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Just a few of the Amazing Cover Designers and Illustrators that I have come across while working for WORB....

A Winter's Promise
by Peter Polnay
Jacket Designed by B.S.Biro

Val Biro (also known as B.S. Biro) designed and illustrated dustjackets for over 3,000 books during the period 1946-1970s. Including First Editions for Nevil Shute, Tennessee Williams, H.E. Bates and this Peter de Polnay. His cover design for this novel, ideally suits the dark landscape of this tangled love story. In A Winter's Promise "two men fall in love with the same woman. They seem to have nothing in common but their passion for her. One of the men is civilised and erudite; the other, a young man with a history of mental breakdowns. The woman floats like an intagible dream between them. Her husband a brutal farmer, has recently committed suicide, but ugly rumours are circulating about his death, and the three incompatibles are drawn inexorably together by their uncommon need for reassurance." 

Here Biro's layering of fine-line detail and inky shadows mirrors the novels mixture of intense incident and melancholic tragedy. In particular the apparition of the heroines face appearing admist the knotted branches of the tree powerfully betrays the men's strong natural attraction to her, and their ability to remove themselves from her influence.

The Confession of an English Opium-Eater
by Thomas De Quincey
With Illustrations and Decorations
by Sonia Woolf


Through its tangled prose and mixed allusions, De Quincey's revelatory autobiography Confessions of an English Opium Eater  recreated the fantastical experiences of the 19th Century laudanum addict.  In this John Lane Edition of the text, Sonia Woolf's intriguing illustrations and page decorations perfectly emulate the hazy atmosphere of the narrative. Her figures floating, curvaceous bodies and hauntingly peaceful faces entice the viewer to join the author in his drug-fuelled dream world.

Yet the hypnotic quality of these drawings is also cleverly tempered by the artist's harsh shading technique. Their ghoulish quality reminds the reader of the darker, more disturbing elements of the addict's mental state. As De Quincey's writing suggests, the imagination is home to both pleasurable and terrifying illusions, and significantly opium can unlock the mind's access to both.

The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast
 Verses by William Plomer
Illustrations by Alan Aldridge

*Winner of The Whitbread Children's Book of the Year Award 1973*

And now for something completely different...

Loosely based on William Roscoe's The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast (1807), in 1973 Alan Aldridge published this collection of 28 psychodelic colour-plates, picturing Centipede's playing the piano, Toad's in bed with the Flu, Kingfishers fishing and Newt's knocking back the pints. These crazy fantastical images were apparently inspired by John Tenniel's complaint to Lewis Carroll that  it was impossible to draw a wasp in a wig! And like Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Aldridge's landscape is both entertaining and unnerving - a fairy story for both the child and the adult. The detailed prickly legs of the Gnat and featureless face of the Gadfly (top left), give a frightening suggestion of what a man-sized insect could look like, whilst at the same time, Aldridge's motherly dormouse and her sailor-suited son offer the more endearing image of the anthropomorphised animal kingdom we're used to finding in children's fiction.

For me these illustrations are a really creative mix-match of styles - the vibrant, shiny sweetie-wrapper colours and graphic air-brush designs are reminiscient of 1960s album Artwork, such as Aldridge's own designs for the Beatles:http://custombyamy.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/muse-of-the-week-alan-aldridge/ . However, there is also a clear resemblance to 19th Century Poster design; the vignette illustration, rolling scrolls and illuminated fonts on the front cover (above centre) have the feel of an advertisement for a French circus, or an American Wild West Show.

Aldridge went on to create two more books based on  Roscoe's sequels; The Peacock Party and The Lion's Cavalcade.

Arthur Rackham

Celebrated Children's Illustrator, who's most notable and well-known works include the 1907 edition of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, as well as various editions of classic fairy tales.

 The Ring of the Niblung a Trilogy with a Prelude by Richard Wagner with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

In the William Clowes' 1939 English Edition of the  The Ring of the Niblung, Rackham applies his sensitive and ornate style of illustration to the text of Wagner's "Ring Cycle", a series of four epic operas drawn from historic Norse Sagas. His meticulous eye for detail is evident in the individual strands of the maiden's flowing locks, each whisker of the Vikings curly beards and the gnarled bark of the ancient trees. His muted palate, at first influenced by the limitations on colour printing in the period, is still utilised in this later publication, where the soft shades of green and blue are aptly applied to the cold Scandinavian landscape.

Rackham's true gift lies in his ability to present human emotion without recourse to extreme realism. His simple linear style is applied to a wide range of human emotions; from jubilant fairies to fighting ogres, love-lorn heroines and heroic knights, Rackham's imaginative images were always grounded in humanity - a characteristic that endeared him to generations of readers.

Rackham also designed his own frontispieces, placed whimsical goblin and fairy decorations into margins, and supplied his own line illustrations for title-pages (as above).

More volumes of Arthur Rackham illustrations:

Andrew Lang's The Orange Fairy Book

The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book

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