An illustration that does not complement a story, in the end, will become but a false idol. Since we cannot possibly believe in an absent story, we will naturally begin believing in the picture itself.
~ Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist, screenwriter, academic and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature
The origin of the word “illustration” is late Middle English (in the sense ‘illumination; spiritual or intellectual enlightenment’): via Old French from Latin illustratio(n- ), from the verb illustrate. Wikipedia.
Illustrators create visual representations, of their own work or that of others, in many mediums and industries: books, magazines, newspapers, poster art, advertisement, greeting cards, film, fashion, medicine and other sciences, manufacturing and technical design. Woodcutting, engraving, lithography, pen-and-ink, charcoal, metalpoint, pastels, colored ink, pens and pencils, watercolor and acrylic paints have all served them well. Today a trip to any art supply store is overwhelming—but exciting!—because of the wide-range of materials available for drawing and painting. Currently, digital options for making and adjusting images are constantly developing and increasing.
I “became” an illustrator, or at least got to the point of consciously being one, by accident rather than intent. I had done art most of my life, but never to be an artist as such. In the early 1980s, for my own pleasure and, frankly, sanity, inspired by a series about Edith Holden (1871-1920) and her nature notes, which, in book form and film, would become The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, I embarked on a couple of nature journals. Tiny and private, wrapped in plastic for protection, worried over in case they were damaged or lost, eventually they found a public life because of the miracle of all-in-one (scanning) printers and, in 2011, my decision to begin blogging. I used my journal illustrations to accompany the poetry and prose I shared. When All Things That Matter Press took on my first novel, A House Near Luccoli, it seemed natural to use my own artwork for its cover. I’m so grateful they allowed me to. Now three more covers later (two my own and one done for Dancing in the Rain, a poetry anthology by Christine Moran published by Bennison Books), my accidental artist has ventured into the pages of my third novel.
Having just finished a number of black and white (and shades of grey) illustrations for my upcoming Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit, while delving into research for my next fiction work about Christina Rossetti, Victorian poetess and sister of Pre-Raphaelite illustrator (painter and poet) Dante Gabriel Rossetti, it seemed a perfect time to explore the collaboration of artists and authors and the history of illustration production.
Expression through the combination of words and pictures has ancient roots, art clarifying and embellishing text bringing to mind the painstakingly illuminated monastic manuscripts of the Middle Ages.
The invention of mechanical printing by Johannes Gutenberg in 1452 took book production out of sacred seclusion. Initially, block books were the way forward, text and illustrations cut into the same wooden block. By the mid-16th century, copper-plating engraving and etching offered better definition and more detail.
Book illustration was established as an art in the 18th century and, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, took hold by the 19th, printing processes improving rapidly with more publications seen by more of the public.
In the early 1800s, lithography, the process of printing from a flat surface treated to repel the ink except where it is required for printing, offered increased texture and accuracy because the artist could draw directly onto the printing plate.
Chromolithography, color lithography, was widely used for postcards and other printed products requiring color, such as playing cards.
Many names and nationalities were associated with the ever-growing popularity of illustrated newspapers, books and magazines. I mention only a few.
Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), best known for his A History of British Birds, helped to popularize the printing of illustrations using wood, adapting metal engraving tools to cut hard boxwood to produce printing blocks for metal typeset that were more durable than traditional woodcuts and lowered the cost for higher quality illustrations.
George Cruikshank (1792-1878), who depicted children as miniature adults, did the plates for all twenty-four illustrations in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist originally published in installments between February 1837 and April 1839. Dickens worked closely with many other illustrators (i.e. Hablot Knight Browne – Phiz, 1815-1882, John Leech, 1817-1864, and George Cattermole, 1800 – 1868 ) and was very involved in the characters, settings and scenes depicted, even offering his thoughts on the colors of what he envisioned, although the drawings were in black and white. Only Hard Times and Great Expectations were originally published without illustrations.
John Tenniel’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), and Lindley Sambourne’s for Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies (1863) are some of the loveliest woodblock contributions of the mid-19th century, a time when wood engraving dominated.
Lithography (including color lithography) remained popular until the end of the 19th century, while a decade before the advent of the 20th century the photomechanical process—artwork transferred to printing plates through photographic means—found its footing in the book illustrating industry, moving image printing towards its future digital course.
In the 19th and 20th centuries there were a number of artistic movements that affected the design and illustration of books. Aubrey Beardsley was a proponent of Aestheticism and Art Nouveau, influenced by Japanese woodcuts and often portraying grotesque and erotic subject matter.
Many of the Pre-Raphaelites painters were also illustrators, most notably John Everett Millais, Holman Hunt, Arthur Hughes, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the latter, as above-mentioned, the brother of the subject of my next novel, Christina Rossetti. They brought the vivid lines, vibrancy, naturalness, emotionality and even mysticism of their paintings to black and white wood engraved book illustrations.
Awaiting her brother’s creations, Christina required much patience. But patient she was, devoted to him and his talent, and he eventually completed drawings for her Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862) and the title page for her The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (1866).
Even when there wasn’t any literary reference for a picture he was doing, Dante Gabriel Rossetti would often create a text to inspire him.
At first, I see pictures of a story in my mind. Then creating the story comes from asking questions of myself. I guess you might call it the ‘what if – what then’ approach to writing and illustration.
~ Chris Van Allsburg, American illustrator and writer of children’s books
Of course, of special interest to me are those authors who did illustrations for their own work, including, in the case of children’s books: Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Maurice Sendak.
I’m particularly fond of the flower fairies, paintings and poems, of Cicely Mary Barker.
It was an irresistible development of modern illustration (so largely photographic) that borders should be abandoned and the “picture” end only with the paper. This method may be suitable for photographs; but it is altogether inappropriate for the pictures that illustrate or are inspired by fairy-stories. An enchanted forest requires a margin, even an elaborate border.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
There are those who feel illustrations in novels or accompanying poetry are a distraction, dictate the meaning, give away the narrative or define the look of a setting or character and, therefore, risk cheating the reader’s imagination. I believe illustration can actually expand it. That’s what happened when at the age of eleven I picked up my mom’s 1943 edition of Wuthering Heights with evocative woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg. My imagination was rewarded not cheated, my involvement with the writing, story, setting and characters deepened by the drawings. Even if I skipped ahead to see them, I became more curious and committed to finding out what they depicted.
Perhaps writing that makes illustrations unnecessary sets the stage for them to be all the more illuminating.
Children love illustrated books. Creative images pull them into the words and often encourage them to read more and can increase what I saw one article call “visual intelligence“. For me, a book is already a visual product, not only in terms of reading its words but, also, in its presentation, whether I hold it in print or on my Kindle device.
Why, it’s one o’ the books I bought at Partridge’s sale. They was all bound alike, it’s a good binding, you see, and I thought they’d be all good books. There’s Jeremy Taylor’s ‘Holy Living and Dying’ among ’em ; I read in it often of a Sunday.” (Mr. Tulliver felt somehow a familiarity with that great writer because his name was Jeremy); “and there ‘s a lot more of ’em, sermons mostly, I think ; but they ‘ve all got the same covers, and I thought they were all o’ one sample, as you may say. But it seems one mustn’t judge by th’ outside. This is a puzzlin’ world.
~ The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot, 1900
My own approach to adding illustrations to Without the Veil Between was to offer hints and stir curiosity—set up and anticipation, while creating a distinct visual to enrich the reading experience. I’m new at this, so I can only hope I have succeeded as I set out to do.
I close with another teaser clip of an illustration from Without the Veil Between:
©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.