FMP 2 War Horse

War Horse is a children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo. It was first published in Great Britain in 1982. The story recounts the experiences of Joey, a horse purchased by the Army for service in World War 1 France and the attempts of young Albert, his previous owner, to bring him safely home.

( )


For this project I was inspired by the The Book Illustration Competition 2016 brief but as I missed the deadline I decided to do something slightly different.



1 Read the book and illustrate at least 3 different scenes.

2 Come up with a personal response to the book.  Entrants should also design and submit a binding to accompany the three illustrations. The binding design should
be inspired by the book’s overall tone and themes.


For this project I am planning to work in collaboration with Joe Leach as I wan’t to move away from my comfort zone (working on my own) a bit and create something different that has more traditional illustration in it. In that line of thinking I asked Joe to work on the illustration part and I am going to design the backgrounds out of paper and also produce the binding and book design.

I am planning to produce an actual publication with the text and images that we developed over the course of our colaboration.



 1.How other people visualised ‘War Horse’: 



My first step towards getting into the research was reading the book and then finding out what other people have done to visualise it and what approaches they’ve used.A lot of artists working across different disciplines have visualised War Horse. Frin children illustrations through abstract images and even sculpures the subject had been widely developed, but non of the examples that I found online covered the visual approach I pictured and aimed for.

In many of the images illustrating War Horse the symbolic meaning is playing a big part of the illustration of the novel such as :

1 The colour red: symbol of blood, dead, pain, suffering, sacrifice. A lot of information on associations and symbolism of the coulour can be found here:

2 Dark shades and shadows: the dark colours are a symbol of fear, death, loss, grief and it is often related to  the unknown. A really broad analysis of darkness and shadow and some historical references to its meaning can be found here :

3 Wire: on of the main symbols of war, imprisonment, slavery, suffering etc.

4.Cross:apart from the religious meaning pf crucifixion it also stands for  death and grief.

5. Apart from all the other symbolics the main character in the book that is also present in all the visualisations is the horse. It symbolises something quite controversial to the idea of war, namely freedom, nobility, grace and beauty.

More about the symbolic meaning of the horse I red in here:


The first step of our collaboration on this project was to come up with a style in which we wanted to illustrate our scenes. In order to do so we split our tasks and Joe had to design the characters and the illustration and I was supposed to experiment with different backgrounds made out of paper. We wonted to combine our separate styles into one in order to come up with illustrations that are not simply drawn but also hand crafted in a way similar to collage.


War Landscapes:

Those are some war landscape photographs that I found in the library books I will mention below:


Paper Landscapes by different artists that I found online: 

Those are some paper backgrounds by different artists that I found on Google which are quite similar to my idea.

I used those 4 examples specifically because I quite like the ideas and techniques behind each of them and I used them as a starting point for shaping up my visual approach. I was split-minded in the beginning as I really liked the idea of producing my backgrounds with text of the book itself  or of some old letters exchanged between soldiers and loved ones but i thought it will get too much of the attention away from the actual illustration that would be situated on top of it.

Then i Moved on to the idea of crunched paper as a background because I quite liked the texture and shadings when scanned. But that opposed my main idea of the illustrations being hand-crafted.

Later on I discover this artist who made landscapes out of different cut paper and hand illustrations. Ad an approach that was pretty close to what I had imagined but it seemed too delicate and almost like an illustration for a children book which made me want to come up with an alternative of my own.


The first step that I undertook was trying to design different illustrated / collaged  backgrounds made out of different pieces of torn up paper. I used colours in order to try and represent different moods or general perception of the scene.




After producing many different versions of those I decided that I should look into the history of the World War 1 and into the colours that are typical for the war at that time in order to decide on my colour palette.

I have been looking into books such as:

All of those books I found in the university library and all of them had a really graphical and detailed images from the World War 1. All of the images were black and white (because of the time they were taken) which psychologically relates to the misery of the situation  and the conditions all the soldiers lived  and fought in. Black and white as well as grey are typical symbolic colours of life, death and  and misery which led me to thinking I should concentrate more on them.

From the photographs from those books I could gain a realistic perspective of what the war time was really like and what were the most common things to see in the everyday life of a soldier and his horse.

I started looking into the symbols of war.

1 The horse that is also the main character of the War Horse story is a crucial part of the war imagery. Horses in the World War 1 were not only used as transport, they were also soldiers, going to war alongside the soldiers that rode them. They were exposed to the same danger of death and after surviving the obstacles on the front they had to go back and collect the victims. Some say horses are the true war heroes.


2 One of the most popular and widely introduced symbol of war in England is the Poppy flower:


2 Other symbol of war and one of the most obvious one is the gun and any sort of armory:


I decided to make a graph to help myself pin up the most important symbols, shapes and patterns related to war:


My intention was to add more and more to the graph as I go along with my visual research on the subject of war. I decided that in order to get a more realistic idea of what things were really like in terms of patterns and colour I should start looking into the actual objects rather than just a black and white images so I started looking into colour of metal, rust, dust, wood, mud etc that were very common in the war scenery described in the book.

