The Art of Illustration – Coloured Illustrations & ‘Make-Up’

THE facility with which any work in colour can be reproduced by the three-colour process, whether intended for reproduction or not, has so popularized colour books that attention might again be paid by artists to a more selective and arbitrary treatment of colour than is absolutely necessary where practically any colour is mechanically reproducible.

Admirable in some ways as the printing of Caldecott, Walter Crane, and Kate Greenaway books was, advance might be made along similar lines without greater elaboration, but by using colour with increased knowledge on the part of the artist of what is obtainable by equally simple means. For instance, by adopting a scheme in three printings, based upon black, a secondary and one primary, instead of as usually upon three primaries, the artist always working to a limited scheme in which was one dominant note of colour, rather than using the entire gamut both of colour and gradation, a more virile and not necessarily less delicate result would be obtained, and the disadvantages at present attendant upon the use of the three-colour process in the necessary use of glazed paper on mounts, the employment of fugitive inks, and the difficulty of finding any satisfactory solution to the problems of ” bookmaking ” out of such material would be done away with.

An illustrator is always called over the coals for the tiniest error, even though it happens to be in an abstruse matter of which only a specialist has knowledge. He should at least know what he doesn’t know—this being more useful than knowledge—but he should know how and where to find out. A general idea of most things with a capacity for rapid specialization is perhaps the most useful equipment ; without endeavouring to burden the mind with an enormous mass of unrelated facts. But he should certainly have some knowledge of type and lettering, and be able to make some passable hand at designing a title page, or at least know enough to give a valuable opinion upon it ; and the appropriateness or otherwise of the type to be employed in connection with his work.

He will find it a good plan to carry out any series of book illustrations to the same scale ; all the drawings will then be reproduced in the same proportion, and unity of effect as the leaves are turned over will be maintained without patchiness. By this it is not meant that variety is not to be aimed at ; but variety in bounds and in harmony. The reader of an illustrated book should not be called upon to change his focus, as though from a life-size portrait to a miniature and back again, as in a badly-hung picture show. In setting the scale of drawing, if he decides upon the smallest convenient size in which he can express the smallest object he considers essential to his subject, this will dictate to him, but if he expands the composition beyond reason he will find that what he began by considering an essential has ended by becoming insignificant.

” Make-up ”

Frequently too little regard is paid to the make-up of an illustrated book, even by houses which issue considerable numbers of them. Almost every writer who says anything of the work of the ‘sixties has his fling at the style of make-up of the pages and the terrible borders and head and tail pieces introduced by the printers of the time. In the book advertisements we read of “chaste designs in gold,” or “superb binding,” or ” designs by Owen Jones,” or ” elegantly ” or ” richly bound in cloth from a design by John Leighton, F.R.A.S.,” or ” ornamental designs by J. Sleigh.” These gentlemen, in order to have their names given equal prominence with the illustrators and engravers, must have reached a bad eminence in their trade ; but it shows that it was taste and not goodwill that was at fault. Accidentally I find an indication of the great care taken in printing in the case of Home Thoughts and Home Scenes, where the Houghton drawings and the letterpress are printed on one side only of a very stout plate paper, probably page by page. The sheets are all single and unfolded ; probably the paper was too stout to fold satisfactorily ; but their inner edges were attached to the binding by rubber solution, which allowed the pages to fall open comfortably enough until the rubber perished. There is evidence throughout of the most careful overlaying in order to render the full strength of foreground, and the delicate relations between middle-distance and distance that it would be natural for an artist working in pencil to express—a difference unattainable by the engraver, but to some extent possible to the printer. It is a pity that the Arabian Nights are not so finely printed on as good a paper, but at least these volumes don’t come unstuck. I am unaware whether this method of binding was much used or not.

The point to make is not that the make-up of the books was bad ; on the contrary, much thought and skill were devoted to it, the pity being that the designers and craftsmen employed looked upon lavishness of decoration as what they were called in to supply, and they ” threw their weight about ” with curious results.

Nowadays these typographical matters have received a closer study than was the case in the ‘sixties, and harmony of style between the different constituents of a book is better understood if not always acted upon.

It is not that taste has not improved in the matter of book production, but that the arrangement is frequently brought about haphazard without consultation between the partners to its production. It is everybody’s business and nobody’s business.

Harmony of illustration and type

The illustrator should know the weight of type with which his work will be associated, so that this, no matter what style of treatment is adopted, should not require the reader to change the focus of his eye as he looks from the type to the drawing and back again. Both should ” read ” evenly, and more particularly should this be a matter of study in the case where drawings are less than full-page and are surrounded by type. No drawing should require a magnifying glass, except in the case of a person of defective vision, either to execute or examine.

Simplicity of arrangement

Drawings, no matter what their shape, should be reproduced on ” fool-proof ” rectangular blocks, so that no zig-zagging of type or eccentricities of the kind can come near them.

Nothing is more irritating to the judicious than a higgledy-piggledy scattering of illustrations about a page of type. Yet art editors of magazines whose business it is to see to these things are the worst offenders, frequently asking for drawings not to be squared up, but drawn upon a diagonal on purpose to be streeled across the page, with step-ladders of type jagging into the design above and below, or for ” thumb-nail sketches ” to sprinkle in the margins. Authors must hate such treatment of their work, as it is fidgetty to read under such conditions, and a protest from them would add weight to that of the artist. An illustration should live comfortably with the type in full harmony, and never be allowed to detract from the bland dignity of the page, but by this treatment both the drawing and the letterpress are made to suffer under some mistaken idea that it is ” artistic.” It is not. All fanciful and eccentric treatments of this kind are abominations.

Illustrations for books should also be composed in such a way that they can be reproduced upright upon the page, so that it will be unnecessary to turn the book sideways to examine them. This is a great hardship for the artist to put up with at times, but his drawing must be a work of genius to compensate the reader for the irritation involved by the interruption to the general run of the work.

Unity of paper

From the point of view of book production, it is better for the illustrations to be so drawn that they can be printed on the same paper as the type. The senses both of sight and touch are offended by the intrusion of an occasional sheet of so-called ” Art ” paper, necessitated by the use of a half-tone or other type of block. The irritation is even greater if, as so often happens, this sheet becomes detached from the binding and falls out whenever the book is opened.

Much of the pleasure otherwise to be derived from books printed in the three-colour process is frittered away on this, account, or by the nuisance of tissue paper ; but where the print has been only partially affixed to a brown paper mount, and tissue paper also added, there is so complex a tangle of impediments to enjoyment that it says much for the artist if his work survives as a pleasure to the book lover.

Collotype and half-tone reproduction

If it is necessary to introduce pages of tone drawings independently into a work, collotype will be found to yield more artistic results than half-tones, if this can be arranged for, for two reasons. In the first place, it is not necessary to use the so-called ” Art ” paper, with its horrible surface, its blazing whiteness, its ” crack-ability ” on account of the amount of clay it contains, being more of a tile than a sheet of paper, and its ponderosity. Even this does not exhaust the list of disadvantages of this paper ; for if a book, magazine or newspaper composed of this paper is allowed to get damp, it forms an almost solid brick ; this has been known to happen to a whole cupboardful.

The other advantage of collotype is that it has not the mechanical dots and squares of a half-tone block that are so irritating to all but those who cannot see them.

The lights of a collotype are clearer than those of a half-tone, and its gradations more delicate, and in certain cases it is hardly distinguishable from an original drawing. This last can never be said of a half-tone reproduction.