The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

September 15, 2016

September 15, 1933

Here is a brief sketch introducing John Lawrence (September 15, 1933) a British illustrator.

John Lawrence grew up by the sea in Hastings. "I loved swimming and pottering along the shore," he says. "It was terrible when sea defences, barbed wire and tank traps were put up along the South Coast in 1940. But it was really exciting to be allowed back onto the beach and into the sea a few years later, after the war." John now thinks of himself a something of a workaholic. "I have illustrated many books for adults and children over the last forty years," he says. "It's a particular pleasure to be doing more work for younger children, as I am at the moment." John Lawrence has contributed to well over 100 books for children and adults as an illustrator and wood-engraver. He is renowned for his striking images that use tools and methods of engraving from the eighteenth century. 

John Lawrence did the illustrations for these books, among others:

Lyra's Oxford (2003) by Philip Pullman,
Christmas in Exeter Street by Diana Hendry.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 
The Diary of a Nobody
The Arthur Trilogy, by Kevin Crossley-Holland (2010); 
Once Upon a Time in the North, by Philip Pullman (2008)
Dragons Come Home!, 
The Courage of Sarah Noble,  
The Magician's Heart by E. Nesbit, 
Robinson Crusoe
The Blue Fairy book, 
Watership Down, 
A Christmas Card by Paul Theroux
Tiny's Big Adventure by Martin Waddel (2004),
Secret Seahorse by Chris Butterworth, (2006),
 Treasure Island, (2009).

John Lawrence has twice won The Francis Williams Award for illustration (sponsored by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

This illustration nicely shows his talent:
You should study it a short while--just focus on the details,

This is for a Pullman title

Here is Lawrence's cover for a book of children's poetry.

Image result for "John Lawrence" cat

From a Folio Society (they produce especially nice bound books) article we get glimpses of how John Lawrence goes about his illustrations.

...  I did my first book for..
.[The Folio Society] in 1967 and that was ten years after leaving the Central School of Art. It was Daniel Defoe’s Colonel Jack, a long and rather rambling novel written in Defoe’s journalistic style. I enjoyed it thoroughly and thought of it as my first serious bit of book illustration. It gave me my first opportunity to do a series of large wood engravings which Peter Guy, the then Art Director, who sadly died last year [2012], commissioned. I wanted them to appear larger than life to suit Defoe’s ability to capture the reality of the world around him. The Society made a handsome volume which I still open with pleasure. After Colonel Jack I went on to do another seventeen or eighteen books for the Folio...

Funnily enough it’s only ...
[been since about 2000] that almost all my book illustration has been engraved. Before that, even though there was always a lot of engraving, all my children’s books were in pen and watercolour and it was Amelia Edwards, then the chief designer at Walker Books, who encouraged me to engrave them. This means that I now mostly use vinyl with my wood engraving tools (though I do manage to mix some wood in too) because the large format makes wood engraving too lengthy and expensive a medium to consider.
I’ve done a lot of life drawing and love it. As regards research for a new book project, I’ve always taken it very seriously and am not happy until I’m really acquainted with the subject matter. Once I feel it’s under my skin I can work more freely and am less inhibited. I have various staple reference books for costume, history, nature etc. and sometimes my sketchbooks (of which I have many) are helpful. Of course, if there is a chance for me to go out and draw on the spot I do so very readily, as I did with Richard Adams’s
Watership Down years ago. The computer though is invaluable, and saves me many trips to the library on my bike.
I must confess to being so caught up with my illustration work that I don’t take time away from it to get on with self-generated projects. I’ve always dreamt of being able to, but it’s the freelance illustrator’s fear of falling off the tightrope that prevents me from looking either up or down away from my current commission. I must say I am lucky to be kept very busy for most of my time and also that I’ve been able to tackle a wide range of work that has saved me from becoming stale. Engraving is a stimulating activity in itself and taking the first pull after a few day’s work on a block is always an exciting moment. In the early days when things were quieter I did several large linocuts and I also cut into the shiny side of hardboard to release rather an unusual chalky texture underneath.

I am a fan of the woodcutters.... particularly Leonard Baskin and Frans Masereel and I taught for some years on the same day at Camberwell as Michael Rothenstein who was a great exponent and explorer of the relief print... My wood engraving hero is Eric Ravilious, always full of invention and wonderfully graphic....

John Lawrence now lives in Cambridge.

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