Riddell Who?

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In my mind, that was a funny title. Sort of like a failed pun.

Obviously, everyone interested in illustration knows who Chris Riddell is. But for those of you out there less interested in the scribbles which are not words, found in books sometimes (aka illustrations), he is the current Children’s Laureate, as well as a brilliant artist, writer of children’s books, and political cartoonist.

I’ve been meaning to excitedly write about his illustrations for a while now. Because I’ve always thought that illustrations and final art, in general, is meant to have colour, or lots of cool shading that makes an art student gasp and drool (obviously, whilst rolling in envy and crippling self doubt).

However, his illustrations are not made of palettes of colour and envy-inducing shading.

No.

His illustrations are made of strong, self-assured, awe-inspiring lines. His is a world of lines that swish and roll, rising into new skies and carving new worlds from the white of paper. It seems simple. After all, it’s just lines. But the patterns are not simple. The characters are not simple. The worlds are not simple.It is a simple way which nonetheless enchants the eye and mind, giving you something so much more intricate than a collection of lines.

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And what I love the most, is his frequent partnership with Neil Gaiman. I cannot think of the Graveyard Book, without visualising Riddell’s fascinating illustrations.

As long as there are books written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell, I feel the world will be ok. It’s my safety blanket.

Chris Riddell’s facebook

Let’s talk about type

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Has anyone picked up a book recently with the sole purpose of checking out the fonts?

No?

Just me then… Although, to my defense, this was not done as an eccentric spur of the moment thing. I was doing research. And let me tell you- staring at books, comparing font sizes and serifs, is not fun. To be honest, after the first half hour it sort of becomes a maddening attempt to grasp the ungraspable. The craziest bit still, is that it does make sense in a very Alice in Wonderland sort of way.

The font they pick in books not only has to carry the personality (or lack thereof) of the book, but if you have pictures/ illustrations, it also has to work and compliment them. Busy illustrations mean you need a quieter font to balance it out. If you don’t have any sort of visual aids there, then perhaps you need a font with a bit more oomph to it. However, even that depends on the personality of the book. And did I mention the whole serif/sans-serif thing? Apparently serif fonts are most used in published, physical books, especially in the body text, because they help the eye register the word faster. Choose a sans-serif font when you have a sentence stretching from page one to page 21, and you might as well beg your readers to stop right there and give up on the whole thing. But sans-serif is also considered to be more modern and therefore a lot of people might want to use them on the web. Am I going down the rabbit hole here? I am sorry. I haven’t even began on font sizes. But try staring at 5 serif fonts for 2 hours trying to decide which one you should use for your book and you might as well book yourself a permanent table at the nearest pancake house because you will need the cake to combat that mental breakdown you’re causing yourself.

At least that’s how I felt yesterday when I turned each font into a story and tried to pair it with my university project.

There are some pretty good articles out there talking about fonts and what you should use depending on the book. Really, very, terribly helpful! I’ll leave the links here because they are so much better than I at explaining the whole process. I still have no idea what I am doing. I did my best yesterday, but in the end, I think you have to go a bit with your gut as well. Especially when your eyes refuse to register defined shapes and forms.

I might expand more on the topic with examples from my uni project, but right now I am at work and I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t lose these articles. I know.. I lead the most exciting of lives.

A list of great types

Picking your fonts when you are self-publishing

Understanding fonts and typography

 

 

On the Tate’s New Wing… with a sidenote regarding George Shaw

This will be a difficult one.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was going to a few galleries on Thursday: The National Gallery, and the Tate’s New Wing. I have already written about George Shaw’s exhibition at the National Gallery, though at the time I had not yet visited it. I’ll just say this: pretty amazing and definitely worth a visit.

The Enamel paints he uses give his paintings a strange sort of sparkling effect which cannot be captured on video or in any pictures I found on the internet. It’s also interesting how he manages to treat his subject matter (mainly trees). Going through the exhibition, I didn’t feel like I was looking at pictures of trees and nature because they had the air of human portraits. It did not make me happy necessarily, because it portrays humans as natural beasts, without ever actually showing a human figure, while nature appears to be elevated and somehow victimized by a brute species which doesn’t seem to appreciate its superiority. It’s not the type of subject depiction that would make you feel gooey and happy. But it left me content. It was good art. I felt I had engaged in an intelligent conversation, without ever having to interact with one human. Win.

