Interview on winning the V&A illustrated Book Award

Featured

Jayne Paddington of Southampton Solent University interviews me:

 

JP: Tell us about the book illustrations you created.

DSC00107 (1)

 

The book had an unusual beginning. As an artist with a background in theatre, in 2017 I’d been commissioned by a music ensemble to helm a new production of Hansel & Gretel. The producer had seen and been impressed by the Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre I’d designed for Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop (see above) and wanted to capitalise on the success of that. She’d begun talking with the composer she had in mind for the project, and as I was already collaborating with Simon Armitage on the revised and illustrated edition of his Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Faber & Faber, 2018), I suggested he join us as the librettist/writer.

 

Simon titled his re-working of the fairy tale, Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, and it previewed at the Cheltenham Music Festival in 2018 before a national tour and a London premiere at the Barbican. A recording of the piece was broadcast by BBC Radio 3 during Christmas week, 2018.

 

52348504_10157080294578436_4550672834006876160_n

 

At some point during the pre-production of the show Simon suggested we might work together to produce an illustrated book of his libretto/poem. We discussed the options for publishing and  I recommended we speak with Joe Pearson at Design for Today. When Joe agreed to undertake publication, work on the book began in earnest.

 

PastedGraphic-1 (14)

 

Set in a war zone, Simon’s version of the fairy tale took a completely different tone to the original by the Grimm Brothers by changing the impetus for Hansel and Gretel’s journey from that of abandonment by feckless parents, to an agonised decision by a loving father and mother to send their children away from the bombings.

 

PastedGraphic-1

 

By this simple change the story became one of love and sacrifice, rather than of duplicity and abandonment. He was very clever too at conveying the degrees to which children mis-hear and misconstrue, and his text is full of moments when the siblings’ actions are based on their misunderstanding of events.

 

PastedGraphic-1 (1)

 

With regard to how the images were made, the overall intention was to capture something of the golden age of lithography printing that both Joe Pearson and I greatly admire. One of the hallmarks of the process is that the images are reproduced on uncoated paper and have a matt finish.

 

IMG_5927

 

Above: work underway on an illustration, and below: as it appears in the book.

 

PastedGraphic-2 (1)

 

I made the drawings in black pencil, some on paper and some on granular lithography film, with occasional use of collaged textures that I produced myself by various means. I made separate ‘stencils’ in crayons and paints on lithography film for the colours. The layers of drawings and stencils were assembled digitally by the book’s designer, Laurence Beck, which was the point at which the colour was added.

 

IMG_5889

 

Below: detail of the image as it appears in the book.

 

IMG_1010

 

Another attractive hallmark of old-school lithography can be the slight mis-registration of the various colours. This is something I’d intentionally cultivated in my artwork for the book, and Laurence was very careful to reproduce the effect in the finished images.

 

JP: How did it feel to win? What will happen now as a result of winning?

 

It’s been a strange time to receive my V&A Illustration Award in a summer when the building has been closed. The event was originally to have taken place at the museum in June, but was indefinitely postponed at the time of lockdown. There was to have been an exhibition of the artwork at the V&A, and that too was cancelled.  I heard about the announcement not from the museum, but from a press release they put out. While it’s very exciting to have been honoured in this way, it can’t be denied that reading about it in an unexpected online press release has not had the excitement factor that an event would have brought to it. I’m guessing they will either hold a smaller event later in the year, or failing that I guess the trophy will be delivered in the post.

JP: Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?

 

PastedGraphic-12

 

When you’re working to a text by the poet laureate, you don’t have to look any further than the words. I knew Hansel & Gretel inside out because I’d already designed and directed it for the stage, so I had a very good starting point for the project. Nonetheless, the moment the stage tour was over I began from scratch again with the text, dividing it up and making a very rough dummy copy that set out lines-per-page and earmarked where the images might go. And because the publisher and I had considered that first dummy very carefully, though the details sometimes changed over the period of illustrating, the overall shape and number of pages remained pretty much as we set out at the beginning.

 

The next stage was to make a huge project-book in which I began the process of designing every visual element I intended to show: human characters and what they wear, settings and the moods generated by them, objects, animals and events.

