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Light and Shadows
And learning to draw trees
Another summer draws to a close*. A summer in which I especially noticed the sunlight. Maybe because here in the UK it seemed like the sun was quiet quitting on us, so every time it did show up I soaked it in as much as I could. Or maybe it’s because I’d started working on the below piece and I was always looking at how the light was reflecting on buildings, nature, people, or things.
Dapper Men of Bow
A few years ago, I took a sneaky picture of two older gentlemen while walking in Bow, a neighbourhood in east London. I had seen them a few times, always walking together and looking neatly dressed, even on weekdays. I liked their style. You can never be overdressed or overeducated, as Oscar Wilde supposedly once said. Anyway, that picture became my reference for this illustration.
I decided to remove the cars, make a tighter crop, and change the direction of the light. I wanted the sun to shine on the men and create strong light and shadows. Well, the intention was for it to be strong. I seem to often shy away from using a very dark colour, which would create a more marked contrast with the lighter parts. Is it because I add so many details that I want to make sure nothing is hidden in the shadows? Maybe I should embrace the darkness and draw less details!
Weirdly, I’m happiest with the background. It was my first-time drawing trees since I was a kid, really, and it was a challenge to find a good resolution to the problem: how to show leaves without drawing every single one of them? The answer came from a couple of trial and errors, but mostly it was subconsciously informed by every Japanese animated series I’ve ever watched. You know those shows where the background was beautifully painted — and you could tell which rock was going to fall off the cliff because it was drawn differently?
Probably fresher in my mind were Studio Ghibli animes, which I’ve watched fairly recently. I found the below images after finishing the illustration, but it’s obvious they’re what I was picturing in my head while drawing. Would have done me good to look at these backgrounds before, because the use of light and shadows in them is just amazing.
If my colour palette seems softer than usual, it’s because I started the illustration right after admiring the work of my friend, the talented artist Katty Maurey. She showed me a book she’d just finished illustrating, and the colour palette of soft blues, greens and terracotta hues inspired me. The book is not out yet, but I suggest you go get lost in her delightful work here for a while. Here's a preview for you:
I worked on the illustration for many months on and off. I kept stopping to tackle other projects that felt more important, or fun. As it wasn’t client work, and I wasn’t making it with the intention of selling it, sometimes the illustration felt like a ‘useless’ project.
I was already working on it when I did my book cover for My Brilliant Friend, and the dapper couple helped me with the composition for the cover. I was wondering how to depict the girls, and the men walking away from the viewer seemed liked the perfect solution. I could illustrate the protagonists and add as many specifics as possible about their look and environment, while keeping their faces hidden.
So, although I was working on something that seemed of no use, it helped to inform another piece of work. And next time I need to draw trees, I will already have a solution. Everything you do to practice your art feeds into what you’ll create in the future.
*A pet peeve of mine is when people don’t know when seasons end/start, and so I’d like the record to show that I’m aware that summer won’t officially be over until September 21st. But I concede that back to school time does feel like the end of summer.
You might have noticed last month that I didn’t have any book or podcast recommendation. The reason was partly because I was on holiday and wanted to keep the newsletter short, ha! The other reason though was that, sometimes, there’s nothing that jumps out at me to share.
So instead I’m now going to widen my gaze to anything that inspires me, not just books or podcasts.
My first monthly inspiration is Alice Neel, an American artist whose career spanned from the 1920s to the 1980s. I saw a retrospective of her work at the Barbican recently and it was one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen all year. Fun fact: she painted her first self-portrait at the age of 80. Naked.