Travel | Diary of a Somebody

Kit Kemp

On the pleasures of becoming engrossed in fairytale illustrations

Kit Kemp

November 19 2011
Kit Kemp

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I have four boxes of hellebores sitting in the boot of my car waiting to go down to the country this evening. I will plant them in leaf mould in a shady part of the garden under trees tomorrow. It feels cold and damp, the time of year when people would have been sitting around log fires and reading stories to one another in the olden days.

I absolutely love original illustrations that go with fairy stories. I never tire of studying the painstaking detail of work by the likes of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, and Patten Wilson. Wilson, who was employed by Messrs Lane to decorate book covers and title pages, also completed the Keynote Series for the firm after Beardsley’s dismissal. I have a few of his romantic illustrations. One is of a proud knight returning from battle along a rocky road with a fair maiden picking a posy under a gnarled tree. You can imagine the story. Framing is important – I like to frame in such a way that the illustration looks more striking and it stands its ground in a room. It seems I am not the only person to appreciate fairy stories – as Mae West once said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

There are a few dealers who specialise in storybook illustration. My favourite is Campbell Wilson. They send me catalogues several times a year, but my opportunity to view their collection is always at the winter Olympia International Fine Art & Antiques Fair. I can’t wait to go this weekend. They also show beautiful pre-Raphaelite work, something that has recently inspired me for the little embroidery collection I am putting together. I have called it Mythical Beasts.

Apart from the embroidery collection, I am designing fabrics and rugs for Christopher Farr. We are at the stage when strike-offs are returning to the studio, and I can see what errors we have made and when the colours are not combining well. There is always a time lag as the rugs are made in Turkey, luckily not in the area of the recent earthquakes. It must be frightening to feel the ground shake beneath your feet. We have regular meetings to keep the momentum going. Each time a new idea takes shape, it is at a very interesting stage. I just hope it works.

I returned to the office via the opticians as I have lost yet another pair of glasses. If I don’t sit on them, the dog eats them or they just disappear. There are some amazing frames now. Shall I have them in the style of Edna Everage, Courrèges, John Lennon, or maybe, for fun, butterfly wings? The selection is fabulously endless.

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