The original Crane

The observations on the work of illustrators and designers Edmund Evans and Walter Crane by Janet Adam Smith stuck with me ever since I first read her 1948 book Children’s Illustrated Books. Viewing the V&A Inspiration by Design exhibition last year at State Library of Victoria, I was delighted to find Crane’s work. (There were also illustrations by Randolph Caldecott and Beatrix Potter in the exhibition – that’s another post.)

Watercolour illustration from a 19th century children's book
A page from Walter Crane’s book for children A Baby’s Bouquet

Crane’s The Baby’s Bouquet was displayed as two books : one the finished copy, and the other the artist’s sketched ideas. As usual, the second, the dummy, was the one I pored over longest. In the published copy, the sun is presented as a golden orb with a firm black outline in three different positions to help the viewer to appreciate the passage of time in ‘The Little Disaster’. His increasing glee at the chaotic scene in the farmyard is shown with knowing eyes and a widening grin. In the dummy, it appears as a lemony circle with whiskery rays and no expression. The unseen work and thought which led the artist from one to the other, is the most interesting and mysterious to me. Something I’ll never experience but still delight in thinking about. So I wanted to re-read the Adam Smith, half-expecting that the quote I’d remembered wouldn’t be there at all. SLV’s copy is in offsite storage so I had to speak to a staff member to order it. (She was very conscientious in letting me know the book’s age – I like to think that this is because she thought I was a student who needed a contemporary text.) It was worth the wait when I found it.   He always worked with the two-page spread in his mind’s eye.

Sheet music and watercolour illustrations to accompany the song The Little Disaster
Doublespread of The Little Disaster, a song from The Baby’s Bouquet by Walter Crane

And this, an affirmation for the endpaper tragic that I am.   [Crane’s] ideal was the illuminated medieval manuscript, of all the elements that went to make a book – type, colour, decoration and proportion of paper he tried to make a harmonious whole. He advised other book illustrators to make a light line for light type, to design endpapers “delicately suggestive of the character and interests of the book” but not competing with the illustrations: they should be “a kind of quadrangle, forecourt, or even a garden or grass plot before the door.”  

Another publisher’s view is that ‘some librarians don’t like the story starting there.’ This one does.


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