So, it’s been a while since my last Incredible Illustrations feature, a fact for which I can only apologise – I have far too many words backed up at the moment! ARC’s, Christmas and birthday present books are coming out of my ears, and not a lot of them have pictures. Most of them DO have excellent covers, so I’m thinking of introducing a spin-off to Incredible Illustrations in the form of a ‘Cover Lover’ type series… What do you think, is this something you’d like to see here on RWN?
Anyway, before I get sidetracked once more from beautiful drawings, onto the theme of today’s post! I’ve chosen to feature Kay Rasmus Nielsen, a Danish artist you may have heard of due to his contributions to an edition of the Tales of the Brother’s Grimm and the Visual History of Arabian Nights (scroll midway down each page for his personal pieces).
Nielsen (1886-1957) was born in Copenhagen where he lived until moving to Paris in 1904 to study art until 1911. He then moved to England until 1916, where he received his first artistic commission from Hodder & Stoughton to illustrate In Powder and Crinoline, Fairy Tales Retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Following this he travelled to New York before returning home to Denmark, where he worked providing art for theatre productions until deciding to move back into book illustration; providing plates for Arabian Nights, Fairy Tales by Hans Anderson, Hansel and Gretel, Tales From The Brother Grimm and Red Magic.
In 1939 Nielsen moved once again, this time to California to collaborate with Walt Disney studio’s on the visuals for Fantasia. His influence can be seen in both the ‘Ava Maria’ and ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ sequences:
You can also click here for a video collection of his Disney concept art.
Neilsen also worked solely on illustrating the Calla Edition of popular Scandinavian fairy tale anthology East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a collection of 15 stories accompanied by 25 stunning plates hand-drawn in colour and black & white.
Nielsen’s style is especially well developed in this collection, being heavily detailed yet delicate and whimsical; hauntingly beautiful and absolutely perfect as a visual representation of folk and fairy tales.
All of Nielsen’s artwork for East of the Sun and West of the Moon was produced using the four-colour process, in contrast to many of the illustrations prepared by his contemporaries at the time who utilized the traditional three-colour process. The four-colour process is a system whereby a coloured image is separated in four ‘colour values’ using filters and screens, resulting in 4 different images that are able to be ‘stacked’ onto one another in the printing process in order to achieve a rich and varied palette – most of the colour spectrum is able to be created via the four-colour process, with the three-colour system obviously being limited in it’s abilities.
Comparing the above images to one from Nielsen’s early portfolio (see below), it’s clear to see that Nielsen continued developing and improving his style throughout his career, forming trademark compositions and colour schemes and becoming more confident with washes, blending and fine detail.
More of Kay Nielsen’s work can be found and purchased through this artsycraft print shop, and books featuring his illustrations are available from Amazon – though Red Magic is currently unavailable worldwide, so if you ever find a copy of that for sale, let me know because I NEED it!
What do you think of Kay Nielsen? Do you love or collect books with illustration plates? I currently only have two such items – a special collectors copy of Sherlock Holmes and a box set plated collection of The Chronicles of Narnia – but I’d love to own more!
And finally, here’s a bonus picture of my favourite Kay Nielsen illustration: