Monday 11 January 2016

Portraits in 'Poldark' : Q&A With TV Illustrator Gavin Lines

Gavin Lines
Gavin Lines is a graphic designer and illustrator for Poldark Series 1. With credits like Shaun the Sheep Movie, Broadchurch and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit, Gavin's no stranger to working in film and television but, for Poldark, his brief was somewhat unusual: to produce portraits of Charles (Warren Clarke), Francis (Kyle Soller) and Elizabeth (Heida Reed) to hang on the walls of Trenwith, the Poldark family home.

Intrigued, I asked Gavin to tell me more:

Poldarked: As a TV illustrator, is it unusual to be commissioned to do portraits?
Francis (Kyle Soller) by Gavin Lines
Gavin Lines: Although I have contributed graphics for a number of TV shows, this was the first time that I had been commissioned to create realistic portraits for a show. Previously I had fulfilled the graphic design requirements for the BBC drama The Crimson Field as well as some things for series 1 of Broadchurch - on which I first worked with Cat Meredydd, the production designer on Poldark series 1.
The majority of the work on film and television I have supplied is for Aardman Animations on many of their feature film and television projects. In the case of animation, I have created many portraits and other illustrated needs, however those would need to be in a cartoon style. Realistic portraits are something I do enjoy creating and have had many private commissions and exhibitions of my own work.

P:  What preparation did you do before you started painting? 
GL: In the case of the portraits for Poldark, the production designer and director had a clear idea of the kind of subject they needed and supplied relevant research and examples of the kind of thing they wanted. I also would research portraits contemporary to the era of the show both online and including trips to the National Portrait Gallery to see paintings up close

Charles (Warren Clarke) by Gavin Lines
P: How did you actually paint the portraits?
GL: Unfortunately due to the schedule of the production I didn't get to meet the actors or have the opportunity to have them sit for me. I first met with Cat to discuss the project and her requirements before the actors had been finalised for the roles. Cat had a clear idea of the subjects of the paintings and, once the actors had been cast, I could then gather reference pictures. Using the actor's head shots and online image reference I was able to build a library of pictures. I also requested photos from any costume or wig fittings, which were invaluable. Warren Clarke's pics from his wig fittings were very funny as he mugged for the camera. His personality really came across in those photos and he appeared to be a lovely man, not like at all like his dour onscreen persona! He had very nice things to say about his portrait too, even going as far as to say it would make a good Christmas card. I was sad to hear of his passing.

The paintings are created digitally using a drawing tablet screen and paint programme, this affords me flexibility of making any changes based on any designer or director's notes, also in terms of speed it means I can produce the pictures in the, sometimes, tight shooting schedule. The paintings were then sized to fit antique frames once the art directors had sourced and supplied them. The paintings were then printed on to canvas and varnished, which created a convincing prop.

P:  Which of the pictures did you enjoy painting the most?
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) by Gavin Lines
GL: I honestly enjoyed creating each of the portraits but I was most satisfied with the final painting of Heida as 'Elizabeth'. It was the most detailed of the paintings in terms of subject and composition. It was also the more difficult of them to do as Heida is obviously quite striking, but the director wanted her portrait to be contemporary to the times. Which meant I had to soften her features but still mantain her likeness. It took a couple of goes to achieve the right look and this is where working digitally really helps. It was also very helpful to receive photos of Heida in the correct pose, which were taken during a script reading.

P: When you watch Poldark do you find you are searching Trenwith for your work? 
GL: The nature of the kind of work I and others do for film and television means that we are always on the lookout for the items we have created. It fills you with pride to see the work on screen, but you have to not be too precious about it as often work might be far in the background or sometimes not appear at all. It is a great industry to be involved in and you do get to meet a wide range of lovely and very talented people.

P:  Have you been commissioned for any portraits on Poldark Series 2?
GL: I was asked, but I have found myself to be quite busy on other projects during the production of Poldark series 2 so I haven't been able to contribute this time. I shall definitely be on the lookout to see if the portraits make a return.

Many thanks to Gavin for this insight into the work of a TV illustrator. You can find out more at

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