Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Around the table with...David Wyatt.

Born in 1968, David Wyatt was raised in West Sussex, studied art in Reading, and began his professional career illustrating comics while he was still in his teens. After a short stint touring with a rock band, he moved to Dartmoor and returned to painting full-time, specializing in illustrations for fantasy books for both children and adults. He is best known as the illustrator of "Peter Pan in Scarlet" (the authorized Peter Pan sequel), and of the "Larklight" series by author Philip Reeve, but he has also illustrated books by J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Brian Jacques, Terry Dreary, Katherine Langrish, and many others. David lives in a small village at the edge of Dartmoor, and is a keen lutist, cyclist, tango dancer, and wanderer of the moors. For more information, please visit his website and blog.

Howard, David, Rex and Tilly.

H - So, David, thank you for coming. 
D - I noticed in your last post there was a spelling mistake: grape-growling.
R - That's not a mistake. That's how the Vandeborre Bacchus Tarot describes Bacchas, as the Roman god of grape-growling.
H - What is grape-growling?
R – Being horribly drunk.
H - 'Horribly' drunk?
R - Yes, horribly. Grape-growling is an 18th century phrase for being outrageously drunk….
H - Good word. Now, let’s start. At the end of our post, a posse ad esse, two weeks ago, we had a Comment from an Anonymous reader asking questions about where inspiration comes from.
D - That was me. I was Anonymous! I was trying to glean some insights!
H - Really?
D – Well, no, not really.
H – Okay, I'm a little confused…were you Anonymous or not?
D - No, I am not anonymous. My name is David Wyatt!
H – Right. I’m even more confused. Let’s get back to some semblance of, er, some semblance of something: The Comment, whom-so-ever it was made by, posed the question: ‘Where does inspiration come from?’ When you do your own drawings and paintings, David, as opposed to when you are illustrating a book, can you describe the way that inspiration comes to you? Does the process of finding inspiration follow any kind of pattern?
D - It does at the moment, and it is mostly based on wandering around Dartmoor, looking at the landscape. I get hundreds of ideas, all the time. They tend to bubble around in my subconscious for a while, and then they just come out.... 
The Gidleigh Goat.
H – Is it that you see an inspiring scene – a picturesque old tree, for example, or a crumbling stone wall --  and then the idea for a painting comes into your mind? I am thinking, in particular, of your picture Gidleigh Goat. I love that one!
D - He's part of a series of 'local characters'. Each of the paintings is inspired by a certain rock or gate, or the way light falls on a hill. Something about those scenes sparked something in me; these strange ideas occur to me, and then I have to draw them. It's almost a form of therapy for me, rather than a commercial venture like book illustration. It’s for my own amusement, really.
H – So the image appears full-blown in your mind when you see a scene in the physical world that sparks your imagination?  
D - Yes, often, especially with the Dartmoor related ones. It's like, bang, and there's the idea. Sometimes, then, I'll need to work out the technical layout or whatever, but basically the idea comes straight away.
H - Would you say, then, that inspiration is a thing that comes from outside you, from the land or whatever it is you're looking at, or is it something that comes from within you, a bit of your imagination that is just waiting to be sparked off?”   
Care for a Biscuit?
D – A bit of both, I think. I see something, and then something deep within me responds to it. With the 'local characters' series, it's also like I'm creating a story -- each picture is telling a story. Each character has a background, a life. They are stories that just haven’t been written yet. 
R - I know you're a fan of Frank Frazetta, David. Frazetta was once commissioned to paint a piece of book cover art, and then a book was written based on the painting!  Perhaps that could happen to you?
D - That would be lovely! 
H - Who’s Frank Rozetta?
R - What? Who’s Frank Rozetta? Howard, my friend, don’t write down that you don’t know who Frank Frazetta is, because people will physically attack you. 
H – Okay, okay. So who is he?
R - David can answer that question. 
D - No, Rex, you brought him up, you answer.
R – Frank Frazetta died last year, and he was God. He started the whole genre of fantasy illustration…
D - He started off the genre of sword-and-sorcery illustrations, Rex, not fantasy as a whole.
R – Look at his illustrations for the Conan series! The man was genius!
H – Well now I feel like I’ve stumbled into a Frank Frazetta Anonymous meeting! Dave, you used to work in comics, is that true?
D - Yes, I did start out in comics, drawing for 2000 AD back in the '80s. I loved comics when I was growing up, and I wanted to be a comic book illustrator. And I was, when I was 16, but it turned out that I wasn’t that good at it.
R - You’re so modest, Dave. 
H - Unlike you, Rex....
D - No, no, it's true! I really wasn't very good.
H – How could you be a bad comics illustrator when you're such a good book illustrator?
Peter Pan in Scarlet Cover.
D – Well, at that time, comics had suddenly gone to a whole new level of being, in terms of writing, and imagery…
R – Yes, colour had just taken off.
D – The early '80s was like a golden age for comics, and I wasn’t up to the job. 
H - Do you mean speed-wise? Rex and I have talked about the necessity for speed in drawing comics, and he has an amazing ability to knock anything off.
R - You make me sound like a thief, Howard!
D – No, it wasn't the speed. I can draw pretty quickly. In retrospect, I think the problem was that I needed to find my own style. At that age, I kept looking at other artists that I liked—at 19th century painters as well as modern book illustrators and comic artists—and I was trying to absorb their styles and ways of working. It was only later on that I discovered my own way. Maybe I just needed more time to do that.
H – Terri [my wife] was talking about that exact subject recently on her 'Drawing Board' blog, sparked by something that Didier Graffet said when he sat 'Around the table' with us last month....  

