Key Steps in Illustration: Choosing Content, Pt. 1

This exercise asked to use reference for creating an portrait of the main character of a scene from The Daffodil Affair, and quite frankly, this was one of the toughest exercises I’ve worked on so far. I spent rather a lot of time figuring this one out and experimenting.

I read through the excerpt of The Daffodil Affair several times, and asked myself questions about the main character described.

  • What would he be like?
  • What would he be wearing?
  • What furniture would the room have?
  • What time is he in?
  • What does he feel like?

First I took a look at reviews of The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes to get a better idea of the background of this abstract. See here, here, here, and here. It seems to me that this is book is a crazier than expected. From the abstract I felt it was a very serious book, possibly a real case, but reading the reviews of the detective story appears more like an imaginative phantasy novel, possilby like something that Douglas Adams might have enjoyed. However, given that I am going to create a portrait based on the abstract, my impressions of the main characters are that he is a serious detective who is good at his job, solving many cases. However, with this one and the missing girls, he is kind of lost because he is getting nowhere and he is following cluse that disappear in mid-air. This frustrates him, and he is desperate to solve the case and save the women.

I then collected visual references through several internet searches. I tried to understand the time that the scene is set in (London during WWII), and get an idea what office buildings would look like, what people, especially business men / detectives would dress like, and get a feeling for the atmosphere of the time. Through this research I tried to answer the questions above and get inspiration for the illustration.

While I’m not planning to include much of London in my scene, I decided to briefly resarch at what the city was like during war time. The Imperial War Museums present some details and facts about London in the 1940s, including the air raids and the Blitz when parts of the city were destroyed. This is important to understand where and what time the scene is set.

The next item on my list to research was London Scotland Yard, and what it would look like. Some images and articles that inspired me for office scenes can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Inspiration of what the main character could be like, and could look like, can be found here or here. When researching the 1940s fashion for men, I found several pages (here, here, and here) that often include a mix of British and American fashion, but they give an idea of what men used to wear. I had the impression that a suit is a must for the elegant gentleman and office worker, with a wide-cut trousers that today would totally be out of fashion. Usually they are stripped or chequered, and men tend to wear short ties as well as a hat.

An image of the main character formed in my head, and I also formed a better idea of what his character must be like. I think he is kind of a loner, working on his own, and feeling the responsibilty to solve the case and rescue the women. The fact that he is not getting anywhere with the case is slowly making him desperate, sad, and depressed.  Like Bruce Chadwick puts it, detectives back in the day used to “work alone and for their own goals”  (see here). This summarizes the impression I had when reading the abstract, and something I would somehow like to convey in the picture: The sad main character on his own trying to figure out the case.

I continued with the idea generation process, and some scribbling initial ideas into my sketchbook. I feel that the word that best describes the situation is “desperate”, and I am attempting to create an illustration that captures this emotion.


I think the colour scheme that will work best for me is a kind of grey, brown, beige blur. I tried out several different materials, ranging from different pencils to watercolours, and inks to pens. I think I will use a mix of watercolours and pencils to work on an idea. Especially the watercolours make a good blend, and a toned-down colour-scheme that I would like to use. Grey and brown are rather neutral colours. Grey especially is timeless, and dark brown can be considered sad and depressing (according to Also, when I think about the scene, I see an old black-and-white photograph in my head.

I went  on to creating a moodboard using a similar colour scheme. I found some black-and-white male figures that could be the main character standing in the office, and thinking about the missing women (which I also included from cut-out pictures I found in an old issue of flow magazine). I also attempted a first colour sketch including another cut-out to see if the composition with a large window would work. I’m not particularly happy with it. Compared to the main character, the window takes up too much room in the frame, and draws the focus away from the main character. I think I’ll be looking for a more interesting composition that places more emphasis on the main character. It’s a portrait after all.

choosing-content- (2)

What helped me to start this exercise was researching broadly on various aspects of the time, the fashion, and ideas that I had in my had, and just getting inspiration from many sources. It helped form a better image in my head to continue with some more detailed sketches and form an idea.


References:”Secrets of Scotland Yard: London’s Metropolitan Police Service”, published on Jan 25, 2015. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL “Brown Color Meaning – The Color Brown” URL and “Gray Color Meaning – The Color Gray” URL Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. “I’ll take the custody suite, please: First base for the Met Police to be turned into five-star hotel where rooms will go for up to £10,000 a night” by Kieran Corcoran. Published on Dec 15, 2013. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL “John Appleby”. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL

Gadetection. “The Daffodil Affair” by Nick Fuller. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL “The Daffodil Affair (Sir John Appleby #8)”. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL

Google searches. “Scotland + Yard + Office”. URL. “Scotland + Yard + 1940”. URL . “Scotland + Yard + Office + 1940”. URL. URL. URL  “1940s detectives”. URL. “The Tough Guy Screen Detectives of the 1930s and 1940s Are Back” by Bruce Chadwick. Published on Aug 12, 2014. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL

Imperial War Museums. “London In The Second World War” by Jo Garnier. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL “The London Fiver – You’re Nicked” Five Major Police Methods First Used by Scotland Yard in London”. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL “How to dress 1940s style (for him). Published on July 12, 2013. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL 1940s Men’s Fashion Clothing Styles. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017.  URL

Wikipedia. “Sir John Appleby”. Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL

Wikipedia. “Scotland Yard” Accessed on Dec 9, 2017. URL



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