One of the things that make the Yale Little History series unique is that every book is accompanied by specially commissioned illustrations. Each set is created by a different artist-illustrator whose work enlivens the text and creates a unified aesthetic for the book. This editorial decision was inspired by the style and appearance of books in the 1930’s, when E. H. Gombrich was writing his Little History of the World. To celebrate the publication of the paperback edition of John Sutherland’s A Little History of Literature, YaleBooks takes a closer look at the work of illustrator Sarah Young, who created the pictures for this Little History.
Sarah is a printmaker, painter, designer, illustrator and sometime puppeteer who works from her studio on the South coast of England, printing out of the Inkspot Press. Following a Foundation Diploma at Reigate School of Art and Design, she studied Illustration at Brighton. Falling in love with the town, she decided to stay upon completion of her degree, finding busking work as a pavement artist before setting up a travelling puppet theatre with Jon Tutton. They toured many venues with their theatre while Sarah built up a portfolio of illustration work, also creating jewellery, toys and prints. Her work is often narrative, drawing on folk art and myth to create a whole haberdashery of objects. This approach has been incredibly successful: her work can be found at a range of galleries throughout the UK and she has been commissioned by a variety of prestigious publishers, with her cover artwork for Sylvia Plath’s Ariel being short listed for the V & A Illustration award in 2011.
Here is our interview with Sarah Young, in which she talks about her work and her experience of illustrating a Yale Little History:
Are there any particular artists who inspire your work?
Early influences were probably Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Picasso, and Eric Ravilious.
What was the first book you fell in love with?
Sorry I have a very bad memory, I did like the Narnia Chronicles and Greek myths.
How did you go about designing and creating illustrations for A Little History of Literature?
I wanted them to have a similar kind of spread and weight – but all to be quite different from one another. I think I did the designs based on a mixture of what appealed to me most as well as what might be most pertinent. They were supposed to be fairly bold – to fit in with the illustrations in the books in the same series. So I wanted them quite strong – not too fiddly – but hopefully fairly elegant. They are mostly linocuts
, scanned, with added wood textures and tones.
Dream Project? What book would you most like to be commissioned to illustrate?
I have recently read Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and I think that might be interesting. I am generally interested in myths and fairytales, and am trying at present to make time for a project along these lines. The last big children’s book was Greek Myths retold by Ann Turnbull and published by Walker Books, and that was a dream job and therefore quite daunting. I would hope to be more confident another time!
Do you have a personal connection to any of the stories your pictures illustrate in this book?
I think mostly it was a wonderful way of narrowing down books that I really should read! And I look forward to reading it again with that in mind. When very young I spent six weeks illustrating a very long scroll of The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan, only to find out it was a suggestion not compulsory! At school I was always asked to play or act characters like the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Bottom in Midsummer’s Nights Dream or Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest!
You have worked on a few books for children. Are you conscious of working differently when completing illustrations for children?
No – the last big one was really aimed , if aimed at all, at any age to hopefully enjoy.
Can you tell us about any projects you have worked on recently?
My most recent job has been on Michael Morpurgo’s last book
, doing black-and-white, small, simple designs for the first letter of each chapter. There has been a monthly illustration for Gardens Illustrated
this year. I am beginning a second lot of large silk screen portrait prints – the first, earlier this year, were Scrimshaw Sam and Mari Piscina, a tattooed sailor and a mermaid. I’m also working on designs based on British animals to go on a range of ceramics and textiles. Earlier this year I made a series of figures that were shown at Yorkshire Sculpture Park , and that has just ended.
Visit Sarah’s website and blog
Find out about the other Little History illustrators
Explore the full range of Yale Little Histories: