As this is my first ever blog posting I wondered what on
earth I should write about ——do I have anything interesting to say? Then I
thought about my experience as an illustrator for 35+years and decided to just
write about that. What I am working on, how I did it, and what my thought
processes were. So here’s my first post—-it’s a new book that I am very proud
of, for Grimm Press in Taiwan—-a new version of ‘Rashomon’.
Initially made famous by Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film based on two stories
by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (‘Rashomon’ and ‘In a Grove’), it is has a plot device
that uses various characters to recount different versions of a violent event.
It has a rape, a murder, a ghost and plenty of dead bodies——a little
different from the fairies, princesses and knights I am often asked to
I was very excited to be offered this commission, not only by the
setting of ancient Japan, but also by the dramatic story-line that allowed me
to explore a different side to my work. (As I usually work with coloured
pencils I am often typecast as an illustrator of softer, more romantic
subjects; something I have always fought against.) I have been fascinated by
Japanese prints since my youth and decided to approach ‘Rashomon’ with these in
mind knowing their strong colours and graphic nature would be well suited to
the gruesome subject matter. (I particularly liked Kuniyoshi’s skeletons and
used a version of these as my ghost.)
Also, when it came to where to put the type I noticed that a lot of the
Japanese printmakers would add a scroll or banner on top of the image to
contain the written information and so I decided to employ this device.
Researching the actual ‘Rashomon’ gate (which was an old city gate of
Kyoto fallen into ruin) was quite challenging as there is very little evidence
of what it looked like therefore I kept mine pretty vague and atmospheric, giving
a shadowy impression of pillars and falling timbers. At the start of Grimm’s
version a young man shelters in the ruin during a storm and comes across an old
crone kneeling in the dark, plucking the hairs from a corpse—-the building
being used as a dumping ground for the city’s dead.
To achieve a more graphic appearance to the spreads I chose
not to photograph real people as I usually would, but based my figures loosely on
film stills and my imagination, drawing them in a fairly free manner using bold
lines and colour. It did make me very nervous being so experimental—–the
only other book that I have attempted to work on without taking my own
reference pictures was ‘Dracula’ (for Templar Publishing). Having so little to
work from did liberate my drawing from too much fuss and forced me to make
bigger, bolder strokes rather than get hung up on finer details.
Recently I have begun varying my techniques more and more
and found that I can work more freely and make bolder marks by using thick
Canson papers and working with marker pens on top of coloured pencil. Forcing
myself to use thick black lines has changed my style and allowed me tremendous
freedom. I would never advise an illustrator to use an experimental style on an
actual commission but the older I get the more I find it rewarding to take
these risks. At the age of 62 I think I am just coming into my creativity!