The Art of Illustration – Children’s Books

MUCH might be written, and has indeed been written, on the subject of illustrated books for children, but nothing more illuminating than the conversation recorded by Mr. Edward Johnston in an early number of The Imprint.

Children love lots of facts in a drawing, and their relation one to another is of little importance to them. Mr. Johnston’s little daughter (at 8 1/2) gave some illuminating replies in answer to his questions regarding the sort of pictures she liked—and then—to quote the dialogue that followed :

” Myself (Mr. Edward Johnston) : I want to know another thing—not considering the things in the picture, but how do you like the pictures made ?

1st Daughter : How it’s drawn, do you mean ?

Myself : Yes.

1st Daughter : Well, you just draw them don’t you ?

If you were going to draw a landscape you would probably draw a hill with a stream and a wood and then, if you were going to have little creatures running about, you would make rabbit holes in the hill, and you’d probably have at the end of the stream a pond, and then you might have a windmill on the hill. You might have a road coming down from the windmill—and the stream might come out of the wood.

On my suggestion the 1st Daughter began to draw her picture, and the 2nd Daughter (at 7) presently coming in (not having heard this conversation) answered my first question thus :

2nd Daughter : I think I like that sort of picture what Bridget’s got there—I think I can draw that sort of picture.

Myself : Well, aren’t there any others ?

2nd Daughter : I don’t think I like any other pictures. Myself (trying a leading question) : Don’t you like animals ?

2nd Daughter : Well, in pictures like that I do have animals, you see. I like them sort of mixed up. Myself : What do you mean ?

2nd Daughter : Well, you see, I’d make one like that and then make other things in it like bits of other pictures. . . .

1st Daughter : But don’t you like other kinds of pictures ?—you put such an awful lot of things into one picture.

2nd Daughter : And that’s what I mean by having it mixed up, and that’s why—I like having a lot of things in one picture.” (The Imprint, Vol. I, 2.)

The young lady of eight and a half appears to be a somewhat advanced critic on one point ; most people until their eyes begin to fail remaining in the condition of the lady of seven, and liking a lot of things ” all mixed up ” with bits of other pictures—a surfeit of content ; and as to the drawing—” Well, you just draw them, don’t you ? ” It is precisely in the arrangement and the drawing and the relation of its contents towards building up a pictorial unit rather than in the individual parts that the artist’s higher function lies. It is a pity that anyone should be content to remain untouched by what is capable of yielding so much aesthetic pleasure. Let them take a Japanese print almost at random and study with what a tremulous balance the scales are held between economy and lavishness of fact. The statement is complete ; to subtract a line would be parsimony, to add one superfluous —either would disturb the exactitude of the balance.

” The world is so full of a number of things ” that it is beyond the capacity even of an industrious recorder who lives to ninety odd, like Menzel, to set down a tithe of what he sees. But to set down ” how ” you see any given thing, what pressure it makes upon the brain, or what kinds of thoughts and impressions it leaves or produces is to share out the mind with the world, even though the subject be nothing but a jam-pot upon a dresser.