Portrait of a Folio Illustrator: Tiger in the Smoke

The Folio SocietyThis week, we’re highlighting The Folio Society in our feature series. We’ve already learned about the unique characteristics of this UK publishing company and the wonderful work they’re doing to cultivate a sense of art and craftsmanship in the world of books. What we didn’t tell you is that we’ve been working with The Folio Society for weeks to develop this story for you, and they came back with an incredible amount of material describing the intricacy of their processes, outlining just how many skilled artisans contribute to the making of each Folio book. Up next, we feature some of the very special illustrators who add colour, depth, and fantasy to these incredible books.

Each illustrator at The Folio Society has a fascinating story to tell about how his or her conceptualizations of classic characters translate into the impeccable images that adorn Folio books. We asked Folio’s Senior Art Director, Sheri Gee, about how well the new world of image manipulation software and digital renditions mix with the old world of card stock, pencils, and smudged pastels. What you’ll find below is the most enchanting view of the life of one of these illustrators in the current age of books and media.

How do illustrations translate into the digital world? How closely do your illustrators work with graphic designers in this electronic age?

Our illustrators work in both traditional and state-of-the-art media, although increasingly a very high percentage of illustrators combine the two—compositional sketches are scanned and worked into, exquisite tonal drawings are brought to life on screen with colour and texture. Conversely, some artists who began their careers working in traditional media and then moved onto digital manipulation are going back to their roots, challenging themselves back on paper, back to a life without the ‘undo’ button.

The demands of the book dictate the style but the result could come from traditional wood engravings, mixed media, or graphics. Part of what defines The Folio Society range is its eclectic nature. Each illustrator is carefully chosen because he or she is absolutely right for the book, regardless of medium.

Tell us about who you chose to work on the illustrations for Tiger in the Smoke.

In the Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le FanuWe chose Finn Campbell-Notman to work on this enthralling crime novel. Finn has illustrated a few Folio books now. He has always impressed us with his excellent drawing skills, but added to that, he’s able to apply colour and texture to add such atmosphere, which is perfect for this crime novel. Finn also manages to convey a strong sense of period—something which he’s shown wonderfully in past Folio commission such as in The Remains of the Day or his fantastically dark illustrations for Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly. These talents combined made Finn the obvious choice—we just knew he’d bring the required intrigue and menace in his exquisite style, sitting the illustrations perfectly in post-war London.

So let’s take a closer look at what’s involved in creating illustrations for a Folio book by peaking into Finn’s world as he works on the visuals for Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. By clicking on the book cover below, you can learn more about the story behind the images.

Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

Essentially, the way I use traditional methods of drawing with digital methods is (and results in) traditional pencil drawing, darkroom/photographic method of light and exposure and drypoint etching and aquatint ways of using texture, line and mark-making. In this way, it would be extremely difficult to achieve by traditional, analogue methods alone the work that I do. I suppose my work, though difficult to place in method or period, is actually thus very much a product of the digital age.

Tiger-SMK 03 Avril study-sm

I read the whole of the book first, carefully, while making notes. Then, even more closely to pick out the details for each character, the scenario, how they are linked, etc. Avril is one of the main characters, so the study image is to get a feel for his physiology, attire, demeanor, etc. This is a fairly finished drawing [above], however, one then has to decide which scenes to depict through the book.

Tiger-SMK 03 Initial Rough -sm

Then you have Avril in situ [above], in a rough composition pencil sketch (roughly 1-1 scale). I usually tend not to define/draw the exact dimensions, as you want to give yourself some leeway to add elements in any direction and to adjust the framing.

Tiger-SMK 03 Second Rouch Detail-sm

Tiger-SMK 03 Second Rough-Avril-sm

Taking on board feedback to the initial rough and study and wanting to show Avril’s expression, I redrew his character separately and to a fair finish—especially the head—in pencil. I scanned this and blocked it in colour, light and shade in Photoshop to see how the drawing felt. Once done, and again, in response to Sheri’s feedback: the need to show the character at the bottom left to which Avril is tending I moved to the master drawing.
Tiger-SMK 03 Master Drawing comp-sm-v2

The above is a composite of three drawings: the policemen with flares from the initial rough sketch (kept sketchy and indistinct), the slumped character at the left drawn in a little more definition but deliberately course to convey that he is indeed dead, and in the centre, Avril worked up to full detailed and defined finish. As you can see, the variance of drawing feel combined with a variance of tone and contrast (adjusted in PSD) result in the viewer responding to each element both independently and as a whole, making for a richer image.

Toger-SMK 03 Master Drawing with lichen texture-sm

Over the composite drawing, I’ve placed a photo I took of lichen on rocks as a multiplication layer (a layer type in PSD which allows what is beneath to show through). I first made a black and white image of the lichen photo, then changed the tone, saturation, and contrast and once done, copy and pasted it into the Master drawing file. Then I adjusted the percentage of transparency and finally, by selecting blocked in areas (in another layer), erased by 60-70 percent the corresponding area in the Lichen layer.

Avril - Tiger in the Smoke

Then it’s just a matter of blocking in all the different parts of the image on individual layers, making similar adjustments to those, and then adding in several layers of shadows, tones, and highlights (at the top of the layer stack), working dark (multiplication layers) against light (hard light, clear, and other lightening layers).

Here is how some of the other scenes from Tiger in the Smoke unfolded in the illustrator’s imagination:

Campioni - Tiger in the Smoke

Campioni - Tiger in the Smoke

Amanda - Tiger in the Smoke

Amanda - Tiger in the Smoke


A special thanks…

We thank The Folio Society, and in particular Sheri Gee, Senior Art Director and Finn Campbell-Notman, Illustrator for their contributions.


  1. […] we saw a glimpse of what it took to create the beautiful imagery in The Folio Society’s edition of Margery […]

  2. Teta Bombardieri says:

    It’s hard to believe how amazing is the work which is requested to emphasize details of the scene and expressions of the figures ….

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