Inter-wedding post (an unapologetic[ish] miscellany)

Well then… Another long ol’ hiatus from the blogosphere – precipitated, I would just mention, by an inordinate number of social engagements and hither-and-thitherings, the abundance of which myself and Marvellous Dave (M.D.) have been, hitherto, somewhat un(or perhaps, more accurately, ‘under’) accustomed… Betwixt hen weekends in the wilds of Eskdale and ‘neath canvas in deepest Kent (this latter incorporating an artistic challenge to craft Lionel Richie’s/the bride’s head from quick-drying clay – to a soundtrack of the wildly disturbing ‘Hello’ video, by aforementioned crooner, on merciless repeat [if you are not familiar with the video – as the majority of us were, rightly, not – it is available in full technicolor glory here, but the decision to view is not one to be made flippantly: it cannot be ‘unwatched’, that’s all I’ll say…]) to keep the creative juices, er, flowing*) and various other nation-wide excursions, I have undertaken a few private commissions – including a brand identity/logo illustration and special anniversary portrait, as well as a handful of personalised cards (although I should probably admit the chief recipient as being M.D. in this latter case…).

I would’ve liked to be able to share something of the logo design on here by now, but it doesn’t seem as though the new business for which it was created has quite launched so it would be wrong to post anything by way of cheeky preview just yet… However, in the hope of proving that I haven’t been entirely idle during the gaping time-void since my last entry, I thought I’d offer up a few words and pictures re. a handful of the other projects, and respectfully request that you indulge my romantic (and only a little bit fictional…) notion of myself as a whimsical, flibbertigibbet of an illustrator – whom intersperses time at the drawing desk with other noble, summery pursuits, such as blackberrying, ice-lolly making and carefree, barefooted garden-skipping – to account for the gaps between…

Over the last few years I have undertaken a number of portrait-type commissions – sometimes entirely ‘straight’ representations, but often accompanied by a request for a touch of that most mercurial of treatments, the deployment of ‘artistic license’, to manipulate the ‘truth’ as it might be captured in a photograph and, instead, imbue the image created with a flavour of the subject’s life and character – sometimes including pertinent props, or locating them in a rather stage-managed scene – or to cast them in a particular manner, e.g. leaning towards caricature or cartoon. Frequently, these pieces have been commissioned to mark a wedding, uniting the happy pair in watercolours that they can – hopefully – both enjoy (and not be too unsettled by confronting a depiction of themselves over the fireplace (I flatter myself…)/on the stairwell wall/back of the downstairs toilet door on a frequent, possibly daily, basis). Rendering people you know, some (and their extended family…) very well, can be a rather tricky exercise – especially where a ‘degree of caricature’ has been called for (how much is too much…?! Almost without exception, I would recommend always erring on the side of caution/flattery – bulbous noses, fiercely-square jaws and ‘Royal’ ears can be applied later…). Familiarity with the subject(s) exerts so much more pressure upon the process of arriving at a really convincing likeness – perhaps because this ‘closeness’ hijacks the objectivity required to really ‘see’ the salient structures and curves of a face that describe its essential, recognisible identity, to unequivocally differentiate it from any other similar face. Learning to observe in an abstract way, to dissociate experiential knowledge of a subject from the process of rendering it, is one of the most important technical lessons I have taken from the MA in Children’s Book Illustration, but successfully achieving that distance when there is personal investment can be quite a challenge.

When I received a request from an old school friend to create a portrait to mark the occasion of her brother’s milestone 30th birthday, though, a new dimension was revealed to the burden of expectation upon my skills of representation (and which, in this case, I really feared would transpire to be woefully inadequate…). Although it would take a little back and forth to refine the exact details of the composition, the concept here was to unite two of her immediate relatives –  her younger brother and her baby (now emphatically toddling!) daughter – in a way that no photograph could (well, not without the nefarious interventions of Photoshop): my friend’s brother had taken his own life two years previously in, as one might imagine, desperate circumstances and only shortly after his sister’s wedding – meaning that, tragically, he and his exuberant baby niece (born the following year and whom, as her family unanimously reports, seems to share his musical inclinations) will never meet in the same temporal moment. Happily, a drawing is not constrained by the tyrannical governance of time, enabling one to manually construct a reality from components of one’s own personal choosing – components that may be entirely anachronistic in relation to one another and that may be plucked from anywhere on the time continuum to exist together in a perfect/idealised, alternative ‘reality’. While acknowledged as inaccurate by conventional understanding, this construct arguably has the capacity to represent a more significant truth to the creator (or commissioner, in this case), a distillation of their experience of that person (or persons) that it may take many hundreds of photographs to communicate. I don’t for a moment imagine that my humble efforts have this power – and confess that, for all their limitations, (many) photographs of both subjects formed almost all the source material (bar a hazy memory or two from my school days) for this piece – but I hope that my determination to honour the privilege that my friend and her family showed me in offering this commission has resulted in something that will bring them even some small comfort as they negotiate their lives after Martin’s death.

