Oodles of Doodles!

While grappling with a couple of other projects this week that have proved rather more troublesome than I had anticipated, and desperately casting about for new procrastination exercises – having exhausted all the usual suspects, and a few other more seasonally-specific ones (mowing the lawn; doing a, frankly, unnecessary amount of washing just for the thrill of sun-dried laundry [yes, I said 'thrill' - I am over 30 now, y'know...]; inspecting all my freckles for signs of potentially-cancerous mutation; etc.) – I was reminded of the brilliant Daily Doodle , courtesy of an unusually welcome update in my Facebook newsfeed (a supremely timely intervention – I was teetering on the brink of having to break out the Emergency Procrastination Activity List: as it is, the oven remains slightly grimier than is probably ideal, but I don’t have to reclaim the Marigolds from my mono printing kit. Win!).

Daily Doodle, brainchild of the brilliant Mark Chambers – award winning illustrator and writer of children’s picture books, and generally highly talented chap (represented by The Bright Agency) – is a daily theme, posted online (Facebook and Twitter), open to doodlers of all ages and abilities to have a bit of no-pressure, sketchy, scribbly (or highly finished, as in some cases) fun with. The ‘creative outcomes’ are then posted back to the online community – via Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram – to enjoy and be inspired by :) It is a masterstroke of an idea – not dissimilar to Illustration Friday and Sketch Dailies (although IF is a weekly exercise, and SD – from what I understand – focuses more on character-based themes) – and a happily-indulged addition to the Procrastination arsenal. It’s a great ‘warm-up’ activity if you’re creative grey matter is behaving a little sluggishly – despite multiple caffeine-based offerings – or your drawing muscles need a spot of encouragement. Part of Daily Doodle’s appeal is its transience: if you aren’t especially moved to creativity by a suggested theme, there’ll be another along tomorrow, and there’s less pressure to create something really ‘finished’ than might be perceived in, e.g., a weekly challenge. It’s a great ‘warm-up’ activity if you’re creative grey matter is behaving a little sluggishly – despite multiple caffeine-based offerings – or your drawing muscles need a spot of encouragement.

However, some weeks the temptation to indulge in truly daily doodling is just too compelling to resist – this week being a perfect case in point: Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake-themed week, to coincide with the ‘Quentin Blake : Inside Stories‘ exhibition opening this week at the newly-minted House of Illustration in King’s Cross. Woohoo! (Thrillingly, Sir Q.B. also appeared on ITV’s This Morning, alongside Lauren Child and the perennially-dour [some might say morose...] Axel Scheffler – you can still watch the, lamentably-short, segment on ITV Player here for a few [4] more days.) Alas, I did miss one instalment – the #JamesAndTheGiantPeach theme – but, as this is my least favourite of Roald Dahl’s otherwise undeniably awesome tales, I am reconciled to perhaps catching up at a later date (i.e. over the weekend, when I suspect there may be other less fun projects to dodge…). According to the afore-described nature of Daily Doodles, these sketches have already all been posted online, but for those whom might have missed them and be interested, I have included them below. Daily Doodles also collates a gallery of images from each day’s theme within its Facebook photos, so please do mosey along there to see the many and varied ways in which other doodlers responded to the topics - there is some fantastic talent out there!

Also, Daily Doodles announced yesterday that some of the doodles that have been submitted over the course of the week would be selected to be shown at the House of Illustration’s House Party slideshow tomorrow night, as part of the celebrations: I was delighted to hear that my foxy poultry-pilferer will be one of them! :)

Matilda

Matilda – ProMarkers and brush pen

The BFG and Sophie - ProMarkers and pencil

The BFG and Sophie – brush pen and pencil

Fantastic Mr Fox - ProMarkers and brush pen

Fantastic Mr Fox – ProMarkers and brush pen

The (delightful) Twits. Revenge is a dish...that wriggles! ProMarkers and brush pen, again)

The (delightful) Twits. Revenge is a dish…that wriggles! (ProMarkers and brush pen, again)

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Beard-love

Lured by the promise of bargain-price Faber Castell pencils (I’m a total sucker for a cleverly-targeted marketing campaign email…), I paid Cass Art in Kingston a visit over the weekend and was persuaded to avail myself of a few other art-material goodies, including a new trio of grey, Letraset ProMarkers together with some appropriate paper. The thinking was that any paper ground less absorbent than the sponge-like cartridge paper of my sketchbooks might return better results than I had previously experienced – which had precipitated a disgusted abandonment of the first ‘trial’ pens (by no means a cheap experiment…) when they ran dry after only a couple of uses. I still don’t really understand them (all suggestions towards demystifying their apparently perennial appeal welcome…) but, having resolved to give them another shot, I decided I’d harness them to the task of tackling this week’s Illustration Friday challenge: herewith, a rather abundantly bearded chap for your Tuesday morning…

7B pencil and grey ProMarkers on generic Marker  Paper

7B pencil and grey ProMarkers on generic Marker Paper

(I’m not 100% certain, but I think he may be an Orkney fisherman, mildly disgruntled upon discovering that he’s left his fish paste butties at home, and slowly reconciling himself to the prospect of a day on the water with only fresh, sea air for sustenance…)

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MA musings (3 of 3)

The final instalment (well, y’know, until the next one…) in my slightly-scrabbling, 3-part catch-up series of Children’s Book Illustration MA posts (I am literally blown over by the  audible sigh of relief from t’ blogosphere…). This is a rather less structured offering than the previous two (I know: you didn’t believe it possible… I am, you see, brimming with surprises!), on account of my having galloped through recounting Modules 2 and 3 of the course, and having arrived, somewhat abruptly, at the roadblock that is Module 4: the Diploma Review, or ‘dissertation’ as I have previously (and rather grandiosely, for a 6,000-word document…) described it.

