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Monthly review; Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters

Title: Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters

Authors/illustrator: Brian Froud, Ari Berk

Price: From £8 – £160 first edition

Where to buy (UK): Amazon, ebay, Waterstones

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This is one of my most treasured Froud books in my collection, possibly because it really stands out from the others. What makes this book so unique is the interaction the reader has with it. Each page is filled with Froud’s distinctive fairy illustrations, but also draws the reader/viewer in by having all sorts of interesting attachments. From ‘handwritten’ pull-out letters, to envelopes containing quaint surprises, this book encourages exploration by the reader, involving another sense (touch) rather than the usual individual sense of sight (though I must admit I’m a fan of the smell of new or very old books…I know I’m not alone in this!).

As with many of Froud’s book the creativity and attempt at authenticity doesn’t stop with the artwork. The text itself could be argued to be a work of art in itself. Throughout we’re treated to a range of interesting fonts, from beautiful italic handwriting to calligraphy-style work. One thing that Froud never fails to do is draw his audience in. It’s almost as if he believes these wonderful scenarios and worlds he imagines. I love the dedication to making the book and backstory seem as authentic as possible, it shows Froud’s utter enthusiasm for his work.

Much like his other books the target age for this book is debatable. Whilst fairies and similar subjects are often thought of as geared more towards children, Froud’s work always seems to fall into this ageless space. I can imagine children and adults alike enjoying this hands-on book. That being said, for the very reason that it is hands-on this book isn’t suitable for very young children as delicate pull-outs may be easily torn/damaged. Some understanding and prior-knowledge is also needed to understand the basis of this book. Many adults will be familiar with the true story of the girls who, in 1917, took ‘real’ photographs of fairies in Cottingley, England (which were later exposed as being fake). The book is intended to be a ‘scrapbook’ of the girl in the famous photograph, named Angelica Cottington. As mentioned in last month’s review of Froud’s ‘A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion’, whist wonderfully elaborate the story can be difficult to follow, particularly for younger readers. For this reason I’d recommend this book for older teenagers on wards, however I’m sure children would love to be shown the quirky illustrations and would delight in the pull-outs being demonstrated (do take note that some fairy poses are quite cheeky though! Parents may want to flip through and judge for themselves first).

Price-wise this book is affordable and I personally feel that the joy I get from revisiting this book again and again is worth every penny paid. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in illustration, other worlds, and those young at heart.

 

TIP: If you like this book there are other Lady Cottington books, which are available in Waterstones. You can see the whole collection on their website here: link

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Monthly Review; An oldie but a goodie

When I was a teenager I was obsessed with the work of Brian Froud and remember going into Waterstones (though back then it was an ‘Ottakar’s’) with my best friend and spending hours flicking through the pages with excitement. I had my first taste of Froud’s work as a 14 year old (with a growing interest and attachment to art) in the small art room at the education unit I attended for a year and was sucked into the magic of this other world that I wanted to enter for myself. Looking at the ethereal illustrations in ‘Good Faeries Bad Faeries‘ I knew I wanted to see more of this artists work. There was something about it that just sucked you in to this other realm and for that time it was like real life was on hold and we had entered this universe.

When I could, I bought some of Froud’s books, the first being the book I will be reviewing today: ‘A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion’, followed by ‘Brian Froud’s Goblins!‘ and eventually the one I found most pleasurable to spend time exploring: ‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters‘ (which I’ll be talking about next month – keep an eye out for November’s review).

Being the first book in my Froud collection and still bringing me joy all these years on, today I’ll be guiding you through this little wonder and maybe even introducing you to a world you didn’t even know existed; the creative (but often slightly eccentric!) world of Brian Froud.

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Title:  A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion

Price: Pennies (used) – £35 (new)

Where to buy: Amazon, ebay, World of Books, AbeBooks

About: A pocket-sized collection of some of Froud’s Goblin artwork ‘captured and catalogued’ (so the book states) by Terry Jones. Information and images of various Goblins, giving you a ‘who’s who’ of the Goblin world.

