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Lest we forget: WWI in illustrations

Ollie Cuthbertson Post

In follow up to last week’s Remembrance titles post, today our unofficial WWI illustrator Ollie Cuthbertson talks a bit about his work on Over the Line from earlier this year and Stars Shall be Bright and Anzac Boys, both coming February 2015. Welcome Ollie!


1. Read the story, book, article you are illustrating. In this case, the stories were fantastic and easy to get caught up in!

2. Read the brief.

3. Research. When is the story set? Where is it set? When approaching a historical subject, it is important to spend a lot of time on this stage! For these books I gathered many images from various sources ”“ I even borrowed my friend’s authentic gas mask for reference. Sketching starts here, always referencing the story and brief.

4. Feed the cats.

5. Now you can do thumbnails. These are small, rough sketches exploring composition. The more the merrier – the brief might say “Show the train wreckage, surrounded by fire” – but how best to illustrate the point for the maximum emotional impact? From above, perhaps a birds eye point of view? Do we get right up close to the action? Or a low angle shot to show how large and frightening the wreck is, and how small and vulnerable the children are? Sometimes these details are prescribed in the brief but don’t be afraid to talk to the editor about it if you have a good idea you want to explore.

6. Pick the composition that seems to fit the bill and flesh it out – this will be our rough sketch. It needs to be clear enough so that the client can see the action! This is where you solve all the visual problems like where the light is coming from, where the characters will be placed, how the focal point will be strengthened.



7. Wait for the client to look over your roughs. Do the cats need feeding? See step 4.


Molly, the client, looks over a rough with skepticism

8. Listen to the feedback on the roughs and make changes as appropriate.

9. Clean up the drawings and finish them! If the roughs were good enough, this stage is easier and less stressful.



Working with Barrington Stoke on these books has been wonderful. I was given a great deal of freedom (and trust!) in the brief for Stars Shall Be Bright especially, which allowed me to put a lot of myself into the images. I usually paint Medieval things (below) or Unicorns and Dragons for a living so it was refreshing to turn my hand to these touching WWI stories.


My website: www.cuthbo.co.uk

Blog: www.cuthbo.tumblr.com

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