Saturday, August 20, 2016

Somewhere in Surrey

Illustration of the month: by S R Badmin

A post about the illustrator S R Badmin by Peter Ashley of Unmitigated England reminded me that I’d not uploaded an Illustration of the Month recently, and that I had an illustration I particularly wanted to share. It’s the artwork that represents Surrey in the old Shell and BP Guide to Britain (1964); in a slightly expanded version it also adorns the cover of one of the Shell Shilling Guides to the county, part of a series of short guide books – booklets really – designed to distill the essence of a county and present its highlights, in the interests of people getting in their cars to explore, using Shell petrol to get them there.

S R Badmin was one of the mid-century’s best illustrators of places, and one of the best artists of all for trees. Buildings frequently feature in his work, often in typical local styles that make them effective markers of location. His Shell and Picture Puffin books on trees have beautiful illustrations – many thousands of people must have learned the difference between oak and ash from his artwork.* Another favourite is Village and Town, a Picture Puffin he did showing different styles of local architecture, which I’ve mentioned before on this blog.

The Surrey image brings together a beautiful wooden landscape in the Surrey hill county with a good-sized house in the rural tradition of southeast England – red tiles on the roof, more red tiles hanging on the walls, white-painted window frames with small panes of glass. Badmin’s fine brush also pictures a domestic scene: a small girl runs to greet her arriving father who, hatted and briefcase-carrying, has just got home from the office. His wife, holding a trug and dressed in trousers, is also welcoming him – she has been gardening and has no doubt heard the car pulling up.

The composition is striking: although the view is unmistakably English, there’s something rather Japanese about the way it's laid out –  the way the tree trunk slices through the right foreground, echoed by some other trunks slightly further back, including straight pines and bendy silver birches. They lead the eye to the house, but also to the far distance, where successive layers of wooded hill country recede towards the far horizon. As usual with Badmin, there’s platy of detail to enjoy – plants and roots on the woodland floor, a National Trust sign, and, best of all, at the very top right, a perching bird surveying the scene. He’s a bit indistinct, this bird, and seems to have a pigeon shape but a bit of speckle to his feathers. Badmin was not an ornithological specialist (neither am I) so perhaps he’s just ‘a bird’, put there to stand for the viewer, taking in this very local scene, this typical bit of architecture, and a fleeting moment in a family’s day.

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* The illustrations in the Shell Guide to Trees and Shrubs were also used for a series 12 outstanding tree posters, produced by Shell for use in schools; collectors seek these out on eBay.

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