Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Art of Fairy Tales

This post originally appeared {here on April 11, 2012}.

It goes without saying that my favorite artists from childhood are depictors of fairy tales.  Anyone that knows me well knows I adore fairy tales.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Sheilah Beckett
But they are often overlooked and undervalued as "just stories."  We forget the intrinsic value--as well as their convenient use as teaching mechanisms for truth, beauty, and the imagination--that fairy tales have to offer children.  And yes, even adults.   

Especially adults.

As Chesterton said,

"I left fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since."

Me too, Gilbert.  Me too.

I will have to devote an entire series to fairy stories, at some point, but that is another task for another day.

Not my personal book, but it could be!
For now I want to share these classic and beloved artists I encountered in the books of my early youth; they made such an impression, I have not ever forgot them.  And when I picked up an envelope for alms at Easter Sunday mass, an elegant and colorful little square illustration caught my attention.  The envelopes were decorated with individual portraits of different saints, and though I had never seen them before, I recognized them like bygone playmates.

I went home and dug up this book, The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Sheilah Beckett.  I have been unsuccessful in tracking an illustrated book of saints by her, but the search continues.

Meanwhile, allow me to share these tales with you. I encourage you to add them to your own library, whether or not you have children of your own.

Sheilah Beckett

Born in 1913 in Vancouver, Ms. Beckett never attended art school.  She has illustrated many children's books, including the Little Golden Book I saw in the grocery store and begged my mother to buy me.

The Gift of the Magi
Her caricatured figures and whimsical animals preceded Walt Disney's major motion picture Snow White.  The detail of period costumes is delightful, and my favorite?  The flowing nouveau-esque hair!

Lisbeth Zwerger

A couple I once stayed with in England collected children's books illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger.  The Legend of Rosepetal enchanted me immediately.  She was born in Vienna in 1954 and is an award-winning illustrator.

The only book of hers I have been able to purchase in a bookstore is The Gift of the Magi.  In this book in particular, I admire the sketchy, messy layers of lines that highlight flow and movement.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Leo and Diane Dillon

This husband and wife team won two consecutive Caldecott Medals for their children's books.  They are well known for their re-telling of African folk stories.

I encountered the pair in a small bookstore when I brought home a used copy of The Race of the Golden Apples.  It is still one of my treasured books with its fusion of smooth color and flat textures.  Their graceful depiction of the human face, in particular, has influenced my attempts at realistic drawing.


For further reading on fairy tales and their place in the baptized imagination, see J.R.R. Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories."
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