Controversial was my first thought when I got yesterday's brief for the Independent. I was asked to illustrate the view that releasing the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was the right thing to do to protect British trade/economic interests. Having just logged onto the Indy's website (as well as the BBC, Times and Guardian) I was aware of the storm brewing over the leaked letters that insinuated such an opinion was in fact, a fact, and this knowledge contributed to my initial response.
I am often asked if I have ethical problems with any commissions I receive, or if I illustrate my own opinions and I always say that in commissioned work I create to the brief set by the art director. This was the case here, it is (in my work for the Independent) not my job to make judgements or comment on the issues, my job is to find a visually satisfying way of depicting the opinion articulated by the author on each given week. Until my name is attached to the words I am comfortable visualising their opinions, whether I agree or not. But it does concern me that sometimes people might see an image I create with a particularly strong sentiment and assume that it is my own personal opinion. I am not egotistical enough to believe that my work could ever garner such attention on a large enough scale to cause me any discomfort, but in the age of far reaching technologies one does consider this more then before. I guess that was one of the reasons behind my decision to start this blog, to give any visitors to the website a chance to learn more about the process of creating my imagery.
Generally for the Independent I am given something akin to a statement of intent, one line or sometimes even a mere word that I am asked to generate ideas around. Sometimes it is quite abstract, other times more descriptive such as this weekend's brief. But in all cases my position as illustrator is to do just that, illustrate, not push my own agenda. That is what self directed projects are for!
Some might argue that my position is a cop out, that I have a platform to say something important, but I don't view it that way. I have a role to perform and people have their right to agree or disagree with the views I illustrate on behalf of the newspaper. It is after all an opinion and debate column, not a fact and truth one, thus the ideas outlined on the page both in words and pictures are there to be discussed, ruminated on, shouted at or applauded. If comment is free (as one other newspaper declares) then I am happy to be part of that process.
Now saying all of that, yesterday's process actually went a little awry, in that the brief I was given and the direction I took became a little too similar to that given and taken by the cartoonist on the page adjacent to mine. So an 11th hour rethink was required, not the most fun of events but something to get the adrenalin pumping! I was asked to think about Gordon Brown's involvement in this scenario and after a little discussion both the art director and I decided to work with the notion that Gordon Brown had hidden the truth about the motivation for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's release (that it was for trade purposes).
A quick round of ideas ensued and after another rapid discussion we decided I should move forward with the image that appears in today's paper; that of Gordon Brown up to his neck (or in this case nose) in oil, holding up his hands in a show of surrender or pleading innocence, depending on how the viewer sees it. Brown almost drowning in the oil is intended to have political implications, the idea that this is another case where his political career is likely to be even further damaged and that he is metaphorically drowning as PM. It is also meant to be inferred that this is another sleaze type allegation, that leaks (oil spill > leak) from within Government show up more of Brown's perceived inadequacies and that once again the Labour party is linked with behaviour that one might call oily. Obviously the most overt reason for the spilt oil is the idea that the true reason for the release of al-Megrahi was all about oil and that this truth has now been leaked. Simple really!
As for opinions in my work, sometimes I agree with the authors, sometimes I don't, but I pride myself on the quality of the work being consistent irregardless of what I personally believe.
Finally, here is a little picture of the 'oil slick' I created at the last minute yesterday using vegetable oil and cocoa powder (for colour), I was quite pleased with my ingenuity (she says modestly) and this picture provided the right texture and outlines for the final image. Illustration can be a ridiculous thing sometimes!