“AND at once everything stopped. Life’s engine ground to a halt.”

There’s a storm coming. A man and his dog roam the streets of their city, looking on as it transforms everything. They watch on as everyone has to rethink how to live in this strange new world they suddenly find themselves in.

Luke Adam Hawker’s new book Together is a fable over which the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic hangs. Told in stark black and white images, accompanied by spare words (written by Marianne Laidlaw), it’s a picture book for the moment we are living through.

Until recently based in London, Hawker trained as an architect and his illustrations have the precise draftmanship you might expect as a result. And yet Together is a book about people.

Here, he talks about the inspirations behind the book, his optimism for the future and why drawing is the purest form of storytelling.

HeraldScotland:

Luke, Together is a coronavirus story in slight disguise. Can you tell me how it developed in your head? When did the idea first form and how did it change as you started work?

I began by drawing ideas inspired by how people were reacting to Covid, deserted train stations, hundreds of people clapping for carers, a lone figure in a deserted city, etc.

The overriding theme between this growing body of work wasn’t so much Covid, but the humanity people were showing in response to it. The metaphor of the storm felt suited to the struggle people were going through.

You use an old man (your grandad, I think) and a dog (your own dog Robin) as the central characters. Why did you want to tell the story from that point of view?

Early on in the process, I knew the story would be best told from a specific point of view. I decided to cast my grandad as the lead role, a BFG, calm, kind, a wise man. He was my main father figure growing up as a child and losing him was the most challenging time in my life. I knew that by making him an integral part of the story, I would give more of myself to the book, a deeper level of emotion. My dog Robin makes the perfect companion for my grandad, a way to show the power of a friendship no matter the form. The book really does anchor on the moments between the two.

Which came first, the drawings or the story?

It feels hard to separate the two, the drawings were first to emerge, though each image told a particular element of the story. The story developed through a collaborative process, with the words sewing the drawings together written by my publisher Marianne Laidlaw. We would have frequent zoom meetings to ensure we were always on the same page, with the inspiration flowing in both directions.

HeraldScotland:

With the concept of the storm and characters coming together it was a case of developing a loose narrative arc to lead us through moments that would reflect what we were all going through.

What were the challenges?

The hardest part was remaining positive, holding onto that sense of hope. I really believe that without the book and the focus it gave me I would have found the pandemic much harder. I might not have had the physical freedom to travel, but each day I’d take myself away into my imagination.

How has the pandemic changed the way you work?

Before the pandemic, I was primarily drawing on location, heading into the city and setting up the easel to draw for the entire day. This is what I fell in love with and what led me to become a full-time artist back in 2015.

Obviously, this way of working came to an abrupt end and my work became less observational and far more introspective.

Do you think it has changed what you want to do?

It has definitely made me want to produce more artwork along the lines of the book.

I’m already missing the process of creating the book, I will no doubt continue to work on multiple projects, one of them most definitely being another book.

There are, I think, 53 drawings in the book, some very simple, some enormously complex. How many man hours went into it?

Hundreds of hours… Honestly, I lost count. The 53 drawings are the final ones that made the cut, but I also filled up 7 sketchbooks with early sketches. It was months of non-stop sketching, but it never felt laboured. Each drawing was a chance to escape the box room study I was working in, to create a parallel narrative I felt very much part of, one I had control of.

HeraldScotland:

It’s a story about a city in an extreme situation. How has your city, London, changed over the last year?

At the beginning of the first lockdown, I moved out of London after a decade of living and working in the city, only a train ride away I had every intention of staying connected through my drawings on location. London is a place I completely fell in love with, and I can’t wait to return with my sketchbooks and easel.

The book’s message is optimistic and positive. Is that how you feel?

I think that at my core I am an optimist, but there were times over the last year where this has been very much challenged, times when things just seemed so bleak. I think the book reflects this in ways, moments of sorrow ultimately being lifted by the moments of hope and humanity.

How has your own experience of the pandemic been?

At first it was a shock, to not have the freedom to travel and draw on location, but this ultimately meant I was forced to draw from my imagination more, leading to a better understanding of both the wider situation and perhaps my own feelings around what has unfolded.

The book really became a way of processing the pandemic, a way to channel my thoughts, and also record the sadness and hope of the last year.

The year has had its share of personal positives too, with my partner now very nearly nine months’ pregnant. I’m looking forward with hope that good things can come from difficult and challenging times.

How did you work with Marianne?

We would meet frequently over zoom to discuss the book, Marianne inspiring me with her written observations and me hopefully returning the favour with my drawings. Because the book is based around what we and everyone else was experiencing through Covid, our conversations were often emotional and personal, around how we and others might be feeling. I think for this reason we have formed a new friendship, built around this creative process, all while barely meeting in person.

HeraldScotland:

Has this given you a taste for this kind of storytelling?

Definitely, I have always strived to convey a narrative in my work, usually capturing the atmosphere of a place through one image. The multiple sequencing of images allows for so much more depth with the ability to convey relationships. I’ll find it hard to leave the relationship created in this book alone. I’m sure my grandad and Robin will feature in future projects.

What else are you working on at the moment?

I’m always working on multiple projects; I feel like my observational work will always be a part of my practice. There’s just something meditative about drawing on location. I think inspiration from drawing on location goes onto inspire my more imagination-based projects.

I am also learning about animation, something that has definitely been prompted by the book project and a desire to expand on the moments of the book.

I’m currently heading out into the woods with my easel, I’m obsessed with trees and have been drawing them for years. They continue to fascinate me. I genuinely believe most of the solutions to our problems are held within trees and our appreciation/protection of them.

What do you feel about telling stories in pictures?

I love the universal nature of images, the earliest and purest form of storytelling. I love the broad scope of interpretation, how through looking at the same image people can respond differently, with their own internal dialogue.

And finally, how’s your dog?

She is great, thank you, I’m hoping her new-found fame won’t go to her head.

Together by Luke Adam Hawker is published by Kyle Books, £16.99, octopusbooks.co.uk