iDickens

As you probably know, the internets contain everything known to humankind, and Charles Dickens is no exception. In my research over the years on this particular project, I keep finding websites and blogs devoted to the man and his works, and I would like to share just a few that I find myself visiting over and over.

I’m not opining on any of them, as they each have their strengths and they are all worth visiting. Some, like the Charles Dickens Museum, are websites for particular places in the real world, while others are compendiums in and of themselves. For the most part I’ve picked up text from their “About” pages, and some I have invited to submit a paragraph or two to expand on their mission statements.

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“Spot Illos”

So in doing magazine and book illustration for a few decades, I picked up a couple of technical terms. For example, an illustration is called an “illo”, a sketch is called a “ruff”, and a deadline is called a “#!!@! deadline”.

Illos done for print are termed by their size, and from biggest to smallest are called a spread, full-page, half-page, quarter page, and spot. Spots are fun because they are usually simple, a quick visual read, and they don’t necessarily have to carry as much narrative weight as a full-page does.

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Research Sketching – Buildings

Research sketching is one of the most important steps in doing any historical illustration work, and that requires good reference materials. In the years B.C. (Before Computers), any illustrator worth his or her salt had a “morgue”, or a collection of photos filed in boxes or file cabinets, usually alphabetically, of any or all things in creation because you never knew what you would be called on to draw.

My four-drawer file cabinet is long gone, but I saved various reference books, including a couple of books of old wood engravings. For the most part pre-dating photography, these books are amazing for the sheer breadth of their content.

I did these sketches, copied from wood engravings in IMAGES OF WORLD ARCHITECTURE, a huge book that is stuffed with beautiful images of stone age ruins, palaces, cathedrals, soddies, middle-class homes, and every conceivable style and type of building from around the world, arranged alphabetically by country, and from ancient history through the end of the 19th Century.

IMAGES OF WORLD ARCHITECTURE, Edited by Jim Harter, containing more than 2,000 wood engravings.

These sketches were done of course from the section on England and were selected for their visual interest and detail. I may at some point incorporate one of these buildings into a finished piece, but the nice thing about reference sketching is that you slowly absorb the very aesthetic of the period, and can then invent with confidence, picking and choosing which elements convey the story and mood most effectively.

I think it’s also important to not simply copy, whether the source material is a photo or artwork, but rather to “learn” the facade, the window styles, or the porticoes, and to understand the parts and how they work together. The goal is not perfect accuracy, but verisimilitude, the appearance that things “look right”.

Free Ebook Download!

This fully illustrated ebook contains the first seven chapters.

I’m extremely happy to announce the completion of the next step in this monumental project: A free, no-strings-attached ebook download of the first seven chapters of Charles Dickens’ great BLEAK HOUSE.

This is intended primarily as a calling card and proof-of-concept for my ultimate goal, a hard cover print edition of the entire illustrated novel.

As you may have discovered, I am smitten with this book. I began work on it in the Spring of 2019 and have been working on it nonstop since. With the completion of this sample, I will be continuing work on the monumental, 57-chapter novel, as well as continuing to post here on a regular basis.

This ebook in pdf format can be read on any computer, device or reader. There’s no sign-up, no email harvesting, no obligation of any kind. I hope you enjoy it.

Research Sketching-Costumes

My favorite part of doing any kind of historical or genre art is researching the appropriate costumes. In my magazine illustration days it didn’t come up much; mostly I was drawing doctors, nurses, businessmen and contemporary kids and grownups of all kinds. 

With subject matter like Dickens, costuming the characters not only correctly, but in a way that tells us about their personalities, is part of the job description!

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BLEAK HOUSE cover illustration

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes–gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.

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Ancient Japanese woodblock set

The final, 12-color print and one of the woodblocks from this incredible set.

As I’ve been exploring the world of hand-made printing techniques of various kinds, more and more I find myself looking at, investigating and writing about woodcuts. There’s a good reason for this, apparently!

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The Ghost’s Walk

Mrs. Rouncewell, Rosa, and Watt Rouncewell

She seats herself in a large chair by the fast-darkening window and tells them: “In the wicked days, my dears, of King Charles the First–I mean, of course, in the wicked days of the rebels who leagued themselves against that excellent king–Sir Morbury Dedlock was the owner of Chesney Wold. Whether there was any account of a ghost in the family before those days, I can’t say. I should think it very likely indeed.”

Mrs. Rouncewell holds this opinion because she considers that a family of such antiquity and importance has a right to a ghost. She regards a ghost as one of the privileges of the upper classes, a genteel distinction to which the common people have no claim.

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Mr. Krook

Krook, of Krook’s Rag and Bottle Shop

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?’ 

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Chiaroscuro Woodcuts

As a rule I’ve stuck to just one-color linocuts mainly because my printing setup at the moment is fairly primitive. What I want to talk about here is going to be about woodcuts, but the same rules apply to linocuts and the process of pulling prints.

The main thing to solve when doing more than one color in a hand-pulled print, is getting the colors to line up. In any multi-color printing process, this is called “registration” and it applies to pretty much all color printing, whether it’s magazines, cereal boxes, or your inkjet printer. You know when you put a new ink cartridge in and you have to print out that one sample page? That’s so your printer can register the colors.

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