Monday, 11 June 2018

Why I Paint • Garry Parsons

It’s often difficult to work out just how illustrators go about making their artwork for picture books without asking them directly and really, the not knowing adds to the mystery anyway? But, being an illustrator myself, it’s something I like to ponder over and look closely at when I fall in love with a spread from a new picture book from a talented illustrator. 
I might study the illustrations to consider “How did they get that texture?” Or “What did they do to make that depth so convincing or compelling?” for example.

What I do know is that most illustrators working today deliver their final art electronically. Delivering artwork as a finished piece is apparently becoming a rarity. I know this because of the reactions I receive from publishers when I hand over my painted picture book boards. It’s not that they receive my artwork with a sour expression, far from it, what I get is often delighted gasps along with a few “oohs” and “aahs”. 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the oohs and aahs, but they can be accompanied by comments exclaiming how “hardly anyone delivers art this way any more” and just how “rare” it is to handle original artworks that need to be sent for scanning. It’s the “rarity” aspect that has prompted me to write, because, I realise, I’m not only painting dinosaurs, I am one!

From The Dinosaurs Are Having A Party! Gareth P Jones & Garry Parsons

My art school training was as a painter on a fine art degree course back in the 90’s.  British painters where prominent in the art scene at the time and the art schools reflected that appeal in what they offered to students embarking on fine art careers, those being painting, sculpture or printmaking. 

Sandwagon. Garry Parsons. 1990
The well-known painters of the day used paint in such a way that brush strokes, daubs and drips were plainly visible. I relished the bold brushwork and fluid expression of paint and found myself greatly influenced by the contemporaries of the day, especially those who were figurative and those who included animal motifs in their work. I looked closely at the works of Ken Kiff, Paula Rego, Philip Guston and Eileen Cooper, to name a few.  

Ken Kiff. Man Painting on Yellow. 1965

Paula Rego. The Vivian Girls With The China. 1984
Paula Rego. La Traviata. 1983
Philip Guston. The Rest Is For You. 1972

Eileen Cooper. Woman Bathing in Her Own Tears. 1987
I also liked to think that I employed a loose narrative in my paintings, which connected them together. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the work I was producing was like a giant wall-sized picture book and that, with a reduction in scale, it might become a book. So, with this in mind, along with a few years in the desperate wilderness of becoming a painter (I sold one painting in two years!), I went back to Brighton to study on the Sequential Design MA under George Hardie and John Vernon-Lord.

John Vernon-Lord. The Giant Jam Sandwich. Verses by Janet Burroway. Jonathan Cape 1972

I altered the scale of my work but continued to paint with the notion of moving towards animation and illustration. I made a monochrome book based on the opera “A Woman Without A Shadow” by Richard Strauss, a rather sinister tale about unborn children and fried fish. In my second year, and in need of a lighter subject to work on, I embarked on a short animated film depicting the life of Pythagoras, in which collaged numbers floated skyward from a very loosely painted main character, who preached to animals about numeracy. On leaving the MA, I started illustrating for editorial, my painted images appearing in Sunday supplements, newspapers and magazines, with some advertising jobs thrown in. Illustration was at an all-time high of popularity with public media, and illustration catalogues were fat with illustrators taking a share of the feast.

So, despite exploring and learning new graphics technologies, I continued to paint, but in a style that was more akin to children’s publishing, leading to my first publishing commissions: “Digging for Dinosaurs” by Judy Waite and then “Billy’s Bucket” by Kes Grey, first published in 2004.

Digging For Dinosaurs. Judy Waite & Garry Parsons. Red Fox

Billy's Bucket. Kes Grey & Garry Parsons. Bodley Head

I remember enjoying the drawn, painted and multi-media approaches of Cathy Gale, Sara Fanelli and John Burningham at this time.
Cathy Gale. All Your Own Teeth. Written by Adrienne Geoghegan. Bloomsbury
Sara Fanelli. Wolf. Mammoth 1997
John Burningham. Oi, Get Off Our Train!. Red Fox 1991
As far as I could tell, every illustrator would have been hand delivering finished original artwork to his or her publisher to be sent to the Far East to be scanned and reproduced. Once the artwork was given to your editor, the next time you saw it was in a finished book, at least it was in my case.

Somewhere over the years my editorial work switched entirely to a digital format and this has more recently included some publishing work too, but painting has continued as a steady staple within my picture book illustration and the enjoyment of using paint as my main medium remains. I find great pleasure in the handling of acrylics, from the mixing of colour to it’s rough initial application through the slow development from splurges and daubs to something more refined. When I hold up original artwork to a class of year 2 students I’m often questioned about their authenticity, “are you sure they are not print-outs? Or, did you really use a brush on that?” 

Garry Parsons.

It's no longer the case that once the artwork is given to the publisher the next time I see it is in book form. I am increasingly working into the painted artwork digitally, it might be to add texture to a dinosaurs skin, a pattern on a piece of clothing or just a sparkle to the surface of water. 

What I’m learning to embrace now is the novelty of being a dinosaur delivering painted artwork about dinosaurs.


You can see more of Garry's illustration for children's books on his website by clicking here
Follow on twitter @icandrawdinos


Penny Dolan said...

Excellent post, Gary! Thank you.

Paeony Lewis said...

Really enjoyed the insight into your art/illustration, Garry.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Really interesting.

Mini Grey said...

Thanks for this great post Garry - it's fascinating to find out how picture makers create their work. Another good thing about artwork that physically exists is you can show it to children/put it in exhibitions or even sell it. Whereas my stuff that's mostly put together digitally only really exists as a pile of scraps of paper in a drawer...

Garry Parsons said...

A very pleasing pile of scraps none the less though Mini!
I have drawers full of artwork I can't let go of. Perhaps that's a subject for a blog?