Authors—from an Artist’s Standpoint

by Stanley L. Wood
Illustrations by Stanley L. Wood

Pearson’s Magazine (UK)
March, 1904
Cover by Stanley L. Wood

Often forgotten in discussions of late 19th/early 20th century fiction is the important role played by illustrators. In an era before film and photography, it was the artist who gave readers a visual idea of the fictional characters created by an author often, in the process, creating the definitive look for the characters. Sidney Paget, Ernest Shepard, P. B. Hickling, Joseph Clement Coll—the list could go on and on, yet, while their illustrations live on, the artists themselves are, for the most part, largely forgotten. One such artist is Stanley Llewellyn Wood.

Details of Wood’s life are quite scarce. It is known that he was born in England in 1866, but there does not appear to be any record of when, and where, he attended school. Some sources state that he lived for an unknown time in the United States beginning at the age of 12, which may explain his interest in portraying the American West, yet when he returned to England is not known. He married in 1899 and he died in 1928.

Beyond these scant details, we do know that Wood produced a tremendous body of work during his career. He provided both paintings and drawings for the leading magazines of his time—Pearson’s Magazine, The Strand and The Windsor Magazine to name a few—and also illustrated numerous books and newspaper articles. Wood was equally adept at both action art and scene-setting illustrative pieces; in both cases not only portraying the mood of the story, but also in giving readers definitive versions of the story’s main characters (as an example, please take a look our presentation of The Chronicles of Don Q.). Besides the innumerable covers and interiors Wood did for magazines and books, he was also known for his work illustrating the American West and Africa.

In the article reprinted here, Wood shows a keen sense of humor as he pokes fun at the demands made by various writers. What makes the piece really shine, however, is his use of caricature in his illustrations—a side of Wood’s work that hearkens back to his earliest days. We hope you enjoy it.

“Authors—from an Artist's Standpoint” originally appeared in Pearson’s Magazine (UK) in March, 1904.

Bob Gay
April, 2018
Introduction © 2018 by Bob Gay
Editor’s Note: Due to the episodic nature of the piece, we have chosen to lay the article out as a group of vignettes with the illustrations mentioned in each section (where appplicable) next to their respective prose. The only illustration that seems to be an afterthought is the final piece about conflicting emotions and we have simply included it near the text where it appeared in the original magazine layout. We have also taken the liberty of moving the Editorial Note that appeared at the bottom of the page in the original and moved it to just below the title.

Original title art for Authors—from an Artist's Standpoint

EDITORIAL NOTE.—The author of this paper is far famed as a popular illustrator of popular stories, and can hardly need an introduction to the readers of PEARSON’S MAGAZINE, his name having figured so largely in these pages as painter of the immortal Captain Kettle, and at the present time of Don Q., Captain Kettle’s latest rival for popularity. Mr. Stanley Wood declares that he has had no career as yet—but at any rate he has laid a very solid foundation for future honours. If you press the point, he will modestly insist that the foundation rests only on scraps—explaining that he started his artistic career by drawing for Scraps, the comic paper. “For some time,” he says, “I lived on Scraps, doing for this paper some of my most humorous work. People thought that was meant to be serious. Then, when I took to really serious work—illustrating murders, suicides, duels, and so on—my pictures were hailed with hilarious mirth, and my friends congratulated me on possessing, after all, a strong vein of humour! I never could understand how it was.” One of the first books that Mr. Wood took in hand was a collection of Bret Harte’s stories. This book was reviewed far and wide, and one of the big London papers gave two columns to its notice—of which two lines at the end referred to the artist’s work. “The illustrations to this book,” said the reviewer, “are touchingly devoid of pretensions!”

Stanley Wood’s scalps include Captain Kettle, Dr. Nikola, Vigorous Daunt, and Don Q.—certainly the four most popular heroes in fiction, excepting Sherlock Holmes, in the last decade.

Now a thousand blessings on the head of the good story-reading public that likes to have its stories illustrated! But that the stories are illustrated is not enough—they must be illustrated truthfully—and thereby hangs the tale of an artist’s woe. If this tale that I am now to unfold should meet the eye of any of the story-writers concerned, I beg them to remember that there is a button as big as a palette at the end of my foil—and so no harm can be done, especially as no harm is intended.

