(Click on the images to enlarge the illustrations)
I first met Jane Goodall at Heathrow airport with the publisher Michael Neugebauer. Michael had already published The Chimpanzee Family Bookwith Jane; had been to The Gombe National Park in Tanzania to photograph the chimps, and was already a supporter of Jane’s charity, the JGI. The possibility of my working with her came up and I was asked if I could draw chimpanzees. I’d never drawn one and perhaps I could have replied, “Yes, but I will need to see them in their natural habitat”. Being freelance, I simply said, “Yes, of course”. Jane and Michael flew off to separate and exotic parts of the world and I drove back home to my drawing board. It isn’t just the freelance thing though; I assume that I can draw anything because drawing is a process of discovery; and a good way to learn about an animal, for example, is to draw it. As well as doing various pieces for the JGI, I have since worked with Jane on With Love a book of true stories about the lives of chimps and Rickie and Henri, again, a true story about the relationship between an orphaned chimp and a dog.
Ballet? What I saw was the dancers’ pain and the unnatural positions of bodies. To move about en pointe seemed slightly daft; tutus too froufrou and the men’s tights, well... So I was perhaps at odds when I was asked by Eaglemoss to illustrate a ballet magazine for young girls. Ever up for a challenge, I did sample illustrations. At this point I did not know that these were to be approved, or otherwise, by the Royal Ballet. The project was then put on hold because although the work was admired, (by Monica Mason herself I was later told), there were thought to be too many inaccuracies in the dancers’ positions, stage sets etc. It was then proposed that the RB would provide reference material and approve rough artwork. As a proper introduction to dance I was also given a privileged invitation to attend rehearsals at the Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden.
Degas would have recognised that rehearsal room; the dancers in their leggings and layered leotards and sweaters; sitting on the floor sewing their shoes; stretching at the bar; repeating small scenes; moving with a serious beauty into their roles. I watched a full rehearsal of Kenneth MacMillan’s
Manon, inches from the dancers, glued to my seat, mesmerised. I recognised an ethos of perfection in the corps de ballet that put all comment about illustration into perspective. I saw too an incredible passion in the faces and movement of the dancers and I was moved by the story-telling. I attended ballet performances at the Royal Opera House too (something likely to become an expensive habit). I did have an “its alright someone will start singing soon” moment, but I was hooked.
The notes on my roughs from the RB (remembering that thing about perfection) would say things like “Ondine’s left foot is badly fished”, by which they meant that I should move the toe down by about a millimetre. This was not a small project; I did more than 120 illustrations over 2 years. Because I was being fed reference, some decisions about composition, set design etc. were taken out of my hands. I wonder too if my line would have been stronger without direct reference, but I learnt more about drawing the human form and, most of all I think, became more confident with watercolour technique in coping with the depiction of various and strange sets and characters.