Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Illustrated Classics

It’s hard for us to imagine the impact that illustrated books had a century ago, before movies and television commanded people’s imaginations. Back then a single new chromolithograph by NC Wyeth or Howard Pyle or Jessie Wilcox Smith was a rare pleasure, like seeing a shooting star or tasting a mango. A book with thirteen color plates was an extravagant feast. Today every time we open our mailbox there’s an avalanche of color pictures.

Like everyone else in my generation, I grew up with the TV blasting away in the background. The coffee table was three inches deep in color magazines. But somehow, by some strange magic, those illustrated classics spoke to me from their high shelf. “Take me down, savor me, I will take you to wonderful places,” they seemed to say. Each color plate sent a shiver down my spine.

Somehow I sensed the rarity and permanence of story illustrations, and I developed a hunger for them. Later, I found a paperback collection of Howard Pyle’s pictures. I bladed it and stuck the pictures all over the house. Those pictures were beacons for my imagination, a kind of steady refuge from the flickering world.

P.S. Sorry for the late post. We've been flying to the west coast today.

5 comments:

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

No apologies needed for a late post! I find it amazing you can post daily. Welcome to California, Jim!

Dan

james gurney said...

Thank you, Dan, and welcome to Blogland. Your stories about teaching will bless us all.

Let me say to my readers that this is my older brother Dan, who taught me to draw, and has been a huge inspiration to the Dinotopia books. When he saw my first painting, "Dinosaur Parade," he made this suggestion: "Instead of having the humans domesticate the dinosaurs, why not have the dinosaurs domesticate the humans?" That was the little idea that got the whole thing going.

Kristel said...

Both you and your brother seem greatly connected to the joys of children and childhood! I agree that things you love as a child shape the rest of your life. My favorites were the OZ books, with the illustrations by John R. Neill.
Until, of course, I found Dinotopia when I was 11!

I also welcome you back to California and I hope to meet you next week in Los Altos.

Thank you for the wonderful blog!

Dave Lowe said...

N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle were the illustrators that inspired me to attempt a career at it and go to RISD to study. My family had a collection of their books and although I was a Saturday Morning cartoon/comic book kid there was something special about their work that sparked a flame inside me. I became fan of your work because it evokes the same timeless painted illustration style.

Rebecca said...

Just found your blog, and am enjoying skimming through. Already I have seen that some of my favorite illustrators are yours as well. NC Wyeth, Pyle, and Miss Potter give me adrenaline rushes at the glimpse of their work. Thank you for sharing your process and techniques for your artwork is also among my favorites. I'm 30 and as of tonight find myself with your books still drinking in your illustrations.