A Fine Line: Scratchboard Illustrations by Scott McKowen

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A glorious celebration of the scratchboard art of Scott McKowen.

Scratchboard artists use sharp instruments to scratch lines in areas of black ink on a prepared surface of hard chalk, exposing the white surface underneath. The finished drawings are then scanned, and the color is added digitally. The result is spectacular, similar to traditional woodcutting but in full color.

Scott McKowen is a renowned and prolific scratchboard artist and ...

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Overview

A glorious celebration of the scratchboard art of Scott McKowen.

Scratchboard artists use sharp instruments to scratch lines in areas of black ink on a prepared surface of hard chalk, exposing the white surface underneath. The finished drawings are then scanned, and the color is added digitally. The result is spectacular, similar to traditional woodcutting but in full color.

Scott McKowen is a renowned and prolific scratchboard artist and illustrator whose art has been featured in hundreds of books, magazines, theater posters and comic books. He may be best known for illustrating Neil Gamain's Marvel Comics series 1602 and the Unabridged Classics series.

A Fine Line is the artist's personal selection of 203 full-color and black-and-white reproductions. In a revealing twist on the traditional art book, McKowen gives a detailed analysis of each piece and describes what influenced his design. He even includes images of the reference works he consulted during the conceptual process and talks about the struggles he had arriving at a design solution.

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Editorial Reviews

NOW Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 16, Toronto - Jon Kaplan
In these days of computerized drawings, it's a treat to see a book like A Fine Line, featuring over 200 scratchboard illustrations by Scott McKowen, best known locally for his posters for the Shaw and Stratford festivals... This collection of McKowen's work, theatre posters as well as book illustrations for classic text and Neil Gaiman's graphic novel 1602, is hugely attractive and often surprising: Macbeth covering his face with his open palms, casts an illusive crown's shadow on the wall behind him; Carroll's Alice falls from the heights of a Victorian museum surrounded by dodos, playing cards, teapots and a white rabbit; a series of inventive topiary images designed for the 1990 Shaw Festival. Each illustration includes the artist's thoughts on his process and decisions, while the book's introduction is by the always articulate director Christopher Newton.
Stratford Beacon Herald - Donal O'Connor
Scott McKowen's art of scratchboard drawing has come a long way since he illustrated an address book for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival back in 1987. Compared with his more recent work, those earlier illustrations resembling woodcut prints differ considerably from the exquisite pieces the Stratford graphic artist has been producing for music and theatre festivals and book covers. The beautifully illustrated book Mr. McKowen has just pulled together demonstrates the scope of his artwork over some 20 years and is a show-and-tell about a relatively rare creative form.
Booklist - Donna Seaman
McKowen's mastery of line and texture, gift for arresting juxtapositions and perspectives, and fluency in drawing the human figure make for complex and breathtaking images that are at once old-fashioned and cutting edge. And he writes as crisply as he draws. McKowen shares his techniques for adding color to his incised drawings and tallies up what is lost and gained when scratchboard meets digital technologies. Most intriguing are his explanations of what elements in the plays (from Twelfth Night to Pinter's The Caretaker) and books (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to Neil Gaiman's eight-part graphic novel 1602) inspired his brilliantly composed and beautifully executed illustrations. In McKowen's work, art meets literature, and both thrive.
The Globe and Mail - Peter Scowen
Most people don't think of posters and book covers as art. This new collection of work by Scott McKowen, an American-born illustrator who lives in Stratford, Ontario, just might change people's minds. McKowen's work demands a second look, if for nothing other than the startling detail and creative whimsy he can create using scratchboard, a once-popular but difficult art technique that, like so many other types of art, has lost ground to the computer-generated image... It's not only the technique McKowen uses, but it is the one he is most famous for, and its what gives his work its signature look and feel... The results are as unique as the method.
Waterloo Region Record - Robert Reid
A Fine Line demonstrates [that] there is a fine line between applied art and fine art when the former transcends its utilitarian role—whether promoting, marketing and advertising or visually supporting the written word—by providing esthetic pleasure and satisfaction.
Quill and Quire - Andrea Carson
McKowen points out that [scratchboard is] a dying medium, which is disappointing to learn after having been seduced by his mastery of the technique. Though clearly dishertened by its uncertain future, McKowen's passion is unmistakable and contagious.
Lansing City Pulse - Bill Castanier
The book [has] amazing breadth... Page after page of dramatic posters with vivid descriptions of thought process and research that went into creating them. The collection is a throwback to subtler times, when posters didn't scream but whispered to you, often in black and white images or gently colored scenes.
Publishers Weekly
This collection showcases the career of McKowen, a scratchboard artist who designs theater posters and illustrates for books and magazines. Discussing his creative process and the influences behind some of his most successful images in straightforward language, McKowen explains how he tailors his theater posters to each director's individual vision; some of the most dazzling are designs for Macbeth, Chekhov's Three Sisters, and Shaw's Candida. In 2003, Sterling commissioned McKowen for a series of classic book reissues, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Alice in Wonderland. Those images, also included, manage to capture the depth and scope of epic stories in a single, precise, stunning image; in his introduction, director Christopher Newton aptly describes McKowen's style as "a lightness of heart which is not afraid to acknowledge the proximity of darkness." It isn't until the book's final section that McKowen gets specific about the scratchboard medium-"black ink covers the chalk surface, and lines are created by scraping through the black ink"-which allows for far more detail than other printmaking methods. McKowen goes on to explain recent technological developments in scratchboard, including the use of Photoshop for color, rather than ink.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554074518
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 7/30/2009
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 11.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott McKowen is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer. He and his wife live in Stratford, Ontario, where they operate a company specializing in design and illustration for the theater and performing arts.

Christopher Newton is an award-winning director and actor who was artistic director of the Shaw Festival from 1980 to 2002.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction by Christopher Newton

Theatre Posters
Theatre Advertising

Ballet Posters
Music Posters

Book Covers

Magazines
Identity
Ephemera

Working In Scratchboard

Acknowledgements
Index

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Preface

Introduction

In 1881, the theatrical poster came of age. Of course there had been posters before this date, but often they were simply complex typographical extravaganzas. They were called letterpress posters and they combined crude woodcuts with various typefaces. The cheap ones were in black ink, the more expensive in red. In the second half of the 19th century, photomechanical printing techniques were perfected and the world of the ubiquitous full-colour image was upon us.

But why do I choose 1881? It's a useful date because in 1881 The Magazine of Art published an article called "The Street as Art Galleries." The well-known British artist, Hubert von Herkomer — a fellow of the Royal Academy — had designed a poster. The article discussed the implications quite sympathetically of this step into the gutter of commerce. In the same year, an article in Punch (April 30,
1881) derided the idea of established artists like Leighton or Burne Jones ever condescending to provide poster images.

This tension was never really resolved until the late 20th century. There was always a slight stigma attached to the artist who went into "commercial art," as it was known in my childhood. And yet, artists needed to make a living and commercial work was a relatively sympathetic environment in which to labour. Indeed, several members of the Group of Seven worked for advertising agencies without compromising their principles. Many other artists made excursions into the advertising world: Toulouse-Lautrec designed posters for various notorious bars; Millais sold one painting — Bubbles — to the Sunlight Soap Company. No artist wanted to live and die in poverty in a tiny garret in order to create great art. It's a pretty conceit for a novel, but no template for a life.

And what are theatre posters? What are they supposed to do? Today they are nowhere near as important as they were a hundred years ago, when images on the street — on hoardings, on omnibuses and trams, outside the numerous theatres — could seduce passersby into spending money on entertainment. Nowadays images seducing us into visiting a theatre show can appear in a dozen different media. A hundred years ago they were chiefly limited to the street. Still the aim is the same today as yesterday, no matter what the means of distribution. It is to create a striking image that will be noticed by as many people as possible and encourage them to see the show. And, of course, this still happens.

