Personal work?

I’ve decided to create another blog to upload stuff out of my sketchbooks, I feel an overwhelming need to show the internet how mediocre my drawing is! I will upload the first instalment of my newly created three panel strip ‘The Skeptical Duck & the Over Eager Beaver!’ tomorrow. Then you can expect self portraits in the style of Pablo Lobato and Stina Persson, as well as a comic adaptation of Karl Pilkington talking about the uselessness of safety gear. Here’s the URL in the meantime

Here’s some sketchbook work from my trip to Edinburgh Zoo two weeks ago. It’s hard to draw monkeys when they’re swinging about but I did my best!



Illustration Portraits: Stina Persson & Pablo Lobato

My favourite drawing subject is portraits, to the point where I can’t draw anything else except faces! Illustration allows for the format of portraiture to be explored from various angles and looking through ‘Illustration Now! Portraits’ (Julius Wiedemann, 2011) it demonstrated the sheer variety of styles available. I’ve picked out two of my favourites from the book; Stina Persson and Pablo Lobato.

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Stina Persson’s style could be described as resembling ‘fashion illustration’ but her work has been used on popular magazine covers and adverts for big name brands and clothing companies. Watercolour seems to be her medium of choice but she has also explored handwriting, acrylic and ink, and collage as well as incorporating photography.

This is an poster in Malmo, Sweden advertising tours around the town. It is entitled ‘Find Your Malmo’. The heads of the two lovers make a vague heart-shape with the warm reds, purples and oranges adding to the romance. I love the lack of lines on the faces- the facial features are merely suggested and are clean white compared to the transforming colour elsewhere. This was probably accomplished using precise masking.


The portrait on the left is from Persson’s New York show in 2010, from the Gallery Hanahou, entitled ‘Perfectly Flawed’. The piece is a modern take on Tippi Hedren who was famous for starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. It is a combination of cut paper making up the face and watercolour elsewhere. Despite the lack of obvious 3D form, the face and particularly the hairstyle seem to have great depth due to darker shades of colour where shadow should be.

The portrait on the right is of actress Penelope Cruz (done in 2010 for a ‘Latina’ magazine editorial). This is my favourite because of the bare minimalism- all it consists of is eyes, nose, mouth, chin and a strand of hair. The colours here are bright but not overly so; dark browns and purples are used for the shadows while the eyes are given a green/blue sheen. Persson said of her work,”It’s all about the eyes. And as little as possible about smiles and teeth. Sometimes it becomes more a portrait of a hairdo or a sweater. And that’s ok.” This is the URL for her website, giving a more comprehensive look at her work:

Pablo Lobato, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, has an altogether bolder style. Using geometric shapes and vivid colours he somehow captures the likeness of the subject as well as the personality. He says, “I use 70% of the time to get to know the person I am portraying. And just 30% to draw them.”

This is a portrait of actor Leonardo DiCaprio from a ‘Flare’ magazine article, 2007. The shapes and colours are created using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to give a polished, slick look. The likeness for me is shown from the shape of the head (a square!) and the half shut eyes. The different shades on the face double as realistic tone and actually make the 2D flats seem three dimensional.


These next two are of the celebrated American rock bands, the White Stripes and the Red Hot Chili Peppers respectively. Reds, blacks and whites are used to keep in line with Jack and Meg White’s traditional aesthetic, which hadn’t changed at all during their thirteen year career. The Chili Peppers’ portrait is split into two halves in the background; Mars on the left and Jupiter on the right. Mars and Jupiter were the names of the two discs that made up the Chili’s 2006 double album ‘Stadium Arcadium’. Both groups are posed to show the unity and energy of their live performances.

Overall, both Persson and Lobato’s approach to illustrative portraiture are something that I’m interested in imitating myself. I might upload the results at some point!

The Disorderly Notions of Gustave Dore: Don Quixote

Next, in my series investigating the work of Gustave Dore, is the illustrations done for Miguel de Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’, regarded as the most influential piece of Spanish literature in history. The Dore edition, published in 1863, contained a staggering 370 engravings spread over two volumes. The images were inspired by Dore’s recollections of travelling through Spain and communicated the satirical humour he had previously explored in ‘Rabelais’ (1854). Like most of his illustration work, Dore’s ‘Don Quixote became the most recognised and established versions.

First, is perhaps the most iconic image from ‘Don Quixote’. Even before I started my research I recognised and appreciated the combination of fictional characters springing to life while the reader raves in his chair by the window. The title character sits and waves his blade (real or imaginary?), either fighting off the hoard of fantastical beings or marshalling them against an unseen enemy. The majority of them are etched into the shadow, reinforcing their mysterious, otherworldly quality. Don Quixote’s novel of choice is concerned with romance and chivalry and this is reflected by the presence of noble medieval figures riding on horseback. Particularly humorous details include the severed giant’s head and the two miniature knights jousting on the backs of rodents, located in the bottom left hand corner. There is a real sense of churning motion and cramped space in the background which reflects the quote,”…disorderly notions crowded…”

Here we have our delusional hero riding in full armour on horseback down a ravine, while the sky above him teems with more visions of grandeur and heroism. The cloudy figures in mortal combat in the heavens reflect where Don Quixote would like to be but, despite his passion and imagination, he is still grounded in an unremarkable reality. The barren ground upon which he rides serves as a contrast against the unbelievable sights in the enchanted sky. The whole image has a potentially epic atmosphere but this is diffused by the comical sight of the untrained knight riding alone aimlessly.

