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.

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

I Love...Mary Blair

Hands up who's a lifetime member of the Mary Blair Appreciation Society (if there is such a thing)? Meeeeee!!! I've loved Mary Blair since I was little & first read I Can Fly. Isn't it funny how kids study things so intently? Well I know every brush stroke of every illustration from that book, & when I recently got hold of a first edition copy & flicked through its pages for the first time in over 30 years, it was like being dumped over the head with an ice-cold bucket of 'OMG, I remember that!' My favourite picture was the one I've featured here, of the little girl as a make-believe worm in her fuzzy green beret & matching cardie. I wanted an outfit just like it when I was 5 - so stylish!

The beauty of Mary Blair's work is that it's just as fresh as it was 50 years ago, & her influence extends into the 21st century with so many artists (either consciously or otherwise) borrowing a little something (or a lot) from her style.

There's so much I could say about her work - about her amazing instinct for colour, how much I love her textures, the way she uses paint, etc, etc - but what I love most is her energy & spontaneity, the boundless sense of joy, & most of all, the memories her art evokes.

If you'd like to find out more about Mary Blair, Wikipedia is a good place to start. You can also check out some more of her work at the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive & Cartoon Modern.

The illustrations I've posted are scanned from my own collection as follows...

Top Left: from the front flyleaf of The Golden Book of Little Verses by Miriam Clark Potter, first published 1946.

Top Centre: also from The Golden Book of Little Verses.

Top Right: from the endpapers of The New Golden Song Book.

Above Centre: from I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss, first published 1950.

Below: Two spot illustrations from The New Golden Song Book, first published 1945.