From Painting to Printing: part one

Above: early stage drawing for Hansel & Gretel

Hansel & Gretel is my first picture-book, Given that I’m sixty-four, there has to be some likelihood that it’ll be my first and last, and so there’s a great deal tied up in it for me. It’s something I have to get right, because for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to make a book with the story told in pictures, though I never seriously thought it would happen. Before even the change of career that took me from the stage to the studio aged forty, I’d fantasised about making picture-books, so this is a long-held dream made reality.

Becoming a painter was the biggest surprise to me at the time it began to happen. I’d thought that with luck and a following wind I might become good enough to be able to put brush to canvas without embarrassing myself too much, but I never once thought that things would go the way they did, until I found myself regularly exhibiting and selling. Eventually I realised that my career was shaping in a way that meant I was becoming a ‘gallery’ artist, and that a future of regular exhibitions was going to be the way I made my living. But I never lost my love of illustration, and from time to time I pondered on whether working as a painter might offer opportunities to explore the possibilities of making books.

Below: an Old Stile Press image I made for The Sonnets of Richard Barnfield

The first books I produced images for came as a result of an invitation from Nicolas and Frances McDowall at The Old Stile Press. The McDowalls make limited edition hand-printed and hand-bound books, collaborating closely with artists and printmakers. At the time I started working with Nicolas, I was not a printmaker (I  was barely established as an artist) and so it was a great leap of faith on Nicolas’ and Frances’ part to invite me to work with them. Moreover they understood me as a painter, because almost from the beginning of my career as an artist, they had collected my work. As I see it my apprenticeship in book-making was thanks to them, and to date I’ve made a number of books for the Old Stile Press, the last of which was the illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus.

Below: Frontispiece image of Equus

It’s a matter of great pride to me that I illustrated the covers of the two volumes of The Old Stile Press Bibliography.

I remember once telling my partner Peter that I’d really feel like a painter when someone came along and put a work of mine on the cover of a book. Oddly enough, when that happened and an ink drawing I’d made of a Mari Lwyd on paper was put onto a paperback volume of poetry, the result was disappointing. The image was reversed, the colour was digitally stained so that it looked as though it had been pinned to the wall of a room where people had smoked for forty years, and the title and author letterings were lamentable.

In time I began to see that though reproductions of paintings on book covers could occasionally work, they too often didn’t. More often than I was comfortable with, the reproduction, the cropping and the design and lettering let the whole thing down. Having your work on the cover of a book, I learned, is only satisfying when the design is beautifully executed. Sometimes that happened, as when Anita Mills designed the cover of a book for the Carolina Wren Press that featured a painting of mine, and she did it so beautifully that I loved the result. For the front cover of Yvonne C. Murphy’s volume of poetry, Aviaries, for the Carolina Wren Press, Anita cropped the image to a detail, but then added a smaller illustration of the full painting on the back of the book, which I thought worked wonderfully.

Below: the full picture. It’s titled, Paper Theatre.

When time allowed and opportunities came my way, I began to make book cover images for some of my friends, the chief  among them being Marly Youmans, who because of her reputation as a writer was able to persuade one of her publishers to employ me. For The Foliate Head she even persuaded the publisher to take on my brother-in-law, Andrew Wakelin, as the designer, and he produced a splendid book-cover and ensured the layout inside was handsome. It was The Foliate Head that also established my regular practice of making page-division images and vignettes for Marly’s books.

Above: cover of The Foliate Head, and below, vignette for the book.

Marly’s books at Mercer University Press are designed by Mary-Frances Glover-Burt. I trust Mary-Frances. We regularly work together and she is a rock.

These days, while I wouldn’t lay claim to being an illustrator, I balance my ‘easel’ work with graphic projects that interest me. I continue to make book covers for Marly, and I make covers, too for Damian Walford Davies, at the Welsh publishing house of Seren.

For Seren I also recently produced a cover for Mary-Ann Constantine’s forthcoming novel, Star-Shot, together with vignette drawings for the interior.

After having produced some Hansel & Gretel images for Simon Lewin’s second edition of his fund-raising-for-charity periodical, Random Spectacular, he suggested that we work together on expanding the collaboration into a full-blown ‘picture-book’.

Below: a Hansel & Gretel spread from Simon Lewin’s Random Spectacular Two

DSCF1410

This is a dream project for me. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m going about it with a huge amount of pleasure. It’s interesting that at the same time I’ve been preparing H & G, I’ve been forging a friendship and partnership with printmaker Daniel Bugg of the Penfold Press, producing with his help my first screen-print, Man Slain by a Tiger. I’m enjoying bringing my experience as an ‘easl’ artist to these new fields of making images for the medium of print.

