A word from the illustrator

The world of Dickens’s last book will be rendered more tangible for The Drood Inquiry thanks to the wonderful illustrations of Alys Jones (http://alystration.wordpress.com/). Here, Alys explains the process of creating new visualisations of Dickens’s characters, along with the particular challenges and influences on her work for the project.

Producing illustrations for The Drood Inquiry has felt like the perfect brief for me, as I have always had a fascination with history and costume. Some of my previous work has been quite influenced by books from the Victorian era, although I had not read The Mystery of Edwin Drood until I heard about this project. But once I had read the book I couldn’t wait to start drawing the vivid (and occasionally terrifying) residents of Cloisterham.


Mr Honeythunder in development

 I was asked to depict the characters in the form of little portraits/mugshots, which meant I could have lots of fun trying to capture their personalities in their posture and faces. It felt important for the illustrations not to reveal too much, or offer any judgement on whether a character is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. So I’ve often tried to retain a little ambiguity in their expressions. However, some of the characters are quite flamboyant, which is a lot of fun to try and capture. Some were certainly easier to depict than others, Jasper was tricky because he is quite inscrutable and shady. In my mind he would be quite a handsome chap, if it wasn’t for his sinister, slightly twisted intensity. My favourite drawings to make were probably Durdles and Princess Puffer, their clothing has lots of scuffs and stains, which is fun to draw.


Mr Durdles

 I began by scribbling down descriptions of the characters as I read through the book, and making some very rough sketches alongside. I also looked closely at the existing illustrations for The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Luke Fildes, although I didn’t want to borrow too much directly from them. For inspiration on clothing and hairstyles, I referred to some well-thumbed books on costume, and looked at lots of Victorian portraits. After this the fun part was inventing the characters and all the little details of their appearance.

The images begin as a pencil sketch, which ends up being rubbed out and re-drawn many times, evolving quite a lot before I ink in the lines. I wanted the pictures to call to mind book illustrations of the time, and I used quite a lot of cross hatching to create depth and texture, before adding watercolours.

While working on the drawings I sometimes had in mind John Tenniel’s images for Alice in Wonderland, because I love how solid looking and expressive the characters appear in his illustrations, and the fluid confidence of his lines. I was also influenced by Hogarth’s paintings and engravings.

Published by Pete Orford

I'm course director of the MA in Charles Dickens Studies at the University of Buckingham in conjunction with the Dickens Museum in London. I am currently editing Pictures from Italy for the Oxford Dickens collection, and I'm Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry (www.droodinquiry.com). My book "The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel and our endless attempts to end it" was published by Pen and Sword Books in 2018.

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