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on the right track

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

I have been tipping away at my lovely Peg project since the beginning of the year. Some weeks I have been diligent, others less so. One of the problems I'm facing is that I am agonising over the illustration style.

I find myself thinking of the film The Glen Miller Story In the story, James Stewart searches for a particular sound. He can sense it. He can nearly glimpse it. But it is not until mid-way through the movie, when he asks the clarinet and the saxophone to play the melody, that he finally hears it. I'm trying to find my own visual style. I don't know what it looks like yet but I know it uses colour, pattern and symbolism to create harmonious narratives. In my college years my friends called my approach 'exhaustive'. It wasn't a compliment.

It was referring to the fact that I produce far too much material and finished pieces take me days to create. I have been using this current project to consciously develop a simpler style and I thought I had hit upon it with the illustrations shared in a previous blog.

I was reasonably happy with this direction. It was a little too basic and definitely too girly, but I thought I had found something with which I could work...... and then...

....I got news from the Arts Council telling me that they giving me funding for my Finding Peg project.

In the light of this wonderful news I panicked. I realised that this new simpler style simply would not cut it. I needed to return to my labour-intensive, exhaustive style and exert some serious effort. I needed to earn this funding. I needed to expend pain and tears and effort to deserve this funding. When I calmed down, I realised that my panicked instinct was correct. Peg's eighteenth-century life was not flowery and pretty. It was most likely malodorous and poorly lit. Yes, she had her triumphs but these were against a backdrop of a grime, grit and graft. I started by re-looking at the illustration for Peg and motherhood. Peg's experience of being a mother was a sad one. She had eight children (with four different men). All but one died in infancy. She farmed some out to a nearby wet nurse as was the fashion, and while she loved her children, I believe she felt trapped by motherhood and society's expectations of mothers. I had initially illustrated her first pregnancy and then an image of her caged by maternal life. Both images are too sweet.

I returned to some of my early sketches realising that the version with the fruit on the shelf had the sombreness I needed. However it needed more layers and textures. I liked the symbolism of a stork in the caged illustration so I created a stork pattern to use as wallpaper. I then added macabre-looking eighteenth-century dolls. These represent some of her dead children - the wings behind them acting as angel wings.

This was more like it. I was originally planning six illustrations. Now I think I shall do nine. I assigned each planned image a theme and a colour. The first three will look at her early life. the middle three will show her at her peak and the final three will show her decline.

There will be more work involved creating this style of image. But I'm hoping the end result will have less of the bounce of a Chatanooga Choo Choo, and more of the opulence of the Orient Express.

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