Illustrators take on Eyjafjallajokul, the naughty volcano.

Illustrators Abigail Daker, Aniela Murphy and Jamie Mills talk about the appeal of volcanoes...

Written by Amelia Gregory

simonwild_Eyjafjallajokul
Eyjafjallajokul by Simon Wild.

When I first put a callout to illustrators to come up with some lovely pictures to illustrate the explosion of Eyjafjallajokul we were still in the first throes of it’s ashy grip. But then the illustrations arrived, our air space was opened up again and Eyjafjallajokul miraculously disappeared from the news. Somehow, though, I knew that wouldn’t be for long – I mean, it’s not like volcanoes just shut up and go away is it? Eyjafjallajokul has continued to quietly rumble away there for awhile – getting all lava-ey on our asses – before increased earthquake activity caused it to start erupting at full force again sometime yesterday. A large new plume of ash caused airspace over Ireland and Scotland to close briefly and the ash cloud is currently drifting across the Atlantic. I’m pretty sure that this will not be the last we hear from our Icelandic nemesis.

All of this volcanic activity has got me thinking – is the time ripe for an illustrative book about Volcanoes of the World? I decided to talk to a few of the illustrators who took up the challenge of showing Eyjafjallajokul’s finer side, to find out just what it is about volcanoes that is so darn exciting. Unfortunately Simon Wild was unable to take part: ironically he is currently in New York, on a trip that got postponed thanks to you guessed it, the naughty volcano.

Eyjafjallajokul Abigail Daker
Eyjafjallajokul by Abigail Daker.

What inspired you to draw the volcano?

Aniela: I’m not sure there are many things visually more dramatic than the footage captured of Eyjafjallajokul erupting. The continuous movement of the billowing smoke was something that automatically appealed to my senses, perhaps more than the constant coverage broadcasted on social networking sites informing me that so-and-sos flight to Antigua had been cancelled… What a shame… Along with the obvious aesthetic appeal, it was almost as though nature had got fed up and decided to give us all a little nudge and reminder that we are not in charge of this planet, however sophisticated our species may be. Having had no plans myself, I smugly looked on at the helplessness of the situation. Nature 1 – Air Travel 0.
Amidst the constant current coverage of the General Election, drawing a beautifully dramatic and metaphorical two fingers up from nature seemed wholly more fulfilling than trying my hand at creating an image of a moronic triad of political leaders…. harsh? Perhaps, but they’re just not pretty enough!

Abi: I’ve always been fascinated by volcanoes; when I first learned about them, years and years ago, I remember being alarmed at the thought that the earth could just explode like that and cause such destruction. I had an illustrated science book with a cross section of a volcano in it and it was intriguing to see the structure and how they behave in the way they do. It was mainly the memory of these diagrams which made me want to draw Eyjafjallajokul. I had also just been reading about Yellowstone Park in Bill Bryson’s ‘Short History of Nearly Everything’ and had been planning some science focused illustrations so it seemed like a good time to start one.

Jamie: I think the volcano is an interesting reminder that we don’t have the control of our lives that we’d like to think we do. Without meaning to sound clichéd, it’s easy to become preoccupied with things like jobs and your day-to-day life and to forget that things like volcanoes actually exist, it kind of seems like ‘they’ (y’know, scientists and stuff) probably should have dealt with that kind of issue by now. It’s definitely terrifying but also amazing. In a guilty kind of way I quite enjoy that it happened – I say guilty, as a few of my friends were stuck places because of it, including an accidental (and a little bit illegal) trip to Beijing.

Did you have personal reasons for wanting to be involved and if so what?

Abi: The main reason I got involved is because two clients were delayed at airports due to the volcano and so the two main projects I was supposed to be working on that week were held up and I thought it would be good to get a slightly different piece of work done while I waited. Other than that, it only had a limited effect on me at the time, a few people I knew had flights to or from the UK delayed as a result, but I was pleased that air travel has undergone a reassessment as a result of the volcano. When we initially moved out to Cyprus, we considered driving over for a number of reasons, but found it difficult to even get started planning the journey, many people dismissing the idea as ‘stupid’ and saying ‘just fly, it’s easier’. So it was good for people to be forced to consider the alternatives.

Eyjafjallajökull Aniela Murphy
Eyjafjallajökull by Neltonmandelton/Aniela Murphy.

Why do you think that the volcano fired the imagination of illustrators? For example there was an open brief to all stranded illustrators posted as the first eruption happened.
 
Abi: The volcano is an excellent reminder that we are a species living on this planet. The Earth is older than we are and more powerful; it has wiped out communities & species in the past and could do so again, no matter how powerful the human race considers itself to be. It caught my imagination because I am interested in the world and the way it works and volcanoes are a characteristic of this planet. From the point of view of the above article, I remember seeing a number of tweets from stranded artists and I think drawing the volcano was for them, a way of turning a frustrating situation into a positive one. They may have had their week messed up but they did produce a piece of work whilst hanging about, that’s certainly how I felt, anyway. Drawing the volcano in response to your brief really pleased me and stopped me feeling frustrated at the delays to my other work.

Jamie: I think it’s fairly natural for people’s imaginations to be sparked by such a huge event, illustrators tend to draw in this situation but it’s really interesting to see the other ways that people approach it as well.

I loved this article in the Guardian by Simon Winchester: Should we know more about natural disasters such as these, and if so do you think that illustration can play a part in bringing about awareness and if so in what way?
 
Aniela: I think we should absolutely know more about natural disasters! It may be my inner regret at having given up on Geography pre-GCSE, but I really didn’t feel there was quite enough information (aside from how this volcano tampered with our travel plans) on the news. Illustration does not just portray a literal picture of an event or thing. It acts as a tool, through style and application, that can conjure up and document an emotional representation of the world surrounding the illustrator at the time of execution. I may sound like I’m babbling (which is precisely why I don’t make a habit of writing), but I think current illustrators will be able to convey our contemporary ignorance and naivety of the world in which we live and of situations involving natural disasters to future generations! If we’re thinking about illustration and bringing about awareness of natural disasters right now… well pretty and interesting pictures make everything better and more appealing to pick up, don’t they?

Abi: I think illustration can attract an audience in a way in which words sometimes can’t – however well-written an article might be. Images provoke an immediate response which can sometimes influence someone to read the article alongside it.

Jamie: It would be nice to know more about natural disasters, but I also like to think that there are some good people looking into it on my behalf. I do also feel that the fact that there’s not a lot that we could do about it anyway means that there’s not a huge need for people to live their lives in fear. Illustration can definitely help bring awareness if needed, as people are always more likely to engage with something visual than they are with a big block of information and statistics.

Eyjafjallajokul jamie mills
Eyjafjallajokul by Jamie Mills.

Do you think that a book about Volcanos of the World, which included science, folklore, history and illustrations would be a good thing to do?
 
Aniela: Absolutely. Brilliant. Idea.

Abi: I think it would be great; they are fascinating natural disasters and are intriguing from a number of different angles. I think any book about volcanoes which gathered together facts, fictions teamed with a lot of images would do very well. Science is absolutely riveting but it needs to be presented well and images and folklore help with this. Actually, just from answering this brief, I learnt a lot about volcanoes, there’s a range of different types and structures and there’s a lot of scope in a book about volcanoes. Children would love it too I think.
 
Jamie: Are you planning a book about volcanoes? It sounds very good…

So, I’m putting the idea out there to you, the readers of my blog. What do you think? Should my next book tackle volcanoes, in all their magnificence?

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2 Responses to “Illustrators take on Eyjafjallajokul, the naughty volcano.”

  1. [...] illustration of a volcano was created to accompany an article on the re-occurance of the unpronounceable Icelandic source of havoc that has been in the news [...]

  2. sam says:

    hello, i love this little post! love to see some drawings/art works based on the volcano! i am also an illustrator and found a weird inspiration from the eruptions and the chaos surrounded! probably because i like mountains and nature things.. anyway! great work..

    i also created a response.. http://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmicnuggets/4539316196/ i couldnt resist to share it here! thanks so much

    sam

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