Summertime Reading

Summer begins on Friday and there's something about the hottest part of the year, especially the Christmas holidays, that makes me want to settle down in air-conditioned comfort with a nice cup of tea and bury myself in a book and pretend it's not 40°C outside. The books I read in summertime usually seem to be set in the English countryside, where a "hot" day is no more than 25°C and the shade of a convenient tree and a glass of something sparkling brought to you on a lovely tray by your maid is all you need to keep cool. In other words, pure escapism!

Searching for some perfect summertime reading today, I stumbled on an amazing treasure trove, Dean Street Press, who mainly seem to republish lesser known, out-of-print books, including a series called Furrowed Middlebrow, reprinting titles by British female writers of the 20th century, 1910-1960. Check out some of these glorious covers!

I can't wait to work my way through these books (and the crime section too!). The Kindle editions are surprisingly inexpensive, which suits me, because I have no bookcase space left, and my poor ol' eyes prefer the Kindle nowadays (although I miss the physical presence of a book, especially that paperback smell!). While I contemplate which of these to read first (I think it might be The Lark by E. Nesbit) I've downloaded The English Festivals by Laurence Whistler. It appealed to me because I love the parts in the Candleford books where Flora Thompson remembers the festivals throughout the year, where the cottages are decorated with boughs and flowers and the villagers get dressed up for the day. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be a 19th century farm labourer, but through the nostalgic lens of Flora Thompson (and Laurie Lee) I can dream of the simple life of hay and hedgerows.

The Furrowed Middlebrow series is published in collaboration with the author of this amazing blog. There are so many writers to discover and so much beautiful book jacket design to admire! Through the Middlebrow Syllabus I've already been inspired to download E. M. Delafield's Collected Works (it seems somehow indecent that so much should cost so little!) so I could read the very dry and witty Provincial Lady series, and Elizabeth von Arnim's Collected Works (again, so crazy cheap!) purely on the strength of having watched the film Enchanted April about a squillion times. So much to read - suddenly summer's looking too short!

Do you have any recommendations for me? I have some for you! A few of my favourites from summers past are... E. F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia series, which are hilariously scathing satire in a pretty English village setting (the best of both worlds!). These books are so funny and entertaining, I can't recommend them enough. E. F. Benson also wrote really great ghost stories if you're that way inclined (I am!). If you want to get lost in a between-the-wars English country house, you can't go past Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate (and The Pursuit of Love), which is funny and sad and everything in between. And speaking of sad, one of my very favourite books of all-time is The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley, which is so beautiful, heart-breaking and evocative (the 1971 film is also really good). Not so much of an escape weather-wise though, since it's set in a very hot summer at the turn of the 20th century.

And that's my summertime reading sorted. You'll find me in my hammock under the wisteria.

Secondhand Treasure

Whilst rummaging through some old books and magazines today, I found an annual I bought a few months ago from a secondhand book market (and promptly forgot about). It has the rather unpromising title, Commonwealth and Empire Annual 1955, and is one of those educational children's books that isn't very exciting, apart from these staggeringly beautiful colour plates below, that are the sole reason I bought the book. The illustrator is Neave Parker, who I'd never heard of, but it looks like he specialised in dinosaurs, and sadly died of a heart attack at the cinema. What a talented artist! I love these depictions of the four seasons. Bonus image down the bottom from another book, the School Friend Annual 1962, that I love to bits too.

Hutchings and the Provensens

My introduction to Alice and Martin Provensen was via my sister Jo's Milton Bradley Memory Game (which she still owns!), that I loved so much as a kid. We played it so often I knew every image like the back of my hand, including the lovely little illustrations by the Provensens.

I posted a while ago some scans from a favourite book of mine I've had since I was little, Nurseryland Annual 1970 (doesn't that age me?!), that's illustrated by an artist called Hutchings, who was clearly influenced by the Provensens when you start to compare their textures, fine, sketchy linework, and even the forms of some of their stylised people, animals and architecture. Just who the mysterious Hutchings is has been a topic of conversation on a couple of other blogs here and here, but there's not a lot of information out there. I thought a side by side comparison between the Provensens and Hutchings might be interesting.

Illustration by Hutchings from Nurseryland Annual 1970.

Illustration by Hutchings from Nurseryland Annual 1970.

I don't like to suggest that Hutchings was nothing more than a copycat, because he is clearly a very talented, inventive artist, but there is definitely a relationship between his style and the Provensens'.

Yet you might also say there are resemblances between the Provensens and Mary Blair, and so on it goes; no one lives in a cultural vacuum, and there's nothing wrong with being influenced by your contemporaries as long as your work is still your own. Perhaps though, this might explain why Hutchings is not better known as an illustrator, because his work is derivative of an earlier style compared to Mary Blair and the Provensens, whose trail-blazing work influenced illustrators for many decades to come.

My own work very much references the past, it's deliberate, and I don't disguise it, but I hope there is enough of myself in it to make it unique and relevant. I think one of the keys is to draw influences from a variety of sources, rather than just a few (and not just other artists!), and to go back to the original sources rather than take your influences from someone else whose been influenced by a particular style. That's rather like a game of telephone where the message loses its meaning and integrity as it hops from one to another, and another.

