As my first exercise on this course, I was tasked with researching and producing images in the style of two illustrators, one from a selection of six provided, and another of my own choice from the contemporary illustrators that still practice today.
From the list of given choices, I used Pinterest to find images for each artist to arrange into mood boards, then made some light research notes by picking out key features from the selected works. This way I could naturally gravitate towards one as my choice before I could go into more detail in learning about that individual.
From the selection, E.H Shepard grabbed my attention the most. The books he has illustrated have contained some of my favourite stories since childhood and although there have been many different visual adaptations since, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to investigate what went into creating the charm of Shepard’s original take on the stories by A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.
E. H. Shepard (1879-1976)
Ernest Howard Shepard is best known for his whimsical animal drawings in the original publications for Winnie The Pooh, though he also produced many political cartoons for Punch magazine and his personal favourite Illustrations were for another classic story The Wind In The Willows that he worked on with the approval of the book’s author Kenneth Grahame in 1931. His book drawings were mostly small traditional ink sketches that each captured both the innocence and adventure of youth, whereas in his political articles he could approach more serious topic while still keeping a sense of humour throughout.
Recreating Shepards Work
When attempting to pick apart how an artist draws, I find it useful to first recreate sections of their images as accurately as I can in order to get a feel for how they make their lines and compositions. For Shepard I used this to inform how I could approach a piece of my own work that could emulate his style while making notes on his materials and techniques as I sketched.
Shepard used a dip pen and Indian ink to overlay rough pencil sketches when he made his work and made excellent use of the negative space to create reflections of light across the surfaces of the objects in the frame. In later colour editions he would give them some extra life with a wash of watercolour.
After becoming comfortable with this looser sketching style, I started thinking about what subject I could use for making a similar image of my own and while reading about how the character of pooh was based on the stuffed toy owned by Shepard’s own son, I was reminded of one of my own stuffed animals from my childhood.
‘Cat’ as he is imaginatively called, is my oldest possession and was gifted to me by a grandparent when I was first born. He’s been a constant fixture throughout my childhood and over the 26 years I’ve had him, he’s sadly become very tattered and worn with patches of fur missing from when I would hold him close for comfort. Luckily though at some point in time another grandparent knitted him a stylish cardigan to keep him warm. I decided to dig him out of his box in the wardrobe and take a few photos for reference so that I could breathe some new life into him by adding him in to the Hundred Acre Wood.
I filled a page with sketches to try out different versions of Cat, and considered if I should change his features to become more lifelike, but instead I ended up settling on keeping him looking as much of a toy as Shepard did with Pooh and friends on their adventures and the third pose of these sketches was my favourite for showing character, so I began to create a more developed piece with a bridge and a stick as props to develop the scene.
Although I felt this to be a good start, in this this attempt I found myself taking too long when making lines and marks and in the end I felt that I had lost some of the features that made Shepard’s sketching so recognisable with its loose line work and strategic use of negative space to create areas of light. I decided made a second version with quicker marks and a looser feel with better success.
By replacing the bridge posts with a log I could focus on character in the scene much better and I had a more enjoyable time inking this piece and finally producing what I intended to do. I’ve not used a dip pen in this way before and found this scratchy style felt great to use once I got the hang of it. I’ll definitely have to do more with this on another project.
For my second illustrator, I chose to look at the work of Tom Hovey, a welsh illustrator who rose to fame after his work became a regular fixture on the popular television programme The Great British Bake Off on BBC1/Channel 4. His drawings accompany a short segment in the show that demonstrates to the viewer what a contestant intends to create for a baking challenge. (Regardless of how the final bake actually ends up looking!) I’ve looked at Hovey’s work before as inspiration for some of my other projects, but I haven’t previously read into what goes into his creative process.
Recreating Hovey’s work
Hovey uses a mechanical pencil to initially block out his drawings, then overlays the detail using broad strokes from a black marker pen before finally shading the finishing colours in photoshop. Once again I made notes as I copied sections of his work to help me understand the lines. Unlike Shepard, Hovey instead maintains the connections between shapes in a more controlled manner, favouring smooth curves on the edges of each object that lend themselves well to food illustration. There is also room for improvisation in this animated style as it led me to create assumptions of textures and shadows rather than direct representations.
When I moved on to creating my own image, I used one of my mum’s own star bakes as a reference. It may not be as elaborate as some of the items from The great British bake off , but it was still delicious and provided enough interesting features to adapt into a drawing once cut, posed and photographed.
After pencil and marker, I scanned the image and moved into Photoshop to paint colour on a layer behind the lines using a Wacom tablet and pen. It took me a while to find the right brushes and I still need to work on blending and managing colours digitally, but overall I’m happy with the results.
I found this image adaptation to be much more straightforward than with E.H. Shepard as I’m already familiar with the workflow of making artwork that starts in traditional media before moving over to digital to clean up the image for presentation. The difference here is during the application of colour as I’ve only previously used simple block colours when working digitally and haven’t yet experimented much with the type of blending used in digital painting.
Comparisons and Reflections
Both E.H James and Tom Hovey have created imagery that has had a large impact on British culture and identity, which is not something that was a conscious choice when I selected them and didn’t become apparent until I explored each artist in depth. Despite the gap in time between the two, I don’t feel like much has changed in terms of process and workflow, but the jump in technology has changed how the work is distributed and the type in media for the audiences that they have made work for as television and magazine articles have accelerated in accessibility between the time of Shepard and Hovey.
Exploring these artists has been a joy, but I’ve felt myself fall into this exercise as if each section was a small project, which is something I need to moderate in future as this is only the beginning of the course. As I progress, I hope to find a balance between knowing when to freely experiment outside of a project and when it’s only necessary for developing a bigger idea.