The Good

If you love looking at other people’s sketchbooks this book is for you! Often in books we see only very polished versions of illustrations, which is why Froud’s book is so refreshing. Yes, you’ll see his complete work but you’ll also see works in progress and rough sketches. It’s interesting to see how his ideas develop and you get a real good glimpse into the imagination of this quirky artist’s work.

Another area that this book excels in is aesthetics. It’s evident that everything about this book has been carefully thought about. From the fonts used, to the annotations, to the tinted pages. All this contributes to the feel of the book and assists in drawing you in to Froud’s imagined world.

Whilst the best aspects of the book are of course the content, I have to mention the price. If you’re just getting interested in collecting Froud’s books or are looking for a gift for an art/illustration fan, this is an affordable place to start. Officially priced at an inexpensive £5.99 this book can be picked up online for even less.

The not so good

Whilst Froud’s books are always guaranteed to be a little…unique, shall we say, I have come across people who found the text (particularly in the introduction) to be a little confusing. I admit that it’s what some would consider a little bizarre but Froud fans would expect nothing less! In regards to intended audience Froud’s books can be deceiving. This isn’t an average children’s book…in fact, the majority would argue this isn’t a book intended for children at all! Though from the subject matter and the high volume of illustrations those unfamiliar with Froud would be forgiven for thinking so at first glance. This makes it difficult to judge what age range this book is suitable for, though I personally feel this is suited to teenagers all the way through to centenarians! The language used is too complex for children, though I’m sure they’d appreciate the host of unusual characters they’d meet if they were shown them.

So is it worth it?

Yes! In my opinion it’s worth every penny. As an illustrator this is definitely my cup of tea, as someone who still reads fairy tales and myths, this certainly satisfies that interest and as someone who likes to collect beautiful books to look at time and again, this is one of them. If you’re creative, interested in illustration or have a liking for fantasy, this is your book.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tip: If you like what you’ve read Waterstones has a huge collection of Brian Froud books. Take a look here: Link

If you’re a Froud fan (or become one!) check out the work of artist Amy Brown. You can find her website and see some of her work here: Link

Quick book review: Illustration Workshop

This month I’ll be reviewing a book I got in the summer; ‘Illustration Workshop’ by Mary Kate McDeritt.

 

Full title: Illustration Workshop: Find your style, practice drawing skills, and build a stellar portfolio.

Price: £9.85-£16.99

Where to buy (UK): Amazon, Book Depository

About: Written/compiled by American illustrator Mary Kate McDevitt, this appealing book guides you into the world of illustration. From the very first page you’re encouraged to get creative (literally – your first activity is to write your name and draw yourself) offering practical information on the industry, materials illustrators use, small warm-up activities and whole guided projects.

The Good

  • The layout – it’s fair to say this book is very aesthetically pleasing; with bright colours, illustrations throughout and interesting typography. The book itself is a piece of illustration work! It also breaks things down into sections making it easy to follow.
  • The writing style – The language and tone of the book appeals to ‘everyday’ people which makes it accessible to even beginners in the field of illustration. Everything is explained well without any hint of pretentiousness.
  • The activities range from small to large projects meaning if you have just 5 minutes to fill there’s something for you, if you have 5 hours to fill, there’s also something for you.
  • Projects are guided and go through a process. You follow each section of the project so you’re never left wondering where to go next. If your imagination seems to be having a day off, there are activities within each project to get your creative juices flowing, such as questions (‘who is your target audience?’) and a section for a spider diagram.
  • In addition to the mini activities within each project there’s also some visual inspiration, which is great for those of us who think more visually.
  • The book can be picked up very reasonably online
  • It’s a fun way of developing your illustration skills

The maybe not so good

  • If you’re from UK you’ll be aware that the book is American. There’ll be minor spelling/terminology differences
  • The information provided about working as an illustrator is limited. It’s a good introduction but this book isn’t for in-depth explanation

So is it worth it?

