Episode 16: An original Australian horror anthology comic: Culdesac: The Artist Perspective

Art for Cul-de-Sac


Hey guys, welcome to episode 16 of The Arty Anglais Podcast. The podcast where we talk about art, culture and society to help you learn English naturally. You'll hear me talk about interesting topics, English expressions and English grammar in a different way so you can learn English in context.

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You'll find the interview Vocabulary along with the transcript here:

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Will Pleydon Art


00:00:29 Hey everyone, welcome back to Episode 16 of the Arty Anglais Podcast. My name is Tara, and I'm an Australian living in Montpellier in the south of France. So I teach English and art together to kids and teenagers, and I also teach English to adults. I would describe myself as somebody who is a very curious and I'm a creative teacher and an artist myself and someone who loves being around artists and art. What I really enjoy about what I do is being able to bring these curiosities and fascinations with the creative world to all my students. For example, just the other day my heart just melted when one of my students went home and proudly reproduced the drawing that I helped her to create in the style of Kawai and she did this all while learning English. So to me, that is just so cool. She is able to do two things at the same time.

00:01:39 I love inspiring kids especially kids who love being creative. This same student who is just 6 has become very curious about the life and work of Frida Khalo because we did some work about Frida Khalo a few weeks ago so she seems to want to ask me questions about her and her life and all the things she did. And she does this at the start of every lesson now. I feel like, even if the work I do with them just plants a seed of curiosity about art, artists and English, that to me is the most important thing. Creativity is something I feel should be nurtured and that's why I do what I do. I very much believe that my role is to motivate the kids to want to learn and to be curious for the long term because that is what keeps them interested.

On that note, I sometimes share the work I do with kids on Instagram and Facebook. So if you're not already following me, come find me on Instagram or facebook @arty_anglais. I always have links in the show description so you'll be able to find that in the transcript notes.

00:02:58 Two weeks ago you heard me speak about an Australian comic: Culdesac in an interview with the author Andrew Shaw. Today you'll hear the perspective of the artist and visual storyteller Will Pleydon. Before you listen to the episode for your information, I have put together a PDF that you'll be able to download from the transcript with a link to find where you can buy the comic, a few sample images, vocabulary and expressions from today's episode. Just like in the previous episode. So to explain a little bit more of the expressions and the grammar. It's all in that PDF because in the interview I don't get an opportunity to talk much about the expressions.

00:03:48 As I said in the last episode I fell in love with the visual storytelling in this comic. Will is an extremely talented artist and I really appreciate the handmade aesthetic of his images. It's a style I'm really drawn to myself. You'll hear from Will about why he chooses to paint in this style. Personally, I'm a huge advocate and a big fan of hand drawings. I can appreciate digital art and the amazing skills of digital artists but there is just something about hand drawing that brings with it this really nice hand made aesthetic. When one draws by hand, much thought must go into the placement, the colour, the direction, and even length of a line that, once placed, becomes a permanent part of the drawing. While when drawing with a computer, a line can be placed, tested, and removed within a few clicks.

00:04:49 It is this quality of hand drawing that I have come to appreciate in many artists and look to in my own art when I'm urban sketching for example. It's this quality that I hope we never lose. It's nice to be able to have a contrast between digital and hand drawing. This is why I was really looking forward to speaking to Will today. His illustrations are painstakingly detailed and the action is well captured. As you heard in the last episode, (if you heard in the last episode) it took him nearly two years to complete the drawings for the comic Cul-de-sac. For example, in the comic, even the spraying blood and all the gory details were so well executed that I found myself constantly saying - wow - that must have taken him ages!!! I wanted to know in the interview where he got his patience from! How did he stay so motivated over such a long period of time? How on earth did he fit his day job as a teacher in with his life as an artist and juggling 7 kids? Every time I talk to a new artist, I find myself being inspired and reassured that being an artist is a life long process of learning and trying new things and finding ways to stay focused as an artist. So thank you very much Will for inspiring me as an artist too.

