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Christopher Brown’s An Alphabet Of London by Merrell Publishers and a Fishink Blog Surprise !

October 19, 2012

Talented Illustrator Christopher Brown was born and bred in London. He studied at London’s Royal College of Art before going on to teach there as well as Liverpool School of Art and Central St Martins. He is well known as a printmaker, and specialises in linocuts. There’s a great book called ‘An Alphabet Of London’ by  Merell Publishers which celebrates his love of all things London.

Christopher begins with an amusing description of his childhood life growing up in Putney. He says ” It was at Harrods that I had my first haircut, at the age of two and a half, and I remember sitting on a rocking horse before my shearing. Harrods also had a pet department that was more akin to a small zoo; I haven’t been there for many years, but I can’t imagine that it still has the same exotic animals.”  The book takes us through Christopher’s linocuts in alphabetical form.  So we get to meet , on ‘G’ page, The Globe Theatre, the Gherkin, a Gin Drinker, the Great Fire of london, the Great Plague and Art treasures Gilbert and George. I smiled at the quirky additions throughout the book, like the Beatles striding across Abbey Road and Mary Poppins floating down with her umbrella. Both linocuts on their respective alphabetical pages of course !

The book took over four months of solid work. With Christopher constantly travelling across London, making sketches of the buildings and sites he wanted to include in the publication. It’s fascinating in the book to see how he creates his linocuts from his initial sketches. There are some lovely details and memories alongside his collection of colourful illustrations too.

Christopher was lucky enough to assist one of the masters of the linocut Edward Bawden after studying at the R.C.A. In fact it was Bawden who encouraged Christopher to work with lino in the first place ! In a chapter entitled ‘Working In London’, Christopher describes his work, and the process involved in creating his characteristic prints.

I recently caught up with Christopher and asked him some questions.

What were the first ideas you had for lino-cuts, that you knew, just had to be included in the book ?
One would have been Flanagan and Allen (under U for Underneath the Arches), they are so London and remind me of my dear old dad who really enjoyed their song.  Another would have been Victoria in her Veteran car. Again a memory of my dad who every year took me to watch the London to Brighton car run.  Of course Victoria is my bit of whimsy.

From other people’s suggestions for alphabetic inclusions, which ones did you find most fun to illustrate ?
Angela Barrett suggested Johnson’s cat Hodge – I’d forgotten all about the statute of him, and David Ivie said I should include the memorial to Flight Sub Lieutenant Alexander Warneford in Brompton Cemetery (Z is for Zeppelin)

I imagine humour plays an important role in your life as it’s so apparent in you work. Was it also essential for you to include it in the book, rather than do a more formal study of London’s architectural sites and features ?
It does, the work my be humorous but it’s done with serious intent. The Alphabet stretched me, I don’t usually draw buildings but I wanted to stretch myself and I couldn’t resist putting in some narrative within the images; a gentle humour I would like to think.

Can you tell me any more about your memories of working with Edward Bawden ?
They are so many, I’m hoping to include those of my trip to Cornwall with him in the new book.  But one might be when we printed the image of Saffron Walden Church together.  A very large print consisting of several blocks. Too big to use the Albion so, it had to be printed by foot in his studio. The blocks were inked the paper dually laid down then we gently “danced” to transfer the ink to paper this must have appeared very strange to builders who where working on a property at the back of his house, an old man and a relatively young one jigging around together. I regret I didn’t accept his offer of one of the prints but I couldn’t have afforded to have it framed, instead he gave me two of the Aesop’s Fables.

Your next plan is for a book of linocuts of England, can you give us any sneaky views of this developing work, ideas or inclusions etc ?
It will follow a similar format to an An Alphabet of London but it’s a bigger book 192 pages so will include not only places but also subjects/themes.  I keep changing my  mind!  However, some do appear fixed but my problem is I really feel the need to travel to see and sketch.  I can’t rely on other peoples photos and however cursory my sketches might be they allow far more freedom to make interesting cuts. I don’t want it to become “theme park” England so I’m trying to make sure the modern is well represented. So far I’ve completed spreads for P is for Pottery P is for Poets and and now working on B is for Beer. Each spread with the main coloured image of a place will also have about 300 words written about the subject but I’m not describing my chosen images but recalling my memories which will be mostly from childhood. There will be 26 characters walking through the book but they will all be of “real” people in the previous book many were “types”. These are always changing though Z doesn’t give me many choices. One place I do want to include is Caerhays Castle in Cornwall I spent two very happy weeks sketching with Edward there.

The Alphabet Of London is a lovely keepsake and would be an ideal gift for anyone wanting to recall the days of old London town or alternatively the modern day tourist. It has something for everyone. Christopher kindly sent us a sneaky preview of two of his brand new linocuts. A teapot and a scene from the Rovers Return, both will be featured in his new book about England. Many thanks for that and for taking the time to write something especially for the readers at Fishink Blog. Much appreciated.

Footnote…

I was talking to Christopher about this blog piece yesterday, and happened to mention that in growing up on the wirral, Liverpool became my ‘stomping ground’ as a teenager in the 1980’s. Lo and behold in the post today, I received this little surprise.

and if you look carefully you can make out what he’d written underneath. What a generous gift !

You can purchase many of Christopher’s earlier charming prints on the St Jude’s Website here.  I can’t wait to see which bit’s of England will make the new book.

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This was the second day I’d had a large grin on my face because on wednesday I received a tweet from an online website The Good Web Guide.

Apparently one of my artistic heroes at the moment Mark Hearld, whom you may have seen me mention on here from time to time (wink) had said that this was one of his favourite sites. His words were, ” The internet is a wonderfully rich resource, but I have to confess that I feel more at home on the bookshelves. The Fishink Blog provides a fantastic overview of illustrated material, graphic pattern-making and textiles. A great place to discover out-of-the-way illustrators from across the Atlantic who might ultimately find their way onto your bookshelves.”

Thanks Mark and I couldn’t agree more. I’ll have to mind my p’s and q’s now I know who’s reading : )

I came across some Owl’s of his in Manchester City Art Gallery the other day, which reminded me too. Or should that be twit twooo ! (groan).

Just to let you know that Mark Hearld’s Work Book is due out next week, on the 26th October. You can find a post about it here.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Wallace permalink
    October 19, 2012 10:43 am

    Enjoyed reading this piece, thanks. Maybe I should start sketching so I have an excuse to travel more!

  2. October 19, 2012 11:04 am

    Lol looking forward to seeing your Munich sketches this christmas then : )

  3. November 11, 2014 12:01 pm

    This really does highlight all the greatest things about London! Beautiful illustrations and a marvellous idea.

    • November 11, 2014 1:14 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Chris does manage to somehow capture all aspects of this fab capital

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