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Under Milk Wood, an illustrated exhibition by Bonnie Helen Hawkins

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Welcome to my May newsletter devoted to the Under Milk Wood drawings and planned exhibition.

Let’s begin at the beginning…half a lifetime ago a boyfriend gave me the gift of Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood. Upon first hearing it I was confused by the seemingly random collection of odd characters doing, well, not much at all. But Burtons rich tones kept drawing me in and on the second hearing everything clicked into place in what can only be called an epiphany. I instantly fell in love with the people who I felt I knew personally, in that oh so familiar small Welsh town. From that moment I was determined to one day illustrate Under Milk Wood and in my early twenties actually made a start, but things did not turn out as expected. The boyfriend became my husband and we set about building a life and making a home, dreams of illustrating Under Milk Wood had to be put aside for more pressing concerns. Years later during Covid, like so many I found myself out of work and decided to resurrect my old dream before it was too late. So began the mammoth task of illustrating Under Milk Wood. I’m trying to give each drawing as much complexity and attention to detail as Dylan himself gave the text. The initial plan was to make 24 large drawings, all done by hand without AI or other software. As each drawing is taking up to 100 hours to complete this is a huge commitment of time and I realised that the project would take me several years to finish especially as I can only work on it in my spare time between other jobs. Now at last I’m please to announce that the collection of Under Milk Wood drawings will be publicly exhibited for the first time ever at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre starting on 14th May 2024. Yes I know that’s still a long time away but it really will take me that long to finish everything! The exhibition will include drawing & writing workshops, an audio interpretation and short film. The team at Llantarnam Grange and I are actively seeking other venues in the hope of turning the exhibition into a touring show; you can help by spreading the word. Any suggestions from you would be gratefully appreciated. If you would like to receive a copy of the touring pack please drop me a line. Over the next 12 months I will be sharing one drawing a month with reasons why I created it and how. The first drawing I have chosen to share is Captain Cat and probably one of the most complicated in the whole collection because I’m trying to reflect a conversation and not just a single line. Coincidentally as we plan to hang the exhibition in the order that the characters appear in the play, Captain Cat will also be the first drawing in the display.

The model for Captain Cat is a long term supporter and collector of my art, Captain Gardener - a retired sea captain - the perfect inspiration.

If you compare the two photos you might notice that I’ve tried to make my Captain Cat's beard more bushy than it is in real life and given him a slightly more domed head which I thought would be suitable for the character - but I didn’t want to distort the face too much as its important to me that my drawings look like real people, not caricatures.

At the moment the exhibition is called “People Like Us” because its very important that normal people recognise themselves as suitable subjects of art. I’m tired of all the images of models and airbrushed celebrities that are presented to us as “normal people” when nothing could be further from the truth. Dylan understood people and that’s why Under Milk Wood crosses the boundaries of country and culture to speak to the hearts of many. We can all see reflections of ourselves in its pages. Thomas elevates the common person to an iconic status. There are no Superheroes here, just people like us, who when looked at under the microscope of the writer’s vision, are all extraordinary… we are all extraordinary. Although I must admit in some of the later drawings I’ve introduced animal features - more of that to come.

I always start with the most important feature of the overall drawing, in this case the face. After all if the face isn’t right you might as well start all over again. Over the coming year I will be sharing notes about paper, pencils and how to use reference photos. As we get closer to the exhibition date I will be announcing a competition so remember to spread the word, share with your friends and keep following.

If you can’t wait for more information please consider joining my Patreon group. For less than the price of a cup of coffee you can read everything about this project so far.

Bonnie Helen Hawkins | creating A Dream. | PatreonChoose your membership And the New Moon shall behold This is my first tier on my Patreon, and I'm planning on using this account to fund my upcoming project - A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Links you might find useful...

Home | Freelance artist and pencil illustrations by Bonnie Helen HawkinsBonnie Helen Hawkins is an acclaimed landscape oil painter / gallery artist, also exquisite illustrator for Joanne Harris, published by Orion. Commissions for children's and adult books taken.

Llantarnam Grange - Arts CentreHello! Welcome to Llantarnam Grange, Cwmbran's centre for contemporary Art and Craft.

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