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”.
Now you’ve seen the entire process of illustrating a literary competition as I experienced it. I think working with Laura Black and Fictive Dream was one of the most interesting, educational, and challenging art experiences I’ve had. Plus it was just a lot of fun.
I’m inspired to do more work like this – pen and ink drawings, I mean, and also more illustrating/real life sketching. I’ve got lots of sources – the whole world around me, for one thing, and my own writings, for another.
I want to thank Laura for her faith in my work. At all times she was unfailingly professional and supportive, she listened to my opinions, she respected my work, and I feel I have made a friend through this process.
I would also like to thank the authors for all of their kind comments. Suddenly, deep into the process, it occurred to me that not only did Laura’s opinion matter, but those of the authors – well, I had never thought about how it might feel to have your story illustrated, and what if I didn’t do it in a way they liked? Thankfully that did not happen.
My perspective on the illustrations was very ground-level: I thought about only each picture as I worked. I never considered the overall view. Here is what Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black said about the process from her perspective, and I think it’s very interesting and revealing:
In commissioning illustrations for September Slam my prime considerations were:
1. for the project to have an identity and for the Slam stories to be differentiated from the standard stories;
2. for the text, ‘September Slam 2018’ to be incorporated into the illustrations as part of the identity.
Your artwork, including the two images you created early on for social media, achieved all of this. The Slam has a clear identity and the intricate pen and ink style is just right. I think the text is incorporated superbly. It catches the eye but never dominates the image, which I like.
Once the project got started I soon learned that there were other considerations. Chiefly:
Choosing the right image for each particular story.
I didn’t have any knowledge of how you would work and as the project progressed I became increasingly grateful that you offered multiple options per story. That said, the choice wasn’t always easy for me. So often I could have gone either way, but this was the fun part without doubt… But when it comes to how I made the choices, for each story I pretty much followed this procedure: I uploaded all your options and I’d try each image on the story. One day I’d try one image, the next I’d try another. I’d re-read the text with the images in mind. Eventually, I’d make my choice. Sometimes I’d change my mind and start again. Primarily, I was trying to choose the image that best encapsulated the theme of a piece.
Variety in the artwork
By this I mean variety of scene and, for me, this was achieved very well. The restaurant scene was important in the two earlier images (social media) but for the actual stories I was keen to move away from this. Only two stories took place in the restaurant… Your idea that I send you the original unmarked story, as well as a marked copy was a good one.
In terms of the stories, I was very keen to find the best writing I could among the submissions and to offer readers a variety of genres. So there would only have been one war story, for example. It was also necessary that not all of the seven stories began with the prompt. The categories I worked to were: opening line, opening page, mid story, and end story. But good writing was the main criteria, which is why the first and last stories both begin with the prompt.
Overall effect of the artwork
By this I mean the overall look on the Home Page (thumbnails views in my case). Specifically, how would the colours sit alongside each other? Would there be a balance between peopled images and unpeopled images? And all the while I had to make sure I didn’t interfere in your creative process. It was an interesting exercise because when I search photographs for the standard stories, these considerations figure very little.
Colour: I find that in terms of colour there’s a harmony between the seven images. They sit alongside each other very well. Ideally, I should have placed one of the images from days 6,7 or 8 further towards that beginning because they are particularly strong in colour but the position of the prompt (and also gender of the writer) were uppermost in my mind.
People: stories are all about people and their relationships but I was so pleased we have two images without people. In fact, there’s wonderful range from the density of Helen McClory to the emptiness of Rachel Stevenson. The green coloured artwork for the unused ‘Ypres’ has a pair of boots to represent the soldier. I found this very moving.
In terms of tone I think the separate artworks form a unified whole. The overall appearance is balanced and there’s nothing that might be described as discordant.
This is the first time that I’ve commissioned artwork for Fictive Dream and I’m so pleased that I did. I think that having its own identity has made all the difference to the project. And I loved the collaboration.
I felt the same way. Thank you, Laura.