Thursday, May 20, 2010

Work in Progress - Above and Below

For the past couple of days I've been working on a somewhat detailed illustration that was inspired by the old Masterpiece Theatre show, "Upstairs Downstairs." For those of you who don't know this program, it detailed the lives of the wealthy Bellamy family (the 'upstairs' part of the program) and their servants who worked downstairs.  Their story, set in London, begins in 1904 and ends around 1930. Both the upstairs and the downstairs families are touched by such events as the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the 1918 flu epidemic and the start of the depression. It's a show that often discusses social class, the discrepancy between those born of nobility and wealth and those born to more common circumstances.  But the show also had elements of high class soap opera detailing the scandals of both sets of families - extra-marital affairs, children out of wedlock, suicide, and even a hostage taking.  Yes, the show could sometimes be a bit 'talky' but above everything else, and what made me such a big fan of the show was the careful attention to the creation of the characters and how they grew over the course of the 25 years that the series covered.  This was a time of great social change and upheaval, a time when class distinctions began to break down.  This is especially evident in season 4 that covers the World War I period.  Some of the servants get jobs outside of the house to aid in the war effort.  These characters, who in the beginning of the series believed that they would spend their entire lives in domestic service, are shown that the world outside offers them other opportunities.  Some, like the rigid household butler, Hudson, cling to the ways of the past.  He sticks to the moral code of the past and feels that society is crumbling when changes in the household bring about new attitudes and behaviors.  Others, like Rose the upper house parlor maid, who as played by the wonderful Jean Marsh, becomes the heart of the show, are young enough to have an open mind and adapt to the changes in the world.  This show is in my top 10 of all-time favorite television shows.  The last episode of the series, when it first aired in 1975 brought tears to my eyes.  As I recall, it was the first time that a television program made me cry.

Over the past few weeks my partner and I've been watching the show on DVD. My partner had never seen it, while I have fond memories of watching the show with my family when it first aired in the seventies.  As I've been watching the show, which as I've mentioned is about two families (and yes, the servants, though they're not related to one another, do make up a family), I began to think about an idea for a children's illustration. My illustration wouldn't have anything to do with servants, or class issues, but two very different types of families that live in close proximity to one another. The above ground family would naturally be a human family, while below ground is a family of rabbits. Since I love the look of the Edwardian period in which "Upstairs Downstairs," is set, I decided I would set my illustration in the same period. While working on this illustration, I've been looking at a lot of work by Mary Blair, the artist who was one of Disney's top designers in the late 1950s and 60s. She excelled at stylized backgrounds and creating scenes with lots of characters. I love the way that she drew children and especially the look of her plants, flowers and trees. So, I still have a lot to do on this illustration, but here is a shot of it in progress. This shot shows the original sketch superimposed on top of the painting, which, by the way, is being done using Painter 11. When it's finished, I'll post the completed image.

No comments:

Post a Comment