Lino-cut and wood-cut are both techniques for making striking, graphic illustrations with bold colour contrasts and simple geometric shapes and lines. I personally love this type of illustration and it works particularly well on book covers or cards, wildlife is a common subject for both cutting techniques; birds, landscapes, trees and other animals are great subjects for this style. A lot of publishers have utilized this style for the cover design of books in recent years; especially books on nature, I own a few such books which are fairly good examples of this medium.
Firstly there are these two related books, both illustrated by the same artist; Paul Catherall. They are both by the same author and are both popular science books on the subjects of clouds and waves (not just sea-waves!), what I love about the cover illustrations for both of these is how striking they are, even from a distance, with unusual colours and bold shapes. I have always maintained that books are much like food – the first bite is with the eye, though I do not judge a book by it’s cover I find that a good cover design shows that the publishers are really behind the book and keen to make it successful – lazy designs often indicate a dull book (not always though). The artwork on these covers does a great job in attracting your eye to the book, it intrigues you and tells you what the book is about, as well as showing that it is a quality publication. What is even better is that each chapter heading in both books is accompanied by a full-page wood-cut; though these are actually by a different artist, they are quite brilliant and add to the whole books appeal.
Next up is a slim volume published by Penguin, it is not nature-related but is instead an ancient Norse epic saga relating to the tale of Sigurd and his relatives, this story is truly old and has inspired many other tales including Wagner’s ring of the Nibelung which I talked about in my last post and more famously J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. What elevates this book above others though is the psychedelic print by Petra Börner on the front cover depicting the dragon Fafnir in his cave of treasure; great colours and a great design harking back to the old depictions of fanciful ‘Wyrms’.
These next two are both books on nature and both hardbacks with lino-cut designs; ‘The Hedgerows Heaped with May’ has an illustration by Robert Gillmor, while the ‘On Nature’ front cover is made up of a collection of smaller illustrations found inside the book by the artist Jon McNaught. Both are quite different styles, Gillmor has opted for a colourful, complex picture that is almost photographically accurate yet also rather stylistic with block colours and shapes. McNaught on the other hand has done some rather nice little pieces that are very stylized, with no colour – only different shades, they are pleasing to the eye and made up of simple, geometric shapes and lines.
Next are two books by the same author and with illustrations by the same illustrator – Robert Gillmor, whom I just mentioned, he is after all a successful and popular artist who specializes in lino-cuts. These are both books about birds and so feature truly marvelous lino-prints of birds in their habitat, once again they are very realistic and accurately portrayed yet maintain a great strong style thanks to this medium. The colours are bright and flat, which suits this medium very well, the composition of both is really good and I would love to have these framed on my wall, these are very nice examples of a skilled artists work.
Finally I want to show you what must be a masterclass in wood & lino-cuts, this is a thin little book containing a poem by Rudyard Kipling – ‘The Shipwright’s Trade’ and accompanied by many wonderful illustrations by James Dodds. Once again the colours are few; just black and pastel-green, the images show a great knowledge and love of the subject and capture the atmosphere and simple delight in such an ancient and skilled craft. There is a great contrast between the accurately realised boats and tools and the very stylized humans that appear rather rounded and fleshy. The use of just two different colours allows for a clever over-lapping of each colour layer that adds depth and complexity to what might otherwise have been a rather two-dimensional picture.
I am sure there are many more fantastic examples of lino or wood-cut book covers and I cannot do them justice here, if you yourself have any striking print design books then please share them or recommend them in the comments section or contact me.