John Vernon Lord biography
Left: John Vernon Lord signing the artwork for Alice in Wonderland at the gallery.

John Vernon Lord was born in Glossop, Derbyshire in 1939. He was the son of a baker and a ship’s hairdresser.[7] He attended Salford School of Art, now the University of Salford in Lancashire (1956-60); and completed his formal education at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, now Central St Martins College of Art and Design.
The Central School of Arts and Crafts, a constituent college of the University of the Arts, London, was established in 1896 to provide specialist art teaching for workers in the craft industries. The school was intended to be a centre at which art scholars and students from local schools could be brought under the influence of established artists, while simultaneously being in close relation with employers. It was a direct outcome of the Arts and Crafts Movement sponsored by William Morris and John Ruskin. Courses included calligraphy, letterform and illustration and Lord was taught by amongst others, the modernist writer and artist Mervyn Peake and the surrealist Cecil Collins. In his recent retrospective, Drawing Upon Drawing he states that,
"During (his) student days, in the late 1950's the work of Gerard Hoffnung, Andre Francois, Ronald Searle and Saul Steinberg...and, to a certain extent..the work of Paul Klee"were also influential, as was "an abiding interest" in Victorian steel engraving [9]. The latter having a profound effect on his later work.
In 1961 Lord began work as a freelance illustrator, joining the agents Saxon Artists, in New Oxford Street, London. This required him to draw on demand, day in and out, often for long hours. He describes the difference between life as an art student and life as a professional illustrator in the following terms:

As well as drawing the insides of stomachs, I tackled everything that came my way. I carried out portraits of company directors for their retirement dinner menu covers, buildings for brochures, strip cartoons, maps and humorous drawings for advertisements....gardens and their plants, vegetables, mazes, refrigerators, dishwashers, totem poles, kitchen utensils, resuscitation diagrams, all kinds of furniture, typewriters, agricultural crop spraying machines, door locks, folded towels, decorative letters, Zodiac signs, animals....When you are a student there is a tendency at first to limit yourself to draw only what you like drawing. This of course ultimately shackles you and limits your repetoire ...(it) narrows the margin of what you are able to depict in an image and consequently stifles imagination and ideas. As a commercial artist, in 1968 Lord designed the album cover for The Book of Taliesyn by the band Deep Purple.
In 1968 Lord became a teacher at Brighton College of Art (now the University of Brighton) and was for the first time required to reflect upon his art in writing.

Gradually his illustrative work was concentrated exclusively on the illustration of books. At this time he was commissioned to illustrate among others, the Adventures of Jabotí on the Amazon[13] and Reynard the Fox[14] and so began a love affair with narrative illustration. During the 1970s, as a teacher at Brighton, Lord's output was prodigious, a fruitful relationship with the publishers Jonathan Cape lead to the creation of several notable picture books including his own The Giant Jam Sandwich, The Runaway Roller Skate and Mr Mead and his Garden. As well as illustrating Conrad Aiken's Who's Zoo [15] Lord produced several illustrations for Punch Magazine and the Radio Times [16]. He wrote many articles and gave several public lectures on Illustration as an art form, some of which can be found online below [17]. His illustrations began to take on that distinctive 'complexity of content', that is so characteristic of much of his later work, together with an apparent taste for 'black and white'. Strongly influenced by the Victorian art of steel engraving, in an article on cross hatching Lord writes:

"The whiteness of the paper already exists before you proceed to draw. It has established itself as a fundamental entity; a ground to tread on. What marks you make on the paper are as important as the marks you don't make; or is the opposite the case? The editing and selection of gap-making is fundamental to drawing. Nothingness, therefore, allows something else to exist. Planets move in space. Planets need space to move about in. Space doesn't need planets. The pencil (or whatever other drawing instrument you are using) clothes the naked surface of the paper with a network of marks and the paper often peeps through the drawing. A picture is made up of a balancing between the making, the removing, and the not-making of marks. Somehow a drawing represents the trails of a journey like, as Klee put it - `taking a line for a walk', which is a far more conducive activity than taking a dog for a walk."[18]

In 1986 he was appointed Professor of Illustration at University of Brighton and his inaugural lecture Illustrating Lear's Nonsense was published a few years later.[19] Robert Mason reviewing Lord's lecture A Journey Of Drawing An Illustration Of A Fable writes:Lord’s fastidious verbal dissection of the process of making a single pen and ink illustration, The Crow And The Sheep, over a period of 11 hours and 11 minutes on the 10th and 11th of February 1985, was intimate and unique. Its very length, and its combination of intense focus interspersed with frequent digressions – about how to avoid actually working, the tendency of Rotring pens to clog, contemporary news topics (mortgage rate increases / African famines / American defence spending…) and the maximum and minimum temperatures of the days in question (minus 3 and minus 7 degrees Fahrenheit) made the audience feel at one with the process..."


In the early 1980s Lord began work on a major project that was to set the scene for much of his later art. As he entered the world of Edward Lear and became familiar with the man and his 'nonsense', the poetic qualities of Lord's own work came to the fore. Immersing himself completely in Lear had a decisive effect, not least of which was his return to 'black and white'. Lord's tendency to fill the space between the lines, already apparent in The Book of Taliesyn, was naturally akin to the art of the 'nonsense' poet who also directs the mind's eye to read 'the space between the lines'. The intent of the verse being grasped 'indirectly' from the words used. Lord's illustrations like Lear's verses took on that lightness of touch, or wistful quality, that allows a sheer 'complexity' of form to give way to the surreal.