Friday, 26 June 2015

Illustrations for Exquisite Terror - Hannibal in Transit

January 2015

Aaaand we're back to The Silence of the Lambs, which seems to be my go-to illustration topic for Exquisite Terror. Believe me - I'm not complaining. As I may have explained in previous posts, that film means a lot to me, on several levels.

In truth, this drawing isn't great. COMPLAINTS: Lecter's face and most of his body/clothing details are fine, but the police officers aren't too well executed and I really want to bulk out the one on the right - he looks flat and insubstantial. The overall composition feels a little off and I wish I had come up with something a bit moodier for the background.

The restrictions inherent in trying to produce an "original" artwork of a well-known film, translating landscape orientation to portrait and finding enough screenshots of sufficient quality to cobble together the necessary details from which to work... well, first world problems, right? But still a challenge in some cases. Lecter on his own seemed sad, and kind of lacked... power, I suppose. But done sparingly, centrally and staring with wild eyes, flanked by two faceless police officers whose dark outfits made him stand out more - it kind of worked better. It's still not terrific though, and I'm toying with ways it could be improved before the final version goes to print. I hope I can manage it in time, but even if I don't, it's another drawing that taught me a lot about aspects I always either did instinctively without proper attention to detail or just wasn't aware of. Next time, then: even better.

Illustrations for Exquisite Terror - 19 Cadogan Place and 23 Yeoman's Row

January 2015

Another pair of pieces for the excellent Exquisite Terror. This time, Naila requested pencil illustrations of two London properties that were hitherto unknown to me - 19 Cadogan Place and 23 Yeoman's Row.

19 Cadogan Place is located between Knightsbridge and Belgravia, just a few houses down from the former residence of noted politician/philanthropist/slave emancipator William Wilberforce. Online property listings (in this case, Zoopla) gush that no.19 is "an exceptional Penthouse apartment with a most impressive 690 sq/ft roof garden, overlooking the extensive gardens of Cadogan Place" and mention that it was last on the market in October 2014 with a guide price of £4,750,000. 23 Yeoman's Row, meanwhile, is also in southwest London and is described as "a quaint three storey cottage on a quiet little cul-de-sac off the busy Brompton Road, just a short walk from Sloane Square". Property magnates would be pleased to note that it is certainly cheaper than the previous property, with an estimated value of just £4,680,000. So that's good news for everyone, at least...

But I digress. So what is it that connects these properties? What possibly makes them of interest to a periodical that concerns itself primarily with academic analyses and scholarly articles related to horror literature and cinema?

Each served as home for a period of time (and in the case of Cadogan Place, as site of death as well) to screenwriter and director Michael Reeves. In his short life, he worked with horror greats like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee, and notably directed and co-wrote The Witchfinder General before his death in 1969, aged just 25. As accompaniment for a piece in Exquisite Terror issue 5, Naila sent me images of each property and asked that I set about translating them into pencilwork.
I have no doubt that there are some people who very much enjoy drawing buildings, but I feared I was not one of them. The accuracy involved in creating straight lines and realistic angles and detailing the flat expanse of substance that makes up walls or windows... it just seemed like the opposite of what I have been trying to do in making my drawing and painting better, which is to create impressions of what is seen, not what is exactly there. It seemed sort of mathematical to me at first, rather than "artistic"; to someone who favours portraits over landscapes and often just skims in backgrounds without much interest, buildings seemed a lot more trouble than they were worth, frankly.

But of course I was wrong about this, and I'm glad I was. As ever, when you look at something properly and with care, you realise it isn't a box made of dull straight lines, but a shape composed entirely of light and shade. The brickwork, something I'd been dreading, turned out to be one of the most fun sections to do, and while it may have taken a while to get the proportions set, the fact I was drawing more straight planes than are found in the average human face transcended a chore and actually became fun. So there! Taught me a thing or two (as ever)...

Monday, 8 September 2014

A present for James

Colouring pencil
September 2014

A birthday present for a very dear friend, which took a lot longer than it should have because, try as I might, I could NOT get to grips with Vincent Price's head shape, a fact that is both stupid and humbling. This picture actually began life in pastel pencil but very quickly became incredibly frustrating and had to be thrown out and started again. I can see the appeal of pastel pencil in some circumstances I suppose, but honestly, it's so much nicer to have the fine detail and control of a regular colouring pencil, especially on a small scale.

