Toulouse-Lautrec’s style

I am fascinated by the French artists of the 19th century. Monet, Renoir, Degas and Manet in particular. But it’s Toulouse-Lautrec who I think has the more interesting story.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

My first thought when viewing Lautrec’s paintings is for Degas. The real life nature of his behind the scenes look at the Parisian brothels is quite reminiscent of Degas’ work at the ballet.
It also puts me in mind of Manet or Renoir in that there is some close study and strong tone around the face.

Seated Ballet Dancer - Toulouse Lautrec
Seated Ballet Dancer – Toulouse Lautrec

Lautrec was a man who never seemed to let his disabilities get the better of him. At just 4’8″ his legs were weak and he was quite clearly a man with some health issues. His love for alcohol and beautiful women however led him to be party to some incredible events. Most notably and famously the Moulin Rouge and the associated acts of La Belle Epoque (The Beautiful Time).

Lautrec’s style appeared hasty to say the least. He often worked on cardboard where the natural tone of the background would appear through any gaps in his brush / pencil strokes. It’s a neat effect.

La Promeneuse by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Oil on cardboard, dated 1892

As well as being influenced by the older and more established Degas he found inspiration in the works of the far east. Japanese wood prints offered Lautrec a great deal in their style and execution. The use of diagonal direction and flat colour within harsh black outlines became very common in Lautrec’s work.

I love the colour in his work. The soft, blue / lilac tones that help to lift the skin tones. Their relationship to the whites and pale pinks found in the clothes of his models (who weren’t models at all but working prostitutes and dancers).

It’s easy for me to be inspired by Lautrec in that his work seems instantly accessible. But to reproduce it takes some serious thought. For one Lautrec’s most striking work was completed with oil. My own work is largely pencil based due to my love of the soft shading. But this aside I’m going to produce a few pieces based on my brief understanding of his style and technique.

Detail of La Promeneuse
Detail of La Promeneuse

Ultimately I will produce them digitally using Corel Painter but to start with I want to use cardboard and a soft range of pencils. I’ll struggle to get the whites that he used but perhaps that’s something I can achieve with chalk or pastel.

Freelance illustration for a local school

I recently completed some work for a local school – Rodeheath Primary School in Alsager. The project centred around Engineering and a new initiative by the school to encourage children into understanding the various forms that it takes.

Here’s a few concepts and finished pieces.

The popular engineer and TV personality Danielle George has given her support to the project and features in the foreword.

danielle kidgame sketch-kidsplan sketch-kidswater wind youareanengineer

Thinking about a graphic novel

I always wanted to write something that I could illustrate as a graphic novel. But I don’t really know too much about comic books or graphic novels.

So I took a look around at some of the classics in the genre.
I confess I started with what appears to be one of the finest bits of work I ever saw – From Hell
. I just love the line art. It’s simple but powerful and at times beautifully complex. But it’s also a style that is completely accessible. By that I mean that it has an innocence and amateurishness to it that I find hugely appealing.

From Hell
From Hell

The entire book is a hugely accomplished piece of work in every sense, but it is of course the story itself that hits hard. I find it massively inspiring as an artist and writer to read a story that is so visceral and captured perfectly with the artwork.

I’ve got a number of story ideas that don’t fit my usual style of writing or presentation. One of them features a droid that is 90% human and the rest is synthetic. I never gave the droid a name but I’ve always known that I want him to be a combat droid. But a combat droid with a big difference – he’s terrified of combat. In fact he runs a mile and has the most gentle heart.

After years of conflict the droids have finally won over and humans are forced into hiding. The droids have gained strength and are pretty bloody horrible. But my droid doesn’t want to be a part of it.

As his story unfolds we learn more about why he is so unique and his journey sees him as something of a peacemaker. But not without some serious conflict both literally and psychologically. This is a droid with a conscience. A sentient semi-human with intelligence and great spirit.

This graphic was created to try and capture the mood of the story in the opening pages. It was created using Corel Painter’s Velocity Sketcher from the Liquid Ink collection.

Graphic Novel layout image

Combining traditional books with digital content

By far the most challenging aspect of being a ‘creative’ is trying to convince others that your creativity is worth purchasing. For me this amounts to writing and art.

I’ve never been overly bothered about selling art. It’s something that I do that I enjoy enormously and feel privileged and honoured when somebody requests a print.
With my writing I’m always looking to the market.

