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 final story I illustrated was Farewell to Europe, by Adam Kotlarczyk.
The scope of the possibilities for illustrating this story was overwhelming to me at first. First of all, Pyle was a real person with a known appearance. The larger events of the story were all true. The setting, wartime France, was a real time and place with its specific look. Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black had chosen one passage for illustration and I agreed with her. Choosing a second image was of course not necessary, but I was not quite satisfied with stopping at one – why, I don’t know, keeping with the pattern, or did I feel there was another slant to the story I could work with?
I decided to start off with the chosen passage and see how that went.
The passage Laura and I both chose involved the men watching this scene outside the restaurant window:
“As if on cue, a convoy rolled through the narrow road outside, rattling the dishes and the mirrors for a full ten minutes. In another life, the scene would have been absurd, us looking away and checking our watches. But absurdity had become our reality, and we accepted it and waited, with slight annoyance, for the long drab line of trucks and tanks to pass, like a motorist waiting at the tracks for a freight train.”
In order for me to depict this scene, I needed reference information. I had only a vague idea of what WWII trucks looked like, or how a convoy might be composed. I will say I have childhood memories of driving with my grandparents through rural Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois on various trips along two-lane highways; we’d often encounter convoys transporting soldiers from local bases and we’d weave in and out of the line as I waved out the back window. The memory, while pleasant, was not enough to draw a real war scene! I therefore spent some time poring over Google images photos of WWII in Europe to gain a good understanding of the vehicles, soldier uniforms, and so on.
Here’s the image I did to illustrate this passage:
Now for the second image. I researched Pyle’s life in images and was stymied. Nothing epitomized the overall themes of the story. I was also not satisfied with taking another quote from the story, for the same reason, though there was plenty of visual information.
I came upon a photo of one of Pyle’s typewriters and then – inspiration hit. Here was my subject, the typewriter itself, symbolizing Pyle, journalism, writing, and war. But could I draw a typewriter?
Referring to the photo, I started to work on a sketch on white paper. Just for practice. But as I went on, I realized the sketch was turning into a drawing. I let myself finish it up with the idea that I could set it on a painted background as I had done with elements in other illustrations.
I chose a bold painted background. I had done it earlier and had it in inventory, but never thought I’d use it because it was such a loud presence on its own. For my purposes now, though, it was perfect.
Next I had to deal with the typewriter. In the other illustrations with superimposed elements, I had just cut out the part I wanted and attached it to the actual background. This technique would not work here – when I cut out the typewriter, it looked too big. Hmmm. So I scanned it. This illustration would be different from all the others. It would not exist in real life.
First step was to separate the scanned typewriter from its background. I accomplished this using the tools in PhotoShop Elements 15, so that I had a free-floating typewriter.
I took the scanned background, typewriter, and text, layering them in PhotoShop Elements 15. Once they were in position, I was able to shrink the typewriter to the size I thought looked best and to position it and the text on the background. And then…I had my illustration.
So here is a great example of how the illustration process differs from creating an artwork for physical sale. And I was glad and relieved that I could do it this way, because I really was happy with that typewriter drawing and I am not sure a re-do would have had the same life to it.
From the Editor:
Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:
The final choice of image for Farewell To Europe was difficult to make because I liked both pieces of artwork very much. Among the Slam submissions there were several that were about the First or Second world wars – unsurprising given the prompt’s geography. I was keen to include one war story and when Adam Kotlarczyk’s story came in (towards the end, I think) I knew I’d choose his.
Your image of the army trucks passing by the restaurant window is a clear signal to readers that they’re about to embark on a war story. I love the movement in the image and details like the army helmets. That said, the story is also about writing and journalism. In fact, it gives a fictional encounter between a writer and the real life war correspondent Ernie Pyle. In addition, the typewriter symbolises what September Slam and Fictive Dream are about. This image really struck a chord with me. Of all your images, this is my favourite.
Just as with The Albatross artwork, the subject is presented in white and therefore is prominent. Interestingly, in The Albatross the white figure takes centre stage and the background recedes slightly. Here the image of the typewriter is strong but the colours on the right really do hold their own. And what beautiful colours. I don’t know if they’re pastels but that’s what they remind me of. What a way to end!
So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look:
Farewell to Europe, by Adam Kotlarczyk.