Sunday, 1 September 2013

Illustrating Surrey


I don't know what you think, but to me, this little signpost in the forest has a magical look, as if a gnome or an elf is about to trip past on some mystical errand.  I don't think it's because the orange-berried mountain ash trees shown here are thought to be magical trees  (I wrote a post about mountain ash - rowan - once, here). I think it's because rural Surrey, the county where I took this photo a couple of days ago, can seem a little bit apart from modern life.    

Admittedly, its current inhabitants are often pretty wealthy and have top jobs in banks, because the county has become prime commuterland now.  But Surrey was the home of many of the artists who created gentle, magical picture books in the late 19th and early 20th century.    Cycling through the narrow lanes on our own trips, does in some ways feel like going into a vintage illustrated book.   

Arthur Rackham, for instance, lived in Surrey and was famous for his gnarly trees.


I sometimes expect to see Rackham with his sketchbook in the steep sided lanes, worn away over the centuries.to reveal the roots of the trees that shade them.



Cicely Mary Barker lived in Surrey. She created the exquisite Flower Fairy books - here is her Mountain Ash fairy.  Later, her books were commercialized and franchised, so if you like this style of illustration, try to find the original pictures. They're so subtle; look at the colouring here.


...and Margaret Tarrant illustrated some of my favourite books.  Again, she was keen on fairies. 


Something about the colouring in my photo reminds me of her, though those people in my picture are not fairies (unless they are fairies in modern clothes)


I noticed a little display about Margaret Tarrant in the church at the Surrey village where she lived.  She painted some of the church banners  and there's a painting of one of the woodland scenes that inspired her.... and I suspect she might have decorated the church organ with flowers too. 


I once interviewed the illustrator, Peter Cross, author of that quirky masterpiece, "Trouble for Trumpets" in his home in deepest Surrey. He told me that his illustrations were inspired by both the landscape around him and the illustrated books of his childhood.



The illustrated books that had most impact on me as a kid are Alfred Bestall's picture-strip illustrations for Rupert Bear.   Bestall divided his time between Surrey and Wales.


The charm of these illustrations is cumulative, there were four per page


I remember noticing how the seasons were faithfully portrayed, and the small rolling fields and lovely deep woods which even then made me think of Surrey.  Bestall died too long ago to have a website. But google his Rupert Bear pictures, or, better still, find an annual or two, and you'll see what I mean.

More "serious" artists lived in Surrey and one day I'll write about the recently renovated Watts Gallery, which deserves an entry to itself. 


This photo, of course, was taken at bluebell time, in the Spring, but I like it.  And here is T, unpacking our bikes from the car, so we can explore the evocative woods and countryside of this county ourselves.



50 comments:

  1. Thank you for a magical post! All those books and authors mean a great deal to me, and my sons were (and possibly still are) deeply addicted to 'Trouble for Trumpets'.

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  2. Wow, when you look at gnarly old trees like the one below the Rackham sketch, you can see exactly where the artist got his inspiration from and why he thought of tree people! I grew up with many of these tales and illustrations and I think that is why woodlands inspire my imagination so. Lovely post!

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  3. Thank you for giving us a tour of Surrey. It is truly an enchanting place which seems like a delightful escape from the annoyingly modern world. I never knew so many artists lived there, but I can fully understand the inspiration of their surroundings.

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  4. Lovely photos, thank you for sharing this special place.

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  5. We moved to Surrey when I was young, first to the suburbs and then to the country and it remains magical memory for me...long walks on Sundays and holidays....brought back to life by your photographs.
    Thank you.

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  6. Sense of place is such a profound inspiration, don't you think? And obviously, these authors were enchanted with their surroundings and why wouldn't they be?
    So gorgeous. Magical. And yes, it is not much of a stretch to imagine enchantment going on there.

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  7. Jenny, I love seeing your photos in comparison to the illustrations. Both are magical. I love to see old trees with exposed. I like to make up stories of the communities hidden away. I do hope you had a lovely bike ride. Happy Sunday! Bonnie

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  8. Great post, love Arthur Rackham's work, it's easy to see how the trees inspired him. Also a big fan of Cicely Mary Barker, I've made a number of drawings based on her work. Don't think we've ever spent much time in Surrey, maybe next time.

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  9. Surrey is such an enchantingly lovely village as many people get inspired… maybe by the fairies or elves of the woods. I believe god resides in an aged gnarled tree. My favorite image is No. 7 where trees are glinting and the people must be angels in disguise.

