It’s been a frustrating year of waiting for projects to be finally released so that I can talk about them. My work for ‘The Spy who Dumped me’ is no different. In the June of 2017, I was commissioned to create an A2 hand painted ‘map mash-up’ of the city of Prague and Prague zoo (Zoopraha) as a prop for the film, screening this August (2018). It stars Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon and Gillian Anderson and is a Lionsgate production. Proper Hollywood.
The film involves two girls, one of whom has recently been dumped by her boyfriend. She discovers that, in reality, he was a spy and so they take on his badass work, of course chased by dark forces across a variety of European countries. My illustrations were turned into a tourist map the girls take with them to navigate Prague.
The map is based on the real life city but famous buildings are randomly attributed zoo animals and transformed into their associated animal houses. For example, the palace becomes the lion house, the station becomes the aviary and the Charles Bridge becomes the penguinarium: penguins taking the place of the iconic saintly statues standing over the river. Painting the animals was a particular pleasure of mine, reminding me of my background in children’s books. I was especially pleased with the cheeky giraffe on the map cover…
The animals were all labelled so although I love lettering by hand, there was pressure to make sure the Czech words were correct. The internet’s not always reliable so I had no idea if they were right and wondered if angry letters complaining about Czech spelling would start pouring in…
I’ve been commissioned several times before to create illustrations for tv/film props but have never made the final cut. Believe me, there have been fruitless hours sitting through costume dramas, sometimes scene by scene, straining to see my work…But this time it was different. The map actually appears as a key prop – a set up for a joke: (The Spy who Dumped Me is a comedy thriller). It’s glimpsed for seconds but there nevertheless.
I hit the (very metaphorical) red carpet last night at the ‘glamorous’ Brighton Odeon multiplex. Regardless, I still drank a glass of slightly warm fizzy wine to my little map, glowing in the yellows of Prague, and the first illustration of mine that has actually made it to the screen.
Czech spelling mistakes or not, I knew I’d make it to Hollywood one day….
I live in the seaside city of Brighton and Hove on the South Coast of England which has, for centuries, had a name for it’s creativity. So it really should be no surprise that it was once a centre for English film making in those black and white days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My latest map was commissioned by Carousel, an arts charity, as a special edition publication to promote ‘Modern Marvels’, a festival celebrating this cinematic heritage and new work by students with learning disabilities.
Early filmmakers, George Albert Smith and James Williamson lived in Hove, working on film between 1897 and 1905, a period when it developed as a new technology and a new form of entertainment. They both made important contributions to the art of editing and narrative.
Was sleepy Hove, the Hollywood of it’s day? – I don’t know(!?), but one of the first major film studios in Britain was based in St Anne’s Well Gardens there, a sedate park with tennis courts and a bowling green today. George Smith, a former stage hypnotist and psychic, created his ‘film factory’ in a glass house in the Gardens in 1897. Films were inspired by his experience of contemporary music hall, mesmerism and the magic lantern. They tell stories of steam trains, hapless housemaids and the wonders of X-rays using clever editing trickery.
One of James Williamson’s first films was a short, made on location at Brighton’s West Pier in the hot summer of the late 1890’s showing bustling crowds enjoying the holiday atmosphere. He then developed Smith’s techniques into longer multi-shot narratives. Action films and comedy capers followed, all shot around the city or in his own studio in Cambridge Grove, also in Hove.
The handpainted map shows the sites of both studios but also the film locations with tiny vintage camera icons. I gave the lettering, compass rose and border a hint of Art Nouveau, the predominant style at the time, and the negative space (the space between the details) became a cinema-velvet-curtain red.
Carousel’s film festival, Modern Marvels, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, runs until November 2018. A travelling film booth shows the original black and white films alongside films made by students with learning disabilities, autism and additional needs. The project gave them an insight into film-making and visual story-telling, using green screen, making music and sound effects, working alongside experienced film-makers.
Back at the end of last year, I was commissioned to provide some illustrations for a film tie-in book for Warner Brother’s ‘Harry Potter’ franchise. I’d read only a few of the novels by JK Rowling and seen a few of the early films so this project – ‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’ – became a complete Potter baptism of fire. In case you don’t know (where have you been?!), the original Marauders’ Map shows the secret passageways of Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards that Harry Potter attends. The iconic map was created as an prop, first appearing in the third of the films (and shown on the front cover of ‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’.). The map’s a total tour-de-force and was drawn by Miraphora Mina of graphic design duo Mina.Lima. I guess my own connection with maps was the thinking behind the commission. Using the map as a base, ‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’ takes you around the floorplan of the school with information, photographs, and drawings for each room. I provided the little drawn icons.
Flick through it and you’ll see some images which are looser and in pencil. These aren’t mine and come from the films’ ‘look book’ – a visual guide used by anyone involved in the films’ design to maintain consistency throughout. It was interesting to work for a licensed film franchise for the first time and see how different it is to straight publishing. Obviously accuracy of the characters and icon elements was all important as there’s an established ‘world’ based on work created already. The internet was certainly an amazing tool because scene and character information was so easy to get hold of – I spent a long time browsing film and fan websites for accurate images.
And so within some fairly strict boundaries, I created the illustrations – tiny dragons, broomsticks, potion bottles and magical beasts- reflecting the style of the original artwork in tightly hatched ink. I certainly know a lot more about Harry Potter now than I did at the start.
All of the images were checked by Warner Brothers’ People and JK’s People. I can honestly say that I’ve never worked for people with ‘People’ before. It goes to show how large an enterprise it is and also how protective they are of everything involving Harry.
‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’ is a fun and informative little book to bring some Potter magic to your world – it even comes with its own wand. If you have a burgeoning witch or wizard in your life and they know the right words, get them to wave the wand across the pages and watch the secret images appear.
I too had fun dipping into such an established creation that seems to have a life of its own and is still steadily evolving. It really is a great honour to be connected to this British icon of children’s literature.
‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’ is written by Errin Pascal published by Scholastic/Warner Brothers and available across whichever universe (magical or otherwise) you currently occupy!
Even if you don’t live in the States, you’ve definitely seen the films of all American kids heading off to a Summer camp in the great outdoors. All female private members club, The Wing, has organised it’s own Summer Camp experience for members, taking them out to the Adirondacks, not far from New York City. Camp No-man’s Land (dates: August 17th-19th 2018) was based at the heritage Echo Lake campsite with it’s beautiful forests, lake and wooden cabins built in the 1940s. I was asked to create a map of the camp for The Wing’s online microsite of the event and associated print and signage at the event itself.
The Wing was created in 2016 as ‘a network of co-working and community spaces designed for women.’ I first heard about them though social media and was really attracted by their strong branding aesthetics of shell pink, midnight blue, celadon green and ochre colours. Working spaces look bright, clean and calm and there are exercise rooms, lounges, bookshelves and coffee spaces. Perhaps like the Gentleman’s Clubs of old but updated and given a 21st century treatment for 21st century women. Events happen regularly too, from clothes swaps to feminist film nights to mover-and-shaker speaker nights (Hilary Clinton for example…).
As they say in the promotional blurb, Camp No-man’s Land sounds like it will be ‘damn good fun’! Activities include speakers and music, hiking and kayaking, beer pong and karaoke (if that’s your thing…), sunrise yoga and facials (more my thing, though sunrise is a push…), screenprinting and pickling workshops (much MUCH more my thing…)… Having spent some time exploring the campsite on Google Earth for this project, it’s a really beautiful place of sun dappling and bracken. I imagine foraging in the woods there or listening to ghost stories by an outdoors fire watching the sparks dance in the evening blue…
Explore the Camp No-man’s Land microsite and see my map in action for yourself here.
The online map was initially drawn by hand and to a large size – actually about A2 in all. The sizes needed to work for both the online iteration but also the print version too. Working by hand means that I have to create to the maximum size of the eventual image because crispness will be lost as soon as any digital enlarging happens.
