The commission to make the image of Saint George and the Dragon for English Heritage Magazine, came in over Christmas while Peter and I were staying with our friends Liz and Graham at their home near Lamonzie Montastruc, Dordogne.
Because the deadline for completion was so tight, and moreover I needed to get a preliminary off for approval before we returned to the UK, the first sketches for the painting were made at the kitchen table while Lizzie busied herself with preparations for supper – and puss thought that sitting in the middle of my sketch pad was a good way to help me better concentrate. (Here she is getting my attention to let her in!)
A few days later, back in my studio and with the clock ticking down, I painted into the small hours to complete the work so that I could deliver it for scanning at the National Library of Wales the following morning. Skin of the teeth timing!
Framed and titled ‘Field of Play’, the painting sold at the Martin Tinney Gallery a couple of weeks before it appeared in the Spring edition of English Heritage Magazine. I’m currently working on the next image in the series.
I think I should go to stay with Liz and Graham whenever carrying out commissioned work. La Crabouille is clearly conducive to my creative flow!
My what complicated negative space and overlapping–really shows that you have thought a great deal about the collision between these sorts of shapes (horse, dragon, armor, tiny distant “islanded” landscape) previously. And highly suitable to a gesture that begins in positive space and penetrates hidden (a different kind of negative) space and emerges again–in and out the unfortunate throat of the dragon…
Perhaps ‘puss’ had an unconscious paw in the process? And as for ‘tight schedules…’ na, we’ve had that chat MANY times.
Seriously, delighted for you and greatly looking forward to what comes next.
Clive, I was wondering if you approach a painting for an illustration brief, such as this, in a different way to how you approach a painting for an exhibition? I ask, because I was looking at your earlier Saint George paintings today, and this is a very different George you give us here. I know this is only a taster for the campaign to come, so I do appreciate that you may not be fully able to answer my question.
I can immediately spot your references to the “Gawain” print series in this painting, but what strikes me the most is how much your time spent illustrating picture books and making animated films for the stage, in recent years, is coming to the fore in your work for the “Telling Tales” campaign. To me, your English Heritage Saint George looks as though he would be very much at home galloping across the pages of a graphic novel, or as part of a storyboard for an animated film. This painting is as clear, vivid and dynamic as a movie still, or a frame from a comic book, and it feels like I might be able to glimpse much more of the story, if I could just see to the left or the right of this picture. I think what we are seeing here is you refining your ideas down to the absolute minimum, in order to meet the requirements of an illustration brief, but still keeping all the key elements that are instantly recognisable as yours, which makes for a striking image.
“Telling Tales” is a campaign rooted in the traditions of storytelling, and what I take from the graphic nature of “Field of Play” is the sense of a tale being actively told, so there is the thrill of imagining who or what we are going to meet next, from myth, legend and folklore, as your pictures go by, just like a magic lantern show. It’s a fanciful notion that takes me back to one of my favourite books from childhood, which was “Puck of Pook Hill”, Rudyard Kipling’s imagined history of Pook’s Hill in East Sussex, where he lived with his family. In the book, Kipling creates a myth of England’s history told by a resurrected Puck, the impish faerie that Shakespeare had himself laid down from the collective memory centuries before. The book is Rudyard Kipling’s paean to England, to history and to childhood. At the time, I was captivated by the idea of being able to experience all these episodes from history for myself, just like Kipling’s children were doing in the book, as well as holding out the hope that I might one day manage to conjure up Puck, if I could just stage “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on a Midsummer’s Eve in my garden!
The joy of a good illustration, like yours, is that it provides a window into these kinds of imagined realms, many of which stay with us from childhood, and I can still allow myself the luxury of gazing out the window, and sending my imagination out like a bird to fly over the landscape, which you so kindly provide for us, where I can make my own discoveries. Perhaps with the multimedia nature of this campaign, I may get an opportunity to do this in virtual reality, and not just in my daydreams?! Thanks for adding some much needed wonder to this cold and windy Friday evening in Yorkshire!
Sarah, it’s strange I should find this question here, just as I’d finished answering one at my Facebook page that raised similar ideas.
Clearly an illustration is not an easel painting. The two fulfil completely different functions. That is not to say that the former is any less considered than the latter. It’s just different. Truthfully, I could not have made the St. George illustration for English Heritage Magazine at such speed, had I not done all of that early St. George work on the easel paintings ‘Green George’, ‘Battlefield’ and ‘Flight of Swallows Over the Field of Gold’. Nevertheless, the research, soul-searching and sheer effort that go into making a painting intended – if such a thing is possible – to withstand close and prolonged scrutiny for its lifetime, can also feed into an illustration that has to get its message over quickly and with clarity. Even the transmission is different, because the illustration is designed to work as a reproduced image, and the illustrator has to understand how that may be best achieved. It has to have a simplicity and a graphic dynamic that isn’t necessarily a consideration in an easel painting.
The narratives of the English Heritage ‘Telling Tales’ campaign have to work across many platforms, and the art directors leading the project have been clear in their briefings to me. (A lot of the references they’ve mentioned are from the fourteen Gawain prints.) From the beginning the dialogues have been all about how to get across scenarios and characters with swiftness. Extraneous details get pared away. Backgrounds are minimal, colour, vibrant, compositions, kinetic. But this doesn’t mean that the content need be lightweight. The emotion is all present and correct, it’s just that the expression is leaner, sharper, faster. And yes, I hope that there will be throughout, that sense of a narrative outside the edges of the image. Like characters in a film, ours must have lives beyond what we see.
Yes please, come more often! You know you’re more than welcome, we love having you to stay! That wee drawing is so charming, like seeing a babe in arms as he grows to be a fine masterpiece of an artwork. Now when can we expect you again? XxL
Oh Lizzie, tomorrow, if I had my way! XXX
Stunning work, Clive. I really do not know how you do it! 💕