In my opinion I love this book! It was affordable, pleasing to look at (I’m a very visual person) and gave my need to practice my illustration skills/develop my style a direction. It can be hard to pull a project idea out of the air, which is why this book is so useful. I like the honesty with which McDermitt writes and the personal edge she gives it. The projects are engaging and the small warm-ups very unique! I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to develop their illustration skills, especially if they feel they need more direction.

Rating: 4.5/5

Quick Review: Grayson Perry

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Title: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever

Author: Grayson Perry

Price: £9.49 – £17.00 (RRP £16.99)

Thanks to a vibrant red cover and distinctive typography this book won’t go unnoticed on a shelf! The title itself draws interest, and was in fact the title given by Perry to one of his exhibitions, which ran from the 8th June to the 10th of September at the Serpentine Gallery last year. The synopsis on the inner cover expresses Perry’s commendable belief that ‘ art shouldn’t be an exclusive club for people who ‘get’ it, but for everyone’. However, it must be said that in his introduction (which is more a small essay) his references to publications, artists, and exhibitions, would probably bewilder anyone other than those already holding a keen interest in art, rather than your ‘average Joe’, something which Matt Breen of Time Out firmly believes Perry isn’t: ‘What really undermines all his elitism-versus-populism, high-versus-low, posh-versus-common prevaricating is a strong sense that, deep down, he wishes he was still the un-pigeonhole-able outsider’ [Full article] and also:  ‘Perry is now a fully-paid member of the establishment. Power, popularity: whatever you want to call it, he has it’. That may be so, but one thing is undeniable: Perry’s work is full of narrative and symbolism. It’s not only his work that conveys the thought behind his work, but also his very honest, analytical introduction. There is definitely passion fuelling his work.

In addition to an introduction from Perry there’s a contribution from Sandy Toksvig, who appeared on The Graham Norton show with Perry back in 2016. Her contribution further emphasises the political tone of the exhibition/book, delivered in an interesting, story-like narrative.

From the very beginning of the book you feel as though you’re immersed in the sketchbook of Perry, with doodles and illustrations littering the cover. What’s nice is that as well as high quality images of his finished work further in the book, you’re first granted a peek in to Perry’s creative and thought process, with annotations revealing snippets of thoughts. A note of warning to parents though, this book does contain some graphic sketches, so isn’t suitable for children. That being said, Grayson fearlessly and effectively confronts a subject close to his heart: masculinity, just one of the many issues covered in his work.

The book is very image-heavy, which could be argued to be apt as the art takes centre stage to speak for itself.  However, each piece does come with an unassuming commentary, many of which divulge the interesting stories detailing the events/thoughts that lead to their creation.

The pieces themselves are wonderfully diverse, with a variety of mediums, from tapestry and ironwork to more traditional mediums. It’s interesting to see Perry’s sketches coming to life and serving their purpose: to create thought.

Final verdict Obviously a book will never compare to actually attending an exhibition, but I found this interesting, thought-provoking, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Perry, or even just symbolism and politics in art.

You can find this book on Amazon: link

Ebay: link

Book Depository: link

 

Creativity inspires creativity

‘House by the Railroad’, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’,’The Goldfinch’…what do all these paintings have in common? The fact that they inspired someone enough to fuel their own inspiration, and create a whole narrative.

Over the past two weeks I’ve been considering the way in which we view art and allow our thoughts and impressions to create meaning beyond that intended by the artist. It cast my mind back to my dissertation, titled: ‘Forms of perception: To what extent does our physiology influence our interpretation of symbolic images in comparison to learnt cultural influences?’It’s interesting to see how one persons interpretation of a scenario can differ so vastly from another, which is exactly what happened last week when my writing group was presented with Georges Seurat’s ‘A Sunday on La Grande Jatte’ (1884).

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884
Seurat,1884,source link

With the majority of us having limited background knowledge on the piece (therefore being influenced  by contextual aspects only to a very small degree) the way in which each individual ‘read’ what was happening in the scene differed from person to person.

