The Boy/Pig, the Handsome Chaps and the Scary Witch


The Toby Twirl Story Book was published in 1947. I was born in 1951, and so perhaps the copy I read had been handed down to me from my older sister, Jacqui.



Not only did the stories and images in the book capture my imagination, but the feel of it under my fingers, too. Printed simply in two colours per spread on heavy, absorbent paper, it was my love for The Toby Twirl Storybook that underpinned my approach to the illustrated edition of The Sonnets of Richard Barnfield, made in 2001 with Nicolas McDowell at The Old Stile Press.


It was a long stretch from the adventurous Toby and his friends, to the lustrous boys of Barnfield’s homoerotic sonnets first published in 1595, but the idea of borrowing from The Toby Twirl Story Book was so fully formed in my head from the moment Nicolas suggested the project, that the edition didn’t so much as evolve, as explode with the swiftness of a Demon King in a puff of smoke out of a star-trap!


The book took time to make, of course, as all beautiful things do, but the idea for it came to me in a moment, and I never swerved from my vision for it.



And it would seem that the influence of The Toby Twirl Storybook in my work goes on, because it can be no accident that my first artist’s picture-book, due out this year from Random Spectacular, is to be a darkling version of that grimmest of the Grimms, Hansel & Gretel. The steeple-hatted witch of E. Jeffrey’s illustrations has always stayed with me, lurking in wait to scare another generation. She is the the stuff of my nightmares and dreams, and has clearly been biding her time, waiting for me to be ready for her re-launch!

She’s a little scarier this time around, and meaner too.


the Barnfield sonnets, part 2: the dummy copy


Above: image for Sonnet VI

Below: a detail of a page from the project book, showing the way I planned to dispose the five colours… yellow ochre, turquoise, mid-blue, green and brown… throughout the edition.

Each rectangle denotes a page, the letter followed by a number being the abbreviation for the type of image and its number within its group. The types of image are as follow: P = portrait, L = landscape, N = nude (full figure), HF = half figure. Below each rectangle is the sonnet number. The red dots were added as I completed images, so that at a glance I had a sense of where the project was. (I stopped adding the dots as the book neared completion.) The colours were chosen to help create various seasons and moods. The mid-blue… printed quite heavily on white… defines the images as though by silvery moonlight. The green is spring-like, optimistic and youthful, while the turquoise suggests the blazing light of high summer. The yellow ochre conjures the sun, and the brown, the sense of shadows on warm skin and stone.

Above: a double-spread from the book showing text and image for Sonnet II. Early morning light gilds a pollarded tree while the moon still hangs high in the sky.

To guide the process of the project, once I’d finished making the page images, I provided Nicolas with black and white photocopied copies of them. He in turn made photocopies of the text lay-out, and then pasted a to-scale dummy copy of the book on the paper we’d selected, so that we could get a feel for how it would eventually look and feel. The sonnet numbers in red on the following images were just to guide us, and didn’t appear in the edition.

Below: Sonnet IV. I’ll never know how this one slipped past all of us, incorrectly numbered by me. It’s in the finished book, and so went un-noticed by everyone concerned throughout the compilation of the dummy and proofing, the manufacture of the blocks and the printing. Between us all, Nicolas, Frances and I must have looked at it a hundred times before the book got to completion. If any of the others noticed they said nothing to me. (Maybe everyone is distracted by the lissome-looking young man.) When I finally spotted the error a year or so ago, I could hardly believe my eyes. Strangely I find myself not upset by it. I should be, but I’m not. I’d be upset about a misspelling in the printed text, but the incorrect Latin numeral is in fact a quite typical error for me, and makes me smile at myself. I just know that I would have been so happy when I made those four, elegant downward strokes, sandwiched top and bottom by horizontal lines and finished with a stop, that the actual meaning would have been secondary to my satisfaction at the placement of the marks. It’s like a little temple sitting on a hill. Would I change it now, if I could wave a magic wand? I think perhaps not.

Below: the image as it appears in the book.

A daub of oil pastel on each image of the dummy copy indicated to Nicolas the colour required for it. The images were created in two blocks… colour overprinted with black line… and there were carefully-judged misalignments between the line and colour blocks to create the effects I wanted.

This vignette of a glove with an elaborate lace cuff sewn with bells, seen here in the dummy copy, is the first image of the book. The glove, like the shoe and the boot, has historically held a place in the iconography of sexual desire. A sixteenth century gallant might sport the glove of a paramour pinned to his hat, a conceit I’d illustrated in my earlier Barnfield book for the Old Stile Press, The Affectionate Shepherd.

The glove vignette from the Barnfield Sonnets was cleverly reworked by my brother-in-law, Andrew Wakelin, into a repeat pattern for the endpapers of my monograph, published in 2011 by Lund Humphries.

I knew from the start that I wanted the book to be chunky in the hand, with a generously-sized text. I wanted too a heavy paper, rather like the paper I remembered from some of the books of my childhood. The particular book of my early years that became my model for the project… though I never showed it to Nicolas as I imagined he might think me mad… was this one, published in 1947. (I was born in 1951, but books stayed on the bookshop shelves for longer back in those days.)

The images were black line, printed over a single colour per page.

Sonnet VIII: black line over a single colour per page

Thirteen years after I made the images for it, I still enjoy taking down and reading my copy of Richard Barnfield’s Sonnets, which is a good sign.

Above: endpaper design for the book

The book is available directly from The Old Stile Press, and may be found on the Press website HERE