Archive for category Subject: Illustration

Freehand Figure Drawing for Illustrators || David H Ross

I’ll admit to being slightly perplexed by the subtitle of this: Mastering the art of drawing from memory. The introduction refers to freehand drawing as being able to draw without the aid of a live model or photographic reference. However, the book is a superb reference in itself, so it seems to me that you could simply use it as an in-depth guide (it’s a lot more than a primer) to drawing figures in a variety of poses and above all, in motion. Taken as that, it’s superb because it not only shows the finished result, but also the ways of getting there, from block outlines to anatomical structure via perspective and shading.

The style of the illustrations is maybe slightly archaic and it certainly leans towards fantasy art (I think that’s what the “illustrators” of the title refers to), but neither of these minor reservations should be enough to put you off what’s an invaluable guide that could prove to be a source of reference for a long time to come.

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Blue Dog Speaks || George Rodrigue

You can’t help warming to Blue Dog. Initially, the concept seems bizarre and the natural reaction is to ask, “is this art or a cartoon?” We’ll skim over the idea that a cartoon might not be art (of course it is). The point of the enquiry is to establish how we’re meant to view a series of paintings of a blue dog whose appearance is largely unchanged, though yet remarkably expressive for all that.

George Rodrigue explains, “When I began the series of Blue Dog paintings in 1984, I had no idea that they would consume the greater part of my life”. This is not something planned, but has rather taken over its creator rather in the way that it, quite inexplicably, also takes over the viewer. Open the book and you’ll want to delve deeper. Blue Dog somehow becomes everyman and speaks a greater truth than we find within ourselves. In meditation, there’s a thing called a Yantra, a perfectly-coordinated design, contemplating which allows the mind to open and become the recipient of its own inner truths. So, in a way that defies definition, does Blue Dog.

Each drawing has a title that’s integral to it. Some are descriptive, some bald statements, some gnomic. To continue the cartoon analogy, they’re the caption, yet they do not always explain, amplify or complement the painting. Sometimes they raise more questions than they answer.

As I said, Blue Dog defies and transcends explanation and I like that. If you were worried that the title implies that George Rodrigue might break the mystique, the two-page introduction is purely factual. Blue Dog remains enigmatic.

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Allen W Seaby – art and nature || Martin Andrews and Robert Gillmor

Allen W Seaby, who is hardly a household name today, was a prolific author and illustrator whose wildlife books you may want to track down after reading this one, which I hope you will. They’re not even particularly expensive.

If Seaby hadn’t been the grandfather of Robert Gillmor, the chances are he’d have continued to drift into undeserved obscurity, but history and serendipity are capricious fellows and here he is being rescued from that oblivion. He’s a wonderful discovery by any measure. His woodcuts and illustrations are sublime and were, in their time, innovative. His sense of colour is extraordinary and his modelling superb. If you get a sense of the Japanese, that’s entirely intentional, he having studied their traditional methods. His watercolours are soft, sensitive and have a very modern feel to them.

As well as plenty of illustrations, this short, but very full book has a memoir by Robert Gillmor, as well as a study of his grandfather as a wildlife artist and essays by Martin Andrews that concentrate on the woodcut process and Seaby’s work as an illustrator.

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An Illustrator’s Sketchbook || Arthur Keller

Arthur Ignatius Keller, it says here, was one of the leading lights of the Golden Age of American illustration. Between 1891 and 1912, his work appeared in nearly 150 books and 600 issues of the leading magazines. No, I hadn’t heard of him either.

I mention this not just to explain who I’m writing about but because, apart from the introduction, this book has no words and consists only of Keller’s drawings, which are very much of their period or of historical subjects. They are all human figures.

Whether this will be of value, especially as some of the detail seems to have been lost in the reproduction, is up to you. However, as examples of figures in a variety of poses and costume they are, subject to the limitations I mentioned, an excellent source of material.

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Making Great Illustration || Derek Brazell & Jo Davies

This exquisitely produced survey of contemporary work and workers in the field of illustration provides a cornucopia of images showing what’s going on in the world at the moment. With over 250 illustrations, there really is something for everyone.

The book is organised by types of work, so that you get chapters on Design and Advertising, Editorial and Political, and Fashion as well as the more technical areas of Typography and Graphic Literature. Each chapter is introduced by agents and clients within the relevant field, thus providing a buyer’s perspective from organisations such as The Conran Shop and the New York Times. In an avowedly commercial field, such a view is invaluable and adds much to the book’s appeal.

Within the chapters, the authors showcase the work of a huge variety of practitioners including Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers and Ronald Searle.

This is a heavyweight and authoritative volume that says pretty much all there is to be said on its subject and it’s worth noting that the standard of production even extends to the way it lays open in your hands, allowing the whole of a double-page spread to be seen without the need to force the spine. Close it up, put in on the shelf and it’ll look as good as new.

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The Bloomsbury Guide to Creating Illustrated Children’s Books || Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thornton & Yadzia Williams

An awful lot of people think they can write a children’s book and a lot of awful children’s books get written, many of which, mercifully, never see the light of day. So what can you do to avoid the pitfalls? Are there any rules you have to follow? Well, yes and no. Obviously, what you need is an idea and flair, your own individual stamp that makes it your book and not something produced from a template, but there are also the basic rules of design as well as publishing conventions. It isn’t to say that you have to follow a formula slavishly, but if you’re going to break out of convention – in simple terms, what people expect from a particular genre – then you’d better have a very good idea of why you’re doing it. Innovation for its own sake or against type rarely works!

Three authors is a lot for one book, but what you get here is quite an academic trio who also have practical experience of design and illustration. The result is a book that’s absolutely solid on the ideas front, but also attractively presented and well-designed. The progression of the chapters mixes information on what you need to include for different age levels as well as ideas for character development and the nitty gritty of actually writing the words and creating the illustrations.

This is a very highly illustrated book and all the way through you’re looking at real pictures and layouts from real children’s books. The clever thing is that, because Bloomsbury is one of the foremost publishers in this field, all the usual copyright issues that this would involve are cut through at a stroke.

As well as the three authors and the publisher, there’s a fifth partner hidden away here too: Quarto Books. Quarto is a packager, which means that they conceive, design and produce books that are then sold to a publisher who puts their imprint on them and deals with the stock, sales and marketing. For very many years, Quarto have been at the forefront of illustrated book design and are very much leaders rather than followers. The Artist’s Bible series, which I’ve praised highly, is one of theirs. It’s very much down to their input that this book looks so good and is so easy to follow. What’s surprising, though, is the way in which this is so closely integrated with the Bloomsbury list and one can’t help feeling that there must have been quite a deal of symbiosis going on, because it really wouldn’t have worked with any other publisher.

I’ve had this hanging around for some time, trying to work out what to say about it. At the primal level, this is simple: it’s a superb book and if you’re in any way concerned with writing, illustrating or producing children’s books, you need to have a copy. The trouble is that, because it’s so very much an illustrated book in itself, it’s very hard to describe in words without killing it stone dead and I hope I’ve managed not to do that. This is not a field where there are a great many textbooks and this is very much the definitive one. It’ll be a long time before anything even remotely like it comes along, so you need to get your hands on it NOW.

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