Rusty Metal :

After observing different sorts of rusty metal I realised that its colour and appearance actually resemble paper a lot. It reminded me of torn up, worn out peaces of brown paper which made me consider adding the colour brown to the colour pallet of my backgrounds.

Mud and soil:

Again similar to paper and metal, mud is influenced by time, weather and water. It changes shades but it has a brownish colour and it also crunches and changes texture.


Looking into these 3 most common and scenery shaping materials I have come to the conclusion that brown tones are one of the most common colour in the war everyday landscape so I decided brown should be the central colour of my backgrounds as well.

The other thing that stoke me as a factor was that each of the components: rusty metal, soil and wood were influenced by weather in a way that they look similar: old, used, fragile and pealing.

Once I decided to go with brown as a main colour apart from the base colour of the paper I would be collaging on, I got into looking into backgrounds based on historical wars and World War 1.

The game Valiant Hearts struck me as a great inspiration as it is based on the World War 1 and it uses the same background shades of brown and grey that I was planning to use for the final backgrounds.. Even though it is completely different as a style it is a visual proof how those colours actually help translate the general mood of wartime.

Another visual support that I found in my research was the book Tommy’s Sketchbook.that is a series a drawings from the trenches made by a soldier. It proved that soldiers actually created drawings and wrote letters in order to tell the story of their war experience which is a great support in my further development of this project and helped me decide on the format of my final piece.


Another 4th component that is very much present during wartime is the fire (also related to the brown, black shades because of the effect it has on everything it touches in the nature).Fire being a symbol of destruction made me think about what paper would look like when touched by it. I decided doing experiment in order to come up with a way to introduce and use fire/flame as a visual too to represent war.



21816_Qin_Chong_-_Birthday_IV___IV_45x45x20cm_Burnt_paper_2002 Art Galleries in Hong Kong -Artist Unkown

I find those burned paper sculptures really inspiring but rather than going as abstract I just wanted to experiment a bit with the beaten up and burned effect on the pages of a book that has been subjected to war. I came up with the following results that pleased me but were not quite what I wanted to do for the final outcome:



For this final experiment I actually used the flame in order to colour the cover and the colour that if created on the slighly burned paper was again quite similar to the colour pallet I was researching.

After the visual experiments with fire I thought about all the books that have been damaged by it during the war and also the letters of soldiers that were meant to be send to love ones. Burned paper is a symbol of a failed success  to tell a story. In some cases though the fire touches the paper only to leave a mark and to remind the receiver and reader about the obstacles this piece of paper had to go through in order to tell a story or to deliver the words or a dear person.

Knowing all of this I decided to try some more backgrounds, but this time only using the colour pallet I was looking to use for the final work and also adding some burned textures in order to bring the sense of war and destruction in the landscape.


After producing those backgrounds I was quite pleased with the result so I decided that is the style I was going to be using.

The next thing was figuring out how to physically combine my backgrounds with Joe’s drawings. The thing that bothered me, however, was that for the final outcome I wanted to produce something that not only tells the story but also looks authentic and real. This was inspired by the beginning of the book which tells the story of the drawing of a horse named Joe and the fact that people actually visited the place in order to see the drawing but it turned out the whole story or the War Horse is fiction and such a horse did non exist.

This is confirmed by this piece of text that I discovered online.

The painting mentioned in the preface of the book, a portrait of Joey painted by Captain Nicholls and now hanging in the Village Hall (of an unnamed village), was a fiction of Morpurgo’s. However, particularly since the success of the stage version of the book, so many tourists have come to the village of Iddesleigh, where Morpurgo lives, and asked to see the painting in the village hall, that in 2011 Morpurgo commissioned an artist to paint just such an oil painting to hang there. He used equine artist Ali Bannister, who acted as the chief “equine hair and make-up” artist on the Steven Spielberg film of the book and who also drew the sketches of Joey seen in the film.[19]
An exhibition entitled War Horse: Fact & Fiction opened in October 2011 at the National Army Museum exploring the novel alongside real-life stories of horses involved in war and the men who depended on them, and also drawing on the play and film adaptations of the novel.[20]

My idea is to make some sort of artefact that argues in favour of  the story being real and in order to do that I want to produce a piece that is entirely hand made with no printing and machine work involved.

In order to do that Joe and I both agreed that it will be better if we collaged his drawings on top of the backgrounds that I would produce which meant that I should decide on the size we will be working on and produce backgrounds that responded to his drawings and that were the exact same size and then cut out (by hand) all the characters and the rest of the scenery and stick them on top of the backgrounds.

First steps towards the production of the final backgrounds.



The second background was produced by gluing torn up peaces of paper on top of each other in the same way a wall is being build. The texture turned out really good and actually resembled the stone fence that Joe had illustrated but did not look as good on a smaller scale.( This sheet was an a4 size)


After deciding on the colour and the process of production of the illustrations I had to start thinking about the design or the final outcome and things sush as size and binding.

As I wanted to make the story feel as personal as possible I decided that the whole idea should evolve around the most personal of all ways to tell a story: Sending a letter to a loved one. In that sense I thought that the best idea would be to make the images look like postcards and come up with a binding for those postcards.

