Pestilence has to be one of my favourite designs that we have released so far. It came out as part of the London Pharaohs Collection last September and is, perhaps, the design that most typifies the style that we are into; classic death iconography.
When we first decided on the subject matter for London Pharaohs, it was because we needed one theme that could run across, and tie together, a series of designs that would be featuring in the collection. In the past, we have looked at the Major Arcana cards of the tarot deck, as well as the deadly sins, but this time round, the plagues of Egypt seemed like a great fit.
As I would be drawing all the artwork for this collection myself, I decided that I would approach them one at a time and not in the order that the plagues were supposed to have happened. Pestilence was the fourth or fifth design that I started work on, though it's actually the sixth plague.
The main idea came from an engraving used on the book cover of Babble by Charles Satchi. I'd seen it a while back, and always liked the idea of using a huge open mouth in a picture. The hands emerging from the sea, clutching stone tablets, came from a sketch I drew in 2008 for a piece I never started. Strange how things become useful a lot later on!
This collection had to be designed to strict deadlines, to make sure everything was available to print at the right time. This meant that I only completed a couple of very quick gesture sketches before I began drawing the final piece. The original drawing was going to feature a huge tree in the middle, but this didn't work so I switched it to a mouth and the design headed off in a new direction.
As so many of the designs centred around the same grid, I designed one in Adobe Indesign and printed out copies on Bristol Board. I drew each design over the grid. I would usual draw the grid by hand with ruler and compass. Above is the finished pencil artwork after it has been turned to blue (cyan) in Photoshop. This step helps later when scanning in inked artwork. I also find inking over a cyan print less distracting than a grey one.
I inked this piece in the usual way, using two of my favourite techniques. Areas are first drawn with black ink over the cyan print. Edges are feathered to create shadows, like those on the underside of the hands, and stippling is used to create texture on areas like the stone blocks and arches. The inked waves feature in nearly every piece I design and have become a kind of signature.
The next step is painting back over the black areas with dots of white Tippex. I used this technique a lot on the underside of the lips and the highlights on the vipers. Working black on white and then white on black adds an extra layer of depth to each piece and opens up a lot of new possibilities.
Once the design was finished it was screen printed onto our usual heavy ringspun cotton shirts. They accept the ink very well and hold all of the detail from the design, which is very important when there is a lot of fine detail involved.
We'll be doing a spotlight on each design in the collection in the upcoming months, so check back. Which design would you like us to blog about next? Leave comments below. If you liked this post please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.