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Category Archives: Golden Age of Illustration
Interview with Nicola L. Robinson, illustrator turned author and the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a change of hats!
First off, HEARTY CONGRATULATIONS on the release of “The Monster Machine” with Pavilion Children’s Books – a sort of mad inventor meets Granny’s knitted nightmares joy of a book!
Have you always had a strong visual sense of story?
Yes I have, I’ve always loved drawing (like all illustrators I should imagine!) but particularly loved drawing pictures with something happening in them, be it a big thing chasing a small thing or any kind of interaction between my creations. As a child I’d name the characters and make up stories around them..
I grew up and went to university and did a degree in Fine Art, which was fantastic, but I realised my work was more illustration and less ‘Fine Art’. I have always looked for the story in the picture, and love adding narrative details to things, be it a little mouse hiding behind a teapot or something more sinister watching through a crack in the curtain... I am a visual thinker, but at this point I didn’t consider writing the actual words down to go with the illustrations.
What were your favourite storybook images as a child and how did they influence you as an illustrator and the style you adopted as ‘you’?
I didn’t have many traditional picture books, I did however pour over photos of crocodiles and snakes from a really old book on ‘The Animal Kingdom’. One of my favourite storybooks was a book of Greek Myths which had a lot of colour plates inside of the various mythological beasts and some nice black and white ink illustrations, fairly traditional in style. My favourites were always the ones I could imagine myself being in, something with some perspective, or one where you can see inside an open door or window. I also loved the Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, with Smaug the dragon. I have drawn many dragons since then and continue to do so today.
I have always loved the traditional fairytale illustrators like Arthur Rackham and others like Aubrey Beardsley and more recently Edward Gorey. Black and white ink illustrations in particular have always appealed to me, as has the sinister so I expect I have absorbed a little of their influence into my current working style. I certainly hope so!
Do you have a favourite among your previous illustrative projects? Would you tell us something of the creative process involved in bringing the images to light?
My favourites change all the time, but I am still very attached to a detailed illustration from last year titled ‘Downtown’
It started off like so many drawings as a few scribbles on the page, I could see a cityscape of sorts in my head… I often write lists of words and ideas to include in a piece, little descriptions like ‘Dark alleys’ and ‘Iron Bridges’ just as little word pictures, alongside thumbnails which I find very helpful.
From here it gets its structure and is drawn out. If I’m going to be working in colour I usually stretch some paper at this point before transferring the idea to it.
I work up the details in pencil…
Before going back in with a fine nibbed pen using black waterproof ink to make an underdrawing…
and here I decided I needed to add some life into the scene, I knew the city itself was alive and alert, but it had to be interacting with something, so I re introduced the tiny little figures on the bottom right.
I then add my colour and shading using various materials including pencils, watercolour acrylics and other coloured inks before transferring to Photoshop where I make the final enhancements…
I love collaborating on picture books! Have you been able to collaborate with authors or have the books you have worked on been more a case of the traditional ‘publishers keeping at least an ocean between author and illustrator’? What are your thoughts on collaborating as opposed to working on a project entirely on your own?
I have had a fairly traditional experience so far as an illustrator and have not had much contact with the authors whose work I have illustrated, although there are a few who have connected with me through twitter which has been great. You do wonder whether the author likes what you’ve drawn, and you hope they do, so it is lovely to hear it from them!
I think collaborating is a wonderful way to work the creative process, and a way to bring more creative ideas and experience to the table, being able to communicate directly and discuss ideas with one another has to be a good way to work. Providing you get on well and have harmonious ideas of course!
That being said I can’t deny enjoying being both the author and illustrator for my picture book, for me I found it saved time with regards to putting the book together in that I was the one who could edit both text and pictures simultaneously, which was handy.
When and why did you decide to go it alone as author/illustrator?
I have been illustrating for a good few years now but had not had the opportunity to be considered for a picture book, and I had always wanted to illustrate one, they always look like so much fun. However I hadn’t tailored my portfolio towards this with my work being geared towards an older audience, so I wrote one for myself.