I'm not here to dismiss Hutchings, since his beautiful, magical illustrations had such a huge impact on my childhood. In his defense, here is one of his most glorious pieces from Nurseryland Annual 1970, which beautifully references the textures and linework of the mid-20th century, whilst also using the bright, contemporary colour palette and style of the late-1960s that extended well into the 1970s. Groovy!

Illustration by Hutchings from Nurseryland Annual 1970.

Vintage Scrap Album

Look what I found at a recent secondhand book sale!

Penrose Annual 1958

This is one of my favourite secondhand book finds this year - Volume 52 of the Penrose Graphic Art Annual from 1958. I bought it from the same market as the King Penguins I posted about a few months ago, & it's in nearly perfect condition! I can't quite remember how much I paid for it, but it was something like $28 - a super-duper bargain. I would love to collect more of these, particularly the late 1930s through to 1960, but they can be a little pricey. One of the best things about this book is that it's stamped on the front endpapers with "Hardwicke Knight Collection". Upon doing a little Googling, I found out that Frederick Hardwicke-Knight was a New Zealand author, photographer & collector who died in 2008 leaving behind a lifetime's treasure trove of amazing stuff. I feel honoured to own one of his books! You can see the man himself & some of his incredible collection here. How interesting!

King Penguin: Woodland Birds

I thought I'd better blog about something other than recipes for a change - it's been food, food, food lately! Must be the nippy winter weather & bracing seaside walks making me peckish! Here's my latest King Penguin acquisition, Woodland Birds. It's in beautiful condition, & is the first one I've bought that still has its dust jacket. Published in 1955, it was one of the last King Penguins to be released, & is written by Phyllis Barclay-Smith & illustrated by Peter Shepheard, who also designed the gorgeous cover. The colour plates are so beautiful, don't you think?

I Hit the Secondhand Book Jackpot!

I've posted before about the June long weekend secondhand book sale. I go every year (they had one in March this year too). As usual, I went with Mark & Stevie, & left feeling like a pirate who'd just plundered the most amazing treasure trove ever! Stevie found this big stack of King Penguin books from the 1940s (all of them $5 or $7.50 each & in pretty good condition) & in a very civilised fashion with no hair-pulling whatsoever, we went through them, picking out favourites, divvying them up so we each got to buy a few. I can't recall all of theirs, but there was one about freshwater fish, another mushroom one, wild flowers, reptiles, one about ballet, children's art, Scottish costumes - lots! Here are mine, with a couple of plates from each. The covers, as you can see, are gorgeous, & the illustrations are as fresh & rich as the day they were printed. What an amazing range of subject matter the King Penguins explore, I think I might have to collect some more - I love them so much! Popular English Art, written by Noel Carrington, illustrated by Clarke Hutton. 1945.

From the Archives: Children's Dictionary

I went to a secondhand book sale yesterday with Mark & Stevie, & this is one of the treasures I bought - a children's pictorial dictionary from about the late 1940s-early 1950s. I love that it's Australian & features some familiar images, such as the galah I included in my montage below & the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Stevie spotted the book first & knew I'd love it because of the incredible endpapers (above). I love the vivid colours & the weird juxtaposition of images.

Mark also found an amazing design book from the 1950s for me - I'll show you some pictures of that one another time. It's nice to rummage at book sales with friends who can keep an eye out for things you'll love!

In other news, I was interviewed for The Finders Keepers blog recently, where I talked a little about my influences & work process. If you're interested, you can read it here.

I Love...Golden Books

Before I get started singing the praises of Golden Books, I'm happy to announce that my contact page has just been freshly installed on my site! Come & help me test that everything's working & in order, by sending me an email. Just come & say hi, & I'll say hi back! I was going to put my info page up today too, but it's getting late & I have dinner to make (vegan leek & "feta" pastries!), so I'll make sure to do it during the week.

Just Like Me, written & illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, 1954

A Child's Garden of Verses, written by Robert Louis Stevenson & illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, 1951

Now, down to business... I bet a lot of you grew up reading Golden Books. I love that they were such an accessible way to get kids reading & appreciating great illustration. Earlier this week, I was working on a picture, & it occurred to me that it was strangely reminiscent of the spine & endpapers of a Golden Book. It was purely incidental, but it just goes to show what sponges we are as children. How the things we read impact on us in such a profound way. Googling Golden Books today, I discovered this fabulous blog, sadly no longer updated, but it's a little gold[en book]mine of mid-20th century illustration. I've posted the merest snippet of what you'll find there, from some of my favourite illustrators, such as Richard Scarry & the amazing Alice & Martin Provensen. I owned this edition of A Child's Garden of Verses & a few of their other books. I wish I still had them!

The Happy Little Handsaw, written by Robert E. Mahaffay & illustrated by Milli Eaton, 1955

The Golden Calendar, illustrated by Richard Scarry, 1956

From the Archives: 1970

Here are some of the gorgeous illustrations from my favourite book when I was three - Nurseryland Annual 1970 - an illustrated book of poetry.

I loved poetry when I was a young'un, & loved this book in particular because of the beautiful pictures.  Google hasn't been very enlightening about the book's illustrator, simply credited as Hutchings, but what a talented artist - I love his use of textures. I thought these pictures were so magical when I was little, in fact I still do! I loved this book so much, it eventually fell apart. My mum repaired it with tape, which you can see in the third image. I could have Photoshopped that out when I scanned the pages, but I think seeing the repairs on this beloved old book is kind of nice!