Most of the time, I hate what I do.
Not the end product, or even the rising excitement that comes before I start work on something new. Just the way it never goes as it should. Spending hours, days and weeks drawing tiny dots and lines, one next to the other, with no idea if the vision that was in my head will translate to the finished piece. It is a long and torturous process.
Finding ideas is worse! Each one seems to drift like vapour out of a locked vault in my head. When I am really in need of a graphic starting point, and am looking for that spark to get things moving forward, ideas either never arrive, or are so fleeting that I can barely pull them down onto paper.
Revelations was different. The ideas came so fast that I barely had time to make scribbled notes.
For a while, I’d been wanting to explore the subject of epiphanies and how much of a lasting effect they can have. The first time you act on feelings of lust, or read about the infinity of space, are moments that shape you and stay with you. These are milestones in human development and, because of the unexpected and powerful way in which they appear, they are something that fascinates me as an artist.
Bringing it back to earth
Revelations, the title I chose for what would become the new collection, was dreamed up before I had even thought about any individual designs. The word alone seemed to ignite so many possibilities and, with the obvious Biblical reference (although there would be no direct religious iconography depicted), it carries weight and an otherworldly, haunting familiarity. This was to be the first collection that truly centred around a single word.
I decided that each of the seven or eight pieces that would make up the series, would be based inside a frame that would give the whole collection a stained glass window style, similar to the image below.
Even more importantly, each piece would lock together with the next, making a set of drawings that, when viewed in a certain order, would make up a larger design. I’d not done anything like this before, so didn’t really have a clear starting point, but I was feeling good about things at this point. I may have given up, had I known what was to come.
Setting the ideas alight
It was my girlfriend, Lucy, who sat with me and drafted the first group of ideas, and her input helped steer the project and push it forward quicker than I could have done it alone. I have spent years drawing death and everything to do with it, so I was looking forward to adding something new to this. Maybe I could research other areas of art that I had not explored before. Maybe I could look back at what started my love affair with graphic poster art and throw some of that fuel back on the fire. I wanted this collection to burn hot with detail and concepts.
Below are the notes we both made during that first conversation. The ideas would later transform into the final concepts.
- Science: Arts | Intellect | Knowledge
- Morality: Heaven and Hell | Justice | Scales | Ethics
- Manipulation: Bending things to your will
- Unrequited Love: Despair | Suicide | Madness
- Hunger: Gratification | Feasts | Fruits | Adam and Eve
- Lust: Perversion
- Mortality: Death | Tombs | Gardens
- Space: Infinity | Our place in the Universe | Planets (Astrology and Astronomy)
From the outset, this collection seemed to be pulling in a different direction from usual. I had a framework for each piece in mind, but needed the whole set of designs to work as one, when placed side by side. This would mean bleeding certain, carefully chosen elements from one piece to the next. The sunlight that illuminated the whole sky of Lust, would then flow into Death and disappear behind the mounted knight. The intricate plates of coral, which would rise up beneath the galleon in Unrequited, would then shift across and appear at the bottom of Morality.
As well as this jigsaw puzzle of symbols and icons, I wanted to work an almost psychedelic, or art nouveau element into certain designs, to break up the rectangular borders. Soon, the whole thing became a kind of graphic riddle, with constant shifting and changing to make sure everything flowed as it should.
By now, Revelations seemed to be taking on a life of its own. The more I tried to calculate the right approach, the more I got lost amongst the layers of smoke, the decaying skulls and the silent landscapes. There seemed no right place to start drawing . As always, I prepared no sketches first, and moved straight into the final pencil artwork. This is by no means an easy route, but I’ve found it to be the only way in which I can get the immediacy of my ideas across. If i sketch an idea, more often than not, I lose interest in it.
I spent hours sifting through reference images, pulling things out, and trying to change and add to the imagery that I often use. Skeletal, Egyptian-style dancing women, wooden warships and underwater seascapes sat beside my more familiar icons, like skulls, ribbons of smoke and flowers.
This was fast becoming a demanding, and all-consuming graphic project and as it progressed it became more and more difficult. I felt excited and overwhelmed. Pushing forward and racing ahead to try and bring all this under control. As you’ll read in part two, this turned out to be an extremely productive place to be.