D - Yes, I remember reading the Didier interview, and Terri’s post about it. My take on the subject of influence is that I was obsessed with technique and style when I was young, and this dominated how I worked. It was almost like I was trying to 'channel' the technique of these other artists. I was obsessed with getting things perfect. Eventually I realised that, in truth, you could give any of the artists I admired a burnt twig to draw with and they would each come up with something different and brilliant. Not because of their dazzling technique, but because they were simply expressing themselves. I realised that the way you make a mark on paper is, and has to be, specific to you. You can add all sorts of technique, but that's just the icing on the cake, really. It took a while for me to understand that once all the technique was stripped away, the art came from them, from inside them.

Illustration from the Ballad of Old Goat and Heron. 
H - So at some point you discovered your own way of drawing?

D - Yes. It's hard to pin down exactly when that occurred. You don’t wake up one day and suddenly think: I've got it! This is the way forward! I still ‘channel’ things, bits of technique I've learned from the work of other artists, but now it gets mixed up in my own creative soup. When I was young, I was  spending too much time thinking: How would so-and-so do this? Like Didier said, sometimes you have to avoid looking at other work to avoid being too influenced.
H - Rex, don't you have any questions you’d like to ask David? 
R – Yes, in fact, I do have a question. David, what was it like to move to a village where some of the artists who influenced you when you were younger are now your neighbors? I'm thinking of Alan Lee and Brian Froud, for example. There is a saying that you should never meet your idols because they are bound to disappoint you. So how do you find it, living here?
D - I think if I had come here when I was twenty, I would have been overwhelmed. I don’t feel oppressed by other talent now, though. When I was younger, I thought: What’s the point in doing anything? After hundreds of years of amazing art, and all these brilliant modern artists, what is the point in me doing anything? But now I know that everybody goes through this. I talk with the artists that I admire and they all have the same grumbles as me; we're not alien in terms of our experiences, and they are only human. I have stuff inside me that has to come out, and that has to come out in my own style. Rather than feeling oppressed by all the great art out there, I'm glad now to think that there is a long line, a long tradition, in British illustration, and that I am a minnow in that river and happy to swim along.
Illustration from Philip Reeve's Larklight
H – Having reached this point of success as a painter and illustrator, do you still find ways to challenge yourself? In terms of learning new techniques, for example?
D - What surprises me is that just as you think you have seen and done it all, there is always something to discover: a new artist, a new approach, an entirely fresh idea that you haven’t seen done a thousand times before. I never get bored with looking at art. There is always something I can respond to, in my own way. I tend to compete with myself, though, rather than other artists. I look at my work and think to myself, for example: I can draw that hand better. I don’t rest on my laurels, I keep trying to move forward -- but it doesn't feel like such a huge mountain now. It's a pleasant journey.
R – It seems to me that there comes a point, as an artist, when you know that you're able to represent things proficiently, in a technical sense, and from that point onwards the only thing that matters is how you personally interpret those things...which is the aspect of art-making that comes from your soul or your spirit. Does that make sense to you, Dave?
D - Yes. You may know that you have drawn a nose slightly wrong, but you realise that it doesn’t matter. It is more about the basic idea you're trying to express, rather than worrying about whether or not you have the skill to express it. 
H – Another thing that Terri has been writing about on her blog is that there are different stages in an artist's life: first you are an apprentice, and then a journeyman, and then eventually, for the persevering few, a master. This comes from medieval craft and trade guilds, and we don’t have those concepts much now -- but I think they can be important, so that you have an idea of where you're at on your journey. Knowing which stage of life you're in helps you to know, in a sense, what you should be concerned about with your art.
The Throne.
D – But it's difficult to be self-aware like that, Howard. It's not like the old days when there were actually apprenticeships in these things. You get a few years at college and then you're thrown out into the real world. You have to somehow find work, or you starve. But that sink-or-swim process can be useful in its own right. When I first started out, I was doing well one minute, and then suddenly I’d think: Oh no, where is the next job coming from? It taught me how to work, and work hard, and that's half the battle.
H - I think that what you've just described is, in many ways, the 'apprenticeship stage' in our modern world! But it's the underlying concept I’m talking about, the philosophical concept of the 'artistic journey' as a narrative of change. You start as an apprentice, copying others; and then there comes a time when you have to go out on your own as the journeyman, and find your own style; and then, at some point, hopefully, you become a master of your art.
D – In retrospect, you can probably look back and fit different parts of your career into those neat categories -- but in reality, I think there are probably bits of all those characters -- apprentice, journeyman, and master -- in us all the time.
H - Well, we’re out of time now, and we're out of croissants. What’s your favorite song, Dave?
D - It's Smenco Horo, by the Irish band Planxty.
H - Okay, let’s spin that tune... 

Friday, 21 January 2011

fortes fortuna adiuvat

H - In this week's post, we're going to look at some of the characters in our graphic novel through the tarot pack used by one of those characters, a fortune teller named Glady. But first, I just want to say: Wow, Rex! At the end of last month we talked about creating a tarot deck, and you have just arrived with a complete set of John Barleycorn Major Arcana! And they look amazing, they really do. 
R - Thank you.
H - No, thank you. Let’s begin by talking a little about the tarot pack that you modeled our tarot on. It’s a little different than the conventional tarot, isn’t it?
R - It’s the Vandenborre Bacchus Tarot, which was first published in the 18th century. The original cards were wood block prints and coloured stencils. The cards are in a different sequence and have some different characters than other tarot; for example, card number 5 is Bacchus, the Roman god of grape-growling and wine.
H - That’s interesting.
R - There’s even a Commedia dell'Arte character in this deck, Captain Fracasse. Do you recognise that character?
H - No, because there are lots of Capitanos in Commedia...but it’s fantastic that we have a Commedia character in our deck! 
R - Well actually, Howard, we don’t. In the Bacchus deck, Captain Fracasse was a replacement for the Hierophant, and I decided that the Hierophant was a more appropriate archetype for our John Barleycorn deck.
H - Oh....

John Barleycorn - The Magician.
H - The first card is Le Bateleux, which is the magician. Why did you decide that John Barleycorn should be represented by this card?
R – It was the obvious choice since John is a magician in our story, and our principle character, hence he is number one.
H - Yes, the character correlates rather well with the traditional magician archetype: clever, witty, inventive, and in control of the elements. Like Mercury in Roman myth, he is a traveller between the world of the material and the mundus imaginalis, the realm of the imagination.

