the beginning at House of Illustration. There are four more exhibitions scheduled through June 2015, and I plan on being here for all of them. Stay tuned!
To view two BBC interviews with Sir Quentin, visit this page, and this one.

Editing

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 11.14.41 PM

“Boldly and bluntly simplify the subject so as to reveal its true essence.”
– Kiyoshi Saito, (1907-1971)

I have spent the last three months preparing to move from Seattle – where my husband and I have lived since 1986 – to London, England. I fly out at the end of the month. These last few weeks have been a lesson in letting go.

I have been going through everything we own to clear the house for incoming renters. I have picked up every object, pondered it, and decided whether to ship, store, or discard it.

This has gotten me thinking about the process of editing.

Editing your life is like editing your own personal narrative. I am an accumulator by nature, but not a collector, nor a hoarder. The difference is that I enjoy getting rid of stuff, if only to clear the clutter to let the better bits shine.

When I am writing I follow the same process. I have less confidence in my words than my imagery, so I don’t mind keeping my words to a minimum. If I can prove to myself that every word has a reason to be there, I feel I have created the cleanest, least cluttered prose possible. It’s less risky that way. Clear the knick-knacks off your literary shelf.

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 11.15.36 PM

In my artwork I am constantly editing and revising. I strive to follow the words quoted above. Kiyoshi Saito is a contemporary Japanese woodblock artist and a master of selective visual editing in his imagery. Choosing what details to include and what to leave out reveals the aspects most elemental to an idea.

Get rid of the lesser bits. Pack them away or let them go. Only set your choicest pieces out for display.

My next post will be written from the UK. Just think of me as the Books Around The Table foreign correspondent for the foreseeable future. I look forward to exploring new territory and sending back the best bits to share with all of you!

And now, back to packing!

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 11.17.17 PM

 

Chiaroscuro

UA-Spring- L llustration-1928

Recently, I was looking through a French magazine from 1928 – L’Illustration – and came across a series of images of the seasons. The artist is not credited, unfortunately, but the work is a lovely example of the chiaroscuro printmaking approach.

Highlight and shadow. Clear and obscure. Chiaroscuro has always been one of my favorite terms and techniques in art. In printmaking specifically, chiaroscuro refers to the use of high contrast tones, usually in a monochromatic field, to indicate volume. The technique goes back to the early 1500s, and began as a method of mimicking in print the look of chiaroscuro drawings.

These artists created so with such a limited tonal palette. So simple, yet so complex.

Ludolf Businck-Moses with the Tablets of the Law

Since early books were typeset and printed by hand on presses, woodcuts were the best method of illustration. They could be inked and printed repeatedly using the same methods used for printing the type. As long as books were printed on letterpresses, chiaroscuro woodcuts continued to be used.

Bartolomeo Coriolano-Battle of the Giants

Bartolomeo Coriolano- Sleeping Cupid-mid-17th century

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes-c 1523-27

Each tone required a separate block to be cut. Here are three plates by Christoffel Jegher from The History of Wood Engraving that deconstruct a two-block chiaroscuro woodcut.

Chiaroscuro demo 1

Chiaroscuro demo 3

Chiaroscuro demo 2

Though now largely forgotten as a technique, chiaroscuro was common in illustrations through the early part of the last century, until offset and color lithography printing technology became more common. Woodcuts & Wood Engravings: How I Make Them, by Hans Alexander Mueller (1939), illustrates beautifully how to make complex images from only two layers of color.

H A Mueller

It is amazing to see how two flat images can create so much depth when combined.

H A Mueller 2

These two illustrations, from Designs For You – To Trace or Copy by F. J. Garner (1950), also use only two tones to indicate volume and pattern with concise efficiency.

F J Garner-bottle design

F J Garner- gay tie designs

“Bright Water,” by Elton Bennett, is a serigraph print from the later half of the last century. He used only two screens, with some color variation in the ink application of the lighter color, to create this print of water flowing through boulders.

Elton Bennett-Bright Water-1950s

I was inspired to try this chiaroscuro technique in lino-cut for an illustration I did for Unix Magazine many years ago (note the floppy disk).

M Chodos-Irvine-Unix Mag

I think you can still see the influence of chiaroscuro woodcuts in this relief print of mine “Minotaurus” from 2010.

