Large illustrations have mushroomed recently

From event dressing to beer ads and privately commissioned murals, large illustrations have mushroomed recently. Some are created small and scaled into giant copies, other are life-size one-offs. All demonstrate big was of telling stories

Large is not a word you can overuse to describe the Stella Artois ads. The posters are huge – ‘colossal’, as Mother creative John Cherry describes the 5m x 61m behemoth at London’s Clapham Common and the 46m-wide one at London Bridge. Each features giant illustrations that evoke a glamourously retro Riviera, with a lash-batting blonde and kiss-blowing brunette smouldering across an azure sea, complete with sailing yachts and speed boats in the distance. The ads are the combined work of veteran illustrators Benicio, who created the girls with bouffant hairdos, and Bill Garland, whose backgrounds evoke the fantasy allure of a James Bond villain’s lair.

All this provides potent visual cues. ‘Things were smoother and cooler in the 1960s,’ says Cherry. ‘The idea was to evoke an earlier era, rather than pastiche it, and that’s why Benicio and Garland were chosen.’ One of the main challenges, says Cherry, was less the original acrylic artwork, but finding a Mac powerful enough to process the scanned images. Compositing the illustrations and readying them for multiple duplication devoured a staggering amount of memory and processing power, meaning digital retouching, such as cloning hair and elongating the girls’ necks to fit in poster space, took days.

Time was also a factor for the busy artists of Le Gun. The collective of freelance artists and illustrators created the decorations for the D&AD Awards at London’s Royal Festival Hall in June, and the project involved 300-or-so original drawings. Bill Bragg says the five illustrators (himself, plus Neil Fox, Robert Greene, Chris Bianchi and Steph von Reiswitz) took three weeks ‘working constantly’ to create the images, which were scaled up to slightly larger-than-life size and then mounted on to Foamex. The cardboard cut-outs are intended to evoke a ‘design party’, as Bragg puts it, with creative stereotypes poking more than a little fun at consultancy life. ‘We included a couple of real designers,’ says Bragg. ‘Someone did Stefan Sagmeister, with Pizza Hut cut into his chest,’ he says, laughing.

Many of the cardboard cut-outs were stolen at the end of the night by drunken advertising suits, recalls Bragg. ‘Many of them can be seen through the windows of tastefully lit loft apartments and at cocaine parties throughout Hoxton.’

The decor for the D&AD Awards is one of several large-scale projects Le Gun has created since its founders linked up in 2003. ‘It’s just something we liked doing,’ explains Bragg. ‘We were all working in the studio and started collaborating.’ What began as a kind of recreation grew, with, among others, a piece in the basement of the Nog gallery and a commission by the London free paper Metro. ‘They wanted an illustrated history of the newspaper,’ says Bragg, which formed not only a big-scale outdoor mural, but which Le Gun also photographed and sent out to potential advertisers. More recently, Le Gun created four giant ink paintings on canvas for the launch of Issue #4 of the collective’s magazine at the Rochelle School in Shoreditch. ‘We almost work like one person now,’ says Bragg.

One artist creating large-scale illustrations on her own is Charlotte Mann. The Central St Martins College of Art and Design womenswear graduate recently completed a hand-drawn, life-size mural for the School of Life in London’s Bloomsbury. Mann describes the one-off original, which she drew with extra-large black Posca markers, as ‘a big still life’. Along the four walls of the classroom, and from its floor to its ceiling, are the treasures and detritus of everyday living. There are film posters and old books, clocks, cups and CDs. There’s a spider plant that looks unwatered, and a Raleigh bicycle much used. Mann’s illustration shows considerable kindness to life’s clutter, with each item drawn with an almost doily delicacy. ‘Everything tells a story,’ says Mann, whose other big-scale illustrations include the backdrop for Peter Jensen’s spring 2007 catwalk show which is used as the front page of the website

‘People who come for classes at the School of Life might recognise some of the details – the books or CDs. They might have some of it themselves. I’m interested in the unplanned and gradual accumulation of objects you find in most homes. I hope the mural will inspire people to look at the normal things, and find these things, and their relationship to each other, interesting and nourishing.’

In ethereal, surreal contrast are the wall vinyls by Klaus Haapaniemi for French interiors company Domestic. The established illustrator, who was born in Finland and is based in London, has created small-scale work for Iittala, Marimekko and British Vogue, among others, but he has also scaled up for Domestic and fashion house Cacharel, whose catwalk designs he created for its 2005 Paris show. Haapaniemi’s work draws on East European paper-cut animations and features floating, fantastical narratives that remind you of Bambi and Yellow Submarine while staying entirely their own creation. ‘I like the old Slavic style because of the delicate landscape and scenery illustrations,’ says Haapaniemi. ‘And, of course, I like the stories.’

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