Part Two coming soon.

16 thoughts on “From Painting to Printing: part one

  1. Thank you for your blog – it is always interesting and you share so much about your ideas and methods – thank you very much.

  2. Dear Clive:

    I love these entries where you explain yourself, and the way you work.

    I began to read Marly Youmans’ books because of your covers and illustrations. Now, I have a standing order at Amazon, for anything by her. I hope the same happens to me with Damian Walford Davies. I shall immediately try to find anything by him. Because I have loved Angela Carter, and Alan Garner, and the works you have praised here which I did not know before, but which I know and enjoy now.

    For those of us who live far from the UK (maybe not that far away , but catching a plane is necessary for us if we want to see the real paintings), the books on you and your paintings and drawings are great. Just like those books on the Botticellis, or the Da Vincis, the Patinirs, or the Hieronimus Boschs. It is never the same, and I am sure Botticelli, Da Vinci, Patinir and Bosch would be unhappy with the flat look, the lack of brilliance in the colours, the size of the reproductions, etc.

    But for us, these are great, and we thank the modern techniques which make today’s reproductions ever more faithful to the originals.

    So, Thank You
    Love
    M

    • Maria, you are a constant source of amazement to me with your thoughtful comments, and it’s enormously heartening to know that you enjoy what you find here.

      A reproduction never has the quality of a painting, but you’re right, the level of today’s technology makes it so much easier for me to share images than back in the old days, when everything had to produced as a ‘transparency’, and there was no possibility to adjust the images because you were at the mercy of the labs where the films were developed, and where the people making the transparencies didn’t have any knowledge of what the original paintings looked like.

      It was hellish sometimes, and I recall we’d regularly take dozens of photographs of a painting, only to find that the lab developed them with incorrectly balanced colour, despite the fact that we used a printed colour chart in the shots. These days I ‘snap’, download, adjust on Photoshop and ‘post’ here at the Artlog. It’s all done in minutes, and I can tinker with the electronic images to perfectly match the colours of the paintings that I have on hand to check against.

      Life is definitely simpler. Mercifully gone are the days when an entire day would be given up to trying to get one decent, accurate image of a painting, with repeated camera sessions and multiple car trips to the development lab on the other side of the city where we lived. Gone too are the days when every image that needed to be sent to a gallery, a magazine or a customer, would have to be a labelled transparency that rarely got reproduced as it should. And no-one ever returned them, even when I sent self addressed and stamped card envelopes. The costs were high, and the results were so often disappointing. On balance, I wouldn’t turn the clock back.

  3. Like Shellie and Bernie, I find it inspiring to witness some more of your dreams and ambitions become real, Clive. I am an enthusiastic supporter and promoter of British printmakers, so it is really exciting to see a talent, such as yours, step into this arena. “Man Slain By a Tiger” is such an auspicious beginning to the exciting print projects you have planned.

    I love that more people are now being given the opportunity to experience and own your work, whether in print or book form. We also get to see you further exploring illustration and printmaking, with your customary relish and flair. I look forward to many, many more of your adventures in print!!

    • Sarah, the connection with Daniel Bugg is giving me the most enormous amount of creative inspiration and energy. We get on so well, and I love working with him. Your intervention was and is much appreciated.

  4. It’s really wonderful to read of the ‘journey’, Clive……inspiring and also, somehow, comforting that brilliant work ‘will out’ and be recognised and shared. Along with many others I’m awaiting your Hansel & Gretel and the joy of seeing illustration by an artist receive its proper love and respect 🙂

    • Dear Shellie, here on the Scilly isle of Bryher, I’m completely absorbed in bringing the Hansel and Gretel ‘dummy-copy’ to completion. It’s been a wonderful journey so far, and I’m enormously obliged to Simon Lewin for giving me this opportunity. Lovely to be working hard while having so much FUN!

  5. Dear Clive,
    You see…dreams can come true AND the lovely creative ones (not just the nightmares!)
    So happy for you
    Love
    B xxx

  6. This is fascinating. It’s always interesting to hear other people’s stories especially, somehow, if they came later to what they now find themselves doing (vested interest here, perhaps!). Thanks very much for sharing your story – much appreciated.

  7. Clive, I am still on the road (should be home in time for Rebecca’s birthday on Sunday), so thanks for tagging me on Facebook–would not have wanted to miss your Clive-in-print-world posts! Looking forward to seeing more of Hansel and Gretel. ❤

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