My Love of Illustration

This is a lengthy post. I want to share with you why I am so attracted to doing this kind of work….fitting in drawings of the natural world. My mother was a great reader, not a good housekeeper and certainly not a good cook. It seems that most of our meals were centered around “leftovers” but no one including her knew  what they were leftover from. And almost all of the meals were accompanied with a can or two of creamed corn. But she did instill in us a love of books and the natural world.

I only have a couple of those early books. When we moved to Florida from Michigan in 1955 my father told us that we had to only pack what was necessary. My new bike and dog had to stay behind, (“No one rides bikes or has dogs in Florida because it is just too hot.”) but I found room to tuck in two books. And by the way I hated Florida. It was no place for a young tomboy who spent every waking hour in the woods. As soon as I was able I returned to Michigan and hugged a tree. The trees are what make some of these books wonderful to look at.

Isn’t this one magic! I am quite certain that I gave my copy to our daughter….she is looking for it. But these tiny people, much like The Borrowers, live and take advantage of the most amazing things at their disposal. Living in a shoe, skating on banana peels, and a favorite picture that I could not download off the internet, them using the bathroom sink for a swimming pool. Some little bugger used his red crayon on this page but I am sure it was out of enthusiasm for the stories of the Teenie Weenies.

My most favorite of all is The Castle of Grumpy Grouch. Very few pen and ink drawings but a magical story of a little princess who lost her temper and embarks on adventures to find it. This one I still have.

I loved how she rested under a tree that covered her with leaves. Those trees are so capable of magical possibilities. Look at that tiny squirrel and rabbit! I would stare at these images for hours.

Later I would spend lots of time in the children’s books section of book stores. The ones I bought for my own kids were only ones that had great artworks of imaginative illustrations. And actually those were hard to come by in the 70s and 80s…..most of the good ones came from England, Italy….not the US, as here illustrators were more into things like cartoons or goofy collaged caterpillars.

Tasha Tudor knew how use her illustrating skills to draw you into every picture. This one was such a classic. I wrote her a letter once and she answered it. I gave our daughter the letter and the book that inspired me to write to her. Here is a tree from Tasha Tudor.

And more rabbits and a squirrel.

This book I bought for our son and then found one for myself for fifty cents. Look at all the details in these pictures. So many places for your eyes to wander.

And Philippe Fix’s tree.

These trees have that iconic Arthur Rackum look to them. I would have loved one of his books!

This one I bought for my daughter when it first came out.

Brian Froud was a great illustrator. The only problem is that it all became so commercial, so all over the place that the magic wore off.

And then there are the books that I just had to have for myself. This Russian tale is so beautifully done with all the Klimt like patterns everywhere.

And a name like I. Bilibin! How magic is that! Here is more from the inside pages.

And these illustrated letters. My mother would read all the classic children’s books to us especially those illustrated by N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle. Somewhere I learned that it was Howard Pyle’s wife who did the black pen illustrated letters that started each chapter.

Here is Bilibins;

And another one that reminded me of the Giant book illustrated and published in Italy. I just had to have it when I saw the fold out tortoise and hare fable.

Then the Brambly Hedge books came out by the inimitable Jill Barklem.

Talk about magic….just look at all that she packs in!

And this wonderful tree where some of them live. So much like Beatrix Potter.

But my most inspirational book with Nature drawings is this one by Janet Marsh. She simply studied a marsh land nearby and recorded it all. So very beautiful.

It was this love of Nature and wanting to know the names of wildflowers that inspired these two hand bound books of illustrations. I put them in a case together. One is two years in Davisburg, Michigan and the other two years when I first moved to Brasstown, North Carolina.

And Brasstown.

And that is the history of where I am now with drawing and painting illustrations of the natural world.

A few years ago I took a journaling class. It was such a disappointment. All the students (except me) had the same sized journal and all of them tried to do their best to draw and paint like the instructor. They all worked on their penmanship…more like calligraphy. It was sort of scientific illustration, but no individuality, no magic at all……just a picture that looked like everyone else’s picture.

I think the best way to learn to draw is to do it, over and over again. And you need to just love the doing, love the subject, love the feel of the pencil in hand, love that there is an eraser nearby, love the satisfaction that comes when this drawing is better than the last one.

That said, I am going back to my drawings in the Australian Eucalyptus leaves. Yesterday I added a blue tailed skink on the owl page….and now am working on a rabbit who fits into the brush by a chipmunk opposite a deer. It is magic!

Til later.