I took a careful look at the general brand visuals which are quite distinct. Lines had to be clean and simple and some time was spent experimenting with different ways to create unfussy tree shapes for unfussy forests. There was a particular colour palette of cream, ochre, moss green and a rosy pink to work from but matching ink colours was more difficult than expected. In the end, much was tweaked using Photoshop to fit more exactly. My evangelism to working by hand is flexible and I never have a problem adjusting things digitally if necessary!
I’m pleased with the resulting map. It still has elements of maps I’ve illustrated before but The Wing brought something new to my style through it’s simplicity. My only regret is that I won’t get the chance to go to Camp No-man’s Land myself, bunk overnight in an old-school cabin – just like they do in the films – and hang out under those trees in the damp green of the Adirondack woods…
It’s funny, as an illustrator, how many places I visit before I create a picture. And by visit, I mean metaphorically travelling down a fast paced information highway, halting occasionally at random pitstops for a quick look around or perhaps, a longer stay. Throughout my career, I’ve visited many locations, hiking the snowy wastes of Greenland, schlepping through the deserts of the Middle East and wandering the streets of Beijing, all via a screen in my studio. This post is about approaching the internet with an explorer’s curiosity and how it can lead you to creative inspiration.
Back at the end of last year, I was commissioned to create the front cover and contents page of the May/June issue of Cricket Magazine, an illustrated publication for children in the States. The theme was ‘Hummingbirds’ and even for a small project like this, the journey was no different.
I have never seen a hummingbird in real life so I started the project with some rambling research, opening creaking digital doors and exploring little known cyber pathways. As usual, I was sucked down an internet vortex leading me to unfamiliar worlds. There were steamy jungles, brilliant blossoms and tiny hovering birds, far from the familiar wrens and robins of the English garden.
The lime greens of the feathers and the hot pink of the flowers reminded me very much of the colours found in folk embroidery, from Russia in the North to Latin America in the South. I set sail on more random research adventures and landed up on the warm shores of Mexico, home of an incredible textile culture.
Mexican folk embroidery has been in existence from pre-hispanic days, developing centuries ago from its roots with the Mesoamerican Otami peoples into the form today known as Tenango. It features the flora and fauna of the region in unreal colours and geometric patterns. Broad flat stitches neatly cover the cloth and larger pieces can take years to complete.
Mexico is also the home of the white throated hummingbird.
It’s a beautiful thing when two paths converge. By exploring, allowing myself to travel without boundaries, I had found connections between two diverse subjects and a way to visualise and create something new.
With Mexican embroidery as inspiration, my pages became filled with twirling blossoms, their distinct shapes, a useful foil for further patterned collage. The hummingbirds danced above them, drinking their nectar and making nests in their magenta petals. I wanted the whole image to become a riot of blooming decoration where botanics and birds took equal precedence in the pattern.
So it’s with the publication of this month’s Cricket Magazine that my short metaphorical stay in Mexico is done. I’ve come away with small souvenirs of understanding and a place to return should I ever need inspiration for beautiful bright birds and flowers. The internet is my ticket to travel. It allows me to reach places I have little knowledge of and, if fortune smiles, lets me leap across subjects and make creative connections. Despite all its faults, it’s a vital tool in the illustration suitcase.
As I look out on my very English garden today, relishing the May warmth, the sky is the palest of blues and the lilac tree, a delicate mauve. It’s certainly good-looking in a reserved, polite way but there’s a large part of me that would like to see the joyful pink of the hibiscus, the shocking blue of a hummingbird and the unapologetic azure of a Mexican sky, not just captured in pixels on a screen, but for real one day.
I was recently honoured to be interviewed by Kathy Teaman for Illustrator Saturday, a weekly post she promotes on her wordpress site http://www.kathtemean.wordpress.com. Kathy was a regional advisor for SCBWI, the Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustrators in the U.S. for many years and her very popular blog exists to help both published and unpublished authors and illustrators, with expert industry knowledge, technical tips and information from children’s book editors and agents.
