From an artist’s point of view, Cathryn Falwell’s latest book, Gobble Gobble, is actually two books. In other words, twice as much work! Cathryn is well known as a children’s book illustrator. She has illustrated 25 books, most of which she has also written. She’s not a newcomer who somehow stumbled into doubling her work.
Every one of those 25 books is a collage. That’s Cathryn’s specialty, her signature style. Look closely and you will see not only cut paper but also leaves, birch bark, and even bits of wasp nest. But when she considered the subject matter of this book — wild turkeys — “the turkeys themselves almost look like they are made up of fine lines,” she says. “The details of their bodies and feathers have a drawing quality needing lines. Other artists might draw those lines with pen and ink, but that’s not a medium I use.”
So Cathryn decided to combine her collage with a woodcut style. It’s something she knew how to do quite well, as she was a printmaking major in college at the University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts, mostly doing stone lithography – the technique made famous by Currier & Ives. Back in the ‘70s when Cathryn was in college she really wanted to study illustration, “but illustration was not in vogue at all back then, and there was no such thing as an illustration major.” Printmaking was the next best thing.
“I’ve always wanted to do a book with a printmaking technique, and this was my opportunity,” she says. She was excited about the prospect of making something visually interesting and different. “But what I didn’t realize was that I was actually making two books, one in collage and one in blockprint. It was quite a learning curve. The first half of the book took me eight months! But finally I got it, and the second half took me eight weeks. It really required some brain stretching, because the blockprinting technique is all in reverse. It’s a relief printing technique, so only what is not cut away gets the ink.”
Fortunately, modern materials make it easier to carve out what was not to be seen in the final illustration. A synthetic artist’s material is much easier to cut than wood!
In the long run it was worth the extra effort. “I played with reality here,” she says. The illustrations are strong, as block printing tends to be, and also vibrant, as collage tends to be. Cathryn sometimes uses paint or pastels on the paper she uses, which enhances the collage further.
Cathryn often visits schools, nature centers, and libraries. “The whole idea behind what I do is to spark a sense of wonder and curiosity in kids about nature. After all, they will be the careful stewards of the earth, and we have an obligation to make sure that it happens.”