Books - The Draw of Twitterature

Susan Omand talks about illustrating the work of Twitter writers...

If you stick my name into Amazon you’ll find four books, but I am not a writer. Sure I write the odd article here, which some of you even read (thank you!) but I can’t do the whole “putting words together creatively to fire the imagination” thing at all. No, my name is attached to four books because of the pictures that the writers painted in my head.

Tim & Death
I loved doing the drawings for Ben Cooper’s Tim & Death because the associated tweets were complete stories in 140 characters and the full scenario is set out and the book is a linear progression of Tim’s life so I could draw him growing up. This in itself was a challenge as I had to make sure that the Tim in the last picture in the book actually looked like an older version of baby Tim, even more of a challenge because I decided to draw them out of chronological order as some images came to me more quickly than others. I also made the conscious decision not to show Death’s face in any of the drawings. I know what he looks like but everyone should retain their own image of looking Death in the face.

That’s the beauty (and the beast) of drawing for Twitter fiction, or fiction that at least started life on Twitter. There is no room for padding in 140 characters so the imagery has to be very vivid. The brevity, though, also means that a lot has to be left to the imagination, a fact about which, as an illustrator I am very aware. As soon as I put pen and ink to paper, what I draw will, to some, become “how it looks” forever more which is quite a sobering thought. This is especially true of all the work I do with my VirulentBlurb partner Kneel Downe. I don’t mind admitting that, although I love the Blurb universe very very much, it is always a daunting prospect to make manifest a place and characters that are so dear to a lot of people’s hearts because, to them, it may not “be right”. But I also love that it’s just so easy to draw the universe and characters he creates on his multidimensional feeds. There are days that I feel like I live in a corner of his head and see what he sees because the imagery he paints with his words take no effort to create in my own head, and I just have to copy them down.

The Fool from An Owl's Tale
It’s also why I loved doing the collaboration book with James Knight – a chance to confront my artistry and see into a different head for a short while. You’ll know from my book reviews of his work that I am a huge fan of his work so when he asked to work with me on a completely new project it was a real honour, but not a daunting prospect. It was a chance for me to try a few really different and surreal things, to push my own boundaries creatively, without feeling the weight of a universe of expectation on my shoulders. He had just started writing about the Mannequins, now a permanent fixture in his Twitter timeline, and wanted to construct one part by part using his poetry, with an illustration accompanying each part. There was no other remit or expectation. I also only ever got one piece of poetry at a time so it was a challenge to come up with an image “on demand” almost, rather than waiting to see what spoke to me the loudest at any one time. It forced me to look at things differently, find a unique angle and step outside a lot of different comfort zones.

Mannequin's Left Hand
Mannequin's Left Leg

So why have I mentioned any of this? Purely and simply because, without Twitter, I wouldn’t have had the chance to do any of this. Without these great talents writing their fiction on the social network, I would never have found them or read and been so affected by their work. The wonder that is Twitterature has made me the artist I am today.

Images - Ben Cooper, Kneel Downe, James Knight.

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