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Exercise 2.10: Choosing content

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

This exercise took a more narrative approach and asked me to analyse and illustrate the following extract.


The room was void and unquickened; it was like a room in a shop

window but larger and emptier; and the middle-aged man who

sat at the desk had never thought to impress himself upon what

he entered every day. Comfort there was none nor discomfort; only

did the occupant deign to qualify the pure neutrality of his

surroundings, it would surely be austerity that would emerge. The

spring sunshine turned bleak and functional as it passed the

plate glass of the tall-uncurtained windows.

The windows were large; the big desk lay islanded in a creeping

parallelogram of light; across this and before the eyes of the man

sitting motionless passed slantwise and slowly a massive shaft of


Perhaps twenty times it passed to and fro, as if outside some

great joy wheel oscillating idly in a derelict amusement park. And

the man rose, clasped hands behind him and walked to a window

– high up in New Scotland Yard. He looked out and war-time

London lay beneath… on his brow was a fixed contraction; this he

had carried from desk to window, and now there was neither

hardening nor relaxation as he looked out… during 15 years he

had controlled the file of police papers which dealt with the

abduction and subsequent history of feeble minded girls. Here lay

his anger as he looked out over London... year by year the anger

had burst deeper until it was now the innermost principle of the


Michael Innes Adapted from The Daffodil Affair


I scanned this text to print and glue into my sketchbook for analysis. I was asked to consider what the main character would be like if this was adapted into a film and what the visual details regarding his clothing and surroundings would be. I wrote a few notes based on these questions and highlighted key words to help me to consider a fully formed image of the setting and main character.

Analysing the text.

The text directly references wartime London, so I gathered together images from the early 1940's that feature London's people, culture and buildings including Scotland Yard itself. Specifically for the main character, I directed my searches towards men’s clothing, police uniforms and desk furniture.

One of the questions in the exercise asked how this scene might look cinematically, which lead me to consider if any useful archive footage existed that could show me how life was at the time. I found a brilliant view into London life and the work that took place in Scotland yard in this dramatised British Council film from 1946.

With all this imagery now set in my mind, I moved on to create a mood board with textures based around a word that I felt best summed up the scene after brainstorming ideas. I came up with 'Brooding' as I feel it encapsulates the inner thoughts of the main character as he looks out of the window, while also being visually evocative of the bleak and gloomy outlook that he shares.

I used dark textures and mixed media before adding more specific imagery. The majority of the colour is dominated by black and white but I did expand into using some dark browns and blues without detracting from the feel.

Next, I needed to plan out the scenes in my sketchbook by combining what material I felt worked best in my moodboard with the appropriate 1940's ephemera when coming up with a composition. The white acrylic paper from the looked like it could provide a nicely textured base for a muddy blend of graphite and dark inks in the final drawing.

When re-reading the text, I could split the full scene into in three states. The man sitting still at his desk, a transition as he walks towards the window and finally his gaze as he stares out of the window. I tried a few variations on which state I should illustrate until arrived at my preference of him looking out of the window in profile as shown in idea 3. To me this seemed like the most character driven angle with a focus on his expressions.

Reference frames taken from "Routine Job"

For reference images that I could draw from, I returned to the short film I had previously discovered to find movement poses and backgrounds that could be adapted into my composition. Although the tone of the staged documentary is chipper and light in the actors performances, it was still in the correct setting to take it darker in my own drawing. I took stills as references for the window designs, costumes and lighting that I could adapt into my own work.

I chose these particular two frames as character references. On the left man who could be described as middle aged stands looking concerned while interviewing a suspect. His view is looking at the appropriate angle that I could substitute a window into the right of the frame.

On the right he talks to his partner in an earlier scene. I preferred the lighter shade of the second mans pinstripe suit and I decided that it was likely to be brown rather than black based on my earlier fashion research.

Left: Scanned Illustration in graphite | Right: Scanned Illustration after applying colour with inks.

After sketching in heavy graphite and smudging the shading together into tonal drawing, I added colour that sat muddy on the page just as I hoped it would from my earlier experiments. When I was working out the character design, I had given the character a moustache, but after seeing how he looked on the page without it, I didn't want to hide the subtleties of the expression of his mouth behind facial hair or even stubble.

I wanted a little bit more texture variation so I added a faint overlay of scanned cardboard that also warmed the image with a sepia effect in photoshop. To finish off, I slightly readjusted the lighting and shadows to help sell the idea of the light source coming from the window to a gloomy room. The outcome is an illustration that I feel stays true to the source material in portraying a stark looking middle aged man as he looks out of the window from a bleak and gloomy office environment. His face carries a neutral but brooding expression and he is dressed appropriately in 1940's office attire.

I do feel that there is something missing from this piece though but I can't quite place it. As a fully realised book cover for the novel the extract is taken from, it might bring something more to the image if I added that text to the top, but for now I need to move forward onto to the next exercise.



Drury, J (2019) 'Here's What London Looked Like In The 1940s' At:

(Routine Job, 1946)

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