Day 9: Two Approaches to “Place”

Today we have Andrea Serio (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) from Italy, and William Grill (1, 2, 3), a Brit who has illustrated books set in Antarctica and New Mexico. Both keep observational sketchbooks as a significant component of their practice and create many illustrations that, whether of landscapes or animals or buildings or people, are less about a formal narrative and more about a sense of place. (They do also create narrative work, but I’m not going to focus on that today. Sometimes the line is fine anyway.)

Similarities and Differences

Grill and Serio both use dry media (pencils and pastels). This limits their colour range, but gives their work texture: foliage has direction and form, and rocks feel structured and defined. I think a big difference between the two is that Grill uses light/shadow to define form whereas Serio works the other way around. To Serio, the light is an end in and of itself, which is shown by describing forms. When each illustrator is stripped down to their sketchbooks, with just a few colours to work from, it becomes more obvious. Serio chooses to emphasis and exaggerate value, and the effect of light and shadow, but Grill’s shadows mostly disappear, his sketchbooks describe form using directional lines, and while his shadows are drawn in, they are clearly secondary to the objects themselves.

Comparisons with Pascal Campion and Phoebe Wahl

The above instantly reminds me of Campion and Wahl, and I think a lot of the observations that I made of them hold true here too. Grill does have some beautiful sky-focussed scenes, and the sky is kind of inherently changeable, but in these pictures he’s still largely focussed on the shapes in the sky: the clouds, the birds, the stars. He doesn’t focus on the impact that, say, sunset light might have on the world, which seems a topic more of interest to Campion and Serio. I do think that Grill is more interested in composition than Wahl is. Rather than focussing in on the smaller props he’s looking at the big picture. Actually, I think it’s true that both Serio and Grill are more interested in the overall big shapes of a picture than either Campion or Wahl. Perhaps this makes sense when drawing landscapes rather than everyday moments. Small details and patterns are simplified down, so they don’t distract from the overall big statements. The shapes of trees form patterns and give texture to the work, rather than the patterns on teatowels, and the arrangement of mugs.

Just because I can… Here are some pictures from Campion (1, 2) and Serio showing virtually the same topics. I don’t have anything to add. Just wanted to show some cool comparisons.

Comparisons with Rovina Cai, Nico Delort and Shaun Tan

So how do their pencil marks compare with yesterday’s illustrators? I think Serio and Grill have a lot in common here. Both emphasise texture when it’s useful, and use the side of their tools to get smoother gradients when directional texture is not needed. Cai and Delort use thin defined lines, while Tan uses shading. But Grill and Serio both vary their lines about the page: sometimes thin lines, sometimes thicker, often shading. Sometimes short and sharp sometimes soft and flowy. The style of the line itself is relevant to the object being drawn, rather than remaining consistent over the whole page. I get the feeling like this is giving prominence to the objects themselves, rather than to the overall story. A test: do Grill and Serio maintain more uniform strokes in pieces they do as ‘narrative’ work rather than place-based work? Yes, I think that’s reasonable to say. Both tend a little more toward Tan and sometimes a little toward Cai. Neither goes to Tan’s level of realism, but their pencil strokes become less individually important. (It’s worth noting that I consider a lot of their narrative illustration to still be place-based work, and those pieces retain the varied pencil strokes.)

A final thought: a lot of the artists seem to exaggerate the aspects of illustration that are most important to them, to the point that they become unrealistic (Campion’s light, Wahl’s patterns, Grill’s compositional arrangements). The aspects of illustration that are less important to the creator are rendered in a very simple way, often more realistically than the ‘favourite’ aspects. Like Tan’s pencil style, they fade to the background. Examples: Wahl and Grill’s lighting, Cai’s anatomy, Campion and Delort’s perspective. It’s just… there. It’s sort of an interesting thing to consider: if you don’t care about something, you’ve still got to get good enough at it that what you draw for it doesn’t attract any attention. The thing you love most is what you change up and have fun with. And so it ends up heightened beyond reality.

This’ll be the last post in this mini-series. I think I’m a little tired of staring at pieces of art and thinking that they’re different in every single way, and wondering how every decision impacts on the resulting emotions. It feels useful though, so I might come back to it later in the month. Next to consider my own artistic decisions…



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