Tuesday, April 24, 2012

HEART OF DARKNESS, page 001

If you're impatient, the illustration for page 001 of Heart of Darkness is the third one in this post, down near the bottom. If you'd like to know more, read on.

I'm often a slow starter but a brutal finisher. Heart of Darkness was at times agonizing to conceptualize because this is the first time I've created something specifically for publication and profit. That kind of thing can sometimes mess with my head, and part of the struggle is fighting back against worries about expectations and finding ways to once again follow that inner voice. Finishing this first illustration, for page 001, took me over a week and three tries before I finally felt like I got it right. And even then, what I thought was "right" turned out to be wrong at the last minute. I'm following my gut instinct instead, as I always have.

First, some details. This is how it's going to work. I'm going to create 100 completely new illustrations to accompany Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. These illustrations will be collected and published, with Conrad's complete text of the novel, in a beautiful new edition of the book in late in 2013 by my publisher, the esteemed Tin House Books. Once again, I will be creating these illustrations in a linear manner, starting with the first page and ending with the last. This time, however, I will not be creating one illustration each day. That almost cost me my sanity and my life with the Moby-Dick project and I will never walk down that road again. I'll finish the last piece for Heart of Darkness some time this year, but I anticipate taking most of 2012 to finish these so you won't see a new piece of art posted on this blog every single day. Additionally, these illustrations will be far more focused, unified and consistent, unlike my Moby-Dick illustrations where I allowed myself to explore a wide variety of styles and media. Finally, while I will be using a variety of media again, these illustrations will all be on thick white watercolor paper, not found paper.

I will be posting the first 50 to 60 illustrations on this blog and on my web site Spudd 64, but I will keep the remaining 40 or 50 under wraps until a few months after the book is out. So I suppose you'll have to acquire the illustrated version to see how I deal with "The horror! The horror!" I do hope you will though. I've been obsessing, pleasantly, about that piece for quite some time now.

On to the art. As I mentioned, I created three versions of the illustration for the first page, trying very hard to pin down just how I wanted this visual journey to proceed. Ultimately, like with my Moby-Dick illustrations, this is how I, Matt Kish, see the novel. This is what it means to me. This is my version, and is as much about me as it is about Conrad and Marlow and Kurtz. I had a remarkably clear vision of this immediately, but I doubted myself. I forced myself to explore other avenues. I second-guessed my intentions and I worried, as embarrassing as that is to admit, what people would think. Up until the very last minute, seconds before typing this post, I was in flux. Finally, I decided it had to be mine and I knew which way to go.

So this was my first attempt. I am happy with some elements of this piece, but it is far too subtle and does not reproduce well digitally at all. I knew this would be more of a study than a final illustration the moment I completed it.

Title: A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless...

8.75 inches by 10 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
April 15, 2012


I completed what would become the final version next, so I'll share that at the end. After a few days of doubt and corrosive worry, I pushed myself into trying something vastly different. Heart of Darkness is a tremendously atmospheric and psychological novel and I began to worry that any overly precise drawings would rob the work of its subtlety. I was concerned they would anchor it too greatly in some kind of specific reality that would in the end do the book a disservice. Thinking about how to represent this darkness and horror viscerally and visually, but in some kind of less direct and specific way, I created this piece last night.

Title: A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless...

9 inches by 12 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
April 23, 2012


And I liked it a great deal. I still do. But it really is not true to my own vision. It's a grudging concession. It's what I worried I was SUPPOSED to do. I agonized over this, especially since I like working loose like this. Finally, I had to admit to myself that the 10 illustrations I created last summer for the book, and the second version of page 001 I had created, were simply much closer to how I see this story in my head. And that, whether viewers liked it or not, I had to be true to that or this project would take more from me than it would ever give. So here, fully of very sharp and precise shapes and lines, is the official illustration for page 001 of Heart of Darkness...

Title: A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless...

8.75 inches by 12 inches
acrylic paint and ink on watercolor paper
April 19, 2012

8 comments:

  1. This is the 1100th post. Odd. And unintentional.

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  2. Also, the official illustration for page 001 was very directly (and perhaps obviously) inspired by this...

    "The eyes are not here
    There are no eyes here
    In this valley of dying stars
    In this hollow valley
    This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

    In this last of meeting places
    We grope together
    And avoid speech
    Gathered on this beach of the tumid river"

    ...and Eliot's connection to "Heart of Darkness."

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  3. I like all three so I'm certain it was difficult choosing the first page to start this journey. But I can see why you chose the final piece over the other 2. Keep up with the sanity with this project... I guess I'll see you in 2013?

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  4. Admired, loved, and FUCKING LOVED the illustrations, in that order. I love that the vines resemble lightening and appear to move like it as well.

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  5. Thanks Tony and you are right, the decision and the second-guessing and the conceptualizing was agonizing. I am so glad that the road ahead is clearer. And for this project, I will not be mirroring the gruesome horrific page-a-day pace of the "Moby-Dick" project. My wife, my life, my sanity and the summer are too important to me. I don't want to lose them all, not even for art.

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  6. Or should I be pretentious and type Art?

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  7. RF, many thanks, I'd been thinking quite a bit about some of your thoughts regarding this project (especially in terms of race, which will be a factor very soon) so I am strangely relieved this one went over well with you. And, as always, your comments are quite perceptive.

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  8. You know how totally incoherent my thoughts on Heart of Darkness are, so I can only hope they've been on your mind in a useful way. This illustration makes me feel as if I'm in good critical hands.

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