You can read the interview here.
The sun has finally come out, the primroses and windflowers are scattering palely across the green and my cherry tree is blossoming flamboyantly in the back garden. Work always gets put into perspective when the spring flowers arrive.
It’s been a busy month with multiple small projects: from educational commissions, to an outsized image of a wolf for an outsize book cover, to a couple of self promotional map projects of Barcelona and Lapland, to creating sample illustrations for a proposed book in time for London Book Fair. Hardly time to feel the spring warmth kiss my face and smell the first cut grass of the year.
I adore painting plants and the recent blooming extravaganza has made me think how often they’re included in my illustrations. Perhaps, as the daughter of a botanist and botanical artist, that’s not surprising. It’s a truism that there will always be flowers in my mother’s house.
I realised that I cut the flowers in my illustrations from many different metaphorical gardens. First there’s the straight watercolour, more of a realistic botanical approach. I generally look at photographic reference material and keep colours naturalistic. I know from watching my mum work that using photos isn’t ideal but access to the real thing isn’t always possible. The following image shows details from a logo I did recently for a florist. It’s not gone live yet so I can’t show you the illustration in its entirety.
Then there’s the more stylised approach. I often use designs from other times or cultures to inspire more graphic flowery renditions. The flowers in ‘Feathers for Peacock’, for example were informed by the punchy style of 1970’s patterns. They have a blocky feel and there are circle shapes and tear drops and squares with rounded corners. The clean spaces really lend themselves to using collage. I think we might have had something reminiscent on the old wallpaper in the kitchen as I was growing up…
Here are some more details of stylised flowers, this time inspired by Mexican embroidery. I spent a lot of time researching Central American textiles and was blown away by the beautiful colours and compositions. These illustrations come from a cover of a forthcoming children’s magazine, due out in May.
Sometimes I take a real-life plant but subtly adapt it by simplifying shapes and colours so it has an air of reality but is stylised… In this illustration, I researched pondside plants, all flowering around the same time, and used them as a base for those in the picture. This is from ‘In my Garden’.
And then there’s the combination of the two approaches. Nobody said you had to stick to one style, did they? Why not combine a more naturalistic look, based on genuine botany alongside a created imaginary plant world? Here’s an image commisioned for Cricket Media’s Ladybug Magazine published last year. The buttercups on the right are naturalistic in comparison to the collaged blue flowers in the centre that are entirely imaginary.
(N.B. I like drawing frogs as much as I like drawing flowers…).
And in this endpaper, also from ‘In my Garden’, I used painted stylised flowers alongside collaged stylised flowers cut from origami paper alongside more naturalistic depictions of animals, birds and butterflies.
I think drawing and painting flowers will always be a love of mine and just like real flowers, they will clamber and climb and push their faces to find the light in my illustrations regardless of whether I choose them to be there or not.
And just like my mother, I hope there will always be flowers in my house.
Ditchling is a pretty village, warm with half-timbered character, hugged by the Sussex Downs. It has a long connection with the Arts and Crafts movement and was the home to printmaker Eric Gill in the early 20th century. I was very honoured to be asked to run a hand drawn mapping workshop at the award winning Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft last weekend.
As part of my workshop, I take my students outside to walk the territory of the location they are mapping (as far as is possible and weather permitting). How else can you understand where you are, unless you experience it personally? So, as preparation, I decided to walk the territory myself and hand draw my own map of Ditchling.
My initial sketches were rough. It’s hard to map on foot, especially in the rain. But what’s important is that the mapmaker marks the features he finds important, either by sketch, note or photograph. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
Back at the studio I hit more formal references, comparing my rough sketches with other paper and digital maps of Ditchling, including both OS and Google Satellite maps. It’s always interesting to see where my maps differ from the others, and indeed, how they differ between themselves. It just goes to show that there is no such thing as the Truth.
Using all of the references, including my own, the map was drawn up using a gridding technique. It’s always at this stage that I, as the mapmaker, decide what features should appear in the map. The map is a personal understanding of a place, after all.
