Friday, 28 February 2014

Book Review (in part) - Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies

For those who know me well, or know of my work as an artist (self taught), will know I have a passion for producing my own illustrations and for sharing the work of others.  

Illustrators can reveal information which is deeply illuminating through illustration, and sometimes more than words alone can manage.

cover design by Eleanor Rose
book design by Simon Sharville
I have been commissioned to review a new book by (Bloomsbury, Jan 2014) called Understanding Illustration (the book) by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies (*the authors) The work of 36 artists feature in the book overall, but it is the traditional use of illustration that interests me the most, so I've chosen four out of nine illustrators from Section 01 to focus on, and to reproduce their project ideas in brand new illustrations of my own:

The authors lead in with book cover designs by Audrey Niffenegger (Three Incestuous Sisters and The Nightmobile) and through discussions with Niffenegger they tell of how she was commissioned, by Penguin, to produce artwork giving a fresh interpretation of Jane Austen's Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. On page 11 of the book is a front cover of the former 

image above shows original artwork before adjustments for print. Photograph taken from the book Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies for the purpose of reviewing

...and a wraparound cover of Sense and Sensibility

above shows original artwork. Photograph taken from the book entitled Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies for the purpose of reviewing

While acknowledging Niffenegger as an artist in her own right, she is better known as a writer of novels, the authors manage to extract Niffenegger's thought processes behind the illustrating of another writer's text; that of Jane Austen in this case. We are allowed a small window in to the work of Art Director, Paul Buckley who adjusted final versions of the artworks prior to publication, but not many clues are given in the book of the software techniques used. Below is my Niffenegger take on a wraparound cover for Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre; much guesswork and trial and error involved to produce but the style leaps out.

Illustration by Debra Hall (Subject to copyright 2014)

the above illustration is by Shaun Tan - photograph from the book Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies

Pages 14-17 of the book are dedicated to author and illustrator, Shaun Tan, in particular, Eric, Tan's character from the collection called Tales from Outer Surburbia. See the beautiful b/w images above, and below, again, taken directly from the book under review here.

Eric by Shaun Tan - Photograph is directly from the page of the book Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies for the purpose of reviewing

The section in the book dedicated to Tan and his work lingers much on the interconnection of his words with imagery. I am definitely more at home with the activity of sketching freehand and would have liked the low down on Tan's techniques and of the manipulation processing, so I have been disappointed with the book for not covering the mechanics more. Below is a straightforward sketch of a scene in my mind from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men I have made no enhancements to it.
'He scooped a little hollow and laid the puppy in it and covered it over with hay' - Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck' Illustrated by Debra Hall (subject to copyright 2014)

Photograph is a page within the book under the review in this editorial
Turning attention now to the illustrating of Children's Books I am looking, in turn, at two artists who fall under this sub-heading in the book. Firstly, Polish born, Jan Pienkowski tells of how his early work in stage design helped with his illustrating. And this is highly evident in his designs, the use of dark and detailed silhouettes of fairytale/fantasy objects and enchanted forests and mystical creatures heading a vivid bright and colourful landscape beyond is a feast for the visual. I was so pleased to see that Pienkowski is a little less cloak and dagger in regard to sharing aspects about his craft. 
The Thousand Nights and One Night - Photograph taken from Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies for reviewing purposes

Pienkowski produces stunning illustration and the book illustrates this well! So I am showing a version of what was my competition entry for the design of a book cover depicting the novel 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel, back in 2005. I have reworked it for this occasion, using Pienkowski as a lead, and contrasting strong colours as he often does, to stir the imagination.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel - Illustration by Debra Hall (Subject to copyright 2014)

For the purpose of this review, this is a photograph of the work of Sara Fanelli which is featured in the book Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies

It is difficult for me to convey stories in an abstract sense. I read the text, and, immediately, an image is there and I can set about composing in a way that'll meet my objective. The final artist I have chosen from the book - to 'copycat' in terms of illustrative style, is Sara Fanelli (see above). 
Photograph from a page within the book by Bloomsbury entitled Understanding Illustration by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies

Italian born, Fanelli, like Pienkowski, now lives in the UK.  Fanelli works in collage and with found items. The strength of what can be achieved contextually, as well as artistically, is boundless, using this kind of approach to design. Her funny little Onion character was part of a book proposal which contained a story with a moral message. The Onion's Great Escape was published in 2012. 

I, for one, like to cut up original artwork from unfinished, or failed projects, and make something new. I am loathe to throw away artwork; even it was rather lazily put together. I have admitted to being quite conventional in my approach, but I also have a scatter gun of a mind at times which needs reeling in. From what I glean from the book Fanelli may be better at abstract thinking, but I think I can generate ideas like her, that have some fluidity and randomness about them. Below I am reusing one of my special characters in true Fanelli style!
artwork by Debra Hall (subject to copyright 2014)

The authors Derek Brazell and Jo Davies are illustrators, who both combine writing, education and support for other illustrators in their wider work. The two have worked in collaboration as authors previously. As board members of the Association of Illustrators they are always looking to ways of creating a platform for discussion and investigation into the subject of illustration.

CONCLUSION: the book has not been reviewed in its entirety due to the imaginative steps I've taken to construct this piece. To carry on with the same layout and format I've used and incorporate the reviewing of of the whole book would have been laborious for me and too lengthy to hold the attention of the reader. I know as much as this, that the aim of the complete book, was not only to give in-depth information to show how illustrators communicate through their images when it comes to the narrative; but to show how they can stimulate thought and get a message across; through poster design, in the visual for advertising, in reporting using various media outlets. Illustrating off the printed page  features too - Murals, T-shirt designing, and online magazines for example and much more. I cannot verify that this was achieved with any depth. I know I certainly looked and hoped for more detail about the ' nuts and bolts'  in the section that did receive my scrutiny, but, to be fair, the book is more about the images and the ideas behind the artists' work rather than information about the cog working. That would be a different book. This book is written in an informal, relaxed writing style and the photographic images are of the high quality that you would expect from such a revered publishing house.

"This is an opinion piece, but it is professional opinion. I have been reviewing stage for 7 years now, and more recently consumer products and services, and, of course, books. As an ex arts worker I'm a regular blogger of arts and crafts. 

by Debra Hall

*Derek Brazell and Jo Davies have asserted their rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988 to be identified as authors of the book entitled Understanding Illustration

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