Pictures tell a story
From wood-cut illustrations to copper and steel plate engravings to present day electronic marvels, pictures in story books have had a long and colourful history.
The illustrated picture book has a longer historical tradition behind it than the printed storybooks for children. Inspite of limited technical means the early printers had little difficulty in combining text with pictures. Caxton's edition of Aesop's Fables was illustrated with woodcuts, which was the most commonly used mode of illustration until late 19th century, when copper and steel plate engravings began to be used. Even today woodcuts are reproduced lithographically rather than directly from the woodblock as it was done in the middle ages. Orbis Pictus or Visible World written by John Amos Comenius, which appeared in English translation in 1658-9, is generally considered as the first picture book to be designed for children. The aim of this book was to teach the children through pictures the "chief things that are in the world and of Men's Employments therein."
It is interesting to look back from the marvels of our electronic age down the pages of history and identify the great picture book illustrators of the past who were also gifted artists. Most of the major 19th century illustrators in England and America worked on children's books at one time or the other. George Cruikshank's illustrations in Grimm's Fairy Tales (1823) and John Tenniel's illustrations in Alice in Wonderland are still remembered today. The modern picture storybook may be said to date effectively from the last quarter of the 19th century. Children's book critic Townsend mentions the names of Edward Evans, Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenway as the pioneers in the area of children's picture book industry. This was the age when colour printing began to take over from crude "hand tinting" and picture book illustration gradually developed into a form of fine art. Caldecott's John Gilpin (1878) and Kate Greenway's Mother Goose (1881) were landmark books. These illustrators are honoured even today by children's book promoters as Greenway and Caldecott awards are given to outstanding illustrators. The Kate Greenway Medal (1955) was first presented to Edward Ardizonne for his illustrations in Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain. Ardizonne an American was one of the first artists to use photo offset litho and started the trend for the interweaving of text and pictures.
(To be continued)
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