For the last couple of years I have been working with Wentworth puzzles, makers of quality wooden jigsaws. This spring they have chosen my rabbits design to feature on one of their puzzles. Each puzzle is contained within a sturdy box, inside the box is a fabric drawstring bag holding an amazing array of different shaped pieces.
This puzzle contains specially themed shapes called 'Whimsy" pieces. There is a rabbit shaped piece, a lamb, a butterfly and many more. You can find the puzzles here on the Wentworth site. They are not cheap but they are a quality product and one meant to last. I think they make a good alternative to chocolate eggs which can be more style over substance and like all jigsaws they are good for sharing.
We have been making the most of the mild spring weather, walking the dog and wild flower spotting. Today was no exception, the fields were alive with birds nest building, queen bumblebees looking for new homes and primroses, marsh marigolds and pussy willows all competing for attention. It does the heart good!
I have on my bookcase, nestling between the works of Gennady Spirin and Cicely Mary Barker, a small collection of sumptuously illustrated books by another gifted illustrator of equal stature by the name of Frances Tyrrell. She is one of those artists whose work deserves to be more widely known, so I decided to invite her round for a cuppa for a chance to get to know her a little better. We hope you will join us.
How do you take your tea and in what kind of cup do you like it served?
Thank you so much for inviting me. Hot, milky and sweet is how I like my tea please, and in a bone china mug or a cup and saucer – perhaps one of those beautiful mugs with a Valerie Greeley design?.
( Blushes, I did not pay her to say that! )
If you could choose anyone, past, present or future, who would be joining us for tea?
William Morris, to humbly hear whatever he would care to say about art, design, nature, literature and inspiration. If it were possible to invite one or two more I would include Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen, and I would love to have tea with Charles Kingsley too, and ask him for a story.
Will you tell us a little about your background in art and design?
I grew up with beautifully illustrated books in the house, second-hand volumes that my mother collected. I remember in particular a gorgeous edition of The Idylls of the Kings, and a charming nursery rhyme book from the 1920's, all of which fired my appreciation for design, detail and romance. I took fine arts at university but had to learn the illustrators' trade in the field, first with a major greeting card company and then with book publishers here and abroad.
Where are you based and does it influence your work?
Oakville, Ontario is my home, and my house and upstairs studio are just a block up the street from the lake. I have always lived in suburbs, with sidewalks on the one hand and on the other a glimpse of fairyland in nearby woods and fields. The long winters here can seem straight out of Hans Anderson's Snow Queen. As a youngster I was enchanted by the beautiful, complex frost patterns on windows and, like Anderson's Kay and Gerda, would press a heated coin into the frost to make a peephole. I still try to capture the magic of those sweeping snows and gardens of ice in my paintings.
What have you been doing/working on today?
Fairies and more fairies, as I prepare for an art show coming up in June, to coincide with International Fairy Day on June 24. Today I am sketching a fairy wedding, with a bride and groom and their attendants and a confetti of flower petals. This is the untidy stage, getting everyone lined up and properly dressed! The fairy wedding is part of the next Illustrated Fairy Gazette, the 6th in our series of miniature hand made fairy-to-fairy publications.
( Believe me, these hand made publications are exquisite, I bought a series a few years ago.)
I hope that you have brought along something wonderful to show us, what is it?
After the wedding the happy couple, fairy royalty, make their royal progress in this water lily carriage, inspired by the story of Thumbelina..
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat over a cuppa, albeit a virtual one.
I am sure that everyone enjoyed that interview and if you would like to learn more about Frances and her work you can visit her website here.
Frances also has a blog called Treasure Seekers Studio
an Etsy shop
Frances also has a very gifted mother called Avril Tyrrell who writes her stories, lucky lady!
A few weeks ago we decided to visit an exhibition of wood engravings in Manchester at the Special Collections Gallery in the Sir Kenneth Green Library at M.M.U. I studied at this university in the seventies and have very fond memories of the library although this actual building did not exist then. The exhibition, “The Best Tools, the Best Methods, the Best Aims” is on until the 23rd March and full details can be found here.
This exhibition celebrates the work of the Society of Wood Engravers (SWE) and includes material from the Society's archives from its foundation in 1920 and traces its development up to the present day. I was particularly drawn to the work of John Farleigh and to one book in particular “The Adventures Of The Black Girl In Search For Her God” by George Bernard Shaw with illustrations by John Farleigh. Until a few weeks ago I had heard neither of the book or the engraver, by coincidence a friend of mine had the book on her shelves and I fell in love with it at first sight. I was so smitten with the decorative engraved patterns that I decided to track down a copy. It seemed fortuitous that the exhibition had the work on show.
The book has the most beautiful endpapers (see top) and both the design and the quality of engraving are superb. I love the way the figure appears almost as a negative shape, the eyes being first dawn to the foliage. The back cover has a marvelous design featuring a figure and a crocodile. If you want to learn more about the craft of wood engraving you might like to follow this link where you can see “Engraving on Wood” by John Farleigh is a digitized version of the book, which you can thumb through at your leisure. You can read more about how he created the pattern and the method he used to engrave the block.
The exhibition is very inspiring and informative and made me want to play around with a few new ideas. I decided to see if I could translate one of my wood engravings into a design for patterned papers. The snowflake motif was first engraved and then printed and the resulting print scanned into Photoshop. I used this to work out a repeat in both positive and negative and have printed several sheets to use in bookbinding projects.
In 1981 Blackie Children’s Books Ltd published a set of four wordless board books for babies, one of them featured a hamster on the cover. The title of the book was “Pets” ISBN 0216909821. The cover featured my illustration of a hamster and included my name Valerie Greeley and the title “Pets”. The books did very well and sold co-editions in America and Europe, in the USA they were published by Peter Bedrick.
Many years later a friend notified me that he had seem a satirized version of my book cover on a joke website. The title “Pets” had been digitally removed and the title “Pop goes the Hamster and other fun microwave games” added, my name and artwork remained. The website was a humorous site aimed at students and young people, the page in question listed many fake/altered titles of children’s books. I remember being rather bemused at the time and worried that people would think it was an actual book, I think I emailed the site owner at the time and then got on with my life. If I had understood the nature of the Internet and could have foreseen the development of social media sites I would have been a little more vigorous in my attempt to have it taken down.
Since then the spoof image has appeared on very many joke websites but even more worryingly has been Facebooked, Tumbled, Tweeted and Pinned without any reference to the fact that this is an unauthorized fake book cover. In short it has gone viral and despite sending out numerous DMCA notices I have been unable to stop it.
So, if anyone reaches this page by searching for some clarification please rest assured that “Pop goes the Hamster and other fun microwave games” is a fake/spoof altered image and is absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with me!
Both of our hamsters, Frisbee and Chuck, lived long and happy lives and died of natural causes.