As it was still foggy and dark, and as the shop was blinded besides by the wall of Lincoln’s Inn, intercepting the light within a couple of yards, we should not have seen so much but for a lighted lantern that an old man in spectacles and a hairy cap was carrying about in the shop. Turning towards the door, he now caught sight of us.
‘Hi, hi!’ said the old man, coming to the door. ‘Have you anything to sell?’
Mr. Krook of “Krook’s Rag and Bottle Shop” is one of the more colorful and certainly most pivotal secondary characters in BLEAK HOUSE. He’s also the victim in one of the story’s most controversial plot turns, which, no spoilers here!
Krook is an illiterate shopkeeper who buys rags, bottles and miscellaneous other items, among them old legal documents. Like his shop, he’s full of unplumbed secrets! He also rents his upstairs rooms to a few other characters who figure in the story.
Designing this illustration was something I looked forward to. The visual impact of his first appearance, coming to the shop door so aggressively, was the image. He is so much a part of his own shop, he embodies the very rising tide of detritus of every kind that encrusts the Courts of Chancery.
I wanted to emphasize as much as possible this literal kinship. It’s helped along of course by Dickens’ descriptions of him and his surroundings. (I’m adding at the end of this post the full description of Krook’s shop, not only for the full flavor, but to show that illustrating the storefront, as tempting as it is for an illustrator, would be impossible to fit in one image!)
I settled on the angle and then noodled several thumbnails to figure out body language, costume and lighting.
So, Krook and his shop. Regarding the spoiler alert above, Krook is described as appearing almost hewn from the same weathered boards as the store itself. So in addition to the similarity in textures, I wanted to really root Krook to his environment. I also wanted to emphasize his crooked, weathered features, and the hunched, peering posture that comes from a lifetime digging through the castoffs of others.
As you can see in the diagram here, how I solved this was to make his dominant right eye not only the exact center of the composition, but also the vanishing point for the picture’s one-point perspective. This has the effect of drawing the viewer’s eye and making Krook’s face the locked-in center of this composition.
The background elements were just as important. Creating the rows of bottles was a simple but effective matter of a white line on each side of the bottle. It creates a nice, lit effect with minimal drawing. Stacks of papers, sacks of rags, and piles of scrolled documents only hint at the hoarded contents of this establishment.
Creating this range of textures by cutting linoleum is a constant voyage of exploration!
As promised, here is a longer section from the book:
She had stopped at a shop over which was written KROOK, RAG AND BOTTLE WAREHOUSE. Also, in long thin letters, KROOK, DEALER IN MARINE STORES. In one part of the window was a picture of a red paper mill at which a cart was unloading a quantity of sacks of old rags. In another was the inscription BONES BOUGHT. In another, KITCHEN-STUFF BOUGHT. In another, OLD IRON BOUGHT. In another, WASTE-PAPER BOUGHT. In another, LADIES’ AND GENTLEMEN’S WARDROBES BOUGHT. Everything seemed to be bought and nothing to be sold there. In all parts of the window were quantities of dirty bottles–blacking bottles, medicine bottles, ginger-beer and soda-water bottles, pickle bottles, wine bottles, ink bottles; I am reminded by mentioning the latter that the shop had in several little particulars the air of being in a legal neighbourhood and of being, as it were, a dirty hanger-on and disowned relation of the law. There were a great many ink bottles. There was a little tottering bench of shabby old volumes outside the door, labelled “Law Books, all at 9d.” Some of the inscriptions I have enumerated were written in law-hand, like the papers I had seen in Kenge and Carboy’s office and the letters I had so long received from the firm. Among them was one, in the same writing, having nothing to do with the business of the shop, but announcing that a respectable man aged forty-five wanted engrossing or copying to execute with neatness and dispatch: Address to Nemo, care of Mr. Krook, within. There were several second-hand bags, blue and red, hanging up. A little way within the shop-door lay heaps of old crackled parchment scrolls and discoloured and dog’s-eared law-papers. I could have fancied that all the rusty keys, of which there must have been hundreds huddled together as old iron, had once belonged to doors of rooms or strong chests in lawyers’ offices. The litter of rags tumbled partly into and partly out of a one-legged wooden scale, hanging without any counterpoise from a beam, might have been counsellors’ bands and gowns torn up. One had only to fancy, as Richard whispered to Ada and me while we all stood looking in, that yonder bones in a corner, piled together and picked very clean, were the bones of clients, to make the picture complete.
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