While grappling with that particular word-built ogre, we were encouraged to continue developing work initiated in the previous module, both to capitalise on the progress we had made during those previous six weeks – by using the creative momentum accrued to propel our visual language’s evolution and creation of finished pieces – and to function as a ‘differently expressive’ (i.e. more intuitive, visual) foil to the, by now, disorientingly unfamiliar practise of  essay structuring and keyboard-tapping (it was clear from the briefing that some on the course foresaw boredom of sanity-compromising proportions without some mitigating activity of this order). The freedom to intersperse self-reflective, Review research with project work during these weeks was invaluable in allowing a ‘dialogue’ to develop between the discoveries and connections I was forging, and the illustration work I was producing, the one informing the other in a way that really helped train my focus on a more well-defined trajectory (where previously I had tended to cast about in all directions, hoping to ‘hit’ on something that would somehow immediately identify itself as ‘The Right Thing’ and solicitously guide me onwards towards the successful resolution of my creative quandary).

How this actually manifested, however, was as me studiously avoiding the reproachful presence of the laptop (in fact, actively burying it beneath a slew of messily arranged notes and photocopies as a primitive defence against its shinily-chiding surfaces) and scurrying off to the printroom at every opportunity – luxuriating in hours of ink daubing and smearing to test out my newly-devised approaches to achieving a quality of mark that I felt would exactly attune with my narrative purpose for the Module 3 project. Frustratingly, some of these ventures (occasionally entire days…) were rather less than satisfactory – the most extreme of which involving roughly 5 hours’ meticulous plate-inking preparation (which, on initial appearance, promised to be rather good in relation to previous attempts [if I do say so myself, etc., etc.]) almost entirely undermined by a moment’s lapse in concentration at the crucial pressing stage when, engaged in some casual chit chat about vegetable alternatives to flour in cake-making (or some such other scintillating topic), I placed the expensive Japanese tosa washi paper I had just purchased wrong-side down under the blankets… Gah! The result was a less-than-crisp, disappointingly grey print (see below) as reward for a whole day’s careful ink manipulation. The trouble with (and, perversely, joy of) mono printing is, as the term suggests, its absolute uniqueness: you only get one shot before the plate is wiped clean and that ephemeral image is obliterated forever, preserved only in whatever impression you have managed to lift with one sheet of paper*. One of those “chalk it down to experience” episodes that people ‘tactfully’ chirrup when they can see you’ve totally ballsed something up entirely due to your own ineptitude…

The unedited, raw print from the inked sheet of perspex I had been working on slavishly pretty well all day (there were many 'rubbings out', with veg oil, and re-applications). The ink hasn't taken to the beautiful, diaphanous paper as it should have, had I set the sheet correctly in the press... *sigh*

The unedited, raw print from the inked sheet of perspex I had been working on slavishly pretty well all day (there were many ‘rubbings out’, with veg oil, and re-applications). The ink hasn’t taken to the beautiful, diaphanous paper as it should have, had I set the sheet correctly in the press… *sigh*

I had to 'bump up' the contrast a little in Photoshop to try and help the image along a little.  Although I really liked the shape and movement of the mouse in the ink drawing, following my efforts to make him more 'legible', the resultant edit has definitely robbed him of some of that exuberance. Boo.

I had to ‘bump up’ the contrast a little in Photoshop to try and help the image along a little. Although I really liked the shape and movement of the mouse in the ink drawing, following my efforts to make him more ‘legible’, the resultant edit has definitely robbed him of some of that exuberance. Boo.

*Usually. Degas himself often made a second print from his monotype plate – a sort of ‘ghost’ image – then he then worked into with, e.g., or used as a ‘base’ for a painting.

Needless to say, this image did not make the ‘final cut’, and I think qualifies as a ‘blind avenue’ of creative enquiry, as Prof. Salisbury might describe it: I had a theory, a strategy for achieving a particular atmospheric, visceral (what I came to refer to, for my own purposes, as ‘a bit grubby’) quality that I had found in Degas’s monotype-based works and that I hoped to harness for my own, illustrative ends – it’s just that it hadn’t quite ‘come off” and I realised that I had underestimated the medium I had chosen. Ink demands a certain degree of autonomy from the authorial process, a freedom to work its inscrutable magic beyond the tyrannical grip of ‘the vision’ that will, ultimately, lend it a life and vigour of its very own. Well, that’s what I think anyway… And that’s what I’m attributing the above abortive endeavour to: my own jealous grasp on the image, approaching the plate with a strong vision etched (ha! Printmaking pun for you, at no extra cost…) in my mind that I fought against the ink to direct into being on the plate, instead of keeping in mind a sense of what I wanted to depict and allowing the physical process of brushing on and wiping away ink to determine how that would eventually reveal itself.

