The great folks at Flying Eye sent me this book a while back, and I’ve been staring at it for weeks. Months. It’s enchanting. And simple. And complex. And a huge restoration effort, which was a bit mind-blowing to understand. That’s why I consulted the experts.
But if you don’t know Dahlov Ipcar and her bright body of work, check this out first:
Because her original plates were lost long ago, Flying Eye figured out a way to bring this story to many new readers. It’s remarkable. Here’s my conversation with Sam Arthur, Flying Eye’s Managing Director. And of course, some really beautiful art. (Click any of the images to enlarge.)
Can you describe the original way the art was created? I understand it to be color separated plates, but is that the best way to describe it? Sort of like a silkscreen process?
The original separations would have been created on drafting film or trace paper. In this way the process is very similar to preparing artwork for a silkscreen process. The main difference being that offset lithography allows for subtler more detailed textures than most screen printing processes as the ‘screen’ (meaning dots that make up the image – also known as half tone) is made up with smaller dots. I think Dahlov made her original artwork using mixed media, collage, pastel brush and wash.
So the original art was unavailable, I assume? Can you describe the steps in the process to remaster the work?
The original artwork had been lost over the years, so our challenge was to recreate the new book using artwork from finished books that were from the original print runs (printed in the early 60s). All of the information we required was in these books. Most publishers would have simply scanned the images and printed them using standard CMYK reproduction (a composite image made up of dots using cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Our intentions were different, we wanted to produce the book in the same way as the original, which used 4 different special spot colours (or Pantone colours as they are now called).
In order to reproduce the book using the original printing technique, we had to recreate the original separations from the flattened, printed artwork. That was the tricky bit, we had to scan the artwork at very high resolution and then using photoshop un-pick the colours and put them into separate layers. The difficult thing is where the colours overlap each other, sometimes it’s difficult to see and it helps to have the original book to hand. So in the end the process uses photoshop selection tools, but also hand retouching. It’s a skilled job.
How many people worked on this? How long did it take and how long was it in the works?
The first book we did was The Wonderful Egg and it took 5 weeks to complete all of the images. There were two of us working on it, but we had a tight schedule and when it came to working on I Like Animals we had to call on three others to help us meet our deadline.
Was the way color was printed in the 1950s and 1960s drastically different from today? How?
In the 50s and 60s most of children’s books that were illustrated were printed using separations created by the illustrator. As time went on and technology improved illustrator’s artwork would be photographed and translated into CMYK separations using a photographic process. In the early days presumably this process was more expensive than simply asking illustrators to provide their own separations. Many children’s books also had a 4/2 colour scheme – meaning half of the book would include 4 colour images and the other half would have 2 colour images. This would save money in the printing process and also give the illustrator slightly less work to do on the 2 colour images. It does give these books a nice rhythm as you turn the pages. It was a practical consideration that has fed into the aesthetic, that’s quite interesting in itself.
I’m curious if you got any backlash for republishing something with incorrect factual information? As a reader (and a librarian!) I love the choice, and see such value in preserving a particularly lovely era in picture books, but I wonder if you received any negative feedback. (Hope not.)
We have had a few comments, not really negative ones, more observations of the change in thought on the origin of dinosaurs etc. I think most people realise quickly that it’s an old title, so there is different kind of appeal when reading it. Also as I stated above the key story behind the egg, is still relevant in today’s thinking.
Why did you all decide to remaster this book, and are there plans for others as well? (We are thankful and we are hopeful, too!)
We decided to remaster this book as it felt quite contemporary in its treatment of the subject matter even though knowledge of the subject has changed, but the key message is still widely accepted in palaeontology. The illustrations are beautiful and we wanted to Dahlov’s this work to a new generation. This year we also released her book I Like Animals, next year we will be re-publishing Black & White and Wild & Tame Animals also by Dahlov Ipcar.
Cool, right? What a legacy! Big thanks to Flying Eye for gathering us all around the campfire in celebration of great stories.
And speaking of color separations, check out this post at Seven Impossible Things for a look at how Jonathan Bean is doing the same thing in a contemporary picture book. Unreal. But very real, which is the great news.
Thanks to the folks at Flying Eye (Tucker, Sam, and Emily!) for the images in this post. I received a copy of The Wonderful Egg, but all thoughts are my own.