The best collaborations are those that seems so obvious you can't believe they didn't exist previously. And a new project that sees Sir Quentin Blake draw illustrations for series of whiskies based on Macbeth is one such collaboration, as the artist's signature style lends itself perfectly to depictions of witches, kings and murderers.
Sir Blake was originally reluctant to take on the packaging design project, but project mastermind Lexi Burgess, working under his new venture, Livingstone, was able to convince the illustrator by suggesting that he depict each of the featured characters as anthropomorphic birds.
"‘The idea of drawing the characters of Macbeth as birds appealed to me immediately," says Sir Blake on The Whisky Exchange site (opens in new tab). "I woke very early one morning and by 10am I was able to phone Lexi to say that I had done some pencil drawings. These were later redrawn with a scratchy Indian ink standing at my desk."
Sir Blake's evocative style is beloved the world over, and it's wonderful to see it applied to quite a different context to the children's book illustrations he is most known for. His slightly chaotic style is perhaps best shown in the depiction of as the Thane of Cawdor's loyal armourer, Seyton, and as ever, his characters are full of life and movement. I particularly like the 'first witch' drawing, as it feels like the witch is going to jump off the label.
To create the drawings, Sir Blake worked from celebrated whiskey writer Dave Broom's portraits of Macbeth's characters; Broom's ideas about how the whiskeys should look and feel were translated into reality by Elixir Distillers.
The nine different limited edition bottles include King Duncan, the weird sisters, the murderers, ghosts, noble thanes and household members such as Seyton. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are notably missing in this set, but as this is Act One in a series of five acts, the idea is that future editions will complete the list of characters.
The birds as characters idea reminds me of Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger, which of course was illustrated by Sir Blake (and I found slightly unnerving as a child). Sir Blake explains more about his love of birds: "I am indeed fascinated by birds and I am not sure that I can really say why. I have been interested since childhood when I did birdwatching and took a note of the birds I saw, especially unusual ones like a golden eagle or an avocet.
"But the aspect which concerns us here is using birds instead of people. I think it is possible to do this because they have two legs like us and I can draw all kinds of human characters without drawing specific individuals. So that, here, the depiction of Macbeth doesn’t have to remind you of some particular production of the play."
To explore the whole collection, visit The Whiskey Exchange website (opens in new tab).