Her first works were published, with Annie, in 1903 at age fifteen and shortly afterward she began illustrating the stories of Tarella Quin, 'which established her as the most popular Australian fairy book illustrator of her day' (McVitty, 1989, p. 163). She then went on to produce her most famous works including, Elves and Fairies (1916), The Enchanted Forest (1921) and The Fairyland of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1926).Supported by the publishers of the day, who realised the need to produce these illustrations with the highest quality, these books were published with full colour plates, were beautifully bound and were printed as limited editions, which were sold out almost immediately. The fact that publishers took the effort to produce such quality works, is 'a source of admiration, especially coming at a time when there was so much shoddy work being offered to children, both in Australia and overseas' (Saxby, 1969, p. 133).
Outhwaite, like many artists of her day, produced a weekly comic strip, in the Melbourne Weekly Times -Benjamin Bear, but it is for her books that she is remembered most. Her illustrations were in sharp contrast to Gibbs works, but equally as popular, with Elves and Fairies being released at a similar time to Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Holden (1992, p. 50), describes her work as having 'technical and imaginative excellence', with each design containing exquisite detail. Heavily influenced by Beardsley and other artists of the art nouveau era, like many of her time, her attention to placement of figures and use of line is outstanding. Each illustration is extremely detailed with the flowers and fairy dresses often created using literally hundreds of pin-prick sized dots, making for quite beautiful patterns. Or in the case of 'Anne Rides on the Heavenly River', we see literally thousands of tiny bubbles, each individually drawn. Faces on the other hand are far more simplistic. Goblins have impish rather cheeky faces, yet all very similar, while the children and fairies are extremely pretty, yet with little or no change in expression.
Swirls of lines, bubbles, stars and leaves, are also a prominent feature. Her use of line to depict movement is quite stunning, with grasses, leaves, hair and dresses all swirling with the wind across each page. Her attention to detail is also outstanding with each tiny flower and each strand of hair meticulously drawn, making for an entirely new fantasy world. Each illustration really is a masterpiece of fancy, where the moon becomes a chariot; fairy hair becomes the water; and toadstools are used as tables, chairs and umbrellas. Fairy wings too, are presented in exquisite detail, with each one unique, showing Outhwaite's limitless imagination.
Her illustrations for Tarella Quin's The Other Side of Nowhere, is in typical art nouveau style. Plants and sprays of flowers can be seen winding their way up tree trunks and delicately framing the different pages. The illustrations of this book are all in black and white, Outhwaite's favourite medium to work with (Holden, 1992, p. 38), displaying her abundant use of patterning and stylistic use of line and silhouettes. Large expanses of black or white, depicting the sky and land, are also a feature, without any use of tone or shading. The circular shape of the sun and moon also appear as a focal point, with moon rises and sunsets seen in the background of many of the drawings.
The Lady of the Blue Beads (1908) and Elves and Fairies (1916), also contain a large number of black and white plates, but the style, when comparing the two, are quite different. While they are uniquely Outhwaite, she had obviously experimented with different techniques during that time. In The Lady of the Blue Beads she makes extensive use of hatching, with thousands of tiny lines appearing in many of the pictures, adding contrast and texture. Whilst Elves and Fairies also contains extensive lines, there is something remarkably different about the two. Compare the illustrations of 'Yeave-ho, my land-lubbers' (Rentoul, 1908) and 'Foam Fairies' (Rentoul, 1916). The former features thousands of lines to represent the ocean waves, but these are shorter, sharper and much harsher, giving the impression of choppy, unpredictable seas. The lines in the latter however, whilst also being used to depict the ocean, are longer and curve over with the shape of the wave, creating an entirely different effect, showing the beauty and form of the ocean swells.