This represents something exciting
happening anywhere in perfect

Out of all my reminiscences of my dealings with authors, what shall I choose for a beginning? As it is with the woes of an artist that I wish to impress you, suppose I put this hard case first before you: What am I to do when I am told to illustrate a story when the scenes take place in total darkness?

Total darkness is what authors love. How could a rousing tragedy proceed at all if the scenes were not laid in it? But how is the artist to illustrate those scenes? Only once, I think, have I solved the problem to my own satisfaction. It was when I was illustrating a total darkness scene in a magazine. I illustrated half-a-dozen or so of the scenes, perfectly truly, with a solid black “picture,” and having done so, feeling that I had finished a good day’s work, 1 forwarded the sketches to the editor—together with my bill for the same!

But it does not do to reckon without your editors—and so it is that we artists cheerfully put high lights on the hero’s collar, and touch up the whites of the villain’s eyes, and then, even though the scene is set in blackest midnight, you can easily distinguish hero from villain without so much as striking a match.

The author of Captain Kettle is
indignant with the artist.

Mr. Cutcliffe Hyne, in contrast to some, is certainly one of the most careful and most correct authors with whom I have ever had dealings. He is not one of those story-writers who describe a character as a man with only a right leg in the first chapter, and as a man with only a left leg in the next! I think I have never found a mistake or a contradiction in any one of the many adventures of Captain Kettle that I have illustrated.

I remember with amusement that in the early days of the Captain Kettle stories, Mr. Hyne used to be very indignant with me for never making pictures of ships when ships figured so largely in the adventures. This was before I had had the pleasure of meeting him—and his indignation about the lack of ships in my illustrations was expressed to the Editor of Pearson’s.

“I don’t believe the artist-man can draw a ship,” he wrote one day—and, to tell the honest truth now that the adventures of Kettle have come to an end—that time he hit the right nail on the head. I cannot draw a ship to save my life!

The fact is, that an artist can make mere mistakes in drawing a ship than in drawing almost anything—and, of course, if one is ignorant, it does not do to display that ignorance before a critical public. And this accounts for the reason why you will hardly ever find more than the merest indication of a ship in any “Captain Kettle” sketch of mine!

It was the eagle eye of Mr. Cutcliffe Hyne that discovered a significant mistake in the earliest of my Kettle pictures. I drew the little Captain with but one stripe on the sleeve of his coat—and one stripe signifies the status of mate, not captain—four stripes going to a captain’s coat. I never heard of anyone else who noticed this quite unintentional insult that I had thrown at Kettle!

“It is absolutely imperative that you put the faintest tinge
of gold in her hair.”

Now there is another well-known author, whose books you rush to read and buy—and personally I am very glad you do so—and not only because the work of providing the drawings to the stories is often given to me. One night that man came to me and insisted that I should draw one of his heroines quite different from all other heroines. This was very hard upon me—for if there is one thing in the world that I hate drawing more than another, it is a heroine!

"You must remember,’ said the author, “that her chief expression came through deep thought and transfigured her face."

The only touch of gold
in the heroine’s hair.

“But," I said, “transfigurations at so much per page! It’s altogether beyond me."

“Moreover,” he went on, “it is absolutely imperative that you put the faintest tinge of gold in her hair when the autumn light plays on it!”

“But—but—” I stammered, “my drawing is to be done in black and white!

“Oh, never mind that,” said the author, “the tiniest tinge of gold will do. Just do the best you can.”

What, gentle reader, I wonder, would you have done under these circumstances? Would you have said what I said?—which, however, is not printable here! Nor would I be responsible for giving to the world what the author said, when his heroine’s hair came out in the book as though it was just a smudge of black printer’s ink! The only tinge of gold that was ever in evidence in connection with my sketch was seen when I cashed my cheque.

I recall once lending a book by a popular author to a sailor on a ship. He devoured it with enormous appreciation until he came to a remark about a ship to the effect that “anchor was weighed.”

“See here, sir,” said the sailor to me, “they’ve gone and weighed anchor in this story, and I’m hanged if they ever dropped it!” And, indeed, they hadn’t!

A hero in the “fifties.”

