Style Idols: Aubrey Beardsley

Posted on: Apr 17, 2015

Like music, all design is derivative. By that I mean it’s highly unlikely that any mark you put on a piece of paper/computer screen will be completely original. There are no new ideas, just new interpretations of the same thoughts and feelings that every human being has. And every mark has an aesthetic legacy that you can trace back to the cave paintings. Blimey, this is getting a bit deep.

My point is, while all art is plagiarised to some extent, in every generation there are a few creative stars that stand out for their particular style, process or innovation.

Some people worship the stripped-back look of Apple products that has inspired countless imitators, others view Gaudi as the epitome of decorative architecture, some admire Coco Chanel for being almost single-handedly responsible for making trousers fashionable (and therefore socially acceptable) for women.

So I've decided to start a new sub-blog about my Style Idols, starting with Aubrey Beardsley.

I can’t recall exactly how I came across the work of the 19th Century illustrator Aubrey Beardsley but when I did, I was amazed by how modern it looked for the time.

The majority of his work was produced in black ink and was as dark, crisp and clean as anything you could create using computer software. You can see the influence of the Japanese woodcuts that inspired him (and me - a subject for another day) in the flat composition and flowing lines.

Aubrey Beardsley - The Climax
Aubrey Beardsley

Like any good fangirl I immediately printed a load of his work and tried to copy it, with limited success. I wasn't very skilled at working with ink and even with a modern fine-nibbed ink pen I couldn’t get the same crisp lines, and the ink was never black enough.

Later on at college we had a brief to recreate a book cover in the style of your favourite illustrator. Of course I chose Beardsley, and there was no question as to which book would be the most appropriate. Beardsley’s career was somewhat marred in scandal – from political caricatures to illustrating stories by Oscar Wilde (and subsequently being implicated when Wilde was arrested for indent acts) to his sometimes darkly erotic work. So I chose the controversial and brilliantly written Lolita, as I was sure that if Beardsley has been alive at the time of its publication he would have had a field day. This is embarrassingly amateur but I’m going to share it with you anyway!


alternative Lolita book cover
My teenaged attempt to recreate a cover of Lolita in the style of Beardsley

Writing this and looking at Beardsley's output has reminded me how much I admire his work and how much I need to start drawing again. Unfortunately, Google image search also presented me with a whole load of Beardsley-inspired tattoos, which means I now immediately want one.


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