For one hundred years, Ladybird books have delighted children, their parents, grandparents and teachers alike, taking readers on a journey of discovery and enlightenment. Affordable and accessible, Ladybird books hold a significant and affectionate place in the collective psyche of the nation, conjuring up, through written word and illustration, life in Britain in more innocent times.
The De La Warr Pavilion is currently displaying over 200 original illustrations that cover a selection of Ladybird books from the late 1950s to early 1970s. Focusing on those books, which reflected the world in which the reader lived, the exhibition will feature selections from the People At Work series, Shopping With Mother, the Science and Nature series as well as the Well Loved Tales and Key Words series.
On Friday 8th May, we took a detour to the De La Warr Pavillion near Hastings. The visit was for us to see all of the illustrations, which Ladybird had published from some of the most talented artists from the 1950’s. As I saw some of the pictures, you could see notes and thoughts of when the artist themselves was producing the picture, you can see the pencil marks under the paint and even where they may have adjusted the picture that you would never see in print.
What I noticed in some of the books was the stereotypical views that the artists had portrayed in a lot of them, especially in books that related to families, children and development. The level of detail in every picture is fascinating to look at, looking closely; you can see the careful strokes to perfect every level of detail in what they had produced. Because the pictures were (in the majority) in watercolour, it would have been extremely difficult to go over and perfect what was already a mistake.
Undoubtedly, Harry Wingfield’s ‘Shopping with Mother’ 1958 was my favourite collection. Displaying every page in the order of the book against the wall, you can see in detail the precision of his work. It shocked me to how much bigger the canvas’s were to how I pictured them, considering the book sizes; the level of design and the concentrated focus of composition on every page, regardless of who painted the picture, is what makes the Ladybird books so distinctive and popular.
With Harry’s pictures, I noticed the depth of colour he used, exaggerating the shadows and highlights to bring out specific areas of the image. Going back to the point of stereotypes, his book portrays this especially. As you look at the tiny details, you notice things such as the boy wanting a hammer, and the girl paying for the flowers, etc. The amount of detail and meaning he put in every picture makes you appreciate the time and effort he had put in, like the rest of the artists. I believe they deserve far more credit than they are given.
If I were to be critical, I would say that the landscape images and some objects such as the image with the blocks were my least favourite. Putting them against the images of people, they appear a little flat and bland in comparison. If they were completely separate, I would agree in thinking they were fantastic, however because the images of animals and people have such a huge amount of detail in every corner, you can see the difference between them.
Although Ladybird books are old fashioned and not what people want to read anymore, they deserve to be credited at the very least for the illustrations. The books themselves despite, are still hugely interesting, and they are the foundations to all of the books written today! Ladybird books were some of the first books to display factual information as a story, than to have a fictional story such as Cinderella.
By going on this trip, although I couldn’t draw these illustrations in a million years, it is inspiring to see these types of images be displayed in front of your very eyes, especially when they are in their original format and not manipulated in any way. These pictures are fun to look at. And you can spend hours gazing at the detail in the strokes, making you appreciate the time and effort the artists took to create a few pages of a book for everyone to enjoy.