Saturday, October 10, 2009

Evaline Ness, Illustrator

Seeing the website dedicated to Miroslav Sasek inspired me to post some of the covers and illustrations I scanned last weekend. As I said yesterday, I think every good illustrator deserves her/his own fan site. While I can't do that, I can post about the ones I love and why.

First up is Evaline Ness. I originally knew her work from the covers of Lloyd Alexander's five-book series, the Chronicles of Prydain, which I read my freshman year in high school. (And have reread many times since then. And read again with my daughter when she was about 10.)

The series starts with The Book of Three. My copy, unfortunately, is a reissue that was printed on metallic paper, so it's impossible to scan and hard to photograph.

Cover of The Book of Three with original art by Evaline Ness
Not only that, but the printing method also destroyed the textural detail in Ness's painting. You'd think Googling the title would turn up a decent scan, but no -- all you get are copies of the current paperback cover. Ick!

For the other four books, which are in their original condition, I've included the cover and back cover. Each one can be clicked to see it larger.

Cover of The Black Cauldron with original art by Evaline Ness
Ness's conceptualization of the three fates, Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch, is abstract enough to allow the reader to fill in the details, fantastic enough to make it clear they are otherworldly, and gruesome enough to set the tone of the story. Probably my favorite among the five covers.

Cover of The Castle of Llyr with original art by Evaline Ness
The big orange cat, loosely rendered, commands the cover as well as the story.

Cover of Taran Wanderer with original art by Evaline Ness
The main character, Taran, is growing up. Among all the books, this illustration does the most to integrate the whole story into the picture on both covers. (It's also the one for which I have the best copy, and so I've included the spine as well.)

Cover of The High King with original art by Evaline Ness
Finally, the Newbery-winner The High King, with its rearing horse and flames, and Taran's lance violating the image frame.

Ness is best known for her Caldecott-winning picture book Sam, Bangs and Moonshine. I never read it when I was a child -- it came out when I was 7, and by the time my family picked up a copy through the Scholastic Book sale a few years later, I think I felt like I was too old for picture books. I remember my younger sister liking it.

Cover of Sam, Bangs & Moonshine
It's odd to think back on what you thought about art as a child. I seem to recall I wasn't interested in opening the book because of what I considered its unintelligible title and boring cover. (A negative example of me judging a book by its cover.)

Illustration from Sam of the little boy Thomas
Or maybe it was the fact that the illustrations were in muted hues. (The inks used inside are black, blue-gray, and metallic gold, but because it's on uncoated paper, the gold is dull rather than shiny.)

Two page spread from Sam of a wooden picket fence amid dunes on the shore
But now the blotted line quality, the muted palette, asymmetrical layouts and interesting textures seem sophisticated and compelling.

Two page spread from Sam of two golden dragons pulling Sam through the air
It's hard to tell in this scan, but the bluish background here is something like a pressure print, providing a sky for Sam's imaginary dragons.

Knowing it was a Caldecott-winner, I picked up a copy of Sam at a library sale at some point. But I never connected Sam's creator with the illustrator of the Prydain covers until I read a post on Peter Sieruta's Collecting Children's Books blog.

In it, he tells the story of Ness's life, including her connection to another famous person (I won't give it away -- you'll have to read the post). And he mentions that Ness worked on books by Lloyd Alexander, which made me run to my bookshelf and check my copies of both Sam, Bangs and Moonshine and the Prydain Chronicles.

Sure enough, they were the same person!

My thanks to Peter for connecting the dots for me, and leading me to spend some time with Sam, Bangs and Moonshine.


w93 said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to scan these!

Michel said...

Great....appreciate your effort.

Christine U'Ren said...

Just discovered Evaline Ness through the celebrity connection; I had no idea she had done the covers for one of my very favorite series as a child, as well as "Island of the Blue Dolphins"! I'm also appreciating this work a lot more as a grownup. Thanks for posting your info & pix!