NNFN – Going Underground

Artist and illustrator Sarah McMenemy talks about her public art commission for Transport for London, and reveals how she created the illustrations for the new book: The Story of the London Underground.

It was exciting to be asked to illustrate The Story of London Underground. I like working on projects about London as it’s always been my home. I’m also well aware of the importance of the Tube network to Londoners and the fondness that slowly grows on you over the years. Having worked for Transport for London before on a large scale project creating the 18 illustrated enamel panels on the London Overground Line’s Shadwell Station platforms, it seemed appropriate to tie in the two projects. The panels show images of modern East End life above ground including market stalls, pubs, Boxing Clubs, parks, a Tall Ship, a school and a Hawksmoor Church.

The commission to work on this book allowed me to approach the Underground network from a historical angle which I thoroughly enjoyed. David Long’s manuscript was so interesting that I felt compelled to pass on interesting facts to anyone who would listen. I was fascinated to learn about the gruelling tunnelling process, the ghost stations, the wild animals who travel on the tube, the secret mail train and the extraordinary collection in the Lost Property office, to name a few.

It was easy to get totally lost in nostalgia while doing the picture research. There were beautiful and moving archive images of the tube being used by the general public in the Victorian era and during the Second World War, particularly as air raid shelters. I was also lucky to have a guided tour of London Transport Museum’s Private Collection of everything from trains and buses to old signage and the first prototypes for escalators. I also had a look at original artwork for some of the first London Underground posters, created to inspire customers to enjoy London and travel by tube.

Each page layout was packed with information. I would start drawing them out in pencil first, making sure to include all the small details, then when the designers at Bloomsbury were happy, I would progress to the artwork and start painting the scenes in gouache on watercolour paper. When they were more or less finished I scanned them and finished the final tweaks in Photoshop. It was a privilege to be working alongside the elegant official Transport for London typeface. I am delighted with the book and pleased to have been part of a documenting this important piece of London history.

You can see photos of Sarah’s murals at Shadwell Station and many other examples of her colourful work at www.sarahmcmenemy.com

The Story of the London Underground by David Long, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy ISBN: 9781408889954 (Bloomsbury) £12.99

This is a guest post by Sarah McMenemy and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the FCBG.

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