 

The Macmillan Prize brief also constituted a highly alluring distraction from the rather more word-centric task at hand, although by the time I had resolved to try and complete a dummy-book and sufficient finished artwork spreads (almost certainly nibbling at the heels of the very last days to risk submission by post, if not into digital-submission-only territory…), I was also beginning to revel in the research element of the Diploma Review. (I’ve included a few more spreads from my Stage Fright [almost wordless] picturebook entry, taken from the dummy book [pdf thereof] that was required to be submitted alongside the finished artwork pieces, below…)

Front endpapers

Front endpapers

First 'true' spread after title page

First ‘true’ spread after title page

(Climactic...) middle spread.  There was a version of the story with text, in which this spread would have been the only wordless one (with the exception of endpapers and title/copyright pages), designed to enhance its narrative impact

(Climactic…) middle spread. There was a version of the story with text, in which this spread would have been the only wordless one (with the exception of endpapers and title/copyright pages), designed to enhance its narrative impact

23June_spread-4

The pivotal moment… In the (almost) wordless version of the dummy submitted, this was the only spread with any text (excluding title/copyright page and, if you’re of a pernickety disposition, the first spread where there is wording on the poster).

23June_spread-5

Collective horror amongst the emphatically amateur corps de ballet upon hearing that they are sharing the stage with a small, though ambitious, rodent.

A Macmillan Prize Highly Commended-er herself, my first interview subject for the assignment (I had settled on the [perhaps inevitable, given my preoccupation with this in my own work] sprawling subject of ‘tonal’ qualities in children’s picturebook illustration, my title now being: ‘In a Theatrical Light: an exploration of tonal variation in children’s picture books, with particular reference to a parallel aesthetic in theatre and film’) was the super-lovely Paula Metcalf - accompanied, on the day, by her little dog, Walter ['Wally'] (a very sweet, white Westie). Paula’s work – well, that which I had chosen to focus on particularly (characterised by Mabel’s Magical Garden and Poddy and Flora), but which no longer really represents her increasingly loose, fluent visual language – is wonderfully ethereal and perfectly blended to lend her images an immediate sense of a believable, real space, one that the reader can immediately inhabit, but which glows with a sort of dreamlike, fantastical quality that defines it as a magical realm of experience. She spoke of her early belief that tonal and linear marks were mutually exclusive, that one compromised the power and integrity of the other – her early ‘methodology’ privileged purely tonal rendering of objects and spaces, working as she did on a tiny scale to create meticulously gradated pencil drawings that she then overlaid with colour (for and of which she has an enviably natural affinity and understanding) – but emphasised that, following a fairly recent ‘epiphany’, this was no longer true and that she was enjoying exploring more spontaneous, expressive mark-making that combined both with colour to achieve images with a powerful sense of movement and life.

Mabel's Magical Garden, by Paula Metcalf. Publ. by Macmillan Children's Books, 2005.

Mabel’s Magical Garden, by Paula Metcalf. Publ. by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2005.

Throughout our multiple-venue interview (it transpires that the pub of Cambridge are not as accommodating of a small, impeccably-behaved dog as one might expect, or at least hope; we resorted to a selection of old-fashioned ‘boozers’ that, inevitably, practised rather bizarre opening hours), Paula was really generous in recounting her own not-always-positive experiences as an illustrator – particularly insecurities dating from her MA-student-era – and in crystallising from these the moments that had proved most valuable for her. While my enthusiasm for the subject of my Review was growing with each rambling question Paula patiently tried to interpret and answer, I found the little chestnuts of personal experience she shared seriously competing for attention and threatening to entirely occlude my focus!

In addition to considering the work of an array of illustrators whom work tonally (including Ian Andrew, Chris Van Allsburg, Stephen Lambert and Aaron Becker), I contacted three other professional ‘practitioners’ in the course of my research – Jim Kay (A Monster Calls; new ‘visual imaginer’/illustrator of the Harry Potter series; a pretty awesome [and, probably, equally terrifying] gig, by anyone’s reckoning!!); Portia Rosenberg (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell , soon to be recreated in film [casting began in March this year]; she gave a great interview about her work to the SCBWI online magazine, Words and Pictures in March 2014, which you can still read here); and Alexis Deacon (part-time lecturer on the MA; works, including but not exhaustively, While You Are Sleeping, Slow Loris, Beegu, Memory Palace, The Selfish Giant, Jim’s Lion - this last published this month [June 2014] and showcased at The Illustration Cupboard in St James’, London); Lindy-Hopper extraordinaire; general, all-round genius). All were incredibly patient and helpful in their responses, despite my characteristically verbose question-framing style: with each successive interviewee, my focus narrowed a little further, the line of enquiry became more ‘honed’, so that Alexis (whom I was most trepidatious about approaching…) was treated to the most clearly formulated set of questions – although, unfortunately, that isn’t saying much (they were hardly what one might call ‘pithy’). I won’t subject you to all my findings, but there were a couple of things that I thought might be of interest:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, illustrated by Portia Rosenberg. Publ. by Bloomsbury, 2004

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, illustrated by Portia Rosenberg. Publ. by Bloomsbury, 2004

Portia Rosenberg, whom also studied on the MA, said that she very often begins a drawing with the element(s) that most interest her – despite a more technical sense to take a broader, ‘mapping out’ approach to the scene – and that these are usually the faces of people, being especially interested in exaggerated characterisation and informed by sense of the humorous in humanity. She mentioned that one of the things she had discovered on the course, and throughout her own illustrative career, was that the ability to draw, to render visual images in a particular way, was something that it was possible to improve and develop with learning and practise; that, while one person might seem to have an innate ‘talent’, another with what might be perceived as a lesser facility for drawing had the capacity to build on their skills through intelligent observation and diligence (or sheer bloody-mindedness…) to achieve results that far outstripped what they may’ve imagined themselves capable of previously. A cheering thought.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (from original idea by Siobhan Dowd) and Jim Kay. Publ. by Walker Books, 2012

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (from original idea by Siobhan Dowd) and Jim Kay. Publ. by Walker Books, 2012

Jim Kay, discussing his ‘crude use of tone’ in A Monster Calls (his words, emphatically not mine…!!) – where the interpretive impulse of the reader is called upon to construct meaning from the “pixellated ‘noise’” of the marks – as representing something of a struggle in the creation process: that wonderfully free, expressive line that skates across the surface of the paper – often ‘skipping’ in places as the texture of the drawing surface catches/eludes the, e.g. charcoal tip, sometimes took between 30 and 40 attempts to ‘get right’, as any eraser work suddenly altered the quality and intensity of the mark, disrupting the illusion. Reassuring to hear that even the brilliant are plagued by dissatisfaction from time to time! ;)

While You Are Sleeping, by Alexis Deacon. Publ. by Red Fox Picture Books, 2006.

