The Enchanted World of Eric Kincaid
12:29 23 May 2011
Artist Eric Kincaid cut his teeth on The Eagle and Goofy and illustrated classics like Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland. Helen Stiles enters his storybook world
(Many more photos below)
As I step into Eric Kincaids studio, in his pretty cottage in Iwerne Minster, it is evident that I am stepping into an enchanted world. On the drawing board is an exquisite illustration of Tinkerbell and on the table a golden turban with a huge ruby in it! Let me just move our panto costumes out of the way, says his wife, Angela, explaining that they are in the final rehearsal of a pantomime with MADS (Mere Amateur Dramatic Society). Eric, who has just celebrated his 80th birthday, is playing the Sultan or Sun Tan he tells me with a chuckle.
Eric is one of this countrys finest childrens book illustrators. His work is reminiscent of Arthur Rackham. Millions of children around the world have enjoyed his illustrated nursery rhymes, childrens verse, fairy tales, and storybooks. His titles have appeared in 14 languages, and worldwide sales exceed 8 million copies. As I look at the huge range of his books on the shelves I recognise many from my own childhood.
The inspiration to become an illustrator happened on Erics 8th birthday when he was given a book of Robin Hood adventures illustrated by HM Brock. When I saw Brocks black and white illustration depicting the death of Robin, the emotion he had put into that picture came through to me from the printed page and I was deeply moved. I knew then that was what I wanted to do with my life.
I worked on The Eagle, Bunty and Girls Crystal and television annuals like Mary, Mungo and Midge, Tales of the Riverbank, Hectors House and TV 21
Eric, who was born in Rotherhithe, studied at the Gravesend School of Art in Kent. Peter Blake was a fellow student and Quentin Crisp was one of their life models. My special area of study was illustrators from the turn of the 20th century, like Rackham, Dulac, Heath Robinson, Tenniel and Dore, Eric says. After five years he emerged with a diploma in Process Reproduction and Design. There then followed two years of National Service, after which he took a course in screen printing and worked as a silk screen printer. But all the time, I never lost sight of my ambition to be an illustrator of childrens books.
Eventually Eric got his first illustrating job in an advertising agency and then an artists agent found him some work as a comic strip artist. I worked on The Eagle, Bunty and Girls Crystal and television annuals like Mary, Mungo and Midge, Tales of the Riverbank, Hectors House and TV 21. I also illustrated the last complete episode of Dan Dare, though I didnt know it at the time. That was a great honour, he tells me with a smile.
Eric also realised a long-held dream when he did some work for Disney publications. I used to draw Mickey Mouse as a child and wanted to be an animator, so it was really exciting to illustrate Goofy and his friends. They sent me photostats of each character, with all the correct measurements. For example, Goofy always has three wrinkles in his nose and Mickeys ears are elliptical, not round. Then Disney asked him to do a double page illustration of Bambi and his father in the forest. They gave me an original cell of Bambi to copy, which was a real thrill.
My special area of study was illustrators from the turn of the 20th century, like Rackham, Dulac, Heath Robinson, Tenniel and Dore
Because he was known in the publishing world as a comic strip artist, Eric found it hard to get book publishers to consider him for illustration work. His break came with Brimax Books. They needed a replacement artist to finish a book of nursery rhymes, who could also meet the original deadline. Because I was used to hitting weekly deadlines with the comic strips I was able to do this. They took him on as a regular illustrator and gave him commissions for the next 30 years.
The shelves of his studio are full of reference books covering subjects such as historic costume, architecture, animals and armour, but like all illustrators Eric cant help looking at other illustrators work. When he was asked to illustrate Wind in the Willows, he found it hard to get the original drawings by EH Shepard out of his head. There is a scene where toad escapes from prison as a washerwoman and he is free, says Eric throwing his arms up in imitation of the jubilant Mr Toad. I did the illustration and thought it looks terribly familiar, so I bought the paperback and sure enough there it was, almost the same as Shepards version!
I got hold of a book of Lewis Carrolls photos of Alice Liddell on whom Alice is based. Everyone assumed she has blonde hair but in the photos she has brown hair
Erics version of Wind in the Willows, which he embarked on in the early eighties, was something of a labour of love. There are literally hundreds of pictures in the book. It takes me three or four days to complete a large illustration. For his illustrations Eric uses watercolour and gouache to give body to the colour. As I look at page after page of beautifully detailed images of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad, I was not surprised to discover it was a hugely popular publication.
When it came to illustrating Alice in Wonderland in the early nineties, Eric decided to follow a completely different route. I didnt want to be accused of doing a version of Tenniels famous drawings, so I got hold of a book of Lewis Carrolls photos of Alice Liddell on whom Alice is based. Everyone assumed she has blonde hair but in the photos she has brown hair and, typical of this period, her hairstyle was quite cropped. I decided I couldnt be that drastic, so I made her hair longer. The result is a much moodier looking Alice, one that you can imagine would get into trouble. She looks strikingly like a real little Victorian girl.
For Eric, the sixties and seventies were his golden years. As a freelance artist he would work from 7pm to 10pm or later, seven days a week, just to keep up with all the commissions he had. But gradually the way books were seen by publishers changed. Publishers today have a much shorter shelf life for their books, says Angela, who is also an illustrator. As a result, artists are not putting the amount of detail into their work. Erics work is very detailed; I think this is the last time you will see books that are so highly illustrated.
Once Upon a Time, an exhibition of Eric Kincaids work, is at The Art Stable, Child Okeford, near Blandford, from 30 April to 21 May. Open Wed-Sat 10am-3pm, 01258 863866 or the www.artstable.co.uk