Quality gnomes


Dear Artist,

Last night I was invited to a private reception in the Special Collections department at our local Public Library. Here, among the dozen or so ancient manuscripts and precious rare books that were put out for us — I was pleased to find a couple of beautiful books with illustrations by Arthur Rackham.

The name of Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) may not be familiar to all, but in the early part of the last century he was perhaps England’s greatest children’s book illustrator. He painted masterful fantasies of gnomes, goblins, fairies, weird creatures, innocent and beautiful children. During his lifetime he illustrated more than 60 books — such as Rip Van Winkel, Aesop’s Fables, Mother Goose, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Meticulously drawn and often with inventive and graphically-sound compositions, Rackham’s work was a forerunner of much of today’s fantasy art. Furthermore, he was a man of his times who was able to move into three-color printing processes with taste and control, limiting areas to monochromatic treatment that helped give his work a unique and delicate touch.

What is now interesting is the volume of literature and scholarship that has grown up around his work and the cult-like respect in which he is held. There is an Arthur Rackham Society with periodical material, current research, and announcements of newly discovered work. First editions are in great demand.

I held those treasured books. You can smell the magic. Quality is always in style.


“The King of the Golden River”
by Arthur Rackham

Best regards,


PS: “For children in their most impressionable years, there is, in fantasy, the highest of stimulating and educational powers.” (Arthur Rackham)

Esoterica: His was a sinuous line softened with muted watercolor — forests of looming, frightening trees with grasping roots, designer rocks, thinly sensuous yet chaste children, and fairies, trolls, and quality gnomes.

Arthur Rackham lore can be found for example at  http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/rackham.htm and 
http://rackham.artpassions.net/ The home page of the Arthur Rackham Society is http://arthur-rackham-society.org/

The following are selected responses to this letter. I also asked for the names of artists that might represent quality. It’s amazing what the word “quality” triggers. Thank you for writing.


Big cheese
by R Fowler

The point is, perhaps all you can offer in your letter on this subject is examples of what you and your readers consider to be quality. It is perhaps a matter of opinion. Rackham’s illustrations are obviously wonderful and full of richness and detail and magic. Remember you are the person who wrote that Vincent had three things going for him — style, style and style… there was not much mention of quality in the Vinny letter — yet he’s the big cheese, baby.


Whose taste anyway?
by MKL, London, UK

Is “quality” art reserved for the elite? Should it appeal to everyone? Is it our job as artists to serve the people’s needs? Their emotions? Or are we special visionaries who can see the world in a more beautiful, interesting, “artful” way than the regular guy and that’s what makes us so damn special? Are we to lord over the masses with our good taste and quality? And whose taste is it that decides what the masses see, pay for, collect? Whose taste is it that decides what we discuss in our salons?


Illustration art
by Patsy Retton, New York

I am glad that you have seen fit to raise illustration art to the level of quality. Not everybody sees it this way. I have always had the suspicion that a lot of the so-called fine art is a sham, and that the true lasting values were in the popular and somewhat commercialized names seen in the publishing world. As well as Rackham I would also vote for Charles Dana Gibson, N C Wyeth, J C Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, etc.

(RG note) J C Leyendecker’s work can be seen online and Amazon offers books such as J.C. Leyendecker: American Imagist by Laurence Cutler.

The work of Charles Dana Gibson can be seen at http://gibsongirls.com/ and Amazon offers books like The Gibson Girl and Her America: The Best Drawings of Charles Dana Gibson by Charles Dana Gibson.


Reminiscences of Rackham
by Elle Fagan, Connecticut

Thanks for the rescue with Rackham… we grew up with him, he encouraged our destinies… Rackham-type illustrated books were overwritten in the flyleaf with “Done by Ellen” age 5. I copied the English Children illustration to my desktop, since the eldest daughter had JackieO’s face, and the picture took on prophetic meaning for a moment. I am a “Brothers Hildebrandt” fan from winters around the fire with children and Tolkien…couldn’t get enough! Also, I was delighted to find a letter in the Feb16 replies from Robert Conrad LeDoux… a fellow Fairfield, Connecti-cat, honored for his perfect house portraiture. He has Godfathered me through some experiments. Super artist, and popular all-round good guy! — Thanks again for Rackham… will want to read more… and will pass it on to new neighbor, illustrator Art Scholtz.

PS: I clicked to an internet list of “Illustrators”… 5 of the 150 were female….hmm!


Susan Seddon Boulet
by Bonnie Hamlin, Manitoba, Canada

I keep wondering why the work of Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997) was not more popular. Every time I look at her images, whether they are illustrations for children’s books, or mythology, I find I am drawn in and swept away. She was able to support her husband and child with her art, but I keep wondering why she is not considered one of North America’s greatest artists. Usually when a person’s “fame” is not equal to their work, there are other factors involved such as inconsistency, poor marketing skills, lack of work ethic, family or emotional problems that interfere with productivity, unpopular or boring work, etc. But I cannot find the missing factor.

(RG note) Boulet’s work can be seen at http://www.turningpointgallery.com/ and at http://www.mysterium.com/boulet.html. Amazon offers this book: Shaman: The Paintings of Susan Seddon Boulet by Susan Seddon Boulet.

“Susan Seddon Boulet’s figures are out of our dreams, those that flee from us upon awakening, those which are dispersed like dew at dawn, those which fall apart between our fingers like dust-roses.” (Anais Nin)


“In my opinion this artist represents quality”

(RG note) A few artists simply wrote and gave the names of admired artists. To my knowledge no one submitted their own name or had someone submit it for them. Anyway, many of them have gone to the big studio in the sky. In most cases, if you’re interested, I’m sure you can find information on most of them by going to the search engine “google” and entering the name. Add the few names in the letters above and you have a limited but democratically produced list from the three days prior to February 22, 2001, 7pm PST — no one has been left out or artificially put in. Here they are in alphabetical order:

Ansel Adams
Greg Allan
Robert Bateman
Alexander Calder
Alvaro Castagnet
Edgar Degas
Jim Dine
Ignacio Iturria
Monica Lewinsky
Nita Leyland
Ruo Li
Tom Lynch
Frank Mason
Odd Nerdrum
Louise Nevelson
Georgia O’Keeffe
Janine Parsons
Pablo Picasso
Ron Pokrasso
Mary Pratt
Puvis de Chavannes
Thomas Eakins
Sandra Fletcher
Paul Georges
George Groz
Franz Gunther
John Hoyland
J A D Ingres
Robert Rauschenberg
Charles Reid
Christopher Ryland
J S Sargent
Egon Schiele
Stephen Quiller
Graham Sutherland
Mark Tansey
Fatima Tuggar
Nobuyasu Ueda
Jerry Uelsmann
Lynn Veitzer
Andrew Wyeth
Zhong Yang Huang


The gnomes of quality
by Torben G Olsen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Those gnomes of quality are the gnomes we all need to make our art superior. Some artist’s have a gnome of some sort sitting on their shoulder that encourages and advises them to raise their standards. You cannot rent or buy these gnomes. They come unbidden, sit for a while, and then, without notice, abandon you.


Advice on color
by Carol Hama Chang

Many artists nowadays are using a three color primary system in some of their work. I use this system with Italian made Maimeri, available in both oils (Classico) and watercolors (Maimeriblu) and, no, I do NOT work for Maimeri nor any art supply shop! I discovered Maimeri in Florence last summer when I was buying paint. Incidentally, art supplies are really reasonable in Italy! The three you need are:

#400 Blu Primario-Cyan
#116 Giallo Primario
#256 Rosso Primario-Magenta

The closest that Winsor & Newton (watercolours) comes is:

Winsor blue green shade
Winsor Yellow
Permanent Rose

These Maimeri colors are theoretically perfect triads and you can mix full chroma secondaries with them. You will not need this “warm and cool of each” business. They can mix all colors. They are great. No more multitudes of choices of separate colors! I find that mixing colors is so much easier with this combination as all three are translucent. If you try mine you will find that the oranges are brilliant… no need to buy Cadmium orange, also greens are vibrant and you can mix your very own viridian, no need to pay series 3 prices!! And the violets… breathtaking. The Quinacridone Rose is more brilliant than Alizarin Crimson, as it’s Cyan is more brilliant that Thalo blue so colors mixed with the more brilliant colors will yield more brilliant secondaries.


Fun principle
by Norman Sasowsky, Newark, DE, USA

After I retired from 40 years of instructing in art I wasn’t sure I could regain the sheer pleasure and excitement of making art. I still remember how it felt when, as a teenager I discovered I could make pictures, and I still carry some of those in my memory. Luckily, in the four years I’ve been retired I have been able to recapture a good deal of this. In more recent years I developed for myself the F.U.N. principle. Only do something if it is Fun, Useful, or Necessary.


The smell of the bar
Contributed by Virginia

Quote from a letter reportedly written to Barbara Walters:

“In my heart, I am very talented. At least, I think so when I compare myself to others … I actually see myself as a closet Sophia Loren who can paint and dance and knock any man’s socks off! But no one else knows this. My family has hints, but no real examples. I’m terrified of success … terrified someone will find out about what I know I can really do, and want to tell the world; and then the ‘world,’ reporters, etc., will want to know my background … everything … I am not prepared to share the beatings, the blood, the smell of the bar, dancing with strangers at five, etc., etc., etc. How, at 54, can I still stand up and be counted and eliminate the past and all that fear? Is there hope, when being without hope has become a lifestyle?”


You may be interested to know that artists from 77 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.

That includes Bonnie Staffel who remembers “The Brownie’s Book” illustrated by Palmer Cox in 1895.

And Fergal Dunstan of Hotmailland who claims that the genuine leprechauns at the bottom of his garden are all the inspiration he currently needs.

And Sara Sparks who treasures Rackham’s work in the Rubiyat of Omar Khyam.


If you have the time sometime, please take another look at The Resource of Art Quotations at Fifty new pages of inspiring quotations were added by volunteers last night. We are going to have to start breaking it up into volumes as it’s getting to be a bit too big. It’s by far the largest collection of art quotes anywhere. Quotes by artists, collected by artists. Searchable, too.



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