 

IMG_5873

 

IMG_4125 (1)

 

It was exhaustive and stretched to several hundreds of images. (Enough for three books really.) Even if something appeared only once – such as the ‘imagined’ hyena that appears early on – I drew it dozens of times to work out what the image would bring to the book.

 

IMG_7484

 

For a bridge described by the author as ‘arched like a hissing cat’, I made more than fifty drawings of arch-backed cats, hump-backed-bridges, cat/bridges and bridge/cats, gradually finding the hissing cat/bridge hybrid that best conjured the mood of the scene.

 

IMG_7479

PastedGraphic-2 (2)

Simon is an incredibly enriching poet to collaborate with, and to do justice to him I find ways of accompanying his texts in ways that will take the reader by surprise. I  begin with the words of course, but often the places most profitable for illustration are the spaces between them.

 

JP: What advice would you give to our students wanting to one day follow in your footsteps?

 

Well they can’t follow in my footsteps, and shouldn’t want to. They should find their own ways, and travel by routes of their own devising. My careers have been various. I didn’t start as an artist, but as a choreographer and director, so I came late to the easel and even later to illustration. My experience is that the wider your interests, the better you’ll be at whatever you do. I don’t go around thinking about illustration all of the time. I read (voraciously) listen to music, study history, try to understand the world, try to understand people and stash away everything I learn in the place marked ‘material to be be used on some future project!’ I study art of all varieties and periods. I collect art, vintage toys (particularly wooden building blocks), textiles, puppets, masks, comics, fossils and books. I’ve collected all my life, whenever I’ve had a bit of spare cash. Some of the things I’ve collected ended up in the stage production of Hansel & Gretel, and migrated from that to the book.

 

Below: from the shelves of my tinplate toy bird cabinet…

IMG_1833 (1)

… to the stage production of Hansel & Gretel 

 

… to a double-page spread in the book:

 

PastedGraphic-2

 

This little cavalryman migrated from my sitting room…

 

IMG_4727

 

… to an animated sequence in the stage production …

 

 

… to a preparatory drawing for the book …

 

IMG_5037

 

… to full render separations on paper and lithography film …

 

IMG_5071

 

… to the final colour book illustration. (Detail)

 

IMG_8587

 

All my collections fuel my work. I never have to start from scratch with any illustration project. Somewhere in my collection, there will be a starting-point ready made. I just wander around looking at what I have until I find it. It’s a more organic process than trying to conjure something out of nothing.

 

Here’s a link to a little film about the making of Hansel & Gretel.

 

http://www.designfortoday.co.uk/hansel-gretel

 

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, 2020.

 

Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes

Author: Simon Armitage

Illustrator: Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Designer: Laurence Beck

Publisher: Design for Today

Re-making the Fairy Tale

Featured

PastedGraphic-2 (1)

Daisy Wynter wrote to me at Instagram re. Hansel & Gretel:a Nightmare in Eight Scenes:

 

PastedGraphic-14 (1)

“I love your work so much, I can’t stop looking at it and the wonderful textures you produce. Is it colour pencil or some kind of printing technique for these images?”

 

IMG_0985

I replied:

“The drawings were made in black Faber Castell pencil on either paper or lithography film, with occasional use of collaged textures that I produced myself by various means.

 

IMG_1010

I made separate ‘stencils’ in crayons and paints on lithography film for the colours. The layers of drawings and stencils were assembled digitally by the book’s designer Laurence Beck, which is the point at which the colour was added.

IMG_0991

We did it this way so that we could experiment with the colour palette, and this turned out to be a great advantage because along the way we radically changed our ideas to those we’d set out with.

IMG_1012

The overall intention was to capture something of the golden age of lithography printing. I’m not keen on illustrations that are essentially photographs of painted artwork reproduced on coated art paper. We planned on uncoated paper and a matt finish throughout the book, and the slight mis-registration that can be one of the delights of lithography and screen printing.

IMG_1007

The images and text feel integrated in this way, especially as we added colour to some of the text to denote which characters are speaking.”

