Book: Lost Village

preview of newspaper illustration for lost village book by john mckenna

Newspaper illustration for the Irish Independent, based on a passage from John MacKenna’s book, ‘The Lost Village: Portrait of an Irish Village in 1925′

The newly colourised version is shown here.

newspaper illustration for lost village book by john
Above: The 2018 colourised version
news illustration for lost village book by john mckenna
Above: Original B&W version as it appeared in The Irish Independent paper

Case Study

I’d like to have rendered this in ink and paint, but I was playing it safe back then with the low print quality of newspapers, and stuck to pure black and white line work with hatching.

This passage from the book was very very dark. Do you see the two men on the bikes? One has a spade under his arm, and the other is transporting a small infant-sized box.

I drew on lots of my experience of growing up in a small Irish village in this one and enjoyed depicting the old-fashioned details. I also thought about the old lads that I was familiar with in Kildare and Wicklow pubs. I wasn’t sure about the type of pint glass for the period though, and made a quick phone call to a drinks company or home brewing products manufacturer—possibly Mountmellick? They said that back in 1925, Irish pint glasses were usually ‘conical.’ I’m glad that I got right. If I hadn’t, it’d be a point of perpetual irritation to me.


There was a lot in the book excerpt to draw on, and I decided with the editor to use as much of it as possible. I basically put in everything but compressed all of it into one moment, one snapshot in time.


flipped version of newspaper illustration
Above: Flipped the other way. What do you think?

In retrospect, I wonder if the compositiom might have been even more effective if flipped the other way? We might first see the old man, then follow his eyes up to the clock, down to the bikes, back to him and the playing cards—then maybe back to the exiting bicycles. The thing about those bikes is that they draw our imagination outside of the picture frame, and spur minds to try to fill in the gap, and finish the story. I suppose this partly depends on whether you follow the assumed western custom or ingrained habit of ‘reading’ text and images from left-to-right.

Sometimes a layout can be partly determined by an artist’s right-hand bias—if one isn’t vigilant. However, I originally drew this one so long ago that I can’t remember what the reason was.

Illustration: John White
Media: Ink on paper
Client: The Irish Independent Newspaper
Writer: John MacKenna
Commissioning Editor: Stephen Dixon

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