Assignment 4: Magazine Illustration

A very loose brief is given… in this case the choice of one of four topics:

  • Lost
  • Disaster
  • Discovery
  • Guilty Secret

It is also specified the at the illustration should be based on a still life, although the development of the final illustration from the initial still life is not restricted.

I first decided to make lists of things that are associated with each of the topics to find something that I could work with the best.



A person, Specific items (keys, money/valuables), through death, through cracks in the floor, Lottery, Roulette, Poker etc.


Accident (personal, group, organisation, National, Global), climate, My parents have sold my x-box, extinction, fire, flood


treasure, truth, hidden city/tribe, science/material breakthrough, new species, Alien life, explorer, detective work, Indiana Jones, Laura Croft

Guilty Secret

Paternity test, ate the last biscuit, corporate scandal, M:Stress, chocolate etc (vice), confession (church), fraud, I don’t floss

I read through this list to try to find something meaningful but also wary of choosing things that are in my ‘comfort zone’. So I avoided perhaps the obvious ones for me which are the science-related articles (ones you might read in New Scientist) and the corporate irresponsibility topics… ones that might be BP’s Gulf oil leak.

Eventually I decided to follow the lead of the ‘Confession (church)’ idea. Catholics have sometimes reported the guilt that is instilled in them as children through the practices, such as confession, that are used in the Catholic church affects their lives and personalities when they grow up. I was trying to imagine what the specifics might be – what was the secret and how did it make them feel guilty when I saw a completely different angle. The catholic church has been accused of covering up child abuse carried out by it’s members and I imagined that this was the church’s Guilty Secret. But I wondered about making it more personal and decided that the topic I would follow would be about one priest who has not been discovered in crimes against his own alter boys and feels the weight of his guilty secret as surely as he fails to confess… perhaps he betrays his own church’s teachings twice, once by the crimes he commits and again by failing to mention them when he goes to confession himself.

The Still Life

Communicating ‘guilty secret’

I started by listing objects that were associated with the Catholic Church…

  • Rosary beads
  • Bible
  • Chalice
  • Vestments, stole, miter
  • Alter
  • Censer
  • Aspergilum
  • Cross
  • ‘Dog collar’
  • Alter candle
  • Statue (The Virgin Mary)
  • Monstrance
  • Cruet
  • Crosier
  • Sacramentary
  • Ciborium
  • Thuribule

It occured to me that the visual representation of a secret could be an object that does not belong… the odd one out… representing the crime. If the crime were murder then the murder weapon could be used – a gun, knife, ladies stockings (see Dial ‘M’ for murder), some arsenic.

In this case the crime is sexual abuse – which is at root, perhaps, a breach of trust: an adult who makes a child partake in acts which the child does not have an informed understanding when that adult is expected to protect the child.

Possibilities that spring to mind:

  • broken glasses (boy-sized)
  • a conker on a string (like a boy’s toy) or catapult
  • a boy’s shoe
  • a sweet (used to lure boys)
  • School tie (clip on!)
  • Toy car, plane, tank, jeep, helicopter
  • Half melted ice lolly or lollypop (like Kojak)
  • Spinning top – the tin ones that whine
  • Yo-yo
  • Marbels
  • Pop-gun
  • Acrobatic monkey
  • Jacks
  • Diablo
  • Roller skate
  • Slinky spring
  • Toy soldiers
  • Action man
  • Stuffed bear
  • Toy animal – like farm animals etc
  • Dice
  • Trading cards… football stickers etc.
  • Child’s watch

I’ve focussed on traditional toys because I feel like this is an historical crime – 1970s perhaps.

None of these are very direct… shoes and glasses would need to be demonstrated as a boys. However they all strike a contrast to the serious trappings of the Catholic church – the altar sets and other items could be chosen to look out of place when shown with one of these items.

If it was a catapult it could be made in the style of the other items… but that won’t stop it being what it is. It might make it more sinister.

Jacks might look sinister – they also resemble caltrops an “anti-personnel weapon”.

Action Man could be posed, or dressed (undressed) in a specific way.

A stuffed bear could be damaged (see children in need)

Another possibility is to focus not on the victim but upon the priest’s own guilt and how that might manifest in terms of an object. For example, perhaps he now feels he is doing Satan’s work so he now carries a symbol of that…

  • An inverted cross
  • Goat head with horns
  • Pentagram – point down
  • Broken wings (!?) = Fallen Angel (Dead bird?)
  • Apple with a bite taken out of it – evidence of partaking of the forbidden fruit… especially if it’s a red apple.

The child’s item would be better as a Satanic Priest is a wider number of possibilities.