I honestly wasn’t sure how people would take to it though, I had my illustrator hat well and truly screwed onto my head, so it was a bit alien to think of myself as an author too.
Did you do the traditional storyboard for your book?
I did, I had a look at other existing picture books and also had a look online to find out the right format. Square seemed like a good shape, and already suited my machine drawings, and I started drawing lots of little rectangles into my notebook… [see storyboard left] before working out the page breaks and what images I wanted to put on each page with lots of crude little thumbnails like these -
Honestly, how did you find the journey from inspiration to publication? I’m sure other illustrators will be fascinated to get a belated peek over your shoulder into the whole process.
Patience is a virtue, as the journey is not a quick one!
After the initial inspiration had set in and I knew my subject matter, I tackled the words. I knew it was also important to have a book which would read well out loud, so kept rereading it until I was happy.
I then took this along with my thumbnails and rough storyboard and I set about drawing up fairly detailed pencil spreads, and a cover. I picked out a couple of the spreads and worked them up in colour to give the publishers a flavour of how the book would look. I then put it all together into an A4 sized mailer. There is quite a lot of work involved in putting together a manuscript idea to pitch, particularly, when you’re doing the illustrations too.
I researched likely publishers, which I thought may be interested in my work, spent a lot of money on stamps and envelopes and sent them out into the universe. I also discovered the post box on my road has a really small letterbox that day so I had to walk a few miles to the nearest post office to send them off. Lesson learned.
Then came the waiting….
It did cross my mind that as both Author and Illustrator I was in a sense putting all my eggs in one basket. What if the publisher liked my illustrations but hated the story? Or worse, as an illustrator, what if they liked my story but hated my illustrations? Would I have wanted someone else to illustrate it? Probably not…
Fortunately, it wasn’t too long until my publisher contacted me saying they were interested in my work and invited me down to London, which was a wonderful experience, and such a relief to think that someone else likes the idea, something which I have written! After some more waiting, I was finally given the go ahead and contracts were signed. (It is very important to fully understand any contract you go into, if you aren’t sure get some legal advice to make sure you’re absolutely happy with the terms, read all the small print!)
The actual writing and illustrating of the book was the quickest part, I was lucky that I did not need to make too many major changes and I just set about working my way through the book. I submitted all the work ahead of deadline, which was nice, and also gave me some time to work out little extras for the fly pages and a This Book Belongs to page etc.
For me the longest part has been waiting for the actual book to come out, and be ‘published’ which happens a good few months after all the artwork is signed off. I did get my advance copies in the interim which was wonderful! They looked great, and I was really pleased with them. You rarely get your name on the cover unless you’re the author so it was really nice to see it there for once!
One of the most frustrating things has been friends and family and those not in the publishing universe constantly asking about ‘the book’ and other than being able to say ‘it’s on its way’ I haven’t been able to give a satisfactory response yet. But now it’s actually out which is nice! Now they can see for themselves.
I’ve been tempted, from time to time, to illustrate my own book but feel I am a learner artist, not an illustrator of story. It is quite a different skill. I have, on occasion, used illustrator friend’s orphan images to create the story hiding in the image – a sort of collaboration in reverse – a different kind of challenge and creative pleasure. Did you get the image inspiration first or the ‘story’ inspiration? Can you tell us about the evolution of your ‘story’?
Chicken or egg? In this case it was the Machine. I can pinpoint the beginning of the story itself from the day I sat down and sketched a machine.
I love machines so this isn’t unusual for me. I was thinking about the machine and it crossed my mind that the machine would be a machine that makes something, monsters…. it really went from there. I worked backwards from the machine and then forwards from it creating the monsters.
Something which I have enjoyed, which has come from being both author and illustrator is the fact that I can write about things I love to draw, which is great. I love monsters and I love machines. Obviously you hope a good editor will match a manuscript with the perfect illustrator who will love the subject and themes it requires, but in my experience, there is no surer way than writing it yourself.
Finally – what next? Have you anything else ‘on the drawing board’ yet?