The Thirteenth Conjurer - The Hierophant.
H - The Thirteenth Conjurer, another character in our book, is also a magician, in a way. He is 180 years old, and the head of the Kingdom. Readers of this blog will have seen him in our first post as the old man in the Prologue. You have given him the attributes of the Hierophant archetype, rather than using the Captain card! Why?
R - Well, the Thirteenth Conjurer is a very old man, and hardly Captain material. He has gained his power by intellectual means. He dwells at the seat of learning and is the reader of books.
H - Fair enough! In representing the Kingdom, the Thirteenth Conjurer represents old dogma, old ways of doing things, too.
R - That’s right.
H - He is also a rather nasty piece of work!
Sophia - The Empress.
H - Sophia is a mysterious character who comes into John’s office to charge him with the discovery of an ancient artifact. You've made her the Empress.
R - She would have been the High Priestess in another deck, but there wasn't one in the deck I've based ours on, so the Empress was the closest equivalent.
H - But actually that makes sense, since this character also becomes a love interest in the story, doesn’t she? So she embodies the archetype of Venus, which relates to the Empress.
R – Yes.
        H -  If you recall, we had the notion that the deck the fortune teller, Glady, uses in the story is actually a magical one. The images change, transforming for each individual reading, each individual client. Glady's deck not only gives information about people who affect the client in the material world, but also in the realm of the mundus imaginalis.
 R - That's going to be quite tough to illustrate, Howard!
H – Well, at this stage it's just an idea, and it may not turn out to be a practical one. But what I am imagining is each card being laid down, and then a spinning sequence of images--kind of like a fruit machine--which then settles down into the correct image for the reading. 
The Toll Keeper - The Emperor.
H – Here we have the Toll Keeper, who is equivalent to the Emperor.
R - I gave this beggar-like figure the role of the Emperor because I thought it would be fun to subvert the tarot a little. I was being ironic. 
H – The character is a beggar John meets in the mundus, but he is also the gatekeeper whom John needs to pay in order to cross into a different realm. 
R - So he is a character with a lot of power, really.
H - Yes. And since our tarot deck is specific to John’s story, I quite like the fact that our Emperor is a beggar. It makes me think of stories like The Prince and the Pauper.
R - Exactly what I had in mind.
H - Really?
R - YES!
H - Really?
R - What are you, the Thought Police now?
Reeve - Bacchus.
H – Here we see Reeve as Bacchus. Reeve is a martial arts expert, and a good friend of John's. They go back a long way. John employs him on occasion as a body guard when the action starts to hot up. For the character of Reeve, the archetype of Bacchus is great, as he, like the Roman god, is a bit of a hedonist, a bit of a scoundrel. 
R - Yes, Reeve has devoted his life to the pursuit of the ecstatic.
H - He reminds me of the tales of Taoist masters, some of whom go to the mountains to sit, meditate, and pray, while others are more likely to be found slumped in a drunken stupor in the corner of a bar, and yet are still revered by their followers.
R - Give me the latter any time!
H - When we started to create Reeve’s back story, we enjoyed the character so much that we had ideas for a spin-off comic where he would be the central character: a rather subversive globe-trotting anarchist!
R - I really like this character.
H – Hmmm, Rex, I wonder why? 
R - Since I’ve finished drawing all the Major Arcana of our deck, perhaps we could post two cards a week down the side of our blog?
H - Maybe.
R - Maybe? That’s very noncommittal. Surely you’re not still annoyed about me replacing the Captain, are you?
H - Don’t call me Shirley....

Don't miss next week's post:
Around the Table with...David Wyatt.

Friday, 14 January 2011

a posse ad esse

Pencil of new cover.

