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Evaline Ness American Mid Century Illustrator Part 2

February 20, 2023

Welcome back to part 2 of my post about the life and work of Evaline Ness (April 24, 1911 – August 12, 1986). Please look back one post to see part 1.

Evaline was noted for her ability to work in a variety of media and her innovative and unique illustrations that interweaved text and pictures to create a story that captured a young child’s attention and imagination.

This talent is especially evident in her own written works with their girl protagonists and subtle stories that have a backdrop of ‘feminism’ and present ‘real’ characters learning about all of life’s pleasures, problems, and pains. Because printer’s ink is flat, Evalines’ constant concern was how to get texture into that flatness. The primary challenge in illustrating children’s books, she believed, was how to maintain freedom within limitation. Some of the techniques she has used to combat these limitations include woodcut, serigraphy, rubber-roller technique, ink splattering, and sometimes spitting.

Her first illustrations for publication in a children’s book were for Story of Ophelia by Mary J. Gibbons (Doubleday, April 1954) —using “charcoal, crayon, ink, pencil and tempera”. Not, I feel, her finest hour illustration-wise !

Kirkus Reviews said, “Evaline Ness’ colour pictures of elongated, human-looking animals express in their flimsiness, a searching quality.”

Evaline considers her illustration career to have officially begun in 1957 when Mary Cosgrove, editor at Houghton Mifflin, approached her with the manuscript for The Bridge by Charlton Ogburn. Jr. Originally, Ness refused the offer, thinking the profit would not produce enough income for her to live on. Cosgrove persisted and eventually Evaline agreed. She used offset printing techniques for the production of The Bridge. Ness pushed her silkscreen illustrations beyond the page margins and integrated text outside strict boundaries. The Bridge received much acclaim and Ness decided to leave commercial illustration and only focus on book illustration. In the following years, Ness’s use of mixed media and experimental materials garnered accumulated attention from a wide audience.

According to Charles Bayless at the bookshop Through the Magic Door, the 1960s were a time of experiment in illustration for children, with some fashion for “drawings with sharp, angular figures, muted colors and representational or cartoon-like styles”, which helped Evaline to thrive. “Macaroon” from 1962 shows this to be true.

The first story Evaline both wrote and illustrated was “Josefina February” (Scribners, 1963), after visiting Haiti for one year. It was set in Haiti, about a girl’s search for a lost burro, with a series of woodcuts.

Evaline was known for her variety of styles and techniques in her artwork.

Look at the many different styles here in some examples from her illustrations.

There’s a rich diversity in her work, perhaps that helped make her art so desireable to publishers.

I still am really drawn to the more simplistic two or three colour work.

Here’s a few examples of her magazine work from the early fifties.

Her three Caldecott Honor Books were published 1963 to 1965: All in the Morning Early by Sorche Nic Leodhas, A Pocketful of Cricket by Rebecca Caudill, and Tom Tit Tot: An English Folk Tale retold by Virginia Haviland.  She herself wrote the Caldecott-winning Sam, Bangs and Moonshine (1966), about a fisherman’s daughter, illustrated with line and wash drawings. “Sam” (Samantha) tells lies or “moonshine”, which finally endanger her pet cat “Bangs” and a neighbor boy; she learns responsibility for what she says. (see post 1 for illustrations).

Late in life Evaline experimented with cut-out colouring books such as Four Rooms From The Metropolitan Museum of Art To Cut Out and Color (1977).

Her last illustrated book was The Hand-Me-Down Doll by Steven Kroll (1983) —using pencil, watercolor, ink and charcoal.

Evaline died in 1986 in Kingston, New York, then a resident of Palm Beach, Florida. What a colourful life and a talented artist.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2023 12:46 pm

    wonderful stuff. Thanks for showing us!…

  2. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia permalink
    February 20, 2023 1:16 pm

    As a book obsessed kid growing up in the late 60s and 70s, I certainly remember Eveline’s work very fondly – she was prolific! I look at her subtle and sensitive drawings now, and they make me yearn for the days when children’s book illustrations weren’t rendered lifeless by photoshop, The gestural brushstrokes, the shading done with finger tips dusted with charcoal – all these deft touches are to be found in her work – and they are a delight to discover again. Thank you, Craig!

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