    Yoko

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  10. The illustrations and the photos are a lovely combination, Jenny. Surrey is lovely, surprisingly so considering how close to London it is. I spent a lot of time there as a child because my grandparents lived there, but from the illustrations by Arthur Rackham (which I adore), I can see the inspiration in the trees. It is a county of lovely trees. Thank you!

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  11. What a lovely dialogue between forests and books! (Makes me wonder who penned a line or two in Savernake Forest, or Avebury. Must be someone?)

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  12. Jenny, the photo where you say:'people in my picture are not fairies' is stunning!!!
    What colour! It reminds me of Monet's paintings. I don't know there pictures of books for kids, but I love the drawings.

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  13. What a beautiful post today.
    You list some of my favorite illustrators. I don't know Peter Cross but I must look him up... "Trouble for Trumpets" is such a wonderful title for a book.
    What a beautiful country side to be able to live in.
    I am very envious.

    cheers, parsnip

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  14. Love how the roots on the trees were above the ground. There aren't many like that around here though, guessing it's because your rainfall is higher than the rainfall here.

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  15. I've always been a big fan of Arthur Rackham so thanks for reminding me of his wonderful work.

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  16. Another excellent tour, and the trees do look like the pictures in the books. Good stuff.

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  17. "Enchanting" and "magical" are perfect words to describe the pictures! I have some fond (though fading) memories of the area - I spent a month with a family in Purley when I was a teenager as part of a youth exchange program.

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  18. How mystically wonderful!

    It is easy to understand how one would be inspired by such a beautiful area. I feel inspired from looking at the photos.

    I'm sure all the kind and good spirits, and the fairies are living within those woods; all you have to do is partly close your eyes and let your mind run free.

    Stunning pictures, one and all.

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  19. Your photos make me want to sit out in the woods with a sketch pad, too! My amateur chicken scratches wouldn't be good, but i would have such a wonderful time.

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  20. The real and imaginary … one can never be quite sure where one ends and the other begins. Your photographs of Surrey landscapes have done an excellent job of showing how day-to-day surroundings influence writers and artists. Not surprisingly, my Penelope character evolved from the rainy West Coast environment in BC where we, too, have gnarly trees in a city that is also called Surrey.

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  21. Lovely photos! Thanks for reminding me of Rupert who was one of my favourites too when young. I think I even had trousers to match!

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  22. Although a little Australian girl, I grew up reading so many of these books and characters, and loved the idea of fairies in the woods. Still do! I had a costume for a fancy dress parade, a Rose Flower Fairy, based on Cicely Mary Barker. Gnarly trees bring back memories, as does good old Rupert. Great Post, Jenny!

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  23. Lovely post Jenny - especially love the trees. Your mention of Rupert the Bear recaptured childhood for me - how I used to love the annuals. Inspired to Google same I was surprised that annuals continue to be published and when my grandson is a little older, I will introduce him to the magic.
    Anna :o]

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  24. I really enjoyed this post, I had no idea so many of my favourite painters lived in Surrey. It's not a county I know well- now I'm tempted to visit! Jane xx

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  25. Oh I enjoyed your post so much, it was like our own special magical get-away! I'm sure I'd really find a trip to Surrey quite interesting too, and can see how so many adorable stories and paintings came to be!

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  26. I did an online search for "Trouble for Trumpets"...and what a beautiful book it is...I think I might get it for my grand niece and grand nephew for Christmas. The illustrations are outstanding.

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  27. I enjoyed this post, you listed a few of my favorite illustrators and a couple that are new to me. Surrey does seem magical and I can see how it would inspire artists. I like your misty photo a lot.

    Darla

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  28. Ah, this s my kind of post!!! Absolutely wonderful to see your photos of the woods around Surrey and the illustrators works who I greatly admire. Amazing to think they all came from the same place!
    Just love Margret Tarrant and of course Arthur Rackham. I have some of their illustrations as prints.
    Rupert Bear brings back some very fond memories as well. I used to enjoy reading Rupert annuals when I was little. Actually, I still do! ;-)
    Thank you for sharing such a lovely post.
    Jo.

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  29. Where to begin?
    Your pictures: the gnarled trees, especially the one with the mossy ground, are magical, as is the picture with the signpost. And the one with the fringe of berries in the foreground is breathtakingly beautiful, truly enchanting.

