Les Petites Soeurs Gouache

Me old matey Steve Simpson’s story about acrylic paint drying on the brush during his Italian painting holiday prompted me to bring along a set of gouache tubes on our family camping spell in France. Good thing too -there was a real heatwave for much of the time. I didn’t get much painting done but I managed to get some time to doodle in the bar whilst the bairns were in the mini-club. I tore off part of an empty cereal packet which served as a palette for the entire time I was there.
I can’t really remember what I wanted to achieve with these two. I seem to recall that I wanted to give them a kind of deathly, consumptive pallor -and that they’re supposed to be sketches for a future painting. I used varying mixtures of cyan, magenta, yellow and ochre for the skin tones [Why is it that gouache sets keep to printers’ colours? Perhaps because gouache was the preferred medium of graphic designers?]. I aimed to keep the whites of their eyes tonally similar to the skin.
Gouache is a pleasant and forgiving medium and I must use it more. The high density of pigment allows the building up of colour and it’s possible to use a wet brush to blend at any stage. I brought a good high-quality Hahnemühle 5″ x 5″ sketchbook with me; no amount of blending or reworking broke down the surface of the paper. Mmmmmmmm.

Sketchbook scribbloids 2

I escaped from my studio last afternoon in order to buy some materials -and to spend time staring into space in a café. I had my sketchbook with me and doodled away a couple of hours over a pot of tea.

I meant to take some time to generate ideas for my Cafepress prints and cards shop that I’ve had for a year without developing. It needs filling with new illustrated products. Anyway, nothing was springing to mind, so my attention wandered.

Evolution of Flight: Art for Irish Times ‘Innovation’

It took two generations to reach the rocket age from Man’s first powered flight. It took me three days. Here’s how, but first settle yourself in, make sure that your seat-belt is buckled and switch on your reading light. Enjoy the flight.

The editor of the Irish Times Innovation Magazine called with a request for an image that would convey how businesses can learn from past failures. As usual, I sent in a few suggestions by email, sketched quickly with just enough information to show the thrust of what I thought would work for them. At left, I’ve cobbled them all together, so you can see at a glance the different approaches on offer.

The editor went for the flight-related idea, which was by far the strongest. It also provided particularly fertile ground for humour. We needed to know that our character had tried flights before and come off worst against gravity, so I put a plaster cast on his leading leg and named the apparatus ‘Phoenix III’. I also wanted to suggest that this was taking place in Dublin city. It’s an inaccurate portrayal but you must remember that the editorial process is almost always pressed for time. I had a look at a few references for the GPO on the electric internet and away I went. The bus had to be an approximation as I wasn’t prepared to wait for one to come by.

This is the drawing, directly made onto the stretched paper. I started, as ever, laying down colour straight over the line

[I always start by laying down a wash of burnt umber and or sap green. Whatever you use, it’s best to work on a ground that isn’t the bright white of the paper].

I made sure that I didn’t lose the line by brushing over the pencil with black at the same time darkening any of the deeply shadowed areas.

I then began blocking in the principle areas of colour. I took the character to a reasonably finished stage because I was as yet unclear how I
would describe the background. If there had been time, I would have made a small colour sketch to determine the background in such a way so as not to distract from the central character. The principal function of illustration is to convey a message, so it’s important that whatever you do doesn’t create visual clutter.

This is the finished art that I submitted to the Irish Times. You’ll notice that I moved the shadow downwards because it looked as if he was about to scrape his undercarriage on the stonework. Now that would be a business failure. I also toned back the cityscape with a little white and cyan suspended in matte acrylic medium. It gives the impression of distance and magnitude, while isolating the main character and maintaining focus on the message.

The second illustration is obviously related to the first, with the same character, now almost entirely encased in plaster, happily rocketing [to a spectacular death?]. Since it was a progression of the first idea, it also required less work in sketching out details. Once again, the same stipulation applied that the composition be set in an urban environment [my tendency being towards laziness and the abstract shapes of nature!]. Still, I enjoyed playing with the details -the little lights blinking in the dusk; tiny plumes of smoke rising from chimneys; the vague shapes of buildings; the frightened cat and the surprised face in the window. I also had our man dropping his crutch to help along the suggestions of movement and height. In all, each illustration took about eight hours to complete, although I could’ve gone on, given time. It isn’t often that what you like doing coincides with what your clients need but when it happens, you’re flying! I hope that this helps you appreciate what goes into good, meaningful and unique art for business. Hopefully, this will encourage you to test how well those drab, meaningless stock CDs fly. I’m McSherry; Fly me.

Irish Times Business This Week illustration

Kevin McSherry illustration for the Irish Times
Kevin McSherry: for the Irish Times

This is a review of this week’s BTW illustration. The topic: How banks are fawning all over us in an embarrassing way in order to lend us money. [For my part, I insist that all loan negotiations be carried out while my bank manager is dressed in a gimp outfit]. Below is one of the first idea sketches [there were others, but along different lines].

I then worked up a more elaborate sketch to show the editor:

Once approved, I squared up my stretched paper and drew the composition accurately. Don’t try that banker’s position at home. I had to hire another model, after the first one put his back out trying to achieve the desired pose. I had to remove him from the premises in a wheelbarrow:

Irish Times Illustration: Four Men in a Boat

It’s been a tough week. Whatever about the good weather outside; it’s been snowed-under here in the studio. Preparation, which is almost complete for my onslaught on France through the Marie Bastille Agency and projects for American clients have kept me slaving over my drawing boards. Then the Irish Times presented me with a mind-warping piece of financial text. Anyway, between the editor and myself we fixed on an idea over the phone, which I quickly scribbled onto a receipt. Whoever heard of an illustrator who had decent pads of paper handy?

That evening, on the settee in front of the telly, I worked up the idea into a more finished sketch and squared the drawing up for the following morning. Luckily, summer TV schedules determined that there was bugger-all worth watching on the idiot’s lantern [as my old French teacher, Mr. Dansie used to call the telly – Me: ‘What does ‘bateau’ mean, Mr. Dansie?’ Dansie: ‘It means you haven’t been listening, McSherry’ followed by, ‘I suppose you’ve been glued to the idiot’s lantern again’.].

Finally, I managed to get the final art into the old lady of D’Olier Street at lunchtime. Now, what’s on the lantern…?


Step by Step Movie

A Very Bouncy Project
I’ve just completed a small movie, tracking the course of a single illustration. It should go some way to explain how I work -at least once rough sketches have been approved by the client. I had enormous fun making it. Basically, it’s a series of still shots taken while the artwork was being hand-painted in acrylic on Arches watercolour paper [my preferred method!].
Click here for the movie
You’ll notice that I decided some way into the work to eliminate the background. It’s a decision I allowed myself as I had complete control over the final look; the final art not being created for a client.

The thing that really got me excited about the project was licencing the music. It’s the first time I’ve ever ventured into the whole area of licencing a piece of art as a client. Joanna at www.penguincafe.com was wonderful, however, and seemed enthused about the idea. I was sad to learn of Simon Jeffes’ [the Penguin’s composer and founder] untimely death some years ago; it completely passed me by. I’ve loved his eccentric music since the early eighties, although I think he even arranged music for the absurd Sex Pistols film ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’, so the PCO go back quite a bit further.

Enjoy the movie.