Paint a Perfect Picture… Or not!
This is part one of four in a series of posts about how I created an illustration book (about Prince).
Part One (this one) talks about the creation and the art ;
Part Two will be all about crafting, printing ;
Part Three will detail the KickStarter campaign ;
Part Four will wrap it all.
If you need more context about my work with and about Prince, head over to prince.by.blule.fr
Like many, 21 April 2016 hit us hard (us being me and my husband, Raphael).
For a few months after, I couldn’t paint anything Prince related. I refused some custom works, I even refused to sell original paintings I had left. It was just too hard, too much.
It’s only after receiving a couple emails, a few days apart, from people that had bought prints from me, thanking me, and explaining how my art was a key part of their grieving process, that I finally started to reconcile my painting and my feelings.
The trend continued, I met with fans who came over to the studio, sharing their feelings. It helped.
I started taking commissions again but also realised it wouldn’t cut it. I–we–needed something else. Something bigger.
Raphael and I discussed it pretty much every day. The idea of making a book had been around for ages, it became obvious that this was the opportunity to answer both needs.
And thus the work began.
We started sketching a calendar, drafting ideas, imagining a concept.
What we didn’t know then was that we were roughly a year away from the first book leaving the press.
The next phase was research.
You need to understand one thing: I don’t know how to draw ;) so I was going to need a lot of source material, inspiration images and footage.
With Raphael, we spent hundreds of hours, browsing the dark corners of the web for pictures, watching videos of awesome performances–often with the poorest quality.
That allowed me to create a visual reference of Prince, sorted by attitudes, or details, or positions. With that came the first sketches, not so much with illustrations or even the book in mind, just reacting to the overwhelming graphic richness. I was looking for lights and shadows, colours, feelings. More than positions or attitudes.
In parallel, I painted the first couple images. Those were more images that I “had in me” rather than “out of the book”.
Then I started to try and “produce” some images. This is where it all started to break apart.
Dozens of paintings, hundreds of hours, and nothing would feel remotely satisfying. Four months in, and I had maybe three illustrations out of the thirty. Doubt ensues, then pressure: being a sole trader, investing a year of time without the guarantee of success is already bad enough, but when you start being certain of failure, that becomes a real problem. Try to find inspiration in the middle of that.
With hindsight, I think there were multiple factors to this blockage.
The overwhelming amount of material was one. Prince is recognized for the genius and proliferation of his music. But the work he did on his image is just as astounding. At this point, I had ingested too much.
Too many choices to make, too. Do I paint backgrounds and scenes? Do I include band members? Which and why them? The back and forth was exhausting.
Last, and probably the main factor, was the pressure of being accurate, “Painting a perfect picture”. Of the two of us, Raphael is the hardcore fan, I just tagged along the purple ride for the last 20 years. Over those years, I have listened to him mentioning the smallest details about Prince. The years and eras, the albums, the haircuts, the cloths, the bands. There is a science to Prince. And one thing is sure: I’m no scientist, Prince or otherwise. While painting, I was under the constant impression that the images would be judged for their science, their accuracy.
All of this was happening in parallel with the rest, of course. Preparing the Kickstarter campaign, defining the physical aspects of the book, the size, paper, cover, colours (and thus its cost and price), where to print, how to ship… The title…
At that point, maybe 2 months before the absolute deadline, I was ready to quit.
We talked a lot, trying to find a solution. Another approach, another method.
We also pushed the whole project back by more than a month.
As often, the solution emerged from the problem itself. I began flipping this “science” constraint on itself. Embracing it. I’m an illustrator, not a photographer. I can borrow, mix and invent. I actually have to invent. Time (and thus chronology) is definitely a flexible dimension when it comes to Prince, why would I be bound by it. He had maybe ten or twenty more years to give us – a whole career for some. He would have created quite a few new personae.
This realisation not only freed me from the constraint, it even gave me the concept behind the book. From there, things started to unravel.
The approach became clearer. Prince shined on stage, live. This is what I wanted to inspire myself from. Another aspect is what I would call "details". The smiles, the hands...
One evening, as I came back from the studio, Raphael had covered half of the living room floor with large prints of the work done so far. We don’t have such a large living room, but seeing the embryo of the book that way also changed my perspective. It became a ritual even, every few new images. :)
I received a couple more, very timely, emails explaining how my illustrations were helping in the healing process. Confidence slowly started to come back.
This is also when Paisley Park contacted me to design the one-year anniversary of the museum opening poster (which ended up closing the book, I love that).
They say “You have to see it before you do it”. This is especially true for graphic arts. I dug up the sketches, sorted, annotated, amended, discarded. Illustrations slowly started to drop, one by one.
We were not out of the woods yet, though; time was still a major issue. Illustrations are only the first (even though the main) part of the project. Digital, layout, and, you know, printing still had to happen after I was finished.
The very last image I created for the book was done just four days before the files were to be sent to the printer, ten months after having started it all.
I ended up with a bit more than 50 complete illustrations to choose from, which is the absolute minimum in order to collect 30 of them in the end.
Overall, the artwork is not 30 individual illustrations, or a set of illustrations, not even the book itself, but it’s the whole journey, including the spilt ink, the shed tears and eventually the many smiles.