Thursday, March 1, 2012

Getting To Know You


There's a big stack of books by my green chair these days. One of the many anthologies of literature from college, for its historical introductions to the Victorian era. Wordsworth, who has been there since Christmas anyway but is being revisited as he was Poet Laureate in Britain from 1843 until 1850. There are many, many books on costume and dress -- some good, some less good, but all are taken into consideration and bits and pieces of them end up in my sketchbooks.

Historical context

There are lists in all my notebooks. Color ideas. Lighting tests. Characters slowly reveal themselves to me. And the actual source novel itself is getting shabbier and shabbier as I pore over the thing looking for details that may have slipped me by earlier, and try and flesh out the quick doodles made the first time around.


In short: I am in the research phase of a massive new project, and it is pure and utter delight. My work days lately have consisted of just stirring this glorious soup of ideas, coaxing them into sketches. My reference stack is getting higher and higher. And my sketchbooks are getting fuller and fuller. Every rock I overturn leads to more questions, more books on hold at the library, digging and digging. Entire days have been spent in the shadow of this great stack of books, something I haven't really done since college.


For the first time I am really appreciating that English major I ended up getting. An English major asks all the questions about a story that an illustrator SHOULD be asking. Why is that character dropping hints like that? What is motivating this character to ask his boss those questions? What the heck is a "hair-cutting chamber"? What would a cotton-mill look like? What does that work entail? What does it look like? What part of their bodies would be the most tired? A good illustration doesn't merely repeat what the text says. It should add a further element to a scene, perhaps depict what is being inferred. It should be a sort of conversation. A picture should encourage you to want to read the words. That's my goal here, anyway. I want the people who flick through the book to look at all the pictures looking for spoilers to come away with more curiosity.

book tabs

I finally started to hone in on the actual scenes I'm interested in, and as you can see there are quite a few. I'm trying to thin them down a little bit, though I'm certainly interested in painting all of these. There's actually more that didn't even make the rough cut. I went on a field trip to the bookstore a few weeks ago to see other illustrated novels (typically classics for young readers -- think Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain). They often employ a mix of black and white line drawings and full-color paintings, but I suspect that had more to do with the cost of printing than artistic choice. It all really depends on which pictures look best once they're dummied up, which is the next phase. Storyboard building. And sketching, sketching, sketching. And reading, reading, reading.