Illustrating the Story, or Thoughts in Paint – Part 2

How about some background on how I did my work for the illustrations for Flash Fiction February at Fictive Dream? I’m going to write a few posts on topics related to the process. I hope they might give you some insight into how I approached the illustration of a collection of very different pieces of short fiction.

Flash Fiction February is in progress right now, by the way. Take a look!

Putting paint to paper in the big picture

Today I’ll address some of the thematic aspects of doing the art for the project – meaning, how the style and manner in which I did the artwork got figured out. And please forgive the wordplay in the title here. It’s just what came to mind…

All right, let’s get started!

The initial information: Fictive Dream editor Laura Black sent me a description of her vision for the artwork for the event in late November, 2018. She said, referring to last year’s artwork (which mostly came from Pixabay):

You’ll see that I used a whole variety of artwork in February 2018. There was one style of watercolour that I particularly liked and I’ve attached four examples. Had there been more instances of this style, I would have used them. The aspect that is most appealing to me is the simplicity, and this is the sort of effect that I’m looking for – to have each story represented by a dominant colour. There may be instances where a combination of colours would be more appropriate. But, overall, simplicity is the thing. I mention watercolours only because that’s what was available. I’m definitely open to suggestions on the medium.

The artworks she referenced were abstract watercolor washes, very misty and evocative, and she gave me plenty of info about what she liked about them, which was a big help in guiding my initial thinking.

The most important detail: the artwork style would be very abstract. Right off the bat, I knew in which direction I needed to be thinking.

She then went on to say:

For 2018 the colours I chose were based on the following:
– the tone of a story (I classified stories as positive, negative or neutral).
– A colour that was mentioned in the text (surprisingly common).
– The influence of the subject matter, eg. for a story involving a man’s pinstripe suit I chose a dark blue; for a piece that mentioned a pin prick of blood I chose a bright red.

More clues. The artwork would directly reference the stories, but in an indirect way – symbolic, thematic, but not representational in a real-world kind of way. The main vehicle for tying the story and illustration together would be strongly dependent on color.

Now, the analysis:

I had some misgivings about the images I would be creating, that of them being too simple, though – there would be a lot of stories and days passing by quickly and I wanted to avoid the pitfall of all the art coming to look too much alike. Each story deserved to  be special, words and art. As I wrote to Laura:

I’m thinking that there might be too much repetition or things looking too much the same after a while, especially with so many artworks? … I think there is a fine balance between simple and boring and it would be my job to get that balance and to fit to each story and what you want.

I sent her some images of work I’d done in the past for her to review and these are the ones she chose as exemplifying what she’d like to see:

Now I felt confident that I could do the work. In explaining my vision for the artworks, I wrote to her:

I want to make sure that each image is an actual artwork (that you would look at for itself) as opposed to what I think of as “raw material” – painted papers that have no focus because they are meant to be cut up and recombined and the artwork derives its meaning from their combination – they don’t stand on their own.

The idea of a common vocabulary:

Having agreed on style, we discussed materials, and decided that the majority of each image would be done in acrylics, with some collage possible. As it turned out, a few had some collage elements, but generally, paint and acrylic inks did the work.

In this manner Laura and I developed a common vocabulary for the artworks to use. It is essential in a project of this sort that the whole group of illustrations has a coherent look, as well as each individual artwork presenting its specific story well.

Having a clear idea of what style and materials to use, determined up front, gave me a framework to work within and provided guidelines that I continually referred to throughout the project.

Ready to get to work:

Though it took some time to get the details set, because we had worked together before, Laura and I had built up a level of trust and shared understanding that was really valuable, both at this point and through the project. The importance of this kind of relationship can’t be overstated. I really appreciated the freedom Laura gave me to do the work and to have a say in setting parameters for the art. It made the work much more satisfying for me and it also gave me the incentive to work very hard to do my best for each story – I felt very invested in what the eventual readers of the fiction would be seeing.

Next time, I’ll talk about the experience of taking a story, figuring out a way in to it, visually, and getting that vision on to paper.


9 thoughts on “Illustrating the Story, or Thoughts in Paint – Part 2

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Oh, that’s great. I hope if you have any questions you think I might be able to answer, you’ll let me know – I’d be happy to share my experiences.

  1. Laura Black

    This part of the planning stage made me think hard on how I saw Flash Fiction February developing in terms of the artwork. It was very helpful to see examples of your existing work and to commit to certain styles. At this stage I kept it simple – which illustrations did I like best – but at least it got us started. To any of your readers who may be thinking about future collaborations I have to say that we are in total agreement: invest time in the planning, find a common vocabulary and trust in each other’s capabilities. In this way, you’re more than half way to a successful project.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Yes, I agree. You have to start somewhere in any project, so just choosing a beginning – any kind – is more important than people might think – as is being willing to understand it is just a beginning and to let things evolve. And trust! Essential.

  2. Laura Black

    I also wanted to add that your aim to create original pieces of artwork that stand up in their own right, as well presenting each story, has been completely achieved. Once all the stories have been published readers will see that text and art are well-partnered, and that together, the 28 illustrations form a beautiful coherent whole. Fantastic outcome, Claudia, thank you.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you, that means a lot to me. I tried to think how I would feel if authors were taking an artwork of mine and doing a story from it – I would be hoping they spent time to get to know it, and that they could discover something in it of inspiration. That is what I tried to do with each story (not that it was hard at all with this group! images leaped into mind with each one).

  3. Pingback: Interlude: Illustrations and Flash Fiction from the Editor’s Standpoint | Claudia McGill and Her Art World

  4. deborahbrasket

    How exciting and fun! I’ve been away for awhile and didn’t realize you were doing this. What a wonderful opportunity to show off your work! And an inspiring challenge as well.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you, yes, this assignment has really stretched me and it’s been nothing but fun. Thanks for what you said, I appreciate it. And I know you have had a lot to contend with recently, I hope you and your family are doing better these days.

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