I thumbed through one of my old Vogues, and came across an article called "Liquid History" by Sophie Dahl. I love her writing (her cookbooks are brilliant), so although the subject matter (perfumes) was not really my thing, I was drawn to read it, and decided to use it for this exercise.
I can't replicate the entire article here, but in short, it went through Sophie's personal history of perfumes, how they relate to your identity, how you choose different perfumes at different times of your life either to reflect who you are, or who you'd like to be. I took two key words away from the article: "Scent" and "Identity". In one section, she talks about "a glamourous friend whose French-Iranian mother wore stockings and suspenders, fur coats and the patchouli-laced L'Heure Bleue". The perfume was as much a part of this woman's outward identity as her glamourous fur coat. I loved this description so much, that it ended up being the inspiration for my final piece for this exercise (fig. 1).
For my tutor and those interested to read more, here was the process I went through to get to this.
1. After reading through the article a couple of times, I did a spider diagram of key words (fig. 2):
2. I decided that the article really boiled down to two things: "Scent" and "Identity", and so I set about drawing a few thumbnail sketches with some different ideas (fig. 3):
3. I decided to go with my third thumbnail, inspired by the French Iranian patchouli doused mother - woman as a perfume bottle (John Paul Gaultier-esque), with a fur coat draped around her shoulders, a 1950s Dior style hat dipped to disguise the face and other bottles in the background (the implication being that those other perfumes don't have the same personality).
4. I wanted the image to be very simple, quite graphic, a limited colour palette of black, red and grey (reminiscent of the Dior New Look era). Bearing in mind the audience (Vogue readers), I wanted it to have a fashion illustration feel about it, but more 1950s than anything too modern. I flipped through some books I have on fashion illustration for inspiration (fig. 4a) and then sketched out a rough composition. I then experimented with gouache paint using different brushes and brush strokes until I was getting the kind of strokes and textures I wanted for my final piece (fig. 4b).
5. Initially I painted over my sketched out composition, but this lacked the fluidity and spontaneity I wanted, so I started afresh on a blank sheet. I think this provides much more looseness to the brush strokes, because I wasn't trying to follow any sketched out lines. Finally I scanned it in and applied a warm filter over the image in Photoshop to give it more of a 1950s feel (fig. 5).
What I learnt:
I really enjoyed the process of doing this exercise. It shows that illustration goes beyond just producing an image which is pleasing to the eye. It is about communicating an idea visually. In the case of illustrating the editorial I chose, it was about drawing the audience in, giving them an idea of what the article might be about, so they want to read more. I enjoyed the process of working out what idea should be communicated and thinking of different ways to show this. I also enjoyed using gouache paint. I like that the colours can be really strong in some places and more like watercolours in others. I'm sure I could have spent even longer refining this idea further, perhaps exploring some of the other ideas more fully. I also think perhaps a portrait format would have worked better for a magazine.