Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Narrative Illustration

For our current main assignment entitled Narrative Illustration, we have been set the task of choosing a novel of our choice to illustrate. We were challenged to research a novel of our choice, highlighting its illustrative spikes and showing an understanding towards what we had read by creating relevant studies that clearly related to the given text. 

What is narrative illustration? 

Narrative illustration is simply an illustration that goes alongside a piece of narrative. The illustration must clearly relate to the piece of text given, and this can be in any context, such as a piece of fictional literature, factual based information, poetry, instructions, anything and everything. 

To begin, we were given a list of books to choose from, ranging from all different genres and that were aimed at varying audiences. The list included the following: 
  • The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame 
  • The Princess bride - William Goldman
  • James and the giant peach - Roald Dahl 
  • Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Big Book Of Nonsense - Colin West
  • The Three Mulla Mulgars - Walter de La Mare
  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  • Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
  • The hobbit - J.R.R Tolkin
  • Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
  • Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum - Grant Morrison/Dave McKean
  • Sin City Volume 4: That Yellow Bastard - Frank Miller
  • Judge Dredd: Shooters night
  • Listening to the earth turn - Jason Aaron
  • Chain of command - Andy Diggle
  • Nobrow - Graphic narrative - exclusion - Sam Arthur 
  • The Castle - Franz Kafka
  • Animal Farm - George Orwell 
  • Trainspotting - Irvine Welsh 
  • Fifty Shades of Grey - E L James
  • White Bones - Grahame Masterson
  • Necronomicon - H.P Lovecraft
  • A princess of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Blow by blow - Detmar Blow/Tom Sykes 
  • The artificial man - Leslie Purnell Davies 
  • Dracula - Bram Stoker 

My research

Alongside researching into the novels we were given to choose from, I looked further into the colour formats which we had been introduced to immediately within our introduction to Narrative Illustration. Using this site, I was able to learn more about the RGB or CMYK options. 


Scientists and artists use different kinds of colour, and some colours are touchable like the colours on a painted wall, and others are not, like the kind of colour a taser light would be. The untouchable colour is the RGB, or the additive, and we can find this kind of colour on our TV sets or computer monitors. The CMYK, or cyan, magenta, yellow and black derive from printing, and are grayscale when mixed. I need to consider these greatly when printing and for later in this assignment when am creating digital versions of my produce.

I chose to place my research for this assignment within sketchbooks. When I began, I copied up the book list and noted which ones I was immediately interested in looking into further.

My Book List page

Due to me coming from a fine art background and enjoying this way of working, I was keen to look into researching novels that I could maybe interpret this way of working with. I therefore singled out the narratives that I believed might have potential for this, particularly ones that I knew were written some time ago. I was also very interested in the idea of potentially illustrating a children's book however, because I am also interested in the idea of perhaps pursuing this as a career in my future. Considering these things, the books I decided to research further were the following: 
  • The Princess Bride
  • James and the Giant Peach 
  • Treasure Island 
  • Wuthering Heights 
  • Oliver Twist
  • Trainspotting 

I explained this in further detail with a written summary in my sketchbook: 

I then began to research these books. I used the internet to get summaries of each novels and further research the plots. However I also took as many as the novels from the overall booklist that were available in my library out in order to get a first hand understanding of each book, and to see if any stood out to me in particular. The internet research of each of the books I was interested was displayed in my sketchbook also, where I annotated it to soak up some of the information and help me discover whether I had a great enough interest in the book to study it further and illustrate it. It also gave me ideas of what kinds of things I could potentially be depicting in my work, and if this would suit the fine art approach I was willing to take to my work. Here are some examples of the research pages within my sketchbook on the novels:  

Researching each book of my interest: 
Treasure Island
Wuthering Heights

James and the giant peach 

James and the giant peach 2

Wuthering heights continued 

The princess bride 


Trainspotting and summary

Oliver Twist

After researching each book further, I wrote a summary concluding that out of each novel I was most interested in illustrating Wuthering Heights for this assignment. I was quite intrigued by the book as I knew after researching that there were a lot of things I would like to look into further with the book such as the clothing of the time period, the roles of men and women at the time, the way people lived generally amongst other things. I found that the different emotional areas of the book could be very interesting to work with and take a fine art approach to. I then continued to research the book further using the internet, finding helpful information on the characters, chapters of the book, scenery/setting of the book as well as other things: 

Researching each individual character
using information found on the internet
Continued 1


2. I was able to include images
of characters from film productions to 
give me a greater idea of what they may look like/people may have looked like at the time of the setting
5 looking into chapter summaries 

6 more chapters

7 moors information and wuthering heights 

Other important key areas of the novel 

 I continued an in depth research of Wuthering Heights, looking into significant areas of the book, its target audience, the 1800's when the book was published and set - from here looking at the roles of men and women at the time, the fashion to give me an idea of characters dress, important things that occurred in history around the time etc. My research for these things included internet research and book research. Library books I used:

Modes and Manners 

English costume 

Historical costumes 

Modes and Manners vol 3 

Gallery of fashion 

Victorian womens fashion 

Analysing modes and manners 


Historical costumes 

I also watched a movie adaptation of the book that was made in 2011. I made notes as I watched as part of my research, picking up on things like the way characters were depicted in action as well as the scenery and general atmosphere in the film. Below are some pictures of the characters/actors in the film:  

Heathcliff and Cathy as children on moors found

Catherine older on moors found here

Catherine found here

Heathcliff found here

My notes/scans 

Summary, how it helped me 

I soon pulled apart areas of the book that I found most interesting to read. This included the early appearance of Catherine's ghost haunting Mr Lockwood, the narrator of the story. I also found it interesting to read the areas of the book which focussed on emotion, and suffering through grief, depression and anxiety. 

Different parts of the book pt 1 

pt 2 

pt 3

I did some research into the social classes of the characters in the book as well as past illustrators of the novel such as Barnett Freedom  and Clare Leighton. I also spent some time looking at what men and women from the 1800s looked like to help me build up character designs.  

these illustrators 

More research and inspiration

As well as researching things surrounding my book, I also researched current narrative illustrators and publishing companies. I began by looking at ones I have researched before, such as Penguin books, which are the most popular in the UK and who publish narratives. I also looked at Random House and Harpercollins. Looking at these companies gave me a good idea as to what kinds of books are currently popular, which helped me settle on my choice of novel as Wuthering Heights is classed as a timeless classic and is always being re-read and is often on school syllabuses and therefore always has a new audience. 

I also began to research illustrators of today who work alongside narratives. I chose to try to find illustrators who work in a fine art style, as this is the style I wanted to take with my own work. There was not an extensive collection of illustrators who worked like this I found, however, I was able to discover artist Christopher Dunn, who works based on narratives in a fine art style of working. I very much admired his work, and although it was often based on children's novels, found I was able to find inspiration from his creations and chose to contact him to find out more.   

Here were some questions I asked him regarding his work and his style, along with his answers: 

Having looked at some of your work online, I am wondering if you happen to create some of your pieces based on written work? 

The vast majority of my recent animal illustrations are loosely based on 'The Wind In The Willows' and Beatrix Potter characters. There is no particular text or scene I am trying to illustrate because the artwork has been commissioned by an illustration gallery, Galerie Daniel Maghen. The gallery requested artwork that was, I quote, 'from the universe of 'Wind In The Willows'.

I have produced other pieces based on written, such as 'Brave New World' and fairy stories but unfortunately these were sample pieces for publishers that didn't get selected.

I am also wondering knowing that your work has strong fine art elements to it, whether or not you would use your style for particular audiences, above others? 