Once it was done, I cropped it to fit in a landscape frame (about 16x10 inches) which helped balance the slightly squiffy composition. Not much else to say about it - I didn't quite capture Christopher Lee correctly and that is a shame, but hopefully Vincent will make up for it in the eyes of the recipient.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Brand logo - SonaMap

August 2014

I was asked to design a logo for an App in development at quite short notice; this was what was ultimately chosen as the final design. It was a surprisingly quick and painless process, because the brief was clear and gave me good sense of what kind of thing they wanted without being too prescriptive.

I wanted to include the symbol as part of the word to give it the potential to be used as a favicon, especially for smartphones where the screen would be smaller. From there it was just a matter of configuring the representation of the radar screen - circles or crosshairs, how many lines, positioning of the 'hits' and so forth. I don't have tons of experience with logo design to date (this is maybe the third or fourth one I've done properly) but I do really enjoy the challenge of condensing the information somebody wants to get across into just symbol, font and colour. That's an art form in itself.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Illustrations for Exquisite Terror - Buffalo Bill

June 2014

Naila from Exquisite Terror asked for one more picture for the Silence of the Lambs piece, this time one of Buffalo Bill (who I think had ended up featuring in the essay I was to illustrate a little more than originally anticipated). I chose this one over the "tuck" or similar, just because I think it's a great image. It was hard to find a decent resolution of the photo from which to work, but actually this wasn't a bad thing overall. You don't draw every single tiny detail in minute detail, after all, but an impression of what's there - much like a photograph with not-so-great resolution.

Drawing this did make me reappreciate all over again what a great villain he is and what a particularly excellent combination of qualities Ted Levine brought to his portrayal of Jame Gumb. His face is at once flabby, loose-skinned and almost skeletal; he has this overall look that shifts between being dangerous, sexual and stupidly goofy.It's a powerful portrayal and I hope the image goes even a tiny way toward illustrating some of it.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Illustrations for Exquisite Terror - Hannibal and Precious

May 2014

I have a very dear friend who writes about horror movies, and one of the outlets through which he distributes these writings is a rather neat publication called Exquisite Terror, an academic exploration of aspects of horror film. Having heard that editor Naila was looking for more illustrators, James put my name forward and Naila got in touch to ask if I'd be interested in doing illustrations for a piece on The Silence of the Lambs.

My emailed reply contained more capital letters and exclamation marks than is usually seemly in a first-contact communication, but it couldn't be helped. I have been fascinated by that film since I was perhaps eleven years old (though I wasn't allowed to see it until much later), have seen it dozens of times and know it inside out. I know all the quotes and all the parodies. The merged personalities of Clarice Starling and Jodie Foster loomed large in my pre-adolescent psyche as one major heroine; Lecter, with his manners and his Katharine Hepburn voice and his ostensible invulnerability, as a perfect villain. My reply, therefore was a great big YES, yes, most definitely yes, I would indeed be interested in doing illustrations for a piece on The Silence of the Lambs, thank you very much for asking.

Naila requested one of Hannibal Lecter's face, citing it as "delightfully creepy", and one other image. I had hoped to provide more, actually, but a third piece I began fell victim to a poor choice I made quite near the start and couldn't be salvaged in the execution - the rest, typically, fell victim to a lack of time. I toyed with the idea of doing the famous "Nice-chianti-FF-FF-FF-FF" face for the Hannibal picture, but when I browsed stills of it I realised that it sort of lacks tension. The brilliance of that moment is the startling suddenness of what he does; the image of him actually doing it has already bypassed that moment and wasn't as effective. I browsed some more and settled on the big close up of his face as he drinks in Starling's story about the lambs - much creepier, and featuring quite hypnotic eyes that allowed me to let the edges ofthe picture fade into the background a little to try and get the focus on his gaze.

For the other image, I toyed with a few ideas - including, a little shamefully, a kind of wry still life collage of Lecter's own drawing of Clarice next to a glass of chianti and a plate of fava-beans-and-you-know-what. Yes, I know - it would have been bad; I moved on. I always relished the moment when the head-in-a-jar of Benjamin Raspail is unveiled, but it was genuinely difficult to find a good image of it from which to work and I gave it up as not to be. Likewise the skin suit itself was hard to frame well, and like the snarling Lecter, it lacked tension because it's somewhat less than the sum of its parts (forgive the allusion) - not a Maguffin exactly, but certainly not as representive of the horror involved as it should be considering its creation is the motivation for all that killing. No skin suit.

