Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Freakish Coincidence?

I've talked about the kind of homage that might or might not veer a little too close to the work of a revered master. I've touched on the blatant rip-off, where an artist's work is stolen and re-used by a hack. And here is one more related category: the extraordinary coincidence.
It might be hard to believe, but I didn't see "An Ellis Island Christmas" by Maxinne Rhea Leighton and Dennis Nolan until I had completed my work on "When Jessie Came Across the Sea" by Amy Hest.
"An Ellis Island Christmas" came out a few years before Jessie, and I first saw it a month or two before Jessie was published. I well remember the shock I got when I saw the book in a shop. It was so freakishly close to the cover of my book.
The main reason I believe that I hadn't seen Dennis Nolan's book is because of the unusual way that the Jessie cover was designed. I well remember the meetings I had with the designers and editors as we discussed the essential elements that had to be on the jacket.
We looked at ways to have the old New York skyline in the background. We discussed the number of people who should be seen. Was the railing and a few ropes enough to suggest a ship?
More than any other cover I have done, this one had a lot of input from other people.
But the final design always had to be down to me, and I have to recognize the possibility that I had somehow unconsciously referenced Dennis's work.
I wanted to contact Dennis as a courtesy, to explain the situation to him, but my publishers insisted that I shouldn't. And although it went against my instinct, I went along with my publishers wishes.
Dennis is an excellent illustrator and educator who runs a well respected course at Hartford Art School. If he has seen my book, and if he reads this, I hope he will accept what I believe, that it's almost certainly a case of "great minds think alike..."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Great Oscar Wilde Rip-Off

My cover for "Oscar Wilde: Stories for Children" was another of my paintings that shows the influence of Edmund Dulac.
So maybe I should have been more understanding when I saw this book cover.
Someone named Owen Cook was credited as the cover artist on this Wordsworth Classics edition of Wilde's fairy tales.
He has taken my inside illustration of the Happy Prince and combined it with the cover image .

The only element which I am happy to ascribe to Owen is his daring use of colour.
When I discovered this I got pretty mad about it, but now I can see the funny side.
The publisher was quite good about owning up and paying compensation. They said that Owen was a student who briefly passed through their design studio.
I've since been told that this is a fairly standard excuse when unethical publishers get caught out ripping people off.
So be warned!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Christian Birmingham's version of The Snow Queen

Here's a footnote to the posts on "borrowing" from artists you like.
I should write a post about blatant plagiarism as my work has occasionally been horribly ripped off. That shows a complete lack of respect for the artist whose work is being plundered.
The respectful homage however, which is what I do every so often myself, is a different matter. I've even found an example of where someone has given me a friendly nod in this way.
Christian Birmingham is a very talented illustrator whose work you might know. I am a big fan of his work. His draughtsmanship and control of his chosen medium of oil pastels are exceptional. His version of A Christmas Carol was a great source of inspiration to me when I was illustrating my version of that book.
Above is a picture from Christian's version of The Snow Queen, which came out a few years ago. I've never even met Christian, but I take his referencing my design for the architecture of the Snow Queen's palace as that "friendly nod" I mentioned. There is no question that he could have invented a setting that was all his own, but I believe it's a case of one guy beavering away in his studio and, in a fairly oblique way, sending out the message " Hey man, I like your stuff".
I like to think so anyway.
My Snow Queen is below.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Inspired by Dulac

For anyone who might have read EllenB's comment about my last post, I wanted to show the images she was referring to.
I first hurriedly checked to see that I hadn't ripped-off Dulac too closely. As you can see, I was indeed inspired by the very Dulac picture that had also inspired Ellen.
My picture, which comes from "Oscar Wilde: Stories for Children" is on the left.
My normal working practice in creating a picture like this involves surrounding my desk with all sorts of reference photos and illustrations that might be helpful.
Sometimes I use the reference in a very particular way, as with the saucepan and broom, but more often I'm hoping that looking at really great work will obliquely inspire me to achieve better things.
I love the large, delicately washed areas in Dulac and Rackham's work, and this is one of a very few pictures I have done where I have achieved a similar effect. When I have an expanse of wall behind a figure I usually can't resist the urge to put in a shadow or a picture.
The design of the window in my picture jars with me a little. It looks like it came from the 1970s, even though it was borrowed from a cottage in a Breugel painting.
I was particularly pleased with this picture because the figure and the still life on the table were entirely invented without any photo reference.
Dulac's image of Cinderella is exquisite of course, but, because of the way he has drawn that log coming out from under her skirt, it always looks to me as if Cinderella is a sort of devil girl with a cloven hoof. I hope I haven't ruined it for you now.