Winter Lamentation and Summer Celebration

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The last couple of weeks have been full of music, parties and general louche behaviour. Children, don’t drink absinthe, or you will end up like this:

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Dressed like a lunatic on the top of a hill at an inappropriate hour, watching your common sense and dignity disappearing over the horizon.

But I have managed to catch up on a couple of local characters.

The first features Rima in A Winter Lamentation. A couple of years ago there was a funeral fire for Thomas, husband of Lunar, where Rima played the flute beautifully on a cold winter’s afternoon. This picture has been haunting me ever since, so it was good to finally get it down. I used a lot of splattery, toothbrush-applied watercolour which generated a rather pleasing texture on the original, which you can get a sense of in this extreme close up:

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There was no masking involved; because I use a board with a very smooth surface I can brush water on and dab the paint off to leave an (almost) clean surface to work back into. You can catch up with Rima’s adventures and see her unique and excellent art here.

Also completed recently is the Chagford Leisure Pirates,

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featuring Jason of England and family going about their business. Ruth (partner of Jason) will feature more prominently in my next painting (along with their Viking Galleon Wagon); until then here’s a birthday card…

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The Pirates have a variation of the Death Hares design as their official flag; meanwhile I have received a sample tote bag from Redbubble which I am quite happy with. The T-shirt wasn’t quite so good, so I won’t be selling that until I figure out a better method of printing. I’ve also made a pattern from the design that could be used on a variety of applications. I think I might be harbouring aspirations to become a sort of Heavy Metal William Morris…

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Tote bags and pillows now available from Redbubble!

Dead Hares and Mad Hatters

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Since finishing the Crooked Imp (read the first two episodes online here) I’ve been largely unemployed.

But I haven’t been entirely idle; apart from catching up on lots of television I’ve drawn a couple of things. The Death Hares is an alternative, pirate version of the Tinner’s Hares, a symbol found in medieval churches and businesses in the area. I was going for a morbid look, but they seem quite happy. I’m going to try a different version with a black background in the hope they look a bit more heavy metal. I thought they might look good on bag or t-shirt, so I set up a Redbubble account. I’ve not received the items yet, so I can’t vouch for the quality at the moment, but they are available to the general public.

Also last week I made a poster for our first ‘Save the Library’ event, featuring the Mad Hatter and Dormouse from Alice in Wonderland. I think this is the first time I’ve illustrated anything from the books – I have a vague memory of doing the Caterpillar, but I can find no evidence of any artwork. Must have dreamt it…

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Massive Pirate Troll Attack

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Last week I finished The Crooked Imp, and made the cover that goes with episode 12, the penultimate chapter that will appear in The Phoenix in about 2 months time. This Friday’s edition contains Episode 5, so there’s a way to go yet. I’ve also prepared the book version, which involved removing titles and juggling a few word balloons about. Hopefully that will be out in Autumn. I’m off to Oxford (the Imp’s birthplace) this week to discuss the possibility of a second instalment…

Meanwhile, a quick word about how the cover was created.

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Firstly, a rough is required to send to the editor and designer – luckily the leaping trolls were approved straight off so I didn’t have to do much fiddling about. I scan the pencils in, push things around a little in Photoshop, then put a sheet of tracing paper over the monitor and transfer the image to a sheet of Bristol Board (smooth card for drawing on). As I’ve mentioned before, I plumped for a style of inking that involved not actually using ink, just a clean pencil line. Panel two is the finished pencil art – I increase the contrast a bit to make the lines darker. Having just finished 53 pages using this technique, I don’t think I’ll do it again. I thought it would save time (it didn’t) and it also led to sore knuckles on account of the extra pressure I had to apply to make the pencil line nice and crisp.

The picture is coloured in Painter. I like the textures the program allows – you can see the grainy quality in the extreme close up of the Troll. I do a bit of general tinkering in Photoshop until I’m happy with the overall look. Paul the designer requested the foreground figures were on a separate layer to help integrate the image into the cover design (this way the title and other text can go underneath if required). It’s also quite handy to have cut-outs like this for use in promotional material and the like – you can easily grab the characters and stick them over other backgrounds (see last panel).