 

Below: several layers of pencil and crayon on lithography film. These were separately scanned and assembled in the computer…

IMG_5076

… at which point colour was digitally added.

IMG_8587

Below: the tailpiece of the book.

IMG_1017 (1)

 

“And the award goes to”

Featured

PastedGraphic-14 (3)
The results of the V&A Illustration Awards have been announced, and I’m happy to share here that I’ve won the 2020 V&A Book Illustration Award for Hansel & Gretel: A Nightmare in Eight Scenes by the poet laureate, Simon Armitage, published by Design for Today (Joe Pearson) with book design by Laurence Beck.
It’s a wonderful outcome for a project that started back in 2017 when Simon wrote a reinvention of the fairy tale as the text/libretto for a music theatre production commissioned by the Goldfield Ensemble that I directed.
5491
Set in a war zone, the story took a completely different tone to the original by the Grimm Brothers when Simon changed the impetus for Hansel and Gretel’s journey from that of abandonment by feckless parents, to an agonised decision by a loving father and mother to send their children away from the bombings. Even before the premiere at the 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival I’d begun work preparing images for the illustrated edition of the poem, which was published in 2019. The beautiful book that resulted from the collaboration with Simon, Joe and Laurence was ample reward for the hard work, but the V&A award is the cherry on the cake.
PastedGraphic-2 (15)
Copies of the book may be purchased from Design for Today,

Close of Play

Featured

 

IMG_6547

Today I completed my final work for English Heritage on the year-long Telling Tales project that arrived entirely unexpectedly just before Christmas 2018.

IMG_6548

IMG_0085

IMG_6628

It began with a commission via English Heritage Magazine to make an illustration of Saint George for a series of articles on English myths, legends and folk tales, and ended today with the last in a group of paintings commissioned as prizes in the five categories of a short story competition for young people, for which I made an illustration for each winning story. 

St George (1)

One of the winning competition stories tells of an unhappy young Princess who makes friends with a fierce and much reviled fire-breathing beast, so my year with English Heritage began and ended with dragons.

img615


Throughout it there has been a relentless schedule of deadlines. The first was to conceptualise and then complete all the visuals for an interactive ‘Myths Map’ that required daunting quantities of artwork from me, including producing thirty drawings of EH sites and designing and building the many puppets required for the map’s animation sequences.

thumbnail (1)

 

CHJ116 (2)

Following that I designed retail products and produced illustrations for EH Magazine, for several educational projects and for the anthology of short stories titled ‘These Our Monsters’.

 

img611

IMG_8504

In November 2019 much of my output was on show in Grand Tour: Works Commissioned from Clive Hicks-Jenkins by English Heritage at Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff.

Martin Tinney Invitation

In some ways producing illustrations as prizes for the Telling Tales short story competition winners was the most challenging part of the project, because there was the added responsibility of wanting the experience for the young writers to be the best.

img614


Telling Tales was English Heritage’s theme of 2019, designed to promote interest in the many sites around which the project had been built. Had it come a year later things would have turned out quite differently as right now all the sites are closed until future notice, and their retail outlets with them. Most of the EH team I worked with are on furlough. Even so a few weeks ago it was suggested I work on an extension to the project, and while pleased and flattered to be asked, I declined. Any commission is hard work, but this one was particularly challenging because the briefs were demanding and I was answerable to a great many stakeholders over a long period. Sustaining concentration and the energy to deliver to schedule throughout it was exhausting, and while I greatly appreciated being the artist entrusted with the challenges, now feels like the moment to be moving on.

 

IMG_7084 (1)

2020 V&A Illustration Awards shortlist nominee for ‘Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes’

Featured

 

PastedGraphic-14 (3)

I’m honoured and thrilled to share here that I’ve been shortlisted for the V&A 2020 Illustration Award in the category of ‘Illustrated Book’ for Simon Armitage’s contemporary re-working of the Brothers Grimm, ‘Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes’.

My thanks to publisher Joe Pearson and designer Laurence Beck at Design for Today for their unflagging belief in this project and the tireless work they put in to make it everything we’d hoped it might be.

