WE HADN’T come across the Leed Gallery before; it’s down beyond the market and bus station, not far from the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the BBC.
The current show, The Illustrators, is fascinating. It includes a selection of work by – mainly – children’s book illustrators of the last one hundred years, almost all British, including Quentin Blake, E. H. Shepard, Heath Robinson, Kate Greenway, Emmett, Ronald Searle, Thelwell and a cell from Walt Disney’s Snow White.
It’s a great opportunity to see the artwork at it’s original size, in the original media before it went into print. There are few obvious corrections as these illustrators are fluent in creating imagined worlds.
Of course, in a galley, you’re seeing individual illustrations out of their context on the page and away from the sequence of drawings that told the story. For all the imagination that goes into them, there can be a sweet, wistful sameness about the mostly comfortable fantasy world of childrens stories. But I’ve got to remember the purpose of these illustrations wasn’t to entertain professional illustrators like myself; they were designed with a specific readership in mind.
For myself as a child, the only illustrated books that I would ever spend my pocket money and book tokens on would be those about natural history, prehistory or history. I was unaware at the time that a great deal of imagination goes into making the ‘real’ worlds of history and nature believable. I’m thinking of illustrators Charles Tunicliffe, Carrol Lane Fenton and Denys Ovenden who illustrated, respectively What to Look for in Spring, Prehistoric World and Looking at History; from Cavemen to Vikings, to give just one example from each.