That's an interesting question because I would say illustration, rather than fine art, is more about knowing your audience. When I first began my career in 2008, I attempted to create work aimed at young readers and editorial clients. It was very hit and miss, and I found my portfolio was inconsistent in style and content. Now I have come to the realisation that I must create work for myself first and then find the audience after it has been created. In these modern times, it is much easier to let an audience come to you via social media - turns out mums and middle aged women are my target audience! 

Now that my style has developed and become much more personal (and therefore better), I think it will translate more successfully into children's books.

What kinds of processes do you use when creating some of your detailed pieces, and where do you find most of your inspiration?

For process, see my latest blog posts -

Every thing is watercolour and gouache. I try not to use photoshop, painter etc, because I feel there are plenty of artists that are far better at digital art than me.

Inspiration comes from books, artists like John Howe, Jean Baptiste-Monge, Rockwell, Justin Gerard. Also the world around me, I live in a very picturesque part of England which just happens to be full of lovely woods and medieval villages (such as Lacock - features heavily in Harry Potter Films). I'm constantly spotting architecture, trees, doors, paving stones, etc that I photograph to use in a painting in the future.

If you do indeed illustrate based on narrative pieces, how do you determine which areas of your novel that you would like to illustrate, and how you would like your outcomes/characters etc to look?

At the moment I don't have much experience in working from novels, however I would say I would want my characters and overall work to depict the atmosphere created in the story. Sam Weber is particularly good at this. The characters would also have to be visually close to the physical and mental descriptions given. 

Contemplative or quiet scenes are probably more my style than action packed, especially if there is violence involved. With the animal artwork I try to depict lots of different types of scenarios, but I always try to bring across a feeling, so in a book I would tend to look for emotions first rather than 'that's a cool object / person / creature / weapon to draw'.

Although Chris Dunns work is more based on childrens stories than the kind of book I was looking at, I took inspiration from his style in his paintings: 




I like how his images are striking and create an instant response within yourself as a viewer which is something I hoped to achieve in my own work. 

As well as this, I also looked at many fine artists/general artists to inspire my work and practice. I looked at artists such as GiacomettiEgon Schiele, (who works in an illustrative style) Jenny Saville's drawings, Tracey Emin and more. Looking at this range of fine artists helped to inspire my thought processes and imagination with my work, as I was very enthusiastic about the idea of creating some fine art type pieces of work. 

Initial work and experimentation 

When I immediately began my studies, I first chose to illustrate the scenery of my book and the setting of it. I chose to begin painting the moors because this is where most of the story takes place, and the environment creates most of the unsettling atmosphere in the book. 

I chose to work with traditional painting media, mostly acrylic but experimenting also with oil paint. I also attempted some paintings of the moors with brusho, however did not feel very confident with this medium as I struggled to keep control of its fluidity.  

Oil paint moors 

Acrylic altering moors 

Acrylic, experimenting with colour and 

Finger painting using acrylic, looks too bright

Brusho, harder to control and 
difficult to keep a moody
colour scheme 


In the beginning I experimented creating some more conceptual based pieces where the meaning behind each illustration wasn't necessarily obvious. I created some studies based on the scene in the book in chapter three where Catherine's ghost is haunting a character. In the scene, she seizes hold of Lockwood, and begs to be let into her room. He cuts her arm to free himself. Inspired by this scene I created some images based on her hands clean/bloody pressing against the glass window while she cried to be let in. I used my own hand prints and layered paint on top of these, later monoprinting quotes from the novel on top of this.  

most successful I think, later monoprinted on

Single hand, considering composition
and colour.

