This Folio Life: A Diary of Engraving Maigret
It can be easy to forget just how much work our illustrators put into our editions. We exclaim over the stunning final results, but the polished artwork hides days, weeks and often months of painstaking research and numerous drafts. We have commissioned acclaimed wood engraver Harry Brockway to illustrate a number of Folio titles, including limited editions. Here he shares an excerpt from his 2017 working diary, showing day-by-day how he took the illustrations for our new three-volume set of Maigret novels from rough concepts to finished engravings.
Tom Walker, Editorial Director
Over many years The Folio Society has been very supportive of my work and has offered me a number of opportunities to produce illustrations for classic books including Crime and Punishment, Frankenstein and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
This time I have been invited to illustrate three of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels. After some discussion, we decide that the job will amount to sixteen engravings in all. One engraving for the binding on all three books (75 x 100mm – to be enlarged I think), a full-page frontispiece (98mm x 159mm) for each book and four illustrations within the text of each book (98 x 75mm).
Folio supplied me with editions of all three books to read. I took them with me on holiday to read while staying in a shepherd’s hut in West Wales. The novels are not long and the weather was wet so I managed to get through all three.
Once all the sketches are done I have forty days, excluding weekends and the bank holiday, before the deadline. If I allow a couple of days to do the printing, that will leave me two days for each half-page engraving and four days for each frontispiece.
Start with a half-page engraving. It is vital to establish the style early on so I pick the simplest design I have.
I have to go back to some of my drawings and think of a way of obscuring our detective’s features. The Simenon estate has requested that he is not depicted in too much detail. Perhaps I can pull his hat down over his face or have clouds of pipe smoke around his head. Fortunately, I didn’t start with designs that included Maigret.
I have re-submitted my adjusted drawings and await comments. I think this restriction has actually improved the designs.
I have stopped using Tracedown transfer paper to transfer my designs onto a darkened block. I find the heavy chalky line too distracting. If I use a soft pencil (3B) that is enough. I do have to reinforce the lines as they start to fade but this gives me a chance to adjust a shape here and there as I go along.
I am starting to fret about one or two of my designs that are beginning to look a bit fussy.
The binding design is still not approved. I decide to scrap it and start again with another idea.
I have to take a day out to do a little letter-cutting job. It is good to have a break from Maigret.
At last I have the go-ahead on my adjusted designs and the new binding design.
I engrave the binding design, to proofing stage, in nine hours. I am pleased with it. Maigret’s face is mysteriously hidden beneath his hat and the swirls of smoke from his pipe. There is, not too obviously I hope, a question mark in the air over his head. Eighteen days left to the deadline. I must remember to allow for drying time once the blocks are printed before packing and posting.
There has been a request for images of me at work for The Folio Society website and social media. I tidy up a bit and rope my wife Rose in to assist with taking the photos.
Summer seems to be over and it is getting colder in my shed. I enjoyed engraving a net curtain today.
Spent all day engraving a dressing gown. I tend to return to the same ideas again and again. I have done dressing gowns and net curtains before.
Today I have to engrave a television – is it too big for the 1960s? Would Maigret be smoking his pipe at the dinner table? I am not too pleased with my engraving of the cutlery on the table. I should have moved on to another area and come back to it later when the solution would probably have been obvious. But instead I just kept noodling away – this is a mistake I make time and time again – will I never learn!
Saturday 16th September:
The Society of Wood Engravers picnic at Miles and Judy’s – always an inspiration.
I have had a proofing afternoon and I am relieved that there are no disasters.
I have been dreading this one – the image of the five inspectors. I will have to dive straight in and do their faces first as they are lit by the lamp on Maigret’s desk. I usually like to leave the features until last if possible.
I am falling behind schedule. The wind chimes next door are driving me mad. I have to turn Bill Evans up really loud on the CD player to drown out the racket.
The computer printer is broken so I cannot scan or copy. I have no time to sort out this unexpected problem. I have spent most of the day engraving fog.
Started Maigret in the restaurant this afternoon and I am quite pleased with my half empty (half full?) wine bottle.
Engraving Maigret at the cottage window today. I must try to make sure that the brim of his hat looks sharp and not floppy.
It is all getting very stipply and tonal and too slow. His hand is too big in my drawing so I have to adjust that on the block.
It is time to proof the second batch of blocks – seven in all. I must give myself time to consider them and do any cleaning up that is required before I take repro quality prints. Phew. I think they are going to be ok.
All the printing is done by lunchtime. I have bought a new printer so when they are dry I can scan them onto the computer and send them to Folio as well as posting repro copies.
Packed and in the post by lunchtime. Fingers crossed.
Written for the May publication of Multiples, the quarterly magazine from the Society of Wood Engravers, www.woodengravers.co.uk.
Our thanks go to Harry Brockway for contributing this blog. He uses a range of sculpting materials to create his art, including limestone, sandstone, slate, marble and wood. He has been a member of the Society of Wood Engravers since 1984, and has produced a significant body of work for Folio Society publications, including for Frankenstein (2004; 2015), The Vision of Piers the Plowman (2014) and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (2010; 2017).
View the new three-volume set of Maigret, illustrated by Harry Brockway.