       H - Readers of this blog will know by now that John Barleycorn Must Die is being constructed, phoenix-like, from the ashes of three other incomplete comics. Rex, when you came to me with your original storyline, your story was split into five individual comic books, with a sixth book to come. We have subsequently re-written it all into one complete graphic novel, correct?
R - Yes.
H - For this week’s blog post, I thought it would be interesting to look at the cover art that you drew for each of those individual books, if only to stop you from going on and on about how much of the artwork you drew is not being used. How do you approach making a cover for a comic? What criteria do you use?

Original cover: Book 1.

R – Cover art has to be dramatic, or have implied drama: actual action or implied action, something that is happening or about to happen. I like to focus on one central character, who is obviously from the story, and I like to imply something about what might be going on within the story, even if it's on a metaphoric level -- though it doesn’t have to be an actual reconstruction of a passage from the comic. The cover art is really important, as it's the first thing that people see -- and in a comic book shop, with thousands of comics on the walls and on racks, it needs to draw the eye. It needs to be different. 
H - When you draw the central characters, I’ve noticed that you give them almost a ‘cover’ expression. It’s like having actors pose for the camera. Is that deliberate?

Original cover: Book 2.

R – Yes. I'm free to use a lot of artistic license on the cover image. 
H - You mentioned in the 'Around the table' discussion we had with Didier last week that when you draw, you envision a movie-like sequence of events, and then you freeze it. Do you, in this case, see the characters posing quite deliberately for you? Because the second book cover looks like that. The attitude here is of people who know they are having their picture taken.
R - Hmm. I never thought of it that way.
H - Well, do you or don’t you...?
R - I do. I guess it's having 'character stills' taken for the promotion of a TV show.

Original cover: Book 3.

H - The third cover then.... it has a feel of mystery about it. So it seems in some ways different than the others: there is more action, more mystery. Perhaps this is similar to the process that book cover illustrators go through, where their job is to somehow capture the whole essence of a book in a single picture. 
R - Yes, maybe.
H - How do you decide on a specific cover image? Why do you choose that image, as opposed to a different one? Do you sketch several covers and then choose the best, or do you just know what it should look like before you start? 
R - Right from the conception I have an idea of how I want to portray the characters on the comic's cover, and my sketch doesn’t generally change very much from that initial idea. For instance, with the sketch of the new John Barleycorn cover, I wanted the central character to appear to be at the mercy of the elements, which is also a metaphor for the character's journey. I then stepped back, looked at the drawing and asked myself: If I saw that and knew nothing about the book, would I say, “What on earth is going on there?” Because once somebody says “What on earth is going on?”, they are likely to pick up the book to find out.
H - Are you always aware of the metaphoric level of your art, then? For example, what I see in the sketch for the new cover [see image at top of post] is John Barleycorn in a slightly Christ-like pose, and in many ways that is the character’s archetype within our story.
R - I was aware of that. The pose is deliberately meant to invoke the image of Christ.
H - So was that a conscious decision before you started drawing, or is it just that you naturally draw in a symbolic way? Is it that you know that there are these archetypes in our book, so when you draw they come out by accident, as it were -- or do you plan the underlying symbolism in the art in advance?
R - It’s a subconscious thing...and when the art is done, then I realise what I have done. At that point I can decide whether the metaphor works or doesn’t work.

Original cover: Book 4.

H - Talk me through the cover of book four, then -- which was, in its first incarnation, the cover art for the Wallpaper that Ate London story.
R - It is simply a big bold statement. He is a big character who is saying, “Look at me. Here I am.”
H - And the point of view is very definite in this one.
R - Yes, it is the worm’s eye view, which implies power. He is towering over you.
H - Which again came up in our conversation with Didier: the importance of point of view.
R – It's a technical thing in this instance. I have exaggerated the POV by using the picture rail and ceiling to draw ones eye to the character’s head, which gives emphasis to the overall power and majesty expressed by the character.

Original cover: Book 5.

