Certainly Steve Lilly has more than a GCE when it comes to art. The talented artist has provided many meticulous drawings over the years around the comedy theme. We asked him to describe the process and tell us how he goes about such intricate work.
I have taken inspiration from the classic comedy shows I grew up on. Even when I had grown up I couldn’t go to the pub on a Saturday night until Only Fools and Horses had been on the tele, it used to be the TV highlight of the week. The characters created by John Sullivan were fantastic to draw as they were already etched into my brain from years of exposure. I could hear catch-phrases and one-liners in my head all the time I was working.
My first encounter with comedy portraits came when I was commissioned to create a portrait for a café in Derbyshire. Both of the new owners were mad fans of Dad’s Army and the café happened to be named Godfrey’s. They kept the name as Godfrey’s and one of their close friends commissioned a portrait of Godfrey and the rest of the Dad’s Army cast as a café warming present. I enjoyed the job so much I was hooked and began to create a whole series of portraits under the working title of “Comedy Classics”. Each portrait is a labour of love and I can take up to 100 hours or more to complete some of the bigger pieces.
Over the years I have refined my style and now have a set way of working. I use a pretty long winded method to collect my reference material. I watch DVD’s and freeze frame stills on my computer when I get poses or expressions that are relevant to each character. I might take hundreds of images in this way then gradually whittle them down until I get a manageable number of workable images (this method is also a fantastic excuse to re-watch my DVD collection). I then create a number of thumbnail sketches to get the composition for the portrait right. I try to ensure there are not too many dark tones next to each other and it is important to get the expressions of the characters in the right place on the paper. Once I have a composition I am happy with the fun really begins.
Due to the large and intricate scale of my work I usually draw a grid and scale it up to make sure everything is in the right place, I then apply my favourite part the under-drawing. Next I start hatching with different grades of pencil applying with varied degrees of pressure to bring the tones out and see if the balance is correct. Then I just keep building up the picture in much the same way, blending and fine tuning as I go. I am a very slow worker…..I pay too much attention to detail!
Although my work is often classed as a “pencil portrait” I use a variety of different methods and tools to reach my goal. Tools range from thick graphite sticks (from which I take shavings and blend into the picture with cotton wool). A wide range of pencil from HB all the way up to a very soft and dark 9B, and mechanical pencils with the finest of points for the really detailed work. I also use blending stumps to soften areas, putty rubbers to lift out highlights, I have even used wire wool and a scalpel to create texture!
The worst bit is taking the finished work to the gallery and waiting for that first critical verdict. In regards to “ditched artwork” I have been pretty lucky to date with only one trashed piece. This was Carry On take 1, it must have been around two in the morning, I had spent hours and hours working on it and was on the last character Barbara Windsor. What did stupid do? He spilt vodka and orange all over it! It worked out for the best in the end because I revisited Carry On years later and did a much better job of it second time round.