Margaret Chodos-Irvine-Minotaurus

I’m not sure how chiaroscuro could be applied in illustration for children’s books. It seems too monochromatic for today’s day-glo, technically enhanced, 3-D world, but maybe it will be something worth exploring one day as a calmer alternative.

H A Mueller-Ex Libris

 

Days o’ The Week

Days o the week pattern

Routines don’t seem to be part of my genetic coding. My brain must be lacking the necessary programing that makes repetition easy and comfortable. I can do it, but it doesn’t come naturally.

Unlike my husband, who gets up in the morning and proceeds with his usual, ordered, getting-ready-for-work tasks, I get up, and invariably think, What now? Should I take a shower first, or go get some breakfast? Or maybe I could read a bit more in that book I started last night before I get up… There are so many possibilities.

Maybe being self-employed and able to set my own schedule is responsible for this deficiency, or maybe my inability to naturally settle into a routine is why I’m self-employed.

It’s different when I am working on a book contract or illustration job (when I know exactly what I need to do each day – work till the project is done), but right now I don’t have any deadlines pending, so when I get to my workspace, I often can’t decide what to do first. I should probably work on that story idea I’ve been playing with, but working on that print I started last week is so much more fun than writing, but I also want to decorate this box I have with cuttings from old cookie tins… Sometimes I feel like I flit around my studio like a butterfly in a rose garden.

This is not something I am proud of, or even particularly happy about. I envy people who don’t have to think so hard about how to proceed with their day.

For example, consider the early American settlers (well, the women anyway) who followed the prescribed adage that divided their existence into seven tasks, one for each day of the week:

 

Monday = Wash

Tuesday = Iron

Wednesday = Sew

Thursday = Market

Friday = Clean

Saturday = Bake

Sunday = Rest

 

Iowa State historical society

Granted, that was a time when doing the wash took from dawn till dusk, and this arduously tedious life was probably not terribly fun, but can you imagine having only seven things to worry about accomplishing each week? No emails to answer, no dance lessons or soccer practice to take your kids to, no meetings to prepare for and attend. And a whole day set aside just to relax, without your needing to feel guilty that you aren’t being more productive.

I’ve been thinking about this idea – having one chore for each day of the week – but instead of household duties, I wonder if I could organize it to be a more work-related guideline for someone like me, who has a lot of creative things I want to do, and even more that I should be doing, but who has difficulty making decisions and getting into a regular routine.

So, how about a week that looks like this?

 

Monday = Write

Tuesday = Draw

Wednesday = Design

Thursday = Make

Friday = Sell

Saturday = Read

Sunday = Rest

 

Only one task per day, like a pioneer woman who has to sweat away at drafting her designs before sunset. I will still have to figure out how to still get all my emails answered and errands run and meetings attended, plus the other twenty-three items on my to-do list – not to mention housework! – but maybe I’ll try this new schedule out, at least during my usual working hours.

Simplify. Concentrate. Limitations can be useful. Narrow walls make it easier to focus straight ahead.

Is this idea even possible in our modern, hectic world? Am I crazy to attempt such a strict regimen considering the lack of imposed structure I am used to?

We’ll see. I’m not going to start embroidering it on any tea towels quite yet…

Sunday dishtowel detail

Another Look at Steig

The Steig Album-cover

When I was visiting my parents recently, I pulled The Steig Album off their bookshelves. My father bought this book when he was a student at Alfred University in upstate New York. He said Steig was popular with his colleagues in the 50s.

What surprised me most about the images in this book was how different the majority of them are to the work we know from his later children’s books, some of which Julie Paschkis mentioned in her post Ode To Steig.

steig sylvester

His earlier work was darker, often presenting a sardonic look at human nature, like these drawings from “About People.”

W Steig-Spiteful little man.

W Steig-Woman desiring to attract friendship.

His depiction of relationships is accurate and insightful, but hardly flattering, like his section, “Till Death Do Us Part: Some Ballet Notes on Marriage.”

W Steig - Darling – Hold me tight.

W Steig - When you and I were young, Maggie.

W Steig - You live your life and I'll live mine.

W Steig - Impasse

W Steig - Reconciliation.

