Charis in the World of Wonders


Back in 2012, at about the time I was just beginning to think about the subject of Hansel & Gretel as the source material for a small project (how little I realised what lay ahead), I began work on making the cover and chapter headings for Marly Youmans‘ epic poem about a group of resourceful children surviving in a post-apocalyptic future.

dsc04523Thaliad (published by Phoenicia, Montreal) is compelling in just about every way imaginable. When first I read the manuscript, the narrative, characters and foundation story of Marly’s creation held me fast. I read it over and over as I made the images. For my inspiration I delved into museum archives for examples of the patchworks, embroideries, silhouette portraits, paper-cuts and Fraktur drawings that seemed to me to be the most likely art survivals in Youmans’ vision of an America torn apart by an undisclosed cataclysm.

Above: illustration for Marly Youmans’ Glimmerglass. Mercer University Press, 2014


While Youmans is a universal writer in the sense of her understanding of craft and context, there is something so quintessentially American in her creative rhythm, her voice and her vision, that the folk arts of the United States stitched into her DNA have become entangled in mine. After Thaliad I drew on the same resources for her novel Glimmerglass (Mercer University Press), so it’s no surprise that the style of work I’ve evolved for her has become the bedrock of what I’m now more generally known for as an illustrator. After all those practitioners of the early American folk arts – the stitchers, limners and decorators with their European transplanted roots – have a visual tradition I recognise and am at home in. Thinking back, I recall the very first time I set eyes on the arts and crafts defined as Pennsylvania Dutch (and sometimes Pennsylvania German), it was as though I was in the company of old friends.


As I begin work on Marly’s latest novel, Charis in the World of Wonders for Ignatius Publishing, once again I’m channelling the artisan, amateur and itinerant folk-artists of Colonial America, and my chapter headings seethe with a bestiary that might have sprung from the pages of a sourcebook for sampler embroidery.

Above: tiny sketch from my Charis in the World of Wonders project-book.

5 thoughts on “Charis in the World of Wonders

  1. Hello Clive, and friends
    I have been drowned in a difficult period (health, family, work, and the depressing political panorama), and have not come lately so as not to dampen the spirit of the Artlog.
    I love Marly Youmans’ books and enjoy reading again and again Thaliad, Glimmerglass and Maze of Blood. Marly’s text, and your illustrations, Clive, make a thing of beauty together. (Just like the revised and illustrated Armitage translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a wonder.)
    The other day the postman brought me my copy of The Book of the Red King, also with art by you, Clive. I have read some of the poems and in spite of it not being a good personal moment for poetry, I know I am going to love it. In a few days, I hope I shall be able to enjoy it to the full.

    And now, there is a new book, Charis in the World of Wonders to look forward to. The cloud on top is getting lighter and lighter, and one can sense the sunshine behind it.

    This place is Heaven.
    Thank You Clive

    • My Dearest Maria

      The world has been struggling in the face of much that is dark and overwhelming. Little wonder that we all limp along in our small and individual lives under the weight of so much that is bad. My answer to the encroaching clouds is always to ‘make’. It’s my default position. Hence the fact that I have buried myself in work throughout 2019, because that gets me through each day. So my thoughts and my sympathies are with you, and Peter and I send our warmest wishes and embraces to you and Javier.

      Poetry is balm to the soul, and Marly’s is among the best. She is America’s well-kept secret, so I feel privileged to not only enjoy her work every day of my life, but to be her collaborator in all things beautiful to decorate her books. (I like to think of myself as her illuminator, that old term describing the ‘lighting’ of the page. I may not have gilding and colours with which to adorn her words, but I do my very best with black and white!) I can promise you that Charis in the World of Wonders will be an enthralling read for you. It is an adventure story of sorts, an historic novel that draws you in so as to feel in the same spaces as the characters. It is one of the miracles of her art that I always believe Marly’s characters are real, and their plights are my plights.

      This has been my year of books. I kicked off with the Design for Today edition of Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, moved on to Marly’s Book of the Red King for Phoenicia Publishing, created a cover and seventeen illustrations for the short story anthology These Our Monsters due out from English Heritage on 24th October, and before the year is out I will have completed my work on Charis. (I don’t yet know the publishing date for it.) I have two books I’ll be working on in 2019, one of them La Belle et la Bete for Design for Today, and the other a top-secret project that I can’t yet reveal. How I love love love books. I’m so glad that you and I share that. XXX

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