There’s always something on ‘the drawing board’ it is a matter of getting the time to coax it out to its full potential! Indeed what next?! I’m currently working on a pop-up book project which is great fun, and getting some ideas for more picture books! I’d love to do another one.
Thank you very much for having me Jennifer!
The Monster Machine has its own website to match the book- www.monstermachine.co.uk
Nicola’s website www.nlrobinson.co.uk
This list is the illustrators version of what I have created for Writers. Fair’s fair!
It will be added to…
Lou Simeone’s illustrationpages.com, highlights the Facebook pages and online stores of visual artists from around the world. It also has great interviews, articles, inspiration, resources and giveaways.
Storybookillustrators.com has an illustrator’s gallery and a trends gallery.
Thomas James’ Escape from Illustration Island is replete with tutorials, resource library, articles and podasts and more.
NEWS ALERT _ This last week Angel was announced the winner of an award for THE JUNGLE BOOK as the best illustrated book in Spain for 2010!
Interview with Spain’s leading illustrator, The Golden Age continues!
Jennifer: Fans of Dulac and Rackham do not despair, they have a worthy successor. The art of Angel Dominguez has already been compared to the master illustrators of the Golden Age of book illustration. He has the vibrant colour and pattern of Dulac and both the delicate and the quirkily grotesque approach to fantasy characterisation for which Rackham was famous. Angel, I believe you formally started your career in illustration in 1971? What influenced you to choose such a career? Are there other artists in your family background?
Angel: “Curiously and curiously” as Alice says… because my master is Arthur Rackham, but you´re right, I also love Edmund Dulac. Many people say I´m more like Dulac. In writing on the topic,“The Master illustrator of the Golden Age of book illustration”, you must write about Rackham and Dulac, both have the same quality and charm.
I had an uncle, who was a very good painter in oils. So if you ask about genetics, I think that maybe there is a link, but to be an artist it is really only necessary to love art and all that’s around us.
My strongest influence in choosing to illustrate children’s books was Arthur Rackham without a doubt. I remember, as a child, having a book in my hands with a little and awful reproduction of “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” from Alice in Wonderland. It was so bad, I was even unable to read the signature of the artist…but, in that moment, I knew I wanted to do that wonderful kind of art. I fell in love with that imaginative place too, the Mad Hatter and the other characters, with that cottage and background… I felt a lot of sensations, good inner reactions to that technique of painting. I WANTED to do the same! And further, visiting London, I saw a lot of books by that artist… and now I have nearly all his books on my shelves. I did Alice´s Adventures in Wonderland with Artisan of New York and I was the happiest man on Earth. I did The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with special affection, and the original was sold quickly. People even asked me to paint other ‘originals’ of that same scene.
Jennifer: Who were the artists, you feel, had the most influence on your style as a young illustrator and why?
Angel: If we talk about fantasy (also I´m wildlife artist) my strongest influential artists were:
1st CAVE ART:
All the amazing paintings on the walls of the caves, from Altamira, the best, I think, to all others around the world, in the deserts of Africa, America…
I love each nationality of artists in the wild, for all of the continents, but specially the Australian Aborigines, they painted wonderful art on rocks and on bark… I was so inspired, I also did some paintings in this medium.
Alex Niño, Moebius, Bernie Wrightson, Sergio Toppi, Josep Mª Beá, Carlos Giménez… a lot of the world of comic.
4th BOOK S ILLUSTRATORS:
Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, John Bauer, Beatrix Potter, Kay Nielsen… a lot too.
Speaking of ART… I must mention too Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele… and the masters of China and Japan, specially Hokusai, whose books on Manga were one of the most wonderful pieces of art that I ever saw.
Jennifer: What inspires you most in the creation of your art?
Angel: Animals and plants… Nature, Beauty and Love.
A beautiful lady, a nice orchid, a wonderful gorilla, an elephant… the amazing giraffe, that incredible animal which still is with us on this planet. The blue whale… the little mice, the birds… with colors and forms without end.
