The Light in Suburbia

By Ian Beck

A collection of paintings made in lockdown by one of the UK’s best-loved author-illustrators.

Art | Autobiography
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Publication date: February 2022

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A 96 page high quality perfect bound paperback edition of the paintings printed on 170 gsm uncoated paper in five colours throughout, with an introduction by Ian.


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"You see things in these quiet roads and suburbs and capture them for us and for a future time when we shall all be gone. What mysterious stillness haunts these houses!"

Ian Beck is one of the UK’s most celebrated author/illustrators. He has illustrated over a hundred and forty books, mostly for children, and published seven of his own novels, including the bestselling Tom Trueheart trilogy.

Most of his work has been about telling stories, in some form or other.

In January 2020, Ian found himself painting the view from his studio window. He called the resulting watercolour ‘January Afternoon’ and it proved to be a turning point:

"Simply making a painting of my house in the late afternoon light with no narrative element proved both refreshing and salutary. It really was possible after all to make a satisfying picture of something for its own sake."  (from the introduction)

And then the pandemic struck.

As Ian walked his greyhound Gracie through the early morning streets of Isleworth in west London, he revelled in the light and the silence that the lockdown had brought. The familiar became charged with new meaning and long closed pathways of memory began to open inspiring him to continue painting to please himself, something that he hadn’t done since his student days in the 1960s.

Suburban streets and gardens, trees, fences, shrubs, and overgrown alleyways: all are transformed in the quiet intensity of Ian’s lockdown paintings. He painted interiors too: the moon shining through a bedroom window, collections of things on mantelpieces, kitchen dressers, the eeriness of back gardens at dusk. As the year progressed, the crisp light of spring gave way to the haze of summer and the gloom of autumn fogs.

In all, Ian produced more than sixty paintings, mostly in watercolour, the record of a year spent trying to ‘record the beauty around me in the unprepossessing everyday.’

"The more paintings I made the more I realized I was touching a similar nerve in others. When I first put some of the finished paintings up on social media platforms I had very positive responses, something I hadn’t expected. Messages were sent after I posted some of the paintings made during the early chill mists and fogs in November of how it reminded some of waiting for the bus to school on a winter morning. It seemed that there were echoes, a hidden series of narratives after all in what I was doing."

Given the impossibility of exhibiting the work during lockdown, he decided to publish the paintings as a book. The Light in Suburbia was released in a private printing earlier this year and sold out almost immediately.

What started as a private side project had become a viral hit.

Now Unbound are delighted to offer the Ian’s work to a wider audience.

We will publish the book as handsome perfect-bound in February 2022.

However, all pre-orders received before the end of September will be fulfilled in November 2021.

About the book:

Format:  Paperback
Paper: 170 gsm uncoated
Extent: 96 pages
Publication Date: February 2022

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  • Ian Beck avatar

    Ian Beck

    Born in Hove, Sussex in 1947. Failed Eleven Plus exam and so attended the local secondary modern school, from 1958- 1963. There he showed interest in drawing and painting and he was encouraged by both the art teacher and the headmaster to attend Brighton College of Art Saturday morning art classes. He eventually went to the art school as a full time student in 1963, studying illustration and graphic design.

    He graduated in 1968, and shortly afterwards moved to London, with his portfolio of drawings to try his luck as a freelance illustrator. He worked part time at Harrods in the toy dept for a year, to pay the rent, and in the meantime gradually built up a client list, mainly working for mainstream consumer magazines like Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and Homes and Gardens. He also began making drawings for the recording industry. At first these were just trade advertisements for performers like Ry Cooder and Richie Havens. Later in the early seventies designing and illustrating album covers as well, for example the triple gatefold album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, for Sir Elton John. He continued to work in this field until the early 1980’s, also producing work for most of the leading design groups, advertising agencies, newspapers, and magazines.

    He was approached by the Oxford University Press, who had seen some drawings he had done for the Radio Times. The designer at the OUP felt that the style of the drawings would suit a project which they wanted to publish. This became his first book for children, Round and Round the Garden, an illustrated collection of finger rhymes and games. It was through working on this first book that he began his (continuing) relationship with the editor and publisher David Fickling. After the success of the first book others followed, until 1989, when he was encouraged to write his own first story to illustrate, this became The Teddy Robber(Doubleday 1989) from this point on the books took over from the editorial work. Most of his time is now spent writing and illustrating his own books for children.

    He has been on an editorial board as an adviser at Scholastic Books for their project to re-publish the ‘Little Tim’ stories of Edward Ardizzone. He is a member of the Double Crown Club, and was Master of the Art Workers Guild in 1999. His book Home Before Dark won the gold award in the best toy awards, and was also recently awarded the Ownagata prize in Japan. Alone in the Woods won the gold award in the best toy awards 2000. He published his first novel for children, The Secret History of Tom Trueheart in 2006. He published the second Tom Trueheart adventure, Tom Trueheart & The Land of Dark Stories two years later, a third followed and the series has been translated into thirteen langauges. He wrote a novel for teenagers called Pastworld, which was published by Bloomsbury in 2009. He adapted his own short story 'The Summer House' as a short film which was directed by Daisy Gili.

    He often tours schools and libraries all over the country and abroad talking about his own work and that of other artists. 

  • The Light in Suburbia 

    My Locked-down Year of Painting

    Months before the pandemic hit I was asked by Iris Weaver of the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden to select a piece of work from their collection. The gallery specializes in various East Anglian artists, including Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious and many others. Iris suggested that I might make a work of my own to echo, reflect or celebrate the chosen piece. The resulting painting was to be published in a special edition of the journal Random Spectacular, which is curated by St Jude’s (Simon and Angie Lewin).

    I chose a painting by John Aldridge called February Afternoon, and described the painting as follows for inclusion in the final publication:

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