Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gallery 6: The Artwork of Tom Thursby

King Willow, the second children's novel by George Mills, was originally published in 1938, but a new edition was printed some 20 years later.

That reprinted edition carries no copyright date, nor does the text name the artist. However, we can easily see his signature on the dust jacket illustration and the frontispiece: Tom Thursby.

Thursby's colour work here is simply perfect for the genre and this story. Combining of the use of line with less saturates, unlimned areas of colour creates an interesting sense of focus, and Thursby's subtle palette is spot on for children's literature.

Assuming that the four unsigned black and white plates inside the text are his as well, they fail to live up to the quality his work exhibits in full colour. His line and brushwork, working solely with black ink, is extremely tentative and the images suffer for it. Even in his colour pieces at the fore, the figures tend to be a bit stiff, and the real lack of real confidence with ink makes that stiffness seem even more apparent in the plates within.

Not that it's a brilliant piece, but there is one plate that is an exception: The illustration found on page 167 depicting a boy trailing away from the cricket pitch has some of the more confident brushwork found in his colour work.

The difference, though, may not be colour versus black-and-white, but interior versus exterior imagery. Each interior setting is wound more tightly than a cheap watch, but when his images are free from the confines of architecture, floors, and furniture, they seem far less self-conscious.

"'That shadow, it's moved!'" [Page 67]

"'Speak out, and don't make excuses'" [Page 113]

"He returned to the pavilion, trailing his bat behind him" [Page 167]

"Pongo crept slowly across the carpet" [Page 239]

Thursby will be the last illustrator of any great competence found in the books of George Mills, and there is only one more: The late 1950s/early 1960s reprint of Minor and Major.

We'll take a look at that next time in our seventh and final gallery.

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