To save the wonderful creatures in this amazing world is in the forefront of my interest, so, painting them to show all their beauty and their interaction with their interesting human companions as they appear together in the wild, this is my goal. As Sir David Attenborough said, he likes to show nature’s wonders in order to preserve them; he never liked to do movies with “distressing messages to the innocent bystander who was at home sitting in their chair.” But it´s difficult, you cannot forget, for example, the bushmen of the Kalahari desert, who are disappearing so fast, already it is a challenge to find a family complete – and all due to the diamonds under their feet… and the powerful people don´t know that the true diamonds are these very same tribes folk?
The variation in art inspires me… I see a wonderful book on Celtic art and I WANT to do Celtic art… I see an interesting carved wood or stone… and I would like to do the same. In fact, I saw a picture by Arthur Rackham and that was the start in my career as illustrator, I wanted to do images like that.
Jennifer: Every body is different some can only paint when inspired, some have a daily routine. How do you approach your work?
Angel: Setting down to work is a daily ‘routine’, constantly having in mind the sketch book for each work in which roughs are done when I´m inspired, so, the results come together in the right way. Routine is a word that artists must categorise as ‘forbidden’. In fact, I hate schedules, or… I´m unable to use them, so, let me see… I think that I don´t use schedules nor “daily routine” per se! This, speaking of my work in the fantasy genre only, because I also work on wildlife art, which is the easiest for me, and in this case, routine isn’t a trouble to me. The truly ‘work’ of art is the fantasy world. The inevitable is to work hard.
Jennifer: Does your native region of Basque Country, its geography, history and legends play a part in who you are as an artist and has it influenced your style? I know you travel in Europe and the United Kingdom and Celtic influences are obvious in your love of delicate, interwoven patterns and symbols. How have they come to be part of what is your signature style?
Angel: As a Basque, I think that the woods of this country inspired me as much as the wild life of England near where Rackham lived at Arundel, inspired him; he loved trees, me too. The mountains and nature of Basque Country are a magnificent source of inspiration to me, and have been from my childhood. Also the Basque Myths are interesting to me, and our books are feature plenty of faery characters of all kinds, … perfect for my fantasy.
Of course, every time I do a trip, I take a lot of sketches and photographs, I want to carry with me every wonder that I find. I like the Pubs of London a lot, I have photographs of almost every one of them, and I wanted to do a book only on pubs… well, I did some pictures and two of them were printed in my book Diary of a Victorian Mouse. One of these Pubs, The Porcupine, did a set of postcards of my drawing in this book, and they were sold in that Pub. To drink a pint of good beer looking at these postcards was a nice moment.
Also, I knew in England the wonderful Celtic art in the Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels, what a collection of striking calligraphy and patterns and borders… I love all of these wonderful books.
Jennifer: You have an obvious love for storytelling, your pictures talk to the viewer, do you deliberately put layers of story into your works or is this a right brain thing that happens as part of the creative process?
Angel: Both, I think. We the illustrators, well, the artists in general, we put in our creations our acquired culture throughout our lives, spontaneously, and those details which aren´t spontaneous, with hard work. So, the viewer can admire our culture and enjoy our hard work.
Jennifer: You have a very keen eye for detail, especially in your drawings of wildlife. But your animals are more than just good anatomical representations, they leap from the page! Do you carry a sketchbook with you, a camera or do you rely on memory or zoological sources?
Angel: Again, both, every tool helps me. My sketchbook, my camera, my memory… AND… my loved books, movies, stamps and cards. Memory is the less important. Having talked about memory’s role in our work with my artists friends, all agree in this, and more… I know a gag:
-“I heard that memory is the intelligence of fools”… said a man to a friend…
-“Yes, and so it is because I forget everything”.
Always I carry a little sketchbook with me, and when a good idea comes, I draw it… and after, I put it in larger sketchbooks, which often have better drawings than in the same published books!
Jennifer: Can you share with me and the readers some of your earliest experiences with art?
