I was delighted to be asked by poet and editor Roger Stevens to illustrate Moonstruck: Poems about Our Moon.
I have an exhibition of the art work for the book opening on Saturday 25th May at The National Centre for Craft and Design. It’s just upstairs from an incredible interactive exhibition all about Quentin Blake’s illustrations for John Yeoman’s books.
The book is an anthology of poems old and new all about our moon. It’s our moon to avoid any confusion about which moon was being referred to- after all there are countless billions of moons out there in the universe! It’s also our moon because we all share that amazing globe. It fits that there are poets from many different countries in the book, all of whom looked out at the same moon for inspiration. It’s also lovely to think that Yeats and Shelley- also included in the book- were inspired by the same moon 150 or so years ago. Our Moon.
One of my favourite poems in the book comes from the furthest away- Mooncalf by Kate O’Neil in Australia. It is a surreal story-poem about the birth of a ‘mooncalf made of light’ that still haunts the dreams of cows today. This feels like an old classic and I was surprised to read it’s a new poem. It’s a lovely poem to use in schools- tidy, comfortable, learnable rhythm and rhyme present a wonderfully surreal idea. I used soft charcoal pencil to illustrate this that I later digitally turned negative so glistening white marks show on a dark background. I used the same technique for ‘A Goodnight Moon’ by David Harmer- another timeless poem that feels like it’s been around forever.
I used quite a few techniques to do the illustrations- lots of soft pencil, ink washes, collage, dip pen, photoshop and lino print. Lino print is a time-consuming technique so I chose just a few poems to do in this technique. I think my favourite illustration in the book is the double page that illustrates the title poem and ‘The Moon’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. For me, the image of the walker in the moonlight with his staff is a timeless archetype of freedom and romanticism, wandering through time, space and dreams.
I developed a technique for printing the linoprints in this book that went back to my college days. I printed them on thin but high quality ‘imitation Japanese paper’ that enables me to get absolutely consistent prints that pick up every subtlety on the block. I then glue the print onto heavyweight paper. I saturate the print with high quality clear PVA so the print is glued ‘into’ the paper rather than just on it. It’s a delightfully playful and reliable technique that allows for a lot of flexibility. It’s also comparably fast for lino printing, which is useful for meeting deadlines. I highly recommend this technique for anyone who finds lino printing frustrating.
I’m an illustrator with a very serious commitment to poetry. Writing and reading poetry is hugely important to me. My favourite poets are quite diverse: Yeats, Rilke, Mary Oliver and Billy Childish. I really hope this love gives the illustrations something special.
One of my favourite poetry books is ‘The Puffin Book of Magic Verse’, edited by Charles Causley. It’s a wonderful collection of beautifully illustrated poems you can read and read again- a book to daydream with. It is the perfect rainy holiday book. I had my tatty copy on my desk the whole time I did Moonstruck. I wanted Moonstruck to be even more visual than ‘Magic Verse’, and chose to illustrate every poem in the book. I really hope you feel we succeeded in making a book that is as treasurable as Magic Verse. I hope it’s someone’s perfect rainy holiday book!
And here’s my well loved copy of ‘Magic Verse’: