The best partnerships are the ones that seem so obvious you can’t believe they didn’t exist before. And a new project that sees Sir Quentin Blake drawing illustrations for whiskey ranges 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 initially reluctant to take on the packaging design project, but project mastermind Lexi Burgess, who was working on his new venture Livingstone, managed to convince the illustrator by suggesting that each of the characters be depicted as anthropomorphic birds.
“The idea of painting Macbeth’s characters as birds immediately appealed to me,” says Sir Blake on The Whiskey Exchange website (opens in new tab). “I woke up very early one morning and by 10am I was able to call Lexi to say I had done some pencil drawings. These were later redrawn with a scratched Indian ink on my desk.”
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Sir Blake’s evocative style is universally loved and it’s great to see it applied in a completely different context to the children’s book illustrations he’s best known for. His slightly chaotic style is perhaps best seen in his portrayal of the Thane of Cawdor’s loyal gunsmith, Seyton, and as always, his characters are full of life and movement. I especially like the “first witch” design as I feel like the witch will jump off the label.
To create the designs, Sir Blake worked from Macbeth character portraits by renowned whiskey writer Dave Broom. Broom’s ideas of how whiskeys should look and feel were translated into reality by Elixir Distillers.
The nine different limited edition bottles include King Duncan, the strange sisters, assassins, ghosts, noble thanes and household members like Seyton. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are notably missing from this set, but as this is Act One of a five-act series, the idea is that future editions will fill out the character list.
The idea of birds as characters reminds me of Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger, which of course was illustrated by Sir Blake (and which I found slightly disturbing as a child). Sir Blake explains more about his love of birds: “I’m really fascinated by birds and I’m not sure I can say why. I’ve been interested since I was a child when I went birdwatching and noted the birds I saw, especially unusual ones like a golden eagle or a unattached
“But the aspect we’re concerned with here is using birds instead of people. I think it’s possible to do that because they have two legs like us, and I can draw all kinds of human characters without drawing specific people. So here, H depiction of Macbeth need not remind you of any particular production of the play.’
To explore the entire collection, visit The Whiskey Exchange website (opens in new tab).