Searching for the Fianna

Searching for the Fianna


Working on Daniel Allisons book ‘Finn and the Fianna’


When Daniel first approached me to ask if I would be interested in illustrating his retelling of the Finn and the Fianna stories I had several almost simultaneous reactions.

The first was excitement as I love these tales, they are epic stories full of the breadth of human emotion and experience as well as being full of adventure and strange, often terrifying magic.

The second was ‘help! This is a tight deadline! (Especially bearing in mind I would be away for a couple of weeks in the middle)

Closely followed by the third. Which was that this commission had arrived at precisely the right time, it would give me a chance to step away from the carefully considered colour work and style I use for the Folk Tales covers and explore pen and ink in a similar way as I had done during the #inktobers (#inktober is a challenge every October for illustrators to do a drawing a day in ink on a theme for that day) I had taken part in. and if I could do a drawing a day during October and make it work this deadline suddenly seemed much less formidable.

Daniels Manuscript arrived and I began to read… he had asked if I would illustrate every other story in the book, beginning with ‘The fate of Coull’ the tale of Finns parents. I was instantly absorbed and enchanted by his writing. and I can honestly say that if I have done good work on this project I feel it is a reflection in large part of the excellence of the storytelling in this book.

I am not going to reproduce any part of the book here, it is not published for some months yet so I don’t feel that would be appropriate. Daniel and I are hoping for an exhibition of the work to coincide with the book launch in Scotland next year so keep an eye on the news page if you would like to be invited.

I made a list of the stories I would be illustrating at the beginning of my sketchbook. I had decided to do all the work for this project in one A4 book so I could carry it with me and make notes/sketches whenever I wanted to.

I dedicated the next 15 pages to each story. Notes, sketches and in one case even the finished piece are on these pages. I remember after reading ‘the boar hunt’ I just wrote one thing on the page

‘will come back to this one when I can read it without crying’

I am incredibly grateful for the experience in illustrating for folktales and storytelling I have built up over the past 20 years, it has taught me a few things; one of which is that you don’t always need to tell the story in an illustration, reflecting an aspect, a feeling, a moment, is often more effective, and less is very often more…

Good storytelling creates a world of images in people’s minds, I prefer to work around that and present pictures that sit alongside that inner world and whisper quietly about the feeling of the tale, and hopefully speak a little of its essence.

I hope I have achieved that here to some extent.

One of the lessons I have taken from the pieces I have made here is that I need to allow them to be a little rougher and freer, not seek to produce something that looks too ‘finished’ to my eye, lest I lose some of the raw emotion the initial drawings have. Pen and wash is a more stark and immediate media so good for expressing feeling and I need to remember to treat it with respect.

I would love to do more pen and wash work, working in line and tone only is a discipline that can give a great deal of expression to a simple but strong idea. So if there is anyone else out there that would like to talk about working together I am here.


And I am looking forward to the next #inktober too, I missed it this year as I was working on this book!

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