Have just had 2 amazing days in my nearest big city (Whangarei) giving presentations about the Taketakerau Book Illustrations and what it’s like to illustrate a book, in the run-up to the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards.
I did 6 presentations over the space of 2 days, to all ages, from primers (and their moms!) through school children and teens to adults interested in writing and illustrating books for children.
After some years of living like a hermit, I’ve been calling upon a few of my old teaching and presentation skills. Great how soon it all comes back. The hermit style of living can be essential for producing creative work in volume, to a deadline – but it’s really something to get back to interactive living in the real world again.
We had wonderful turnouts for all except a book signing – something I was really looking forward to because it was set up in a make-believe forest in a shop window in town. I just love this kind of thing and was so excited when organizer Sue Scott, the Children’s Coordinator for Whangarei Libraries, told me what was going to happen with the book signing, a few weeks ago. When I saw the window, I was not disappointed – and I especially loved those clouds and the golden carpet of fallen leaves lining the pathways!
It’s a pity with the reflections on the window that you can’t see more – there were NZ native plants massed at the back, too. The whole effect was magical.
Unfortunately as you may have noticed, a few days ago Christchurch had its biggest dump of snow and nasty weather in 20 years, and this front reached us on Thursday morning, with plummeting temperatures, strong winds and cold rain.
So only the hardiest of souls were out on the streets of Whangarei on Thursday lunchtime, and they were scurrying as fast as they could to get to wherever they were going.
I DID however get to meet Annemarie Florian, author of “Kiwi: The Real Story” (whom I expect to meet again at the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards ceremony in Christchurch next Monday) and Maureen Sudlow, author of recently published “Fearless Fred and the Dragon”. She and her husband Ron are from Dargaville and we have vowed to keep in touch.
This is just what this kind of event is about. My thanks again to Sue, who is a wonderful organizer, minder and chauffeur! I am so very glad I’ve got to know her.
It has won 3 recognitions, including an Ashton Wylie Award, and it’s currently listed in 4 finalists in the Non-Fiction category of the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. The author is Marnie Anstis of Opotiki.
I am gearing up for 2 days’ presentations in Whangarei next week at the Whangarei Public Library and at some schools – Wednesday 19th and Thursday 20th June. There will also be a book signing at The Strand, Cameron Street, Whangarei at noon on the Thursday.
Then on the Sunday I fly to Christchurch for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards ceremony on 24th June at Addington Raceway.
I painted 36 illustrations for the book. They are all gallery-style artworks, size 15″ x 20″, and if you’d like to see more, you will find them at http://taketakerau.com
The book tells the story of a 2000 year old puriri tree at Opotiki, starting from its germination in the primeval forest, and following through its life as a home for the many birds in the forest, the arrival of Maori settlers, the arrival of men from Europe, and major developments in New Zealand and world history. The two streams of history are arranged with a timeline so that the unfolding of world events parallels the unfolding of events in New Zealand.
I was honored by a special award from the NZ Children’s Art House Foundation, as the Artist who in 2012 did most for children. It was a wonderful tribute, because children had a major part to play in selecting the winner of this award.
All through the work on the book, my main underlying concern was to make the illustrations a treasure house for children to explore, What a great validation of 12 months’ solid work.
This gets exciting!
So I’m simply adding a few more illustrations from the Elleston Trevor books to supplement the pictures in my last post “Elleston Trevor – Spies, Badgers, Kites and Miniature Cars“.
As I mentioned there, these books open up a wonderful world of pioneering, ‘do it yourself’ innovation that’s rapidly being lost in today’s world. Children’s toys these days are ‘plastic fantastic’ and they come with everything supplied – minimum imagination and minimum inventiveness required. And for that reason, they soon pall. So parents have to look round for something else. And the cash register rings again. What a waste!
It’s sad, because kids are missing out on developing one of the most important faculties a human being can acquire – CREATIVITY.
In New Zealand we call it the “Number 8 Wire Mindset”, harking back to the days when it used to be said that a NZ farmer could mend or create just about anything with a piece of Number 8 fencing wire. Here at least, we still put a premium on ingenuity.
These books bring to light for kids who’ve never had the experience, just what it means to be self-reliant, resourceful and handy with one’s hands (paws, wing-tips or whatever). The stories are full of activity, sharing, goodwill and the creative spirit.
W A Ward illustrations for “By A Silver Stream”:
David Williams illustrations for “Heather Hill”:
Dust Jacket images for these children’s books on the net are not the best, and of course it’s rare for old titles to come with dust jackets now, anyway. But I’ve worked on what I could get, tidied up scuffs and torn edges and hopefully improved on what’s out there. The “Heather Hill” dust jacket illustration in my last post was the worst – there’s a limit to what you can do even with Photoshop. Maybe a better “Heather Hill” dust jacket image will surface over time.
Check out the only available Reviews of Elleston Trevor’s Children’s books.
He was a versatile writer, his most popular works being “The Flight of the Phoenix”, and the Quillar and Hugo Bishop series, both under the pseudonym Alex Hall. He was born Trevor Dudley-Smith.
When he died in Arizona in 1995, his obituary in The Independent described the Quillar novels as “best-selling, tough and suspenseful spy thrillers with a distinctly noir-ish edge, featuring an ice-cold killing-machine, or “shadow executive”, called Quiller”. Furthermore –
“During the 1950s Trevor was one of Heinemann’s star popular authors. Along with Nevil Shute, the Americans Erle Stanley Gardner, Erskine Caldwell and Frank Yerby, the Australian Arthur Upfield … and the incomparable Georgette Heyer. At one stage a short Authors At Home promotional film was shot at Trevor’s home in Roedean, near Brighton, where he was glimpsed at his typewriter, and flying kites and racing miniature cars, both hobbies he followed with enthusiasm.”