So, with apologies to those on Facebook whom have almost certainly already seen this, here is the result of several nervous weeks of photograph-studyings, preparatory sketchings and compositional discussions – together with a couple of the original pencil sketches I made to ‘find a way in’ to each of the subjects:

An imagined companionship

An imagined companionship




On the subject of birthdays/other anniversaries – and with considerably less preamble, you will be relieved to hear – I thought I’d also just gratuitously shuffle in the M.D.-themed couple of cards that I produced earlier this month… Well, on reflection, perhaps just the anniversary one: the birthday card was, admittedly, not one of my finest and is a particularly niche creation, somewhat inelegantly smashing together a few of aforementioned husband’s key interests (Marvel comics, card/board games, cryptic/nonsensical aphorisms…). This year marks our 4th of marital bliss *cough*, and – having been embarrassed in previous years by failing to adequately research the significance of the year (to the uninitiated in the catastrophe-fraught art of wedding-anniversary-gift-buying, each of the first 10 [or 15, if you have the misfortune to be observing US tradition in this regard…] years is denoted by a particular material, gradually increasing in value, it would seem) – ‘topical’ was definitely this year’s buzz-word. Alas, year four is celebrated by fruit and/or flowers (I wasn’t exactly inundated with ideas…): we visited a Surrey vineyard (Denbies – home of the Bacchus half-marathon [athletic activity, steep gradients and alcohol – what could possibly go awry here…?]) – where we selflessly sampled the fruits of their, er, fruits – and I presented M.D. with a totally organic, environmentally-sound wine-factory (a fruiting grape vine plant, obvs – hereafter referred to as Percy [don’t ask me…]). The card, crafted in traditionally last-minute fashion as the sun rose that very morning – and which, miraculously, I managed to avoid bleeding on despite two hours’ wrangling with a scalpel that had trouble slicing through anything more resistant than sun-warmed butter – attempted to splice together the fruit/flowers theme and my husband’s other great love: model-building for table-top gaming – here represented by an effort to evoke the spindly, plastic sprue-frameworks that litter so many corners of our tiny house:

4th Wedding Anniversary card (I think I could do with a new scalpel blade...)

4th Wedding Anniversary card (I think I could do with a new scalpel blade…)

I’m afraid the message incorporated into my white paper-sprue is not the pithiest of anniversarial mottos, but it was the best my sleep-deprived brain could muster at 5am…

There are several more cards on the horizon this month – chiefly wedding-related (our third and final wedding of the summer being in the gorgeous, undulating Eskdale next weekend [Dave is already stockpiling travel-sickness paraphernalia…]) – but I have spent the last couple of days revisiting ‘the child’, in the hope that I might improve upon the naturalness and authenticity of my depictions of children’s movement ahead of the final, Masters stage of the Children’s Book Illustration MA in October. So…in lieu of anything more entertaining, and following the rather disparate, rambling theme of this catch-up post, I thought I’d scatter a couple of these drawings in here, with the hopeful suggestion that my next posting will be a rather more coherent and structured affair…



And an ‘incidental’ of my little nephew – Theo, sporting a look of mild consternation, tiny faux-electric guitar just out of shot, as he regards my teenage niece strumming her interpretation of a Dave Grohl classic on her excruciatingly out-of-tune acoustic one.











*Lionel-lovin’,  in Das modelling clay (see, just the same…)

I think the bride's version was better - and she was blindfolded...

My heinous effort. I think the bride’s version was better – and she was blindfolded…

...and the original, from that *special* video...

And the original, from that *special* video…

About illustratedbyamanda

Illustrator and time-fritterer extraordinaire
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