H – And what about book five?
R - I wanted to imply motion and chaos. Although there is only one figure, I have drawn it several times, morphing into itself. I purposely didn’t want a focal point. I wanted the viewer's eye to roam around the picture chaotically. To express what was happening to the character, to bring the viewer into the experience of the character.
H - That idea of being aware of how a viewer experiences the art.... Hmm. It reminds me that sometimes in theatre one gets the audience to participate, for example, by having two actors on opposing sides of the stage having a quick-fire conversation. It makes the audience physically turn their heads in order to keep up, almost like a tennis match. It’s interesting that a still piece of art can also provoke movement from the viewer, pulling them into a kinetic experience of the piece. Involving them at a deeper level than just passively watching.
R - I see the parallel.
H - It makes me think of that painting of the skull....
R - The Ambassadors by Holbein. I have made a deep study of that painting.
H – That's it! And you have to move about to see the skull.
R - You have to be at a 45-degree angle at the right side of the painting. It is the lowest hung painting in the National Gallery, so that the skull can be viewed in its proper shape.
H – Wow, Rex, you actually do know a lot about art!
R - I know as much about art as you know about Commedia dell'Arte, my friend.  Can we play my favorite song now?
H - Sure, whatever....

Friday, 7 January 2011

Around the table with...Didier Graffet.

Born near Lyon in 1970, Didier Graffet studied at the Cohl School in Lyon and began his illustration career in 1994; he is now considered one of the top painters of imaginary art in France. He has illustrated many classic texts (including Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues, The Knights of the Round Table, and The Ring of the Nibelung), won numerous awards (including the 2010 Ravenheart Award and the Grand Prix de l’imaginaire), and a book of his art, Mondes & Voyages, was published in 2007. 

Didier, Howard, Rex and some Croissant.

H: First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Didier. We have croissant on the way, and coffee brewing. So, let’s begin. We were talking in the pub last night about creativity... 
D: Yes.
H: ...and about how the artistic process is cross-disciplined. You mentioned that when a musician, for example, describes their creative process to you, it sounds very similar to your process as an illustrator. How would you describe your artistic process? I know it's a very broad question.
D: Something magic happens. It is very strange, very mysterious, this place where creative ideas come from. Sometimes you get a glimpse of an idea and as you sketch it out, little by little it becomes more concrete...and once it emerges fully, then it is only a matter of craft and technique to bring the image to completion. I don't have the words to explain properly, because it is very sensitive. It's a kind of magic. The process is slightly different, however, if I'm working on a book cover rather than inside-the-book illustrations or a painting of my own, as there is a frame for book covers and I have to make my design and vision within this frame. 

The Black Company.

