Thursday, 17 July 2014

Illustration Time Capsule

The time taken for artwork to be returned from a publisher has reached a new personal record: 17 years. The book in question, Force of Evil by Gary Crew, a collection of suspenseful cop stories I illustrated back in 1997. Not long after the book was published, I contacted the publisher only to be told that their office had more or less vanished – not unlike a twist in a Gary Crew tale – nobody worked there anymore, and like a frustrated detective, I quickly ran out of leads. It was more or less assumed that the original artwork was permanently lost, so much so that there wasn't even a suspect left to pin the blame on.

The Staircase, gouache and pencil on paper, 1997

Apparently what had happened (I now know) was this: the artwork sat with the printer for a some years, having nobody to return it to. Eventually it came back to the freelance designer who had worked on the book, a person with whom I had no connection. Her attempts to get in touch with me via publishers and other agencies failed: the work was filed away for another long period. Eventually an office reorganisation brought it into an archaeological light, my current publisher was contacted, and they immediately let me know. Interestingly, the designer and I now virtually live in the same suburb, and I was able to just drive over and pick them up. Thus ends a great mystery! 

The Last Cabinet, gouache on paper, 1997

One odd thing is that I had been thinking about posting images of lost work only a few weeks prior, since a blog must be good for such things (there's always hope on the internet... and no artwork really disappears). The other odd thing is the unusual experience of seeing the work again. It's rare to look at images I don't quite remember painting - I even had to check the signature on a couple of them. Technically they are as good as anything I'm doing now, but with a higher level of detail, produced at a time when I may have had a lot more time for fussing about with tiny brushes (these works are quite small, A5-sized). A lot more time, but not much money, and even less employment. Chances are that if these paintings had not been buried in a time capsule, I would have immediately sold them all off to the lowest bidder, just to pay my rent.

A Missed Call, gouache and pencil on paper, 1997

Incidentally, the original book is out of print, and the illustrations were quite poorly reproduced due to cheap paper. I don't think they aroused much interest, remaining largely unknown. But what you can see from this work is my early interest in creating a disquieting atmosphere through simple compositions: I actually learned most of what I know about illustration from working on small scale pieces such as these. In spite of the hazards of poor pay, relative anonymity and the mishandling of original artwork in a predigital age (hooray for electronic files!) early work such as this proved to be an invaluable experience, essential visual training for larger projects such as The Arrival many years later.

A Step Behind, gouache on paper, 1997


  1. Dear Shaun, thank u for sharing the precious experience and good suggestions. Also, your humour is heartwarming. I love your monochrome work and value study sketches such as "The Bird King" & "Nameless Land". Keep up wonderful work! I look forward to your b&w roughs. Best wishes, Sadami

  2. hi Shaun, the history of your missed drawings is amazing!! they are all impressive,especially "a missed call"...(the atmosphere is similar at the Pink Floyd song Nobody home from the wall lp) and the staircase,full of suspence.... greetings EW

  3. Good story. Remind me of Paul Auster books....
    And as always - great drawings. Interesting to see the development of your art through the years.

  4. What a great story! Glad you have them back, they're beautiful.

  5. Always an inspiration even though I'm not working in art as of now.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.