Friday, 27 March 2015

What to Look for in Tunnicliffe

I've always loved the pictures in Ladybird Books - but of course my preferences and tastes have changed over the decades.  As a child, for example, I found most of John Berry's 'People at Work' series dull and grey and the world of work they portrayed did not inspire me to want to join.  Now John Berry is one of my favourite artists and I find the People at Work series compelling.

But even as an adult my appreciation and enjoyment of different artists has been fluid.  It would be fair to say that, just a few years ago I couldn't really understand why everyone made such a fuss about CF Tunnicliffe.  To my eye, some of his artwork looked naive and childlike compared to other Nature artists.

 A lot of the pictures in his artwork for Ladybird had, to my eye, over-bold black lines around them.  The light and shade seemed often crude and the colours seemed more stark in comparison with, say, the work of John Leigh-Pemberton.

From 'European Mammals' John Leigh-Pemberton

I'm not sure how this came to change, but little by little I came to love the Seasons books (and also the book 'The Farm', which tends to get forgotten). What once has seen childlike to me now seemed impressionistic.  I came to appreciate the atmosphere and depth of this artwork, perfect for books like these, crammed with detail, when the more you look the more you see. 

There's another quality that I have become more aware of and that's a sort of William Morris-esque design to the composition.  I found myself thinking that some pictures would make good wall-hangings or even wallpaper.

The layout and colour palette of some of the 'seasons' artwork makes me think of Japanese prints.

What could make me 'feel' a wet, autumnal dusk more than this:
What to Look for in Autumn

Or a hazy lazy summer day than this

What to Look for in Summer

The artwork in some of the other Nature books now looks a little 'stagey' and static. Still lovely, but ...

From 'Heath and Woodland Birds' John Leigh-Pemberton

I know, I know.  I must be a bit slow on the uptake, but at least I got there in the end.


Mike W said...

A most enjoyable article with superb illustrations.I suppose Berry's artwork seemed naturally dull/drab in comparison with Tunnicliffe because he must have always painted from real-life- usually from actual photos.The picture on p21 in the Scouts LB book was from a photo as I remember the author David Harwood taking it!Two years later in 1971 I saw the book on sale in Cirencester - probably my most memorable LB purchase!Thanks again for a wonderful post.

Sarah Finch said...

I love the illustrations in the What to Look For books. A combination of deep familiarity from the images from early childhood and a love for the birds and plants learned much later makes them especially moving. Do you know what size the original paintings are, and whether it is possible to buy prints anywhere? Thank you!

a mart said...

Loughborough museum recently had an exhibition of original illustrations including four by CFT. They were painted a third bigger than final repro size, the shrinking process sharpening the image. Tunnicliffe would have compensated for this as well as using a slightly brighter palette. The pen and ink outlines marvellously pull into focus foreground details, cleverly suggested and never overdone. The more i pour over the illustrations the more i'm astounded by the draughtsmanship and clever composition; the understatement and refinement of detail to purest essence. To petfectly balanced tone; perspective;colour and light. They may have been designed for kids but as an adult only now can fully appreciate the sophistication of the hand that produced them. English genius.