Monday, October 1, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, for Macleans magazine

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling for Macleans magazine
Click to enlarge
"The Casual Vacancy" is J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults. Needless to say, it's pretty big news! I did this illustration for Maclean's magazine to accompany an article about the book. The issue should be on newsstands now.

This is my first colour illustration for Macleans, so I was super excited to do it! Here are some of the other pieces I've done for them. 

The challenge for this piece was that the contents of the book were a closely guarded secret. All I had to work with was the same blurb that was making the rounds all around the internet:

"When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other."

-- taken from Little, Brown Book Group's site, the UK publisher of the book. 

There's definitely some stuff to work from there, but key details such as time period aren't mentioned. Nothing is known about the characters, particularly their physical appearances. Luckily I was able to dig up a Guardian article on the book that gave me some more info: Barry's death deeply affects a young girl who'd befriended him. The book is set in the present day and class struggle is central to the book. 

The art director and I knew that the figures couldn't be too prominent and that the town ought to take centre stage, considering it's the bit in the blurb that is described the most. But there is no actual Pagford! I found this article by the Independent about a town called Kelso that has all the elements required to qualify as a representation of the fictional setting: cobbled market square, ancient abbey nearby, and about the right population. So I found photos of Kelso's old abbey, town hall, and town square and used them to inspire me!

I wanted the whole thing to look foreboding and mysterious, with conflict boiling under the surface. Looks like a storm is coming to Pagford! Better batten the hatches :). 

A Casual Vacancy inked sketch
Inked, pre-colouring. At this stage I was a little concerned because without the grey tones knocking the town into the distance the whole thing looks jumbly. 

Tonal sketch. 

A Casual Vacancy, work in progress
Transition stage between the pencil sketch and the tonal sketch. I tightened up the pencils using my Wacom tablet and added a lot of detail.

A Casual Vacancy, pencil sketch
Initial pencil sketch. The basic idea is there, but I fiddled a lot with the scale of the buildings in subsequent sketches. And where's the girl!?

-- Julia


Anonymous said...

I'm so proud of you!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Julia!

The piece looks amazing :)

Sean McInally said...

I love it! I am a huge fan of the book and I'm so glad you made this of Pagford - its the kind of attention the book deserves. I love it! Would you wind if I posted this on my site, of course I would credit you!
That's the site, dedicated to The Casual Vacancy! :D

Julia Minamata said...

Hello, Sean! I'm so glad you like the image. By all means post it on the site -- thanks for sharing it with others!

I haven't read the book yet. I'm definitely curious, though!

-- Julia

Meerabai said...

For almost anyone who has read the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling became 'my favourite' or 'one of my favourite' authors. But 'The Casual Vacancy' is not the least bit like Harry Potter. Firstly, it is an adult book. So, maybe adults will really enjoy this book but its not all that great for teenagers. The storyline is okay, not too bad, not too great. MostJK Rowling fans have already finished this book so yeah it's way too late for my review, but i guess there are a few of you out there who yet have to read this one.

Neha Sharma said...

To start with, I wasn't appreciating the plot initially as I thought the characters and the connections between them were pretty disjointed. I was struck by an apparent lack of cohesiveness. But as I crossed the 100th page, I was hooked to the travails and comic elements that make up the tapestry of Pagford! I was literally reading the book slowly so that the end might not come too soon! I think this book offers a very vivid picture if the social reality in decadent English villages. I think all booklovers should immerse themselves in Rowling's canvas!