Emma Russell

Emma Russell's illustration blog

Tag: Folio Society

Folio Society competition 2015

House of Illustration and The Folio Society are running their annual illustration competition.  This year’s book is a collection of ghost stories.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I steered away from the dense, scratchy and/or dark images that I would normally imagine with ghost stories.  I think it’s possible to be frightened even when surrounded by bright colour! I’ve used a strong palette, simplified graphic shapes, some linework.  Here are my entries:

abbot thomas emma russell

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas – Somerton and Brown head down an alley to the ruined abbey lit brightly by the full moon.

upper berth emma russell

The Upper Berth – Is it the watery creature that haunts the upper berth or is it the body of Brisbane’s cabin mate, tossed by the tide as the boat powers on.

empty house emma russell

The Empty House – Our hero is blithely unaware of the horrors to come and is revelling in the space, the birds calling and the sea lavender filling the marsh, having just got his boots back on after paddling through a creek.


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The binding, based on a scene in The Treasure of Abbot Thomas in which Somerton falls from a stair in the depths of a well with only a rope tied round his torso that might save him.

Folio Society competition binding indecision!

I found it very hard to choose between my two binding concepts for this year’s Folio Society/House of Illustration competition.  I wanted something very graphic in bright, strong colours (a nice challenge to the traditional scratchy line work/dark colours associated with ghost stories)

Both images come from The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by M R James.

Firstly, Gregory describes a grotesque carving as “more like a toad than anything” and I like the idea of a toad summing up mystery.

Secondly, poor Somerton is left dangling down a well at the end of a rope after being terrified by an unknown creature.

In the end, although I love the simplicity of the toad, I chose the rope. I thought that falling was a suitably scary sensation for some horror stories and the energetic angle and clear shapes suited the mid century palette I’ve chosen for the piece.  I hope I made the right choice!

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folio society competition illustrations and process

I’ve entered The Folio Society illustration competition this year, because… well who wouldn’t want to win that, it’s every girl’s dream isn’t it?  Forget the princes and unicorns.  This year the book was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  It’s a dark, unsettling read.  Three illustrations and a rough of the binding were needed.  So here they are:

From the first chapter “I found nothing else to do but to offer him one of my good Swede’s ship’s biscuits I had in my pocket”

From the second chapter “…the man stepped back swiftly, looked at me over his shoulder in an extraordinary, profound, familiar manner, and fell upon my feet”

From the third chapter “…a cry that was no more than a breath: ‘The horror! The horror!'”

acuteangles emma russell

helmsman emma russell

horror emma russell

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Some sketchbook and such


Initial doodles and thoughts from sketchbook.  I normally use ordinary sketchbooks so I’ve had this concertina one lying around for ages.  It felt too nice to start in some weird way, but after a few weeks with it I LOVE it!  I like being able to fold it in different ways to look at what you drew a week ago on the same page as whatever you’re working on today.

Here’s the drawing and the colour separately:

acutedrawing acuteno line

I flirted briefly with the idea of putting a dark background behind the whole thing and going monochrome, a bit like this

acute angles

but it didn’t seem right, the forest colours felt important.

Here’s the drawing and colour separately for the Helmsman.

helmsman line  helmsman colour

And for the The Horror, there’s the initial wide composition which I tightened down into a more claustrophobic one and the final line drawing and colour.

horror wide horror drawing horror colour

When I was considering front cover ideas I was thinking about the image in the book of the river as a snake bewitching a young man.  Whatever I did with the cover I wanted it to be a silhouette with a pattern. Here’s the alternative and a couple of unsuccessful colour alternatives.

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Layout 1 alt cover