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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

True Stories

Exercise One


Marie Curie: 1867 - 1934


I had debated whether this was a good idea, and toyed with the idea of focusing on Frida Khalo instead as I was worried I wouldn't find enough photographic material on Marie. I held back on giving up for a little while, and collected the most amazing images that would be useful in curating an illustrated biopic of Marie Curie. Given the importance of her legacy, I thought this would be an interesting challenge for this exercise.


I had landed on a website that was found through searching Warsaw in 1867 which of course was best known for when Maria was born. It had the most images and perfect timeline of information regarding the life of Maria. I pulled out almost every image, they were so good!


Once I had collected a few images of Marie, I started with doodling. I wanted to try and get used to drawing her and so began loosely sketching some of the great dresses she would be wearing in the photos. I also began sketching her face but trying to add a style in there, curious as to which direction I should take it.




After sketching some of the fabulous dresses that Marie would be photographed in, I had started to experiment with simplifying Marie's face in an attempt to make it more of a cartoon. It felt like I was getting somewhere, however it also felt like it lacked any kind of likeness. I wasn't satisfied with the hairstyle, as simple as it looked in photos, I struggled to get it right. If the features of the subject aren't hugely defining, then the hair is often a safe place to land in trying to achieve a likeness. I think we search for recognisable and familiar features when looking at a caricature, simply to identify who it could be, and in working towards a cartoon version of Marie Curie's life, the hair she styled seemed almost iconic of her character.




I quite liked the way it was looking in the above image, though the hair on the front view still needed work. I had already quickly established a few observations when looking through the photos of Marie. There's barely a photo of her smiling to begin! Not that all of her photos look unhappy, there's kind of a smile in her face without the expression being obvious. She seemed to have small features, her mouth baring the same neutral expression appeared small with a thin top lip and just a shadow below the bottom lip. I also felt there was something in the eyes as well, but I couldn't work out what, Were they small on her face? The eyelid was often visible which made them seem sunken in the socket and half opened. Did my cartoon look like her? Not really, but I think it's cool!


Moving on, I decided to continue with drawing on paper. I began sketching some of the key highlights in her life that would work for this exercise.




I was thinking on how to tell the story in each milestone, considering different crops to bring interest. For example, I couldn't find an image of Marie and Pierre being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903, only individual portraits of them sitting to honour their achievement. I searched what it would look like to be given the Nobel prize, and found useful reference that would help me create an image of them both holding their "medals".


Seeing their photos from the Nobel Prize helped on dressing them so that it would be accurate to this moment, whether the drawing I did was what happened on the day of them receiving their award was a detail that didn't seem important for me. Using the above reference, I also mixed this with photos of Marie and Pierre for their own pose and height differences. Just to show my process and how I used the reference.



When it came to deciding on what events to put in this illustration, I thought it was more suitable to focus purely on Marie's personal achievements rather than those in her personal life, such as, marrying Pierre in 1895, or having both children Irene and Eve, or even Pierre's accidental death in 1906. Although those are significant moments in her life and would add a human element into the biographic, it seemed reasonable to leave the private life out of it. She is the most famous female scientist after all. I was hesitant to include receiving a degree in physics, simply for not really knowing how that would look. I was also considering to leave out the move to Paris, which of course a lot of her achievements and discoveries take place. The reason being that I don't really know what to draw to represent this move, the Eiffel Tower which was completed in 1889? I had found images of their lab which might have been a good idea for a frame to represent place, but still it didn't seem to fit my illustration.


Maybe it was significant to mention the birth of Irene, as according to a timeline I was referring to, Marie had also began her work on Radioactivity in the same year, 1897. Which then led to Marie and Pierre discovering Radium and Polonium the following year! It seems insane that in the same year of giving birth, Marie went big with experimenting with radioactivity, of all things! Knowing the full risks of working with such substance.


The points I was looking to include:


1898 Discovering Radium and Polonium

1903 Nobel Prize in Physics

1910 Isolated Radium and defined a new standard for measuring radioactive measures

1911 Received Nobel Prize in Chemistry

1914 Provides mobile X-Ray service during WW1


Now that I had a few sketches and a possible style, I got to work on creating the final piece. Returning to digital, I worked in Photoshop to try and piece things together, considering structure and composition.






I really liked the layout in the third concept, though worried it might not flow how I pictured. The pose felt stronger in the middle with her name slightly overlapping either side. In a way, the layout made me think of the panels being like frames on a wall, which I thought worked nice. The main image of Marie holding radium seems to be very iconic, so using this seemed appropriate as a centrepiece. The only possible issue that I could think of was only having space for the one panel before this epic main drawing, which originally I had planned two, the discovery and the prize. With this layout in mind, I proceeded to create the illustrations for the panels.


I was enjoying where this was going so far, but wasn't sure what to add to the right side of the image as per the concept sketch. Initially I had planned to include another Nobel prize illustration to honour the second award this time in chemistry. But with the main image of Marie already showing the key breakthrough, another image didn't seem to match this or seemed to share the same level of triumph. I think the layout suits the portrait format, and perhaps it didn't need anything to go on the right hand side? I continued to play with the structure of the comic in Illustrator to land on something that felt balanced.



I'm really pleased with the way this piece came together, however I do think I would do things differently if I were to continue developing it. The illustrations felt right, but perhaps I could work on the layout some more, or adjust the writing. Maybe I should have focused on who this would be intended for. The cartoons suggest a younger audience, but the layout feels formal as does the text.



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