A Fine Line: Scratchboard Illustrations

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A FINE LINE: SCRATCHBOARD ILLUSTRATIONS by Scott McKowen (Firefly), 207 pages, $49.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN

In these days of computerized drawings, it’s a treat to see a book like A Fine Line, featuring over 200 scratchboard illustrations by Scott McKowen, best known locally for his posters for the Shaw and Stratford festivals.[rssbreak]

Scratchboard is the opposite of traditional pen and ink drawings: a black layer of material covers a white layer, and the artist uses sharp tools to carve into it, revealing a white illustration that can then be coloured. The results resemble wood and steel engravings and often have a crosshatching effect.

This collection of McKowen’s work, theatre posters as well as book illustrations for classic texts and Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel 1602, is hugely attractive and often surprising: Macbeth covering his face with his open palms, casts an illusive crown’s shadow on the wall behind him Carroll’s Alice falls from the heights of a Victorian museum surrounded by dodos, playing cards, teapots and a white rabbit a series of inventive topiary images designed for the 1990 Shaw Festival.

Each illustration includes the artist’s thoughts on his process and decisions, while the book’s introduction is by the always articulate director Christopher Newton.

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