Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Whatever our souls are made of...

When I was in my final year studying Visual Communication, I didn't want to be an illustrator - or rather, I didn't really know what one was. I was very into theatre and costume and three dimensional things, and had by around Christmas time got my heart set on that instead. My final project - you know, the big one where they let you do anything you want for a whole two terms, and write endlessly about it - was a stage production of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, including eight third-life-size costume figures, ten costume designs, a stage set, on-location photo shoots and an ad campaign, together with all the storyboarding.

It also included a black Heathcliff (no-one had done this yet). I got my degree, had my photograph taken by the press ('Crazy Designer Dresses Up As Bronte Heroine!'), went to work for the Bronte Society as a consultant educational 'geek' and that, after a while, was that.

(Since the work was done before anything went digital, I don't have many shots, but this is Cathy - the daughter of Catherine).

Twenty years later, I've just seen the Andrea Arnold version of the film, in which she not only casts complete unknowns but includes her (my) black Heathcliff, removes enormous amounts of dialogue, starves it of music and focuses hard on the horrifically cold, muddy, violent reality of living in isolation on the moors in the early 1800s. Animal fur, feathers, wet grass, dirt, coaly faces, ice and horizontal rain. It really is like that - I've been in it, and I've shivered the consequences. In essence, she came as close to 'my' interpretation of the book as it is possible to get.

Obviously, the 3D work lasted only a couple of years and I became a fully-fledged illustrator. And, the same week I went to see the film I was asked to create the cover for a new hardback book about the Bronte sisters, called 'The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne'. I was beside myself with excitement. Did they want Branwell in there too? Maria and Elizabeth? The shadow of Patrick in the background? Well, no - this was just about the three best-known of the siblings - but nonetheless, I was very happy to do it, especially since the brief was all about the torrid, freezing vibe up there on those legendary moors. There have been many, many books on the sisters since Mrs Gaskell's 'biography' of Charlotte not long after her death, so I'm keen to see if this throws up any new research or discoveries.

Since it's not published yet, I can't show the whole thing, but here's a bit of it. When it's on shelves, I'll let you know.

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