July 26, 2013

Critters by Siegl

        Helen Siegl (1924 - 2009) was born in Austria and eventually became a US citizen.  She did lots of work as an illustrator, which is how I came across her.  I found an anthology of animal poems illustrated (rather sparsely, unfortunately) with wood block prints by Siegl, and I thought I'd share a few.
        Her style is very skritchy, composed of lots of scratchy white lines for texture and shading.  Her whites show lots of rough bumps and tailings  and her blacks show wood texture as well as the many little carved lines.  It's a style that sometimes seems too messy or sketchy for my taste, but in other pieces works beautifully.  For example, the fluffy feathers of the ostrich below are great, and Siegl's rough style is perfect for a slightly messy, dusty bird.
        Some of her cuter creatures, such as puppies and kittens (and the children I found when I looked up more of her work), are not appealing to me.  I think they suffer from a slight aura of "Precious Moments," which is why I haven't included any here.  I much prefer her creepy-crawlies, which don't try to be cute.  They have a real sense of personality.  I especially like the lobster above, with its little circles to add zest to the straighter, more angular lines.
         These are all wood block prints, but Siegl also did linoleum block prints and plaster block prints.  I couldn't find much information on her plaster block technique, which apparently she invented in Austria when wood was scarce.  However, it seems likely to me that the use of the plaster may have contributed to her style of making lots of scratchy lines, since that would probably be a fairly natural way for plaster to be carved.
        These animals aren't necessarily Siegl's most characteristic work, but they're what I first discovered, and I like them.  You can see lots more, much of it multi-colored, and including lots of illustrations of religious themes, children, Aesop's fables, and more at her web site.  (I do plan to share a selection of her marvelous made-up critters another time.)

[Pictures: Under the Water and on the Shore, wood block print by Helen Siegl;
Buzzers, Leapers, and Flyers, wood block print by Siegl;
Ostrich, wood block print by Siegl, all images from The Birds and the Beasts Were There, The World Publishing Company, 1963.]

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