Chapter 54 (the chapter I just finished illustrating) is unusual in that it is a complete story within a story. Narrated within the framework of the novel, "The Town-Ho's Story" shows an older, wiser and more mature Ishmael recounting what occurrred on the ship the Town-Ho to his two companions Don Pedro and Don Sebastian at Lima, Peru's Golden Inn during a night of smoking and drinking. One of the many many reasons I am so fond of Moby-Dick and so fascinated every time I read it is because the structure of the novel is so multifaceted. Adorning the main narrative of Ahab's quest for vengeance are chapters like "The Town-Ho's Story," making the novel an anthology of sorts, or chapters like "Cetology," an almost scientific explanation of the nature and variety of whales and other marine mammals.
With the illustrations for chapter 54 I wanted to try something a bit different. Knowing that this chapter functioned as an almost self-contained story, I decided to keep the illustrations as visually consistent and stylistically similar as possible. I had a number of pages of glossy full-color historical paintings of ships and knew I wanted to use those. Since the paper was so glossy, my choice of media would be restricted so I laid down a vignetted background of gray and white acrylic paint on each of the pages. Even with that background, not much will stick to acrylic paint so I was limited for the most part to more acrylic paint, some ink and some collage pieces. I wanted to keep each of chapter 54's illustrations as similar to the others as possible so with the exception of two of the whale pieces near the end I oriented the pages portrait style. All of this was quite a departure for me since, up to this point, I had allowed myself the freedom to take a drastically different approach for each and every one of the 253 illustrations I had created. While certain styles and images do echo through some of the series of illustrations, for the most part things are quite visually varied. Which, of course, made keeping to a similar style and medium for chapter 54 much more difficult than I would have initially imagined.
Near the end, I really began to feel these restrictions keenly and almost longed for the chapter to be finished so I could be free to do what I wanted again. I don't regret having experimented with this chapter, and I quite like the way that the unity of style with these illustrations reflects the singular nature of chapter 54 itself. Some of the illustrations turned out quite a bit better than I had imagined, and it was great fun painting Radney with his giant hands, and then again Radney getting blasted in the face by Steelkilt, and Steelkilt's magnificent beard, and so on. I hadn't been using the acrylics very often so it was good to feel a brush in my hand again.
Still though, I am glad we have finally come to the end of "The Town-Ho's Story" and are once again sailing on the open seas. No rules, no restrictions, no guidelines, just whatever spills forth from my head.