You may remember Peter James Field from a recent review of the Brighton Glug event. He’s an illustrator well known for not only being a highly proficient drawer, but also for his witticisms and running social commentary. The visual diary that he posts on his website, which has been running since as far back as 2004, is full of humorous little observations on life and well worth a look if you’re in need of a smile.
As someone who labours intensely in his drawings, I thought it would be interesting to find out how he goes about planning his projects. He was kind enough to give us a detailed insight into one of his previous commissions.
“This is a job I did for a deluxe corporate hardback book – art directed by VSA Partners in the US.
The book told a series of anecdotes surrounding the lives of the original American Express cardholders. Each story was assigned to an illustrator to create a double page spread.
My story told of a photographer who found himself at a dinner party with Leonard Bernstein, together with an ageing Charlie Chaplin and his daughter. The photographer captured a poignant shot when Bernstein began playing the piano and Chaplin responded by singing.
I was briefed to represent the scene in realistic colour pencil style, incorporating all the key players. I was specifically instructed not to seek out or look at the original photo, for fear it might influence my depiction. The art director also highlighted a previous observational drawing of mine, ‘Tourists’, as a style guide.”
“I began by researching images of Bernstein and the elderly Chaplin, along with other elements from the story, on sites like Getty images, and Flickr. Gradually I built up a picture by trial and error from a combination of imagined and found elements.
I sketched this collage and submitted it as my initial rough.”
“The first rough was rejected by the client as being a little too literal. They pointed out that they needed to see more of the dramatic cropping seen in the ‘Tourists’ sketch. Following a conversation with the art director, it was agreed that I should lose the photographer and the daughter from the scene. The art director suggested that the photographer’s presence be merely suggested by showing the viewfinder of his camera.
My second rough was simpler, and occupied a less realistic room space – focusing more on the abstract elements of the piano to create beauty in the scene. I was much happier with this version and so, thankfully, was the client.”
“For the third rough I incorporated the last few client comments – to add some room details in the background and to re-introduce the presence of the daughter. At last I was green-lighted to final artwork.”
“The repro size of the book was larger than A3 – so I worked on an A2 sheet of paper. I normally work slightly larger (130-150%) than any reproduction requirement. A colour pencil sketch always looks better when it’s slightly reduced, the details become tighter. If I work too large, though, (150% or more) then I find any advantage is lost – I just create more work for myself, labouring over details that will be lost when the sketch is reduced.
The deadline was tight, and I knew I’d need to allow a whole day for scanning. The rough was approved on the Tuesday night, the deadline was Friday lunchtime. Unfortunately this meant an all-night work session… I started colouring at about 11am on the Wednesday and (give or take the odd meal and coffee break) I finished about 24 hours later.
Next I needed to scan it. This is a key part of the process – colour pencil can be very frustrating to scan. I took it to a repro shop with an A1 scanner – and was disappointed with the results. The blacks weren’t really dark enough and the colours seemed too gaudy.
I made the decision to re-scan it on my home scanner – which involved scanning it in four sections and then weaving it together on Photoshop.
The artwork was ready to submit on the Thursday night – the client was pleased. The only small amendment was a request to add Bernstein’s name to the sheet music. I did this addition on a separate sheet of paper and merged it in on photoshop.”
“A few months later I received a copy of the finished book. It is sometimes disappointing to see how work prints, as colours often look quite different when they come through a commercial press, but this worked out pretty well. I was pleased.”
A lot of hard work in a short time, seemingly necessary for such a beautiful end product. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Peter!
© Peter James Field, 2010.