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

You Are What You Eat

Exercise 1 - Proverbs


When the Cats Away the Mice Come out to Play.


For this exercise I decided to go for the proverb "while the cats away, the mice will play". This saying felt very visual, out of a handful that I looked at I could see a scene happening immediately and it seemed fun to work with. Straight off the bat I thought that one drawing could be literal; a group of mice enjoying the freedom when the cat is away. Running around, playing, dancing and celebrating. The second drawing could show the mice misbehaving when the cat is away, which I suppose is quite similar in concept but I thought this could be more criminal rather than celebrating.


Before focusing on this exercise, I went through all the tasks in this part and made notes/plans for what I wanted to do in each. In the exercise "Once Upon A Time" I had planned to work on the story of the Three Little Pigs by Joseph Jacobs. When having a look around the internet I came across the classic illustrations by L. Leslie Brooke. Much of my research is left for the next exercise, however one illustration that I had found of his could not have been more perfect for this exercise. So much so that I needed to include it here as it truly matched the visual I had when I thought of the proverb "when cats away, the mice will play."



'Calico Ban, / The little Mice ran, / To be ready in time for tea' L. Leslie Brooke (1863 - 1940)

A stunning discovery! It's a gorgeous illustration and the timing of finding it was perfect. Although the subject is mice getting ready for tea as they are called by the bell, the idea of many mice running and doing things in a scene is exactly what I envisioned. What could they do in my illustration?


My initial idea was to follow on from Hogarth's "Beer Street and Gin Lane" piece; could I create work in the same classical style? It is why I was so amazed when I found Brooke's work on the Royal Academy website. It's classical in its style which I love. The mice are of a realistic nature, by this I mean they have not been caricatured, only that they are running on their back legs. There is in fact another illustration by Brooke which I felt also suited the proverb, without it being literally mice in the scene.



'They danced to the Flute of the Blue baboon ...' L. Leslie Brooke (1863 - 1940)

I really like the composition for both illustrations, and the obscurities in the second is both weird and amusing. Would not focusing on mice in the second drawing make for a good change compared to the first idea? I feel it might be difficult to create something original now that I have laid eyes on these two pieces by Leslie Brooke, it makes me wonder if I shouldn't go classic in my style and perhaps bring some modern styling into it. Perhaps I do need to caricature the character features.



My mind also wandered off to two classic icons, Tom and Jerry. The perfect cat and mouse rivalry that I thought might be useful in my planning. I thought about the house in which their chaotic chases took place in, I thought about Jerry's home in the wall and how Tom would often wait outside to catch Jerry. It felt obvious to stage my illustration in a house as you can imagine that there is blissful freedom when the cat is away for the mice to run everywhere. Like Leslie Brooke, it would be fun to have the mice interact with household items to further emphasise the freedom to roam the house, using things they would never be able to get away with when the cat was on guard. Would it also be interesting to show the cat in the distance walking away? Perhaps the owner is carrying them out of the house which could be seen through the window. Now I am thinking that perhaps this could be the second image, but the cat can see the mice misbehaving through the window!


To get started, I worked on thumbnails to think about composition. I liked where my thoughts were going but at this stage, I had no idea how I was going to construct them into an image.




Some of the thumbnails were feeling quite flat compared to others, and I wasn't sure if I was getting closer to the look I wanted. I did like the hopscotch idea as it felt more dynamic with it's POV and gestures. I thought I could have some fun with creating a fisheye style lens view, an idea I had gotten from a Tom and Jerry Sketch I found on Pinterest:



Unknown Source from Pinterest

In this example, I love the way they have framed the illustration using a circle shape that starts with the grass and is continued in the placement of both Tom and Jerry. The gestures follow this circular line and the silhouette is very clear with no obstructing elements to confuse the image. I liked the idea of creating a similar view, with the ground being lower towards the bottom of the frame, leaving a lot of playing field beyond this. Playing with perspective could also allow space to possibly include the cat "going away", perhaps even on a plane!


I took my hopscotch idea over to Procreate and continued a few different thumbnails to establish the winning composition.




I liked the bottom left the most, but didn't think the background was right for it. I did think a kitchen would be fun as going for food feels like a natural instinct of a mouse, but I was also liking the idea of a record player being some where in the image so I wanted to try a living space.


Not completely sold any of these layout I was creating, I went on to try a bigger sketch. I actually used a GoPro to help with the wide angle view, taking a photo of a corner of my room to help understand how the curve would be.




This layout felt more balanced and complete. It had the mice playing the foreground and in the background. I was even able to sneak the cat in at the window to suggest that it was leaving. So I took it to the next stage with outlines. Honestly, I roughed this whole process and wouldn't consider this absolute final in terms of style, but I went with the flow!




I would consider this illustration the "good" side of the proverb. Its playful and happy, even with an angry cat glaring through the window as their owner carries them out.. probably to the vet.


For mice being rather small animals, going for that low viewpoint meant that I could keep them large in perspective. The wide angle lens allows to play with scale in a way that can help show their size in comparison to the rest of the room, whilst also making them a key. part to the illustration. I tried to avoid clashes with overlapping any elements of the mice to give a clear view of them. I'm pleased with the composition overall however can see some areas that get a little bit lost. I think if I was to draw this again I would keep the brush fine, with a steady thickness across the piece. The varying thickness in the brush used here makes some parts disappear, the music notes for example are not clear.


It would be really great to recreate this piece in a more classical style like Brooke's illustrations. I wonder how it would look with a slightly more realistic mouse doing the hopscotch.





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