Monday, 10 November 2014

Twenty years ago today

The Man Who Lost Red, pen & ink, A4, 1994

I was recently cleaning up my image archives (ie. rearranging an ongoing mess) and recovered some old illustrations from twenty years previously, around the time when I began illustrating a lot of science fiction short stories for magazines (sending original drawings through the post), in between doing an Arts degree at uni, without much idea of any career path. It's an interesting mid-point, since I was 20 then, and am 40 now, and leads me to reflect on any stylistic differences... and some improvement I hope! Interestingly, I don't feel there's been a dramatic shift. A lot of the thematic preoccupations remain current: helmeted figures standing in fields for instance, as in this illustration for Terry Dowling's novelette, The Man Who Lost Red (above), which is not unlike my cover for Rules of Summer, and a painting in Tales from Outer Suburbia (below). 

In case you're wondering, Dowling's intriguing story is partly about a man punished for a crime he can't remember, by the a loss of specific sensory perception. The picture does not illustrate the tale in any very literal sense, produced a time I began experimenting with more metaphorical imagery, that is, drawing things to one side of the text. That was an important conceptual step and more or less established my style as a narrative artist to this day. Credit is due to the many unusual and often difficult stories I was assigned to illustrate throughout the 90's for small press publications, which is also when I began to have an interest in picture books as an adult.

Detail from Tales from Outer Suburbia, acrylic and oil on paper, 2006

Detail from Rules of Summer, oil on paper, 2012-13

I suppose when people talk about style, it really comes down to this: not so much a certain signature of line, colour, facility with a medium, or even subject, but rather a recurring pattern of thinking, something the artist might not even be conscious of. I'm still not sure why I'm drawn to these images of occlusion, of figures with an artificial encasement over their heads, at once stuffy and opening up some new perception. I wonder if twenty years from now I'll end up painting the same thing, once I've forgotten about all these other ones! Check this blog on your iBrain implant to find out.


  1. ʚ(ˆ◡ˆ)ɞ·.•*•♫°•♫·.•ʚ(ˆ◡ˆ)ɞ

  2. I like your thoughts here Shuan. I recently had a meeting with an art director and he said to me .. 'it will be interesting to see what you end up using as your illustration style'. I replied that each story deserves its own 'style', as illustrators we have so many mediums at our disposal…I feel the 'story' should dictate the 'style' to best communicate the world/emotion behind the characters and narrative of the book'
    He did not say much, other than maybe i could have one style for adults and another for children. It made me wonder if it is possible to succeed if you do not have a recognisable style or signature! Perhaps I should ask my ibrain.

  3. Hi Sam, yes that's exactly right, the style follows, it doesn't lead. I always think about something the painter Frank Auerbach said in an interview: style is not something you adopt, it's what you do in a crisis! I think real style is unconscious, just the intersection of every possible road you can imagine traveling, while some make the mistake of believing that style is just a single road.

  4. Hi Shaun - I looked up Frank Auerbach's work, it is very evocative. Thanks for the pointer.


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