Extending the Impact

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Few things in life are not beautified by art. It is one of the universal expressions of humankind because people of different languages and cultures can often capture the import of an image or illustration without understanding anyone talking about it. Part of my adaptation of Labyrinth of the World was putting art back into an English edition because it adds a dynamic. This post is about how I went about developing the artwork in this book.

I’d grown up with books that had art in them. Reading was not always easy for me, so pictures/illustrations made books more tolerable than just straight writing. My maternal grandmother saw to it that we had suitable educational materials, many of which were illustrated. I’m not talking just Fun with Dick and Jane. These materials took us past grade school age, well into Junior High with systems like SRA learning.

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A lot of this material was graphical in nature. Perhaps my grandmother knew that this type of inclusion made learning better like Comenius did 350 years ago when he published Orbis sensualium pictus (Visible World in Pictures) as seen on the left. In keeping with this notion, I wanted Labyrinth of the World to once again be graced with true art.

I don’t think many of my friends took my book project seriously until I showed them initial attempts at illustration, which I shall explain. At that point “the lights came on” for many of them. The next image, below and to the right, is the first image concocted by an artist. Combined with a section from the book, in the indented section, along with my description of how I wanted the art to look; the artist went to work to give artistic life to mere words. I found out what I wanted an older style of art called line drawings or stippled drawing.


Our First Go At It

Here is what we came up with. Is it not astounding? It smacks a bit of Gustave Doré, who is wonderful. This drawing illustrates the following passage from the book:

We then entered into a place where men sat on thrones so high and broad few could approach or reach them except through peculiar contraptions. Instead of ears, each lord used long tubes going to either side of his head, into which any wishing to communicate had to speak. The tubes, however, were so crooked and full of holes, most words were lost before they could be heard. Those words that were heard were most oft times distorted. I marked this well, because in the end I noticed not all petitioners received answers, even if they shouted mightily. Their words failed to reach the rulers’ brains.

The passage went on to describe “lobbyists” who also had the king’s ears… and with better connection to the king. Is this not a lucid description and picture of today’s political environment?

In the end, we had to go with a different artist. His work, below, is also very good. It depicts the same passage from above. The artwork was no easy chore. It took six months of work to find the new guy and get the job done. The difficulty related to working cross culturally, across time zones, and perhaps being pre-occupied by grubbing for funding to finance for the overall book project.


How to Depict Something

One of the challenges of illustration is anatomic depiction. A passage can be quite descriptive. But then, how does one compliment it in drawings? At one point, my new artist called me and expressed hesitation on this very point. Being the adept solution finder that I am, I voluntold several guys at the coffee shop to model my idea so that I could direct how the passage struck me. I’ll not waste space with the actual passage, but Pilgrim’s main counterparts wanted to control him and change the way he saw things in life. Thus, they plotted to affix special glasses on him as well as a bridle him. The picture on the left is our real-life modeling. The illustration on the right is how the artist pressed my conception into the style I wanted.

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Creating a Concept

In other passages, I saw things in my head as I read the narrative. Now, I am not the best artist, but I can conceptually draw well enough that a real artist can “get the picture” and do the actual artwork. Below are two images I dreamed up and the artist’s rendering. The story spoke of men who were given spyglasses of various sort that gave fantastical views, especially at odd angles and a view to the rear. Below (left) is how I envisioned the concept in crude form. To the right is how the artist depicted my concept of how the passage could look pictorially speaking.

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Creating a Concept

In total, there are 16 illustrations in this new edition. I am told that this artwork is the first rate. When I was wrapping up the work on this book I found something astounding. My wife and I regularly travel around Nebraska’s little towns to see what can be seen, especially the little junk shops. We went to a town called Overton where there is a big junk shop, with tons of books. I started browsing as I regularly do, and there it was. An entire set of books my grandmother had given us. As I paged through, there was a lot of art, in fact, line art, to be exact. In the same manner, in which I was imprinted as a young person, I now had replicated similarly in the work we did with Labyrinth.

Would I have an endearment for line/stipple art if had it not been from my maternal grandmother? Maybe not! But this experience confirmed that the small effort of a grandmother—who had a tough life and gave us what she could—left a lasting impression on me. Thus, the artwork isn’t just magical for what it does in the initial seeing experience. It has impressions that last a lifetime. So too, books with illustrations also have a magical effect. I remember several books in my early years that still are with me, likely because of the illustrations.

I hope you love art and that this post encourages you to get the book and be wowed.