I was very experimental throughout my immediate response to what I had read, creating some paintings within my A4 sketchbook purely based on the emotional side of what I had so far read. I also was inspired by a scene where a character had allowed the wax of the candle he was holding to drip over his fingers as he stood paralysed by fear. This led me to work with actual candle wax, dripping it at first on to poor sketches I had created of the man's hand and candle. I then decided to drip the wax at random onto my paper and work from there. The colour and the wax itself I thought could symbolise Catherine's presence throughout the novel. I also did scratchings into the soft wax as an illustration of Catherine's own repeated scratchings of her names and Heathcliff's into her window ledge, which triggered Lockwood's nightmare and haunting. Here was the result: 

Soft wax and graphite, the scratchings using 

Wax and graphite

Following some inspiration from a conversation with a friend at a different institution, I decided to create some sculptural pieces to further embrace the fine art approach I was hoping to achieve in my work. During my time studying fine art at college, I had based a module on sculpting animals with wire, and was keen to attempt this again for Wuthering Heights, with the idea of perhaps drawing from my sculptures, or photographing and editing them as digital drawings. I decided to create a wire horse, inspired by the earliest scenes in the book where the narrator of the story is visiting Wuthering Heights on horseback. I began by drawing quick sketches of horses to give myself a better idea of the form and structure of the animals build, examples of these drawings are below: 

pencil sketches 

stick and ink 

ink and stick 

Practicing form 

After doing this, I was then able to begin my sculpting with wire to build the horse. Here was the eventual result: 

wire horse 

For creating this horse I was strongly inspired by the sculptor Nakisha Vanderhoeven  who specialises in this material, and focuses most of her wire figures on animals too. She has created in the past some horses, an example of one below:

Found here


My very first attempt of a character design was when we had a very quick on the spot task of drawing a character from our book within two minutes. Here was my result: 

I took inspiration from one of the books I had chosen on the 1800s from our library and based my drawing of my chosen character, Lockwood, on that. 

My first real drawings of characters began with simple, quick idea drafts. I continued to look at my library books for inspiration, as well as images on the internet I could find of people living in the 1800s so that I could get a greater understanding of their fashion styles and haircuts etc. 

I experimented with different techniques and materials. I often used fineliner and watercolour, and I enjoyed doing continuous line drawings, sometimes in my opposite hand. 


Fine liner and watercolour 

Water colour and fine liner

Focussing on the face.
I based this image on one of my peers,

To begin my official character design, I focussed at first on the two leading characters of the book, Heathcliff and Catherine. I began with Catherine at first, experimenting with a broad range of styles and techniques to try to find something that might work for the style of the novel and for the character herself. I used one sketchbook in attempt to find a style and way of drawing that would suit this character. At first, I experimented a using continuous line drawing technique as this is something I am comfortable with, and tested different mediums also. 

pencil, watercolour, fineliner
pencil, watercolour, fineliner

pencil, expressions

pencil, looking at clothes

altering colours, experimenting 
with scale and media 

In the above images where I was experimenting with line and colour, I was quite heavily influenced by the artist Egon Schiele, I really love this artist's work, and admire how he uses a fine art and illustrative style combined to create beautiful figurative based pieces that are often somewhat limited with detail but still greatly considered. 

An example of this artists work, found here 

After looking at this artist further I was then inspired to create more figurative based work for the project. I was enthusiastic about the idea of how the figure in an image could tell parts off a story. I wanted to see how body language and pose for example could give a good insight to how they were feeling. 

I therefore began gradually (after experimenting greatly with the varying styles and materials I could use and building up facial features for the character) creating some figurative studies in the form of monoprints, adding text to these if I deemed appropriate, in a kind of Tracey Emin style. 

Let me in 

Print: Queen of the countryside


Experimenting on painted 
I then after further experimentation and coming to the realisation that I liked this style practiced more and with different characters. I began illustrating some males in novel such as Heathcliff, at first sketching and then printing in the same kind of style. 

Printing experiments

When I first began my character development, I also experimented somewhat in the print room. I am not very confident with the various printing techniques, however enjoy creating. I decided at the beginning of the assignment to practice/experiment more in the print room to try to build up my confidence with the processes, and see if there was anything I could further experiment with. 

