21 June 2018

From There to Here - a question of style.

Whats your style?
How did you find your style?
Shall I change my style?

Over the years some people have asked me questions like these and some I have asked of myself.
When I've visited students some of them have talked about their work in a slightly worried voice and said "I'm trying to find my style" or at a random social event someone has asked "What style of illustration do you do?"
I get the angst. I always question myself. As a student before the internet properly arrived, I would spend hours pouring over large tomes of old contact Illustration books in the library. They were beautiful and seemingly unobtainable to me. Should I just choose a style? Shall I try and copy one? This never quite worked for me. So I thought I'd carry on drawing in my own way before I found my style.

Decades later, I recently had a funny confessional online with an illustration group I belong to. We went back through our old portfolios, dusty bookshelves and secret locked drawers to find old published work that we no longer thought was much good and shared them with each other for laughs. I found this really interesting. My work had changed a lot over 24 years, but I saw that I was trying to find a way of drawing that came naturally and comfortably. My tastes, interests and tools have changed, but I could see that all the badly drawn faces and bad colour choices had taught me something along the way. I was also amazed that I still liked some very old drawings. Some of the first I ever got paid for.

Sometimes it feels that lots of immensly talented people seem to explode fully formed into book world with beautiful work from the off. Maybe thats just the way it looks? It really wasn't like this for me.
To show you how things change, I'd like to share some of my old, slightly dodgey published and unpublished work with you here along with some watershed images that really sent me on my way. no sniggering please.....

The dark ages  

The Gossip Monger 
 Back in 1994 in my final year at college I produced a story for my degree show called 'Puddle the Skyscraper' about a sky cleaner (like a window cleaner) who had broken the sky by mistake and the people of the village had woken up to darkness. I really got into my stride with this look. I loved the dark colours and the gloominess of it. I thought it was cool and edgy! These were never published.
The Fishwives

Who's Afraid of the Bwgan Wood?
1995 and this was my very first job. Pen, ink and watercolour. As you can see perhaps I'm taking the DARK thing a little too far?
This was written by a friend of mine and published by a Welsh publisher. They mainly just left me to get on with it. I haven't looked properly at the line drawings in many years but I'm still fond of many of them. Some great characters in there. I'd love another stab at the cover though!

My first biog - Gothic Eyebrows.

The Ok, the Bad and the Ugly

So begins my paid work. Thanks heavens for the Educational Publishers out there. They were the first people to give me a chance so I could begin learning. What a learning curve it was! I illustrated anything from story books for reading schemes, sulky teenagers, black and white drawings of pencil cases to short history books. Looking back on them now, I realise just how unappealing the people I drew were. Quite ratty and scary looking. I still hadn't sorted my drawing skills out....or my colour palette.

The Fun of the Fair - by Terry Deary

Let there be light!

Reaching the late 90's and early 2000's, I felt something had to shift somewhere. I was getting better at drawing but I really needed to re-look at things. Maybe change my style? I felt I needed something a bit warmer, not only in colour but in illustration style.

The Shadow Man.
Purely in an attempt to play with light, I produced this portfolio piece. It was never published but was recieved well by many. I started to work with slightly different people and spent many hours trying to recreate the atmosphere of this piece - with varying degrees of success. 

Isabelle and the bear

This was a very important piece for me. Inspired by the poem 'The Adventures of Isabelle' by Ogden Nash, I produced a new portfolio piece. Perhaps it's still edging towards the dark side but I felt that it was a shift in style for me and I'd found some of the warmth in characters that I was searching for. It was also one of the last pieces I did using watercolour and ink for a long time.

The Red Shoes

Circa 2003, my first attempts at Photoshop. All the years of watercolour and layering up of colours seemed to have trained me well for this. I used it in the same way as watercolour as I had no other knowledge of how to use it. I had great fun with it and found a new interest in a having a strong sketch as it would underpin everything. The Red Shoes is one of my watershed pieces. It brought me a new way of working and I also gained a marvellous new agent!

The Rumblewick Letters
The Rumblewick Letters (My Unwilling Witch) was my first big Picture book in 2006. It was a great story and a huge challenge. I really enjoyed getting to mix the dark with the light!

With Barndance, I have literally bathed it in light! I'm so fond of this image as it brought me to the attention of some very important clients. Also, it shows the confidence I'd found in getting a 'glow' into the work. 
Sometimes Barndance is used as shorthand when discussing colour. I instantly know the kind of atmosphere that's wanted. 

I have to watch my work doesn't get too 'brown' though. This is a common problem for me that I often slip into if I'm not concentrating. Sometimes everything I do can have a tinge of brown! Not a good look.

And Onwards.....

Since then I've been lucky enough to work with some amazing authors and publishers on some wonderful books. Even now, when I approach a new book I have a little moment of questioning myself about how I'm going to do it? Sometimes characters come very quickly like they can't wait and others need a lot of coaxing.

From looking at these images altogether I can see the colour palette has changed beyond all recognition these days.

to small experiments.....

just because.

...to here.

My most recent illustation project, and labour of love will be Peter Pan retold in rhyme by Caryl Hart and published by Nosy Crow in September 2018.
Through many ups and downs it has taken me nearly 2 years to complete this book. I look over it now and I see many of the things I've taught myself over the last 24 years all coming together. 

So whats my style? 
Even now I don't know how to decribe it. I think any 'style' should always be a natural way, your natural way of seeing things and describing it. Trying to force an unatural look never really works out. 
In Peter Pan, I can see my old love of the DARK seeping through, however these days it's contained within richer colours which hopefully add to the magic rather than the gloom! I think I'll always sway towards the darker images.- I think they excite me, but I'm glad I have a balance of the light and airy in my work too. I am glad the ratty faces are gone though. 

I'm always sriving for a different way, or a different feel. I still often feel unsure and anxious. These days I try and tell myself that's a good thing. Nothing should be static or stay the same. Where's the fun in that?

Spread from Peter Pan retold in rhyme by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Sarah Warburton. Published September 2018 by Nosy Crow.

1 comment:

Paula said...

Thanks for sharing all this, Sarah! Quite amazing to see your earlier work, which I would never have put your name to. Our early work can be very eye-rolling, yes, but you did a good job of warmly embracing these phases of your growth! You also expressed the ubiquitous tensions we have as we move along in illustrating whatever it is we're working on at the moment. I love your work and you have really honed a wonderful style! Thanks again for opening up!