H: That's a bit like creating storyboard art for film, then, isn't it Rex? Working within the limits of a frame, I mean.
R: That’s true. You know, until this last year I've always worked commercially for other people, mostly in the film and advertising industries. I'd be given a brief and then draw what I was asked to draw and there would be no personal expression involved -- so the creative process of expressing myself within my work is entirely new to me.
D: It's perhaps a bit different in book illustration. Even in a commercial process like making a book cover, there is room to find your own vision, to say what you want to say, although you have to find a way, also, to answer to the commercial needs of the publisher.
H: You told me at the pub last night, Didier, that you are trying to do more painting than illustrating now, because it is freer, it is more expressive of your own ideas. Is your internal process very different, then, when you paint rather than illustrate?
D: Not yet, but I think in a few years it will be, as my painting develops. I am too near the illustrative works now.
H: So despite all your experience and success as an illustrator, you still feel that you need time to develop as a painter? I think that many of the younger artists who look up to you might find that surprising!
D: Yes, I do, and right now I do not have the time. I hope that in two or three years I will be much more free to create my own universe...but it's difficult now, you know, because it's a difficult mental switch to make a book cover and then make a picture of my own, entirely out of my own imagination.
H: Are the two kinds of paintings very different then?
D: Yes, yes, because when you are free to paint what you want, you don't have outside judgement about your work; but when you are creating a painting for a book cover, it has to sell a book, so it must be ‘energic’, immediate. It is a one-shot picture. 
R: Yes. That's true in film and advertising art too.
D: But when I do inside-the-book illustrations, it is a little bit different. There is room for me to be more expressive.
H: So you were saying that you feel you need time to develop your painting style as something different than your illustration style?
Poster: Abracadagascarf.
D: Yes. I am always working to develop my own universe, and I would like to have more time for this. I try to do this in my book covers too: to put in what I like, such as nature and trees, but it's in my own paintings that I am free to express myself and travel fully to my imagination. It takes time to develop as an artist...time, experience, and patience. When I was younger and learning to paint, I was inspired by other artists work, but now I avoid looking too much at the websites of other illustrators, even though they are good, everything is good, but I want to develop my own imagination. I look instead at nature, and that's where I find my inspiration.
H: You've come to Dartmoor this week with a group of French artists, and you've been meeting with the artists who live here in our village, and the thing that you all have in common is a love of myth and mythic landscapes. Alan Lee, for example, one of the artists here, is very influenced by the landscape of Dartmoor – you can see it clearly in his drawings and paintings. So I wonder: You live in Normandy. Is that the landscape that feeds your imagination? 
D: Yes. I remember when I was a kid, I went to a retreat in the country...and you know, that landscape looked very much like the countryside here in Devon.
H: Did you grow up in the city then?
D: I grew up in the Pays d’Auge, Normandy, where my family has lived since four generations. It’s a special area, with very little mounds...you know, little mountains?
H: Er, hillocks?
  D: Yes, hillocks. We had a house in Brittany too, and that is also a landscape I love, the coast of the sea. But I'm not often a traveler. I like the idea of traveling within the imagination. I think it is much more important than physical travel. The power of imagination is without limits. I am sure this is the primary influence of my youngness.
H: Your youth.
D: Yes.
R: For years I worked in a studio in Soho, in London, and I didn’t get out into the countryside at all! I worked just from briefs, in advertising and film, always under pressure to work very, very fast...so when I first came to Dartmoor, about six years ago, and saw this imposing landscape, I was really thrown by it. It really knocked me out. Then I started to paint the landscape and I found myself painting really, really fast, just hammering it out... and then I stood back from the canvas and I remember thinking: I have all the time in the world to paint this, why am I working so quickly? I still haven’t been able to shake that commercial conditioning. All those years of practice at working really fast. I can’t stop! 
D: You were a storyboard artist for films?
R: In L.A. and London, yes. So speed is natural for me.
H: But speed is an important skill too. If you worked as slowly as some artists do, the films would never get done!
