Thursday, 23 October 2014

'Rosemary's Baby' process blog

As some of you will know I had the privelege of creating a Rosemary's Baby print for Film 4, Somerset House and Print Club for their Summer Screenings exhibition.  The film is one of my favorites so it was a dream commission.  And involved a fair bit of preperation which I'm going to share with you.

To start with I sketched some super rough ideas of what I might like to try and do for the poster. Oddly there's a mini me reminding myself to work small...  Actually the working small for drafts idea has remained with me; most of the illustrations I do now begin with minutare (A5) versions.  That way I can get a better sense of my design without investing too much time in to them only to find they don't work very well.

More rough sketches.  I don't remember drawing the bottle with the horns.  It's an embarassing idea even as a 10 second rough.  I tend to look at what posters are around already for the film at this point and also lp and dvd artwork.  In this instance I also looked at some of the original book artwork, the best of which focuses on the Dakota building with little evil gargoyles hanging off of it.  The main reason for doing this research is to try and avoid anything that's been done before.

Next up I watch the film and make little notes of key scenes, visual references, colour and design themes, as well as significant quotes all with timings to refer back to.  When it comes to reworking film posters I have a bit of an issue with the lazy Google approach to visual referencing.  I'd much rather try and find my own significant visual references within a film.  So here you have the Dakota building at the beginning, some furnishings from inside the building, Mia looking wonky as a result of my poor sketching and a terrifying Ruth Gordon through the spy hole.  Kind of wish I'd developed this idea a little more; she looks great!

More key references from the film.  This page appears to run for the middle half an hour of the film with the eerie witches necklace, the horrific Satan nightmare sequence/sex scene and some more Mia references.

There's another page of film references then I start to develop some of the rough ideas a little more. It's fair to say I'd settled on green as my key colour by this stage (the print was restricted to two colours).  Both of these drafts were technically quite challenging and decided to drop the Dakota building with various key objects in it as it seemed to veer into something quite architectural that I don't think I would have been able to make work very easily.

I developed the hooded Satanists behind the pram draft a little more with the scrabble letters spelling out 'ALL OF THEM WITCHES' but it was a little tricky from a perspective point of view and I wasn't keen on Rosemary not being in it either.

I then developed a few of my initial ideas and drafts into slightly more presentable versions for the art directors to feedback on.  This was an early version of Rosemary in front of the building - for me the two key elements of the movie - even though it was an early draft I wasn't happy with my drawing of Mia.  I like some of the textures and crude colouring style but overall it feels a little too generic and doesn't really say anything about the film.

Next is another Rosemary and the Dakota building variation where there's more significance placed on Rosemary's pregnant state and a sense of the foreboding building ominously towering over her.

This next draft was one of my favourites and got the best response from my friends. It was a nod to the terrible cheesy Athena posters of the eighties with a man's protective arm reaching around a pregnant stomach but obviously it's not quite the same with the devils scaly arm caressing the pregnant stomach of Rosemary.  To me it's a really strong image and it tells you everything you need to know about the film.  Possibly too much if anything...

This is the final draft we decided to go with which again features Rosemary and the Dakota building but with Rosemary off centre.  I added little Devilish details like a Pentagram in the brick work and the railings although these were ditched in the final version.  By this point it'd been established that my choice of green wasn't what the art directors wanted so we went for a more neutral light blue.  I personally would've preferred to keep it green as that's a key colour theme throughout the film but I can understand why the decision was made to go blue.

At this point I did wonder if a gold or bronze ink might work well and even added an elaborate border which was meant to imitate the grand furnishings of the Dakota building.  It frames the piece quite nicely but it's a little busy.  

With the direction of the poster agreed upon it was time to illustrate the poster.  I worked in dipping pen and indian ink over a blown up version of the rough draft on a light box.  I didn't have one specific visual reference for Mia, I was working from a few and also some visual references of pregnant women.  The elongated hands and fingers were a little nod to Mucha as well.  I scanned and cleaned up the linework and added some halftone ink wash patterns for a little more shading. 

Using the half tone ink washes I added the blue sky and some colour to the building. 

I was happy with the design at this point - the detail in the Dakota building took the best part of a day on it's own - but overall it still lacked a little something.  I decided to add a pattern to Rosemary's dress which I referenced from a yellow floral dress she wears in the film.  I drew out some simple flowers and leaves in pen and ink and then reworked them into a more cohesive pattern placing them over my drawing of Rosemary in a way that doesn't distract too much from the detail of the piece. 

And here's the final piece which was brilliant printed by the Print Club Tuck Shop guys.  

Apologies for the length of this blog but I thought someone might be interested in knowing how I go about making an illustration like this.  It's fair to say it's a lot of work and challenging but I can happily say it's one of my favourite pieces from the last year or so and I particularly like the flower pattern; it's very evocative of the time the film was made.  The illustration is perhaps less 'horror' than I would've gone for - but with something like this there's always some compromise involved - and besides who wants something horrific  on their wall? Well other than me that is... 

I've mentioned it before but the seal of approval from Mia Farrow pretty much made my year.  The print is available to buy from Print Club and I have a few APs for sale too.  Email me directly at if you want to buy one. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Horror at the Horniman

Puck Collective present Horror at the Horniman; a drawing event at the Horniman Museum in South London on Sunday 2nd November.  All are welcome!  For more information email me at