September 24, 2013

Illustrations by Lawrence

        Browsing in the library last week I came upon a book illustrated by John Lawrence (b. 1933, UK), so I looked up a few more.  I'm always happy to see block printed illustrations, and I like Lawrence's a lot.  Like the vast majority of modern books, the illustrations are in full color, and Lawrence does paint in his prints in places to give them color, as most other block print illustrators do.  However, he also makes use of a couple other techniques, including an interesting one I haven't seen before.
        First, however, Lawrence's basic block medium is vinyl.  Vinyl is a substitute for the end grain wood blocks used for wood engraving, and one advantage is that it can be made in bigger pieces.  Lawrence clearly goes for big and bold in these illustrations, but you can still see the use of engraving techniques, for example the use of the multiple line tool especially evident in the rabbit's fur.  In addition to the carved vinyl blocks, Lawrence also uses background texture blocks in some pieces, such as the duck, where the background is wood texture, and the dandelions, where the background texture looks less like wood.  I wonder if it's another vinyl block instead.
        As for color, Lawrence uses two main techniques.  First, there's some watercolor painting within the lines, but more interestingly, he makes lots of use of different colored inks on the blocks, so that the outlines and main shapes of his pictures are often not black.  In the ship below, for example, he's used three different colors of green ink, just a tiny area of yellow watercolor wash, and no black at all.
        As I've noted before, it's not easy to ink different areas of a block with different inks and manage to get the colors exactly lined up to different elements in the picture.  Lawrence has solved that difficulty with an interesting technique that I dabbled with on one piece once, but abandoned.  Lawrence is much more successful with it.  It appears that he prints his block separately on separate paper for each color he wants, then cuts out the elements from the different
sheets of paper and glues them back together into a single multi-colored image.  You can see how the brown-inked rabbit is really collaged onto the blue-inked background.  If you look very closely you can see that he's used this technique in lots of places.  Indeed, in the dandelion piece he's used all sorts of layering: dandelion stems glued down over background, yellow-inked flowers glued down over stems, and even the green-leafed plant glued down over the rest of the plants.
        Finally, the books note that Lawrence used a computer to bring elements together.  He also brings the text into the design in the two children's picture books, using a hand carved font, and arranging text and text blocks to make a cohesive part of the images.
        I might have to fool around a little more with this whole collage idea, now that I see how appealing it can be.

[Pictures: Rabbit, vinyl engraving by John Lawrence from Tiny's Big Adventure by Martin Waddell, 2004;
Duck, vinyl engraving from This Little Chick by Lawrence, 2002;
Bristol, vinyl engraving by Lawrence from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, 2009;
The Hispaniola, vinyl engraving by Lawrence from Treasure Island, 2009;
Two little mice, vinyl engraving by John Lawrence from Tiny's Big Adventure, 2004.
(All images except Hispaniola are cropped due to my scanner.)]