Some authors have the most reckless regard for their artists. It was a well- known one who gave me the hardest contract that I have ever undertaken. He sent me one day instructions about illustrations for his story. There were a number of men in the story, who all figured in exactly the same disguises. These were my instructions: —“Make all these men exactly alike, but all different!"

Reader, how does that strike you? Have you not, now, some little pity for the woes of an artist? But these are the days of miracles—and I managed to do as I was told and all my drawings passed muster! Never have I heaved such a sigh of thankfulness as when that contract was completed.

And in what flippant manner does not the author treat the artist in the matter of costume! Here is one of thousands of such examples: —The story—a sporting novel by White Melville—Period, fifty years ago—Time, midnight—Scene, something like this: “With one terrific bound the handsome hero leapt from his bed, and seized his pistol” proceeding to demolish the villain in the usual way. And in those days men wore old-fashioned nightgowns and Dundreary whiskers!

I ask: How can an artist make a hero appear a hero when attired in nightgown and Dundreary whiskers—to say nothing of a possible nightcap?

And I shall pause a long while, I know, for a reply. Pyjamas are bad enough, but at least you can discern the whereabouts of a man’s legs in pyjamas. But a nightgown!

And yet authors grow angry with artists who refuse to illustrate such stirring passages! They might get more angry if we did!

The wonderful change
of the hero from Latin—
—to the Teutonic form
of beauty in a
magazine serial.

But perhaps the wickedest of all authors is the man who keeps back until the very last chapter a distinctive mark of his hero or villain. Woe betide the unlucky illustrator if the story happens to be a monthly serial, and only comes to him in monthly installments. For six months he joyously illustrates the strange, dark, mysterious man, giving him the stereotyped long black hair and piercing black eyes. Then suddenly the author drops concealment and mystery, and at the same time drops the artist into the uttermost depths of despair by calmly remarking: “Yes, he was no other than Blank of Blank-shire, whom his friends now recognise by his fair curly hair and ruddy complexion!’

Stories for boys—of the “blood-and- thunder” order—are full of pit-falls for the illustrator. I remember illustrating a story some years back for a boy's paper, in which a bold frontiersman was prowling about the country in Indian moccasins and Mexican spurs. Now the rowels of Mexican spurs are of such enormous size that it would be utterly impossible for a man, shod in moccasins and wearing also these spurs, to walk at all! Yet the frontiersman was described as stealing his way noiselessly over the bracken. He would have fallen on his nose before he had gone a yard.

The boy’s author never spares the artist. In another story that fell to my lot to illustrate, the hero found himself in a tight place, surrounded by hordes of savages, all longing for his life. Naturally, he was forced to defend himself. His weapon, in the beginning, was an 18-ton gun. A little later on, when things were getting serious, and the savages were closing in, it turned miraculously into a carbine. A few moments later, “his rifle was pressed to his shoulder.” Then, as the attack grew warmer, and the savage horde made a wild charge, it was a Maxim gun with which he was mowing down the enemy like grass. Finally, when the fight was ended, and hundreds of corpses strewed the ground, the hero, having fired away his last cartridge, “slipped his empty revolver into his pocket,” and calmly went his way.

Attempts to illustrate stirring events like these turn an artist’s hair grey.

A useful method of
illustrating the awk-
ward passage “half
joy, half sorrow.”

But there are no such offenders as lady-writers. I remember that I once had to illustrate, for a small publication, a lady’s story about a brave and amorous Texan cowboy. He loved a fair maiden—whom one day he lifted up before him on to the front of his saddle, and they kissed and rode away.

Poor, unfortunate lady love! To readers who have seen a Texan saddle, no explanation is needed. It comes up in front to a pommel. As for sitting on that peak, I would as soon sit on the point of a spear, especially if the horse were to gallop!

This Texan story reminds me of one about Kansas. An author let an artist, not myself this time, into a grand mistake about this country. In the course of the story mountains were mentioned—and the artist in illustration, in which the most noble mountains were shown. Now—there are no such things as mountains in Kansas—the whole country is as flat as a billiard table!

I myself once fell most horribly. I made two pictures of a love scene—the first showing a girl looking out of a window watching for the lover whom she hoped would propose—the second showing the same girl directly after the lover had taken his departure. There was no time for the girl to have changed her dress—yet in the first scene I drew her in a white dress, and in the second in a black dress!—and these pictures were published.

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