For me, it was the black and white cottages and the jolly post office at the crossroads, the flinty church dating back to Saxon times with its rows of solemn trees and dark ancient yews. It was the Anne of Cleves House, slightly dishevelled; a ghost peering forlornly through the diamond paned windows. (She likes to keep doors open apparently.) It was the Bull Inn squatting confidently next to the car park and the rival White Horse, blustering it out manfully up the road. It was the Old Meeting House sitting amongst the haphazard gravestones of Quakers waiting for redemption, silent from centuries of peaceful prayer. And it was the Georgian brick house on the high street, once belonging to Eric Gill.
Who knew what sad and terrible things happened there…
The Museum of Art + Craft was created to house some of Gill’s work and we were based in the studio there. Although there was certainly no sinister atmosphere at all in either museum or village, his work and name seemed to be everywhere and I felt his presence permeated the place. I still appreciate the simple beauty of his lettering and can’t quite connect the clean honesty of his work with his crimes. I wanted to echo something of his style in my map, nevertheless, and chose to do it by making the road system dark and picking out the lettering in white, as I had seen in some of his prints. But there, the similarity ends.
Cut to the workshop and each student had a different experience of Ditchling as we walked it’s green dampness. One took notes of bus stops and telephone boxes, of the shapes of fences and boundary lines, whilst another marked the signs of spring in the clumps of snowdrops and wild daffodils. Each eventually made a map of the Ditchling they alone had understood, felt and seen. Each map was stamped with their own personality. Very far from the industrialised digital maps that the Arts and Craft Movement would have railed against if it had existed today.
And so now, there exists 7 new maps of Ditchling, particular to an individual mapmaker and to a particular time. Although Eric Gill would have approved of a process founded on working by hand, I hope it was not his ghost who looked over us. I hope it was that other ghost, in the Anne of Cleves House, perhaps slightly heartened that we had unlocked doors to get outside and walk the village. And heartened that we were firmly keeping the door open, not shut, on the craft of hand drawn mapmaking.
This post is a short one about a short, small project that gave me a lot of pleasure to do. What was surprising was that it was a book for the education market, ie: part of a graded reading scheme, working for which I often find fairly challenging.
I was approached by Scholastic at the beginning of August to see if I was free to create artwork for a reading book called ‘The Tale of the Fisherman’. It’s a well known traditional Japanese folk tale about a fisherman called Taro Urashima who saves a sea turtle.
The turtle transforms into the Princess of the Sea …
… and takes Taro to her sea palace under the waters in a giant bubble.
Taro is given many wishes; he wishes for gold of course but eventually chooses his home and family over an ocean of riches.
It’s a beautiful story and for the most part, I was given free rein over the illustrations. The main instruction was to ‘make them look Japanese’… I found this approach very refreshing as it allowed me to work in a more personal and natural way – using composition, character and technique as I would usually. Very often for educational projects, I am given a super strict brief detailed down to what should be where in each picture. This is understandable as the main role of the illustration is to help children read and understand the words on the page. Creating drama, beauty or narrative pace isn’t a priority.
Sometimes the layout has already been drawn out for me page by page by the designer and effectively, I am just being asked to replicate these drawings. It’s a challenge in such cases to find a way to work in my own style, where composition and look are very personal. What excites me in illustration, is the play between flat and decorative areas, stylised pages and interesting viewpoints – not creating a conventional photographic scene. When sketches have been provided at the start of a project, I have to somehow adapt to another person’s visual imagination, even if I know the outcome will look nothing like my usual work. And in this situation, it’s good to understand that the publisher sees the pictures as servants to the words with the ultimate outcome of teaching a child to read.
‘The Tale of the Fisherman’ proved to be very different with text and pictures given equal weight. Perhaps the suggested hint of a ‘Japanese style’ was educational in itself. After quite a few happy weeks swimming in the warm seas of Japanese woodcut inspiration, I hope I created a book that not only teaches using both word and image but is beautiful too.