Angel: The very first, as a baby… was an “O” filled with a pencil… I needed to fill that blank room. Well, this book, of my father, is still with me, and I have no better drawings with me from my childhood, which was awful. Due to the work of my father, we were doing trips up and down to many places, and all my drawings from school and that which I did at home were lost… a pity… and they were a lot indeed. This happened to Hokusai too, but worse; all the first pictures, from a wonderful stage in his life, disappeared in a fire that burned his house… and, further, he never was able in to do them again, although he did try to recreate them.
Further, as a youngster, I did comics, and I won two first prizes, with my creation Fedra, a woman of the future as heroine… and I´m thinking of following up with further work on her some day, not too much later on. I have some good ideas for her, but in the form of a book not as a comic.
Jennifer: You have done some outstanding work illustrating new editions of such all time classics as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Wind in the Willows”. This must have presented some unique challenges.
How do you approach a project such as “Alice in Wonderland” which has already had many well know illustrators put their stamp on it?
Angel: Easy for me, I love Alice in Wonderland very much… I approached this story WITH EMOTION, which is THE GOAL OF ART, as another artist said, Goyo Dominguez –not a relative. I love this special world created by Carroll so much, that not only do I love the story but each of the characters, of course, the writer, the illustrated editions… England, in a word. I wanted to go to England to feel the origin of the book, the mood… to visit a lot of bookshops, to buy a lot of old books, not only of Alice, but of the Victorian times. Each part of my book is full of plenty of messages.
And, if you look closely at many Victorian times (Carroll’s time), The Great Exhibition was held in the Crystal Palace… The objects on display came from all parts of the world, including India and the countries with recent white settlements, such as Australia and New Zealand, that constituted the new empire.
So, I took advantage of this event which, at that time, had the effect of familiarizing English society with foreign wildlife, to paint the wonderful animals that you have there in Australia into the illustrations.
If you ask to me about the very first approach to this book I must say that I had two pencil drawings from many years ago… and my wife said me:
“Angel, you must finish that pair of drawings and send them to a publisher”. I did it… and the answer, from Artisan (WORKMAN, of New York):
-“Please do you be so kind to paint another six watercolors”… and I did it… and the contract arrived fast.
And about other ‘meaning’… I approached the story having in mind a lot of things, not only the many illustrators, and Disney´s wonderful characters, but thinking to do a VERY good work… and I think that I did it, because the edition of 25.000 items were sold.
Also I´m thinking of doing a book on this book… with a lot of interesting things from Carroll´s world, the jokes, characters and details that I included.
[Rabbit sends in a little Bill - Alice in Wonderland]
Some details are hidden… as my own wife said, I work a lot on each plate… so much of that spontaneously included ‘meaning’ is lost.
[There goes Bill - Alice and Wonderland]
Jennifer: What stories and books hold fondest and earliest memories for you? Do they play, do you think, a part in your choice of projects?
Angel: Of course, Alice is one of them. I read it many years ago, many times… and, as I think that half my soul is English, I understood it very well, and I enjoyed it… specially in thinking to illustrate it.
Other good books to me are:
THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame
PETER PAN by James Barrie
THE UGLY DUCK, the best tale I think.
CINDERELLA, another strong story.
UNDINE by Baron de la Motte-Fouqué, another of the greatest.
PINOCCHIO by C.Collodi.
GRIMM´S Fairy Tales
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN´S Fairy Tales
A lot of books and stories… difficult to remember all of them and not wanting to bore people. And of course these stories are part of my life and my love for my profession.
Jennifer: Where are you hoping to take your art to next? What projects are coming up?
Angel: As I learned from my English friends, it is often preferable not talk about them. This is done with a number of intentions… it prevents the risk of ideas being copied. To chose a book to do already is an idea, specially when a classic. And to the readers, if the project doesn’t go ahead, that is disappointing news… and if appears as a surprise, it´s good news, something interesting.
