Tag Archives: w w denslow

Imprints

Looking through my old books for my Fairy Tales post last month was an enjoyable, but somewhat eerie experience. I feel as though those books imprinted themselves on my brain on some deeply primordial level. The thoughts and ponderings I had in my head as a child are still there, just waiting for the right images to make them pop back up again.

Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne, “decorations” by Ernest H. Shepard, causes this phenomenon to happen. I found this copy at my parent’s house recently.

Now We Are Six book

When I read this book now I hear voices. Well, not actually voices, just one voice – my mother’s – with the same intonation and cadence she used as she read the poems to me before I could read them myself. This is especially true with those that are my favorites, the ones that I must have made her read to me over and over again.  For example, this one.

Shepard-Now We are Six-The Good Little Girl

The answer to the question was deliciously obvious and thrilling to me. It  echoed what I often heard.

Here is an image that I remember staring at and wondering about. It’s from “The Little Black Hen”.

Shepard-Now We are Six-Little Black Hen

…But I’ll lay you a beautiful

   Eastery egg,

If you’ll show me the nettle-place

   On your leg.”

So for years I thought nettles left pinfeather-like spines sticking out of your skin. Re-examining the picture now I think those lines are supposed to represent Christopher Robin’s fingers, but I still see them as an anomaly.

Tales From Grimm, illustrated by Wanda Gág, was part of my fairy tale collection. I was able to read by the time Mom brought this book home from a library discard sale.

Gag Tales From Grimm book

Gág’s drawings are comfortingly lumpy and solid with the pleasing line textures common in illustrations from the 30s and 40s. They make me happy.

Gag-Tales From Grimm-The ListenerGag-Tales From Grimm-The Long One

Years later I saw Gág’s Millions of Cats for the first time and it was like visiting with an old friend. Familiar face but different outfit.

Gag-Tales From Grimm-Hansel and Gretel ending

As you can see, these books have been well loved over the years.  The Golden Treasury of Children’s Literature, edited and selected by Bryna and Louis Untermeyer, was new when it came to me in 1967, a gift from my brother and his wife.

The Golden Book

They wanted me to be a good girl too.

Golden Book Inscription

I’m afraid it has fared the worst of the three. It has been literally loved to pieces.

Golden Book in pieces

This book is a candy-shop sampler of so many masterful storytellers and illustrators. Over thirty authors including Rudyard Kipling, C. S. Forester , J. R. R. Tolkien , Lafcadio Hearn, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Louis Slobodkin and of course Milne, Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Aesop.

The illustrators include Gordon Laite (I studied these hairdos very, very closely. How did Cinderella manage them?).

Gordon Laite-Cinderella's sisters

Adrienne Ségur made Thumbelina’s environment exquisite but terrifying.

Adrienne Segur-Thumbelina

W. W. Denslow, the original illustrator for Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of OZ.

Denslow-Oz

Charles Harper’s Bambi. Geometric and precise.

Charlie Harper-Bambi

The Provensens’s illustrations for Aesop’s fables. They make it look easy.

Provensens-Never Cry Wolf

As well as Robert J. Lee, Lilian Obligado, Tanako Tanabe, Eloise Wilken, Jean Winslow and others.

All of these books have influenced the images I create today, even if I don’t consciously think about them doing so. The graphic quality, the stylization. It’s all in there.

These words and pictures speak to me like no others can, still and always. Perhaps my girls will feel the same way some day about Imogene’s Antlers and Ooh-la-la, Max in Love.

Shepard-Now We are Six-Have you been a good girl

Beauty In Limitations: A Printmaker’s Perspective

Denslow’s Mother Goose, W W Denslow, 1901

I have been thinking about limitations lately.

Like illustrations from old picture books before four-color photo-processing became the norm. The ones I’ve accumulated are mostly from the 40s and 60s and they seem have been printed that way to keep production costs down. An economy of expense leading to an economy of style.

Those images have a particular quality that I’ve always loved. The simplicity of an image made by building layers of color. The opposite of slick. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to printmaking. Printmakers are inordinately fond of process and tools you have to sharpen by hand. We think in layers. We are to painters what typesetting is to Microsoft Word.

Kees & Kleintje, Elizabeth Enright, 1938

Kees &Kleintje, Elizabeth Enright, 1938

Not that images like these were simple to produce. Each color had to be created on a separate overlay in black (or the photo equivalent). Often the print run was limited to two or three colors so overlapping was used to create more.

When you have to do the color separation yourself with specified colors, you have to create the mechanicals whilst thinking ahead to what the image might look like. You won’t know for sure till the finished page comes off the press.

Kees, Elizabeth Enright, 1937

The above images were printed with red, yellow, blue and black inks. The oranges and greens and other tones come from overlapping the transparent inks and using screen tones of those four colors. I know it sounds like CMYK, but the difference is that the color separations were all done by hand. There was no full-color image to start with ahead of time.

Rather than confuse you further by describing what I’m talking about, I will show you an example. The spread below demonstrates how three separate images overlap to produce a multicolor picture.

Woodcuts & Woodengravings: How I Make Them, Hans Alexander Mueller, 1939

When artists work under these limitations, I think a kind of magic can occur. I like the happy accidents that happen when colors overlap and registration gets a bit off. Some people would argue that you can get the same effect more easily using a computer, but there is too much control — down to the pixel — with digital media. There is no room for chance or Happy Accidents. The only accidents I can think of involving computers involve spilled liquids, and they are NOT happy.

Pierre Pidgeon, Arnold Edwin Bare, 1943

Ilenka, Arnold Edwin Bare, 1945

Mrs. McGarrity’s Peppermint Sweater, Abner Graboff, 1966

Josefina February, Evaline Ness, 1963

James and the Giant Peach, Nancy Eckholm Burkert, 1961

So how does all this inform my work?

“Daphne’s Hand”, Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Well, like I said, I’m a printmaker, and printmaking isn’t the most practical illustration technique in which to work. Nonetheless, it is worth it to still leave room for chance in my work. Images like these remind me that working within limits can have positive, even beautiful, results that could not be achieved in any other way.