I counted every single one of the 69 dogs William Grill drew on a page in his historical illustration children’s book Shackleton’s Journey, about Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to cross Antarctica. Because there were 69 dogs on board of the ship. I minutiously studied every map and name written on it, and every mountain skyline and crack in the ice, every little drawing – everything is drawn out, from men, equipment and supplies for the trip, to the dog igloos built out on the ice and camp activities, everything from nails, sledges and shovels, to socks, medical bags and vynil records. I imagined being in the open sea, 500 miles from the nearest civilisation, on a tiny boat. I felt chilly staring at Endurance trying to cross the Weddell Sea. I felt both hopeless and pushing to the limits in front of the picture of the three men crossing South Georgia. Simply put, the pictures tell the story. You are transposed to that time and the journey that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. I only read the text the third time I opened the book.
I honestly do not remember the last time I was so absorbed by an illustrated book (if I’ve ever been), except my first incursion into Grill’s magical universes, The Wolves of Currumpaw.
“I try to encourage as much drawing as I can
through schools and my weekly art club.
It’s sad that we lose the confidence and freedom of drawing as we age.
As Picasso said, ‘every child is born an artist,
the problem is staying one as you grow older’.”
I bought The Wolves for my son last year, but soon realised it was going to be one of those books to save for later, because it seems it won’t be until he grows a little older that he will truly discover its beauty. Still, every now and then he asks me to tell him the story of Lobo, the name he knows the book by.
I bought Shackleton’s Journey for myself. It’s brilliant and beautiful and fascinating.
I guess it’s safe to say that I am very taken with William Grill’s works, but I do not believe I would have become so if I hadn’t discovered them in a bookshop. I hope you can all find a good independent bookstore near you and visit it often.
photo of the book: Classiq | illustrations by William Grill, Flying Eye Books | quote by William Grill from The Guardian