00:06:19 As I have been doing in the last few episodes I've shared an artist statement so today I'm going to share Will's artist statement and his work and he says:

I've been illustrating and painting for 25 years and in the last 10 years have produced several published works. Originally I trained as a fine artist (B.A Fine arts UWS, dip ED) and have been an art teacher in the New South Wales & VIC Education system for 20 years. I now teach part-time at the Flying Fruit Fly Circus School & Wodonga Middle Years College, where I educate young creative students in Visual Arts.
The Artist In Me' is my publishing brand, which I illustrate, design and produce premium children's colouring books & art products (tested on my own kids and drawing on my vast knowledge of what engages children). These are stocked in several zoos, museums and boutique stores around Australia. I also regularly produce commission work.
I have a passion and gift for creating engaging and entertaining children's and adult content - both in the classroom and through my publications. All of my work is produced traditionally using gouache, pencil and ink, in a variety of styles from traditional realism to cartoon & caricatures. I create all this from my home design studio in southern NSW where I live with my family.

00:07:57 So, you can find Will's work on Instagram and Facebook and on ArtStation he has a portfolio. As a teacher, I am sure that Will is inspiring many young people to be creative. Before the interview, he was telling me that both he and his students were doing Inktober so it's great to hear of an art teacher who is engaging his students in the art world outside of school. Check out his Instagram and you'll be able to see some of his Inktober challenges. As he said in his artist statement, he also makes colouring books which of course is very interesting to me and my students. I'll put a link to that in the show notes also.

00:08:44 As I mentioned in the last episode you can support Andrew and Will by buying a digital copy of the comic on Comixology. And It's only $3.99 American (so it's not very expensive). I highly recommend you go and buy it or have a look. In the process, you'll be supporting the work of these two clever, independent artists and creative people. So without further ado, let's hear from Will about his drawings in the Horror Anthology: Cul-de-Sac and a little bit more about the process he had with the author Andrew.



Tara: Thanks for joining us today Will it's really great to have you speak to me on the podcast. It was great to speak to Andrew last week and now I get to get your perspective on the making of Cul-de-sac. So can you start off by telling us a little bit about your history with comics? Did you read them when you're growing up or did you have some favourites or favourite characters or is it something that is relatively new to you?

Will: Well thank you for having me. Yes. Look, I grew up a comic fan in the 70s and 80s and into the big boom of the 90s that we had. I suppose in Australia we (you know) as a

a kid I used to get a lot of reimprints of the earlier comics when I was (you know) when I was little (you know) like a classic sort of DC and Marvel sort of superheroes. But dad used to buy me a few different ones. Like he'd give me 2000 AD and Judge Dredd and a few of those other sorts of British comics that were commentaries on the state of America and what was going on over there. And of course, in the '80s the fear of (you know) nuclear war all those kind of things. It sort of fed off of that so it was a pretty dystopian sort of line of comics. and that was...and that was fantastic, I mean that really sort of fed an alternative, an independent view into my head. I mean of course the Superheroes were always near and dear to me and I think you know growing up really being more of a DC kid (you know) reading (you know) Superman and Batman and those sort of iconic heroes and seeing them drawn (you know) by artists that were very much (you know) icons themselves (you know). The Curt's Swans and the John Buscema and people that were really steeped into getting the Anatomy right and coming from that illustrative sort of era of the way they did things in the 40s or 50s. It was very much an inspiration... (you know) and it's something that I link to drawing from life (you know). Like, you could go draw someone and that would look similar to those characters you know. It was good.

Tara: who was your favourite character... growing up?

Will: ah look it would have to be superman. It was someone that I just loved it was (you know) I (you know) when I was a kid it was with dad and I'd watch the old George Reeves 50s black-and-white sitting on television and in (you know) of course when I was little the ... the Christopher Reeve Superman came out on television at the movies. So it was sort of everything around me at the time. But you're definitely Superman was the one. And the one I find hardest to draw because it's very nerve-wracking. I get really nervous about drawing him. It's so much pressure

Tara: you want to do it justice?


Will: oh yeah you just think that's not how it should be let me try to give 50 more times yeah

Tara: Have you drawn Superman before?

Will: I have. I've drawn him a number of times but each time I cringe at it. I did one a few years ago of George Reeves and Phyllis Coates who played the characters in Superman, the 50's TV show and I think I did it four times before I was finally happy. I look at it now and I think oh no I've gotta do it again.

Tara: I think I've seen that on your Instagram. It looks good. I like that picture

Will: Yeah you might have. It's the one where he's holding before he flies or jumps out of a window or whatever it is that he does. It took a while. That's right it's in coloured pencil so it took a little bit longer than normal.


Tara: so is drawing and painting something that you've always been interested in as a kid? Did you study it or was it just something that you did as a hobby?

Will: Well I always drew as a little boy and I growing up and in school like (you know) I always... I was the kid who drew pictures (you know) in the classroom. But (you know) I guess we grew up in an age in the 80s. It was very rich in terms of material. Like I mean it was Star Wars and it was Superman, comic books there's all these different things flying at us. And (you know) for a kid like me who just enjoyed putting pencil to paper there was always plenty of influences that I could draw on. But, I guess it wasn't until I really got into high school and in my later years of high school I really started to, I suppose refine what I was doing. And but it's still all very much in comic-book style. It wasn't really until I was in year 12 (so I was about 18 at the time) and my art teacher at the time she said look (and you can't do this of

course now at schools) but she said in the early 90's, she said "look I'm gonna grab a few kids and we're gonna go away on Easter break to work on your major work". I said "oh that would be great (you know) So there was about 5 of us, 4 or 5 of us that went up to a country town and we stayed with her father for a week.

Tara: oh wow


Will: Her father was... yeah... he was a portrait artist. He only ever worked in pencil because he was colourblind. But that changed everything for me I can actually see someone doing it for real (you know) So I thought, I'm gonna, I'm gonna try, I'm gonna try to do this. I'm gonna try to be really good at this. I'm gonna try and take the next step with it. And look, I always wanted to draw comics and animation and those kinds of things but in Australia, in the early 90s it wasn't a great deal of...pre internet world... there wasn't a great deal of opportunity to reach out or find out the pathways for these things. But so I moved more into realism. I moved into trying to perfect or try to learn the ways of the old masters (you know) getting books out of libraries and trying to learn everything I could from everything, anything around me. And I just drew, I drew every night (you know) every night I'd have the drawing board on the floor and I'll be drawing this and trying to copy that photo. And oh that's wrong I'll fix that. And (you know) you're constantly working out the puzzle of what's next or how do I achieve that next standard or you know how do I you know tone, where do I have a line, (you know), How do I make it look like... there's... you can feel the back of that person's head... without seeing that back of that person. So it just became an ongoing challenge to best myself I guess.


And each work I could see you know it pass. And (you know) I'd sell works and that was encouraging but then you'd think 'Thank God' cuz I don't really want to see that piece of work again. I'm gonna get better each time! But, I enrolled into TAFE (Technical College) and did an Associate Diploma in fine art when I left school. And that was the best learning I ever did. I mean, we really did (you know) and 20-28 plus hours a week of full-time art just a lot learning everything from printmaking to objective drawing to life drawing. And you know nothing wakes you up on a Monday morning like having to draw someone naked in the room with you


You've got Liberty! It's a... it was an interesting lifestyle and I loved it. I loved every minute of it. And I ate it all up (you know) and yeah yeah it was interesting.


Tara: I mean, it sounds like you learned a lot from making mistakes as well and learning how to draw from other people and that's very often what I tell my students... is that... it's (you know) you can copy something or you can look at something but you're not going to learn until you make the mistakes and you really look at what you're drawing and to understand the anatomy of how the arm looks and the proportions and... Was there another particular artist that you were interested in say Leonardo da Vinci or... ?

Will: look I mean I think I looked at a lot of those guys but uh.. it wasn't... there's not a lot of Leonardo DaVinci work you can really look to. I mean it's very limited to how much work he produced as an artist. I look ... (you know) learning how to strip it back and

understanding (you know) that it became more about observation than it was about

what I'm doing my mind. Because my mind was too wrapped around comic books you know every time I draw a person, they had you know massive pecs and biceps to crush steel with and (you know) and you think 'that's just not realistic.' And I guess, you know, I really grew to appreciate the art of Curt Swan his early Superman stuff that real, realistic you know. He wasn't rippled with muscle he was just bulky. But looking at classical artists, I was really... I was drawn more to artists that drew from reality a bit more. Like looking at people like when I first started I was looking at Fredrick Remington who did a lot of the American West at the time (oh not at that time but his time) and Charles Russell who lived a life as a cowboy and drew from reality and it was more gestural (his artwork). It wasn't ... and it wasn't super realistic but then I sort of evolved and looked look the things of that era (you know) in the 30s, 40s and 50s that I really loved. That's when I sort of honed in on Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth and they are still my favourites today. It's just something important about their artwork that keeps drawing me back to it. And I suppose that's ...that led to very much my interest in doing the comic books that we do today. So I did Tafe for two years and I walked out of there with a very large skillset and some excellent teachers

that were very encouraging and then I did University for two years but really only for the sole purpose of getting a teaching degree because I needed to earn money. If I wanted to sort of explore art more I needed to have an income to live and at least I could be close to art when I was teaching.

Tara: oh you can encourage lots of other children and students.

Will: And I really wanted to be able to pass on what I'd learn (you know) through those problems and like you said before you don't really do your greatest learning until

you make mistakes. You know you really have to... it's just part of that building up of the grid of the artist and I guess also just being able to push through and just say that's great that was there and now what's next.. and ...and just puzzle solving. It's interesting when you see kids doing it because ... little the kids tend to do it naturally they just go in and draw. It's when we get all the weekend to put all the blocks up and don't allow us to have free-flowing art as well as we should.


Tara: yeah we get a bit too hung up on making it look perfect yeah exactly

Will: Right? and we just let those genetics of (you know) traits come down to us where we just say "oh I can't draw that I can only draw stick figures and (you know) if I had a dollar for every time I had a student say that I wouldn't have to work.

Tara: So many people will say to me "I can't draw, I can't draw" and I'm very much of the belief that everyone can draw but we just need to have the time and the want to do it I think.

Will: I say to them but (you know) I couldn't pull apart a gearbox on a car but if I had a mechanic show me, I'd know all the working parts to make that engine operate properly. So art is the same thing. You just gotta learn the working parts to make it look convincing

and to make it look like it's working so to me it's really just (you know) what people are willing to put in, in terms of time and what they're open to learning. And being able to unload certain things as well. It really is to do with the mind.

Tara: when you say unlearning what sort of things do you mean?

Will: well just like I had to. I was sitting there drawing comic books which I practice for a hundred years and that became part of my subconscious ((you know). It became the parent of a pair I looked at art and sometimes you've got to strip that back and unlearn those habits that you've learned to then to lean forward again (you know) to be open to new ways of doing things. You know it's similar to what I experienced when I first started doing comic book work. It wasn't the realistic portrait stuff I trained myself for years to do. I had to think differently (you know) ..........(MISSING AUDIO) or even to even to make it fast in terms of production (you know) I couldn't spend a month on one panel (comic panel) because that wouldn't make it work it in terms of our production speed.


Tara: so speaking of the of unlearning and learning new things and working on things let's talk a little bit about your comic Cul-de-sac. One of the things that I'd been speaking to Andrew about was ... so it's set in the 1950s which..is... it sounds like it's a particular style and a particular era that you're drawn. Is this... has this come from being inspired by a particular artist or what is it about the 50s that you're so drawn to?

Will: I just like the suppose when you start to look at cinema and you look at the colour that was in film back then and that Technicolor sort of look and (you know) I love old movies I love watching Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart and (you know) Lauren Bacall and all these actors at the time. They had a certain look about them, a certain character about them. Colour and design was so much to me (anyway this is just my opinion) but so much more prevalent back then. Like you could see you know the very Art Deco look in a lot of the way they had their cars and in their buildings. It was very simplistic, in some ways but complex' in others in terms of how they dressed. It was very conservative in some ways but in other ways, there was an underlying tension in the way they lived. I suppose I'm drawn to that era of that aesthetic of how they looked. I think it comes a lot for my mum and dad too. I mean they grew up in that era. My dad is 75 now and so he really was a product of the post-war world. So he grew up in the 50s... and those... and he used to you know repair cars and he was a panel beater so he would spray cars. So I was exposed at a young age of the vehicles that they drove and the pride that he would take in his ones and his cars. I guess it became an aesthetic I became very familiar with his brothers and the lifestyle is part of that and it was their values I guess and in the movies, they loved.


Tara: okay yeah I also really liked how ...I'm not... maybe this is something you're interested in but for me, I can see a lot of evolution of art where a lot more people are swaying towards digital art and for me it just has that really nice handmade care feel particularly in the comic. I really like that aesthetic. Is it something that you're more interested in - the handmade and the hand-drawn style?

Will: Well I am and I think that's partly only because of my own stupid lack of knowledge around digital media. You know I guess I could sit there and learn how to do it digitally (which I really respect that people do that, they're amazing. They just crank work out so quickly). I can sit down and spend a night doing that or I could pick up a brush and excel what I'm doing on the paper and I guess I'll I always choose the latter. I always go look... I can invest time in Photoshop or I could sit here and figure out what I need to for the next level of what I need to learn. So I guess for me it's you know even though I suppose the world is ( I think this world is swaying between the two eras of art now I do you know I think people they want to see handcrafted things a lot more. You that in cinema too. Like they want to see the puppets and the special effects a bit more. At the same time, they want the speed of the digital world so it's a bit of an interesting place that everyone's landed at the moment. But look, we...I guess I chose to do the watercolour effect because I wanted to perfect my knowledge (because colour didn't come easy to me at all). It was really a very hard thing for me to deal with and still sometimes is because I naturally lean towards black and white and especially painting was quite hard. But, I found gouache to be very handy and I like the thickness of it and that the brightness and boldness of the colour really jumps off the page and I really like the ability to do that with the colour.

Tara: there's a picture in the comic that I really love. It's great. It's in the first story and it's of the guy and he's looking at the bug and then he slaps the bug away and that bright colour is something that gouache really lends itself to.


Will: Absolutely. It's interesting. When I showed Andrew the originals (because we didn't, because we're so far apart) Andrew and I communicated weekly but it's always on messenger or on text on our phones. We really never had a chance (because we both work odd hours something. He works through the night sometimes and sometimes I'll be sending him pages while I'm working at my table through the night. But, I work the days. So our paths don't always cross. But when we finally got together and I pulled out some of the original artwork to show him what ... how big they were because they are you know double the size of a normal comic book size page. It was surprising for him to see the colour because the colour is actually bolder than it is in print. It's really... there's something about gouache it just tends to hold real value to it that's it just reacts with light. Especially when you layer it upon layer.

Tara: It's quite opaque isn't it. and


Will: Well that's the power of gouache it's an old designers medium that they used to use for posters and design work. It's an opaque watercolour. But it's less immediate than ink and watercolour in the sense that I can layer it down and loosen it up over time. It doesn't require me to have one brushstroke and it's down forever and that's it you know there's a little less pressure on it. You can build up you know bolder colours at the top and it's and there are a few artists at work in gouache today because of it like James Gurney and Alex Ross and um

Tara: one of the things that I really liked about the book was you really get a sense for what

the characters might be like and for example, that picture of the guy flicks away the bug. It's they're very animated and actually I was quite shocked when that guy turned out to be quite evil because at the start I was thinking oh there's this nice guy and he's looking after his roses. But then he flicks away and I just really love the action and what I was interested to know is where do you get your inspiration from? Do you take photos of people doing that action or how does it come about?


Will: um well I tried (you know like) I suppose coming from the portrait world I lived and

breathed like that (you know like). If I needed to someone to model something or something they would model for me and I'd take a photo and I'd work from that to create a portrait or whatever I was doing. But I suppose I kind of I wanted to push myself to the point where I didn't rely on that because it was gonna come to a point in comics when I was gonna I was gonna have to do something that I couldn't get a photo of. I needed to try and build my mind to the point where I could do those things and structure something without relying

heavily on photo references. I think that's where you tend to give it a bit more life. There's a bit more animation like you said or a bit more characteristics to the way they moved and more gesture. I think with you know doing a period piece like we did a lot of research went into it. Like I spent a lot of time finding the appropriate cars that were at the time and even the houses and internal houses, the carpets, the wallpapers but even things like I'd be on the phone to my dad and say "listen what did you used to mow the lawn back in those days, did you wear pants (but you know), what did you have on your roof, did you have like corrugated iron, did you have tiles and did everyone get up paint their houses like an America, was different? (You know) so there's a lot of points where I'd be ringing him and harassing him at night saying...he didn't understand what I was doing. He would say alright I'll tell you! But I had a couple of good references of people like that. I had a little old lady - and she was able to give me a different perspective from Melbourne because dad grew up in Sydney. She was able to tell me what it was like in Melbourne at that time as well. So there's a lot of that but I think when it comes down to creating that gestural look of the characters the only time I really photo reference things was if I needed to get the gesture of cloth 'coz (because) cloth is quite hard especially when you're bending. It always teaches you something new with cloth. So I'd put a business shirt on and take a photo of myself in that sort of pose.