Design Review: Volume 1, Issue 1 (April 1948)
Prints & The Illustrated Book
Prints & The Illustrated Book
The recent exhibition of prints in the Wellington Central Library displayed work by K. W. Hassall, E. Mervyn Taylor, George Woods and Stewart Maclennan, which would stand favourable comparison with similar work of any European artists. The print is a democratic form of art, being easy of acquisition to the slender purse, and is one of the most potent means of forming public taste through its wide dispersal as book illustration.
The last few years have witnessed a revival of interest in the production of books which can claim to be unified in design and a higher awareness of good book design has identified sound design with saleability, thereby permitting publishers, who dictate the format, to enlist the services of an artist's work and advice. Many books published recently in Switzerland, although purely commercial ventures, are a delight to handle, while New Zealand has been fortunate in having men with skill, taste and a conscience in publishing.
In spite of five hundred years of experience the problem of the illustration of books remains. What is the purpose of an illustration? How should it be done? The answer depends largely on the book. “Alice in Wonderland” is unthinkable without Tenniel. Here then in brief are the design problems of book production and some of the many solutions.
There are two main classes of illustrators; those who retain the old idea of using every medium, to whom all restrictions are intolerable; and those who make typographical drawings in two-dimensional patterns that preserve the integrity of the page and often tend to the abstract.
The character of the book is the next factor. A good artist—Audubon, Bewick, Daglish—can turn diagrams into works of art. The illustrator ofpage break
Shakespeare, Chaucer or a lyric poet could contribute little except ornament, relative or not. The illustrator to a modern edition of the gospels might attempt a translation of the spirit into plastic form, presenting the Absolute, the timeless essence of what inspired the author, taking care that it is the book and not his own personality, that he illustrates. The “gossipy” kind of book permits the illustrator to embroider the author's ideas or execute variations on his theme in the way that Heath Robinson provides a running commentary to Rabelais. The bold and confident illustrator may regard the book as a springboard and jump off into free imaginative drawing.
For the modern book the woodcut or wood engraving is most suitable, but type is refined and finished and the block must approximate in texture, having the same relationship of thick and thin as the type used. The letters of print are rigid and exact, with slow and precise movement. The strong, clean sculptural character of the wood block can be made to match the type. How much modern illustration is spoilt by being too crude or too black?
The dictionary tells us that “illustration” is to make clear, explain; elucidate by drawings; ornament with designs. The artist finds the matter not quite so simple.