Little White Lies

Illustration by

Tom Humberstone

Under the Cover: Tom Humberstone

We go behind the scenes on the cover of LWLies 103: The Kinds of Kindness Issue with comic artist and illustrator Tom Humberstone.

The tone for the cover of our 103rd issue, dedicated to Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest, was initially inspired by Daniel Clowes’ illustrated poster for Todd Solondz’s 1998 dark ensemble comedy, Happiness. We shared this reference with Edinburgh-based illustrator Tom Humberstone, who has produced a group collage with all the characters who appear across Lanthimos’ triptych fable. We asked Humberstone to paint a portrait of his working life, and give some details on his approach for this project.

Paint us a picture of your work space. Do you feel it’s perfect, or do you have plans to enhance it?

Humberstone: I work from home from our flat in Leith, in a small box room. It’s the perfect size for fitting in a big drawing board, a computer with some monitors, and a chair – but not much else! We’ve had some bespoke shelving built into it to store reference books and inspiration, along with giving a home to art materials, comic stock and old artwork. It’s cosy. But it could do with some natural light. There are no windows! While being able to control light sources can be useful for colouring work, it can feel a little dispiriting not seeing the outside world at all. Especially on bright sunny days.

If we can afford it, one day it might be nice to have a window put in. But otherwise, I’m pretty happy with the set-up. It’s nice to be able to have a space at home where the work space is distinct from leisure space – not everyone gets to have that.

What’s the first practical thing you did for this LWLies cover commission?

The first thing was to gather as much reference material as possible. It’s a tricky thing drawing something about a film that hasn’t come out yet. There are so few glimpses of it available to draw upon for reference. None of the images have had a chance to be absorbed into the culture and become iconic. You have no sense of what will become the pervading images of the film that will stay with people. So it became a case of watching and rewatching the teaser trailer for as much information as possible.

Then, when we’d settled on the idea of an image that would include the multiple characters of each of the cast members – an overwhelming array of faces – it became key to just roughly sketch in a few faces and slowly figure out a rough composition.

LWLies covers always contain portraits – what’s your approach for drawing people / likeness?

I’ve always found likenesses quite difficult. Especially well-known celebrities where people already have a relationship with those faces. We’ve all seen Emma Stone over multiple films, we know what she should look like, and so, if your likeness is slightly off, people know it at a glance. It can be a small thing as well. As simple as a misjudged shadow that suggests a contour of the face that throws the whole likeness off.

I found Jesse Plemons an especially difficult likeness to capture for this cover. While he has a very recognisable face, he’s one of those character actors who somehow physically morphs with each role. I can never quite get a handle on him or his distinguishing features.

One of the things I do first with likenesses is gather as many photos of the person as I can, and try to figure out the common features that I want to draw focus to. It may take a couple of passes, but the key, I find, is a light touch. You want to keep the amount of lines you use as low as possible.

For this cover, tell us how you worked with the choreography of the multiple figures and how colour figured into the final piece?

I think the thing that we were trying to balance was fitting around 20 characters on the cover, while also making it look like everyone was in the same “photo”. It was important it didn’t look like a collage – that all of these characters were actually in the same place, just standing on a sloped platform.

To help with this, I drew everyone facing forward and pencilled hero versions of each actor that I could then “dress” with different costumes, makeup and hair. I was lucky enough to get to see an early screening of the film before I did this stage, so I took detailed notes about each character which I could then use later.

One of the delights of working with Little White Lies is you’re given a colour palette to work with. I love working with limited palettes and finding ways to push their limits. And this set of colours was a particular favourite to work with. I think we knew early on we wanted the yellow as the main background colour so it was mainly a case of making everything else pop off that in interesting ways.

Is there someone you’ll show your early drafts to for instant, honest feedback?

When it comes to my comics work, I like to show lettered pencil roughs to as many friends and peers as possible – to try and work out early on where things don’t make sense, what could be clearer, and generally try to figure out if anything isn’t working. When you’re dealing with storytelling across 200 pages or so, it’s important to catch structural issues early on before you get too far deep into the drawing.

With illustration, it’s a little different. Turnarounds are a little tighter and there’s less opportunity to get quick feedback on things. I usually share what I’m working on with my partner who is very honest about when things are working and when they’re not. I always need that honesty. But I also tend to trust the opinions and feedback of the editors and art directors I work with.

How do you know when one of your artworks is finished?

I suppose I agree with the “art is never finished, only abandoned” truism. In that, I could probably continue to tweak and improve anything I’m doing forever. But at a certain point, you start realising you’re not improving it anymore. Not really. Sometimes you even start making it worse. I try to avoid this by having a fairly routine workflow in place. Each stage is iterative and allows me to reconsider the whole piece holistically. But I have a general sense of how long each stage should take and I try to move from one to the other fairly swiftly.

Deadlines help too.

How can our readers support you and follow your work?

If you like my work for Little White Lies, you can find more of my work at and find me on most social media platforms with the username @tomhumberstone. I also have a semi-regular illustrated newsletter where I tend to write about films. That can be found at

My graphic novel – Suzanne: The Jazz Age Goddess of Tennis – is about Suzanne Lenglen, a French tennis player from the 1920s who reinvented the sport and revolutionised the way women dressed in the 20th Century. She drank cognac during matches, got into fights with line judges, and was so popular that Wimbledon had to change venues to accommodate the crowds who came to see her. And yet very few people know her name now. It might be of interest to anyone who enjoyed Challengers!

LWLies 103: The Kinds of Kindness issue is available now

Published 10 Jun 2024

Tags: Little White Lies Magazine Tom Humberstone

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About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.