Interview: Jonathan Burton Talks ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’


Entertainment Earth

On Monday September 15th at  7PM CST | 6PM BST | 10AM PST | 1PM EDT Nautilus Art Prints will release the third print in their ongoing series of prints paying homage to European popular culture. UK based illustrator Jonathan Burton‘s take on Jules Verne’s classic adventure ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ is a brilliant homage to both the novel and the 1954 Disney film.

Burton’s playful and elegant style is on display in his first 24″ x 36″ screenprint, a poster that showcases both the excitement of Verne’s classic and Burton’s own gorgeous style.

We got in touch with Jonathan Burton to discuss working with Nautilus and his approach to tackling such a classic adventure.


'20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' Regular Edition by Jonathan Burton
‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ Regular Edition by Jonathan Burton


CJ: Your take on ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ captures the absolute zest for adventure and love of the sea that Verne’s novel achieves. Was there a conversation with Nautilus Art Prints between a strictly book based interpretation versus the Disney film version? J

B: The brief was very open and was left for me to interpret so I ended up using both the book and film as inspiration. I listened to the ‘20,000 Leagues’ audiobook whilst working on, coincidentally, a picture book of Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’!

You had two Jules Verne projects going on at the same time?

I was illustrating the book ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ at the time that Nautilus contacted me. So I listened to ‘20,000 leagues’ on audiobook for inspiration whilst finishing ’80 Days.’

When is that book coming out?

It’s coming out in October and is published by Milan in France. It’s a picture book for children but still has some epic scenes and again, great characters.

For ‘20,000 Leagues,’ did you use the Disney film or any other incarnations as reference?

Studying Alphonse de Neuville‘s illustrations for ‘20,000 Leagues’ were very helpful in realizing the kind of clothes the crew would wear and also gave me an idea of the design of the Nautilus. I enjoy the research stage and pick elements from as many sources as I can in which to reference.

For example, the Disney film had a famous ‘sunset scene’ that ended up being cut from the original and was reshot to take place at night in the rain. The two variants are a little nod to that, one is at sunset with a storm on the way and the other is at sunrise after a night of fighting.


'20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' Variant Edition by Jonathan Burton
‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ Variant Edition by Jonathan Burton


That’s a brilliant solution — using the regular and variant to reference that little footnote in the film’s history. Your work appears to begin with pencil and paper. Are you taking those original drawings and coloring them digitally, or are the pencil drawings merely a guideline so you can re-create them digitally?

I color the drawing digitally and I keep the original line work in the finished piece. For me, the first drawing is the soul of the illustration and removing or redrawing it always loses some of the energy and character.

What’s your work flow for a large piece like ’20,000 Leagues’? Do you do a string of rough sketches for approval? Did you start with thumbnail sketches?

Many thumbnail sketches! Such visually rich text made it hard to decide on which scene to illustrate, but I ended up showing (Nautilus) three different propositions.

We all agreed that the Octopus attack worked best and to be honest it had to be that scene. It’s iconic and one that I, as a fan, would really want to see.


Detail of Jonathan Burton's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' for Nautilus Art Prints
Detail of Jonathan Burton’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ for Nautilus Art Prints


It’s definitely a moment that is hard to top.  In your composition you put the viewer on the Nautilus with the rest of crew, in the middle of the battle. Verne’s novel is full of inspired visuals, and you delivered a piece that captures the excitement of one of the greatest moments in literature.

Being a property that has been illustrated and re-imagined repeatedly since it was first published, did you feel any pressure when taking on ’20,000 Leagues’ to do something new?

Looking at other interpretations was an advantage in that I could reference some of those ideas but show them in a new way. The pressure I feel is that which I put on myself and rather than holding back I wanted something to really get my teeth into.

From early on I decided to tackle it with a very complex dynamic with several characters, a rough sea and twisting tentacles from every direction. It was a challenging composition but a joyful one to get lost in.

You’ve done a fair share of prints, but up to this point they’ve been giclee prints – did your design process change knowing ’20,000 Leagues’ was going to a screenprint?

It’s not hugely different to how I work normally with many Photoshop layers, but on a technical level I learned a lot about preparing for such a large scale screenprint. With Jack and Laurent Durieux at Nautilus we discussed ways of achieving the effect of my normal work using transparent inks for example.

With this I could really start to get some interesting effects going on and the finished result looks like hand painted line work. It’s a really lovely process and I’m hooked!


Detail of Jonathan Burton's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' for Nautilus Art Prints
Detail of Jonathan Burton’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ for Nautilus Art Prints


Out of pure curiosity – did you ever play with including any of the characters? Did Captain Nemo, Ned Land, or Aronnax show up in any of your early drawings?

Alphonse de Neuville drew Captain Nemo as quite understated and the bearded man on the right of the poster could possibly be him though I haven’t made a conscious effort to represent everyone. Whereas the main focus is Ned Land holding the harpoon in centre.

He’s a direct nod to how Kirk Douglas dressed in the Disney film: red striped tee-shirt, high loose trousers, ear-ring and his large sailors cap. I don’t think it would have worked if I had dressed him low-key, it needed that slight caricature for it to hit home.


Detail of Jonathan Burton's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' for Nautilus Art Prints
Detail of Jonathan Burton’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ for Nautilus Art Prints

The  Regular Edition ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’  is a 24″ X 36″ 9 color screenprint with a limited edition of 250,  going for $60 each.

The  Variant Edition ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’  is a 24″ X 36″ 9 color screenprint with a limited edition of 100,  going for $90 each.

Visit the Nautilus Art Prints online store for availability.

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