This project was based on Narrative Illustration, creating a story through use of visual imagery. Our end aim was to create a 5 frame narrative inspired by a given painting. We had 1 week to complete the project. I chose ‘Our Town’ by L S Lowry.
I started off by considering the questions on the brief, such as ‘who are the main characters’, ‘what is the landscape’ and ‘what might the personal histories of the characters be’. This helped me to gain a picture of what the work could be about and aided thought processes of how I can develop and extend the painting to create a narrative illustration.
Thumbnails came next; I created series of 5 on pages in my A5 sketchbook, as I have to create 5 frames for the final outcome. I used simple pencil line and added tone to convey energy into my sketches. I wrote little captions underneath each thumbnail to explain what was happening although we weren’t allowed to use text in our final illustrations.
I really enjoyed creating thumbnails, they are an important part of the development process and I liked working quickly to get my initial visual thoughts down on paper.
I went on to do some research into the actual meaning of the painting and looked into an artist who has a narrative illustration background. Carson Ellis is predominantly a children’s book illustrator from the USA. She sketches with mechanical pencils and creates finished artwork with gouache and ink on watercolour paper. She uses a very limited colour palette – often monochrome, this depends on the brief and what needs to be communicated through the image.
I felt inspired by her use of media, adding water to ink to create variations of tone. I also like her simple mark making, which she uses to add details and her drawing style that is slightly stylised which suits her child audience.
Workshop: A Story in Three
Taking a brief break from my 5 frames ideas development, I participated in a 1 day workshop based around taking a photograph and creating 3 frame narratives related to it, using the photograph as one of the frames. It was a helpful task because it encouraged us to simplify stories into less frames, so we would only communicate the visual imagery which is needed to convey the narrative successfully.
We did some quick exercises first involving using frames to portray imagery. One exercise was to drawn 5 sketches taking one object and forming it visually into another. I drew a water bottle into a crocodile clip. This was quite a challenge because they have completely different forms but I did manage it although my sketches are a little abstract. Another exercise was to draw 15 frames and then sketch a cup from various viewpoints, not one could be the same as another. I rotated and changed the scale of the cup and this created an interesting narrative. I felt I was really observing the cup in a different way.
The photograph I was given for the final task depicts an old lady eating a biscuit and standing just behind a counter in a charity or antiques shop. I felt this photograph would be a challenge to create 3 different narratives from because there is only so much that happens in a shop on a daily basis.
I started off of course with quick thumbnails in my A5 sketchbook and did manage to come up with 3 different stories. The photograph had to be placed either at the beginning, middle or end frame of the narrative.
The first story was based around the old lady as a young girl making pottery, to selling it as an old lady in the shop (photograph) and then the china being used as dinner plate, depicted with a knife and fork. The narrative was based around the life cycle of a china plate. I think this was my best narrative because it’s quite inventive.
The second story started with the old lady in the shop. She has put on a lot of weight and is surrounded by floating sweets. She appears to feel embarrassed and ashamed that she has got fat and overweight. The next frame is a close up of the shelf behind the counter in the shop, with some sweets floating above. The final frame is the photograph, the old lady has in fact been dreaming about eating sweets and getting fat. I don’t think this story was good, the second frame doesn’t fit with the narrative and it lacks realism.
The third story starts with the photograph; the clock behind the counter reads 9am. The next frame shows the old lady has moved behind the counter and is busy at work in the shop. The clock reads 3pm. There is a hand in the bottom left hand corner suggesting she has just had a customer. The final frame shows a nearly empty shop, most of the stock has been sold. It is 9pm and the old lady has locked up and gone home. I think this story works with the photograph; it is believable but not very interesting to look at.
I used pen and fine liner to quickly draw my frames and would have liked to have added tone if I had more time. My sketches are simple and a bit abstracted; they would look better more realistic so I need to work on drawing people in particular.
Final 5 Frame Illustrations
Going back to ‘Tell Me a Story’, I developed the project further by drawing out designs for props and practice final illustrations in my A5 sketchbook.
I decided to go with my 4th idea ‘War Truths’. Taking the old man and his dog delivering a letter into the post box in the painting, I made a story about his son who is a soldier in WW2 because the painting was created at this time. I used the lamppost, factory building and townhouse from the original painting combined with a soldier character, a war battle and trenches landscape.
The first frame portrays the old man delivering a letter to his son abroad, he has his dog with him, is holding a walking stick and the lamppost is in the background.
In the second scene, the soldier son is in the trenches with a spitfire plane flying above, his tent is in the background and he is holding his father’s letter.
The third frame involves the old man and his dog walking into the factory where the old man works.
In the fourth scene, the solder son is in battle on the frontline with a spitfire plane above him. There is a cloud of smoke evolving and another soldier in the foreground edging carefully closer to the battlefront.
Finally, the old man, his dog and his son are reunited in the painting setting and are about to move into the townhouse together as a celebration that the War is over.
I enjoyed creating this story, I have a keen interest in War history and it was fascinating to research WW2 related imagery such as fighter planes, soldiers uniform and the trenches.
I used pen, fine liner and ink on postcard sized watercolour paper for my final pieces. I think they went quite well, I like my use of repeated pattern design for the war location sets and the use of tonal variation created when adding water to the ink. I actually think my practice final pieces are better than the final pieces because they are loosely sketched and convey more emotion. I think I should have developed my visual ideas further in my final pieces so they aren’t like a copy of my practices, maybe introducing a background colour as they all have white backgrounds.
In conclusion, I enjoyed this project and narrative illustration is definitely an aspect of illustration I want to revisit in the future. I enjoy reading and writing which I felt helped me to use my visual imagination to create an engaging 5 frame illustration story inspired by a painting.