The announcements of the award winners will be made in June.

 

The Laurel Prize

Featured

 

Laurel_Prize_Logo_500px

I’m both honoured and very happy to have been asked by Simon Armitage to create the logo of his ‘Laurel Prize’ for eco-poetry, an annual award that’s been launched today by Sally Carruthers, executive director of the Poetry School.

My early sketches had included a stash of drawings of an ark, its rainbow replaced with arching branches of laurel.

IMG_8782 (1).jpg

 

IMG_8788 (1).jpg

 

IMG_8789 (1).jpg

But at the last minute I roughed out a single sketch of a paper boat adrift on rough water. Simon wrote back:

IMG_8897.jpg

“A strange synchronicity for me: I’ve often described the act of writing a poem being like making a paper boat and putting it into the river – you don’t know if it will make it across the ocean or sink before the first bend. 
To me it symbolises hope, fragile hope, the traditional art of writing and doing so against rising sea levels. I also think it’s no bad thing to move away from the direct “ark” idea since the ark is more particularly connected with the olive tree, as far as my memory of bible stories tells. So in a sense we’re creating our own symbolism. S”

So the paper boat was given the go-ahead by the organising team and several trial versions later –

IMG_8946.jpg

IMG_8916.jpg

Laurel Prize 4. (400dpi) (1).jpg

– the finished render was agreed that has become the symbol of the new award.

Laurel_Prize_Logo_500px

Simon writes in today’s Guardian newspaper:

Ted Hughes was often seen as being unfashionable for his nature writing and it was something he doggedly persevered with, to the point where he was a campaigner as well at low levels. It’s interesting to me that poetry has been able to swing back in the direction of nature; it didn’t fit in with a lot of the psychologies of the 60s and 70s and 80s, it wasn’t metropolitan, and maybe attached itself to the Romantics – Wordworth and Coleridge and particularly John Clare. Now nature has very much come back into the centre of what poetry can, and should, be dealing with.”

Afterword

Sometimes here at the Artlog, the most interesting things get written not in the posts but in the comments. ‘Keviniz’ wrote to me: “Love seeing the development of your finished piece. Thinking through your changes was like choosing words and images in poetry. Wonderful!”

I replied:

“Kevin, it was a happy process. These days Simon is a busy man but he nevertheless found time to answer questions and offer observations. To me it was crucial that the image should have personal resonance for him. We’ve worked together quite a bit now and I figured he’d asked me because he believed I’d have connection and insight. But it also had to be a masthead that made sense to anyone coming to The Laurel Prize for the first time.

Logos are sometimes abstract, more of a visual aesthetic than a figurative representation of a product or organisation. The Laurel Prize logo, while stylised, is figurative. It offers clues as to what idea it represents. During my research I looked at examples of icons that have lasted the test of time and have been robust and flexible inasmuch as they’ve been regularly re-designed without losing their recognition factors. The Lloyds Bank ‘black horse’ and Penguin’s penguin have magnificently lasted the course. Because Simon’s brainchild is The Laurel Award, we had to work out how ‘the laurel’ might figure in it. The difficulty is that the intact ‘laurel wreath’ has become the signifier of excellence for film, and so I almost immediately discarded any notion of a laurel crown. For the longest time I toyed with an open book to represent poetry, and I tried in every way to incorporate it to the point where I had it transforming into other elements.

I have clumsy sketches in my project book of an ark with its pitched roof formed from a book. There are drawings of an open book beneath an ark, and others where the shape of the upward facing open book is one of the waves keeping the ark afloat. The more you try to pull off these weird transformations, the further away you get from a simple, graphic solution. Nevertheless you have to try many ideas just to be sure of what works and what doesn’t. The book in one form or another stayed in my drawings for a long time, first with the ark and afterwards with the paper boat, before it gradually dawned on the team that in terms of meaning, it had become redundant to the image. We went at a stroke from four elements – a book, a paper-boat, water and laurel sprigs, to three. And that’s how it stayed to the conclusion. We had storm-tossed seas and calm seas, a placidly sailing paper boat and one being thrown about in a tempest. Laurel sprigs arced like rainbows or arose sparkling from the water like Esther Williams in one of those super-kitsch Hollywood musicals. In one of my favourite drawings a pair of laurel sprigs curved upwards either side of the paper boat like unfurling wings. But in the end we wanted the dynamic of movement, too, and so the laurels were detached from boat and waves to be added as sprigs blowing around to suggest blustery weather. Climate change is implied, though without turning the image into anything overly apocalyptic.