    When I was about 10 years old, I was given a stationery set with C. M. Barker illustrations. I loved that letter-writing paper and envelops very much, and only used it to write to people who really meant a lot to me.

    Looking again at the picture with the signpost, I would not be half surprised to read names such as "Neverland" or similarly magic places on them!

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  30. Undoubtedly a good place to write, paint and also to enjoy the beauty of these forests, I love trees with twisted shapes, precious. Greetings my dear friend.

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  31. What a wonderful collection of artists you have presented here and their illustrations are truly delightful.

    I haven’t been to the Watts Gallery for years. Beloved used to play an annual concert there with his ensemble and on several occasion we brought RSC actors (like Steven Boxer and Harriet Walter) there to be part of the show. It’s a wonderful place and I remember highly entertaining picnics, after rehearsals and during the interval.
    Those where the days when London was home.

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  32. A very enjoyable post. The Rupert scenery resonates with me; my husband and I were brought up on Rupert (as were our kids) and when we see a similar scene we both say 'very Nutwood'.

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  33. Straight out of a fairy tale.

    When I was growing up in South Africa, I was hopelessly in love with the English countryside that I encountered in Beatrix Potter and various other books. Bluebells! The very idea of bluebells! :)

    This post brought back lovely memories. Thanks, ma'am!

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  34. Not a part of the country I have ever visited but it looks so beautiful, and so Pagan!
    I must get down that way one of these days. Thanks for the wonderful tour.
    Di
    xxxx

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  35. Ah Jenny, Lovely, and I've also learned a lot reading this as I didn't know about these Surrey connections at all. A few years ago I picked up what I think might be a very early Arthur Rackham print in a local charity shop (Fair Helena) - perhaps the woods in this print are Surrey woods. It has pride of place on my wall. And I too have fond memories of Rupert Bear.

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  36. Wonderful. Like those twisting roots your words take us in directions we didn't expect to go, from fact to fiction, from photographed countryside to familiar illustrations. You make me want to revisit Surrey - which is quite an achievement given my northern jingoism.

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  37. Loved the signpost and the old piano most of all!

    Your header is great too.

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  38. I knew nothing about this magical place! I didn't read those magical books as a kid--although we did have The Real Mother Goose and Grimm's Fairy Tales (which could keep you awake at night). The trees there are almost mystical and I can easily imagine fairies and talking woodland creatures. :)

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  39. When I saw the photo of T unpacking the bikes, all I could think of was how Rick would love this area.

    You got me in this one... everything about it resonates. I love the chidren's books -- Margaret Tarrant was a favorite and I must look up the flower fairy photos. I'm thinking one of the images that I have on a disk of graphics that I use in art might be one of hers... and Rupert Bear. I don't know Rupert Bear over here, but I think I have to learn. He is absolutely adorable. Rackham, without a doubt... your words and photos just moved me through this one with such a smile on my face. What a wonderful way to start my morning!

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  40. What a lovely post, Jenny. Thank you.

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  41. You always write the most creative and interesting posts. I loved this one. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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  42. Ooooh I love this post. Looking at the magical looking photos. ALso the illustrations. :)

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  43. The signpost does look pretty. I loved my Rupert books too.

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  44. smiles....easy enough to see where their inspiration came from eh? nature is def a form of inspiration from me as well....

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  45. Great comments, thank you everyone! Yes, Jeanie you must surely seek and find Rupert Bear! :)
    Wow, mm, an original Rackham print in a charity shop! It's good to know these bargains still turn up.
    @Yonks, yes, nature worship seems very near in some of these beautiful woods.

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  46. A lovely walk in a forest... I could get used to this lovely weather. And you are right, it all looks magical.

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  47. I used to live in Surrey jenny and this post has brought back some very happy memories for me too. Also the part about the Ruper books and illustrations has given me an idea for a post of my own, so thanks for the inspiration. May I use one of your photos for it, please?

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  48. Truly charming! My only memories of Surrey were back during my university days. One of our good friends' families lived there. They were a "serious" artist family, Catalan (though the mother was English), and still angry with Franco. But between their mediterranean temperament, their house full of art, and the lovely woods which surrounded them, they are some of my warmest recollections of my young life in England.

    I loved all those fairy illustrations as a child. Some of the images in my old Child's Garden of Verses (Robert Louis Stevenson) were similar. And I wanted sooo much to believe in fairies!

    Lovely collection of photos here.

    Jenny

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