Choosing Still Life Items – the Church Bits

Crosier: a symbol of the shepherd guiding his flock. This has a particular poignancy within this scenario where this shepherd is certainly misguiding his altar boy. Would be good to include especially if it can be associated with the child’s item.

Rosary Beads: these are easy to recognise and include a cross. They are also a personal item. Including them will help communicate the overall story

Holy Bible: as long as the words ‘Holy Bible’ are legible this will also help identify the story. It is common to se the Rosary Beads on an open bible… it implies the act of private prayer. In this scenario it might imply the act of praying for forgiveness for the guilty secret.

Chalice: from which the wine (or grape juice!) of the Eucharist is received. Receiving the Holy Communion could be considered the same as the ‘Last Supper’ that christ famously held prior to his betrayal and crucifixion. There is an interesting possibility here that our guilty priest knows or wants to be betrayed (to the authorities)… for his crime… or that he is considering suicide due to the guilt or because he can’t face being caught. In Last Supper terms this might put him in the role of Judas and the chalice, if spilled, could represent the betrayal.

Monstrance: this is not something I’m familiar with and perhaps might not be recognised by other people not familiar with Catholicism but it plays an important role in the mass. What is interesting is how ostentatious this item looks – it reeks of the theatre of the Catholic Church – something imposing and… well in aesthetic terms it looks Monstrous!

Statue of The Virgin Mary: The Blessed Virgin Mary – mother of Jesus – is big in the catholic church. It seems one can enhance one’s devotion by adding your own personal devotion to the Virgin Mary. Visually the classic statue of the Virgin Mary can look serene and can look down… a delicate juxtaposition to the accusation in the other objects and also a way (via her gaze) to direct the viewer within the image.

Alter: the large plinth in which is set the consecrated altar stone. This may or may not become appropriate at a setting for the image. It is strong in terms of transgressions – any sin committed upon the altar (on a consecrated place) becomes more of an affront before god… but we are not seeing the crime! Altars are covered with a cloth out of respect for it – and have big candles on them. These things would represent an altar location.

Censer: I’m not sure this is needed nut it does have some recognisable attributes, especially when actually smoking incense. If smoke would enhance the scene at any point the censer would be a possible way to introduce it. On the basis that there’s no smoke without fire… fire itself might be significant as a destroyer (of lives, reputations, etc) and as a signifier for the fire of hell.

Choosing Still Life Items – the Altar Boy’s item

I think a person item would be good.

Action Man: is my favourite candidate so far… a posable (un)dressible adult figure.

Conker: I like the conker on a string as it can look innocuous until you look and question why it’s there. It has strong association with younger boys.

Soft Toy: like a teddy bear… is my third choice. It is iconic as a childs’ item, although could be a baby’s which is the wrong age range for this story.

Arranging the Items

I now have some of the items and the conker and the rosary beads are very interesting together – they look similar in a kind of stringy – talisman sort of way.

I’ve yet to find an actual Holy Bible but I have a book of similar proportion (Oxford Shorter English Dictionary). I thought it would look more personal… perhaps a smaller volume would… but the proportion of the book to the rosary beads and conker is interesting because of the way the book provides a backdrop or a ‘table’ for the smaller items, especially when it’s open.


There is a pleasing similarity between these two items… it might be useful visually.


The separation of the ‘conker’ and the other pieces. This might be the opposite of what I’m trying to achieve.

IMG_5318 IMG_5317

The objects placed randomly – as if all three have been taken out of the pocket and dumped.


Using the Bible as a platform to display the objects. The conker is hidden too well here.


A careful placing of the object on the Bible. Perhaps this is the ‘staged crime scene’ – the evidence consciously layed-out to be discovered. Meaning in the placement. Reflection or contemplation by the person placing the objects.


Interesting: These three items suggest ‘environment’ – a distinction from being the ‘story’ but an important role. The way that the ‘Bible’ is out of the shot suggests more beyond view, as if the illustration would be a detail from a larger scene… perhaps looking at the one out-of-place object in an otherwise normal scene.


I’m curious about the objects becoming entangled -this might be suggestive. Also the cross here is viewed as if upside-down. It perhaps doesn’t go with the conker – which represents innocence. It is the priest that is corrupted but the innocent child has not caused it and in this image it appears as if the conker string is making the cross invert.


A more ‘random’ placement where the cross is seen as inverted.


A closer view with the cross righted.


Note for later: I used text as a background for the dog collage – if this image were to be collaged it might be helped with text in the background – perhaps even real enlarged (and significant!) sections of the printed bible.

I like the effect where the objects are seen in an ‘ongoing’ environment, as detail from a larger picture. It is absolutely the case that this image merely alludes via the objects to other events… it is as if we are looking at a single clue in a far more wide-ranging puzzle.

