September 11, 2006
We now take illustrated material for granted, be it a child's first book of rhymes, an illustrated atlas of history, or a newspaper cartoon.
I loved drawing since I was born. Not quite true, but close enough. Much later, at the university, I began to study the history of drawing.
It took time to truly understand the metal-point technique, in which the artist drew with a silver stick on paper coated with ground lead or chalk suspended in oil, or liquid bound by animal-hide glues. Only after I saw a few examples of such drawings in museum collections, I understood the delicate process. Yet, even great masters like Leonardo or Raphael used the medium, but preferred a charred stick or sharpened quill as a more natural tool.
Then came colored chalks, pastels, crayons and, of course, the ubiquitous graphite pencil! Did you know that graphite was known already in sixteenth-century England?
When I was trying to describe my illustrations for Maddalena, I couldn't decide what to call them, because they turned out to be water-colored pen and ink drawings. Not watercolors. Not drawings.
Being skilled in copying old master paintings and drawings, I wanted to imitate the "hand"--really the style--of sixteenth-century artists like Berti Spranger and Hans Speckaert. And I did, in Berti drawing Lucretia. But I decided that most readers would not appreciate the effort. As it happened, the grumpy lady who wrote the Greenmanreview found my drawings childish, without understanding anything about the history of drawings or their stylistic development!
A colleague of mine, an eminent professor at the university of Brussels, wrote to me how much she like the fairy-tale like quality of the illustrations. I was so pleased. I guess, Maddalena is like that. A bit of magic. We all need a bit of magic.
The birth of each drawing for Maddalena involved much thought: days, even weeks of trying to produce an image that not only satisfied the text to which it referred, but also to capture the spirit of late sixteenth-century graphic art, a time when the first drawing academies were being born in Europe.
You know what I'm talking about. Men sit at long tables illuminated by candles, look at marble busts, draw studio boys, copy prints by famous artists, using every square inch (should I say square centimeter?) of the precious rag paper.
I wish I could include the picture of the single sheet where I was trying to find Maddalena's face for the illustration where she waits for Alessandro's litter-chair to go by. I counted some seventy-five sketched faces, each with a slightly different wiggle of the nose, arched brows, round or slanted eyes; puckered, happy, sad mouth.
It's extremely hard to imagine, without seeing the stacks of rejected sketches, how much love and labor went into producing the illustrations produced--and here comes a confession--with hands ruined by thirty years of passionate gardening.
Posted by Eva Siroka at September 11, 2006 02:03 PM