Interview – Sally Dunne [Crooked House] [The Folio Society]

CROOKED HOUSE

By Agatha Christie

Illustrated by Sally Dunne


Product Details: Three-quarter bound in blocked cloth, with a printed and blocked Modigliani paper front board • Set in Bell with Kabel as display • 216 pages • Frontispiece plus 6 colour illustrations • Plain slipcase • 9˝ x 5¾˝


A mysterious poisoning. A house full of eccentric characters. And one amateur sleuth racing to fit all of the crooked pieces together.

Agatha Christie’s standalone detective/mystery novel, Crooked House, first published in 1949 and described by Christie as one of her own ‘special favourites,’ is the latest addition to The Folio Society‘s growing crime library.

Complete with an evocative slipcase and binding design, this beautiful new edition features seven elegant colour illustrations by Sally Dunne which perfectly enhance the atmosphere, mystery and period, country-house setting of Christie’s thrilling, though perhaps lesser known, page-turner.

Charismatic businessman and patriarch Aristide Leonides has been poisoned in his own home. Charles Hayward hoped to marry Leonides’ granddaughter Sophia, yet instead finds himself in the midst of a dangerous mystery. The eye of suspicion falls heavily on Aristide’s second wife – the cuckoo in the nest was decades younger than her husband, and perhaps she couldn’t wait a few more years for the hefty inheritance she was due. The atmosphere inside the great house is thick with intrigue, and Charles is scrambling for the truth when a second attempted murder shocks the family to their core. Surely the killer couldn’t be among them? It appears that the murderer knows the Leonides family all too well, and their reign of terror is far from over…

To celebrate the release, we caught up with illustrator Sally Dunne – winner of the Student of the Year award at the 2020 V&A Illustration Awards – to discuss all things Agatha Christie, the illustration process, and getting started in the industry.


Illustration © Sally Dunne 2021 from The Folio Society edition of Crooked House

Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got started in illustration? When did you first discover you had a talent for art & illustration and that that was the career you wanted to pursue?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember and it has remained a wonderful outlet for expressing ideas, discovering stories and engaging with real and imagined worlds. As a child, I would spend hours drawing from my favourite picture books, as well as writing and drawing my own little stories. The joy and contentedness it brought me then instilled in me a desire to become an illustrator.

It was not until I was applying to study art at university that I discovered there was a course specifically devoted to the practice of illustration. I was very fortunate to be accepted onto the BA Illustration course at the Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University, which has such a rich tradition in drawing and the art of visual storytelling. I felt almost immediately that I was in the right place. The expert guidance and knowledge shared by my tutors greatly encouraged me to pursue a career in illustration. Two years after completing my BA, I returned to study an MA in Children’s Book Illustration, still eager and inspired to keep learning about illustration. In many ways, I am still that person who was very content to draw for many hours at the kitchen table (although now I get to work from my studio desk!).


What draws you to a project like this?

Illustrating a story rich in drama and a suspenseful atmosphere is always an exciting project, but especially when the story is written by such a brilliant and revered writer such as Agatha Christie. The unnerving atmosphere that Christie conjures through her descriptions of late 1940s London and the Leonides Household captivated me instantly. I was very excited to explore the various ways I could convey the constant threat of danger lurking beneath the beauty and glamour of Crooked House through colour, composition and the portrayal of characters.


© The Folio Society

How would you describe your style? 

I am always looking for ways to convey atmosphere and feeling with the materials and palettes I use. For me, working with colour and texture are the most exciting aspects of creating an image. I like to work with tactile and expressive materials that create a variety of marks and tones. I really enjoy the unpredictable nature of the pastels and watercolours I use as these often produce some exciting and unexpected results. Soft pastels are particularly sensitive to the slightest touch. They can be applied gently to capture a soft, delicate impression of light and feeling, or be applied boldly to convey vibrancy and movement. I usually combine them with coloured pencils that add definition and detail to parts of the image.

I try to work intuitively with colour, and usually choose a limited palette that combines some cold, warm, muted and vibrant colours that harmonise well together. A specific palette came to mind when I began reading Crooked House and I looked forward to working with lots of dark, muted colours. I was very inspired by the palettes used by painters such as Saied Dai and Vilhelm Hammershøi. I was also very inspired by British realist painters such as William Coldstream, for this particular project.


Can you tell us a little bit about this collaboration with The Folio Society and how it came about?

Last year, I was delighted to win the V&A Student of the Year award. The Folio Society’s art director, Sheri Gee, became aware of my work as a member of the judging panel. Shortly after graduating from university, I was very fortunate to be commissioned by Sheri to illustrate Crooked House. It was the best commission I could ever have hoped to work on! I am very inspired by literature and art that conveys a vivid sense of place and atmosphere, so I was delighted to be illustrating one of Christie’s novels. The Folio Society produce such wonderful books with beautiful illustrations and exquisite binding designs of an exceptional quality. It was such an honour and a wonderful experience working with them.


Many people associate Agatha Christie purely with Poirot and Miss Marple and maybe overlook her standalone mystery novels. Was Crooked House a work you were familiar with before you began working on this project?

I really enjoy reading Agatha Christie’s novels but I was not familiar with Crooked House. I was encouraged to discover that Christie regarded this story to be one of her “special favourites”. Christie’s enthusiasm was immediately compelling and I instantly felt sure that I would also enjoy reading and illustrating Crooked House!


When illustrating a novel like this do you take any inspiration from film and TV adaptations, or do you try to create your own vision based on the author’s words and descriptions?

When I read Crooked House for the first time, I had a vivid idea of how I wanted portray the characters of the Leonides household as well as the grounds and interiors of the house. Christie’s descriptions are wonderful to work with because she provides just enough detail to allow for space to incorporate your own ideas as well. I was aware of the recent 2017 adaptation of Crooked House but decided not to watch it, just in case this influenced my own vision too much. However, I did look at lots of artwork and films set in the late 1940s which helped me to familiarise with the fashion and interiors of that time.


Illustration © Sally Dunne 2021 from The Folio Society edition of Crooked House

How did you go about selecting which parts of the novel to illustrate?

There were many moments in the novel that I wanted to illustrate. Initially, it proved to be quite difficult narrowing them down to seven illustrations as there are so many interesting characters and moments of tension. I also had to be careful not to feature particular characters too often, in case I inadvertently gave the reader too many clues as to who the murderer might be. There are a couple of significant moments in the story that stray from the narrator’s point of view, that are described to him by other characters. Christie does not reveal too much detailed information about one particularly gruesome moment and so it was quite fun imagining and illustrating how this scene might have appeared.


Can you talk us through your illustration process? How do you prepare and what materials do you work with?

I write lots of notes whilst reading the book and then start by drawing rough thumbnails of composition ideas in my sketchbook. Although I might have a clear idea of how I might arrange a particular scene, I feel it is always worthwhile sketching alternative ideas. The composition and arrangement of an image can contribute greatly to the mood and atmosphere. I then also sketch the characters from moments in the book in order to get a better feel for their expressions and gestures. Occasionally I will have a clear image of a character in my mind’s eye, but they may reveal themselves quite differently on the page.

Once I have worked through many composition ideas and character sketches, I work on a more refined sketch for each of the seven illustrations. I then present these to the art director and editor, and with their expert guidance, we work together to finalise the rough drawings. As soon as these are approved, I begin working on the detailed underdrawing. When it is time to add the colour, I have a clear idea of the palette I want to work with, but try not to over-think it and leave space to work intuitively.


What advice would you give for anyone hoping to pursue a career in the art and illustration industry?

I believe that if you stay true to yourself, your work will stand out for its uniqueness and you will be continuously motivated to keep working on ideas and improving your practice. I would also encourage people to expand their comfort zone as much as possible by keeping their artistic influences broad, continuing to practise new drawing/painting techniques and, if possible, make time for top-up art classes. Although it can feel quite uncomfortable and daunting, it is also really useful to identify specific areas or aspects of your work that may need improving. If you can take the time to work on them, you will keep broadening your understanding and feel increasingly confident to take on many diverse and exciting commissions.


The Folio Society edition of Agatha Christie’s Crooked House, illustrated by Sally Dunne, is available exclusively from www.foliosociety.com/uk/crooked-house.html

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