I’ve found rosary beads that are bigger – actual wooden beads rather than small plastic ones, with metal links and a detailed cross. I have also been given a nine and three-quarter inch tall Virgin Mary statue. It’s actually Our Lady of Lourdes – which turns out to be a statue of the Virgin Mary as she appeared to a French girl in the 1800s. It is interesting now I have wooden beads, a wooden statue and a conker that are all of similar colour. The ‘Chalice’ I have is also brown earthenware – I like that all these items appear to tone-in together yet there is an odd one out.


I keep wanting to have the rosary beads ‘spilling’ from the chalice… but I don’t think this is meaningful. It draws attention to the chalice and gives it significance but I don’t think it is relevant and may not be needed at all.


I though about viewing the scene more from above. With just the four elements. This is quite strong in terms of seeing the rosary and the conker side-by-side


The lower view shows the gaze of Our Lady of Lourdes which might be a better signifier. This is one of my favourite looks so far – it has quite a few strengths with diagonal lines and an un-balanced overall set-up caused by Our Lade being on one side… on the side of the innocent, perhaps?

IMG_5364 IMG_5363 IMG_5362

Some more experiments with the other Virgin, the bible closed and beads in the chalice. These arrangements are quite nice – they move more towards a more casual placement like we are seeing this scene from a privileged viewpoint but I’m still wary of using the Chalice in this way.


The Still Life


The set-up I finally chose was for clarity – the items are relatively separate and easy to pick out. The drawback of the conker in this context (ie: a still life) is that it is a little hard to read what it is… colour might help, or using a setting where it is hanging or being used by a boy.

In the context of a ‘Guilt Secret’ I’m interested in the state of mind that the secrecy creates… there is a conflict between confessing and continued secrecy. In my particular scenario there is even the possibility of continuing the criminal acts which deepens the guilt and, perhaps, makes confession harder to face.

This scenario would be more interesting if it was before actual transgression… if the guilt was about thoughts of transgressing… this represents a less clear-cut situation because no crime as been committed (except in an Orwellian scenario) and the guilt is about ‘entertaining the idea of a crime’… which is one of my favourite quotes…

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

(Translation unknown)

Aristotle suggests that the thought is guiltless…

The Brief

I’m a bit confused now about starting from the still life as a basis for the image… having tried to find a way to communicate a message using a still life I’m not sure where ‘forward’ is from here. It would perhaps be clearer if there were a magazine article to read.

I’m noticing also that I’ve ended up pursuing a very serious issue. When I look up ‘Guilty Secret’ it is more often to do with consenting adults and naughty cake (for the record: I don’t think cake is naughty, I’m with Barbara Windsor and just think it’s nice <nom, nom, nom>.)

I’m seeing that I now have a drawing based on  physical objects that it is possible to arrange to be drawn. That’s quite a restriction. My drawing doesn’t fully communicate the topic… it’s a bit ambiguous. There are bigger objects that I might have included if I were opening out the subject matter like – a church, a priest, a boy’s bicycle, a strained glass window.

The Assignment says that this is an opportunity to show my ’emerging style’… but I don’t have an emerging style do I? Whatever my style my be I don’t think it’s based on a still life… so I’m at this point that makes no sense to me. I can think of ways to take this forward and complete the artwork but I don’t think that the driving force is ‘my style’.

From continual re-reading the assignment I think I might have done things in the ‘wrong’ order. I’ve created a rough narrative before beginning work… I have a fallen priest and his vulnerable boy-victim. Maybe I can find the end with that in mind.

Let’s see:


The picture thus far is 5 mundane objects of which one, the conker, is the odd one out. To move forward I would like to highlight the conker and make it ‘read’ better – so that you can see it’s a conker. I want to both accentuate that it is the odd one out and introduce more of a ‘threat’ message – an idea that it being the odd one out is terrifyingly significant.

I could introduce blood to make a horror element – this could be tied in with some kind of stigmata idea – being crucified for one’s sins.

When I was drawing the ‘bible’ I chose not to be too specific about the visibility of the writing – the context suggests that it is a bible – but there will undoubtably be a suitable verse in it for this situation. Perhaps I could use this verse as ‘the writing onthe wall’ – as a textural element – to imbue the scene with the guilt that is held.

