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.
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.
My favorite part of doing any kind of historical or genre art is researching the appropriate costumes. In my magazine illustration days it didn’t come up much; mostly I was drawing doctors, nurses, businessmen and contemporary kids and grownups of all kinds.
With subject matter like Dickens, costuming the characters not only correctly, but in a way that tells us about their personalities, is part of the job description!
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.
She partly drew aside the curtain of the long, low garret window and called our attention to a number of bird-cages hanging there, some containing several birds. There were larks, linnets, and goldfinches–I should think at least twenty.
“I began to keep the little creatures,” she said, “with an object that the wards will readily comprehend. With the intention of restoring them to liberty. When my judgment should be given. Ye-es! They die in prison, though. Their lives, poor silly things, are so short in comparison with Chancery proceedings that, one by one, the whole collection has died over and over again. I doubt, do you know, whether one of these, though they are all young, will live to be free! Ve-ry mortifying, is it not?”
Charles Dickens is probably one of the most photographed men of the mid-19th century. There are also tons of portraits, etching and paintings. I knew at some point that I would be doing a portrait of him myself. It was sort of a given. With hundreds of photos available, good reference material was not a problem. The thing is though, in those days, photography didn’t allow people to smile!