And then I went to the Tate’s new wing and by god it made me so angry. I was so furious, I actually had to put off writing this post for fear I might lose the little sense and objectivity I had left. What a load of pretentious crap! Pardon my French. I refuse to acknowledge most of what I saw there as art. The most you can call it is an exercise in craftsmanship. Because some of those pieces do require skill in using a particular material, but so does forging an ax and you don’t see people going around calling the blacksmith of the village an artist, regardless of what he says about his weapon.

I agree that some might have interesting concepts behind whatever thing the “artist” has exhibited. However, that cannot be the only requirement for a thing to be elevated to a work of art. I can attach an interesting concept to basically anything around me. A cigarette butt can represent the decaying of humanity in today’s socio-political context. Does that make it art? It bloody shouldn’t. Maybe we live in a decade when the majority is so stupid that we need to distinguish those capable of some thought by calling them artists and putting them on display in galleries. Maybe I am in the wrong time period. Maybe I should acknowledge the fact that everyone has the right to express themselves in any manner they choose , even if that means calling stupid things “art”. But maybe I also have the freedom to call bullshit on that.

Call what they do in the Tate’s New Wing freedom of expression. But don’t insult the old masters by calling it art. Art is that which apart from showing skill and craft, also carries that je ne sais quoi, the insubstantial something which moves us to tears when looking at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. It’s meant to make you feel something, as long as that something is not outrage at having had my time wasted in such a pretentious way.

Honestly, I don’t know what art is supposed to be. Maybe I am too uneducated to understand the pretentiousness of what I saw at the Tate. Or maybe it is art because it reflects the deplorable state of today’s society and as we know, art is supposed to do that. It’s supposed to be a mirror, or a pastiche so that decades from now, people might look at it and grasp the essence of our period. If that’s the case, I really dread to think about what they might say. Although, it’s not all that bad. We still have good ones out there…

I am sorry for the long rant. As I’ve said before, it made me angry and I needed to vent off the frustration. Maybe one day I will have all the answers. That would be very nice…

the struggle for inspiration

There is nothing – NOTHING! – worse than that period of time between the excitement of finding a new project and actually beginning the first draft. Why? Because in between you have the dreaded research stage, not to mention the inspiration block stage. And did I mention the crippling self doubt stage? No?! Oh, it must have slipped my mind.

It doesn’t matter how many mind maps I draw, how many plans and timetables I put up on the wall, I always bring myself close to tears trying to find the courage for those first drawings.

Right now.. I am at the above mentioned stages. I am doing as much research as I can, but somehow it just doesn’t seem substantial enough. I have googled away my nerves by trying to find out different ways people have been illustrating books these past decades, and I am not sure how much I am achieving with this. All I get is a sense of dread. Because none of those illustrations feel like me. Which, I suppose, should be good because you don’t want to copy someone else’s style and work. I think the best thing for me to do is to go to my happy place (Foyles in Tottenham Court Road) and from morning to sundown just flick through all their books. If nothing else is achieved through this technique, at least I will have spent my day in my happy place.

In the meantime however, I did come across some interesting illustrators. So in case you thought this was all going to be a long, paragraphed meltdown, rest assured. I have included some actual information in here. You know.. just in case you are interested in discovering some actual illustrators.

Benji Davies

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Benji Davies’ illustrations have a particularly warm and lovely feeling about them, even though his style is one I will never go close to. I like it, but it’s miles away from what I try to do.

His blog

Philip Bannister

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Then there is Philip Bannister. The way he uses watercolours is pure magic. It’s a style and technique I will always admire, but not one I think I would use in my coming illustration project. Still, going through his portfolio is a kind of an education.

His website

Madalina Andronic

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There is another illustrator I have admired for a long time now (ever since my private tutor pointed her to me): Madalina Andronic. I think her illustrations resonate so much with me because we come from the same cultural background. I love seeing the modern twist she puts on Romanian folklore. For me, going through her images is a visual feast. And it is undeniable that she has her own, well defined style, an identity so strong, I have to admit I am a little bit (more than a bit) jealous.

Her Behance

 

I also managed to find a buzzfeed post on a few 1920s fairytale illustrations. It was quite interesting to see how this has evolved over time, because if you go into a bookstore now and flick through a fairytale book, you will find a completely different style in illustration.

Buzzfeed – 15 Fairytale Illustrations from the 1920s

 

Of course, there are many more illustrators I find inspiring and jaw-droppingly good, but I’ll save them for a bit later. I have an appointment with my pillow; I plan to cry on it until I magically turn into a good artist.

