Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Inspiring Images: Rockwell Kent and Moby Dick

This post is part of YA Highway's "Roadtrip Wednesday." Today's question: What images inspire/represent your WIP or favorite book?

I'd been thinking of this topic for a while before I saw it pop up on Roadtrip Wednesday. Right now I'm researching my latest project, and images play a huge part in reminding me of the kind of feel I want to keep. Without getting too much into details (because that makes me feel weird...), one of the books that's a huge inspiration, style- and content-wise, is Moby Dick.

The husband, wanting to participate in my writing process as best as he can, got the book out of the library and decided he would read it. I picked it up one day from his desk, looking for a particular passage, when I saw it: these illustrations.

They were so expressive, so emotional

 Like miniatures stories in of themselves

 Incredibly beautiful, and, as woodcuts, incredibly simple

I was completely blown away by what I saw: over 200 of some of the most beautiful, impressive illustrations I have ever seen. I immediately went right to the internet to learn all that I could about the illustrator, Rockwell Kent. He was a muralist, printmaker, and drawer whose best work occurred in the 20s and 30s, including Moby Dick.

You can see the art-deco-ish influences on his work: the naturalism, the strong line, the incredibly expressive body.

 Here: an illustration of a sermon in the port town where Moby Dick begins

This image of Queequg, the kind and gentle native, using his harpoon as a straight razor
is just so wonderfully strange and evocative:
you get an immediate sense of his power and unusualness
 This is one of my favorite images in the entire book,
an illustration of Ishmael and Queequeg sharing a bed (as boarders often did) before their voyage.
There is so so much to love:
the impressive perspective, the natural curve of Queequeg's body and the sharp point of his elbow, Ishmael's perfect trust and relaxation, the use of shading and shadow to convey a rich sense of color and depth.
It is such a disarmingly complex image.

There are more images I love, images that also tell strange and interesting stories. I loved them so much, in fact, that one afternoon I sat down and took photos of every single image in the book, just because I wanted to have access to them at all times (sorry copyright police. public domain?).

Whenever I feel like I want to get a better sense of the tone of my story, I sit down and look at the images. They are a lesson in simplicity, in mastery, in understanding your subject and seeing something unusual in them: pride or foolishness or shame.

It's helpful to be able to completely jump disciplines and see how someone captured this time and this energy using drawings instead of words, and these are absolutely the most inspiring images for my work.

I'll leave you with a few more of my favorites
 Whalemen killing a beached whale
A shamed sailor
And, of course, the white whale
(those stars! those tiny whales! the tilt of the earth! the plume of spray!
love love love a million times love)


  1. Oh my goodness, those illustrations are stunning. I love love love that last one of the white whale rising out of the sea. Have fun with your WIP!

  2. Wow, those drawing are amazing!
    And I share the same favorite with you ;)

  3. These woodcuts are really good. It just goes to show what an artist can do with such a simple medium. Thanks for sharing, Kendall!

  4. Thanks for visiting, everyone!

  5. Those are great illustrations! I love the graphic look of woodcuts.

  6. These illustrations have such a distinctive style. If you hadn't told me they were from the '30s, I would have assumed they were present day. What a find!

  7. Tarah, that's exactly what I thought, too. They look like something out of a graphic novel--I had to double check that they were from the 30s!

  8. Wow! These are fantastic! :) It's great to see how they've affected you.

  9. Wow, this is really cool! What edition is it?

  10. Hi Katherine, These illustrations came from the first edition of the Random House printing, in 1930. I'm not sure if there are any current editions with these illustrations (I think there was some sort of copyright battle?), but you might be able to find a copy on ebay or a used book website.