Flush (1933) by Virginia Woolf

“…Katyuli Lloyd’s work had hints of Matisse and was beautifully executed…” – Rafi Romaya, Art Director at Canongate Books

‘Flush’ tells the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel and is told, for the most part, from the point of view of the dog. The novel is in six chapters and contains much contrast between environments: landscapes, cityscapes, social classes, cultures and countries.

Flush
“He was of that particular shade of dark brown which in sunshine flashes ‘all over into gold’.” 
© Katyuli Lloyd, 2015

I first read the novel when I had taken my own spaniel from London to Greece. I was inspired by my experiences mirroring those of someone 170 years ago: the timelessness in the relationship between an owner and their dog, as well as the love of travel.

Flush small and Elizabeth website A4
“Between them, Flush felt more and more strongly, as the weeks wore on, was a bond, an uncomfortable yet thrilling tightness.” 
I wanted my work to illustrate the freedom of the countryside versus the enclosure of the Victorian bedroom, dull England versus sunny Italy.

Wimpole st interior2
“Here at Wimpole Street… we may suppose that the high dark rooms were full of ottomans and carved mahogany; tables were twisted… and thick rich carpets clothed the floors.”
Lithography has been key to my final artwork. Since our inductions to the print room, I have found myself inclined towards print processes, in particular lithography. I like the detail and delicacy that can be achieved through this medium, as well as how my observational sketches can be reproduced exactly. I also like how the print process and colour blocking helps me simplify my illustrations to create bold, graphic shapes. I was keen for my finished artwork to have a hand-printed quality. I liked the grainy, faded lithograph prints of the 1920s and 1930s, including those of Vanessa Bell for Hogarth Press, and I wanted my artwork to nod to Woolf’s hand-printed books.

Sleep became impossible
“Sleep became impossible while that man was there. Flush lay with his eyes wide open, listening.”

A2 Flush at Vaucluse
“Opening his eyes at last, shaking his coat at last, he saw – the most astonishing sight conceivable.”

I was keen to have a ‘reportage’ feel to my illustrations and interspersed the four-colour lithographs with black ink sketches to achieve this. I think this is appropriate since Flush is a biography of an historical dog, and although Woolf was speculating as to Flush’s thoughts and reactions, it is nevertheless a work based in reality: in the observations, letters and writings of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Casa Guidi
“The drawing-room was large and sprinkled with a few old carved chairs of ebony.”
One of the main difficulties when illustrating Flush was to convey a Victorian world to a modern reader. I knew that my choice of colours would be key to bringing the book to life. The added challenge was to find a colour scheme that could work for contrasting environments: a dark Victorian interior and the outdoor light of Italy.

A3 dog under chair
“Naturally, lying with his head pillowed on a Greek lexicon, he came to dislike barking and biting.”
Brown features a lot in the book, from Flush “the little brown dog” (Ch. I) with “hazel eyes”, to the “carved mahogany” (Ch. I) of Wimpole Street, to “Mr. Browning!” (Ch. III) and the “brown paper parcel” (Ch. IV) of Whitechapel; even Florence’s cityscape is sepia brown. However, colours feature just as equally: Flush is also described as a “red cocker spaniel”, there are “pools of blue water” (Ch. I), shops “heaped with gleaming mounds of pink, purple, yellow, rose” (Ch. II), Mr. Browning “Twisting his yellow gloves in his hands” (Ch. III), and “the violet intricacies of dark cathedrals” (Ch. V) and “purple jars” (Ch. II). I was therefore keen to use colours that could stand alone, as well as be combined to create others colours including brown.

Back bedroom low res
“Miss Barrett’s bedroom – for such it was – must by all accounts have been dark. The light, normally obscured by a curtain of green damask, was in summer further dimmed by the ivy, the scarlet runners, the convolvuluses and the nasturtiums which grew in the window-box.”
texture_apennine_final_0
“The exquisite, almost visionary scenery of the Apennines, the wonderful variety of shape and colour, the sudden transitions and vital individuality of these mountains…”

During the MA, I was inspired by a lecture we had had on the Neo-Romantics, and in particular by John Minton’s Corsican series of illustrations for Time Was Away – A Journey Through Corsica (1948). I really responded to his use of colours: the Naples or maize yellow, the light coral or salmon red, the powdery blue and black. I think his colours perfectly convey the strong Mediterranean sun and the cool areas of shade, and I wanted to apply this palette to Flush too. When I looked through Vanessa Bell’s lithographs from the 1930s and 1940s including her book covers for Hogarth Press, I saw a similarity between Minton’s and her colours; Girl Reading (1945) and the book cover for All Passion Spent (1931) depicted interior scenes in a similar palette. I realised, of course, that red, yellow and blue could each stand independently as well as be combined to create a brown tone. Encouraged by this, I began to apply colour digitally in layers to my observational drawings in order to bring the illustrations to life. In some illustrations, I layered the colours twice, for example in the Wimpole Street Interior where I layered the light-coral red twice in order to give it added depth.

Dog head against stone
“Stretched beneath a statue, couched under the lip of a fountain for the sake of the few drops that spurted now and again on to his coat, he would lie dozing by the hour”.

 

Looking glasses
“Looking glasses further distorted these already distorted objects.”
‘Flush’ is one of Woolf’s lesser known works and traditionally Woolf’s readership is considered more suitable for adults. However, I think an illustrated version of the novel could open up the author to a younger generation.

Text and illustrations © Katyuli Lloyd, 2015

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