In a way I had to very thoroughly over-think the brief before coming back to something so simple that it doesn’t seem as though much thought at all has gone into it. But that’s probably the way many simple solutions are arrived at. The destination is not so very far from the starting-point, but we travel to it not as the crow flies, directly, but by a tortuously circuitous route that ensures we take in all the landmarks along the way. Just in case any one of them might give us the solution.

I filled a project book exploring ideas for The Laurel Prize, and then made ten fully finished versions for the team to select from. It was quite an adventure and makes me appreciate even more than I usually do the convoluted processes that have to be gone through to arrive at an effective, simple result.”

Bernie wrote: Wonderful, it also reminded me of the points of a star.
B xxx

 

I replied:

“I keep on thinking what a nice animation might one day be made showing the wind of climate change tearing the pages from an open notebook, one of which blows through an open window and onto the desk of a poet who writes a poem on it that gets snatched away by a thieving magpie before dropping onto a beach where it’s found, folded into a paper boat and set upon the waves by a child!”

Reinventing Count Dracula

Featured

eh_these-our-monsters_cover_final

 

On the cover of the myths and legends-inspired short story anthology These Our Monsters just out from English Heritage, I depicted Dracula because both the undead Count and his creator, Irish author Bram Stoker, appear in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s The Dark Thread. Burnet’s brief Whitby-set conjuring of Dracula as imagined by his author sent me to my bookshelves to take a look at how the Count is described by Stoker in the 1897 novel. In films Dracula has been depicted as darkly handsome with a deadly allure and sensuality. But that’s simply not the way Stoker introduced him:

Below: the first ‘Dracula’ sketch in my These Our Monsters project-book

IMG_8046 (1).jpg

“His face was very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth.”

IMG_8045 (1).jpg

From Christopher Lee in the 1958 – 1973 Hammer franchise to Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992) via Frank Langella reprising his Broadway success as the Count in a Dracula (John Badham, 1979) with a distinctly erotic charge, the ‘Prince of Vampire’s’ cinematic appearances have been constantly in flux, endlessly reinvented to suit the tastes of the age. But the bushy eyebrows and the mouth-obscuring moustache were left between the pages of the original novel, film-makers preferring the undead to be smooth-faced. (Gary Oldman sported a trim moustache and goatee with shoulder-length curls as he pursued Winona Ryder throughout much of Coppola’s film, more dreamy musketeer than vampire Count, so she understandably buckled at the knees when he swooped in for a lick!)

IMG_8050 (1).jpg

The changes wrought in translation are understandable. A film is not a book and an illustration doesn’t have to follow to the letter the text that underlies it. For my own Dracula I invented an ancient-parchment complexion, criss-crossed with lines. I ditched Stoker’s description of pointed ears (too Spock-like for a post-Star-Trek generation) but stuck with the straggly moustache because I liked the idea of the unholy trailing and dripping mess it would make when the vampire fed. I retained the unibrow, though replaced Stoker’s description of the Count’s sombre dark garments with the dandy’s delight in exuberant colour. My sartorial Dracula has a very fancy waistcoat!

Below: the cover art underway. Whitby Abbey is just an outline at this stage.

IMG_8117 (3).jpg

Stoker can’t have known and couldn’t possibly have imagined the popularity of his monster reinvented into a plethora of iterations, and that’s not including the Dracula-inspired inventions that go by other names in cinema and fiction, starting with director F. W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film Nosferatu which unwisely drew on the novel without acquiring permissions from the author’s widow. First she lobbied the producer with demands for compensation, but when it turned out there was no money to be had, gained a court order requiring that all the prints of the film be destroyed. Today there would be no Nosferatu had a few prints not slipped through the net.

