MIVC600.1 (for my tutors)

To my tutors,

I do realise that this is somewhat unconventional, however, after submitting my final PDF, I felt the need to explain an error with two of my final spreads.

For some unknown reason, when I exported the Indesign file into a PDF, two of the illustrations which had a text wrap application on them changed into…well, illustrations without the text wrap. I know for a fact that it was a weird technological freak failure, as after I noticed the error on the submission page, I went back to the original Indesign file, and the anomaly was not present. So something has happened while exporting it.

In case it hasn’t yet been noticed, I am referring to the illustration on page 13, and on page 20. I have attached to this post a link for the 2 pages as they appear in the original file.

I am so sorry for the inconvenience of this post, but I would hate to appear as stupid as to have the illustrations on those pages as they appear in the final PDF.

 

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Book Worlds 101

 

There is more to a book than its characters.

Books are worlds onto themselves – they have laws, geography, cityscapes, weather, personality. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books read differently from the Middle Earth of Tolkien. And so does “Howl’s Moving Castle”, despite the fact that they all belong to the fantasy genre.

I’ve realised, doing this project, just how much of a perfectionist I am. Usually, when I read, there’s this vague image forming in the back of my head, representing the words on the page. If I want to, or if the book is really good, I can focus on the image until I am actually in that world. But that always feels like a dream and the details are hard to hold on to.

Illustrating a book has proven to be quite a different experience to reading one. Because you can’t just let the images unfocused, floating at the back of your mind or even pulling you in and absorbing you into the action. I had to read the book multiple times, with a pencil in my hand, picking out facts and details while ignoring the flashing images triggered by the words. Once that was done, the scenes most relevant to what the book represents were selected, to be later translated from words to images. But before I could draw the scenes, I had an issue – what does this world look like? Where is the land of Ingary? How do these houses look like? Through which lands does the castle travel?

As a solution, I decided to draw some of the most important places featured in the book. I drew Market Chipping using reference pictures found on the internet because that is where the main character is from. I also wanted to see on the paper how the Hatter’s shop would look like, both from the outside and the inside, despite the fact that the scenes I had selected would probably not show the shop to that extent. It helped, however, to know where things were and how they looked. And because I am a perfectionist, the idea of those details being on paper relieved me of the stress of remembering where everything was meant to go.

In retrospective, I think I was a bit too focused on the behind-the-scenes working of the world of “Howl’s Moving Castle”, that I lost track of what was really important – the personality. For example, I sketched Howl’s castle from various vantage points, following as much as I could the “instructions” of the book, but I forgot to give it the menacing, foreboding air the enchanted castle is said to have had. This was an impossible structure which terrified the villagers in Market Chipping as it glided across the hills and moors. And I was most worried with it making sense…

Nevertheless, as I compare the research sketches to the few final illustrations I now have, I can say that my initial obsession with the logistics of the world has in a way allowed me to be more free with my final drawings. Because I constructed the background in my head, I managed to focus more on the scene itself (at least to a certain degree). I will probably follow the same steps in future projects, with the amendment that I will be less precious with the sketches by keeping them quick and rough.

 

the problem with the characters

 

Since the end of September, I’ve been focused on re-imagining (because it feels more like that than just illustrating) “Howl’s Moving Castle”, a book written by the late, but brilliant, Diana Wynne Jones. Most people have not read the book, but they know about the Studio Gibli animated version. It’s supposed to be my personal challenge, as much as a university project. And boy, is it challenging…

One of my biggest issues (apart from the ever present, ever crippling self doubt) was the style of the illustrations, especially when it comes to the design of the characters. Initially, my mind was filled with the images of Jim Kay version of “Howl’s Moving Castle”. What I really wished for, was that the world would contain an edition of “Howl…” treated in the same manner that Jim Kay’s “Harry Potter” is. I was pretty obsessed with that.

As a result, I thought that a semi-realistic approach was the first step to obtaining that result. The problem? I am nowhere near a Jim Kay level. My characters were stiff and did not seem to belong to the world imagined by D.W. Jones. So I panicked. I tried to avoid the characters as much as possible. The semi-realistic portraits, based on people I had met at work, lacked the technique and depth I was looking for. Calcifer’s description was so detailed, it was only one way I could picture him, and even that did not seem to go with the self-imposed style that kept failing me.

In the end, I had a moment of luck. I was watching a really captivating film called “Arrival”, when I had an Eureka! sort of moment. In the film, there was a scene where the characters were set against a background of light, making the human body seem elongated and thin – in a way it seemed quite magical. It also reminded me of my usual, go-to style, which in no way can be called semi-realistic.

So I did a few character sketches, trying to get the shapes right, all the while inching back towards my normal style. And it felt easier. More importantly, it had the right personality and it looked as though those characters could belong in a universe of magic.

A very long post later…

This is what I learned: beware of the inspiration you find in other artists. Admiring is alright, as long as it doesn’t change your goal into an imitation game.

  • the images above are taken from my sketchbook and are fairly different from the final images which can be found on my Instagram

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

 

 

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