I decided to create some lino prints, having only done this once before and not getting to fully practice with it. From what I could gather of my experience with it before, I decided that the style of lino printing might work well with the look I wanted to achieve. 

I created numerous cuttings, finding little success overall but enjoying the process on a whole. Here were some of my linos: 





My prints below. I discovered that they shown up better on the paper that was less in quality. I created a study of one of the male characters in the novel, Lockwood. I created the study of the sheepdog as an illustration from the scene where Lockwood is attacked by the dogs in the house. I created the lino of the hand to again symbolise the haunting of Catherine's ghost. On one of my dog prints I decided to experiment on a sheet of coloured paper which I think works to give a slightly unsettling feel. It also could give the impression that the dog is resting by the fire in the living room. I used black ink to give the feel of age, depression and sorrow. I did this in most of my studies.  

2 x dog

a collection of prints 

More prints, 2 x of each. Two faded,
two more clear

Scale experimentation and development

I began experimenting in an A3 sketchbook some new ideas and hoped that the larger paper would enable me to express myself more freely. I found that this was much better for me and I created some of the following studies on an A3 scale: 

Horrific attempt at a portraiture piece 
of Cathy 
Figurative painting based on Cathy 

Scenery development, moors
using oil 

I found the scale developments highly beneficial to my practice. I enjoyed working on even larger scales and having the freedom to paint on large scales beyond our studio. Creating my scenery (varying paintings based on the moors) was much preferable on a larger scale with more space to paint the landscape. I also enjoyed creating a large A1 portrait of Catherine which inspired one of my finals eventually. I took influence from artist Giacometti when creating portraitures of characters, and feel as though this is more obvious in the below painting: 

A1 painting of Cathy, her ghost haunting Lockwood 
in chapter 3
Here are some examples of Giacometti's paintings that are similar and that I took some inspiration from: 
Painting piece found

found here

found here

 I admire how this artist's work can create an instant response within the viewer and also how the artist uses such expressive marks in his work to bring across his conceptual intentions. I love the painting techniques and colour palette. I intended to express these things within my own study and bring across the full meaning of the image and how Catherine in the painting is mourning and full of extreme sorrow. 

I also created some scale development images of the horse I was looking at. I did this by painting from an image I took myself in the past of a horse, and working with this, altering the colour palette to fully suit my conceptual direction and experimenting with marks. This also went on to inspire one of my final images. 

Early attempt, rich,
vibrant colours not working

Altering colours, more monochromatic 
and fluid marks surrounding

original image 

first final attempt 

My thumbnails and finals 

 When it come to designing my thumbnails and my final images, I had to consider greatly what I had found to have been successful so far through developing. This meant that I could begin to sketch out ruffs and put my ideas into further practice. Looking back through my work, I decided that I liked the idea of including figurative based work, as well as more abstract/concept based illustrations for finals. I also wanted to focus a lot more on the emotional turmoil depicted within the story, and particular conditions like grief, depression, and anxiety were touched on. I liked the idea of finding a way to depict some of these things in my own work. 

To begin, I had to look at the delivery options for my work. My book, Wuthering heights is a scale of 11.7cm by 18.5 cm. To make this easier for myself, I worked onto A5 size pieces of watercolour paper. I then scanned these in, and created borders based on the scale of my book on photoshop for a digital hand in. 

Here were my ten final images, and my book cover: 











I created these after doing my thumbnails and ruffs. 


Completing this module I have realised that it has taught me a great amount about what a career as an illustrator for narrative work might be like. I have enjoyed being able to study a novel, and work at creating images to relate to it. I have enjoyed working with others like my peers in crits for example as this was beneficial to my work. I enjoyed pin pointing areas of the novel and developing studies to gain a style that was relevant to my novel and techniques also. I think that unfortunately due to being unable to work on the project for some weeks due to absence, my work is lacking somewhat on a whole and in future assignments I will like to manage my time better because this will also mean I have the time to enjoy what I am working on more.