The following was written by Gerald McConnell for a book on "artist turned craftsman" and titled Illustration in the Third Dimension for the Society of Illustrators in 1978.
My Grandfatherís Things.
This assignment for Bruce Hall at Paperback Library was to do a new cover for a previously published book which they wanted to reissue. They wanted it to be dimensional. This was the story of an early settler in Vermont who made or grew most everything he needed to run his farm and home. He told in detail how he did these things.
After digesting the story for a few days I did some pencil sketches and finally settled on three. I always try to look ahead to be sure Iíll know how to construct the finish and not get trapped into corners I canít escape from. In the end, the editors chose the toughest one. It never fails.
In all three sketches the largest item would be an actual object which I already possesed. They felt the trunk and the ox yoke offered less than the box. This was a blow because all the props would have to be hand-made. I decided the assemblage would be held in an old bread tray which, I had happily acquired some time before. Since the idea was to have the assemblage take up the whole cover, the tray had to be cut down to scale exactly to the cover size. I always find scaling a difficult task. And since this had to be right on the button I figured it out on paper first then made a pattern as a double check. It had to be cut down on two sides.
The problem with changing it was that the corners were rabbited. I felt it was necessary to preserve that even though it wouldnít show in the finish. I did this by cutting through the rabbited pieces and then adding those pieces back to the finished tray after I had reconstructed it.
The shelves were made from slats from an old lobster trap which had weathered from many years in the salt air. Wood like this has a feel and patina that can only be gotten from time and weather. It took two lengths of slats to make one shelf so they also were pegged together and the cuts were hidden. The slats were warped and out of square so most had to be planed and have square ends cut. They were installed in the box by pegging from the two sides and back. I prefer the pegging system to nails with older wood as it avoids splitting and sometimes the force needed to drive in a nail can be disasterous. I set up the type area by covering a board with off-white burlap and then glued on a rope border.
Then I made the individual objects and gathered the memorabilia. These included some old labels, photos, clippings from an old catalog and a slab of real Vermont slate. Everything was then fixed with Elmerís glue.
I used balsa wood for the objects as I usually do when thereís no load to carry. Its easy working advantages are obvious. They were all cut out with a coping saw and rough sanded until the basic shapes were right. I then worked on each piece until it was finished.
When the hand work is done to your satisfaction you have one more very important control and that is the photographer. This is where you ďpaintĒ it with light and shadow and where you enrich it or just settle for a bright snapshot.
Itís the stage I canít wait to get to.
- Gerald McConnell