The History of Illustration

To explore how illustration has evolved over the last 50 years I chose to look at the work of Edward Bawden (1903 - 1989). I was instantly captured by his linocut work, the line, the detailed simplicity and the contrast in colour. I think it was meant to be because there is an exhibition of his work on at Dulwich Picture Gallery at the moment.  What better way to research an illustrator than an exhibition! I took copious amounts of notes and sneaked the photo of the entrance (left) as no photography was allowed inside. 

Edward Bawden was a painter, illustrator and graphic artist.  Working as a commercial artist  he illustrated for books, booklets, posters, menus, diaries, cards and more. He was also a war artist.  

Watercolour seemed to be his preferred medium in the early stages of his career. However I can see that his use of a limited colour palette, more body colour type paint and attention to the simplicity of form paved the way into the printmaking he would adopt later in his career.  Hyde Park (1926) is painted mainly in green and brown with touches of blue and red.  The shades, tints and tones of each colour are also limited.   Likewise in Francis Bacon's Garden (1928) colour is limited to black, white and green. I think his limited colour choices make those watercolours seem almost contemporary.  There are many illustrators choosing this technique, for example Daniel Gray Barnett in 'Grandma Z' or Alison Colpoys in 'The Underwater Fancy Dress Parade'.

To me, the watercolours he produced using different shades, tones and tints look outdated.  An example of this is 'Christ! I Have Been Many Times to Church'.  Some of his pre war watercolours including 'Rain' (1926) and 'Untitled Landscape with Sunset' (1927) use ink which makes them seem more modern.  When Bawden's time as a war artist was over, watercolour was beginning to be considered as old fashioned, so himself feeling the need to modernise and reinvent his artwork, started to explore lino cut. 

Edward Bawden's lino cut and lithograph illustrations are perhaps some of his most famous.  He could become absorbed in the sense of a place and a lot of his work depicted places.  I also get lost in the spirit of  places so this was probably another reason for me picking Bawden to study.  I love the way he reduced an exquisitely and intricately designed piece of architecture to its simplest form.  He was masterful in the use of line and so clever at being able to pick what needs to be included and what doesn't when creating an illustration of a building.  Below from left to right: Covent Garden Market (1967), Poster for London (1952), Liverpool Street Station (1960) and Brighton Pier (1958)

I used the journey home as an opportunity to start exploring the Bawden style by looking at the basic form and perspective of a place and try to represent it with line.  The first in the train carriage and the second is Bromley South Station.  I think I managed to get the perspective right on the train roof, but I have lost it on the door and the rail.  I haven't been able to capture the 3d element well enough.  Again with the second sketch, I think I have captured the platform well but I have lost all sense of perspective with the track.  I think I have managed to simplify both scenes to their basic forms though.  

I had previously drawn this art deco house at the beach and thought it would be a great image to try out use of contrast and limited colour.  I tried to create a lino cut 'look' with pen alone.  I think it looks more effective and gives the drawing more depth than the original sketch. I then tried to add one colour to further give depth but I don't feel it worked especially the upper part of the building in blue.  This could be because I accidentally blacked out a line in the centre part of the building.

I took my sketchbook out and made these sketches of majestic buildings on Dover seafront.  I tried to represent just it's basic form.  Later I reduced this down further (first two drawings on the right) Although the essential parts of it are still there, it has lost its sense of grandeur in the second drawing.  I then found myself playing about with perspective, trying to make the building look more convex.  I think this worked at the top of the building but I didn't carry it through to the bottom.  

I'm eager to try out some printmaking techniques as this was such a huge part of Bawden's work.  

linocut sunflower.  Briony Dixon sketchbook
Lino cut buildings.  Briony Dixon sketchbook.
 I like the idea of a house upside down.  My use of coloured pencil to add colour wasn't successful here because there isn't enough contrast with the black.  It also isn't in keeping with Bawden's style who used a limited colour palette and often stuck to the primary colours plus green.  

I like the idea of a house upside down.  My use of coloured pencil to add colour wasn't successful here because there isn't enough contrast with the black.  It also isn't in keeping with Bawden's style who used a limited colour palette and often stuck to the primary colours plus green.  

Leaf printing is evident in some of Bawden's work.  In particular in an unfinished piece we saw at the exhibition.  I used the leaves to explore laying one colour over another.  I found that contrasting colours and partial prints work most successfully.  

Rather than applying colour with a second linocut, I wanted to experiment with other materials.  None of these created a dense enough look so I tried kitchen towel which I have used in the pieces below.  

 The effect I have created in the second building is one that I will explore and use further.  I like the linocut effect and the use of partial printing when adding colour.  I feel I arrived at after a good deal of exploration and feel I have echoed a little bit of Edward Bawden.  Being able to create a linocut effect without actually using the technique means I can use more detail in my illustrations.  I won't have to reduce it down so far that I am losing it's essence.  

The effect I have created in the second building is one that I will explore and use further.  I like the linocut effect and the use of partial printing when adding colour.  I feel I arrived at after a good deal of exploration and feel I have echoed a little bit of Edward Bawden.  Being able to create a linocut effect without actually using the technique means I can use more detail in my illustrations.  I won't have to reduce it down so far that I am losing it's essence.