In the old days when I was a young illustration hopeful - hope as they say springs eternal and it certainly needs to if you are going to pursue any kind of a creative career, we were always told by practitioners of the craft that what every illustrator required (apart from the obvious ability to be able to draw) was to start compiling a scrapbook of reference material. This they remarked would stand you in good stead for those occasions when the Radio Times (everybody seemed to work for the Radio Times in those days) would phone you up on a Friday afternoon and ask you to supply them with an illustration of Thor Heyerdahl standing on his raft Kon-Tiki navigating his way round the Polynesian Islands for first thing the following Monday. Other than your scrapbook all you really had left was a trip to the library where you would while away hours trying to find the necessary reference, before dicovering that the local school was doing a project on Thor Heyerdahl and all the books on Kon-Tiki were out.
Consequently a comprehensive collection of scrapbooks each with a particular theme such as figures in action/ figures in repose/ wildlife/ historical etc, etc was considered the best way to proceed with certainty and confidence towards the desired position of being able to supply a client with whatever subject matter they might throw at you.
I never really did go down the scrapbook route, an acute resistance to the act of taking scissors to printed matter, plus a degree of not really being able to commit which bits of colour supplements to keep and which bits to discard without having any indication of what briefs fickle fate had in store for you meant that my best resource was the collection of bound copies of Look and Learn that our parents had indulgently bestowed upon my brother and I over a period of several years. In fact as they were indexed and entirely focused on illustrative and photographic fact based content they were probably the best second string you could hope for as a practitioner of the craft of illustration.
This now seems light years ago, as all any illustrator in search of reference needs to do these days is to happily trawl the internet for whatever visual props they require. In this page from Cloud 109, the script call for a bleak low rise block of council flats as Gina and Rabby head towards Cary's gaffe to try and rouse him from the stupor that too much dalliance within the portals of Cloud 109 has cast him into. The source photo was very easy to locate and from there with a few more photos located on Flickr the three panel sequence here was very easy to assemble. There are little touches such as the discarded "Wickes" catalogues which I stumbled across in my researches, when one photographer had dryly noted that the lobby he was photographing was strewn with the things, the deliverer having given up on the project when he surveyed the state of the flats he was supposed to be canvassing for prospective sales.
There is always a multiplicity of considerations when utilizing reference material but storytelling has to be the primary dynamic to what you include, otherwise you become a slave to your reference sources and your staging of events may well be compromised without you even knowing it. The best way to avoid this kind of compromise is to at least thumbnail out your page layout before commencing the search for your reference sources.
As an example I'm going to offer up these two pages from Herge's very John Buchanesque "L'ile Noir" / "Black Island".
The first is from the original colour edition which was in print in France and Belgium until 1966 when it was entirely re-drawn for publication in the U.K. by Methuen, who had insisted that as it stood it would not be sufficiently accurate to appeal to a British readership.
As a consequence Herge's assistant Bob De Moor was sent over to the UK and with varying degrees of cooperation, such as none from H.M. Constabulary but lots from the English Tourist Board and British Rail, set about photographing locations around Sussex and beyond. The resultant book was a tour de force in terms of detail but rather weirdly the drive and dynamics of the original book had been lost in the process.
So here's the two pages - what do you think?
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