Back in the late 1960s, I found myself working in publishing. Nestled in a
small office at the very top of a building on Queen Street, Mayfair, I was
installed as the art director of William Heinemann at the tender age of 24.
For me, it was the beginning of a wonderful decade of education. I came into contact with not only some of the world’s greatest authors but also many of the best designers, photographers and illustrators working at that time. One of these was an illustrator who visited me to show his work. His name was Justin Todd and I was instantly smitten by the sheer originality and quality of his approach to illustration.
Following that meeting, he was constantly on my radar and became a regular
collaborator on many of the book covers that I was responsible for, both at
Heinemann and a little later when I moved onto William Collins’ Fontana
Paperbacks in the mid-1970s.
At my original meeting with Todd, he left me a copy of a calendar that he’d illustrated for Midland Bank. Now, 44 years later, I still have it. The quality of that work still moves me…
My admiration for Todd was such that I edited and designed a large format
illustrated paperback of his work, published by Fontana in 1978. Here it is:
Todd worked (and I’m sure still does) in a painstakingly laborious way, using gouache paint and a collection of extremely fine brushes. He slowly works from one side of his watercolour paper to the other within a predetermined grid in which he has meticulously planned his image.
Todd at work sandwiched between two anglepoise lamps. 1978
Each illustration takes many, many days, if not weeks, to produce and must have taken its toll on Todd’s eyesight. But he has been labouring away now for almost 6 decades and his later, exemplary illustrated bookwork earned him many awards and much praise.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 1996
The Wind in the Willows 1987
Throughout his working career he also taught illustration. A large part of this was spent at the Brighton School of Art, where he encouraged and guided hundreds of students; I’m sure many are now flourishing as illustrators themselves. They owe a great debt to Todd’s dedication and enthusiasm.
Cover for The Journey East 1972
Christmas Witch card for the V&A
I have enormous admiration for any individual who spends their life adding
nourishment to our world by creating things of beauty. They rarely earn a
fortune for their labours, unlike those in the world of banking or equity
management who give nothing and take everything. It is so unfair.
Justin Todd is a hero in my view, with a body of mind-bogglingly beautiful work that shines far brighter than any gold ingot.
Now in his 80s, long may he continue.