Children’s Books Too
It’s hard to believe that at the same time this man was also writing delightful children’s books -about 25 kids’ books in all. And along with many other youngsters I loved and read them. “By A Silver Stream” and “Heather Hill” are two I’ve managed to get hold of again so far. But prices are high:
These were akin to “The Wind in the Willows“, based around themes of humanized small animals, but with a kind of pioneering twist. There are no psychological ‘Toad’ dramas here (thank goodness) – no Toad in fact, although there ARE venerable badgers, wise owls, excitable field mice, frogs, rabbits and peaceable moles. There are challenges though, of the kind that would appeal to any child with a practical bent – resettling a community deeper in the forest to avoid confrontation with man, building suitable houses, laying on water pipes, finding resources and transporting them home, making boats and gathering supplies for any job on hand. And above all, these stories are told with a wonderful, dry humor that brings the characters and amusing events to life.
They are well illustrated, mainly with a single full-page illustration and numerous smaller sketches throughout. “Into A Happy Glade‘, “By A Silver Stream“, “Deep Wood“, “Heather Hill” and the “Wumpus” series stand out in my memory. W A Ward (for “By A Silver Stream”) and David Williams (for “Heather Hill”) were the illustrators whose work is shown above.
These books are hard to come by now, but they still have some ardent followers – especially in the UK. For many youngsters of the era, they formed the basis of a lifetime’s love of animals and nature.
I’ve collected together the only available Reviews of Elleston Trevor’s Children’s books from Amazon.co.uk – because I believe these books have something that’s often lacking in today’s children’s story offerings. Check them out they are all together on one page!
I’d been given four small books in a series published by The Studio in London. One was “How To Draw Farm Animals” by Charles F Tunnicliffe.
There was also “How To Draw Birds” by Raymond Sheppard, “Baby Animals On The Farm” by Vere Temple and another, the name of which escapes me. They were all excellent learning tools by real quality artists – CF Tunnicliffe in particular created an enormous oeuvre of top quality work, illustrating at least 250 books – some written by himself and some authored by others.
From school, Tunnicliffe won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London, and from then on his busy working life began. He was honored by the art establishment, and the Crown. In 1978, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire – a year before he died in 1979. Tunnicliffe was the subject of a 1981 BBC Wales television documentary, True to Nature, produced by Derek Trimby and narrated by Robert Dougall.
I was fortunate. Having these books as an instruction and an example was really good for me, and they also got me closer to appreciating the world of animals and birds in art.
I’m gradually chasing these artists down, thanks to the Internet, and recently bought C F Tunnicliffe’s “Bird Portraiture”, published by The Studio in 1945 with a reprint in 1946. I scanned the pictures below, and don’t think they appear anywhere else on the net:
Though Tunnicliffe’s regular subjects were wildlife and the countryside, whenever he includes humans in any of his works, they take their places naturally in the scene, executed with the same style and authenticity as his landscapes, animals and birds.
He has come to be regarded as arguably one of the greatest wildlife artists of all time.
Apart from the straight Disney content, there was one other cartoon strip in Mickey Mouse Weekly that I came to rate just as highly – a cartoon called Strongbow the Mighty, illustrated by another real master of his trade – the London-born illustrator Ron Embleton. Ron created a huge body of artwork pretty much single-handed, in a really short space of time.
Ron was in a league of his own, and it shocked me since to find out that at the time he was doing Strongbow, he was only in his early twenties, having started illustrating for comics at the age of 17 – amazing. I still have 37 Strongbow comic pages stashed away and kept over the years because I admired his work so much, and once I get my scanner going again, I’ll put them online, because I notice there doesn’t seem to be anything much out there about this particular comic strip.
Meantime, I’ve set up a page at Patricia Howitt.com with one or two Strongbow images, which I’m sure will be relished by those who remember the cartoon – and by anyone with an eye for outstanding graphics. Here are a couple of them:
I loved Strongbow for Ron’s marvellous, crisp black and white images, his detail, his strength of line and composition (again!), the brilliant accuracy of his men and horses, and above all his total mastery when it came to capturing power and movement.
My dad and I used to pore over his pages, marvelling at his rendering of horses and men, often frozen in a split second of violent action, but fluid, powerful and graceful nonetheless. Very, very powerful stuff.
Now I’ve had the chance to see more of Ron’s work, I’ve a sneaking feeling that the Strongbow era might have been one of his favorites, because the images he created for it are so complete and so satisfying. Ron captured the spirit of that period so vividly, that it’s hard for me to realise that he was also engaged with Biggles (another of my favourites), American Wild West, science fiction and Playboy magazine. What an artist!
Strongbow, as far as I remember, was only ever a black and white comic strip. I saw some of Ron Embleton’s color work in comics recently when I searched him on the net, but to be honest, I think black and white conveys his mastery of comic strip work far more effectively. Having said that, he also had brilliant control of tone and color, and produced many individual images that are truly breathtaking. It was a real joy to me recently to find a great body of his illustration work for book publishers that I previously hadn’t known about – see above.
The other thing that appealed about Strongbow was the “Robin Hood.”quality of the story. As I’ve said before, Sherwood Forest has some deep resonances in our family history, that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. That will surface later, though.