Do you have a favorite illustrator? Have you ever thought about it? It’s usually not a completely conscious realization, but there may be a book from your childhood that captivated you, drew you back time and again. For me, it was (and still is) the Dean’s Mother Goose Book of Rhymes.
I used to think it was my Uncle Dean who gave it to me.
I’m not sure who gave me this book or when, but it has been a cherished part of my life for nearly as long as I can remember. My first real memory of this book took place on the way to a family picnic. The ranger at the gate to the state park gave me a sticker, which I promptly stuck on the back of my book.
At least my 4 year old self had the foresight not to plaster my love of Oregon State Parks right onto that adorable little mouse. The book is full of gorgeous illustrations like that: Beautiful animals, graceful people, charming children, detailed period clothing.
Two of my very favorite pages
My copy of this book has been… well-loved. It is missing pages, has a convenient pull-out section in the middle, and half of the binding is gone. The Oregon State Parks sticker has become a rather minor issue. Mr. Gren and I have looked on Amazon or Abe books and were stunned to see used copies of this book going for $100, $200, $250, with a new copy priced at $499! What kind of treasure did I have here on my hands? Of course, I was sure that the illustrations were the attraction, so the other day, I did something I had never done before: I turned to the title page and looked up the illustrator’s name. Turns out there were two: Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. Do those names mean anything to you? They didn’t to me, either. After a quick search on the Interwebs, I discovered exactly why this book is such a treasure. Without rehashing every brief biography that I was able to find of these two sisters, suffice it to say that they illustrated hundreds of books together, one of the most famous being Dodie Smith’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Ah, now it makes sense!
The clothing is so inspiring that I have begun sketching out designs which I hope to translate into actual 3-D clothing. Today, I wanted to do something a little more artistic than making basic line drawings of uninhabited clothes. This morning, I was watching my 20 month old son, Konik, walking around the living room towing a pull-toy hippo behind him. It was so simple and sweet and matched the childish innocence in so many of the Grahame Johnstones’ illustrations, that I knew I wanted to use the book as inspiration to capture that moment. Wouldn’t you know it, on the second nursery rhyme in, there is a picture of a little boy with a pull-toy.
Until I grew up and met some Brits, I never knew “Norwich” and “porridge” could rhyme.
I made some small changes to the original drawing (aside from the fact that the face on my boy turned out differently). It was fun to do. Drawing is kind of relaxing for me, even though I’m hunched over a paper, studying minute details. Here is the progression of my drawing.
First pencil sketch
You can see that the color varies wildly from the middle to final picture. My house has the ceilings of a cave and it was a gray Northwest day today, which results in poor and uneven lighting. Even photo editing couldn’t bring out the correct colors. The middle picture probably looks truest to life. Anyways, at some point I will even out the background on the final picture, but I’m happy with it overall. And I’ve got the drawing bug back and will most likely mimic another one of these beautiful illustrations sometime in the near future.
And one of the best things about drawing this little boy and writing this post is the brief search I did for the book as I began in order to verify the outrageous price to obtain another copy of it. Why is that the best? Because I found someone on etsy who was obviously ignorant of the gold that they had and priced it at $9.95. Mr. Gren chanted, “Buy it! Buy it now!” next to me as I scanned the listing to make sure that the book really was intact and the verdict is:
This time next week, I’ll have a new (new to me) copy of my most cherished childhood book, this time with all the pages. Score!