Illustrator Stephen Biesty is best-known for his Incredible Cross-Sections books. These allow you to see inside different structures, vehicles and more in intricate detail. We were thrilled to get the chance to hear all about Stephen's creative process and to take a look at his workspace.
I have a small studio at the end of my old stone cottage in rural Somerset. There is a library downstairs for my reference books and computer. Upstairs there is my desk, art materials and a large plan chest containing my archive of artworks. My studio window looks out over the village churchyard which has a beautiful 12th century church. It's a very peaceful place to work which is what I need when creating my artworks.
My artistic inspiration
I enjoy visiting famous buildings, from historic palaces, castles and cathedrals to modern day skyscrapers, sports stadiums and airports. I find the atmosphere of each different building inspiring. I enjoy the drama of their interiors and afterwards I want to explore and understand their structure by making a cross-section drawing of them.
My artistic process
I always begin a project with lots of research and background reading. As I read I make lists of details about how people lived inside. I will use these to populate my drawings and fill them with life. If it's possible to visit the subject, that's even better. Then I feel I'm ready to start drawing.
First I make lots of small thumbnail sketches in pencil to try out different viewpoints and compositions. When I've decided which works best I make a full size working drawing of it in pencil with all of the details I have gathered from my research included. I then make a copy of this working drawing and carefully label all the details so that I can send it to an expert consultant to be checked for accuracy.
What I'm trying to do when making a cross-section drawing is to open up and explain the structure. I want my drawing to have a directness and clarity that makes it immediately understandable. Therefore the most important thing is not to lose the identity of the subject in the process of dissection. It's always a balancing act but that's the challenge.
Finally I make the finished drawing in pencil. I build in any amendments or alterations required. Then I'm ready to begin the final full-colour artwork using watercolour paints or sometimes coloured pencils instead. I use fine brown or black pens for the line and small details. I prefer to work entirely on paper. I only use a computer during the research stage and for communication.
My favourite artists
My favourite contemporary illustrator is David Macaulay. I first saw his picture books when I was an art student in the early 1980's and his imaginative visual explanations of complicated structures have continued to inspire me ever since. I also greatly admire the work of two other illustrators from the 1950's Alan Sorrell and Leslie Ashwell Wood.
Alan Sorrell created magnificent reconstruction drawings of historical buildings in Britain. These were used to explain what the buildings would have looked like centuries ago. His drawings are very atmospheric with dark moody skies. You get an extremely powerful sense of place when you look at them.
Leslie Ashwell Wood created many explanatory drawings of mechanical things. His most notable works are the cutaway drawings he made for the Eagle comic. I find his illustrations inspiring because they are not only well researched but also very beautiful. They show how artistically appealing a cutaway diagram can be.
My favourite children's picture book
My favourite children's picture book is Cathedral by David Macaulay. I find the drawings in this book create a wonderful feeling of scale which is at times really breath-taking. I love the free-hand perspective style he uses and the way it gives his explanation of the subject such energy on the page.
We're sure Stephen's amazingly detailed work is an inspiration to young artists looking to become illustrators themselves one day. You can take a browse Stephen’s books on our website and leaqrn about various different structures, from castles to submarines.