Books, Art and History

A few of the books I keep handy.

As an illustrator I’ve always had a need for good visual reference material. I used to clip magazines and keep a file of photos, although these days a couple of Google searches yield much better results. I’ve also collected books for both inspiration and for reference images.

When I embarked on my BLEAK HOUSE project, I gave my bookshelves a good going-over for anything useful and I discovered books that had languished unread, some for decades, books I had bought on impulse (or for a good price; a lot of these came off the discounted tables at Barnes & Noble and others) and then looked at only occasionally.

Here are a few of the books I’ve kept at hand, read, or examined more closely since starting on BLEAK HOUSE:

Selected Poems of Robert Frost

“Selected Poems of Robert Frost” – This is a recent addition to my bookshelf, illustrated with some beautiful woodcuts by Thomas Nason. Beautiful work and it’s Robert Frost to boot! The artist barely gets a mention on the back cover. His work on trees and foliage is a great source of inspiration and technique for me.

Handbook of Early Advertising Art

“Handbook Of Early Advertising Art” – This is one that’s been on my shelf for probably thirty years. Fun to browse through, and like all these repro books of old artwork, it’s all royalty-free. I don’t use it much for direct reference, mostly for the weirdness and old-timey flavor.

Images of World Architecture

“Images of World Architecture” – This and one other book I have are real blockbusters. A compendium of thousands of steel engravings from a time before photography had really established itself,  this book puts me in awe of how they were able to amass the reference materials to be able to represent in such detail examples of buildings and building styles from around the world. I have used this book extensively both for direct reference and to sketch from for practice. From Celtic and pre-Celtic structures to Ancient Greece, Rome, Persia and Egypt, through examples from every country on Earth. It’s not just the breadth of material I admire, but the highly developed yet now obsolete technologies that made it possible.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

“The Rime of The Ancient Mariner” illustrated by the brilliant Gustave Doré. It’s hard to overstate the stature of this artist. I have other books of Doré’s illustrations, but this poem, and his work on it, hit me in the heart. I use it more for inspiration than reference. His compositions here are among the strongest and most direct of his work, and like other engraved or hand-made art forms of the period, it is hard for me to really imagine the work process that these kinds of engravings involve. Doré worked primarily in woodcuts, but the actual engraving was done by a separate artisan. Most of the plates in these books have two signatures, Doré’s and the engraver’s.

I have several other books that I use much like these, but I thought this selection would give you an overview of some of the things that go into creating my work. 

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Author: mooney2021

I am a commercial artist and illustrator from New York and now retired. I'm also a longtime Charles Dickens fan and I've embarked on a project to illustrate his great BLEAK HOUSE.

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