While You Are Sleeping, by Alexis Deacon. Publ. by Red Fox Picture Books, 2006.

On responding to a question pertaining to sources of inspiration, Alexis Deacon talked about the importance of remaining/becoming receptive to all things/people as possible sources for learning. I’m afraid I’ve definitely been guilty of being fairly dismissive of certain things/people out of a rather presumptuous sense that, either, they were merely reiterating things I already knew (albeit in the most superficial terms, sometimes) or that they were not relevant to me. Although I’m pretty sure the inclination to ‘filter’ the information I’m exposed to everyday – a reflex I think we’ve all evolved to some degree in the age of relentless sensory bombardment – will stubbornly linger, I would like to think that I am at least a little more aware of when I am ‘censoring’, and more readily disposed to interrogate whether this is done rightfully/advisedly, or whether I might learn more by disabling the filter…

In the unlikely event of any further interest, I do have a version of the final thing clogging up a few 22.1 MB of my hard drive (it includes a lot of pictures…), although I think I’d be rather reluctant to offer it up for more thorough public scrutiny; by its nature, as a ‘review’, and contrary to the usual, more scholarly form of dissertations, it is pretty subjective and focuses on my own creative development in the latter sections. (Unfortunately, next year’s 1st-year full-timers – and 2nd-year part-timers – will be offered my Diploma Review, along with everyone else’s, as guidance for their own studies at the start of this module, with no indication as to its relative merit as example…)

***

Here endeth the recap. And now, on with the summer!!! To whet your, ahem, appetite for forthcoming posts (I hope…) I offer one of my submissions for another, recently discovered creative warm-up/procrastination facility: Daily Doodle! (You can find them on Twitter, @Daily_Doodle, where you should be able to identify the day’s topic [either from the image contributions in their feed, or from the recurring hashtags...], and they also have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DAILYD00DLE. Open to all – doodle away, people!! :D

AP x

#vampiremouse

#vampiremouse

 

 

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MA progress (2 of 3)

So, having battled through the second module of the course – and, dear reader, my last blog post, if you have been diligently following (profuse thanks, if so – and apologies for the rather dry, unrewarding nature of both textual and illustrative content therein…) – Christmas 2013 was in large part an essay-writing interval.

I say essay-writing… More accurately, I sat ensconced on my bed, surrounded by library-book-built cairns, alternately reading, huffing and sobbing as I attempted to wrestle a blizzard of words and images into two cogent discussions on 1.) the narrative quality of visual imagery and 2.) the structural merits/failings of a selected picturebook/graphic novel crossover text. Occasionally, Marvellous Dave would courageously tiptoe across the threshold with a cup of tea (or glass of wine, in the last week – hour immaterial…), but there was no time for casual chit chat if I was to have sufficient desperate-weeping time to see me through both assignments. After three years churning out essays for an English degree – not to mention a stint as an assistant editor writing copy for a reference book series – you might think the prospect of constructing two relatively short written arguments would seem a mere trifle, but having revelled in almost exclusively illustrative pursuits for four straight months, my brain seemed emphatically reluctant to comply with demands for intelligent wordsmithery… Curses! (That I would have to confront the reality of mustering a 6,000-word dissertation from this same labour-averse grey matter in a couple of short months was conveniently, and hastily, ‘filed’ before it could stir any undue alarm…)

The intervening three or four weeks post- January ‘hand-in’ and pre-Semester 2 start were mainly occupied by completing small, personal commissions (including a 40th birthday caricature of a running buddy [see below], a wedding gift portrait, and preparatory work for a pet portrait) that had been loitering patiently for several weeks – and the start of the course, in one instance – awaiting a little chink in the coursework schedule. It was a relief to return to pencil-wielding, after weeks of frenzied note-taking and keyboard-tapping, but a little odd to be revisiting a manner of working that – after the intensifying observational discipline of the course – felt strangely unfamiliar, counter-intuitive, and a little bit like ‘cheating on’ the MA…

Michelle_colour_email

Birthday caricature (for a cat-loving, beer-drinking trail runner) – final piece, rendered in my pre-MA, default watercolour and black fine liner…

 

sketches from photos...

sketches from photos…

...to explore caricaturing possibilities

…to explore caricaturing possibilities

 

I was desperate to keep what now felt like an ill-fitting, threadbare ‘visual language’ at a proverbial arms length and to try and recapture the ‘magic’ I had begun to experience in terms of translating the world through my own visual form of expression. The return to Cambridge in February soon dispelled any lingering artistic malaise: I really missed my course mates over the festive break, and to reconnect with them, and bathe in the coruscating glow of illustrative brilliance emanating from our tutors (this semester including James Mayhew, Marta Altes, Hannah Webb, Alexis Deacon and David Hughes – alongside the eminent Prof. Martin Salisbury, of course) was just the reinvigorating tonic the, er, creative doctor (???) ordered…

