It’s not every day you complete an illustration project that has to be personally approved by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, but that’s exactly what happened when the Specialist Cheesemakers Association got in touch with me. The Association were launching a new award for the Best Artisan Cheesemaker and wanted an illustration to form an integral part of the trophy which was to be a commemorative plate and did I want to be involved? To be honest, they had me at ‘cheese’.
The SCA already had one illustrated plate trophy in circulation for another award, however this one was over 25 years old and no-one could remember who had illustrated it. They needed an illustration that was a move-on from the (still lovely) colloquial style of the original plate yet still had a feel of tradition about it. The only specifications were that it put the cheese itself front and centre, that it includes The Prince of Wales’s crest and that it could complement the existing plate while evolving the look.
Now what does artisan cheese have to do with royalty you may wonder? HRH Prince Charles is the patron of the Association and heavily backed the creation of this award. Due to his interest in the project, HRH had requested that he personally review and approve the artwork for the trophy. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he is the most august a personage ever to approve my illustrations, and unless his mother gets involved in a future project I highly suspect that it will stay this way. More on this later.
I started the project as always by a period of research. This made me very hungry as I basically just looked at pictures of cheese. I also ate some cheese which I’m convincing myself was necessary to the process. (This maybe had more to do with the fact that the chairwoman of the association, Catherine Mead, runs Lynher Dairies which is only a short drive from me. They make the fantastic nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg and Kern, which in 2017 was voted best cheese in the world! So, I had to eat my way through some due diligence on the client…).
The award winning cheese Kern, from Lynher Dairies. Photo copyright Lynher Dairies. Source.
Because the focus is on artisan cheeses, I also wanted to focus on the different types of grasses and plants found in good natural pasture. Whatever the animals that make the cheese eat dramatically affects the quality so it made sense to me to focus both on the output (the cheese) and the input (the grasses). I looked into a range of different grasses and flowers found in a good pasture and incorporated them into my design. This in itself was satisfying as it gave me names for many of the grasses I’d seen while growing up in the country yet didn’t have a proper name for.
Next stage was producing rough artwork. I created several different roughs for the client to choose from, each with a slightly different feel. The client had specified the hierarchy of text to go on the plate but was pretty open about the fonts used. I decided to stick with one option throughout my roughs for consistency and have something fairly traditional and solid to anchor it all.
Discarded Roughs for the Artisan Cheese Plate
Once a design was approved then I started on the final artwork. For this I worked exclusively on Procreate on the iPad Pro. I’d done one other commission on the iPad at that point but I felt it necessary to move away from my normal vector process to really give a hand drawn, rustic feel to the work. Quite simply, only something artisan would befit a prize for artisan cheese.
The approved rough for the Artisan Cheese Plate
Once the artwork was finished and approved by the Association, it needed to go off for Royal Approval. As might be obvious, one cannot simply email the future heir to the throne of the British Isles with a jpg and expect him to reply within 24 hours. The artwork had to go to his Private Secretary who would then pass it on. However, for artwork approval I didn’t want to assume that whatever was printed out at Clarence House (HRH’s official residence) would reproduce the colours and tones faithfully, so I printed the roughs myself and posted them off with a letter. Luckily there is lots of information out there as to the correct etiquette of writing to the staff of royalty – I had to do my research!
As it turned out, it was good that I posted the illustration as HRH was visiting with his family in Balmoral, the Queen’s estate in Scotland at the time, so my letter was forwarded up there for his consideration. Slightly more convoluted than the regular approvals procedure but in due course the artwork was approved. It’s no secret that the UK has been going through some turbulent times these past few years and in spite of all the constitutional chaos it has been reassuring to think that at one point the phrase “approve Elly Jahnz’s artwork” was written on a royal to-do list.
Me very excitedly holding a royal letter...
Once it was all approved then I made the artwork fully print ready and got sent it to the client. They had organised for a pottery to produce the commemorative plate so all the was left for me to do at this point was wait.
I’m really pleased with the finished product – the pottery did a lovely job of translating my illustrations on to the plate. The first winner of the award is the Hampshire Cheese Co. I’ve not tried the winning cheese (yet) but it looks delicious. I know in the future I’ll be following this award closely and not just as an excuse to eat artisan cheese.
So, there you have it – certainly not the largest scale project I’ve ever worked on but one of the most prestigious and honestly, anything that contributes to the progression of fantastic cheese is totally worthy in my book.
You can see more of the artwork on my portfolio.