Editorial Illustration, 2021
After illustrating and designing the cover of her debut novel 'A Strange and Brilliant Light', Eli Lee asked if we could collaborate again for an article commissioned by the online newsletter Vittles on the subject of fictional foods. Eli was particularly keen to draw from her experience of imagining and inventing food as an essential aspect of world-building, and also to speak about the influence that Ursula Le Guin has on her writing. Le Guin's book 'Always Coming Home', in which she crafts imaginary cuisine using Californian ingredients, was a key text for Eli and she discusses it in great depth in the article.
As an avid reader of Ursula Le Guin, this was a dream brief to engage with.
Initially I thought about the way we eat, how utensils are designed and how they might differ for other beings. I toyed with the idea of depicting a science fictional table laid for a meal, in a similar vein to an earlier painting of mine 'The Ritual' (pictured below). I then thought more broadly about the pleasures of eating and dreaming, wanting the illustration to convey similar sensations of joy, warmth and the comfort of nourishment. I looked at Moebius' illustrations for '40 Days in the Desert' for their line work, the sense of space and unfamiliarity as well as freedom and movement, wanting to harness some of those energies.
The final illustration depicts a voyager, a stranger in a strange land, exploring and embracing the unexpected. In this world, clouds, the spores from the trees and seeds from an enormous unfamiliar fruit all provide delicious sustenance. As our traveller sates their appetite, they reciprocate the generosity by watering the trees and releasing more spores for the world's inhabitants to harvest. In this, I wanted to think about the ways in which we care for the environment we take from, replenishing the landscape and caring for others who live within it and remain there after our visit has ended. For me this is as much about the relationship we foster with our physical environment as it is about the one we have with our imagination.
VITTLES is a food newsletter, publishing international food and culture writing. They specialise in providing a platform for writers, illustrators and chefs not otherwise given space in traditional media.
Eli Lee's article, edited by Rebecca May Johnson and commissioned by Jonathan Nunn, can be read in full here:
Watercolour and gouache