Arts & Culture

The Power of Illustration – Featuring an Interview with David Gentleman

The work above beautifully captures a French cobblestone street seemingly moments before a storm. The dark blue clouds reflect the colors of the grey street and contrast with the bright green and white of the buildings. The work above is a pen and watercolor illustration of the corner of Rue Norvins and Rue des Saules in Paris, France by David Gentleman. Gentleman is most known for his depictions in and around London which are included in his books David Gentleman’s Britain, David Gentleman’s London, and most recently London, You’re Beautiful. Gentleman has also written and illustrated six travel books throughout his travels to France, India, and Italy. Usually, people try to see as much as they possibly can when they travel. In an attempt to see it all, I find that we take hundreds of quick photos on our phones. However, as shown in the illustration above, taking the time to fully soak in your surroundings can add so much more to the experience of travel or even just of being in your hometown. This month I had the opportunity to speak with David Gentleman about his illustrations and what he has gained from his experiences.

When did you find your love of art and particularly your ability to charmingly capture the spaces around you? “My parents were both artists, so when I was a boy, drawing and painting were perfectly ordinary and normal activities. My father loved painting in the garden, so ‘capturing the spaces’ when I was older came naturally.”

 Why do you think people are so drawn to illustrations of beloved cities and places? “Because they remind them of places they know already or might want to visit, but also because drawings and paintings and illustrations are a change from photographs and perhaps more personal.”

 What do you think people can learn from these snapshots of around the world, and what have you learned through your experiences? “The most obvious and the most unlikely places can both have interest and beauty if you look hard enough at them, which is what drawing makes you do. I’ve also learnt that the traffic, the weather, the people and what they’re doing can be as interesting as the buildings and landscapes around them.”

What is your typical process of illustrating a landscape or scene? “Looking first at the various points of view and choosing the most interesting; finding someplace where you’re not in the way; maybe starting with a quick sketch; not trying to put in too much detail but just enough to be understood; not trying to make it perfect; stopping when you get fed up with it – pictures can be better than you think at the time. Travel light: choose as few drawing materials as possible so that you don’t get worn out carrying them about. You can always come back for a second sketch later on.”

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists who wish to capture their surroundings with illustration? “Just stick at it – don’t worry if you think it’s no good. Keep on drawing. But stop when you think you’re spoiling it”.

Only taking the time to immerse ourselves in our surroundings, whether physical or figurative, we are better able to appreciate the world we live in. Had I not painted some clouds and flowers this week, I would not have noticed the many colors and precise details that make up day-to-day scenes or objects

In designing my own illustration, I decided to go on a slightly more fantastical route. Rather than observing my actual surroundings, I did as any devoted homeschooler would do and delved into the world of J. R. R. Tolkien. First, tape the border of your paper. I recommend a heavy paper that will withstand watercolors.  Then, sketch out your scene. Pay attention to your composition and ensure that your favorite points will be emphasized. For example, I wanted my viewer’s eye to go directly toward the round door. I also wanted to include a tree, but I made sure to leave plenty of space for the sky just as Gentleman did when he painted Rue Norvins and Rue des Saules.

Before you apply any ink to your paper, make sure that your pen is waterproof. Test your pen on a separate piece of paper, let it dry, and then paint over it with water to make sure that the pen will not smear or smudge. Then begin to draw with a pen with deliberate strokes. You may want to practice a bit on a separate piece of paper to get the feel of your pen and find a comfortable speed. I used my favorite Tombow Calligraphy pen which has a small brush tip. This kind of pen would allow you to get precise details and also a variety in sizes depending on the pressure you place on the tip.  When you start drawing be sure to draw the foreground first and continue your way back to ensure that you are establishing depth.

Lastly, slowly build up your colors with watercolor paint. Try not to rush your process but take your time to deepen the colors.  I usually like to keep slightly more muted colors in my scenes. However, I decided that, for this other-worldly piece, I wanted to use other-worldly colors. I tried to give this illustration a dream-like and nostalgic quality as I looked back on my memories of my dad reading The Hobbit to me when I was young.


I would love to see your illustrations! Send them to me via email at or Instagram @emcardsandcreations

Works Cited

“David Gentleman.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Dec. 2019,

“David Gentleman Biography.” Penguin Books UK, Penguin Books,

“David Gentleman Biography.” The Royal Drawing School,

Gentleman, David. “David Gentleman.” Edited by Daniel Davidsson, David Gentleman, Fine Art Society, 2018,

Gentleman, David. Personal Interview. 15 January 2020.


  1. So gorgeous as always, Emily! And, as a huge fan of LotR, I really appreciate the subject you chose. 😉

  2. This is wonderful and beautiful work! I’m a fan of LOTR as well, and the hobbit-hole is just sooooo enchanting!

  3. Great article!