Cover Stories: Rouleur 20.6 by Eleni Debo

One perk of being a Rouleur member is getting a magazine through your door with a classy, timeless and collectable cover. Belgian illustrator Eleni Debo gives us the lowdown on illustrating the cover and star feature of issue 20.6, written evocatively by Daniel Stewart on the life and death of his pro cycling dream.

While I have over the years illustrated a number of these ’rise and fall’ kind of narratives, Daniel’s article really did stand out in the way it was written. Most of the time, I receive a story and I have to look for visual elements that add a symbolic dimension. Daniel’s one, however, is already packed to the brim with beautiful storytelling elements, removing that need.

Instead my challenge was to figure out how I could translate and compact all of that rich content into a single linear and cohesive image that follows the flow of the story - much like that of a meandering river, starting out peacefully, snaking its way through the landscape before hitting the bustling rapids, the water tumbling and milling between the rocks, and then finally slowing down again in the plains before eventually flowing into the ocean.

So, even though the article is broken up into three parts, the illustration reads as a continuous story closely following the pace of the article, each event leading to the other, each visual element morphing into the next, colours bleeding over into one another. Consequently the three separate illustrations (one for each chapter) can be pasted together to form a single continuous image, much like reading a line of text from left to right.

The sketch was certainly the most challenging, but also the most rewarding part of the process. Fitting in all of the elements of the story in the correct order while creating an interesting composition felt like working on an elaborate puzzle. The fact that I also wanted to incorporate a visual arc from dusk to dawn in the development of the story didn’t simplify things.

Once I was content with the base sketch, I started adding black and white contrast to figure out the balance in the image. Finally, I made a very rough colour sketch to figure out the evolution of the dusk to dawn colour palette and used that as a base to make my final illustration.

I try not to get carried away too much with details in the sketch phase as they just tend to muddy up the process. As long as I know where the most important elements are going to be, I figure out the details as I go along. With the complexity of this image it was easy to feel a little overwhelmed, but figuring out things one at a time really did help to keep my focus. 

In the end I’m really happy with how the piece turned out and thoroughly enjoyed the process. Daniel’s also just such a nice guy, so it really was a pleasure illustrating his story!

Subscribe by September 8 to receive issue 20.6 of Rouleur

Buy the issue from September 10th

You can see more of Eleni's work at her website or follow her on Instagram @eleni.debo


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