Last week I took you on a tour of my work space, including my ‘inspiration wall’, which contains many art postcards. The images that make it to my wall all have one thing in common: they take me somewhere else. They’re not just images, they’re visual stories which set my mind on a path to either imagined places, or evoke a feeling or memory. Below are some wonderful works from very talented artists whose work sets you wondering about the story behind the image. (Please click title links for full size and additional info)

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‘Dark Forest’

Nick Tripiciano

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‘Under the Table’

Dario Mekler

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‘Tribute to Debi Bismarck’

Dustin Panzino (Inkwell Illustration)

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And my own work open for interpretation: ‘One for Sorrow‘ Oil & pencil.

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Did you guess the books/movie linked with the artwork mentioned in the beginning?

‘House by the Railroad’ 1925 by Edward Hopper is said to have inspired the Bates house in Psycho.

‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ 1665 by Johannes Vermeer inspired the novel of the same name by Tracy Chevalier and was later turned into a film.

‘The Goldfinch’ 1654 by Carel Fabritius inspired the book of the same name by Donna Tartt.

Monthly review – handstitching guide books

I spent months reading reviews and borrowing from libraries in the search for the ultimate hand-stitching guide! I wanted something that I could use as a reference that covered all the essentials, but without bogging you down with dense descriptions. Finally my search was over when I discovered Margaret Rowan’s ‘The Complete Guide to Handstitching & Embellishing Techniques’. If you too are looking for a sewing guide to last you a lifetime, your search may be over…

 

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Details

Full title: Stitch! The Complete Guide to Handstitching & Embellishing Technique –  The creative guide for dressmakers and needlecrafters that takes your work to a new level

Author: MargaretRowan

ISBN978-1-86351-453-8

PublisherSally Milner Publishing Pty Ltd (2013)

So, what sets this book apart from the thousands of other sewing books? Plenty! Unlike the majority of modern publications, Rowan’s book is dedicated solely to hand-stitching, with not a sewing machine in sight! and what’s more is that the author somehow manages to make the book suitable for all abilities. Many of the books I read used terms that would only be familiar to experienced sewers, whilst Rowan maintains an un-daunting, reader-friendly stance throughout. That’s not to say this book is geared solely towards beginners; whilst it’s an excellent place to start (covering all of what I deem ‘essentials’ from which needles to select, to how to prepare fabric – details often left out in books of the same genre) the book is clearly divided into logical, clear stages, from ‘tools and equipment’ in Chapter 1 ‘stitching essentials’ , progressing to ‘functional stitches’ in chapter 2, and advancing to ‘decorative stitches’ in chapter 3. What I particularly like is the ‘stitch selector’ at the beginning of the book, which visual examples of each stitch covered in the book, along with a ‘skill level’. Depending on where you feel you are in ability, you can skip to where you feel you are, or if you’re a seasoned pro just double-checking which technique is best to use for your current project, you can dip in and out and use the book as a reference.

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The layout of the book is one of the best I’ve come across, with no ‘information overload’ that you sometimes come across. There are several clear, colour images to demonstrate the technique/stitch, with clearly numbered steps, and a side-bar style panel which reminds you of the skill level, tools and materials you’ll need, and usefully some extra notes.

The books aesthetic is on a par with its functionality, with close-ups of the stitch/technique in the corner being decorative and also useful.

Another thing I found impressive about the book is that there are lots of useful extras in the ‘Resources’ section near the back. Again, Rowan pays attention to the ‘nitty gritty’ without bogging the reader down. This book itself is a manual on how to complete an entire sewing project, whereas usually you would have to consult various sources. From a ‘pressing guide’ to an ‘estimating fabric requirements’ chart,  this book covers it all, somehow squeezing it all into 256 pages (including contents, index etc). You will even find a ‘Directory of Motifs’ (designed by Kelly Fletcher) in chapter 4, covering everything from nature to celebrations and lettering.

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However, whilst I highly recommend adding this book to your collection (it’ll be the only one you need!) availability in the UK is sorely limited, and very difficult to track down at a reasonable price. But I can honestly say that the search will be worth it!

 

You can read more about this book by visiting the publishers page here: Sally Milner Publishing

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