Choosing Content

This exercise was all about choosing content for an illustration based on an extract from ‘The Daffodil Affair’ by Michael Innes.

I started by retrieving literal cues from the text to build a picture of the main character. He is a middle aged man working at New Scotland Yard who has been controlling a file of police papers on a case for 15 years. He is full of an anger that has increased with each of those 15 years that have passed. There isn’t much more literal information to go on so inference, deduction and imagining were needed to form a bigger picture. The text doesn’t actually say he is a detective, but that is the immediate inference I made. I imagine a 1940s noir style detective with a flawed, anti heroic character. The visual image that sprang to mind was Humphrey Bogart in the ‘Maltese Falcon’.

Perhaps his anger is at himself because in fifteen years he still hasn’t solved the case of the abducted girls. The anger could be directed at the person or people responsible for the kidnapping. The abducted girls were ‘feeble minded’, which was a term used to describe people with mental deficiencies. When crimes are made against vulnerable people, a deeper level of anger can assume.

He is so preoccupied with the case, his anger or both, that the stark, empty nature of his office surroundings does not bother him. I get the sense that this man is rather jaded which is reflected in his surroundings.

His dress would be formal work attire which would be a suit with jacket and waistcoat, braces, tie and smart shoes, as was usual for a man of this era. He is inside so his hat and coat would be hung up somewhere in the office. The colours of his clothing would be black, grey or brown, possibly navy blue.

Furniture is limited in the office. The room is ‘unquickened’ which means it is void of any life, energy or spirit, something which is mirrored in the man’s character. He hasn’t added any personal belongings to the space and I don’t imagine the room to have been painted in recent years. There is a large desk, onto which a parallelogram of light is cast through the huge plate glass windows. This is described as being ‘functional’ which would suggest the room is dark with no artificial light. The windows don’t have curtains. The man is described as sitting down so there must be a chair of some sort at the desk.

Before looking at reference I made some quick sketches of the image in my mind which was primarily focused on the parallelogram of light. There is quite a lot of reference in the text to light and light is a hugely important feature in noir imagery, therefore I wanted to make it central to my illustration. I then searched for images that matched my own vision. They included a photo of 1940s Scotland Yard detectives as I imagined them and two depicting detective’s offices. One has light streaming through blinds and the other has the sepia type colouring I imagined when reading the text.

The word I chose from my list of words connected to my visual idea was shadowy. The moodboard I created was focused on colours I associate with the word shadowy, some found textures and created textures using a range of media.

My sketches of the character were all head and shoulders based. I wanted to focus on the face because it something I haven’t done on a large scale before. I tried creating angry, jaded expressions. In terms of composition I wanted to include the window but have minimal amount of the rest of the room due to the face being the focal point.

On photocopies of my drawn outline, I practised use of light in the drawing. The images I had found with blinds creating shafts of light influenced my decision to depict light coming through the window broken up by the shade created by the window frame.

In the final illustration, I used the colours from my moodboard to create the austere setting depicted in the text while also creating a shadowy feeling. By completing this exercise, I have learnt a lot about light sources and how to illustrate using light and shade. It has made me observe how light falls on things so now I can’t focus on anything else when watching a film!

I have also explored different techniques for illustrating light. I found that using an eraser to rub out lighter areas was particularly effective. To create the slightly jaded, grubby walls, I used gouache which I moved about with a dry brush. This is a different technique for me and I think it worked really well in creating the effect I was trying to achieve. While I am happy with the light and shade I have created I am not so with the shadows across his face. They do add to the shadowy feel but I’m not sure I employed the right technique to create them. I initially used pastel but didn’t think it worked with the coloured pencil used on the man, so I erased most of the pastel and covered with black pencil marks to try to create some continuity.

I really enjoyed this exercise. It was engaging subject matter and I really feel my skills have grown as a result.