Some of the binding ideas that I had:

1/ A box alike book design that would open and close with a magnet and act as a container in which all the postcards will be kept.

design book 1 b

2/ Another similar design but in this case the cards would slide in and out of a portrait oriented box what the cover will wrap around.

design book 1 a

3/ A binding similar to a fan made out of pockets made out of paper and each of them would contain a postcard.



4/ My third idea was born when I was thinking about the way postcards and letters were usually being sent when there were no other means for communication. They were all wrapped in envelopes which made me think about transforming envelopes into book 1 c

This is the design that I ended up choosing because it felt most personal and authentic and more challenging to bind. After knowing what the design would be I continued working on the backgrounds. I chose an envelopes with the size 12×18,5cm which ment the cards should be about 17×11.5 cm so they fit in them perfectly.

Before actually getting into the production of the binding I wanted to finish with the postcard designs.

I produced the 13  backgrounds and gave them to Joe for the first touch of illustration and this is what the result was:



After that Joe provided me with all the ( 13) drawings he had produced I had to hand cut and stick I started cutting them out one by one.

When I finished with all the cutting I arranged the images and glued them like this:
cutout example

Now that I was almost ready with the postcards I began thinking about the envelopes and the way I will be using them. I decided that in order to look more authentic I should make them look old and beaten up so I started experimenting with different techniques.

The original envelopes that I chose looked like this:


This is what the envelope looked like after bathing it in a tray fool of tea and blow-drying it.


This is what the envelope looked like after sinking it in tea, blow-drying it and then working the edges with a tea bag.


The last tho examples are experiments with dipping the envelope in coffee water but I find them more messy and less successful.IMG_4078IMG_4081

For the final piece I will be going for a combination between the first two techniques.

The next thing I had to do was to decide how I want the pages to look when stuck together and how would actual binding be done.

I decided that I want the envelopes to be turned as portrait facing outwards as in this was it is easier to take out the card that is inside.

The first binding experiment I did was gluing the envelopes with brown paper in order to hold them together but I though this looks too rough and also prevented the pages from fully closing. When creased,the brown paper took some extra space which made the book sit slightly open which I did not like.


In order to prevent that extra space I decided I had to hand-stitch the separate envelopes to each other in a way similar to what is called french binding ( I took some workshops on it) but because it was impossible to do it the proper way, because of the pages being envelopes,  I had to come up with my own binding. The difficult part of it was having to sow it from the inside of the envelope which was quite tricky without taring it apart but I am quite pleased with the final result.

After producing the final binding I was faced with the question if iT should have a cover and what sort of cover will be suitable and also if the spine of the envelope body will be attached to the spine of the cover. I got back to thinking about the wartime and the way everything was done by hand so I decided I did not want the cover to be too pretentious or complicated. I wanted it to resemble a diary of dearest memories so I decided that i will make the cover out of leather but instead of stitching it and gluing it to cardboard I wanted to leave it natural with ruff edges as a piece of leather found among soldier belongings and then turned into a cover that is only used to protect the content inside of it from the ruff weather and war conditions and also from the time that passes by. In this line of thinking I decided that I do not want to glue or stitch the envelope body to the cover itself. Instead I wanted it to be placed loosely inside and then tightened with a long leather strap that raps around the whole book.






The final touch to completion was making the postcards look older and beaten up by weather conditions and time in order to match the overall tone and appearance of the diary. I also wanted to add one handwritten sentence on the back of each in support of the main idea that the cards were telling the story of war to a loved one. I picked the most suitable sentence from each of the chapters of the book that matches Joe’s illustrations.














After I was finished with the whole Envelope Diary piece I decided that I am going to produce another publication that is suitable for bookstores which meant I need to edit the whole text and also that this book  should be less complicated to produce. I wanted it to translate the sense of a story being old but also wanted to make it possible to be produced  in less time and to make it look like a luxurious modern publication with a sense of the story embedded in it (which is what the book publishers are aiming for as it sells more). In order to do that I stressed on the paper used and in the cover design.

Even though I was aiming for a more traditional design and layout, I decided that I want to keep the size and page orientation of the postcards, which is why I decided to make the publication in landscape and in a similar size to the postcards.

I photographed the images in order to keep as much as the collaged feeling and edited them a bit so they had more shades and felt more vibrant, because when the original image was printed out it did not look as good.

This is an example postcard from the first publication- diary ( on the left) and how I edited it for the new publication ( on the right).


After having all the images and the text ready I picked an off light paper that had a yellow tint in order to underline the sense of un old story and decided to use cloth for the cover that is almost the same colour as the fabric of the sandbags used in the trenches throughout the war. This was again a way to stress on the fact that the story is old but also to give the publication some more style and class as only the more expensive books in the book stores have different covers than simple card with a print on top of it.

I didn’t want to leave the cover with just the title as it looked too plain so I started looking into different books and the way they were decorated with relief paper or film.  Here you can see a lot of examples of such techniques:

So I produced a design of my own that was later produced through the means of embossing and the final outcome was the following:





My next step would be contacting some publishers in order to see if they have any interest in our book.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s