September 2016 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

"Ghost Stories" Takes Top Honors at V&A Awards: A Chat With the Artist


The Folio Book of Ghost Stories, reproduced with permission from The Folio Society.                                                                                                                                                       David McConochie has a flair for creating otherworldly art and was recently recognized as Illustrator of the Year at the Victoria and Albert Museum's V&A Illustration Awards for his work on The Folio Book of Ghost Stories, a collection of nineteen haunting, blood-curdling tales of paranormal activity and malevolent beings by storytellers such as A.S. Byatt, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Vladimir Nabokov, among others. (Last year's winner was Virginia-based Sterling Hundley for illustrating the Folio edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.) V&A panel judges said that McConochie's work struck them "by the boldness of the composition and the way in which it set the tone for the unnerving stories within the book." McConochie, 35, recently shared his thoughts on this momentous win and his approach to illustrating a volume of supernatural stories.



McConochie in his studio. Image used with permission from Folio Society.  

McConochie joins a select group of artists with the V&A prize. "I had been aware of the awards going back to my student days, though such accolades back then seemed a remote idea," he recalled. "As an artist, you're out on a limb a lot of the time and in bit of a bubble, so it's great having this sort of recognition."                                                                                                                                                                                               

The artist's perfectly creepy illustrations for The Folio Book of Ghost Stories appear pulled from another era, and in fact were inspired by early photography. "I had been looking at daguerreotypes in my research. There was a quality of underlying eeriness in the grainy images that I wanted to incorporate into some of the illustrations," he explained. "I tend to soak up imagery and information from different sources before I start work and then start to put things together in an intuitive manner." McConochie said that the artistic process can be quite chaotic, and the final image is often the result of hard work assisted by a dash of serendipity.                                                                                                                                                                                        

In addition to illustrating ghost stories, the artist enjoys reading them as well. "This [Folio Society edition] is a great collection and there are a few favorites, some of which I chose not to illustrate, such as "The Signalman" by Charles Dickens." Another that came to mind was W.W. Jacobs wish-fulfillment story gone horribly wrong in "The Monkey's Paw." McConochie was drawn to the fact that "Jacob's tale has this growing sense of dread. It creates some very macabre and gruesome imagery in the reader's mind and yet holds back on revealing much; it's all suggestion."                                                                                                                                                                                                               McConochie continues his foray into eerie underworlds and parallel universes with a series of paintings for a forthcoming book entitled Child of the Dark, a diary of a woman living in a Sao Paulo favela in the 1950s.                                                                                                                            

This volume is presented in a slime-green clamshell case, and the frontispiece is a portrait of a faceless apparition from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Captain of the Pole-Star." The Folio Book of Ghost Stories, introduced by Kathryn Hughes and illustrated by David McConochie, is 296 pages with eight color illustrations and retails for $59.95. 


Reproduced with permission from The Folio Society.