In my native Sinhala Language there is a saying that the comb of a rooster which is seen often appears white. Although not exactly the same idea, it is somewhat similar to the English saying, ‘familiarity begets contempt’. Recently I was forced to consider how we often take familiar sights for granted and the need to avoid this pitfall as illustrators and artists.
What led to my musings was not a sudden penchant for contemplation but the urgent necessity of an illustration brief. If you have been following my latest artwork, you will know that I am illustrating a series of memoirs for a women’s tabloid in Sri Lanka. As part of that series I had to illustrate a clock tower which is a prominent local landmark and which is described in one of the stories.
The clock tower is located in the center of Piliyandala Town, about 10 kilometres from Colombo–the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. It was built by a philanthropist in 1953, 5 years after Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) gained independence from Britain. Ever since it was commissioned, the clock tower has been a prominent landmark of that area. In order to reach my mother’s native village which is situated further away from the Piliyandala town, one has to pass this clock tower. Consequently I have seen this landmark from the time I was an infant.
However, illustrating it from memory was not something I was prepared to do. This was partly because of the ‘rooster’s comb’ factor and partly because I had to illustrate the clock tower as it would have looked in the 1950’s. I had also not forgotten my late mentor Gareth Jayawardene’s exhortation to always use reference images for illustrations.
So I checked up on-line and was delighted to find a photograph of the Piliyandala clock tower taken in its early days of existence. Although it was a photograph in sepia I was familiar enough with the colouration of the clock tower over several decades. That personal knowledge was backed up by photographs taken during various periods in time which I found on-line. All these seemed to point to the fact that over the years, the colour scheme of the clock tower had not changed. Having got a good idea of the clock tower’s structural design I set to work to produce an illustration which would evoke the era described in the story.
I had decided to do this illustration in watercolour as I consider it the most suitable medium for this type of subject matter. Despite the subject matter containing straight lines I decided to take the risk of painting on a cold pressed watercolour paper. I use the word ‘risk’ because the rough surface of the paper does not lend itself easily to the smooth painting of straight lines. However I preferred to concentrate on the fact that the paper would help to bring out a more tangible feel of the clock tower’s surface.
Looking at the final result I feel my decision has helped to achieve the desired effect.
This is true of not only the clock tower but also the nearby building and the tarred road. Deciding on what was most important in the final look of the illustration helped me to reproduce on paper what I had in mind. Had I been less focused on the final outcome, the minor hassles of painting on the rough surface of the paper would have distracted me. Hopefully I will remember that when selecting paper for my next illustration project!