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Chris Howkins: Talk on Illustration, 4/7/2008
Chris Howkins, 70 Grange Road, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 3RH
Phone: 01932 344216 (mornings are best to speak to C. Howkins) - Email: chowkins@chrishowkins.com.
Visit him at www.chrishowkins.com

This was an eye-opener.

Chris's end products are books, so reproduction (copying and printing) is fundamental to the process. Most of us are trying to produce original paintings and look on the copier and the computer as tools "unworthy of an artist". Whatever we may feel, there is no logical reason to avoid them in Chris's situation.
I don't know what he calls the finished product, but he is not averse to running off several copies of an ink or pencil drawing, hand colouring them individually to suit the whim of the potential purchaser and finally framing and selling them. On the same lines, do you remember Sadie James' demo, back in October 2004, when she painted a self-portrait onto a copy of a photo of herself.
Examples of Chris's earlier work showed meticulous draftsmanship and realism in watercolour and acrylic but once he started publishing his own books he realised that colour reproduction was prohibitively expensive. Other problems he mentioned included colour distortion in the printing process, particularly its exaggeration of yellow ochre, and the difficulty of painting plants like agaric (red mushrooms) which change colour faster than you can mix the paint.

The drawing of the Redwing, left, was scanned out of a 1988 publicaion of his.
His strong interest in botany and the early centuries was shown in his books, all written in an enthusiastic, informative and slightly whimsical style, with titles like "Valuable Garden Weeds", "Horse Chestnut" and "Strewing Herbs". Well may you ask, by the way. Strewing herbs are herbs strewn on the floor or the fire to fight such things as bad smells, moulds, insects, bacteria, evil spirits and the "little people" (elves etc) .

This second image, right, shows the effect of adding hawthorne leaves to the original redwing.
Redwing and leaves with tree Most of his illustrations are now in black ink or pencil. Where the grey of the pencil is too pale he uses the computer to blacken it. This may be particularly important where a central object and a background, both already drawn separately, are to be superimposed. Sometimes a particular drawing is changed tens of times: redrawn; computer processed or having extra detail added to fill blank spaces. Sometimes this is for artistic reasons but sometimes, for example, a Saxon expert may tell him,that he has drawn a breed of creature or a type of clothing that was not found in Surrey at that time.
The third image, above, shows the effect of imposing the previous one onto a piece of hawthorn tree (from a 1999 publication).

It is destined for his current project, a book about what Surrey looked like in Saxon times, 5th and 6th centuries. Most of his slides were chosen, like this, to show how he builds up the illustrations and integrates them with the text in such a way as to give the book a coherence of style.
Various "artistic" hints emerged: put skies at the top of the page and ground at the bottom; get texture by putting your paper onto the patio before rubbing with chinagraph pencil; draw outlines first where light objects (grasses, say) are in front of a darker centre of interest (so you can work between the lines), consider washing the top layers of printer ink off under the tap (giving a particularly interesting effect if you've printed on a textured paper like Bockingford).
We were fascinated by his sprinkling of little insights into Saxon life: the value of sage to kill moulds, how young boys built a reputation of agility and daring by climbing elm trees to catch young rooks for food; that Saxon pigs apparently had no saturated fat; that rhubarb leaves had not yet developed their poisonous nature and that green cloth was very expensive because it needed dying twice (they had blue and yellow dyes but no green ones).

A great evening. I look forward to seeing the book this autumn.

Sam Dauncey

Elm, the Ancester of all women
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