Illustrating The Innocents Abroad

Award-winning illustrator James Albon captured the eccentricities of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad with a series of stylish colour and black-and-white lino-cuts. Here, Albon shares his artistic process and how he approached this exciting project.  



I had a wonderful time illustrating The Innocents Abroad. It's always really exciting to read (and re-read, and re-read) a book like that, and to delve into the historic context of the adventure that Twain describes, researching contemporary images of the locations that he visited and finding pictures from that era that serve as a jumping off point for my own illustrations. The book covers such a huge range of places and events, and an enormous variety of subjects to be included in the illustrations, so unfortunately there are a great many scenes which we didn't have time or space to illustrate! 



The illustrations were drawn out as initial sketches in black ink, and then as colour roughs in crayon, before being redeveloped as lino-cuts to make the final artwork.



The colour illustrations were made using the reduction lino-cut method, in which layers of colour are printed successively from lightest to darkest off the same block, which is recut for each new layer (this process is also known as "suicide printing", because if any mistakes are made, there's absolutely no way to go back and change them.) The blocks were hand-printed at home, using a baren (a circular tool with a flat face used for rubbing paper to effectively transfer ink) on very light Sunome Senka paper.  



Have a look at Albon’s incredible lino-cuts as they appear in the book:


Illustration by James Albon

Illustration by James Albon


James Albon studied Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art, and went on to a postgraduate scholarship at the Royal Drawing School in London. He received the Gwen May Award from the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers in 2012. He illustrated Parade’s End for The Folio Society in 2013, The Blue Flower in 2015, and Of Mice and Men in 2018.