Arthur Rackham: lines and colours

Alice in Wonderland

When you come across the same name 3 times in one day it has to be a sign. After coming across Arthur Rackham on Twitter and Pinterest I found one of his illustrations when leafing through a book. His works bring  back memories of a fairy tale book I had as a kid, making me wonder if he illustrated it.  Yet at the same time some of his  images remind me of the paintings of Jan Toorop.  These two connotations of dreamlikes fairy tales and haunting stories are not arbitrary when you take a closer look at his work and the books he illustrated.

Born in London in 1867, Rackham started out as a magazine reporter and  illustrator but eventually his focus shifted to illustrating books, with the real turning point in his career being the 1900 publication of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Today he is seen as one of the leading figures in what is often called the Golden Age of British Book Illustrations. He mostly worked on fables and fairy tales but also editions of  Die Nibelungen, Milton, Poe and some plays by Shakespeare can be found with illustrations from his hand.

“Like the sundial, my paint box counts no hours but sunny ones.”

The most striking bit about his illustrations is his use of  lines.  As such the advent of photographic reproduction had a positive impact on his career: to render his strong lines he no longer had to rely on the skill of an engraver. The technique he invented was to sketch the outline of a drawing, then block the shapes surrounding this outline. After adding details completed his sketch he’d ink his drawing. This process was used for colored prints as well but here a light wash of color was applied first followed by layers of other colors to finish. A similar technique is used by amongst others his contemporary Edmund Dulac and modern day illustrator William Stout.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Meeting of Oberon and Titania

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