Exercise: Getting the gist

Exercise: Getting the gist

This exercise got me to think a lot. It got me to think about the role of an image accompanying a text.
I thought it has been particularly difficult to support the text, showing personality, rather than just express the illustrator’s opinion.
I choose the editorial from the April 2014 issue of the magazine National Geographic.
Here is the full article, where I underlined what, in my opinion, summarizes the text and I evidenced in yellow the key concepts:

National Geographic, April 2014, The bear in the backyard

This brief editor’s note gave me many ideas. In the beginning I thought of a man treating a big carnivore (lion or similar) like a pet. While he cuddles him, the animal thinks of his basic instincts.
The second idea was about an inversion of perspective: an animal treating a human like a pet and bringing him in his habitat. A penguin bringing a man in the Antarctica, for example. Or a bear bringing his human pet into his cave and pretending him to share his habits (hibernation, for example).

First sketches

I was pretty happy about the last idea, even because a bear is part of the title, but after sketching the scene and thinking more and more, I thought I was probably going too far. Moreover, the image would have needed some words to be clear, but I actually wanted the image to be strong enough itself.

Sketch of bear in hibernation

I came back on the exercise on the day after, with more ideas.
I wanted to convey the idea that it is doubtful whether animals – particularly wild animals – ought to be pets. How and why should humans decide about the sorts of an animal if man is a beast himself?
That is when I thought of a chain of animals and people. But I thought looking at that the most visible concept would have been relativity and that was probably going again too far from the core idea.
My final idea came with the thought that humans cannot always decide about the destiny of an animal, they cannot do it just for their amusement.
I first thought of a fishbowl containing a shark, obviously totally squished in, dragged by a girl who has love thoughts about him. The shark, forced into the human world, thinks what he could have done if he was free in the wild.

Sketch of shark on a leash

I was not happy with the sketch and I thought to substitute the shark with another very big animal. A bear would have been appropriate – again because of the title – but I wanted something stronger, like an animal who could never been walked on a leash and who wouldn’t move even if pulled very strongly.

Sketches of human pulling seal/walrus

That’s what I came up with, my final piece:

Final piece

The man is trying to walk the walrus, obviously with no success. The animal is totally ignoring the man’s purpose. The walrus thinks: Why should this guy do that? Who is deciding and for whose benefits?
I left the man like a dummy to focus the attention on the walrus and his opinion, as to involve the observer in the animal perspective.
I kept the technique simple, fineliner and watercolours.

The way to my final piece was quite long and hard, but I really like the outcome of this exercise.

Exercise: The history of illustration – Edward Bawden VS Milo Manara

Exercise: The history of illustration – Edward Bawden VS Milo Manara

It has been very interesting to research about the authors proposed in the first exercise.
Edward Bawden’s style caught my eyes immediately, that is why I choose his works.
Going through Bawden’s biography, we can notice that he comes from a proper art background. He was born in 1903 and studied at Cambridge School of Art between 1918 and 1922. He then won a scholarship for the Royal College of Art in London and started to teach book design and illustration from 1928. While teaching he was busy in purely commercial commissions for various clients which included the London Underground, Twinings, Curwen Press, Natwest Bank and many others. His career as an illustrator of books, posters, wallpapers, ect., continued until he was appointed as a war artist in 1940.
Overviewing his activity, I noticed that his subjects were pretty various: from the colourful adverts, to the landscapes and portraits of the war period, to his passion for Kew Gardens and cats.
The techniques used are mostly watercolours, printmaking and gouache.
I didn’t find his style antiquated, particularly his linocuts look pretty contemporary to me, with vivid colours and a non-conventional overall impression.
However, I think we can spot in some subjects and the way they changed in time and also in the outfit of the people pictured in his illustrations, impressions of a man who lived actively the first half of the XX century.
Kew Gardens (1936)DernaP.B.F.A. (1983)

As a contemporary illustrator, I choose Milo Manara. He is an illustrator and comic book artist, born in 1945 in Northern Italy. His educational background is in architecture even though he was working at decorative panels since the age of 12. While studying architecture in Venice, he met the Spanish sculptor Miguel Beroccal and became his assistant.
Through Beroccal’s wife, Manara discovered the value of comics and he decided to use this communicative medium to build an active role in the society.
Part of his background is also the involvement in the 1968 movements, which saw Manara contrasting the Biennale of Venice along with lots of other artists.
Manara considered the comic writer and artist Hugo Pratt as his mentor, and became famous worldwide for his erotic subjects, often inspired to history and literature.
What I love about Manara’s work is definitely his style: the way he is using ink and watercolours is something I look to achieve in the future.
I also love the fact that he can explain history from an unusual point of view (erotic, of course!) which is, we have to admit, absolutely captivating and, why not, kind of funny.


I think it is really challenging to compare the two artists: they lived a different time, in different countries, with totally different outcomes.
Trying to imitate their style has been really difficult but very interesting and stimulating at the same time.

Edward Bawden

I choose to consider Bawden’s cat-lover side, practicing with my beginner level printmaking skills.
I decided to make a linocut, because I thought it would have give that ‘Bawden impression’ and because I think it is a very interesting medium which I am willing to discover better.
The cat idea was flashing in my mind since I started looking at Bawden’s works.

I made a first sketch of my idea, a cat asking for food:


After some adjustments I draw the image again, focusing more on the big cat and using a black watercolour pencil to give an impression of the final result:

Second sketch

Next step was copying the image onto the lino. I used some tracing paper to get the outline and then using some carbon paper I transferred it on the lino surface.

I cutted the lino obtaining this matrix:

MatrixThen I printed out 2 copies:

2nd printfirst print

I really enjoyed this experiment. I still need to learn how to repair some mistakes in linocut and I will soon practice this technique again.
I think the second print should have been done with more ink, but I think the raw look gives interesting texture to the image.
I am pretty satisfied with the result and also I really loved the effect of prints on newspaper!

Milo Manara

To get something in Manara’s style I thought about two basic things: women and use of watercolours

I had three ideas in my thumbnails, but I was more inspired by the first one, a woman lying in a natural pool, almost fusing with the steamy water.

I made a quick skecth and tried on my sketchbook some watercolours, to understand how to get Manara’s effect.

I sketched the drawing again on bristol paper and then used a fineliner to pick the essential outlines. I used watercolours, mostly proceeding by layers and lastly I used the fineliner again to evidence some details.

It was really interesting to work at this piece, in fact I think my confidence in using watercolours made a jump ahead. Yet, I am not entirely satisfied: I am not very happy with the anatomy and not sure I reached the aim of the exercise: to communicate the style of this great artist.