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Trinity College Dublin

Developments in printing illustrations

Technological innovation in the later 1800s led to the end of traditional steel and wood engraving on a commercial scale. Photomechanical processes meant that artists’ drawings could be transferred photographically to a metal block and cut mechanically rather than by hand.

Some artists embraced the new technology as each line drawn and each mark made by the artist was preserved and reproduced. Harry Clarke was among those who explored chromolithographic colour printing, which was particularly popular for children’s literature and travel books.

Many other artists rejected such innovations and re-engaged with traditional printmaking processes in book production whilst employing modern styles. Robert Gibbings and Mabel Annesley, for example, believed that the artist must cut the wood block himself or herself. Only then, they thought, was it possible for the artist to exploit the full creative possibilities of the medium. For them this hands-on activity could inspire a truer response to the text being illustrated.

[Geoffrey Warren] Origin of John Jameson whiskey: containing some interesting observations thereon, together with the causes of its present scarcity, with drawings by Harry Clarke
Dublin, 1924
OLS L-1-296 no.12

Harry Clarke is well known as a designer of stained glass windows and as a book illustrator, but he also undertook ephemeral commercial work such as this promotional brochure to which he applied his inimitable, elaborate and detailed style. Here the graphic strength of his stark black-and-white designs is complemented by patches of rich blue-green hue.

Committee of the Irish National War Memorial Ireland’s memorial records 1914-1918: being the names of Irishmen who fell in the great European war
Illustrated by Harry Clarke
Dublin, 1923
Gall.O.Window seat

Ireland’s memorial records is a Roll of Honour naming more than 49,000 Irishmen killed in the First World War. It runs to eight large volumes of more than 3200 pages in total. Its production was a significant official project and the type-setting, printing and binding were all to be of the highest quality. Clarke supplied a title-page and a set of seven decorative borders that alternate throughout the work. The borders combine realistic front-line images of battle with allegorical figures and symbolic objects of Irish relevance, presented in a mixture of Art Deco and Celtic styles.

A.E. Coppard (ed.) Songs from Robert Burns
Illustrated by Mabel Annesley
Waltham Saint Lawrence [1925]
Press B GOL C 1925 6

Mabel Annesley was a native of County Down. Like many of the figures associated with the wood-engraving revival of the 1920s, she began as a student of Noel Rooke at the Central School of Art, London. She was elected a member of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1925. Her marks in this example are fluid and her motifs are abstracted in form. Annesley wanted to be seen as an effective illustrator-artist by interpreting the text, not merely translating the literary source into the visual.

Richard Rowley County Down songs
Illustrated by Mabel Annesley
London, [1925]

In this image Annesley executed her designs in an expressive manner, demonstrating her awareness of European modernist printmaking movements. The edges of the motifs reproduced are quite ragged and are abstracted in form. The process of the artist gouging the wood block is evident.