Friday, August 24, 2007

Early Inspiration

Ah, dear POBL bloggers, don't faint from shock--I am actually posting due to Tara's extremely patient coaching to get me started.

My first and most important influence in my artistic life was the 1956 Random House edition of BLACK BEAUTY, illustrated by Phoebe Erickson. She brought the story to life in a way that resounded deep inside. I would ask my very patient mother to trace the pictures over and over so that I could color them in again and again. They are beautiful watercolor depictions of horses against much looser background renderings. And I have seen many later versions of this favorite story that seem to take their design straight from her version, although perhaps there was some earlier book that she drew her inspiration from. She illustrated other books that I also loved, but this was my favorite and the original beaten-up, page-torn, broken-spine copy attests to my constant use of it as a little girl. I finally ordered a new copy on line recently, so that I could thumb through the book again without fear of it falling apart.

I still adore these pictures and derive tremendous pleasure from looking at them. Even the black and white illustrations are full of a lovely sense of value, design and movement.

I am sure some of the influence of this book had to do with my little girl fierce love of all things horse-related; perhaps they coincided or else each fed off the other. The very first watercolor painting that I did which my parents framed (and it still hangs on the living room wall almost forty years later) was of Black Beauty. Perhaps it was these illustrations that also caused me to continually gravitate to watercolor as my chosen medium, who knows? And while I went on to admire and collect books from many sources including Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, Maurice Sendak, Trina Schart Hyman, Nicola Bayley and Kenneth Lilly to name only a few, it was definitely this book that introduced me to the true magic of illustration at its best.

Interestingly enough, there is a page that shows the mistress of Birtwick Park riding Black Beauty, and the only paragraph on that page is about the importance of a light hand on the reins. It must have really affected me deeply, because in all of my struggle to develop into a good rider over the past three years, quiet hands are the one thing I was actually good at from the beginning. Ah, the influence of a fine picture book at a young age....

And finally: about fifteen years ago, when I was in the New Hope area of Pennsylvania, I came across some small pamphlets of horse stories in a tiny shop that did not have the full name of the illustrator--just the first, which was Phoebe. The movement and style of the horses seemed very much like those of my beloved book. I always regret that I was too shy at that time to give in to the impulse to contact her, as she was local, and very well might have been my hero from all of those years ago.


tlc illustration said...

Congratulations Jo! Wonderful entry - and a very nice peek into your artistic-formative years.

(See - I knew you could so totally do this!)

Rebecca Bush said...

What beautiful illustrations! I have never seen them before. Truly the best horse story illustrations that I've ever seen -- and I read every horse book I could get my hands on when I was a young girl!
Thanks for posting, Jo!