Saturday, July 28, 2018

Exactly A Quarter Of A Century Later...Part Two.

A few months later, art director Louise sent me an email containing one line:

"I'm enclosing a brief that I think will make you very happy."

She wasn't wrong.

Finally the opportunity to illustrate the cover of this book that had been such a part of my DNA since the age of 11 was here, and I was excited. A special 200th Anniversary Edition of Wuthering Heights in hardback, to mark two hundred years since Emily Brontë's birth, was indeed a brief that made me very happy.

I expected to feel intimidated and a bit daunted by the responsibility, as I had with To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman, but in fact, I just remember feeling calm and mega-keen. I didn't have long to do it - I prescribe a sharp deadline to cure all procrastination ills - and all of the material was still there, stuffed away inside my head, after all; I just needed to draw on it.

Rather than plough through the piles of work I'd done for my degree, when I produced a stage version of WH set in the modern day, I decided to approach it afresh, as the reader I am now, and at the age I am now. There were to be no clichés on MY watch - no wailing Heathcliff, no bodices or moody/sexy Catherine. Instead, the landscape to the story - the moors, heather, sky, graveyard, stone buildings and the flora and fauna, not to mention the weather - is really the most important character in it, since it dictates and controls the livelihoods, personalities and actions of everyone living in it, so I let that be my guide.

And after all - every fan of this book has his or her 'own' Catherine and Heathcliff, so it was not for me to try to portray these people, who are different every time.

So actually, in an opposing path to the one taken in the creation of 'Ill Will' (in the last blog), one of the very first ideas I put together ended up being the final, pretty much un-messed with.

There were developments along the way, which looked like this - the first two inspired by cooooooooold snowy Japanese landscapes, together with my memories of the Ryuichi Sakamoto's soundtrack to Peter Kosminsky's 1992 version:

(OK, I thought maybe I might let myself explore a ghost or two.)

I thought the house needed to be in the picture, and this house is very much based on the shape of Top Withens - which is not the 'real' WH as there is no 'real' one, but its location was correct.

I confess to loving the lettering on this one, and praying that they'd go for it.

One of the very first ideas was this one, using strips of hand-inked work representing the different textures found on the moors - heather, grass, gorse, stone, threatening sky, clouds, gravestones, the moon. I'd have been extremely happy if they'd gone for this one, too - especially with that bold lettering!

In the end, it was the movement and colour of this one-take piece, combined with a little paper collage, that was the winner. The lettering was replaced with a font so that the background became the main focus, and away it went.

I could not believe it was done, and so quickly.

Printed on cotton wrapped around the meatiest of hardbacks, it's an incredibly satisfying book to hold:

And that, dear reader, is how it went.

A bucket list job, completed in just a couple of weeks. What's next, I wonder?

Buy your copy here 

Thank you to Louise at Harpercollins UK for asking me to do this project.

(If you'd asked anyone else, there'd be a curse upon you forever. But you already knew that.)

Exactly A Quarter Of A Century Later...Part One.

It's the weekend of the 200th anniversary Emily Brontë's birth, and the 25th anniversary month of my graduation from art college.  I've just read my 6000-word degree essay for the first time since handing it in; the one that pushed my mark up into a First when the visual work fell one mark below that grade, compromised, according to my tutors, by a last-minute decision to create a stage production of 'Wuthering Heights' for my final project, rather than go for something more traditionally in the realm of 'illustration'.

Aged 11 I watched the film with my Grandma. Against my Mum's better judgement (she didn't know till I told her that evening) Grandma casually got on with her chores while I gauped at the black and white screen as Heathcliff, insane with grief, dug Catherine out of her coffin. It was GRIPPING. Aged 13, I read it for the first time, and voracious reader that I was, I'd never read anything like this. Better than the film, violently engrossing as that was, this was no cosy period drama, lacking witty bright heroines and happy boy-girl matches and sparkling dialogue. This was ultimately a story about loss, or of never having had anything in the first place: Catherine cannot own property, being a woman, and therefore has little to no control over her fate beyond marriage; Heathcliff arrives shoeless without even so much as a known parent or identifiable ethnicity.

Growing up against the homely things of ever-blazing hearth, clanking pots in the kitchen (just like Emily would have known at her Parsonage), and well-run stables housing big snuffling horses, the people inside the book are nonetheless helpless against the landscape in which they exist, both politically and environmentally. These isolated children of darkness fight for survival in a freezing, remote area away from polite society, hardly knowing how to interact with it when they do encounter it, and attaching themselves to each other in a way that guarantees mutually ensured destruction: each is dependant on the other, whether that's for financial, familial, emotional or societal reasons - in most cases, all of the above. Continually warned and threatened about the murky consequences of the godless life they live by bible-thumping Joseph, and a two-faced housekeeper who hides her passive  love of drama under a facade of obliging innocence, their existence is one of fundamental outcomes: life, death, starvation, hypothermia, poverty, wealth. The exploration of class feels way ahead of its time - the message being that you can never truly migrate from one class to another, since you'll always be 'one of your own kind' - and the sense of 'othering' is vivid: Heathcliff is neither one race nor the other, he has no known parentage, and even when rescued does not live long in the comfort of his adoptive father's care before he is reminded cruelly of his floating nature: he is an outsider, an immigrant, and he's welcome nowhere. Which is why, when Catherine attaches herself to him as all-encompassing companion, carer, sister, lover and mother-figure, he implodes when she appears to leave him behind.

