If you love picture books, both old and new, as much as I do, you may be happy to know that Flying Eye Books has released a newly-restored picture book written and illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar. Even if you’re not familiar with Ipcar’s work, what’s particularly exciting here is the restoration itself.
But let me back up a bit….
Ipcar is an American author-illustrator, born in 1917 and still painting on her farm in Maine, where she has lived for decades. In her award-winning career, she’s written and illustrated more than 30 picture books. Flying Eye Books has re-mastered one of her books from the original edition, set to be released in mid-April. It’s called I Like Animals and was originally published in 1960.
This is the simple tale of one child’s declaration that he loves animals, which will please the animal-loving children in your life, the ones who wish for their own zoo or a log cabin in the woods for spotting wildlife. Spread after spread documents his passion for animals of all types—wild ones, domesticated ones, and animals of both the land and sky. One day he dreams of having a zoo or pet shop. Perhaps he’ll be a farmer or woodsman. For now, he has to settle for five goldfish, two turtles, two dogs, a salamander, a parakeet, three cats, a mouse, a June bug, and a frog.
And the results of this artwork restoration are beautiful. I was eager to hear more about it and got some more information from Alex Spiro, Creative Director at Nobrow (of which Flying Eye Books is an imprint). As Spiro notes, the folks at Flying Eye “love the book as object,” so their care in re-mastering the artwork was detailed.
Since they had no original acetate color separations, they started by taking apart first editions of the books at the binding “very carefully so as not to damage the artwork.” Each spread was scanned at 12,000 dpi with a flatbed scanner. Then the artwork was picked apart by hand from these scans—no kidding—to recreate the original color separations.
“The way the original books were printed,” Spiro explains, “is very similar to the silkscreen process, where individual overlapping colors produce secondary and tertiary colors. So what we had to do was to recreate the original separated colors before they were all mixed up in the printing process. That even meant, in some cases, re-drawing parts of the illustrations where the color information was not able to be retrieved. In most cases, it meant working with photographic levels and color selections to isolate colors within the image before then separating them out of the scanned image, only to then completely reassemble them in the printing process. It’s certainly a mouthful, but it is a complicated process, not dissimilar to unraveling the under-drawings in Renaissance paintings, then using those same under-drawings to re-paint the pictures.”
Still with me? Did I mention I’m a huge picture book and illustration fan—and that you probably are too, if you’re still reading this? It’s mighty impressive, their dedication to the restoration. “Ultimately, it was a question of doing adequate justice to Dahlov’s amazing art,” Spiro added. “It was not enough for us to merely scan and reprint the book in CMYK [this refers to the four inks used in some color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black]; we had to reproduce the books exactly as they existed in the 1950s in spot colors. We love print, we love beauty and craft, and we love Dahlov’s work. We did this because it mattered.”
I figure fellow picture books fans may appreciate this as much as the book’s protagonist would appreciate a free membership to the zoo.
It’s still relatively early in the year, as many of us wait to see what 2014 will bring us in the realm of brand-new picture books, but as we wait to see new titles, I’m glad to see publishers like this, restoring older books with such passion and attention—taking gentle care, that is, of our rich picture book heritage.
I LIKE ANIMALS. All artwork, characters and text are © 1960 Dahlov Ipcar. © 2014 edition Flying Eye Books. Spread reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.