 

George Shaw – My back to nature

“You don’t find yourself in nature, you lose yourself” – G. Shaw

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I am meant to go to a couple of exhibitions on Thursday at the National Gallery and the Tate. We were told to do a bit of research on one of the artists we are going to see: George Shaw, who is the artist in residence at the National Gallery. Of course, being the google search/ wikipedia enthusiast that I am, I went a bit mad with my research. Now don’t expect some sort of ridiculous insight into the George Shaw trivia world (I wasn’t that crazy), but I am basically making a follow up post on the same subject, after my visit, redundant.

To my defense, I couldn’t help it.

One, because I was at work when I googled George Shaw (I really hope my boss is not reading this).

Two, because as soon as I saw the first image come up on the screen, I realised I was familiar with this particular painter. I had already read an article on him a couple of years ago. This is one of those rare instances when I prove myself “aware” of the contemporary art world.

So instead of waiting until my visit on Thursday for a more detailed and insightful report, I decided to write this post now. Why? Because seeing George Shaw’s paintings today brought me close to tears. I know. I am pathetically emotional and I will blame it on my latin blood. ˙^`

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I had to exercise great self control not to fill this whole post with pictures of his paintings. It is well worth a dive into the rabbit hole that is image searching on the internet, and I encourage whoever might be reading this to do so if they are not familiar with this painter.

What impressed me most was the way he captures light- like a modern Turner. But it’s not just that. It’s the light combined with the subject matter, I think. The ordinary, day to day, urban landscape; the kind of images we pass every day, the sort you might actually notice briefly and you’ll say: “oh, that looks nice, even though it’s just a bit of wall and tree, maybe I’ll instagram it”. And you do. Or I do. And then I look at the picture, wriggle my nose in dissatisfaction and then forget to ever look at it again because it just doesn’t capture the same atmosphere I saw with my own two eyes. For me, that’s what Shaw does. He captures the ordinary as we might see it when the light is right and our mood receptive enough. But he doesn’t do it in a glorifying sort of way. He doesn’t go: look at the magic! He represents it quietly and then lets the viewer do the work. We are responsible with the reading of the image. He paints it. But just as the old philosophical debate goes: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”, does a painting speak, if there is no one there to see it? I’m not sure how much sense that makes. It did in my head… at some point anyway.

In his interview for the National Gallery, Shaw also states that you don’t find yourself in nature, you lose yourself. And then he goes and defines the experience of going to a gallery as stepping outside the world. He prefers the painting of a tree, to the actual tree. He also, quite wisely if I may say so myself, concedes that he may change his mind as he grows older.

I am not an art critic. I could try and go on talking about the special and unconventional type of paints he uses, the techniques employed, how he uses pictures as references instead of painting directly from life. But I might do it poorly so I will avoid it. There are plenty of websites out there that do exactly that, only much better than I ever might.

All I want to do is be honest and react to his art. I want to say how seeing the way he depicts light and the ordinary, or the overlooked, makes my eyes go twinkly and a bit watery. In his paintings, I see a purely human representation of the world. It’s a world that is far from perfect, filled with the ugly imprint of human urbanization, mundane and overlooked. But because we are the impossibly romantic creatures that we are, we find even that ugliness beautiful. We can look at what we’ve built, and it might not be a classical Greek statue, or a temple, but it is ours. We made it. We live and we breathe in this world and we made it ours- for better or for worse.

Maybe Shaw is right. Maybe we don’t go back to nature to find ourselves, maybe we do indeed get lost there. But isn’t that the first step to discovery?

I might have completely misread his paintings. But good art is a conversation which employs not only thoughts, but also feelings. That being said, I cannot wait to see his work in person!

(I might edit this afterwards, depending on my reaction to the exhibition.)

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Exhibition link

Collection of videos posted by the National Gallery

Neil Gaiman and the struggle of a bookaholic

Neil Gaiman and his new books covers

Stardust Cover Design Process

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Now here’s the problem.

Every time I mention to someone that I intend to be a book illustrator, I am met with the same answer: “But aren’t books a thing of the past?”. And every time I angrily, and somewhat obsessedly, reply with a definite and desperate: NO!

