3.5 Visual research

The purpose of this research exercise was to examine how an established illustrator uses their sketchbook as a container for her visual research.

Key words from the brief:


Searching for the Green man: a sketchbook quest is an article published in Journal of Illustration, Volume 1 Number 1. In it, illustrator Pam Smy describes the process of developing a set of images for an illustrated novel written by Linda Newbery called ‘Lob’.

The challenge is interesting. The character ‘Lob’ was based on a wandering tramp or traveller that the author passed often driving in Oxford and is characterised as an ‘emblematic figure of the British countryside‘. He is described as having ‘many forms and guises’ and in the manuscript ‘he morphs from one moment to the next’; so there is instantly a visual issue of character continuity for the illustrator to deal with.

Even more of a challenge was the fact that he was only visible to some people, ‘by those who are sympathetic to nature and who believe’. How is this fact visually represented?


How does the character of the sketches relate to the final illustrations?

Pan Smy describes her process of observational research  as a way of ‘building a memory bank of information to retrieve later’. For this project it involved visiting and sketching in the Empty Common allotments in Cambridge over a period of several months.

In total she produced thirty sketches from the allotments that covered a range of subjects. She describes the process as helping her to become familiar with the allotments, how they’re organised, the everyday objects, the constant fight between the gardener and nature and the people.

She describes the processes of making the series of observational drawings over a period of time being one where the unconscious mind edits what is drawn to increasingly focus on those elements important to the interpretation of the manuscript.

A key to the importance of the research was the visual approach agreed with the author and publisher where the ‘magical’ elements of the story would be integrated into the everyday. This means that the primary research and the style of the original sketches are strongly represented in the final illustrations; the illustrator’s job was to reorganise the composition of the images whilst keeping much of the integrity and information from the original drawings.

Are there any texts or stories you have encountered that relate to any of the drawings you have produced during this section of the course?

I’d like to be able to say yes but can’t.

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