I can say that I´m currently working on The Jungle Book by Kipling. I must get that finished this very month. Also I´m proud to said that I´m working on books with friends from JacketFlap. I´ll find free time to paint good watercolors for good stories that suit my style a lot. I must say that, at JacketFlap, I have found very good friends, not only Tracy and Eric, but others as wonderful models for my pictures. Artists are always searching for good models, and here I found a lot, who were happy to let me draw them. I have a lot of friends as models, not only in Spain, but in the States and in England. It´s funny when I gift some book to them… some have been very touched. One lovely lady cried with joyous surprise when she saw herself portrayed in a color plate in a book on pirates.
Jennifer: Have you ever thought of designing film sets or dabbling in animation? Tim Burton has brought some darker legends to life in an animated film noire for older children. Have you ever thought of doing something like this?
Angel: By the way, there´re a possibility that I can work with Tim in the movie of Alice which he is working on right now!. I´ll keep you posted if this goes ahead.
I have some part of my brain that thinks along the same lines as Burton, but not specially in relation to the dark side of those stories, but the fantasy element. For example, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow also is one of my favourite books, also illustrated by Rackham. Not all are dark, if you see Corpse Bride, you’ll agree that it’s a tender love story. And the main character of The Nightmare Before Christmas is tender too, with the sad or smiling face, long legs, walking and dancing and singing all the time.
Yes, always I loved animated films, specially Disney´s, and movies are part of our lives. And it´s a matter of luck to find someone to work with. For example, also I have a friend who can introduce me to James Cameron´s movies, and the last movie, AVATAR was suitable for me to paint the creatures, but I arrived late to this project and the Blue Lady, the main character I think, is very different than the one I could create… mine would be without tail. I knew the thriller version of this movie due to my American friend, and I envy that wonderful life in other world. Si-Fi is one of my preferences in books and movies. I love the books by Ray Bradbury, I have all of them. And I think that Arthur C. Clarke is good indeed, but I prefer the poet Bradbury, I feel his world as if it were mine. I´m pretty sure that Bradbury is the best writer in the world. I would like to illustrate each of his books or to do all of them in movies.
When I was very young I liked animation a lot, to work in this world was a dream, but right now I like more doing good illustrations to books, or backgrounds and creating characters to the movies.
Jennifer: Lastly, Angel, is there a question you would like to answer, something I have not covered? Now is your chance to cover it!
Being a book illustrator, I have been fortunate to find a lot of wonderful friends and have had many unique life experiences. I have fans in England, USA and Australia right now… I traveled to many interesting places, but the most fascinating of them was Jordania, where I met Queen Rania and I collaborated on a book with her! Also I´m working in four projects with friends I have met through Jacketflap.
Also I want to express how grateful I am to the publishers of all the world, without them, we, the illustrators cannot apply our art:
-MICHAEL O´MARA BOOKS and VICTOR GOLLANCZ of London.
-ARTISAN of New York.
-JUVENTUD of Barcelona.
-IBAIZABAL AND ELKAR of Basque Country.
-SHOGAKUKAN of Japan.
Lastly, I wish PEACE in the world… all of us must take advantage of every opportunity to tell how important is to save the world from a sooner end. This interview is such an opportunity.
One of the wisest men in the world, Jose Luis Sampedro, a Spanish writer and a very old and peaceful man, said yesterday on TV in Spain that the end of the world is in the hands of the powerful people but crisis doesn’t damage them, so, they don´t want to look for a solution.
And I add from sayings by the native Americans, the Indians, one of their best sayings, “money can’t be eaten, and that when water is scarce and air becomes unbreathable, there will be no money to fix it.”
TWO EXHIBITIONS OF ORIGINALS by ANGEL DOMINGUEZ
Angel is holding two exhibitions in Britain. The link to the first is below.
At Salisbury Museum, you can see the exhibition of Angel’s originals of Alice in Wonderfland, together with his illustrations for Narnia and Tales by Hans Christian Andersen. The items are for sale.
Alice in Wonderland
T-Shirts featuring designs based on Angel’s paintings are now available [including of the white rabbit painting to right]. Price: 20 euros.
Quality: Fruit of the Loom, High quality.
The shirts can be purchased by contacting Angel or Carmen Dominguez:
A number of signed prints are also available for purchase. See below: