This Folio Life: Illustrating East of Eden
Sheri Gee, Art Director at The Folio Society, was particularly pleased when East of Eden was announced as the winner of Folio’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Fiction Competition – she has been nudging the editorial department to put it on the list for many years! Here she asks the illustrator, Edward Kinsella, about the creative risks he undertook in order to illustrate John Steinbeck’s masterpiece.
Edward Kinsella: ‘My main idea for handling the visuals in East of Eden was to make them look old. I wanted them not only to feel like the time period they represented, but also feel like old illustrations themselves. It’s an idea that was easy for me to work with as I tend to head in that direction naturally. I muted my palettes, mainly using dark colours to evoke Steinbeck’s tonal world. I aimed to create illustrations with a range of feeling, from the pastoral, welcoming landscape that opens the book, to the gritty bleakness that haunts much of the novel.
‘My previous work for Folio, illustrating The Shining, was a continuation of how I had been working in illustration at the time, but for East of Eden I wanted to see what would happen if I ventured out of my comfort zone with the compositions. The Shining is a very internal story. Everything happens in a hotel, and involves just a few characters . . . it is closed-in and claustrophobic. I do a lot of portrait work for clients, so this fitted right in with my normal way of setting up compositions. With East of Eden, I wanted to pull the camera back and reveal more of the world in which the characters exist: more objects, more figures, more landscapes – things I haven’t illustrated in the past. A lot of it was new to me, and very exciting because of it. And I am really pleased with the results.
‘I think the best part of these projects for me is the sketch process. I tend to get lost in the world of the book and dive head first into research. This project was no exception. Steinbeck’s novels are easy to get lost in, and I had an absolute blast living in his fictitious world, even for just a short while.
‘Every illustration for Steinbeck’s East of Eden, as with the rest of my work, is composed of layers, both in the planning stages and the final execution. I start with thumbnail sketches that become more refined as I narrow down the composition, scene, characters and lighting. Once a sketch is approved I gather photo references and start a rough drawing on tracing paper, usually in sepia pastel, coloured pencil, graphite pencil and black marker. In this layer I refine all the shapes from my sketch and add in missing information that can help tell the story. I then do a final line drawing in graphite pencil, which is then burnished onto my final working surface. I like to use Stonehenge paper for the final piece as it takes wet media well and comes in a variety of beautiful muted tones.
‘The final prep layer that I do on tracing paper is a photocopy transfer layer. It’s basically black shapes that I want to end up as texture in the final art. I get a photocopy of those shapes and burnish it onto the final art with colourless xylene markers. It creates a beautiful printmaking-like texture, reminiscent of lithographic prints. The final illustrations are made with coloured pencil, pastel, gouache, watercolour washes and photocopy transfer. All these elements combined create the “old” look I was going for.’