All this coupled to the tingle of incest, revenge, the supernatural, the preternatural and grave-robbing - how could it not have worked its way into my impressionable psyche? I have often wondered, actually, if it explains some of the less than desirable characteristics I still struggle with from time to time.

The tutors' warnings were, then, appropriately and amusingly melodramatic. 'Don't risk it, it's too much of a deviation from your chosen topic!' 'You're set to get a first and you might throw it all away!' - probably, with hindsight, reverse psychology from a set of canny tutors who knew that I responded to competition and anyone saying 'no' by going into production overdrive. (Tellingly, on my 40th birthday my college mate Mel and my family colluded to make me a pair of earrings, on the box of which was Emily Brontë's quote, 'I'll walk where my own path would be leading'.) Whatever their plan, it worked, as I've spent my whole life since that time illustrating professionally full-time, which is what I'd aimed for (but not once, as I would often tell students, have I been asked for my grade. So anyone who's worried about that: stop. Right now!)

My Degree Show Face! (Body Shop Autumn lippy)

My stage production for Wuthering Heights was an all-consuming, lonely six-month project in which the outcomes were a full stage design, 8 one-third-size costume figures, two full-size adult costumes, a storyboard, location-based photoshoot series, poster design, and 18 crammed sketchbooks. I used every material I could - metal, fabric, wood, plaster, clay, found objects - watched every version, read every stage script, and listened to my oddly electronic 'Wuthering' mixtape repeatedly to get me in the doom-zone:

Plunging back into this visceral and violent story with no true happy ending, about ungrateful, hateful characters who bring all the misery on themselves (yes, even Isabella - she was warned!) I was obsessed, and immersed. Equal parts gutted and relieved when it was over, I used the work to get in the papers, get two solo exhibitions, and freelance for the Brontë Society and assorted theatres including the Royal Shakespeare Company.

My first ever bit of press (after birth, 28th and graduation announcements!)

...and my second ever press.
As the years went by I illustrated many famous books, but the much-loved WH never came my way - paperback editions came and went, cloth-bound Penguin classics and exotic foreign editions came and went, and my stage set and costume figures gradually fell apart, so I dismantled them and hid their heads in the pond and garden, their creepy eyes ready to unnerve whoever peered too deeply into the water on a clear day. The 'Catherine' costume made it out of the loft for a Hallowe'en event one night, then went carefully back in. I secretly wished that this book would one day require a new cover that fitted my work, but never gave it too much thought, figuring Emily B was an important part of my past, but she was definitely part of my past. In time Andrea Arnold's film version was released, the closest to my own envisioning of it, with a non-white and resolutely not Laurence Olivier Heathcliff (just like mine). Set in the right time period environmentally, it used thoroughly 21st century language. Hindley would absolutely have been using the C word, and the debates the film triggered online reminded me satisfyingly of my own dramas when designing a 'modern day' version of the story.

So, you've probably figured out what happened next!

I ended up designing the covers for not one, but two Brontë-related books. In 2017, my old client Louise McGrory, from my previous days illustrating covers for chick-lit, got in touch to ask about a cover for a new hardback book by Michael Stewart, called 'Ill Will - The Untold Story of Heathcliff'. Imagining the years in which Heathcliff - now revealed to be William Lee - goes missing, it posits a life in which he makes an ungodly living from the self-styled 'medium' daughter of a highwayman, a living which will take him back to Wuthering Heights where the story will pick up at the familiar chapter.

I've always been dubious about books which attempt to 'fill in' missing bits of famous novels, or propose 'alternative endings' - there was a particularly dodgy one where Catherine Earnshaw doesn't actually die post-childbirth but survives and secretly runs away with Heathcliff - so I wasn't sure I wanted to be associated with it at first. I said yes on the strength of Louise's glowing review, and the author's respected profile and renowned research. And indeed, the book is excellent.

There were MANY roughs and mockups for this cover. Should 'William' be shown? Should he be handsome? Look like a devil? Keep it abstract?

'My' Heathcliff of more than 24 years before - for every fan has their own -  had a definite look. Here is mine  in his 1993 photo shoot, angsty and wearing his hand-stitched patchwork waistcoat. I *really* needed to avoid channelling him for this cover!

Note: my model, obliging as he was, was not mixed race, nor did he have the luxury of time to get a ripped body, like the one in my sketches:
(I wonder where Anthony, the second-year graphics student I borrowed as a model, is now?)

 So I tried all the above approaches and more (here are a few):

until we began to narrow it down to a more atmosphere-based look, created entirely of ink on paper:

Before it was decided that the figure was actually too much of a distraction and possibly more suited to a young adult book (which this isn't) - so he was removed, leaving just the cold moon, and unusually for one of my books, deleting the idea of hand-drawn lettering:

At the last moment the bare-branched tree was added at the author's request for dramatic effect, and the job, after four weeks (or was it 24 years and 4 weeks?) went to press in full colour on a cotton-wrapped hardback, and it was done!

The finished book, on one of my sketchbooks for the stage production of WH. That's drawn from a real-life abandoned farmhouse up near Top Withens.

'Ill Will' over an A3 double page painting of the moors, made after my solo research trip up there in January 1993, on the worst weather day of the year. My beloved Grandpa died the afternoon that I was up there, so I designed one of the characters, Joseph, in his image.

And there it is!

Stand by for the next blog about what happened next. For it was a biggie...


Related Posts with Thumbnails