Cover: Children of Hurin.
R: And I wouldn’t be in a job.
D: It’s the same for me, I think. It is, as I said before, a different process creating an illustration than doing free painting, and with illustration, deadlines are always part of the process. That is one of the big differences, I think. With free painting, personal painting, it takes more time, and you must be able to give yourself that time. 
R: Yes, it takes time. That's something I'm learning now, after all those years making art in a more commercial way. As you said earlier, it takes time to find your own style, distinct from the work of other artists.
D: It takes time and it takes experience to realise the pictures that are in your own mind.
H: Do you have a clear picture in your mind when you begin a new painting, or do you just start drawing and allow the work to develop?
D: I have a picture, but it is not a very precise picture. I try to see with my sketch if I'm going the right way. The sketch is the first step in turning the picture in my mind into a painting, but the image might change as I work through the process. It's a process of technique, but also of exploration, discovery.
H: When I'm directing theatre, I have to start with something visual, I have to see something before my ideas will start to flow. I'll start with something simple, a movement or an image, and then I'll go from there. It's a continual feedback process for me: I'll see something in an actor's movement, or the introduction of a mask or a prop, and that will spark ideas, and then I'll try something else, and that in turn will spark more ideas. Perhaps that's the theatre equivalent of an artist's first sketches...? Like you, Didier, I have an idea in mind but it's not precise, and it changes as the work develops. What about you, Rex? Do you have a clear idea in mind when you start a picture?
R: Yes, actually, I do. Unlike you and Didier, I start with a very precise idea. When I'm drawing storyboards, I try to see the whole film scene in motion, from different camera angles; I try to see the whole thing, but moving, and then I ask myself: What is the most important frame? What’s the bit here that I need to make still? Then I imagine that moment in its completeness, in its entirety, and I draw it. That's my process.
  D: I also have to make a decision on point of view before I begin a picture. If I have a character to represent, I have to decide what is the best point of view in favour of... How do I explain? For example, if I've got a guy in a situation who is in danger, my point of view would be from the top, so that there is a menace. You say 'menace'?
La Dernière Flèche.
R: Yes, menace.
D: If the character is in a more powerful situation, I mentally turn the scene around in order to see him from a stronger perspective. But, I am limited by the dimensions of the book cover, and I have to think about where to put the text.
R: The point of view in storyboards is trickier, because I might have a terrific looking image on the page but it's useless if the cameraman can’t achieve the shot. The cameraman may say: I can’t take that shot, it’s too big, or broad. I can’t get high enough. When drawing a book cover, you may be limited by the size and shape of the book, but you will always be able to get the shot you want.
D: For book covers, I have to find a kind of rhythm in the picture so that I can realise the vision that I want...and if I can do that, then I am not so much limited by the text that will be on the painting.
H: Another thing that I wanted to ask you, Didier, is whether book illustration in France has changed over the years like it has in this country. We have a friend here in the village, Dave Wyatt, who illustrates books for English publishers, and for him the primary change is that the amount of time he has for each assignment has gotten less. He does a lot of his work on computer now, which is one way of keeping up with the faster deadlines. He'll do an initial sketch, scan it into the computer, and then complete the painting digitally. It's a method that has a lot of benefits, such as the ease with which he can make any changes the publisher wants. But you were saying, when we discussed this earlier, that there are drawbacks to this method too....
D: When I started illustrating, it was with real paintings, always. Over time I have had to evolve to the new, and all my latest covers have been digital. I, too, always start with a sketch on paper and then scan it into the computer. You have time for reflection when you draw by hand, but working digitally is like a performance, you have to go quickly. One advantage to the digital method is that it is easier to send files to a publisher. In the old days, I would send my original sketches and paintings by post, with the risk of damaging or losing the pictures.
H: The picture on the cover of your 2011 calendar, Les Mondes Fantastiques which you have very kindly given to us, was originally a digital picture, you said -- and you then made it into a painting.

