Illustrating Death’s Study!


Cower brief mortals, and relieve the boredom of human holidays and Hogswatch with our latest creation, based on everyone’s favourite scythe-wielding anthropomorphic personification!

Last year the Emporium gang spent three months in the Unseen University Library – walking among its labyrinthine shelves, ducking the zip and sizzle of errant magic, breathing in the warm and bookish air – to bring you our vision of Discworld’s premier seat of magical learning. Those who chose to own this image, as either the fiendishly difficult 1,000 piece puzzle or pain-free art print, will hopefully realise how much care and attention went into creating this illustration. If the devil is in the detail, then there’s surely a special circle of hell reserved for David Wyatt, the esteemed author of this incredible image. We were thrilled by the response (and by the creative nature of some of the death-threats from the less-experienced puzzlers among you), thus, we’re very excited to reveal the next piece in our range of meticulously-intricate-illustrations-of-some-of-Discworld’s-most-iconic-settings-with-lots-of-lovely-details-from-the-books! (catchy title, eh?).


This time, we’ve been stalking the halls of Death’s domain. After all, even anthropomorphic personifications need a place to call their own. In Death’s house, his study provides sanctuary for the Reaper Man to reflect on life, the universe and fine Klatchian curries. But what does Death’s study look like? For that matter, what does it feel like?… how do you draw a room belonging to an eternal, all-knowing, all-seeing entity… and more importantly, where does one put the sodding cat?

But why Death’s Study? Rooms are extremely telling things. Little boxes we’ve devised to dwell within. In the bowels of the Emporium, there’s a very special room. It usually contains a very special man. One of our founding members, friend & accomplice to Sir Terry Pratchett, Mr. Bernard Pearson. This room is his ‘shed of dreams’ (like a memory palace, but cheaper). This room, perhaps more than most, epitomises it’s inhabitant. Like Bernard, it’s walls are a little wobbly and it smells faintly of ancient pipe smoke but it’s PLASTERED from top to bottom with stories. Objects of fascination, photographs of times and places and people crowd every surface. It overwhelms the senses, so like our dear friend, the Cunning Artificer; this room is as intimate a portrait of his character as any artist, writer or possibly psychoanalyst could possibly hope to provide.

Similarly, Death’s study is a real extension of his character, every atom having been coaxed into existence all by HIMSELF. The character and the space he inhabits are inseparable. The room obviously needs to be executed in all the shades of black, and plastered with gothic skull and bone motifs, but knowing Death as we do, his home can’t feel gruesome, or even gloomy… perhaps the word we’re searching for is… sombre. This is, however, a room of two halves. There’s the formal furniture, the Tudor proportions, the uniform patterning – all very grand, solemn and… appropriate. But slowly, over the aeons, the humanity has seeped into Death and infiltrated his inner sanctum with mementos and nic-nacs that betray his fondness for the habits and pursuits of the living…

Our first rough sketch (pictured above) did not provide nearly enough space for all those souvenirs and trinkets from the eternally mystifying mortal realm. The ‘life’ in the room comes from the items that Death has collected on his travels; it is these the objects that tell his story. It was clear that all those little details from Terry’s books should abound and shine out from his sober surroundings…

++ The mug from Susan ++

 “Someone somewhere wanted to make it a jolly mug. It bears a rather unconvincing picture of a teddy bear, and the legend ‘To The World’s Greatest Grandad’ and the slight change in the style of lettering on the word ‘Grandad’ makes it clear that this has come from one of those stalls that have hundreds of mugs like this, declaring that they’re for the world’s greatest Grandad/Dad/Mum/Granny/Uncle/Aunt/Blank. Only someone whose life contains very little else, one feels, would treasure a piece of gimmickry like this.”

– Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

++ The note for Mort ++

“Death had in fact studied a classic work on graphology before selecting a style and had adopted a hand that indicated a balanced, well-adjusted personality. It said: Gone fyshing. Theyre ys ane execution in Pseudopolis, a naturral in Krull, a faytal fall in the Carrick Mtns, ane ague in Ell-Kinte. Thee rest of thee day’s your own.”

-Terry Pratchett, Mort.

++ The books ++

“Most of the books in the library were biographies, of course. They were unusual in one respect. They were writing themselves. People who had already died, obviously, filled their books from cover to cover, and those who hadn’t been born yet had to put up with blank pages. Those in between . . . Mort took note, marking the place and counting the extra lines, and estimated that some books were adding paragraphs at the rate of four or five every day. He didn’t recognise the handwriting.”

– Terry Pratchett, Mort.

++ The Death of Rat’s mechanical contrivance ++

“Contrivance’ was exactly the right kind of word for it. Most of it was two discs. One was horizontal and contained a circlet of very small squares of what would prove to be carpet. The other was set vertically and had a large number of arms, each one of which held a very small slice of buttered toast. Each slice was set so that it could spin freely as the turning of the wheel brought it down towards the carpet disc.”

– Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time.

Other items of note include the fry up to represent Albert, Death’s man servant; the roll of miniature scythes, for different sized creatures; The fish and a tiny fly, from Death’s fishing trip in ‘Mort’; the armchair in which Ysabelle would read the life stories of mortals; The Klatchian Takeaway, from Curry Gardens, Death’s favourite Morporkian curry house. Renata Flitworth, Mort, Ysabelle and Susan’s portraits adorn his walls. The velvet rope to summon Albert. Outside, Binky strolls in front of a band of golden wheat, the only real natural colour in Death’s endless realm. The Hogfather’s festive cloak and beard hang behind the door… and all around, the glitter of glass and sand…

Lifetimers are Death’s eternal accessories. We know that Death studies the lifetimers of souls who pique his interest, and most lifetimers in our image represent a familiar Discworld counterpart. Whether it’s Vimes’ copper watchman’s badge timer, dents and all, or Nanny Ogg’s stein-handled timer, topped with a votive hedgehog, or Vetinari’s lofty, gothic timer – dark, complex and pointed… somewhat like it’s owner.

“Death had taken to keeping Rincewind’s lifetimer on a special shelf in his study, in much the way that a zoologist would want to keep an eye on a particularly intriguing specimen. The lifetimers of most people were the classic shape that Death thought was right and proper for the task. They appeared to be large eggtimers, although, since the sands they measured were the living seconds of someone’s life, all the eggs were in one basket. Rincewind’s hourglass looked like something created by a glassblower who’d had the hiccups in a time machine.”

– Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent


Thanks to the aforementioned descriptions from Terry Pratchett throughout the Discworld series, we had a great deal of material for this scene all detailed with such relish that the process of designing the space, illustrating each element, and fitting everything together in a cohesive and elegant manner was a relatively simple process. Not to mention huge fun. We wanted to achieve a glimpse into Death’s private sanctuary, capturing a rare moment to himself spent studying the timers of Discworld’s most ‘interesting’ denizens, with all those wonderful details not only giving puzzlers a huge amount of satisfaction, but evoking Death’s wit, charm and playful innocence. At the centre of it all, of course, is the Reaper Man, and Capturing the personification of the ultimate reality was undoubtedly a prospect more sobering than a strong dose of klatchian coffee.

When devising Death’s characterisation, so many words skitter around the mind – Sage. Curious. Definite. Dare we say… sweet? There’s no one easy way to describe Death – it took Pratchett some thirty years, after all – but one word felt right for this image; Grandfatherly.  From the illustrations of Paul Kidby and Josh Kirby to the films of the Mob and sculptures of Clarecraft, everyone has had to tackle HOW to show convincing emotion on a skull, an object which unsurprisingly tends to be a bit… poker-faced. He’s a fundamentally difficult character to capture. We’re sure therefore that David Wyatt cheated. We don’t know how, but he definitely did.To get that gorgeous sense of wonder, warmth, intelligence and intrigue into a very naturalistic drawing of a skull… he must have acquired arcane talents beyond those we already knew of.

Mind you, having illustrated Terry Pratchett’s creations for covers, calendars, and numerous Emporium projects over the years, including our recent rendition of Unseen University’s magical library and Librarian, David is no stranger to capturing the spirit of Discworld and its denizens – and his is a death to die for! David also enjoyed creating a wonderfully Victorian-gothic-look book box for the whole piece to reside in, as though from the library of Death himself.

We defy anyone to look this Grim Reaper in the eye socket and not wonder what he’s thinking about. We definitely wanted to keep the skull feeling very natural, not exaggerating his features nor evoking a sense of horror. This was tricky, as it only allowed us to play with angle and lighting to create feeling, but in the end it makes for a very convincing and subtle expression which really ties the whole piece together.  And so… In the centre of the image he sits, deep in contemplation, surrounded by those things that make him, ‘HIM’.

As ever, no picture is as good as the one in your mind’s eye, but we’d like to hope that in this instance, we have at least given you a near Death experience.

The completed rendition of Death’s personal hideaway is an image that we hope will capture the Death you all know and love. As a puzzle, it is chocked full of enough hidden references, unexpected treats and snippets of stories to keep any Discworld Disciple or plucky puzzler busy for days. As a print, it is a home inside your home, a scene for you to gaze upon and consider matters of life… and death!