Currently I write and self-publish via Amazon’s CreateSpace. I’ve used Lulu but was less comfortable with it. The book’s quality was fine but I found the process irritating.

The books that I create are children’s books with a few (picture books) aimed at 0 – 4 years and a couple aimed at 5+ in the form of early chapter books.

I’ve always found it a challenge promoting my work without coming over as a one track broken record. Truth be told I’m not very good at it and not at all interested in the process. A large part of me wants to simply enjoy writing and then push my work to an established market. The process right now is of course very different in that I write without a market and once complete have to go in search of it.

A publisher would solve this, but attracting a publisher is painful. I’ll not give up on it but if my stress levels are already high then the process of obtaining a publisher is pretty much going to have me blow a fuse.

The perfect scenario would be to establish something of a pipeline from initial idea to marketplace such that the entire process is enjoyable.

So how do you develop a market? How do you break into an established market?

Yes, these are the questions we all want answering. These are indeed the questions that nobody has clear answers to so they write books on the subject in order to become an authority. The best we can hope for is some insider knowledge, an educated heads up on the painful process of becoming recognised and earning money from our creativity.

Social media helps us enormously. It’s free to talk amongst your acquaintances and free to have them share your news.

But social media is crowded with people and noise and distraction. What on earth would make my creativity stand out against the plethora of cat videos and political infographics?

Social media intrigues me greatly. There is generally a shift in activity on Facebook depending on the season, current affairs, sporting events and the sense of national unity. But something that seems to be commonplace now is the consumption of visuals. Words work to a point but there’s nothing quite like a strong photograph or video to capture somebody’s interest.

Videos inparticular are powerful. Concise and relevant videos are incredibly powerful and are soon being shared amongst millions of unacquainted people.

So how is this relevant to somebody trying to sell their writing?

I took a step back and analysed social media a short while ago. It occurred to me that the way in which we consume information has changed enormously in the last 10 years. The way in which we communicate with our acquaintances and the way in which we discover and respond to news is entirely different to the methods used just 10 or 15 years ago.

Every activity is now encouraged to be a social affair.

Gaming has more of a multiplayer / social aspect to it now than it’s ever had. Web based social media platforms have become far more visual. Epitomised by the popularity of Pinterest and Tumblr but also reflected in the changes made to the two kings of the genre; Twitter and Facebook. Only last year Twitter allowed the posting of visual material without eating up any of your 140 character post limit.

But reading has changed very little by comparison. We view stories in much the same way as we have for centuries. Significantly, I suppose, we now read ‘on the go’ via Kindle and similar services but ultimately it’s the same process of turning the page and consuming the written word.

Long may that last!

But I’m looking at how to make a dent into a marketplace. How to create a marketplace that I can push my hard work into. It strikes me that there’s scope for how a writer presents their story and consequently there’s room for changing how we consume stories.

Enhanced digital presentation of stories is the obvious route. Furthermore it’s probably going to work best in the children’s market. Some form of interaction where the child is met with a sense of play as they read would no doubt be a winner. Of course there’s an enormous market focused on this but it’s an exciting concept and something that must present gaps to the creative minded writer / illustrator.

Taking a story in traditional format and continuing it online is something that I’ve often been intrigued by but there’s just one thing that prevents me from exploring it, and that’s the fact that I’d be selling a potentially incomplete item.

It’d be an assumption that the reader has consistent access to the internet. How might that affect somebody who wants to take their paperback on holiday and lie on a beach?
None the less that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. The idea of placing QR codes throughout a book still intrigues me. QR codes that link to an image or an animation. Maybe even a video. The possibilities appear limitless and I’m already thinking back to the Choose your own Adventures of my youth. The QR codes could lead to a randomiser which guides the reader along a different path in the story. Complex but achievable. The challenge would of course be in making sure it wasn’t an utterly messy experience.
It’d be something that may help my work to stand out from the crowd and possibly give me an edge in a competitive market.

This post, as I’m sure you’ve ascertained, is something of a brain dump. All feedback is welcomed.



The Grumblegrump

I sketched this chap earlier this morning using Corel Painter. The ink was applied with the Velocity Sketcher and the colour with a Pastel with varying grain.
With the Pastel’s grain set to 10 I could block in the colour regions nicely and still retain some of the paper’s texture. I could then drop the grain to 8 and get some wonderful texture, especially around the eyes.

I needed a name for him so just plucked the Grumblegrump out of thin air 🙂