Aéropolitain Quay No.3.

D: Yes!
H: One of the problems with digital images, Dave Wyatt has told me, is that you don’t actually have a finished object. It’s all just in the machine and you don’t have something physical at the end of the creative process.
D: Yes, that is so. I was asked to create the calendar by a publisher, and I had the freedom to chose the images I liked, so the cover picture is my own universe, my own vision and imagination; it is the real me. But I was frustrated when I finished the picture because I should have made this image much bigger. In my imagination it was meant to be big and impressive, not small and digital! So I re-created the picture in paint. And it changed a bit, it has different details, because the medium was different, the scale was different, and  because I re-painted it three or four months ago and I could see it with new eyes. 
R: And that was more fun? Going back to paint? 
D: Yes, more fun. More satisfying. The technique I used was different, too. When I work digitally I have a kind of pencil and brush -- but it is not my pencil, you know, not my hand on the brush. 
H: Do you use a pad when you're working on computer?
D: Yes, but I always want to be closer than the tablets allow -- so I bought a big tablet, where you draw directly on the screen. I wanted to see if I could reduce the space between my pen and the picture.
H: Is there a difference in that, if you are drawing live, you can put different weight on your pencil lines, but on a tablet...
D: ...you don’t have the same sensibility, yes. It’s plastic, even if you can push your pencil by digital means. When you are on paper, you can feel the frame of the page...not the frame...
H: The texture?
D: The texture, yes. And this I miss when I work on the tablet, the texture of the paper beneath my hand.
H: Sadly, Didier, we have run out of time! You need to go to meet the rest of the group for your ‘open studios’ tour that artists here are hosting for the French artists. Thank you very much for your time, and Rex and I will see you later at our ‘open studio.’

The Black Company, Dream of Steel.