You get the feeling from this book that Steig understands every aspect and conundrum of human existence –

W Steig - About People: Ennui

W Steig - Embarrassment

– and had little patience with us.

W Steig - Persistent Faces: Hero Worshipper

But the humor was always there.

Steig’s many drawings of children indicate his keen eye for capturing moments of  juvenile inquisitiveness and camaraderie.  These cartoons appeared in The New Yorker in the 40s.

W Stein-Worm

W Steig-Espionage and–  counter-espionage.

W Steig-"Toity more years we'll be toity-seven."

He underscored the pain, frustration, and anxieties of childhood as well, as in these pieces from the section, “The Agony In The Kindergarten.”

W Steig - Mother knows whats best for you, dear.

W Steig - Well Speak up, what is it?

W Steig - We don't play with that sort of children.

W Steig - "Willie!"

Steig didn’t begin to write children’s books until he was 61. His first children’s book was published in 1968. Somewhere in his first six decades, I think he softened a little.

My daughters loved the Dr. De Soto books, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Abel’s Island. Another of our family favorites was The Flying Latke, by Arthur Yorinks. Steig created the background illustrations for this wacky holiday book, and played a cameo role as the newscaster in the story. The book came out in 1999. He was ninety-two.

The Flying Latke news page

Long live William Steig.

William Steig as "The Newscaster"

 

Fishtails

Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale-mermaid

Contemplating bird wings for my last post got me pondering other animal attributes we humans envy, which then led me to thinking about mermaids.

Arthur Rackham-To Hear the Seamaids Music-A Midsummer Nights Dream

I’m not sure what it is about mermaids that is so alluring. Is it our fascination with beings that can exist in multiple realms? Why else would we fantasize about having fishtails instead of legs? Personally, I think I’d rather be able to fly like a bird.

Fortina

Yet, when I was a young girl I dreamed of being Marine Boy‘s helpful mermaid friend, Neptina – or at least getting hold of some of that oxy-gum . . .

Marine Boy and Fortina

The mythology of mermaids goes back thousands of years and across multiple cultures.

Russian print-mermaid and merman

Mola-mermaid fishing

Mexican folk art hanging mermaids

Jose Francisco Borges-Iemanja

Often they were considered dangerous, luring men to their doom with their sensual beauty and seductive voices.

Medieval mermaids besiege ship

They were known to be vain, fond of looking at themselves in mirrors and combing their hair.

Medieval mermaid with mirror

Some theorize that what early mariners saw as mermaids were actually manatees.

National Geographic-manatee love shot

Really? Those poor sailors . . .

But by the 17th century mermaids had moved from the feared to the fantastic,

Merbabies birdbath at Versailles

Mermaid fountain at Versailles

the romanticized,

John William Waterhouse-A Mermaid

landing eventually in the realm of fairy tales, the most famous being Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Vilhelm Pedersen-The Little MermaidAndersen’s story was a tragic tale of misguided love and sacrifice, a subject of many beautiful illustrations.

Arthur Rackam-Fairy Tale mermaid sillouettesJeannie Harbour-Little Mermaid

Maxwell Armfield-The Little Mermaid

Edmund Dulac-She Held His Head Above The Water

And then Disney got hold of her and she became the insipid creature many girls now idolize. At least Neptina had some spine.

Disneys Little Mermaid Wallpaper

One day at an outdoor community pool about five summers ago my daughters and I watched, mesmerized, as a young girl wearing a mermaid tail lowered herself into the water and started swimming around, mermaid style. From a distance, she looked amazingly realistic and the scene, in spite of it being set in a chlorinated, square enclosure, was charming. After she removed her tail (the pretense looked like hard work) we went up and spoke to her. She said she got the idea and the DIY mermaid costume instructions off of YouTube.

Currently you can find thousands of videos online of people “mermaiding.” My teen-aged daughter follows a site called Project Mermaids where models and celebrities pose for photos in elaborate mermaid costumes to demonstrate “how precious our ocean and beaches are.”

Maybe it’s not just the idea of being able to exist in multiple realms that makes us envy those with wings and tails, but also the idea of defying gravity, either underwater or above ground.

I guess it’s human nature to want to be more than human.

Unknown artist-mermaid