AN ILLUSTRATOR and artist who possessed a “prodigious imagination and meticulous, detailed technique” has died at the age of 84.
Alan Cracknell, of Winchester, had a career spanning almost 60 years, writes Bruce Edwards.
Alan has produced images for a wide variety of publications and companies, but still found the time to develop a personal and instantly identifiable style for his non-commercial work.
Alan’s first job was producing illustrations for catalogs. The work was done on an assembly line and he described himself at the very end “designing the shoelaces”.
Two years later he joined the advertising agency Charles Hobson and Gray working mainly in monochrome for newspapers and periodicals, sometimes reflecting the Victorian engravings which fascinated him. By the mid-sixties he had enough work to go freelance and he had a studio at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, later working from his home in Muswell Hill.
All the while he collected Victorian and Edwardian ephemera which fueled his imagination as his output became more colorful and detailed. Fairground lettering and popular art attracted him. He was also influenced by early American illustrators like NC Wyeth, whose “Treasure Island” illustrations were familiar, and his transatlantic contemporary Milton Glaser, whose Signet Classics Shakespeare edition covers he admired. He was prolific, producing several covers for ‘Radio Times’, dust jackets for Enid Blyton’s storybooks and worked for the Beatles’ Apple Corps.
He contributed to a series of Royal Mail postage stamps commemorating children’s books. However, although his work encapsulates the spirit of the 60s, he never chose to fully identify with Pop Art, feeling the need to stay one step ahead if he was to continue to be successful.
In 1968 he was approached by Jeanette Collins of The Times, who wanted a new style of newspaper illustration. Alan developed a way of using pencil on tracing paper which, although derided in some quarters, became very successful on the printed page. Around the same time, Sunday supplements were starting to take off, and he got his first real chance to use color creatively. The Sunday Times and Nova used his work and he often found himself illustrating the food pages – his detailed, exuberant style was more appealing than the photographs.
During this period, he collaborated with many authors and publishers. Cookbooks are particularly popular. Arabella Boxer’s “First Slice Your Cookbook” segment had been a new experience in 1964. Nanette Newman’s children’s book “The Fun Food Factory”, which later became a television series, was from 1976 and “Fish and Shellfish” by George Lassalle for Sainsbury’s followed in 1986, with Alan’s riotous and colorful illustrations.
In 2000 he and his family moved to Winchester where he virtually retired.
Freed from commercial constraints, he began to consolidate his own style which became more fluid and colourful, influenced by medieval illumination and Elizabethan miniaturists like Nicholas Hillyard, mixing extraordinary fantasy with magical realism. He has taken private commissions on occasion: a portrait of Edward Elgar floats in the clouds with a musical quote from “The Music Makers” above a composite landscape of Worcestershire with the Malvern Hills, his native cottage, Worcester Cathedral and the composer riding his bicycle.
With more free time, he pursued his interest in archeology – particularly metal detecting – and he occasionally worked for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, producing painstakingly accurate and detailed drawings of artifacts unearthed throughout the county. Many finds have made their way into his images: a mouse in a peasant blouse and studded boots roams the landscape knocking over a basket of ancient coins. Keys, coins and other half-buried treasures litter the feet.
He held successful exhibitions in Winchester, but he and his wife lived quietly in a late-Victorian suburb of the city. Although he exhibited for a time with a community collective, “Artful”, few of his neighbors knew the artist Alan Cracknell unless they glanced past the first floor window of his house and saw him at work in his studio. office.
Alan Cracknell was born in Harrow, Middlesex in 1937. From an early age he wanted to be an artist and his father encouraged him to consider art as a career so he went to Harrow Art School. After national service in the RAF in the late 1950s, and while working at Technical Artists, he met Evelyn Valentine and they married in 1960. Their daughter, Sarah, was born in 1963 and from 1964, until they moved to Winchester they lived in Muswell Hill. In 2015, Alan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but the quality of his work was not affected. In February 2022, he was discovered to have terminal cancer, and he died at his home in April.
Alan was a gentle, affable, self-effacing man with a quirky, quirky sense of humor. He was always interested in others, but he knew his own worth and was proud of his considerable accomplishments as an artist.
He is survived by Evelyn, Sarah and her sister Margaret.
Alan Ernest Cracknell, artist and illustrator: August 22, 1937 – April 20, 2022