Grace Wilson is an illustrator, sculptor, and comic creator from London. Her graphic novel ‘Saving Grace’ – recently released by Jonathan Cape – follows the life of a twenty-something as she navigates impending homelessness and attempts to find self-fulfillment. This week, Tom sat down with Grace to talk about her inspirations, creative process, and plans for the future.
T: You notably share the name of the protagonist of your book Saving Grace, I take it this is at least partly an autobiographical story?
G: Yes definitely in part. Mostly everything in the book has some kind of grounding in real life, but that varies wildly from verbatim conversations and scenarios, to events that I’ve heard first hand from friends, to events ‘inspired’ by real life. I suppose the truest element is the main character, who I think of as myself playing myself in all of it.
T: Your previous book Eyes Peeled offers an eclectic collection of observations, too. I often find with my own work, I’m stitching together moments. Is this the process you use? Or, to rephrase that a little; were these fragments the drive behind behind Saving Grace or more inclusions in a set story?
G: Yes I think we work in the same way then. The process of this book was me sifting through a whole heap of ideas for little vignettes and scenes that I had, and then arranging them into a cohesive narrative. It felt a bit like doing a puzzle backwards, because I had all these pieces that I knew I wanted to be in it, and I had to work out the order that they went in to find the story.
I knew I wanted it to be about living in London, and I had ideas about the feeling and the look that I wanted to capture. It was quite a nice challenge for me to try and pull back from the little isolated slice of life stories I usually do, and show the wider context in which everything is set, London in this case.
T: Both Saving Grace and Eyes Peeled contain snapshots of background political events and activities. How important are these to you and what role do you see them playing?
G: The narrative content in Saving Grace is hardly new, but I think if the book can be anchored in real life and capture a strong feeling of ‘now’ then that’s relevant, and will continue to be in the future. I hope at least anyways! Like a little time capsule of the landscape around us these past few years. Things feel pretty depressing right now in England (and elsewhere) and it’s quite apparent that bad shit is going down but it feels quite difficult to know what to do as one person. I think a lot of us feel that way, especially in big cities, and I wanted to make sure that this rolling backdrop of unrest that drips into and saturates our brains everyday was around and represented, if not necessarily being tackled head on.
T: There’s an interesting combo of clean lines and more expressive colour work. What’s your process or approach when creating a page?
G: Haha. Does ‘interesting’ mean bad? Well this is my first full length work, so it was a massive learning curve for me as I went. I’ve only really been doing comics for a few years and I’ve never done anything this big, so the whole process was new. I wrote everything in smaller chapters, thumb-nailing and writing dialogue as I went, so then after a few more drafts I had the majority of it all roughed out, and then I just started! I’m not one for revising or poring over stuff, and because it’s hand inked everything had to be mostly right first time because I could never have been bothered starting over haha.
I like really lurid colours and bright, busy imagery so I enjoyed trying to squish in lots of background details and patterns. Maybe sometimes it seems a bit much on the page, but that’s what it’s like living in London I think, there’s so much stuff everywhere invading your field of vision it almost hurts your eyes.
T: Ha! Oops. I meant “interesting” as in “an intriguing or stimulating distinction”. There’s a bit of contrast, that works a few angles. You’ve got the clarity, while still having the character (of your own drawing “style” – I hate that word – but also some of the nature of the materials). I find a lot of this can get lost in digital work (certainly feel its loss in my own stuff). Was it a pen for the lines? Or all paint?
G: I rough everything out in pencil on the page, and then use a 00 or a 000 brush with black ink to outline, then I just colour it in as I see fit. I have a nice colour palette of these German inks I love, and I mostly tried to limit again the colours per page depending on the vibe that’s needed. I don’t think I could ever work on a computer. I really enjoy doing everything by hand, and I love the blotchy texture that comes from the ink. I always prefer artists who work a bit looser and scratchier, and I’m quite averse to clean smooth lines and flat Photoshop colour palettes.
I didn’t work on the book in chapter order, and as I did it over 6-8 months I can see the change in some of the linework and composition choices, and when I finished I was paranoid that it looked really inconsistent. But actually I quite like that now. Some of the chapters where my character is having more of a shittier time happen to be drawn a bit rougher, and in hindsight I think that just adds to it. And like I said earlier, I don’t like re-doing things, and knowing what gets put down on paper first is what it’s going to be helps me I think. It adds an element of danger or something, haha.
T: And finally, what can we expect in the future? Anything lined up?
G: Err… I’m not sure yet. It’s been quite a trial for me making this book and when I finished I didn’t want to pick up a pencil. I’m actually doing a short teaching course at the minute because I wanted to have a little drawing sabbatical and occupy my mind with non-drawing stuff. I think it was a good move, as I’m only halfway through the course and I’m already jonesing to get back in the studio and do some more of my own work. I did a little comic for a great Swedish zine (Det Grymma Svärdet) which will be out soon if anyone speaks Swedish out there. I also started writing down vague plans for a follow up book while I was in the pub last week, but I shan’t get ahead of myself before this one’s even out…people might hate it!
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