Check out our latest interview with illustrator Igor Karash regarding his illustrations for The Legend of the Flying Dutchman book!
1) When and where was this body of work created? Who was the client (if anybody)?
This body of work is a set of digitally restored illustrations for the 2017th reprint of the book entitled ‘The Legend of the Flying Dutchman,’ first published in 1995 by one of the leading Russian publishing houses Detskaya Literatura. Toward the end of 2016 they approached me with the idea of reprinting the book. Unfortunately my original artworks have been lost, so I proposed to digitally retouch a set of test prints from the original production. The original illustrations were completed in 1993 while I was living in the small Russian town Kimry – near Moscow. I am currently working on the digital restoration in my home studio in Saint Louis, Missouri.
2) What were these images used for?
These images are illustrations for the children’s book entitled ‘The Legend of the Flying Dutchman,’ written by the famous Russian writer Svyatoslav Sakharnov. The legend originated in nautical folklore from the 17th century and has been adopted in many literary, musical, theatrical, and cinematic interpretations. However, Sakharnov’s adaptation is unique in its use of simple and poetic language and original narrative structure. The book is separated into a series of short stories, through which the reader is able to put together a narrative puzzle.
3) What was your initial approach to this subject matter? Was there anything unique in your preparation?
While I was becoming familiar with the text, my initial thinking was entirely about creating a visual thread that could accompany the text but would not directly mirror the book’s plot. As a result, few of the visuals in the book reveal what is happening at any given moment in the text. Most of the images are associative and conceptual pieces that deal with the mystical and philosophical aspects of the story. I should mention that I rarely treat ‘children’s’ content differently from ‘adult’ material. I believe that kids have the ability to understand more complex concepts and nuances than we tend to think. So in my work I didn’t try to soften the concept of life and death. There was nothing unique in my preparation, I surrounded myself with a lot of books on Dutch and European culture, old master’s paintings, nautical maps, and anything else I was able to find in the small library in Kimry where I lived with my family at that time.
4) Can you explain your creative process and the technical aspects behind creating these images?
Normally I work from small sketches and studies but this project turned out to be quite different in this respect: I was commissioned very suddenly – as a result of my walking into a publishing house which I had dreamt to work for. Luckily, I bumped into their chief-editor in the corridor and he was kind enough to look at my portfolio filled with a very dark imagery dealing with the terrors of the collapsing Soviet regime. I was especially lucky because the publisher had an unusually dark children’s story in their portfolio – The Legend of the Flying Dutchman. The Art director was called in and asked me to produce a ‘trial piece’ in order to get the commission. So, instead of sketching and conceptualizing I had to immediately jump into work on a large painting. The result was an illustration portraying the ghost ship’s much anticipated return to its homeland. The painting was completed spontaneously and intuitively creating an interesting juxtaposition of the good and evil elements presented in the story. In this process, it was challenging to coordinate the entire book concept with the trial piece. All of the following studies and final art were done in watercolors and gouaches on stretched paper. Currently, I am digitally retouching with a Wacom tablet and digital brushes, a technology which gives me the ability to emulate the process of working on paper.
5) What is the conceptual relevance of this work? Do you have any personal sentiments on the subject matter?
It may be a pure coincidence, but at the time I was working on the book I felt that the idea to publish a book with such a dark and mysterious subject came as a result of the crisis that my home country was experiencing. But at the same time, I feel that the story and concept are universal and timeless.
One other personal sentiment is that I grew up on the Caspian Sea in the city of Baku. My memories and impressions of the sea helped me in finding ways to visualize the ever-changing surface of the ocean.
6) If you had one piece of advice for emerging or aspiring creative professionals what would it be?
The fact that this reprint is happening after more than 20 years from when the book was first published, tells me that I did something right with this project. If I had to find the words to describe this ‘something’ I would say that I didn’t follow the styles of illustration being produced at that time. Instead I tried to focus on visually expressing what I felt while reading the book and tried to create images that would help young readers dive into the atmosphere. So, I would suggest young illustrators to pay less attention to trends and style, and focus more on the source material and its inner conflict, emotional tone, and narrative threads.
7) Feel free to tell us anything else about this work that the previous questions may not have touched on.
The work was first published in 1995 and will be reprinted in Russia once again in 2017. I believe that this work has themes and visuals that may be appealing to modern international readers and I would hope to see it published in the western hemisphere.
Editorial Note: Besides the upcoming reprint in Russia, Igor would be very much interested in running this project with a publisher in US. He has full rights to illustrations and can reach out to right–holders for the text/story. However, the legend itself is in public-domain and could be easily adopted for a further publication.
Check out more of Igor's work in his Dripbook Portfolios .
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