Illustration - Summer 2017 - Issue 52


John Minton - Illustration from Time Was Away A Notebook in Corsica published by John Lehmann, 1948

It’s said that a picture can speak 1,000 words, but this is only part of the story. A picture can be far more effective than words at portraying, for example, emotion, whether that’s pathos or side-splitting humour. It’s also true that a picture can sometimes convey complex information that would take many pages to explain. Lots of people find visual information easier to digest and memorise than written text. This ability seems to be hard-wired in our brains. Children, for example, learn at an astonishingly young age that marks on paper can represent people, the three-dimensional world around them, and happy and sad stories. This is astoundingly sophisticated, yet we take it for granted, simply because most of us do it effortlessly.

This gives illustrators a great opportunity, but also a responsibility. Husband and wife team Mick Manning and Brita Granström have been using the power of their illustrations mixed with carefully crafted and designed text to inform children about the way the world works, historical subjects and classic literature for the past two decades. Their books have educated generations growing up since the 1990s and they have to be painstakingly researched and fact-checked. William Heath Robinson, on the other hand, subverted the ability of pictures to communicate detail and complexity when he invented wild, improbable machines that bore just enough resemblance to reality to be utterly absurd. For those of us who don’t understand real machines, his illustrations make his inventions marvellously clear and easy to understand with pulleys, cogs and strings. 

Wood-engravings are particularly suitable for conveying both emotion and detail and Robert Gibbings achieved this admirably in his River books – depicting the buildings and natural surroundings of the rivers he wrote about, but also imbuing his images with a romantic, serene atmosphere. While Frank Brangwyn used different media to express varying types of information and emotion, from crumbling ruins, to romantic trysts. Whether you want to laugh or sigh, we hope you find something to meet your mood in this issue.

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