I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Refined Reader (28) Book Illustrations

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

1514 engraving by Albrecht Dürer
While there was a tradition of illustrated manuscripts going back into the beginning of the creation of books, book illustrations as we know them have their beginnings in the origins of European woodblock printing, and thrived as the printing press changed the accessibility of books.  With the printing press, woodblock printing was left behind and there were two predominant methods of creating book illustrations - etching and engraving.

Etchings were made by placing a "waxy ground" on a metal that was resistant to acid, and the artist would scratch off the ground with a needle to create the image.  The metal would then be dipped in acid, where the acid would eat into the exposed metal and would leave sunk lines in the metal plate.  The ground would then be washed off the plate, and ink would be applied which would fill the sunk lines.  The plate could then be applied to paper through a high pressure printing press to create the image.

Engravings have been around for much longer, but was harder to learn compared to etchings.  Engravings are the direct carving of images onto (traditionally) a copper plate, with practically the same methods used in transferring the image to print.  Sharp and precise tools, as well as artwork prepared in advance were usually more important for engravings.

In the middle of the 16th century, woodcut illustrations became less popular in favor of etchings and engravings.  Using etchings and engravings to create illustrations needed a different kind of printing press than for text, so illustrations were usually made separately which led to full page illustrations in books.  These methods also gave more defined, sharper images which aided in the printing of better maps.  Both methods could also be mixed on a plate to create the optimum print.  Mass production of book illustrations today have progressed much from these early beginnings, but it is incredible to see the amount of precision and detail in the old illustrations given the way they were illustrated.  The talent to create these on metal is very impressive.

What is your favorite illustrated book?  Or do you have a favorite book illustrator?

Wikipedia Wikipedia / Wikipedia

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