Embarking on the Diploma Project – an exercise in exploring what we had learned in the previous semester but now very purposefully tailored to a child reader/viewership (where the previous project had not specifically been…) – represented an exciting shift up a gear towards realising our ambitions as picturebook makers. Although I, like most others, had arrived armed with a few possible ideas to pursue, it was clear that the next few weeks would be critical in first exploring and then identifying the most promising contenders for a child-centric visual sequence that would synthesise the technical elements we had learnt so far whilst continuing to develop our emerging personal visual language (or ‘style’, as we are absolutely prohibited from referring to it unless in entirely inaudible whispers…). Below are a handful of sketches from this initial, unresolved stage as I cast about for a theme that I was sufficiently enthused by to want to ‘create’ with during the six-week module:

BLOG_boy-&-seagull-cartoony

Irritatingly, I found myself straying back into cartoony, pre-MA territory after the Christmas break (see, also, pink-costumed baby ballerinas, below…) – an intervention was in order!

BLOG_pastel-seagull

BLOG_seagulls 1BLOG_horsesBLOG_ballet-children-2BLOG_ballet-children-1BLOG_smug-dancerBLOG_dancer-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although loathe to abandon horses (again…) and seagulls, I settled on the ballet theme, and attempted to find a ‘way in’ by experimenting with various different media (incl. brush pen and ink, acrylic inks, pastel, charcoal and monoprint) and interrogating my eddying thoughts about possible formats and scenarios for narrative potential and enjoyment factor (my abiding feeling from the experience of the last module was that I had taken it – and myself – way too seriously…!). A spider did feature early on in this ideas-storm, but it quickly became evident that my lifetime-spanning, debilitating fear of arachnids was going to impede the process of character development. Plus, by nature of their diminutive size and horribly gangly proportions, spiders don’t readily lend themselves to expressiveness without recourse to cartoon-esque devices. It seemed sensible that the spider character should, instead, be realised as a mouse – although the notion of a mouse that lives in the theatre and has a penchant for ballet seemed disappointingly familiar…

BLOG_rejected-storyboard-1BLOG_miceBLOG_mice-1BLOG_dancers

BLOG_girlBLOG_blue-girlBLOG_creepy-childrenBLOG_child-dancersBLOG_dance-photo-sketchesBLOG_dance sketches 2BLOG_charcoal-dancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The opportunity to observe a series of children’s ballet, to watch countless films of both traditional ballet performances (a stalwart of mid-afternoon Christmas holiday TV scheduling…) and documentaries (inspired by a fortuitously-timed interest in the art form at the BBC, it seemed), and to attend a production of The Sleeping Beauty by Cambridge (University) Ballet Club, all fuelled my enjoyment of this module, while a burgeoning interest in the art of Edgar Degas (surely the indisputable foremost artist in depicting this theme, and from a ‘reportage’-like perspective that imbues his work with a freshness and modernity that belies its age) motivated me to venture into the bowels of the print room (accompanied by similarly hesitant print-process virgins) to experiment with subtraction mono printing methods in order to break away from the tyrannical pencil!

Edgar Degas, 'Ballet at the Paris Opera' (1876/77) - pastel over monotype on cream laid paper

Edgar Degas, ‘Ballet at the Paris Opera’ (1876/77) – pastel over monotype on cream laid paper

These forays into print were often rather long, drawn-out affairs – sometimes rather less-than-successful, frequently frustrating, but always educative: my initial impulse to micro-engineer every mark made was soon overtaken by a realisation that the medium doesn’t allow this sort of hyper-controlled retentiveness, and gradually I learned to relinquish determinacy to the ink and creative whim of the environment. Learning alongside seasoned printmakers – many of whom are studying on the MA Printmaking course – and benefiting from their wisdom and experience (and homemade cake…), generously shared, also nudged me much farther forward in terms of personal creative evolution than I had imagined possible: I had begun to despair of ever experiencing the merest tingle of a creative epiphany that it seemed so many of my colleagues had been transformed by in previous months (that makes it sound like some sort of religious awakening, but I suppose – in a very tenuous manner of speaking –  it is…), and now I was sensing those first, exciting, er, pins-and-needles! :)

BLOG_dancers-in-wings BLOG_ballet-class_coloured

BLOG_dancing-mice

Subtraction monoprints – excerpt from a large, A2-ish plate of marauding mice!

BLOG_mouse-2 BLOG_mouse-3 BLOG_sketchy-mouse

 

Early experimentation with subtraction mono printing, whereby a plate is inked up with a roller and then marks/areas removed with rags/paintbrushes/cotton buds/pen ends/sticks/anything else that might lie to hand - these 'subtracted' areas forming the lighter/white areas of the composition

Early experimentation with subtraction mono printing, whereby a plate is inked up with a roller and then marks/areas removed with rags/paintbrushes/cotton buds/pen ends/sticks/anything else that might lie to hand – these ‘subtracted’ areas forming the lighter/white areas of the composition

BLOG_monoprint-dancers-from-wings

I then experimented with overlaying a second, mono printed layer (the mouse in this composition) and combining in a third layer of hand painted colour. The effect is sort of 'washed out vintage photo', but perhaps a little TOO subtle...

I then experimented with overlaying a second, mono printed layer (the mouse in this composition) and combining in a third layer of hand painted colour. The effect is sort of ‘washed out vintage photo’, but perhaps a little TOO subtle…

...so I then had a go at applying colour layers digitally, using both Photoshop swatches and digitally 'enhanced' (questionable...) watercolour samples I had painted up beforehand. The effect is pretty horrible - way too high contrast and the 'burn' tool produced some awful mutations of the lovely naturalistic watercolour shades - but it gave me an idea as to what might be possible with a little (alright, a lot...) more work.

