Recently I mad e some research into Robert Gibb’s work, and I noticed at the end of his video there was an email to contact, and I thought what better way to grasp an understanding for his work than to ask himself:

I sent him an email asking if he could provide me any advice for my own work, what his main inspirations are and if he had an idea formed in his mind of what the work would look like straight away. I was so incredibly touched that he responded to my email and with so much information to help understand his work, and inform my own:



Thank you for your letter.

Your interest is appreciated!

Herewith a few comments :

For the Folio Society ‘Collected Poems of Robert Frost’ I made quite a number of drawings before making the final engravings.

My ‘rough visuals’ are in pencil, just line compositions.

And it is understood that the finished work looks rather different.

But I follow the roughs closely in composition.

As to inspiration and interpretation, I sometimes take a descriptive view of the subject in the text or a more symbolic approach.

There is always discussion with the art editor or designer; a conversation about the piece, with suggestions.

My first portfolio had no published work in it at all, and no text-related work: it was just a collection of wood engravings.

But I found that I could respond to a brief and compose my own interpretation of a text.

And I was able to work to a deadline, more or less.

Lately, I have tried to make my work simpler, with clear lines and shapes and striking but subtle composition.

If this is at all possible, anyway.

And those Frost illustrations show particular elements from the poems.

I drew things from life, from photographs and from memory.

The senior designer at Folio, Sheri Gee, had ideas, as did the Frost estate; who saw and approved all the drawings.

I tend to draw very instinctively and decisively, if I can, to find a strong image.

Having never travelled to the USA, I looked at paintings, films, art works, and photographs, to get in idea of Frost’s work.

It is a simple method, very direct, and usually done with a 4B pencil on rough sheets of paper.

These are then scanned and sent off.

I read a lot of poetry, and have made illustrations for poems by Alice Oswald, Janet Paisley, Tom Pow, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

And Edward Lear, of course.

I am working on some engravings for John Donne at the moment.

In each case I hope that the image is a visual complement to the text, illuminating and appropriate, but not too close.

I try not to re-tell or mis-represent the literature, but make something new as a direct response to the written word.

So I think that poetry should not be illustrated, probably!

But there are many examples of great or fine illustration that is applied alongside poetry.

So it must be acceptable!

I have very much enjoyed making a series of illustrations for Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Landmarks’.

This has just been published.

These are small square images, and very small ‘sign’ illustrations.

There are eighteen of them, and the cover was illustrated by Stanley Donwood.

All my pieces were engraved into birch-woodblocks, and printed by hand.

Hope this helps, with all best wishes,

Jonathan Gibbs


The amount of information he provided me with was really overwhelming and informative, especially as I wasn’t expecting a response at all. The things tha struck out to me the most about what he was saying, was first of all I was intrigued by the fact he mentioned he had not travelled to the US either, which was  similar experience to my own, and we both tried to collect imagery related to the country, without actually visiting himself.

The other thing he pointed out also was to not re-tell or mis-represent the literature, but instead make something new. As this is something I have been looking into recently, and I even considered changing the format of the text. This has definitely made me reconsider this notion. he also told me that he whats each image to be visual compliment, which isn’t too close but instead illuminates and appropriates. This reminds me to consider back to my early experiments of focusing on a mundane or simple reference form a whole poem and just focusing on work based on that.

This advice on creating work for poetry, for me has really started to clarify my research into a definitive place. I don’t think my visual style has the boldness of some of previous research, but instead I think I would benefit from taking a step back and instead creating work that replicates the exact scene but instead works as a visual compliment, of natural symbolic variety. Even though Bukowski’s work is very gritty, he often mentions natural elements to represent beauty, pureness or despair. This could be reflected through simple symbolic GIF’s to illuminate the text, not illustrate the exact scene. I’m also not following a particular anthology so it could seem appropriate to me and my own work by picking poems that I like , that do use these natural elements, taking a whole new look  Charles Bukwoski themes, but also through the medium of GIF’s and internet art.

9780241146538 blog-jonnygibbs-landmarks 2_thumb



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s