There were good images of Starling herself and I very much wanted to include her, but the image I settled on was the one I made a mess of and there wasn't sufficient time to correct it. Had there been the possibility of a colour reproduction I would have loved to create a green-tinted monochrome of Starling groping terrified in the dark from the night-vision-goggle-framed point of view of Buffalo Bill... but grayscale only on this occasion, so that wouldn't have worked. Thinking of black and white and its restrictions led me to the perfect shot - Catherine Martin's low angle POV, looking up out of the pit at the odious little Precious gazing down at her. That was the one I wanted.

Little else to tell really. Pencils varying from 2B to 6B - a lot of time (but never enough) spent trying to get back into the mindset, remembering less is more; remembering you're not drawing everything that's there but an impression of what's there; remembering you're drawing light and shadow, not lines. Once I'm 'into' a drawing, I remember how much I love it and once it's done I see all the mistakes I made in it. It doesn't feel like other mistakes feel - there's no fear or regret with them because that picture can only ever be what it is; instead you feel calm and even-minded, because you know next time it will be better.

Or maybe that's all just the psychological effect of hours spent gazing deep into the eyes of Hannibal Lecter - who knows.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Client 101 - painting for Worthing Churches Homeless Project

Acrylic on paper
Apr 2014

It's that time of year again - time to contribute something to the extremely worthwhile and deserving Worthing Churches Homeless Projects Art Event, in which artists are recruited to make and donate a piece of art along a theme; it's displayed along with the others and auctioned in aid of the charity. I did it last year, when we were assigned the 'profile' of a homeless person and asked to produce a portrait of them based on the few lines they had written about their situation. This year was slightly different, but no less poignant - the 'Hopes and Dreams' project:
"What did you want to be when you were growing up? Is it the same now or have things in your life changed the things that you want, the things you dream about? A ten year old boy might not dream of owning his own home and raising a happy family but twenty years down the line that might be his greatest ambition. Worthing Churches Homeless Projects are running a project on Hopes and Dreams which will culminate in an exhibition as part of the Worthing ArtsTrail June 2014. The project calls for 100 members of the public and 100 people who have used the services of Worthing Churches Homeless Projects to write down their hopes and dreams. These will then be depicted by local artists."
It is of course one of my defining characteristics that I am grossly short of time, espcially lately, and so I couldn't do an oil painting like last time - there wasn't long enough to let one dry in time for posting (since I now live in a different landmass to this time last year), and so I sat down on a Sunday morning with an A3 sheet of good paper stiffened with gesso and a set of acrylic paints a friend bought me, and determined I would get the piece finished that day.

It's sad to relate but based on this and one other recent project (a handmade book I illustrated for my friend's daughter), I'm ready to admit that acrylic is seriously NOT my medium. I look at these pictures and feel quite frustrated actually - the way I paint, building over layers of things, just doesn't work in acrylic like it does in oil and I'm annoyed I wasn't able to do a better job. But at least I know now that it's best to keep the acrylics for flat colours and next time, just start earlier with my oils. I suppose that's progress in self-taught land.

Anyway, the 'Hopes and Dreams' profile sent to me was preceded by this statement from the very lovely project co-ordinator, Rachel: "This is one people keep sending back to me as it is so tricky so I totally understand if you don’t want it either and I will send you another one but thought it worth a try!" It's this one:

Client 101 - Marc, 55
I did not have any aspirations as a child as I did not go to school until I was 16.
I still don’t have any now.
I had a few initial, pathetic ideas involving some photos I took of my friend posing dejectedly in a stairwell, but they were far too trite for what this man was telling us about his life. I wanted to be able to see his face. Initially his eyes were light blue, and they looked up, but that felt trite too. They're still not right - I see so many things in this painting that I want to fix even now that it has been framed, posted and received in Worthing - but at least the proper mood of the piece is there. It's always tricky with this - you want to create a piece that will attract people and make them want to own it so they'll bid on the piece and get more money for the charity, but you also want to represent the experience that created the profile in the first place. Those experiences are sad ones, and deserve to be contemplated by those of us who often forget how lucky we are.

In short - not a painting I am particularly pleased with technically, but an experience I am glad to have had again and a piece that I hope will help raise some money for the project, even if it isn't much.