…so I then had a go at applying colour layers digitally, using both Photoshop swatches and digitally ‘enhanced’ (questionable…) watercolour samples I had painted up beforehand. The effect is pretty horrible – way too high contrast and the ‘burn’ tool produced some awful mutations of the lovely naturalistic watercolour shades – but it gave me an idea as to what might be possible with a little (alright, a lot…) more work.

To this end, I also had a bit of a play with just the mouse character on his own, whom had assumed a- to me - a fairly compelling identity that, I think, suggests a life beyond the picturebook he had originally been intended for (watch this proverbial space...). I think there is something of the filmic 'still' to this, almost like a cell from an animated film, where the 'moving' character sits on a different plane to the background and is, indeed, rendered in a different way.

To this end, I also had a bit of a play with just the mouse character on his own, whom had assumed a- to me – a fairly compelling identity that, I think, suggests a life beyond the picturebook he had originally been intended for (watch this proverbial space…). I think there is something of the filmic ‘still’ to this, almost like a cell from an animated film, where the ‘moving’ character sits on a different plane to the background and is, indeed, rendered in a different way.

For balance, I also experimented with a few alternative methods, including photocopying my original graphite drawing and then combining with a colour overlay hand-rendered in ordinary coloured pencil

For balance, I also experimented with a few alternative methods, including photocopying my original graphite drawing and then combining with a colour overlay hand-rendered in ordinary coloured pencil

In the end, and despite the revelation that I really rather enjoyed print (after overcoming its personally intimidating reputation…), I came to the conclusion that the ‘methodology’ best suited to both this picturebook project and that I found most satisfying combined two hand-rendered processes – i.e. graphite drawing and watercolour painting – synthesised with a little digital wizardry; the end result, while perhaps recognisably reliant (to an extent) upon Photoshop’s magic ‘Multiply’ tool, I hope retains something of that traditional, hand-crafted quality.

This, though, is not ‘The End’; I feel as though I am just beginning… Exciting times ahead!! :D

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MORE MA sketchbook outpourings (1 of 3 [sorry...])

ADVANCE WARNING: There follows an-already-slightly-mouldering (these are now pretty old drawings…) ‘glut’ of sketchbook-based posts charting my progress/stumble through the last couple of modules of the MA Children’s Book Illustration course, after which I promise a more regular (in terms of frequency) and varied posting service shall resume… Also, many of the images (in this post, particularly) are pretty cringesome – not to mention a little odd (the museum attendant slowly ossifying in the sequence I selected as my main project [idiot...] is not a body of work I’m at all proud of, hence the sparsity of images from the final artwork and general disinclination to discuss it) – but intended merely to illustrate (ha!) the project work we have undertaken and, hopefully, to demonstrate the progress I have made since then… I would, however, not be in the least offended if you decided that this was all a little tedious and enjoined me to get back to some more interesting and engaging work for your ocular amusement, please-thank you.

Meanwhile, if I haven’t already pestered you via some other flavour of social media, please do have a quick nosey of my new website (much tinkering still to be effected, but at least it’s now visible!!) at www.illustratedbyamanda.com

The autumn/winter semester, ‘Sequential Image’ project represented a real challenge, evidenced by the myriad re-workings of a particular storyboard idea (once several others had been rather unceremoniously rejected – not before a couple of agonising weeks attempting to rejig them into something clever/hilarious/logical…) to arrive at something that ‘read’ successfully – a few examples of which are displayed here (amidst a somewhat cacophonous selection of alternative ideas and other random sketchbook pages). You will also note that I haven’t really attempted to use colour at all – that just felt like an element too far in addition to the considerations of pacing, perspective, rhythm, story ‘arc’, page-turn impetus and characterisation that were already making trouble for my as-yet pretty inarticulate illustrator brain (although I wasn’t, ultimately, particularly successful on many of these counts, either…!):

Chip, chip, chipping away...

Chip, chip, chipping away…

...to create THIS monstrosity. Such a waste...

…to create THIS monstrosity. Such a waste…

 

 

 

A second attempt...

A second attempt…

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An 'it was all a dream - or was it...?!'-type sequence which, of its own accord, seemed to evolve in comic-book panels (a phenomenon perhaps not unrelated to my simultaneous reading of Scott McCloud's excellent UNDERSTANDING COMICS...).

An ‘it was all a dream – or was it…?!’-type sequence which, of its own accord, seemed to evolve in comic-book panels (a phenomenon perhaps not unrelated to my simultaneous reading of Scott McCloud’s excellent UNDERSTANDING COMICS…).

 

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I was very keen for horses to feature win this project, and spent several VERY COLD Saturdays at a riding stables in Walton-on-Thames watching the riding lessons and the rather chaotic life on the yard (where great, fluffy-footed chickens and turning goats also featured!)

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A couple of format ideas, including a zoetrope-type contraption, and a complicated folding poster (I am no paper engineer, it turns out…)

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This is the idea I eventually ran with, although – having admitted in a tutorial that I was wearying of the idea at this very early, developmental stage – I should perhaps have jettisoned it in favour if one of the other ‘sequence concepts’ swirling around my head at the time..

Just to give you an little inkling of the excruciating process of storyboarding, I'm including a handful of the myriad versions this sequence mutated through (somewhere in the region of 10, I think) - and the infinitesimally small changes that separated them, in some cases... (Gah! Even the memory is infuriating!!)

