Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Inside story: Alec ‘Icky’ Dunn on his illustrations for Sewing Freedom

Printmaker, writer and Justseeds member Alec Dunn shares his process for illustrating Sewing Freedom. More of his amazing work can (and should) be viewed at his own blog: http://blackoutprint.tumblr.com/

About a year ago I received an email from Jared asking if I’d be interested in illustrating a book he was working on about early New Zealand anarchism. I knew Jared through political art circles, and knew him to be a great designer, producing sharp and tight graphics. I also knew him to be thoughtful about his practice. His politics, graphics, and writing informed one another. So when he asked me to participate in this book I was flattered and agreed right away.

I got a copy of the text, read through it, and began making notes about what stuck out to me visually for each chapter. I did some preliminary sketches and sent these to him as well as a list of ideas for other chapters, just to see if we were on the same page. I originally envisioned the illustrations as sitting on top of the chapter title. I wanted simplistic black and white drawings, and I wanted them to float above the words, no borders, and going full bleed to the edge of the page. That was the first idea at least. I had two, kind of wildly different, approaches to doing this: one was line drawings of the landscapes that Philip Josephs moved through, throughout his life; the other idea, heavily influenced by Gerd Arntz (the German socialist graphic designer who helped create pictograms), would have been a series of generic looking people to represent the different industries and persons involved in the anarchist movement in New Zealand at the time.

We ended up veering more towards the landscapes. And from there I started assembling reference and source images to work from.
Inline image 1
The first one I did was of an agitator speaking before a crowd. I didn’t have a New Zealand source image for this (the image above is from London), but I am familiar with the time and setting and have looked at plenty of pictures from my hometown (Portland, Oregon, US) from the same era. The thing that I always liked about images from protests of that period was the hats. In all those old photographs everyone has a hat, and at labor protests and rallies it was just a sea of hats. So I went with this and decided to make the hats as abstract as possible, with the only delineation being the various hat bands and shawls. The speaker to me was a secondary consideration (and he inadvertently ended up vaguely resembling Josephs).
Inline image 2
From there I worked in order of the book (and chronologically followed Josephs’ life). I did a google image search for ‘Liepaja, 1900, Harbor’ and found a nice colorized postcard. My drawing you can see is almost a direct reproduction. I really liked the pattern of the ship masts and the implication of emigration.
Inline image 3
For the Gorbals neighborhood in Glasgow, I did the same thing, though I may have searched ‘Gorbals, tenements, slums, 1900′. There were a few nice pictures, but the line of tenements, their specific roof-top constructions (I don’t even know the purpose of those bastion-like elements), and their chimneys reads to a very specific geographic place to me.
Inline image 4
I didn’t want them all to be landscapes, so for the next one I focused on his history as a tailor. In any of the images of labor protests from that era there are always a few fabulously-embroidered banners that people are carrying, with symbols from their unions or mottos of their organizations. This one I just did free form.
Inline image 7
And finally I wanted to do a picture of the Te Aro neighborhood in Wellington. I’ve never been to New Zealand, so I used google again, although this time I did street view to find the street where Joseph’s lived. I have a print by Kathe Kollwitz in my apartment called the Four Men In A Tavern, and it’s a silhouette of conspiratorial men. This was an inspiration, I imagined a night scene in Joseph’s house, people plotting something or discussing a pamphlet. Something about this wasn’t working though, but I sent the sketches to Jared to see what he’d think.
Inline image 6
At this point Jared began sending me photos to look through (he wasn’t neglecting me before—I think we agreed to see what was working before I got any specific images from him). There was a great backyard shot of Te Aro that I used as a basis for the final Te Aro drawing and I added in a guy having a smoke and woman hanging laundry.
Inline image 8
Jared sent me a ton of images from New Zealand’s Great Strike of 1913. I tried to go back to an almost flat image of a banner and a man marching—but it kind of sucked! I liked the action of the picture of the cops charging and took the drawing from there. At this point, I still thought that these images would float above the chapter titles.
Inline image 9
The Runanga Miners’ hall was pretty straight forward.
At this point I think Jared decided to go full page with these, and my random dimensions (mostly, but not all, horizontally based) changed to standard (vertical) page dimensions (though, by then, there weren’t that many left to do).
Inline image 10
For the chapter titled ‘Workingman’s Paradise’ I wanted some kind of imagery based on the pictures of miners and lumberjacks that Jared had sent me. I loved this one picture with a bunch of lumberjacks (and one little kid) standing around a giant stump with a banner that said “Lucky Hit”. This ended up being the basis of the image I drew, but I went in a little different direction.
Inline image 11
And the final image I made was of Josephs himself. Jared sent me a portrait of the agitator as a young man (he was handsome one!). I did a few sketches of this. The one I liked—I think the hatching fit in with the more architectural drawings—made him look a little sinister (whereas in the picture he looks kind of charming and pensive). I changed the background on this but it didn’t really change it much. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I eventually threw it into illustrator and abstracted it out a little, which I liked! and which also softened the image some.
Inline image 12
Finally, Jared took the original image of the generic tailor ran with it and, I think, made a great cover.

No comments: