Spooked Out!

                      House of illustration/ Folio Society Book Illustration Competition

Reading Ghost Stories

Reading Ghost Stories

Why did I set myself the challenge of illustrating three ghost stories, let alone a design for the cover? Partly to show our Level 5 Illustration students that we lecturers are able to join in and in some ways to encourage them along the way. ‘What did you make of the stories?’ ‘Did we like them or did we even finish them?’ In some ways this seemed an easier challenge than Heart of Darkness ( 2013/14’s book from the same competition) if one ghost story writer didn’t do it for me then the other two might?   The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by M.R James In many ways James being the ‘classic’ author of this genre and in this instance the best known ghost writer, this should have been the story that impressed most. It took two readings to really grasp the essence of the story.   So for the benefit of those L5 students who are working on this project here are some thoughts

  • Its easy to focus on the toad like creature but I would steer clear as it would spoil the reader’s imaginative horror.
  • Consider the depth of the well, the rancid damp walls, the glints of moonlight…the moments before the ‘horror’
  • Avoid providing simple visual description and look for capturing the peculiar atmosphere inherent throughout, a sort of ancient evil, unleashed.


  The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford This story lends itself well to interpretation without explicit reference to the ‘creature’. There’s the actual bunk bed, the curtains, the porthole, the sea itself, all these elements could be focused on to imply fear.

  • Your task is to maintain consistency with the first story, the same medium must be used, almost the same emotive visual language. Look for repeating the qualities of the first story of the three.
  • You could look at doing this image from the viewpoint of someone/ something out at sea looking towards the vessel?
  • Like in the first story I would avoid featuring any of the protagonists as capturing the Victorian/ Edwardian costume and making a disturbing image are very difficult challenges.


  A Tale of an Empty House by E F Benson   Perhaps for me the best of the three and this is because it genuinely made me feel disturbed. The context of the story being told is relatable and there is a sense of evil throughout plus the sense of not wanting to return to the house. Plenty of great material to go on.

  • So if I were to approach this story there would be several things I would consider developing. The sense of an isolated cottage is the obvious image but I’d prefer the possibilities that the interior has, shadows and doors opening. On this occasion an isolated haunted figure staring out from within.
  • There are possibilities for shadows to depict the lame killer, there is also the imagery of a desolated interior, torn curtains, broken furniture. Again its as much about implying the sense of disquiet than showing people attacking each other.
  • I have to emphasise that the three images must work in conjunction with one another so whichever story you choose to illustrate first, the other two must be consistent in approach and style.


The Cover Artwork This is the difficult challenge. You can’t show a specific story or refer to a specific incident, therefore you need to find a generic approach that captures the atmosphere and mood and then can be translated into a graphic cover. Its suggested that the cover remains simple but don’t be put off working in the medium you’ve worked your other images in.   Last Thoughts… Be true to yourself, you’ll not do yourself any favours trying to second guess what the judges are looking for, but by all means refer to previous short list and winners. If you work in collage, stick with this medium. Personally I think a subtle collage treatment would work well.   Everything I refer to and suggest is only my opinion and you would be wise to take this on board but act independently, so if you have an approach which you’re keen to try then do so even if it goes against my advice.


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