The Story behind the Pandemic’s most Romantic Illustration – Features

Many images will remain with us from the lockdown of doodled rainbows and PPE mask scars captured in chilling photographs. On the illustration side of things though, it was one artwork which stood out the most during this unprecedented time in modern history.

With its touching, romantic spin on social distancing, Paul Blow’s Love In the Time of Corona, as named after the Observer article it was made for, managed to go viral online whilst also leading to an instantly sold-out run of prints.

In other words, Paul created an image that people didn’t just like admiring on their phones but who wanted to admire it on their walls, a memento of a strange time from still-recent history that works on so many levels.

Being distanced, we realised who we relied on the most in our lives, and, for those of us alone, we remembered how important it was to have others around us in the form of loved ones and community.

The little society in Paul’s nighttime scene is that of the city, home of the eternal dichotomy where one can live amongst so many in tower blocks yet still feel like the outcast of the village. Its nocturnal setting suits the time of day when perhaps many of us feel alone, and yet which is the most apt for any depiction of romance and togetherness: the starry skies we kiss beneath, the darkness we hold one another in.

Catching up with Paul as his prints return online for sale here, we found out a little more about how this iconic image jumped from his own flat into national newspapers and homes around the world.

“It was made for a cover story for The Observer called ‘Love In the Time of Corona’, which looked at several sad and happy stories about relationships whilst in lockdown, commissioned by the super excellent Joanna Cochrane and Paul Tansley,” Paul writes. 

“I was lucky with this one and had an instant idea, so instant I dismissed it and tried to be too clever and wasted time faffing around! What led to the idea was I had initially completed a piece for the Sunday Times about male loneliness; the image (below) consisted of a chap alone on his balcony whilst a party opposite was in full swing.

“The finished piece was OK, but I felt it could have been better. So with this new idea I could have another go and develop it further and make it work. Second chances are rare so I knew I would put my all into it.”

Paul’s initial rough was at first the couple with less tower block and more sky, similar to the Sunday Times piece. But it wasn’t long before Paul felt the picture needed something more.

“I realised that it needed to fill the space, so I increased the tower blocks and created more room for the apartments. I didn’t add the sad couple in the lower apartment until the final piece at the request of Paul Tansley; that’s what you call inspired art direction,” Paul reveals graciously.

“(For reference) I took a photo of myself from a low angle, leaning over for a kiss, so as to get an idea of the angles and positions. The rest though I just made up, including the tower block and the dog. You see the dog, right?

“I also did the inside full page (below) and just repeated the tower block idea but in isolation, having fun with lots of couples – and cats! – falling in and out of love.”

While Paul was proud of the finished product, he of course had no idea how much of an impact it would have following publication in the Observer‘s print and online versions.

“I was super pleased with it and so were Jo and Paul and the editor Harriet Green, which was great, but when you put it out there on social media you never know what the reaction will be.

“Sometimes something you absolutely love dies a death whilst others that you think are weak get all the love. I think with both pieces and the brilliant timing of the Observer commissioning it, the work spoke to the consciousness of the nation and indeed the world. The fact that we were all in lockdown and imprisoned in our own small worlds, I had a kind of captive audience, so the image resonated on many levels with a whole range of people that it went absolutely mad.

“I think that maybe is the true test of an editorial image, to speak beyond its original context; that is after all all the sole purpose: to attract attention to an article and encourage a response.”

Soon that response snowballed into demands for prints of the piece.

“I had so many messages asking for a print that it seemed inevitable it would happen. Once it was launched it kept selling out and I had to keep ordering new print runs. I think this last run will be it for now as it’s a full-time job posting so many prints!”

Now that lockdown is in essence over, I ask Paul if he’s reflecting on it like the rest of us, wondering how that strange period had been for him both from a personal viewpoint and a creative one.

“It’s been a weird time for everyone, a time for us to reflect and decide what’s really important in our lives and to question everything we take for granted.

“Hopefully the future will be a little less dark and maybe we can all be a little more tolerant and kind to one another. Artistically I’m always searching; it’s a relentless beast I continue to try and tame but never succeed, it is the trying that is the game.”

And any personal romantic tales from the time of Corona?

“I don’t have any romance stories – sorry!”

Visit Paul’s site for prints here before they sell out once more.

Related: Paul Blow’s powerful illustrations tell migrant stories in time of pandemic

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