I’d like the conker to be ‘guiltless’, ‘innocent’ – rather than ‘damaged’ or ‘abused’. I’m reminded of ‘Raiders of the Lost Arc’ where the Nazi emblems

Approches that spring to mind are

  • to eliminate the pencil drawing by overlaying collaged elements… such as the text from a suitable bible quote, some photographic imagery for the conker which could be slightly bigger, and a single significant item that can be repeated for each of the beads on the rosary.
  • To create a rougher texture for the image – higher contrast, less clear edges and to contrast the conker by increasing its clean, accurate look.
  • Addition of the image of the priest – specifically the look of guilt on his face – the weight of the secret that he carries. Something to stand in for or represent his feelings of guilt and secrecy.
  • Addition of the image of the boy. This feels slightly more difficult. My instinct is to think about an anonymous figure. This perhaps drawing on high profile court cases of this nature where the victim is granted anonymity but the accused is not.
  •  To look at the role of the shadows – the one cast by Our Lady of Lourdes has a slight character of its own and could become the spirit of something else. Would have to be careful how this reflects on the character of the Virgin Mary herself.
  • The Holy Bible is essentially a book with a story… what can I put in it other than the bible? Can I use it in the drawing to depict the actual story that I’ve concocted about the priest?
  • Hail Mary – is recited for forgiveness. Original version…

    Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

    …perhaps the could fill the ‘book’ area

  • The book is in two halves – the left half has the rosaries and the right half has the conker. The two halves could be different… maybe the right half is something from a boy’s life – a rhyme?
  • “Ip Dip Dog Shit you are now it” ; “rock paper scissors” ; “eenie meenie minee mo” ; “A sailor went to sea sea sea to see what he could see see see” ; “XXX and YYY sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” ; “Ring a ring of roses, a pocket full of posies,
  • The right page could be colourful like a children’s book
  • The conker string is traditionally a shoelace

Coloured Drawing 01sm.png

I’ve splashed some Photoshop colour onto this to see what happens. The conker is redrawn to make it recognisable and then I’ve just put some tone on the pages.

I think the necklace will need to be redrawn as the conker was to make it real then those two items become the foreground and everything else takes a step back. I’m not sure about the colour… perhaps I could try to make everything else muted like it was ‘unreal’ so that only the other two items are vivid and lifelike.

Coloured Drawing 02

This is quite interesting – the vividness of the two objects as it develops. Their natural colours are similar too – warm wood tones. I could develop the other items in rough cold blue-black textures.

Developing the Background


I have found how I want to finish this artwork now. The final piece came from the earlier exercise where I drew a dog and then re-drew it in specified styles. At the end of the exercise I had created a smudged charcoal dog, in blue. This kind of effect would be perfet to create a contrast between the foreground elements (drawn in Photoshop) and the background. Mixing these two styles creates a way to highlight the two objects that are the best story-tellers.


A colour visual showing the approximate effect.


I made a lightbox so that I could create the background using soft pastels by using the drawing a guide underneath but drawing on a blank sheet on top. This one is on cartridge paper. The book has come out very well – soft and flowing. Also the chalice is quite ‘painted’. The Virgin Mary, which I tried in blue to capture the traditional colour, has been lost in murky colours. I dislike the shadows now – they draw attention.


For this one I used a rougher paper and I’m starting to appreciate the differences it makes to soft media. In this case the initial lines that I’ve put down are still visible after the smudging which I don’t want. The Virgin Mary looks a lot better because of the better definition – we can see her shape and now the blue works.

the book colour is great, but not so soft, but the chalice is now too saturated. I think I can do this again on cartridge paper using the book colour and grey for the chalice to try to keep the background elements more of one tone.

The dark outline on the left of the Virgin Mary is good and similar could be used for the chalice, and the yellow halo would be great if I can stop the blue contaminating it.

After completing the background it just remains to add the shadows to the beads and draw in the cross.



This is the soft pastel part still with tape on the corners of the paper.

Final Illustration

Guilty Secret

I’ve tried to make this a combination of all of the best bits of the two practice ones before.

I’ve tried to stop adding more colour to the objects once they are recognisable and have enough definition.

Overall I’m a bit disappointed as the effect that I wanted has eluded me… I reduced the blur to make it simpler but it feels like I’ve gone an awfully long way to arrive at something that seems to have little going for it. The objects now look a bit sparse.

Where I have tried to be clever with the rougher texture in the background and the computer drawn art in the foreground has produced less of an exciting effect than I imagined… it might look different when printed though – I’m only looking at it on a screen.

On the plus side it might work really well when it’s got text flowed around it.

Of all the things that I’ve discovered creating this illustration the most pleasant was working with pastels. I’ve not previously used them in a serious way but having a goal has help me to explore them… the ability to blur them easily with a finger is very useful and helps create rounded surfaces. I can see that if you’re working on a large enough scale then reducing the illustration to finish then a finger smudge would become a very effecive detail.



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