We're thrilled to continue supporting The Batsford Prize by awarding a £500 Cass Art Bursary to artist and illustrator Lewis Darley who's graduating this summer from a BA in Illustration from the University of the West of England; his satirical and stylised illustrations excited and inspired us. We caught up with Lewis to find out more about his work and plans for the future:
Firstly congratulations on winning the £500! How are you doing and what plans do you have for the bursary?
I’m blown away if I’m honest, and it’s lovely that people have read my book and that they enjoyed it. I think I’m going to spend the money on a lightbox, so I don’t have to borrow the one from University anymore and lug it home every weekend. Then I’ll use the rest to continue paying for my creative cloud subscription, now I no longer can get away with the student discount!
Lewis Darley, Extract from Dirt Percy Wakes
Your graphic novel ‘Dirt’ was your award winning piece, we just love it! Could you explain the story behind it for our readers?
“Dirt” is the story of Percy Jones, who wakes up in a morgue to discover he has died. He then walks home to Sue, his wife, and the two of them navigate the situation now that Percy no longer needs to sleep or eat, and is slowly starting to decompose. It’s far less dark than it sounds!
"Set yourself personal deadlines and projects, just to encourage you to keep drawing"
Lewis Darley, Extract from Dirt Mourning Today
Your use of colour is quite striking – it seems you’re very strict with your palette, moving through highly stylised monotone panels or a very limited selection of contrasting colours. How do you approach your decision making process with colour?
It was coloured blue initially for the very unimaginative reason that he’s woken up in a morgue, and morgues are cold! I started to introduce red later on in the book to show warmer tones. I started to mix the colours when Percy starts to sleep in the freezer, as I thought it would be interesting to have one character drawn differently to make him stand out.
Lewis Darley, Extract from Dirt Mortally Challenged
Humour seems very prevalent in your work, playing with language as well as imagery. What is it about humour and satire that is important to your work?
I love writing as well as illustrating, and I think the language and speech really helps sell the tone of “Dirt.” The book had the potential to be a bit dark and depressing, due to its subject matter, but I wanted to keep it light and funny. I really wanted my characters to talk like real people, or at least how real people would react to such a strange situation. I think humour and satire is often a really good way to tackle more important issues. I’ve tried to make more serious work in earlier years of university, but it often feels very disingenuous.
"Don't be afraid to try new styles of working, as you might find something that really works for you"
Lewis Darley, Extract from Dirt The Bandsaw
We’d love to learn more about how to create your work. When settling down to a new piece could you talk us through your process?
I script and draw everything at the same time. I don’t start by sketching the characters first, or by writing the dialogue, as both compliment the other so much in my work. Once I’ve got a very rough idea about how I want the page to look, I draw a pencil version of the spread, which I then trace with colouring pencils using a lightbox. I then draw details like the faces and the text on a separate ink layer. After this I scan everything, and start stitching all the layers together in photoshop.
And what materials do you use in your work? What are your go to brands?
I use Faber-Castell polychromos pencils, and I swear by them. Problem is, I hold my pencil like a toddler, so I grind them down at an alarming speed and have to buy new ones pretty rapidly. I didn’t figure out that you could buy them individually until I was about a third of the way through the book, so I had lots and lots of pencil sets which only had four used colours.
Lewis Darley, Extract from Dirt The Holiday
Could you tell me a bit about your experience as an undergraduate student?
I’ve really enjoyed it. It was a slow burn for me to find my style and niche, as I was well into my third year before I found the style I’m currently working with. I wouldn’t be an illustrator if it wasn’t for my university experiences, as I’ve really been pushed and encouraged to hone my methodology.
"Surround yourself with other people who also like to make stuff. I've become a much better illustrator in my third year, and I think a lot of that is because I'm in a studio filled with my peers, who can give me advice and criticism"
And finally, what’s next on the horizon?
I’ve still got to graduate! Fingers crossed that I do. Afterwards, I’d love to publish “Dirt” somehow, and continue to work on other graphic novels and picture books.
Thanks Lewis and good luck with graduation!