Saturday, April 23, 2016

Me and Shakespeare.

My whole life - well since I learned to read - has had a constant stream of words woven through it, connecting me with poets, novelists and playwrights, first as child watching black and white classics with my Grandma, through school in English Literature classes and then as an illustrator making pieces of work inspired by writing.

I thought it was about time I catalogued the famous and not so famous writers I've worked with and for, as I have had the pleasure of working with many.

Today is 'Shakespeare 400' day - he died on his birthday - so I'm sharing some of the pieces I did for the big re-brand of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust a few years ago. This blog wasn't running then, so it didn't really get catalogued.

The Guardian recently ran this article on Ten Ways In Which Shakespeare Changed The World, and it's absolutely true that his ideas, take on life and way of putting things - and actually, in very easy language, once you can get past the schoolkid fear of the writing style - are very much part of our vocabulary today. "A fool’s paradise" is his, as is  “the game is up”; “dead as a doornail”; “more in sorrow than in anger” and “cruel, only to be kind” - there are LOADS.

My love for William Shakespeare began with the visuals though, when an Auntie bought us 'The Bloody Book', a Victor Ambrus-illustrated collection of simplified Shakey stories that spared none of the visceral gore of the plays. My Mum was dubious about it, but we loved the blood-splattered ghost of Duncan, and Romeo outstretched on the deceased Juliet. Romeo was devastatingly handsome, and Juliet had fantastic red hair, all captured in Ambrus's jittery inked line and furiously energetic 70s colours. They were the most terrifying and brilliant drawings I'd ever seen.

'All day long the battle raged'

While I could never reach the dizzying skill levels of Victor's pen nib, I did end up working with Shakespeare - as a degree student I made a pop-up recipe book full of disgusting Tudor recipes to make a meal 'as eaten in Shakespeare's Day', illustrated of course - part of a fictional rebranding of Stratford on Avon. A few years later I got to do the real thing.

Sadly this branding was replaced recently with a rather safe font-only option and all of the signage removed, so no trace of it exists. However, this is what it looked like, produced in collaboration with PHWT in Leamington Spa. I think they saw the spiky calligraphic nib action I was doing a lot of at the time (thanks in no small part to Victor A) and saw a match:

So wobbly! I'm still amazed how much they embraced the wonkiness and energy of the lettering. 
It's a bit raw innit?

I drew each of the houses in the Birthplace Trust's care - these are still some of my favourite illustrations:

Later on I did this poster for a Wyndham Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing - classic Shakespeare in that it's a slight cuss, but a loving one, and a delayed-reaction one too:

And later on this series of book covers for Quarto - one for each book - which in the end didn't go ahead, but I enjoyed the process of doing the work. 

I like to think there may be more Shakespeare projects to explore  in coming years, but there are so many writers in the world - maybe I should just wait and see what comes my way. It's nice to mine the past, but brilliant new things are being written every day.

I'll be covering my relationship with other writers in upcoming blogs - Dickens, Austen, the Bront√ęs, Sage Francis, Katie Wirsing, Buddy Wakefield, Jo Nadin, Hayley Long, Robert Burns...and a little bit of Robert Frost.

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