Next, another noble pose is struck by Don Quixote under the glowing moonlight. His posture is serious and defiant but, once again, is made humorous by his spindly physique and the rural setting. Rather than being set on the battlements of an ancient castle, Don Quixote finds himself living out his fantasy in the presence of a flock of sheep and a horse trough. The dramatic lighting and ominous night clouds try to redeem this, however, and make the Don look convincing.

Finally, making a jump to the very end of Vol. 2, the Don and his ‘squire’ Sancho Panza find themselves on the shore with their dishevelled steeds. Bereft of his armour, Don Quixote looks to the Moon, just as he did in the previous image, but without any hint of self assuredness at all. The whole atmosphere of the engraving is muted and forlorn, the solitary seabirds flying past emphasising the loneliness of their final location. The clouds in the sky here are calm, reflecting that any drama of their previous adventures has now dissipated.

The Disorderly Notions of Gustave Dore: Dante’s Inferno

Continuing with my research on Dore I am now looking at a selection of engravings from ‘Inferno’, part one of Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’. For all three parts of the poem Dore produced an astounding 136 illustrations which became one of the illustrator’s personal favourites. In fact, Dore would apparently use those engravings as source material for his subsequent work. When Dore began work on ‘Inferno’ in 1857 the publishers he contacted were reluctant to get behind it, because the project seemed too ambitious and potentially expensive, so he financed the whole task himself. When it was published in 1861 Dore’s edition won unanimous acclaim some proclaiming that it had replaced Botticelli’s paintings as the definitive work (according to the publisher’s note in ‘The Dore Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy’ 1976).

The first plate I have chosen is ‘Charon and the River Acheron’ which depicts the ferryman of Hell rowing to collect the souls of the dead on the opposite shore. The figure of Charon is posed in the manner of classical Greek sculpture to show off his rugged physique; the angle of his oar indicating a powerful, forceful sweep through the raging water. The darkness surrounding the towering cliffs behind emphasises the central figure reflected in light, while the turbulent waves look as though they are threatening to engulf Charon’s wooden vessel. Dore probably increased the dramatic qualities of this image to reflect that Charon is the first named mythical being that Dante encounters in ‘Inferno’. It is also a turning point in the poem as this is the moment where Dante and Virgil’s descent into Hell truly begins.

This engraving shows Dante and Virgil in the Second Circle of Hell, ‘The Lustful’, looking down into an abyss where from a stream of countless souls whirl endlessly. The silhouettes of the protagonists are insignificant against the razor-sharp rocks but the presence of the damned souls seems miniscule. They are almost like a shoal of fish coiling aimlessly in the air and fading into the background. Dore probably gave this image limitless space to increase the intended feeling of horror and astonishment.

‘The Styx- The Irascible’ finds the two poets in the Fifth Circle, Anger. Dante clutches to Virgil in fear as the heavily muscled forms of the Irascible reach out to tear him to pieces. In contrast, Virgil’s stern expression and outstretched hand show calm in the face of adversity. The teeming bodies blend into the violent currents of the River Styx to show their inability to escape their murky prison. Likewise, the tormented forms on the shore in the background are almost indistinguishable from the blackened peaks behind. Up in the ominous sky the winged forms of devils can be faintly seen patrolling the air. Here, Dore shows an actual conflict between the two living souls and the hoards of the dead.

Next is ‘The Harpies’ Wood’ where Dante and Virgil wander into the Seventh Circle, Violence. Specifically, there are in Violence’s middle circle, the Suicides (violence against self). The fate of the suicides is to be transformed into gnarly trees while the hideous harpies feast on their internal organs. The forms of the suicides are convulsed more in the manner of tree roots and branches rather than conventional human pose. Extra outgrowing twigs give them the appearance of mythical woodland spirits rather than the ordinary people they once were. The harpies themselves are gaunt faced with expressions of animalistic hatred, all their eyes cast on the living interlopers who stand in the shadowy background. The eerily still forest environment of the Suicides makes for a stark contrast with the rest of Dore’s engravings which depict the Circles of Hell as barren, rocky and full of raging motion.

Here, in the Eighth Circle, Fraud, (specifically Bolgia Five: Barrators) the poets are set upon by the Malebranche in ‘Devils and Virgil’. Once again, Virgil is protective of Dante stoically staring down the horde of ‘evil claws’. The devils are based on the conventional Medieval depiction complete with bat wings, horns and pitch forks. By contrast Virgil is shown as a figure of Roman grandeur and nobility, probably to indicate his Italian heritage. There is great use of motion in the swarm of attacking demons compared the immovability of the two men. It is a classic scene of mortal good versus immortal evil.

Finally, I will look at ‘Antaeus- Descent to the Final Circle’. Having passed through the whole Eighth Circle, Dante and Virgil are lowered into the Ninth and final Circle by the giant Antaeus. His immense build and stooped pose once again recall Greek sculpture; his long, flowing beard giving him the look of an ancient Greek deity. The way he holds the two men is gentle, which is incongruous to his apparently savage nature. There is a sense of calm before the storm, a brief respite before the inevitable final horror.

Overall, compared to his previous works of grotesque satire in ‘Rabelais’, ‘Inferno’ concentrated more on the epic, impossible landscape of a terrifying underworld. The bizarre nature of Hell meant that Dore had to conceive a world that was believable but not grounded in reality at all. As journalist Theophile Gautier wrote in ‘Montieur Universal’ (July 30th, 1861), “What strikes us at first glance in Gustave Dore’s illustrations for Dante are the surroundings in which the scenes that he draws take place and which have no relation to the appearance of the mundane world.”