Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Illustration Grounds?

Dean also used chalk boards to draw on
The main focus for me has largely been on what I've actually been illustrating but the grounds which I've been working on have become more of a focus since the workshop with Kerry Andrews. Having looked at some of Tacita Dean's Alabaster drawings in one of my last posts and contemplated the wall as a surface through looking at the Gond Art from India I have decided maybe there is some way I can produce a surface that is in some way related to the content and context of the work.

Two of the surfaces from the workshop
The random nature of the reworked surfaces I produced in the workshop are one some level rich with some kind of earthy content, the materials working hard at the fragile surface, breaking it down and opening the grain of the paper. The patterns I created were the result of a process that was generic but what if there was a way of creating a ground in nature seeing that is what I'm illustrating?

One idea I have is to have birds and even crows create a surface themselves. I'm unsure if this even validates the process because it is linking the subject of crows with the actual birds themselves but it seems like an interesting place to start. The concept has formed like a science project in my mind and the process will be as follows:

1.       Mix black food die into fat
2.       Spread this on to sections of a sheet of paper
3.       Sprinkle seeds on to the surface to attract birds
4.       Place outside and hopefully birds land and leave their foot prints on the paper

I'm unsure if this will work yet but the surfaces may be interesting and might enrich the final illustrations I do over the top. Results will follow.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Folk Artist as Authorial Illustrator

As I work through the process of interpreting the poems by Ted Hughes it occurs to me that in some way I am interpreting a modern myth or recreated folk legend, if possible. These poems, especially the Crow collection, are written as creation stories which could be classed one of the oldest form of poems, almost biblical.

In this way it has a connection with Folk Art much of which interprets something of the society or the stories found therein. I began searching around for references to folk art and how they interrupt cultural stories and more importantly how they handle the iconography of the story. By 'handle' I mean reproduce or visual interrupt but also the physical means by which they do it. I thought this might help to inform the process of illustrating Ted Hughes work.

I came across an Article in the Journal of illustration entitled 'Folk author: Collaborations between folk artist and publisher, a Tara Books case study', written by Rathna Ramanathan and published in 2014.

Working through this long article I found the following and again it took me back to the identity of the illustrator.

Initially I found the referred to folk art in the article was that of an Indian origin but I did not see this as a barrier to the actual process which was what I am ultimately interested in and I was sure I could draw parallels.

During the process of defining what 'Folk' is Ramanathan highlights a number of references to the fact that folk art cannot be "fully appreciated solely through a formal analysis but instead must be studied through its narrative, biography and folkoric contexts". I think this concept compounds my supposition that Folk art has a close relationship to illustration's narrative roots and that potentially could even be the origins of the first illustration, as a speculative statement.

The honesty of Folk art is also talked about and this also appeals to me as one of my goals. I am trying to be honest to the words of the poem, that I am illustrating, and hopefully the essence of the piece. Often what lies behind the folk art drawing or painting is something function or learned for the community to engage with. There is a public to publish to in a sense, a local population, hamlet, village or town group,  even if it is a record of the livestock or a story that an elder told. There is always potentially a social narrative or importance underlying the message of the work.

How do the ideas for their published books originate when they worked with these marginalise artists? They split it down into three categories:

1) The traditional starting point of a text
2) A conversation with one of the artists
3) Or the subject interests of a designer

Currently I work with the first of these and take the text and illustrate it, informing this with photography and my manipulation of scale and collection. But one that caught my eye is how they evolved the conversation with the artist and that their folk presence therefore more intensively informs the illustration. The artist in a sense is have a far stronger influence on the final publication.

One of the main forms of folk art cited is Gond art. The Gond belief is that viewing a good image brings good luck and traditionally themes are drawn from folk tales and Gond Mythology. This included fantastical imagery such as 'forest magic, the world of ghosts and spirits, birds and animals, the sun and the moon, man and woman'. Interestingly the process of creating Gond art is through putting down dots, very much like indigenous Australian art. Traditionally these were drawn on the walls of dwellings and used the earthy tones of white, ochre, brown, and black.

But these works were not meant to last, their materials degrade and the messages are often news worthy or temporary because of the surface they're applied to. This questions the role of the Folk Artist. Are they the Authorial Illustrator and is their work produced for the short term rather than something that is designed for longevity?

What I really draw from this is yet again the question of the identity of the illustrator and second the grounds or physical presence of the art and how this gives the work a deeply rooted identity in its surroundings.


RAMANATHAN, R. (2014) 'Folk author: Collaborations between folk artist and publisher, a Tara Books case study',  Journal of illustration. [Online] 1 (1) p123-149. Available from:;jsessionid=1857qu791l8sb.victoria  [Accessed Oct/2015]

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Tacita Dean's Alabaster Drawings

In my last post I talked about having a surface, upon which to illustrate, that was a prepared ground and so I have pursued examples of illustrations or drawings on prepared grounds. While reading Tacita Dean's book Analogue I found a series of drawings that she did on alabaster. These were dry point directly on to the burnished flat surfaces of alabaster stones which depicted detailed cloud forms or a marbled effect.

Dean was enthralled by the qualities of the material and the details of the surface began to guide her drawing;

                "All I could do was trace what was already there. And it became about mapping. Suddenly it looked like a desert map, because it had this colour to it and there were these deep black pools looking like oil, almost like an X-ray of the desert."

When she scored into the stone it created white lines which she used to map the "landscapes contained within the alabaster". She listened to the radio as she worked and was influenced by the political events from 2002 as she worked, but the works are named after sleep and depth and time and suggests the hypnotic or therapeutic nature of the process.

Hypnos/Thanatos 1 (2003) dry point on Agatha alabaster 55x55cm
What's interesting here for me is the resulting mapping of the planes she discovered in this beautiful material and how the surface guided her. Having previously, in the drawing workshop (see last post), considered the construction of my own grounds, I found this natural and complex ground intriguing. Could it be possible to find a surface that was of nature or conceived of natural materials that related to the subject matter of the poems I was illustrating? Would I even need to seek the ground or would I simply stumble upon it if I exposed myself to trying to work on a range of credible surfaces?

The forming of the shapes in the alabaster was by a natural process over millions of years. Geographical upheaval had created this beautiful effect that Tacita Dean had then interrupted within her own systems, a process influenced by her subconscious eye and the stories of the moment. She saw images and relationships in the movement of the cloud like forms within the stone and put her interpretation of stories there. This was a drawing but yet potentially an illustration of a story found within the alabaster that could translate something of now.

Detail of Limn (2005) dry point on white transparent alabaster 61x61cm
The delicate nature of the dry point on the stone makes the drawing appear like silver threads or intricate contours. At times shafts of lightening cut the scenes and the desert background appears like a withered torso or the swelling of an orange thunderstorm as the drawing on the surface is cast in sharpened relief when you recognise the crispness of the mark. It's cinematic in nature, a drama that moves in and out of the eye's focus, which is not surprising as Dean chooses film often as her preferred medium. Here she seeks a narrative even though they may be unconventional.

These intriguing works yet again make me question the use as white or cream as a background. The richness and heritage of the effect is impressive and adds a cinematic tor de force to the work that draws the viewer into something majestic and entrancing. The question is though is this something that would work within the meaning and scope of the poetry I am illustrating?


DEAN, T. (2006) Analogue: Films, Photographs, Drawings 1991-2006. Germany: Schaulager Steidl