Friday, November 2, 2012

Margaret Atwood and the Balbusso Twins

"You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up."—Margaret Atwood
Two of my great loves, Margaret Atwood's writing and fine art book illustration, come together in the Folio Society's new edition of The Handmaid's Tale, illustrated by the Balbusso twins. Winners of a Gold Award from The American Society of Illustrators, Anna and Elena are two sisters who live in Milan and collaborate on all of their design projects, which are stunning.
 "It’s like making a film" the twins told a Communication Arts interviewer about their process of creation. "After carefully reading the story, we select the scenes we want to illustrate. We choose interesting points and also balance the number of illustrations throughout the whole book. We always start by talking and imagining what we want the project to be. It helps us to look at a lot of paintings from the period we are illustrating – in all our work there is a clear reference to artists and paintings. We make detailed notes about the characters and the scene of each illustration then conduct preliminary historical research to understand how best to create the characters and setting."
Northanger Abbey cover (Black Cat); a well-deserved Gold Medal, Society of Illustrators, 2011

Scene from Ivan Turgenev's First Love for Folio.
"We collect all of the references for each illustration – artists and art, sketches, photos of people… then we begin the rough drawings.
We develop the idea through various different colour layouts and compositions until we achieve the desired effect. We work and rework the illustration until we have a detailed visual of the scene. We use graphite pencil on tracing paper then we digitise our sketch and then work in Photoshop.
 After this stage, we proceed with the finished illustration and start the process of colouring. We use mixed media, our visible brush strokes are all handmade not digital. First we paint each picture element separately (background, characters and objects) with black gouache and pencil on paper. Then we digitise them and use Photoshop to colour the image. The colouring process is very complex and has been developed after many years of experience. We always compare the CMYK colour against digital proofs to ensure colour accuracy. Our final illustrations are in a digital format."
The twins' take on E.T.A. Hoffman
If I was a writer of Atwood's caliber, I would be pretty darn excited to have a book illustrated by these gifted artists. Do check out their webpage, if you haven't already!
How about you? Who would be your fantasy illustrator? Edmund Dulac .... William Blake ... Barry Moser ... Arthur Rackham .... William Steig?

8 comments:

  1. those illustrations are perfect! they're beautiful and also still very apocalyptic looking! (don't ask me what that looks like...)

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    1. I think maybe you mean surreal.. The Jersey shore post-Sandy is apocalyptic. "Jersey Shore" is surreal.

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  2. Wow wow wow, these are gorgeous. I want!!

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  3. I checked out the Balbusso twins site, love the Eugene Onegin illustrations!!!

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  4. These truly are gorgeous!! I would actually love to have Sergio Aragones illustrate my novel (if it existed:). The Balbusso twins are certainly gifted, Atwood lucked out...

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  5. These are amazing illustrations!

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  6. The Balbusso twins--they have first names?--cleverly avoided controversy by omitting all identifying marks from the armies in The Song of Roland. What is left is an icon for ambush that conveys the ferocity of the attack.
    I like the complete change to the romantic in the illustration to the Turgenev work.

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    1. i had their names in a previous version but blogger froze up and I had to start over. One is Elena; the other may be Anna. I forget. mea culpa. BTW, what impressive detective work on the birds!

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