yes, come on through my studio door! Only watch your step because
itâ€™s usually a mess. Typically I have a few different projects on the
go at once, and they usually just pile on top of each other in small
heaps. As I look at my desk right now, thereâ€™s several small
sketchbooks, hundreds of pencils, a bunch of tax records Iâ€™m currently
sorting, a half-finished painting for a magazine, unopened mail,
sculpting materials, several of my daughterâ€™s toys, and the laptop
Iâ€™m writing on now. But Iâ€™ll sift through these and try to give you a
snapshot of the creativity under the junk.
My most recently published work is the picture book â€˜Rules of
Summerâ€™, which is a project Iâ€™d been thinking about on and off for
over a decade. I had a lot of different images jotted out in
sketchbooks, all involving a pair of siblings caught up in strange
situations, but had great difficulty bringing them all together into a
single story. So in the end I decided not to, that the book would be a
kind of summer holiday slide-show of random events, held together by
some emotional undercurrent rather than a conventional narrative arc,
and this is something that picture books can actually do much better
than most other media.
caption: A typical page from one of my
sketchbooks (I usually use the small moleskin type that can fit in my
pocket), this couple of pages playing with various concepts that
eventually evolved into â€˜Rules of Summerâ€™
On the pin-up board in front of my desk (which has always been my
familyâ€™s old dining table) there are still remnants of my â€˜Rules of
Summerâ€™ working drawings. A lot of these are small, quick pastel
sketches which I find essential for working out colour and atmosphere
before I try any larger paintings, and also to see what the book looks
like as a whole. Itâ€™s not unlike the â€˜colour scriptsâ€™ made for
animated films, to check the flow of mood, which was something I did
when working on the short film The Lost Thing. Hereâ€™s are a couple of
pastel sketches for â€˜Rules of Summerâ€™, below. I really like these
drawings, sometimes more so than the final paintings, they have such a
fuzzy dreamlike quality.
When â€˜Rules of Summerâ€™ was developed as
an app for iPad â€“ the first time Iâ€™ve worked with an electronic
book â€“ I was quite keen to include as many sketches as possible; work
that does not fit well into a printed book, but is perfectly good as
supplementary material in digital media. So the app version of â€˜Rules
of Summerâ€™ can actually be toggled between painting and sketch mode,
so the whole book can be read in itâ€™s preliminary form. Iâ€™ve always
been interested in showing parts of a creative process, not just the end
result, which is really only the final stop on a long and convoluted
These sketches also reveal a key interest in colour and atmosphere,
which comes from my broader practice as a painter. Itâ€™s a long story
how I got into book illustration, but itâ€™s essentially a departure
from landscape painting, which was my main interest as a teenager, and
something I continue to practice. While I enjoy working on big canvases,
I donâ€™t have much time to do this, and find it just as interesting to
work on small 20 x 15cm panels, usually in oils. Here are a few recent
little paintings of places Iâ€™ve visited, just trying to capture the
feeling of them in a simple way, and learn something about colour, light
and space along the way.
Most recently, however, Iâ€™ve turned my attention a little away from
painting to work on small figurative sculptures inspired by Grimmâ€™s
fairy tales. This project originated when I was asked to illustrate the
cover of a German edition of Philip Pullmanâ€™s Grimm Tales, a
re-telling of the original stories. Iâ€™d always wanted to do something
related to Grimm, but could never find the right form or motivation.
Reading them all again made me think to pick up some sculpting materials
Iâ€™d put down in late childhood, a time when I was avidly working in
clay, papier mache and soapstone (I had a real obsession with stone
carving as a kid). I was also inspired by folk art Iâ€™d seen during
recent trips to Mexico, and some Inuit carvings Iâ€™d seen in Vancouver.
I offered to illustrate the whole collection, some 50 stories, and was
glad that the publisher agreed to this and enjoyed my approach. Here are
a couple of finished illustrations for Grimms MÃ¤rchen (the German title).
I photographed all the works myself, experimenting with different
lighting to achieve the kind of â€˜museumâ€™ atmosphere I was looking
for. The thing I enjoyed the most about working on these pieces was the
act of physical making, which is one reason Iâ€™ve never found working
digitally very engaging â€“ I prefer pushing things around, and the kind
of interesting accidents that can ensue. In this case, the most useful
stuff I found was DAS, and air-drying clay marketed mainly to children.
It was quick to work with and easy to carve back into, to get a kind of
eroded effect Iâ€™ve always admired in ancient sculpture, as well as in
the work of modern artists such as Henry Moore.
Since the publication of Grimms MÃ¤rchen last year, Iâ€™ve been working
to make these sculptural works available in an English-language form,
and also to expand my range of sculptures to include other stories that
do not appear in Pullmanâ€™s collection. Here is a picture of some works
in various stages of completion, expecting that these will see the
light of day in late 2015.