Just to give you an little inkling of the excruciating process of storyboarding, I’m including a handful of the myriad versions this sequence mutated through (somewhere in the region of 10, I think) – and the infinitesimally small changes that separated them, in some cases… (Gah! Even the memory is infuriating!!)

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A double-page spread from the final art worked sequence. Oh, so many errors... *simultaneous cringe/sigh*

A double-page spread from the final art worked sequence. Oh, so many errors… *simultaneous cringe/sigh*

 

 

 

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Illustrators: Assemble!

So, after the disgorging of sketchbooks from the initial stages of the MA, I had intended to continue in uncharacteristically logical, sequential fashion by posting further sketchbook pages from the second module (appropriately entitled ‘The Sequential Image’). However, I felt that I ought to intercept this trajectory to relate a Quite Exciting Event and indulge in a little flagrant self-aggrandisement and outpouring of warm-fuzzy-feeling for both my course contemporaries (and other v. talented illustrators – other illustration course providers are available…) and the (tutors and institution of the) Cambridge School of Art (CSA)…

Those of you whom may be of an illustrative persuasion are likely to be at least vaguely aware (as was I) of the Macmillan Prize, a national children’s picturebook illustration competition held every year by the publisher, Macmillan (PanMacmillan), to “stimulate new work from young illustrators in art schools, and to help them take the first steps in their professional lives”. In its 29th year, this “coveted award…has discovered such talent as Emily Gravett, Chloe Inkpen and Gemma Merino, amongst many others”.

The Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water by Gemma Merino. Published by Macmillan Children's Books, 2013.

The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water by Gemma Merino. Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2013.

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One of the double-page spreads from Gemma’s winning entry in 2011.

 

CSA students have, historically, performed pretty amazingly in this competition (Gemma Merino being a very recent graduate, perhaps familiar from her v. funny The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water [I can gladly forgive the erroneous use of 'who', as opposed to 'whom', on account of the picturebook's great loveliness and warmth] which has since been shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, won the Bishop Stortford Picture Book Award, and longlisted for the very prestigious CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal this year): last year, the School achieved a ‘clean sweep’ of the top three prizes and the Lara Jones Award (awarded to an illustrator showing particular promise in illustration for very young children) – the glowing (but not especially gushing) report can still be read here. And, er, this year, too, it seems…!! :D

As in previous years, the deadline for submission of entries hovers just around about the penultimate and final, critical weeks before coursework hand-in for most art schools, so marshalling the resources (of wakefulness and competent brain function…) to complete the required 4 artwork spreads and full picturebook ‘dummy’ (basically, a rough – but readable – ‘vision’ of the book, including cover, endpapers, title pages and, of course, story pages) was something of a challenge. However, for the first time this year, Macmillan had instituted the facility to accept submissions digitally – an absolute godsend for those of us whom may have been down to the last hour or two and not within frantic-pedalling distance of their London offices, although did necessitate a rather steep learning curve in the art of pdf manipulation (I spent embarrassingly long trying to coax crop marks into existence – at the right marginal distance from the page edge – before I was able to commit my entry to the ether…). A very hearty slap on the back, then, to everyone whom managed to submit an entry in time – that was 328 slightly frazzled young (and, er, a bit more mature…) illustrators, all in all – and an even heartier, stingingly-exuberant slap (or perhaps a firm handshake and a nice glass of something bubbly would be better received…?) to those whom were awarded something (excluding myself, of course, ‘cos that just seems a little too conceited to be acceptable).

I was pretty astonished – and very honoured – then, to discover that I had been Highly Commended from amongst such an incredibly talented, innovative bunch of illustrators, and was totally thrilled to have a piece of work from my entry selected to be exhibited alongside the other highly commended/winning entries at London’s Coningsby Gallery (briefly, 20 – 22 May 2014). The tiny – and extremely warm – gallery was a lovely, intimate space for the exhibition, although – in hindsight – perhaps bringing both Marvellous Dave and my mother (whom, serendipitously, just happened to be two hours into her first visit to Cambridge [then whisked onto a train and away to London for the evening!] along to the Private View was something of a mistake…

Spread selected for the exhibition

Spread from my entry selected for the exhibition (graphite and watercolour)

It was a brilliant evening, though, and a great opportunity to chat to other illustrators (there were representatives of Edinburgh, Falmouth, Bournemouth, and Brighton among the winners), our course tutors  (Pam Smy, Hannah Webb, both MA tutors, and Chris Draper, BA Illustration tutor), the Macmillan team and members of the judging panel (including the amazing Emily Gravett, a previous winner herself) in a fairly informal setting (aided by a steady flow of wine and some pretty exotic nibbles!). I feel extremely lucky!

Looking awkward - and over-heated - next to a piece from my Highly Commended entry, 'Stage Fright'...

Looking awkward – and over-heated – next to a piece from my Highly Commended entry, ‘Stage Fright’…

Emily Gravett, TOTALLY clocking my less-than-surreptitious ninja-photograhpy skills while Chris Inns - Art Director for Picture Books at Macmillan Children's Books - talks about my 'neighbour', Toby Rampton's, very cool, jazz-inspired piece.

Emily Gravett, TOTALLY clocking my less-than-surreptitious ninja-photograhpy skills while Chris Inns – Art Director for Picture Books at Macmillan Children’s Books – talks about my ‘neighbour’, Toby Rampton’s, very cool, jazz-inspired piece.

