As work proceeds at what sometimes seems like a glacial pace, I would like to present these four recently-completed small illustrations. I’ve strived to provide some context for each with excerpts from the book.
It may seem like there are some spoilers here, but BLEAK HOUSE is so jam-packed with catastrophic plot twists that you’ll forget all about these once you’re reading the book!
VOLUMNIA FINDS LORD DEDLOCK
Here, Lord Dedlock’s flighty cousin Volumnia, a fairly minor character, stumbles upon his prostrate body in the dark.
The Dedlock town house changes not externally, and hours pass before its exalted dullness is disturbed within. But Volumnia the fair, being subject to the prevalent complaint of boredom and finding that disorder attacking her spirits with some virulence, ventures at length to repair to the library for change of scene. Her gentle tapping at the door producing no response, she opens it and peeps in; seeing no one there, takes possession.
In researching and reading about the art and business of woodcut illustration in the 19th Century, it is almost inevitable to end up with Gustave Doré. More than a master draftsman or illustrator, he possessed a practically supernatural ability to simply draw. He was recognized as a prodigy at age five, was carving in stone at twelve, and by fifteen he was supporting his family by drawing caricatures for French magazine Le journal pour rire.
Although Dickens and Doré never met as far as I can determine, their lifespans overlapped, Dickens being born in 1812 and Doré in 1832. And while Dickens labored in the world of British popular fiction and monthly magazines, the French Doré was producing high-quality illustrated art volumes of what we would call “The Great Books”, e.g., Voltaire, Rabelais, Cervantes, the Bible, Paradise Lost, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and many, many others, much of it for a British audience.
It has been said that Inspector Bucket, the police detective in BLEAK HOUSE, was the very first fictional detective, pre-dating Sherlock Holmes among others. I don’t know about that, but I do love this great Dickens character!
It’s tempting to compare him to others of the genre, and I often think of Columbo for some reason, but that’s not even close. Bucket is not rumpled and never feigns confusion, but the attribute they share is a totally disarming likability. Bucket’s greatest skill as an investigator is instantly being everyone’s best friend and confidante. He can speak to little children, Lords and Ladies, or street sweepers, and within a sentence or two bond with them like an old friend.
As an artist I’m always looking for ways to keep my skills sharp, and regular life-drawing classes are a must if you’re drawing the human figure. Nude models, of every size, shape and age, are the rule, but let’s face it, in the practice of our art we’re almost never drawing naked people, we’re drawing people with clothes on.
So in doing magazine and book illustration for a few decades, I picked up a couple of technical terms. For example, an illustration is called an “illo”, a sketch is called a “ruff”, and a deadline is called a “#!!@! deadline”.
Illos done for print are termed by their size, and from biggest to smallest are called a spread, full-page, half-page, quarter page, and spot. Spots are fun because they are usually simple, a quick visual read, and they don’t necessarily have to carry as much narrative weight as a full-page does.
Research sketching is one of the most important steps in doing any historical illustration work, and that requires good reference materials. In the years B.C. (Before Computers), any illustrator worth his or her salt had a “morgue”, or a collection of photos filed in boxes or file cabinets, usually alphabetically, of any or all things in creation because you never knew what you would be called on to draw.
My four-drawer file cabinet is long gone, but I saved various reference books, including a couple of books of old wood engravings. For the most part pre-dating photography, these books are amazing for the sheer breadth of their content.
I’m extremely happy to announce the completion of the next step in this monumental project: A free, no-strings-attached ebook download of the first seven chapters of Charles Dickens’ great BLEAK HOUSE.
This is intended primarily as a calling card and proof-of-concept for my ultimate goal, a hard cover print edition of the entire illustrated novel.
As you may have discovered, I am smitten with this book. I began work on it in the Spring of 2019 and have been working on it nonstop since. With the completion of this sample, I will be continuing work on the monumental, 57-chapter novel, as well as continuing to post here on a regular basis.
This ebook in pdf format can be read on any computer, device or reader. There’s no sign-up, no email harvesting, no obligation of any kind. I hope you enjoy it.
Richard’s high spirits carrying everything before them, we all went out together to the top of the hill above the village, where he had ordered a gig to wait and where we found a man with a lantern standing at the head of the gaunt pale horse that had been harnessed to it.
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes–gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.