Sophie Blackall Illustration

Drawings and Snippets and Breaking News, (but more snippets than breaking news).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Fine Dessert - Part 4

I have been burying myself in research for A Fine Dessert, in a lovely, but boggy sort of way. For instance, I spent the better part of a day trying to figure out what a slave working in the kitchen house of a plantation in South Carolina in 1810 might have worn on her feet. And I'm not even sure we'll see her feet. So I decided this weekend to step away from the computer and into the kitchen.
The dessert in question is blackberry fool, made with blackberries, sugar and whipped cream. 
In 1710, the author Emily Jenkins tells me, "the woman skimmed the cream off the evening’s milk. She added it to the cream from the morning’s milk and began to beat it all with a bundle of clean, soft twigs."
So obviously I had to make a twig whisk. I cut several nice, straight, flexible twigs from a lilac tree and bound their ends with jute. This was no end of fun.

I would like to say I picked the blackberries from my own field but it's a bit late in the season (these below were in my own field, but we picked them and ate them long ago). I had to hunt down two punnets at Price Chopper, which was far less romantic.

Then I put the twigs to work. And they worked! It did take about 15 minutes but was immensely satisfying.

Squished the berries with a fork, pushed them through a sieve to remove the seeds, added sugar to the pulp and folded the lot into the cream. In 1710 they took the dish to the ice pit in the hillside (more on that later) I popped mine in the freezer.
It was FINE.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Fine Dessert - Part 3

As I mentioned in the last post, Emily Jenkin's A Fine Dessert begins:
A bit more than three hundred years ago, in an English town called Lyme, a girl and her mother picked wild blackberries. Their hands turned purple with the juice. The thorns of the berry bushes pricked the fabric of their long skirts.

This book spans four centuries, beginning in the early 1700s. I have made a list of all the images I need to research, and it's long. But to begin with, I wanted to find what a farmhouse in Lyme looked like around then. A quick search for 1700s farmhouse Lyme sent me wandering off to the The Landmark Trust where I got lost for a good hour, planning all the vacations I would take in historical buildings (you can stay in turrets and castles and Robin Hood's hut!). I dragged myself back to the task at hand and realized that what I should be looking for was a 1600s farmhouse, unless I wanted my family to be living in a spanking new house in 1710.
I think it will be fun to draw a thatched roof, so I'm going to model their house on these, and it will look something like this.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Fine Dessert - Part 2

A Fine Dessert is a book about blackberry fool, made by a farmer's wife and her daughter in England in 1710, a plantation slave and her daughter in South Carolina in 1810, an urban middle class woman and her daughter in Boston in 1910 and a father and his son in San Diego in 2010. Each century sees changes in society and food technology.
The first thing I'm thinking about is the trim size of the book and what shape it should be. Square or rectangle? I'm leaning towards rectangular and largish and landscape (horizontal, rather than portrait/vertical.) In each century, the berries are picked, the cream is procured and then whipped and then chilled, the dish is served and shared. The first images to float into my peripheral vision are from the beginning of the book (picking wild berries) and the end of the book (a large dinner party). In both I want room for the illustrations to spill left and right, for blackberry tendrils to unfurl and for children to leave the table and roll around on the ground. So landscape it is.
The next big question is about style. I am considering whether each century should be treated slightly differently, and if so, how far to push this. There is a danger of getting swept up with the design (the lure of possibilities with type and ornamentation!) and forgetting the children who eventually hold this book in their hands. What will make them want to turn the pages?
In the meantime, I am sifting and gleaning and bookmarking and borrowing.
This woodblock jumped out at me. I would love to do something this simple and beautiful.

I love these feet.

Caldecott's palette here makes me happy... does this one from Iran

I like this crowded room...

...and the perspective of this one

...and how the Provensons manage different scenes in different rooms all on the same page.

I like how Walter Crane shows us the backs of people
I think is image is cropped but I admire this composition

I remain in love, as ever, with colored engraving

and low horizons with large foreground figures...

...and small.
And finally, I can't stand it anymore and I have to make a picture, which almost certainly won't make it into the book, but will break the paralysis. Otherwise I'll be sifting and gleaning forever.  
A Fine Dessert begins:
A bit more than three hundred years ago, in an English town called Lyme, a girl and her mother picked wild blackberries. Their hands turned purple with the juice. The thorns of the berry bushes pricked the fabric of their long skirts.

So, here is a first go at painting the girl and her mother.
You can see where I stole the feet.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Fine Dessert - Part 1

I am starting in on a new picture book. It's always an exciting time; blank canvas and all that. When it's a book you've written yourself, the pictures form simultaneously with the words as one entwined, inseparable idea. At least for me. But when the manuscript comes from another writer, the process is different. I've often thought an illustrator is also part architect, costume designer, landscape gardener; we design the houses of our characters, and choose their clothes and plant their gardens. At times we are given license to decide if they are humans or animals or, you know, unicorns. All these decisions can be paralyzing. (A whip-cracking editor can be useful here.) When a story is one of historical fiction however, there is research to be done. Research, which has its own drawbacks and rewards. Spending a day hunting down a single image can lead you down rabbit holes you never imagined (Oh! Rabbit holey internet!), and at the end of the day you may be no closer to finding your image. You may, on the other hand, know all sorts of things you never knew about the secret uses of an 18th century ice house, the mating habits of pink fairy armadillos and the French postman who spent 33 years building an extraordinary grotto out of pebbles he carried in his pockets.
In any case, I am starting in on a new picture book for Schwartz and Wade. It is written by Emily Jenkins (Toys Go Out, Lemonade in Winter, Love You When You Whine!!!) and it's called A Fine Dessert and it's wonderful. In Emily's words, "it is about the universality of the pleasure in cooking and eating dessert -- how it goes through time and across cultures." The dessert in question is blackberry fool, made with berries, cream and sugar, combined and chilled. The book follows four families making and sharing this dessert, over four centuries, in four different places.
I often do school visits and talk to teachers and librarians after a book is finished, but I have never shared the process – the decision-making, the research, the false leads, the mistakes, the happy accidents, even the paralysis – as it's being made. For better or worse, I have decided to drag you along with me. Feel free to crack the whip, share your own tales from the rabbit hole, send me images of whisks through the ages...
More soon!