The official bit of paper

The official bit of paper

The full prize breakdown is still viewable on the Macmillan Prize site, but Prof. Martin Salisbury collated a little ’round-up’ email of successes from CSA for our benefit:

First Prize: Beth Woollvin (BA Hons Illustration, 2nd Yr)

Second Prize & Lara Jones Award: Matt Robertson (MA Children’s Book Illustration)

Third Prize: Morag Hood (MA Children’s Book Illustration [CBI] [full-time])

And, of 15 (I think… Free wine makes the recollection a touch fuzzy…) Highly Commended entries, there were nine CSA students (I’ve linked to their websites, where I’ve been able to find such, but not all reflect their newest/prizewinning work [yet] – those that do include Beth Woollvin [above], Morag Hood, Matt Robertson and Danni Gowdy) :

Morag Hood (as before, for an additional entry. ‘mazing.)

Ana Alepuz (MA, CBI, part-time)

Toby Rampton (BA Hons Illustration, 3rd Year)

Robert Ramsden (MA, CBI, just graduated)

Amanda Pike ([that's me! :D ] MA, CBI, full-time – website coming soon…)

Danni Gowdy (MA, CBI, full-time)

Dan Ungureanu (MA, CBI, full-time)

Ammy Shin (MA, CBI, full-time)

Anna Chernyshova (MA, CBI, full-time)

The judges were comprised of: Suzanne Carnell – Publishing Director, Picture Book,s Macmillan Children’s Books; Chris Inns – Art Director, Picture Books, Macmillan Children’s Books; Ella Butler – Head of Campbell Design, Macmillan Children’s Books; David Roberts – Children’s Picture Book Illustrator; Emily Gravett – Children’s Picture Book Illustrator; Melissa Cox – Children’s New Titles Buyer, Waterstones; Lorna Bradbury – Literary Critic, The Daily Telegraph. Some familiar faces from pervious years, I think, but certainly a pretty salubrious bunch (and impressively eclectic – really good to see the opinions of current practitioners from creative conception to end point effecting a bearing upon the selection)!

Well, that is far more than enough from me – please do, though, follow the links to some of those other awesome illustrators to explore some of the truly amazing work that is (on the cusp of) erupting into the illustration world, and, if you’re a illustration/art/printmaking student toying with the idea of entering the Macmillan next year: do it! :D

AP x

P.S. The title of this blog post isn’t entirely arbitrary, although I might have come up with a more obviously pertinent one, so…in order to try and rectify this I will throw in an injunction to go and see the latest X-Men movie, Days of Future Past (there’s generous footage of Hugh Jackman’s very toned, er, posterior and the fight sequences are pretty awesome – if a trifle gruesome for a 12A/me…).

P.P.S. New website coming soon!!! :D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Unloading sketchbooks…

A few more pages from the sketchbooks – to try and mitigate the over-abundant wordage of yesterday’s post…

Again, from the Observational Drawing module at the start of the course (a brilliant way to deconstruct ideas of what it is to draw, to interpret the world, and the invaluable benefits of looking really closely and allowing your drawing hand to be the almost unconscious [almost... No sleeping on the job!] conduit for that interpretation). Although ostensibly a 6-week project, this module was designed to inculcate the importance of drawing from life and to plant the germ of what will prove to be a life-long passion for expressing our perceptions of the world through the marks we make.

Cambridge Post Office - the importance of context is demonstrated here by its absence...

Cambridge Post Office – the importance of context is demonstrated here by its absence…

Heathrow

Heathrow

Ninja-coffee-shop sketching

Ninja-coffee-shop sketching

More wrestling with Pro-markers

More wrestling with Pro-markers – early, wintry morning

Bird hide - Fowlmere, just outside Cambridge (my friend Ellie and I were TOTALLY rumbled by these two birdwatchers...

Bird hide – Fowlmere, just outside Cambridge (my friend Ellie and I were TOTALLY rumbled by these two birdwatchers…

...so we hastily retreated to another hide, just outside of which (by an incredible stroke of luck, these guys were clearing the reed beds back to prevent them choking the wetland)

…so we hastily retreated to another hide, just outside of which (by an incredible stroke of luck, these guys were clearing the reed beds back to prevent them choking the wetland)

The British Museum, main concourse

The British Museum, main concourse

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The Museum of Ancient Archaeology, Cambridge – first attempt to draw tonally, without line (well, apart from the brickwork…)

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‘Spinario’ – bronze of a boy removing a thorn from his foot (obviously a seminal moment in any young Roman’s life…) 

(Chunks of) torsos on plinths...

(Chunks of) torsos on plinths… 

Heathrow Coach station. A demonstration of the difficulty of drawing a panoramic view (constantly shifting direction of gaze) populated by a transient cast of characters (they did insist on keep moving...!!)

Heathrow Coach station. A demonstration of the difficulty of drawing a panoramic view (constantly shifting direction of gaze) populated by a transient cast of characters (they did insist on keep moving…!!)

Shepreth Wildlife Park (just outside Cambridge) - ring-tailed lemurs & donkeys

Shepreth Wildlife Park (just outside Cambridge) – ring-tailed lemurs & donkeys

emus, sphinx, tigers

emus, sphinx, tigers

Otters at feeding time (and an unsuspecting friend - sorry!)

Otters at feeding time (and an unsuspecting friend – sorry!)

Raccoons (surprisingly speedy...)

Raccoons (surprisingly speedy…)

Miscellaneous birds (and two VERY CUTE cuddling armadillos)

Miscellaneous birds (and two VERY CUTE cuddling armadillos)

 

 

 

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