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I'm very fascinated by the illustrations by Tove Jansson in her book Who Will Comfort Toffle? You can see some examples of the printed images in this search.

In short, the images are printed in 7 spot colours, with some shadings done in halftones. One green nuance is a mixture of two of the spot colours applied on top of each other. It was first published in 1960. I've noticed that there's almost always a small (about 2 mm) gap between the different colour fields in the illustrations. This might be for style, but it also helps to avoid unintentional layering in the borders. At least in my book the different separations are up to a few mm off on some pages.

I'm interested in how Jansson worked with these illustrations. Where they printed from color separations made from Janssons gouache drawings or similar (was even that kind of separation technique available at that time?), or were the separations painted by hand directly on different films by the artist / repro person?

Hope for some Jansson and historical printing technique experts to give me some leads.

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I cannot speak directly to how Jansson worked, but I have done hand work like this for posters in the 1980s and from the looks of the images in the search you shared, then the answer is these were "hand separated." However, rather than break up a single artwork using color filters into constituent parts, these would have been submitted as n- separate drawings (one for each color) with each having identical registration marks.

I would have started with a single artwork and then laid tracing paper of the sort an animator might use over that work so the registration marks align. I would then trace out sections I want for an individual color and work in any details etc. This would be in black ink, but the sheet would be marked "color 3" or whatever with an indexed color chart corresponding to what the ink will be. Repeat for each color. This might be iterative and the original drawing I used might not even be part of the submitted color series. When these drawings are all overlaid and registered against a lightbox, one might see very little light shine through. In the case of Jansson's work, it might have the effect of "scratch art."

Some color might overprint another, but the inks themselves would generally be solid (no halftones). To get tints or tones an artist might hand-stipple or they might use pre-made halftone screen sheets from someone like Letraset cut to size, pasted to the drawing, and sometimes modified or tweaked using "white out." I do not see halftones in the items in your search by the way.

The "gaps" are mostly a stylistic choice but they are there to avoid unwanted overprint; because the hand-registration process between individual artworks is imprecise; and because registration on press (especially if serially printing arbitrary colors on a 1-color press) using older equipment with poor tolerances is difficult. Many illustrations of this type use the weaknesses in the technology chain as a strength.

There may be discussion of Jansson's process not in English, but there is no reason the process I mention above couldn't have been done by a pre-press illustrator using Jansson's work as the base art.

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The image you linked to is too small and low resolution to be able to tell you much.

I found a better version here. It looks like solid/spot colours. I can't really see the halftones even at that larger size, although they might be there.

This is a guess, but I suspect it's all hand drawn and the separations prepared by hand. She wouldn't have had to paint on film though. They had large copy cameras for that in the 1960's to make the negatives from the lineart.

An example of a horizontal copy camera used for preparing negatives

enter image description here

If there are halftones in the design, they likely used halftone screens to prepare these portions of the separations. The negatives would then have been used to image the plates. These manual processes were still used right into the 1980's when I was a print apprentice. Those were the days!

Our pre-press department had a camera just like the one shown above. What you see there is the lens and bellows which protruded through a hole in the wall. The room behind is the dark room, essentially the back of the camera. The lights to illuminate the copy board can be seen (left). The copy board is out of shot, and would have been to the right, directly in front of the lens.

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  • 1
    Looks like a pixie who has stolen a camera from the humans and installed it in his tiny house.
    – Wolff
    Jan 11 at 20:31
  • @Wolff It does! Or a photoshop job, I assure you, they really were that big. There were also smaller vertical copy cameras, but our print shop was already over 100 years old when I joined the company. Sadly they're gone now, and the building long demolished.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jan 11 at 20:33
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    I only got to use pre-press equipment in my (US) high school. Our copy camera was about 1/4 that size. The arc lights on the plate maker were pretty awesome and noisy. Most of the digital paradigm(s) are direct applications of these old techniques.
    – Yorik
    Jan 11 at 20:42
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    That’s either a huge camera or a tiny human. Either would be pretty awesome. Jan 11 at 20:48

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