Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Seven

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The next story I worked on was The Albatross, by Steve Carr. This story, set in Lisbon, captivated me with its wry look at the intersection of travel and human relationships. Its focus is the predicament Peter finds himself in when his easygoing ways run up against somebody who takes advantage of them. We’ve all experienced such a thing at one time or another, but how will it be resolved? That is what appealed to me about this story, the human interactions, and that is what I wanted to emphasize.

Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black sent me the two versions of the story and once again, we agreed on the topics for illustration.

I then had to deal with the fact that the story takes place in a very real location – near the Monument of the Discoveries beside the Tagus River in Lisbon. Anything I did had to reflect this reality, correct in the details. I’ve been to Lisbon, about twenty years ago, and I visited this location and remember the city well; however, I did not have any of my own reference photos that were useful.

So once again I did quite a bit of internet searching and in the end found good photos that allowed me to draw the locations with some feeling of certainty. I even used Google map images to “fly” over the location to make sure I had a good idea in my mind where these characters found themselves.

Drawing #1:

I chose this passage to illustrate because it shows all the characters together. At the end of the story, Peter and the fortune-teller come to the heart of the matter:

“You’re persistent,” he muttered, and then said to her, “Sim.” He took 10 Euros out of his shorts pocket and handed it to the woman. He then held his palm out.
She studied his hand very carefully for several moments, and then said, “Você deve fazer sua própria fortuna.” She stuffed the money into a skirt pocket and walked away.

I set the characters against a plain white background with just a little bit of paint in the upper section to suggest a sky. I wanted them to stand out; I felt the arrangement and attitudes of the people was visual information enough. First I drew the people. I wanted to show all the various emotions/interactions/implications in their body attitudes. And I especially enjoyed the wild card addition to the group of the fortune-teller.

Fictive Dream The Albatross 8-18 #3 small

Then I gave them a suggestion of the characteristic Lisbon wavy mosaic pavement. In PhotoShop Elements 15 I added the text in a layer, floating it in the sky. Here’s the final image:

Fictive Dream The Albatross 8-18 #4 text and flattened small

Drawing #2:

For the second drawing I chose a passage at the very beginning of the story:

He had a pair of binoculars to his eyes and watched as sailboats, cruise ships, barges and cargo ships, traveled the glassy, blue water. He then scanned the 25th of April Bridge that connected Lisbon to Almada, and watched as traffic hummed across it. A slow-moving train traversed its lower platform.

The location is very specific and I wanted to make sure the viewer saw it as it was in the real world. As I said, it took some research to get things right. I decided to depict Peter with the monument and bridge in the background. I painted a yellow and blue background especially for this illustration, looking for a warmer tone to go with the hot day in the story. I looked a lot of photos of the monument area, including some of the bridge and the types of boats that were on the water; I even researched binoculars and how to hold them.

I placed the monument and the bridge so that there would be a lot of room for the figure. I offered Laura two options. I did one image in which the figure was drawn directly on the paper as part of the image:

Fictive Dream The Albatross 8-18 #1 text and flattened small

and I did another one in which the figure was drawn on white paper and superimposed on the picture, which is the one that Laura chose to illustrate the story:

Fictive Dream The Albatross 8-18 #2 text and flattened small

From the Editor:

Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:

In The Albatross the protagonist’s state of mind is a key aspect. He is utterly frustrated with his travelling partner Lloyd. Who wouldn’t be! I’ll repeat here what I said on your website, that is, the emphasis of the white cut out made the protagonist the focus and for me that was important. The story keeps us pretty much inside his head which is why I wanted him to have centre stage. I realise I looked at your images having already read the stories but still, I think you get a sense of man with a burden. I think it’s in the downward turn of the mouth.

The alternative image was attractive because it had an almost all-white background. I particularly like the way the traveller is drawing away from Lloyd. Still, the cut out image did it for me.

So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look:

The Albatross, by Steve Carr.

4 thoughts on “Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Seven

  1. Laura (PA Pict)

    I agree with Laura Black’s reasoning for choosing that image and agree it was probably the strongest to accompany the story. However, I also love that first image. I like how crisp it is and, in addition to reminding me of blue sky vacations, it makes me think of Mediterranean pottery.

  2. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. I liked how it turned out for the reasons you said, the clarity of it, and the blue and white and gold color scheme, very subtle. Drawing so many people was hard for me and getting their attitudes and expressions to fit, so this one made me happy.

  3. Laura Black

    The Albatross by Steve Carr was another story for which choosing the illustration took some thought. I found the first image shown above delightful because it was so different from anything that had been previously produced. I very much like the use of white with that dash of sky. That said, I wanted to focus on the protagonist’s burden (the talkative Lloyd) and, for me, the second illustration does that perfectly. I love your use of the cut-out technique, Claudia, and in this instance I think it enables the reader to understand his mood.

  4. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you, and I enjoyed doing both images for this story (in some stories, one was much easier or nearer to my heart than the other one). I felt the clarity of the lines would show up better in these illustrations if I kept the background quieter or else used the cutout white technique, because I wanted to focus on the people- the relationships that are what this story is about.

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