As part of one of my modules for university, I’m redesigning a cover for Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House” (1968), along with Italo Calvino’s “The Complete Cosmicomics” (1997) – but more on that later.
I read a few of the short stories from the book and decided to focus on the title story. The thing that intrigued me the most about the story was that in this dystopian future Vonnegut had created, there were birth control pills that were deemed ‘ethical’ because they didn’t stop you conceiving children but instead made you numb from the waist down so that sex seemed boring and pointless.
I knew I wanted to use pills in my illustration, and I had a look at some old Penguin book covers and found that the ones I was most attracted to were ones with simple repeat patterns, which suited perfectly.
I played around with different colours and pill shapes, just using markers to quickly get down ideas. It then got to a point where I wasn’t really trying new things anymore and I was only making minimal changes to my experiments.
I ended up looking into pill bottles instead, and found loads of gorgeous vintage pill bottles on the internet. I tried drawing them with markers but it seemed a bit too crisp a medium so I tried painting them loosely with gouache. (This was just after a workshop with illustrator and ex-student Nicholas Stevenson – inspired by his journal work when he was a student I knew I wanted to get my dusty gouaches back out for something and thought this was a perfect opportunity).
I also tried cutting shapes out of black sugar paper and scanning them in, editing them on Photoshop (just like illustrator Hannah Coulson who we met up with in London does), but it didn’t really work for me – I think the lines were too straight and uninteresting.
Just in time, amazing printmaker Charles Shearer came to do a workshop with us and I made a massive A1 stencil print of some simple vintage bottle shapes in blue and orange, using a drawn-on roller and bubble wrap to create different effects. Although it was messy and required a LOT of space, it was very enjoyable and I ended up with some decent prints, and I would probably do it again.
However, I did feel like I was going around in circles a bit again, so I decided maybe pill bottles weren’t really relevant enough to the story. I went back to my pill pattern ideas and started cutting some lino.
I did a quick sketch of the pattern to work out how to make it repeatable and then got cutting. I knew I wanted to make stamps rather than printing plates because I wanted the grainy effect an inkpad gives. I made one stamp with four different pills on for the first, block-colour, layer and then individual stamps for each outline so that they would all be slightly different.
And that’s us up to date! I’m really liking how it looks so far and I’ll keep you updated with my progress on this project as I go.
Thanks for reading!