Whilst black and white may have been Outhwaite's favourite medium to work with, it is her colour illustrations which are quite remarkable and truly unforgettable. Her choice of colour was unique and she was 'one of the first to take full advantage of the new printing techniques' (Holden, 1992, p. 1). Her ability to blend colours and create mood and atmosphere is outstanding. She is a master at combining various tones and shades creating harmony within each composition. 'Potty talks to the forest creatures', contains autumn tones of different browns and greens, with the goblins red hats and Potty's red jumper providing wonderful contrast. 'The wee sick goblin' instead, uses warm pinks, yellows and oranges, against the dark black of the night forest. 'Anne plays the pipes', is quite different again; with the sky a soft cream; the leaves and grasses, green; the rabbits and Anne's billowing hair, brown; with her wings providing the finishing touch, in soft shades of pink. Even to this day, Australia has not produced an artist so skilled in the combining of colours.
1921, saw the publication of Outhwaite's The Enchanted Forest, one of her most famous works. Written in collaboration with her husband Grenbry, this book lends itself perfectly to being read aloud. With the authors occasionally speaking directly to the reader, it is written in a very cosy, intimate style that draws the reader in. This story is sheer fantasy, full of everything that magic and fairies can provide. We are introduced to the magic almost immediately as Anne is plunged head first into the forest, only to discover she, of course, has wings! This is the fantasy world of many little girls, there are fairy wings and butterfly chariots, goblin homes in hollowed out trees and fairy-lines to travel on. Speaking directly to the reader, the authors ask the question, 'Haven't you felt sometimes as if something like a silken thread caught across your face?'. [It might just be a spider's web,] 'but it might be one of the fairy-lines that the fairies put up for the use of the guests'. Thus encouraging the imagination of the reader to really believe that fairies exist. And with such exquisite, precise and detailed pictures of fairies, surely Ida must have seen them?!?
Again Outhwaite's use of colour is quite stunning, with this book containing sixteen full colour plates (although my copy contains many more thanks to the artistic skills of my mother at age six!). Soft subdued tones abound, with pinks, greens, blues and lovely autumn oranges and browns. Each plate is unique; 'Good-bye to Potty' contains many earthy, autumn tones; subdued blues and browns reflect the sorrow of Fairy Beauty in 'The torn wing'; and the underwater plates are awash with blues and greens, with pink and purple sea-weeds. 'The witch on her broomstick' appears in blues and greys, creating rather a sinister feel as she flies through the trees, but in sharp contrast to the rest of the book, her younger sister is seen in eerie greens and black.
Although written in Australia, with an Australian flavour, there is also a decided English influence. English flowers abound with sprays of daffodils, poppies and daisies. The text refers to the 'sun-baked paddocks between the tall gum-trees', but then we are plunged into a world of English fairies, goblins, harebells and convulvulus! England's influence is also seen in the animals. Her ability to draw animals she was familiar with is clearly apparent, with frogs, bats and rabbits all looking very life like and real. Her koalas however leave much to be desired, in fact they are quite unrecognisable as koalas and one can only wonder if she had ever seen one at all! Known throughout the story as the Teddy Bears. 'Yes, real Teddy-bears, only alive', they appear rather dim witted and easily fooled, ever so lovely though of course! The language itself also has an English influence, being very 'olde worlde' and often rather trite, to say the least! For example, 'Oh you are the dearest darling' or 'They were the jolliest little furry things' and 'a ducky little baby-boy'. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite died in 1960, aged seventy-two, after a long and illustrious career. Her works are still treasured to this day, though now extremely rare. Those of us who were lucky enough to have been introduced to her work as children, carry with us these images for life. Occasionally one comes across mounted copies of some of her more famous pieces, in old homes and schools, they are immediately recognisable as hers and spark memories of early readings. Her illustrations were much sought after in their time and one can easily see why. Many are truly unforgettable, being remembered years after early childhood readings. 'Fairy Beauty scattering the stars', 'Anne crosses the dark pool', 'The wee sick goblin' and 'Drawn by fishes', to mention just a few, will live on in the hearts and minds of readers for many years to come.
List of Works
List of Works
- All illustrated by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite -