Category: Drawing & Painting

Cetology (II)

Cetology - 12 handmade books based on Herman Melville's whale classification from Moby Dick

Cetology – 12 handmade books based on Herman Melville’s whale classification from Moby Dick

Cetology – A series of handmade books based on Melville’s classification of whales in Moby Dick

I’m unaware of any artist who has tried to tackle Melville’s bookish classification system for whales in this way.  Having finally managed to complete them I’m pretty sure why!

As a printmaker and maker of artists’ books I was drawn to Chapter 32 Cetology in Moby Dick during my first reading of the book in 2001.  But at the time the idea of making art in the format of books about a book didn’t feel right.  Fast forward 15 years and I had a vast array of personal experience of seeing whales, visiting whale and whaling related collections in museums and so had a large resource of my own to draw on.  I was looking for a subject to turn in to a series of artists’ books and this seemed ideal.  Due to the way I work I know that the books will not be the final iteration of the work. This is just the first stage.  The books and content will be scanned, photographed, digitally printed on fabric and other materials. Layered and recombined with other imagery in other scales, formats and materials to take the work further in the future.

Page from Cetology Folio Sperm whale

Page from Cetology Folio Sperm whale

In Cetology Melville classifies whales by book size, Folio for the large whales, Octavo for the mid-sized whales and Duodecimo for the dolphins.  At first this is straightforward, although he uses old names for the species.  For the Folio whales - Sperm, Right, Finback, Humpback and Sulphur bottom (blue) are at least all identifiable.  But he throws in the Razorback, which nowadays is generally accepted to be the same as the fin whale.  I got around this by using it as a way to introduce the Sei whale.  I was lucky enough to see some Sei whales off the Azores on 2015 and was pleased to be able to incorporate some of my personal experience of them.

Cetology The Orca problem

Cetology The Orca problem

Things started getting tricky with the Octavo classifications - Grampus, Blackfish, Narwhale, Thrasher, Killer.  Which are Orca, Pilot, Narwhal, Orca, Orca. Yes, that’s three Orca, which isn’t very useful. And it could have been four because Orca are also called Blackfish, but more traditionally this is used for pilot whales (phew!). Some common species are omitted all together – particularly the Northern Bottlenose whale (which I particularly wanted to include) and the ubiquitous Minke. And then we got to duodecimo. The Huzza Porpoise, the Algerine Porpoise, the Mealy-mouthed Porpoise.  Yep, basically made up dolphins!

I knew when I started that it was going to take a lot of ingenuity and my best Melvillian inventiveness to make the whole thing work as a unified series of books.  When I started the Folio whales I had no idea how I was going to tackle the Orca problem.  And you won’t believe the number of sleepless nights before I fell upon a Duodecimo solution!

The Cetology project has taken up most of my creative time in the last 6 months.  Each of the 6 Folio and 3 Octavo books are about an individual whale species.  There is a consistent framework of content using my experiences of that species whether I’ve seen it in the wild, or as a skeleton in a museum.  I have used my own photos of whales, museum displays and other information to develop the text and drawings as much as I could to make each book a personal response that could not have been produced by anyone else.  For the three Duodecimos however, this approach would not have worked. So eventually I decided to use Melville’s text about them and illustrate them with a range of found and very personal dolphin imagery.  I grew up in Brighton where there are a variety of dolphins on the city crest and architecture (and my high school badge).  So I travelled back to Brighton and photographed as many as I could out and about and in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.  My drawings of them were then grouped and refined to produce three very different books, but with a coherency.

Page from Cetology Octavo Pilot Whale

Page from Cetology Octavo Pilot Whale

The layouts went though many iterations and versions before I finalised and printed them in black on cream cartridge paper.  I hand coloured the drawings using a different blue or grey for each book.  The paged were cut, sewn together and attached to endpapers decorated with excerpts from Cetology.  These were then glued onto hardback covers backed in a lovely textured mulberry paper in deep blue.  On each cover is the shape of the whale made from cutting out fused Angelina fibres.  There will be an edition of 12 for each book, but I really think of them as full sets of the 12 different books in three sizes because that is how I think of the project – A very personal response to Melville’s wonderful whale classification.

And if you are wondering.  This is the chapter that started it all off!

https://americanliterature.com/author/herman-melville/book/moby-dick-or-the-whale/chapter-32-cetology

Sealand II

Year: 2009
Medium: Acrylic painting on canvas
Size: 60 x 60cm

Ribs

Year: 2009
Medium: Pencil Drawing
Size: 20cm x 24cm

Jetty

Year: 2009
Medium: Pencil Drawing
Size: 20cm x 22cm

Southwold bolt

Year: 2009
Medium: Pencil Drawing
Size:20cm x 27xcm

LT

Year: 2009
Medium: Pencil Drawing
Size:20cm x 20xcm

Mooring

Year: 2009
Medium: Pencil Drawing
Size: 20cm x 20cm

Southwold buoys

Year: 2009
Medium: Ceramic tile
Size: 20cm x 23cm

Tulip

Medium: Acrylic painting on canvas
Size: 40cm x 40cm