New book illustration project: Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher

Cover, Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Cover, Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

I’m excited to tell you about new book illustration project with Dunlin Press: Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, by Alex Toms. The debut poetry collection launches on Thursday 11th October 2018 and the words inside it are simply stunning.

Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

We already had beautiful photography from MW Bewick for the poetry book but we wanted an illustrative element too. In illustrating this book I really wanted to do the poems justice. I was mindful not to interfere with the reader’s experience of the words by being too literal in my illustration. My work had to convey a mood and atmosphere while allowing the amazing imagery that Alex creates to breathe.

Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms
Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms

When approaching this illustration commission I do what I always do, go back to my art history books and my old sketchbooks. My studio is packed with sketchbooks and folders stuffed full of experiments and ideas that I’ve parked for later and my ever-growing art book collection is a constant resource. Alongside a scrapbook of cut-out collages I did about 10 years ago when I was hungover in my art studio in Tottenham (never throw away your sketchbooks kids), a book on DADA and a book on Matisse’s cut-outs, the visual concept for “Eels” was born.

Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

I love paper cuts,  I could swear I love them so much but I have never found a way to incorporate paper cuts into a project. Seeing my old scrapbooks and work by very different artists using cut-up and collage techniques freed me to create something visceral, with a sense of movement, depth and physicality that is so alive in Alex’s poems.

Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

Originally I had little, delicately trimmed paper shapes on painted backgrounds but everything seemed too polite and restrained. So I went big and got to work drawing with scissors on A2 and A3 black matte paper, creating lots and lots of rough eel, sea kale and old fashioned eel catcher net shapes.

Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.
Inner paper cut illustrations for Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, Alex Toms. Published by Dunlin Press.

I then arranged the shapes randomly on a large piece of card, set-up my camera and tripod over the card, and made a series of compositions with the cut out paper. The results were exactly what I wanted.

The book launches on Thursday 11th October 2018 and you can pre-order it HERE

New book illustration: The Orphaned Spaces

The Orphaned Spaces front cover, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces front cover, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

Last month, Dunlin Press launched its new book, The Orphaned Spaces; a collaboration with featuring illustration from myself and words from poet MW Bewick

The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

The Orphaned Spaces is a rumination on life and loss through the prism of liminal spaces – derelict land, brownfield sites, edgelands – caught between moments of dilapidation and regeneration.

Wild flower pressings. The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston

The Orphaned Spaces project was meant to be a small artistic endeavour. Our original idea for The Orphaned Spaces was to have a brown paper bag containing fragments of writing, the odd drawing and some landscape photography, all loosely themed around ‘waste ground’. About a month in however, it had already started to take on a life of its own.  As is the way of things,  it escalated into something bigger, encompassing a 148-page book and  handmade book box set.

The Orphaned Spaces, photography, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces, photography, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

The Orphaned Spaces features exquisite words and visceral landscape imagery from MW Bewick and my quick brush sketches that I spoke about in this previous post. Both the book and the box set also include fine line botanical and insect studies in black and white (see below),  ikebana-inspired still life plant photography plus wild flower pressings, all created by me.

Green Malachite Beetle, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Green Malachite Beetle, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Scarce Emerald Damselfly, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Scarce Emerald Damselfly, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston

The black and white studies were created with fineliner pigment ink pens.

Ikebana-inspired botanical photography, (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin press
Ikebana-inspired botanical photography, (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin press

I’m really pleased with the botanical photography aspect of the book – you can read more about it here

Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press
Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press

I’m also delighted with the way my wildflower pressings came out. I used to press wild flowers and plants with my mum when I was kid, so I wanted this aspect to be in the book as I felt it needed a child-like, playful aspect to it. Actually as it turned out I think in some ways these illustrative elements are the most plaintive and poignant images of the publication – they are particularly effective as the archival prints featured in the box set but that’s worthy of another post.

Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press
Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press