What god of publishing comes up with these illustrator pairings for Joyce Sidman's books? It's extraordinary. I honestly thought nothing could match the pair-up of Joyce's precise word choice and Beckie Prange's precise art in Ubiquitous. The work of both women managed to be scientifically accurate and lyrically lovely at the same time.
But in Dark Emperor, Rick Allen uses an old-fashioned medium - linoleum-block printing - to illustrate the mystery and fascinating life of the world at night, and the synergy between the images and the poems is just as perfect.
There's something about a woodcut. The organic texture of the printed ink and the shape of the gouged lines will always invoke early illustrated books. Compositionally, because the block of wood already has a shape, woodcuts almost always have their own frame, even if it is only implied, and even if that frame is broken, as it is in many of the prints in this book. This formal quality tends to lend the images a little extra authority.
Anyway, all that gallery talk jibber-jabber aside, these illustrations are just gorgeous. I can only guess how many layers of printing Rick Allen piled up to make such sophisticated color blends and juxtapositions. Each picture is a world one could sink into.
Isn't that amazing?
And the poetry, shouldn't I talk about the poetry? About the mushrooms:
they spread their damp
and loose their spores
with silent pops.
"Silent pops." Can't you just see it? And smell the musty damp earth? Aren't you just a kid, scrunched down close to the ground, examining the miraculous weird perfection of a mushroom?
Well I am.
And I always love Joyce Sidman for providing a paragraph or two of prose information about the subject of each poem.
Rick Allen has this to say, in part, about the process of making the illustrations for this book:
The prints for Dark Emperor were each printed from at least three blocks (and in some cases as many as six) and then hand-colored with a strongly pigmented watercolor called gouache. There are definitely faster methods of making a picture, but few more enjoyable in a backwards sort of way.
Hail. Hail to the artist/craftsman. And to the poet/scientist.