Saturday, October 17, 2009

Emanuel Schongut, Illustrator

Black and white ink drawing of a man drawing while observing the stars and moon

Time for another post about a favorite cover illustrator. Today I'm reflecting on the work of Emanuel Schongut (who is still working and teaching -- his website is here).

I think I first saw Schongut's work on the covers of John Christopher's Sword of the Spirits series (Macmillan, 1970 - 1972). I probably originally picked up the first book because I had liked Christopher's Tripods series, but I soon became a much bigger fan of the Sword books.

They're set in an England that has experienced some type of geological catastrophe, when volcanoes erupted in many places on Earth all at once. This destroyed society as we know it, leaving behind a feudal system, and a much smaller population that believes technology caused the cataclysm. The main character (central on all three covers) is named Luke, who becomes the prince of his city, Winchester.

I loved the watercolor textures and the organic smoke shapes that fill the foreground and background. I know now that Schongut is referencing the Art Nouveau or Jugendstil movements, as well as the Japanese woodcut and painting style of Ukiyo-e, but I didn't know any of that then.

Original watercolor cover of The Prince in Waiting
I was fascinated by the shape of Luke's hand at lower right, as well as the patterns in the fabric on his tunic and on the oddly shaped adult in the background. The otherworldly faces removed the story from the present in a way that a more realistic rendering could not.

Original watercolor cover of Beyond the Burning Lands
I seem to recall attempting to copy this one. I particularly liked the way Schongut drew Luke's face (very appealing to teenage girl readers!), but also the languid posture he achieved and the bright colors of the buildings and horse gear.

Original watercolor cover of The Sword of the Spirits
Check out the oddly elongated body here. This dark, brooding cover has many more of those stylized hands I loved so much.

Schongut was frequently included in illustration annuals throughout the 1970s (and possibly much later), but I didn't find many young adult books with covers by him at the time. One that I did stumble upon at my local library, checked out, and read solely because of its cover was The Outsiders of Uskoken Castle by Kurt Held (Doubleday, 1967).

Original watercolor cover and back cover of The Outsiders of Uskoken Castle
It's the story of a group of orphaned and homeless teens in a small village on the shores of the Adriatic in what was then Yugoslavia. They hide out and live in a castle that overlooks the village, resisting the control of the police and well-meaning adults. It has a strong female character named Zora, who heads the gang, and, despite being based on a true story, presents a pretty romantic image of teenagers striking out on their own.

Close up the trees and castle from the cover
I was fascinated by the organic shapes of the trees and the green shades Schongut used to depict the forest.

Twenty or so years later, when my daughter was little, we looked for those "board books" babies can't destroy, and discovered a few small picture books Schongut had done (Simon & Schuster, 1983):

Covers of Hush Kitten and Wake Kitten
These two were part of a series of five, each with one word per spread:

Splish-splash pages from Hush Kitten
As I recall, my daughter liked the kitten books a lot. They're pretty worn around the edges, so they must have gotten some good use.

In writing this post, I also discovered that Schongut was part of the famous Push Pin Studios, starting around June 1977 through at least 1980 (which is when they stopped publishing their promotional magazine, Push Pin Graphic). The self-portrait at the top of this post is from the August 1977 issue. Here are a few more of his illustrations from the magazine that I particularly liked:

Watercolor of a lion tamer taming full-size animal crackers
"Frank Buck's Dream," from the Back to Sleep issue, August 1978.

Push Pin Graphic cover of a cardinal bird with a human body, doing a burlesque dance in front of an audience of rams, bigs, wolves and horses
Cover of the Animal Follies issue, December 1978.

Well, that was more than I meant to write today. Each time I look into one of my favorite illustrators, I always find more than I knew was out there!

Note: Emanuel Schongut has posted a Flickr stream of some of his book covers, but it doesn't include any of the books shown here.

1 comment:

Renee said...

Cool! I remember those books by John Christopher, too. They are very eye-catching covers.