It's a curious thing that there are still images from a hundred years ago — and more — which easily resonate with us today. Frederick Walker's woodcut advertising the dramatization at the Olympic Theatre of Wilkie Collins' novel The Woman in White is still powerful enough to be used today. Some of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas spawned famous posters and the cabarets and dance palaces of Montmartre stimulated Lautrec and Jules Chéret to create works which are perhaps more famous today than they were at the end of the 19th century. Then they served a strictly commercial purpose; now they are considered works of art.

Book illustration is something else. Illustration is not about finding a startling image which will attract attention. Illustrations for a story are explorations. As we read a novel or short story we follow the action in the same way that we inhabit a dream. We cannot change the action in a novel, although we can stop and think about what is happening. I do this a lot, particularly when something unpleasant is about to happen to a sympathetic character. I want to delay the inevitable until I can deal with it. Action is clear. The setting, though, is not. The backgrounds of the story exist in a kind of fog. There are, naturally,
detailed descriptions when the author needs to be extremely specific. However, the reader usually will construct in his or her own head the landscape, the street, or the room in which the action takes place from what is known or has been experienced. This is why so many films made from novels prove unsatisfying. The images on the screen seldom approach our own inventions.

Illustrations, too, can disappoint and disconcert us when we turn a page and find a picture instead of text. Two things need to happen to prevent a disruption of the narrative. We need to be prepared for the style of the illustration and we need the illustration to expand our understanding. Preparation can be as simple as a frontispiece. "Ah," we say, "this is how the illustrator conceives of the book." And we can accept or reject this concept. If, and this does happen, we don't like the initial image, then it is possible to ignore what comes after it, leaving us to live in our own invented landscapes with no help from the illustrator. If we accept the style, then the illustrations will provide detail in the more vague dream-like world that we create in our heads.

It is this provision of detail that interests me as a theatre director, because this is what I do when I direct a play. This detail should connect with what the reader or the audience member already knows, and it has to be theoretically possible, however strange the circumstances. This is where an illustration can illuminate a particular moment and thus enrich the story. The landscape outside the bus window, a landscape only glancingly touched upon by the writer, can come to life and enlarge our understanding of an internal narrative or a state of mind. A room can take on a different relevance because the size is revealed. A gesture can gain in significance when we see how a character observing the gesture reacts. A great illustrator intensifies our experience by demonstrating layer upon layer of detail, even if the details are themselves only suggestions.

Would Alice Through the Looking-Glass be quite so extraordinary without Tenniel's illustrations? I doubt it. The Jabberwock would not possess its most specific characteristics in its readers' memories without that terrifying image, which, once seen, can never be expunged from the mind.

I have always treasured my first encounter with certain illustrations — Tenniel's of course, then Arthur Ransome's sparse and amateurish illustrations of his own children's books, Kipling's drawings for his Just So Stories and Sidney Paget's illustrations in The Strand magazine for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. I've just looked at The Speckled Band and the last picture of Dr. Grimesby Roylott and I experienced the same kind of shock I had when I was 8 years old, as I devoured the stories late at night, reading with the help of a flashlight under the bed clothes. Holmes has never really changed from these first images. Had Sidney Paget any idea that his portrait of Holmes would outlast all the others?

I spread some of Scott Mckowen's posters on the carpet. The majority are for the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. But there are also posters for The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, for the Denver Center Theatre Company, for The Acting Company and many others. I wonder if there are themes here?

I know that I would recognize any of these posters as the work of Scott McKowen, in part by recognizing his mastery of the specific technique he uses. His scratchboard technique allows him to work with great delicacy without sacrificing a vigorous intensity in the larger statement. This versatility is not really possible in engraving or woodcuts. In Scott's posters, the black and white constructs are linked with a highly subtle use of often quite bold colour; the result is a series of readily identifiable personal statements. But, aside from the accomplished and elegant technique, it took me some time before I could define what it is that makes me so certain an image is a Scott McKowen work. There is an elusive, yet readily apparent, tone to his work. Ultimately I think it is a sense of whimsy.

There is a sense, not of the fantastical, though that is certainly often there, but more often of an intricate complexity. There is, too, a lightness of heart which i

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