Illustrated Animal Alphabets…

I’m working on an animal illustrated A, B, C for my portfolio at the moment, so thought I’d share some of my favourite illustrated alphabets…

You find them everywhere, illustrated alphabets, from early 19th century examples with ornate lettering accompanying fine engravings, to modern graphic versions in children’s board books. The simple idea of using a illustrated image to bridge the gap between letters, sounds and objects is a vital learning tool for children, but the idea also provides an illustrator with the opportunity to create a kind of ready made collection of 26 illustrations. I’m particularly interested in animal illustrated alphabets, of course, seeing as I have a penchant for the four legged creature (or eight-legged, or no-legged for that matter), and there are some beautiful examples to be found. Especially those that vary slightly from the A for Alligator, B for Bird etc.

Erni Cabat’s Magical ABC Animals Around The Farm

I think this is supposed to be a children’s book, but the illustrations are so beautiful and original, I want a copy! These images are a bit small unfortunately as Erni Cabat’s work doesn’t seem to be that well known, or available on the internet…but I plan to get my hands on a copy of the book to have the whole gorgeous menagerie. I gather he was an American artist/illustrator and released a series of ‘Erni Cabat’s Magical…’ books in the late 80’s/early 90’s, but apart from that I can’t seem to find much more information. If anyone has any further knowledge, please let me know!?

X for foX, seriously!

O for Owl

Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet
I love Paul Thurlby‘s retro illustrated alphabet. It’s hard to choose just three letters to use in this post as they’re all pretty lovely. They have a really nice 50’s kind of feel about them and some use very clever visual tricks to merge the letter with the animal subject matter, such as the rabbit below. The words and subjects used to represent the letters are original too using lots of very active words, such as E for Embrace, B for Bounce and H for Hang.

The whole alphabet in all it’s retro glory

Edward Gorey’s ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’
So on a slightly different, darker slant the genius but macabre alphabet written and illustrated by Edward Gorey. I was bought this book as a present and at first thought it was a bit horrendous, but the detailed monochrome illustrations are fascinating, skilfully done and are a nicely dark take on an illustrated alphabet. The book follows the demise of every last one of the 26 Gashlycrumb Tinies, whose deaths are the result of everyday accidents such as ‘A is for Amy for fell down the stairs’ and ‘E is for Ernest who choked on a peach’. All illustrated with just what looks like pen and ink with amazing cross hatching and linear techniques. Below are some of my favourites…Poor Basil eh?


One for sorrow…

Here is my finished entry for the Cheltenham Illustration Awards 2012

'One for sorrow…'

detail of magpie against stormy sky

You can see more detailed close ups of the finished piece on my portfolio page here.

The illustration is my response to the CIA2012‘s theme ‘Tales of Magical Objects’, which asked for the entrants to use the fantastic Pitt Rivers Museum’s ‘Amulets and Charms’ collection as a starting point. I was also inspired by a previous visit to an exhibition called ‘Charmed Life’, held at the Welcome Trust, London. I have used the the magpie as focul point in the illustration – it being an important British symbol with strong connotations of magic, superstition and the power to bring bad or good luck. The magpie shares many of the characteristics as an amulet or charm with it’s reputation developed over years of folkloric storytelling and legend. As the old folklore rhyme goes ‘One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy’.

The final illustration depicts a single magpie surrounded by his collection of magical amulets and charms, which he has collected to ward off the sorrow he inevitably brings. The magpie’s nest sits in an oak tree, which is traditionally thought to be home to the Thunder God, hence the stormy sky brewing in the background.

‘One for sorrow…’ is a mixture of fine hand drawing in pen, watercolour and inky grounds and digital layering. I wanted the oak tree and background to play a big part in giving narrative to the illustration and creating a magical feel. Here’s a bit of developmental work to show the process…

Oak tree in development

acorns and oak leaves coming along

Textured background created with inks, watercolour and some pastel effects scanned in before editing

'One for sorrow…' developmental layout sketch

I’ve really relished the opportunity to work to this exciting brief, which really appealed to my illustrative style. Fingers crossed for the competition!

The wonders of cropping…

I’ve been doing some re-jiggling on my website, so its a bit easier to look at the individual illustrations.
As a result, here are some nice zoomed in crops from my range of greetings card illustrations. You can appreciate all the details a bit more. Enjoy.

detail of nest and mouse from 'new home mice'

detail of baby elephant from 'happy birthday elephants'

detail of giraffe with corsage from 'time to celebrate giraffe'

detail of dashing zebra from 'one of a kind zebras'

Loving Lesley Barnes

I really love Lesley Barnes’ funky illustrations… The bright colours and graphic geometric shapes combined with the folky subject matter results in really quirky style. I also love the expression on the knights face – is it just me or does it remind you of Little My from the Moomins…?


'Smiling Knight' design

Or maybe more like Snufkin (the most human looking one in the green jacket and yellow neckerchief – for those who aren’t clued up on Moomin knowledge!)

The Moomins – gotta love 'um!

Anyway – back to Lesley Barnes, here’s some more examples of her gorgeous work…

'Happy Lion/Sad Lion' greetings card design

'The Chase' a print from a series depicting the Russian folktale 'The Firebird'

'Kings of the Forest' wrapping paper

'Kings of the Forest' detail




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