The Count from Transylvania has stuck like a burr in the imaginations of creators and audiences. We can’t get enough of him. I loved honouring the tale on the cover of  These Our Monsters. I read not only Burnet’s story in order to make the cover, but Stoker’s novel too. (Twice.) I’d illustrate it in a heartbeat were the offer to come my way.

Below: my first version of the cover, with the lettering given more space and the EH logo placed bottom left.

These Our Monsters_Covers A (2).jpg

Below: wrap around dust-jacket in a storm of my trademark oak leaves.

EH_These Are Monsters_Dust cover (4).jpg

Frances and the Paper made of Iris and Reed

Featured

 

IMG_8923

Frances McDowall, who died on Friday morning, has been much on my mind. Twenty years ago Frances played a significant role in bringing the Old Stile Press edition of Richard Barnfield’s The Affectionate Shepherd to fruition. Every time I open my copy of the book Frances is present in it, our work together literally bonded into the pages.

Nicolas McDowall had been taken by examples he’d seen of the printmaking technique known as Heliography, and asked me to produce images for the Barnfield project by those means. He felt the process might be an interesting way to capture much of what he’d been so attracted to in my drawings. As I proceeded with the work I discovered there were endless difficulties that Nicolas hadn’t identified at the outset, and as I struggled to originate drawings by his suggested technique of scratching into emulsion-coated sheets of glass, Frances began the epic task of making the paper for the entire edition of 200 books.

Below: a surviving fragment of a glass plate and the image as it appears in the book.

dscf9615.jpg

IMG_8926 (1)

 

IMG_8922

Frances was heroic. It took forever to complete the vast amount of papers required and the processes were painstaking and physically exhausting. Later Nicolas too ran into problems at the press, so it might be fair to say that on The Affectionate Shepherd we all three suffered for our arts. (For a couple of years I was never without elastoplasted fingers because the thin glass plates persistently shattered under the pressure of my styluses. By the end of the project I had broken approximately eight glass plates for every one brought to completion.)

IMG_8925.jpg

Though the journey was fraught with problems at every stage and it’s a fact that we never again made a book in that particular way, somewhere along the pathways of agonising frustration, wrong turns and undependable techniques, the magic began to happen. Today when I look at the book, Frances’ ravishing sheets, striated and wrinkled and patterned with the marks of the organic ingredients and the drying processes, make a wonderful ground to the meanderings of my lines impressed into their surfaces. In a raking light the marks of my hand and her craft merge into a book the like of which I’ve never seen before or since. Sometimes the ink lines look almost like dark hairs looped and curved and trapped into the paper.

IMG_8930

In the colophon at the back of the book, the paper is described thus – perhaps by Nicolas or perhaps by Frances:

“All the paper used in this edition (including the endpapers) was made by Frances McDowall. The furnish used consisted of a mixture of Abaca and Jute, with an admixture of reeds and irises for the endpapers.”

IMG_8921.jpg

It’s a crisp and matter-of-fact account of a process that was fuelled by energy, passion and the overwhelming imperative by all of us to create something beautiful to frame Barnfield’s poem. Published originally in 1594, the only surviving copy of the first edition of The Affectionate Shepherd available in the UK to view is at the British Library, which is where I went at the outset to examine it. ( I had an alarming encounter there that nearly scuppered the entire enterprise and that you can read about here: https://clivehicksjenkins.wordpress.com/…/…/10/birthday-boy/ )

To my knowledge the Old Stile Press book published in 1998 is the only illustrated edition of the poem.

 

IMG_8928

Below: pencil study made in preparation for The Affectionate Shepherd

IMG_0003 (1).jpg

‘The odds are high in the making of any book: here the choices entailed a far greater than usual amount of experiment and work by the artist, paper-maker and printer. The result of their collaboration is a triumph.’

Jeremy Greenwood for Parenthesis Magazine.  1998.

DSCF4021.jpg

Charis in the World of Wonders

Featured

 

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.