I believe this is something which only regular readers will understand. And by regular reader I mean someone who loves to read. Yes, there are audiobooks and e-books out there now. Yes, they are cheaper and more environment-friendly than the traditional paper book. But that doesn’t mean people who love reading will stop buying the books. It might be nostalgia for our lost childhoods. It might be sheer stubbornness. I can’t put my finger on one particular reason for this, but the fact of the matter is this: you cannot replace the feel of a book. You don’t buy a book just for its content. You buy it for its weight, its physicality. You buy it for the smell. You buy it for the feeling you get when one side of the book becomes heavier than the other as you plow through the words and pages. You buy it for the artwork. You buy it for your potential, future children. You buy it so that one day you can hand over a bookcase of books picked and loved by you, which will tell the word the kind of reader you were and the kind of person you chose to become.

Sure, you can pass on a kindle. But will it have that old smell about it? Will it have the little hand-written notes and scribbles; your footprints through that printed, wonderful world?

And because to us readers, books are so much more than the sum total of their words, we care about editions. It’s why we get stupidly, unapologetically excited when a favourite author announces a new edition, with a new cover and a new design. Books are an investment.

So when Neil Gaiman shows us the little gems he will publish again through Harper Collins, with book covers featuring Robert E. McGinnis’ paintings, we start counting our pocket money.

Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors and people. His books are not just stories I have read. His books are part of who I am. His characters have whispered into my ear and then slithered into my heart, making a nest of half imagined worlds. His books are the companions I want on a dark and stormy night…

So yes. I am excited and I will spend my money on these editions. Because the covers are a befitting face to his stories, and the art is amazing. They also appeal to my nostalgic side with their retro design, even though I had not yet been born when this style was considered modern, fresh, and fashionable.

… I got carried away. And I rambled a bit. The point of this post was a note to my future self on how the whole process of choosing a type for a cover and then tweaking the design works. Oh well. At least the link will not get lost somewhere between the dozens of bookmarks already saved on my browser.

 

Jim Kay crush

 

I’ve been obsessing over the miracle that is Jim Kay for about a year now, ever since I discovered his illustrated version of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. And then I stumbled upon his concept art and his take on “A Monster Calls”. And I was immediately and irrevocably head over heels, heart beating fast, forever lost – sort of in love with his art.

 

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I will start with the atmospheric magic he managed to create for “A Monster Calls”. I will also try not to fan girl over it too much. It’s going to be very hard.

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Now, I have to admit, I have not yet read the story, but it is on my soon to be read list and that is mostly because of Kay’s illustrations. They’re dark. They’re mysterious. They’re strangely sad with a tinge of hopefulness. And they are damn intriguing.

There’s a lot of detail in each picture, built with a play of light and shadow, as well as different textures. It feels and looks earthy and shadowy. It is also so very different from the type of image and technique he employs in his depiction of the Harry Potter world, not to mention his other concept art (for example: the Paddington Bear concept art). He is really successful at capturing the soul of a story, a fact which hits you as soon as you open the gallery page on his website. Initially, after a quick google search when I discovered he was doing the new Harry Potter illustrations, I actually thought the artwork for “A Monster Calls” was done by someone else. It was so different from the colourful pictures I saw advertised for JKR’s book.

I have to admit, I was a bit jealous at first. But then… you can’t feel such petty things when you are faced with illustrations like these. (I know.. I am fan-girling right now)

 

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Talking about fan-girling-

I am a massive Harry Potter fan. MASSIVE.

I still get excited whenever I hear something about the Potterverse. I am the kind of nutcase who would pay £30 for a new edition of a book she has read and re-read so many times (not to mention listened to the brilliant Stephen Fry audiobooks), just because it is fully illustrated. I have justified this ridiculous purchase by saying it is university research. I was lying. I would have bought these even if I weren’t interested in becoming a book illustrator. They are magical! And because they are going to release one volume every year, that guarantees me one happy moment per annum for the next 5 years at least.

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What enchanted me the most with his take on the Harry Potter books, is the variety of techniques and media he used to create the world. It’s not just a collection of illustrations meant to accompany the text. It’s a whole. It lives. It breathes. You can smell the autumn air in the illustrations of Hogwarts surrounded by almost barren, yet still colourful, trees.

And no two images look the same.

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Dragon Eggs

And I think I will be forever intrigued by how he manages to create each image. I would love to see more of the processes involved in getting that amazing final product. Unfortunately, all I can do is stalk his website and gawk at the artwork until I develop X Ray art-vision so that I can study all the layers underneath.

If one day I grow to be half the illustrator Jim Kay is, I will consider myself very lucky indeed.

Here is a link for his official website:

Jim Kay

And of course, all the pictures in this post belong to him.

I apologise for the long fan-girl sort of post.