Occasionally I get a commission that makes me look up from my drawing board and think about the real world. Through dialogue, Penal Reform International advocates justice reform in diverse countries around the world. I was recently asked by PRI to illustrate three covers for reports on children in detention centres, state-run care homes and police stations in Central Asia (although this is a worldwide issue): Voices of the Child is about shining light into these dark places; to raise awareness of and address the rights and conditions of young people. I was also made aware that other cultures are sensitive to these issues.
It was the use of light and shadow in my work, something that has always been important to me, that prompted the commission. But I did I wonder if they had the right illustrator; I started out working for editorial magazines but have largely illustrated children’s books for the past thirty years. I imagined how well Ralph Steadman or Brad Holland would handle the job, and took a deep breath.
It’s more difficult to give potency to interiors than landscapes, I find, and prison buildings are, intentionally, quite dull places; there are a lot of straight lines and blank facades. Watercolour will readily create atmosphere but here I think the now unfashionable use of drawn perspective was important to draw the viewer into these bleak, anonymous surroundings; to shine a light on the issues.