Other than wrapping up the Crooked Imp, this week I have putting up a shed to replace my previous one that came a cropper in the winter storms. What has this to do with the creative industry? Well, I was assisted in this endeavour by the excellent William Todd-Jones, who has worked on films such as Labyrinth, Harry Potter, Batman… (the impressive list goes on). Last year he went over to the States to assist Toby Froud in puppeteering his short film, Lessons Learned. On Saturday night we were treated to a private viewing of the film (featuring music by Lillian Todd-Jones). Fans of the Dark Crystal and Storyteller will love it.

The Imp Unleashed

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Today the first instalment of Tales of Fayt appeared in The Phoenix. This episode was made in the attic of a house by the Thames in Oxford last October, and I’m still working on the story (5 pages left!). If all goes to plan the collected work will be released as a graphic novel in Autumn. If you can’t wait that long, rush out and get a copy of the Phoenix, or download the app for a digital version.

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As this project is nearly done, I took myself off to Cornwall for a couple of days to think about what to do next. I wrote a book a few years ago, failed to get it published and stuck it in the metaphorical drawer marked ‘things to work on later’. It occurred to me I might be able to turn it into a graphic novel, and whilst pottering about the rugged coast I did some thinking/editing.

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So I came away with sore legs (so many steps!), sun-burn and a positive frame of mind that I can do something with ‘The Stone Giant’ (that’s the title of the book – here’s one of a few illustrations I did at the time of writing…)

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Also in the news this week:

Last time I mentioned a charity auction. I lost a mad lady being attacked by squirrels (it’s ok – she went to a good home), but gained a squashed fairy. This painting is from Terry Jones and Brian Froud’s Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book from 1994. Terry explains all here.

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The Cup That Wouldn’t Grow Up

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I just received this from Great Ormond Street, the hospital forever linked with Peter Pan.

Despite my brief involvement with Neverland quite a few years ago, my Pan images still crop up in unusual places.

Here he is on the side of a publisher’s offices in Spain…

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And illustrations from Peter Pan in Scarlet made massive and plastered all over Harrods…

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While it’s nice to have yourself plastered over Britain’s most famous shop, all I could see was the deficiencies in the work writ large. Typical.

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Other business this week – Proper Job, our recycling centre, is having a fund-raising auction this weekend. As well as the awesome and abundant mythic artists in the locality (including Alan Lee and Brian Froud), work has been donated by a plethora of creative folk from various disciplines. There’s a full list of items and artists on the Proper Job page, including details of the event. Not to be missed if you are in the Dartmoor area. Here’s my two-penneth – an original illustration from The Oldmoor Orphans and the Rodents Revenge…

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Imperipherals

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This week I just managed to get this poster done in time for Saturday’s Phoenix Fest in Oxford. 

It looks like a great event for parents and younglings to get involved in creating comics – have a look at Sarah MacIntyre’s blog post concerning last year’s shenanigans.

Here are the stages that led to the finished piece. Rough sketch first, then tighter pencils that are fiddled with in Photoshop to create something close to a line drawing (upping the contrast, basically) and then a quick splodge of colour to use as a guide. The final piece was coloured using Painter and Photoshop.

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Also finished this week: Crafty Crocklewick’s Guide to Port Fayt, an introduction to the world of the Crooked Imp…

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Imp Interuptus

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Work on the Tale of the Crippled Imp had to be set aside recently as a number of jobs needed attention. I haven’t decided whether being interrupted on a big project is for the greater good, or a pain in the fundament. On the one hand, it’s good to step away for a while and return with a clearer eye, on the other hand it rather damages the flow of things. Certainly my right hand is grateful for the rest, as the method I’ve chosen to execute the Imp with is physically demanding – I have to press quite hard with the pencil to achieve a nice clean line for scanning and it can result in achey knuckles.

Achey Knuckles – good name for a dodgy East-End character?

Achey doesn’t appear in the latest Ben Kingdom book (a detail of the cover appears above), but there are plenty of other interesting protagonists with cool sounding names. As well as the cover, I’ve just finished some illustrations for the inside. The world of Ben Kingdom is set in Victorian times, infused with a heady aroma of Steampunk (it’s not about cooking so that little metaphor is rather redundant), so I like to revisit my Larklight style of old. This pen and ink technique conjures up the feel of old etchings, but is primarily borrowed from Franklin Booth, an American illustrator from the early 20th century. It was also used to great effect by Berni Wrightson in his amazing version of Frankenstein made in the seventies.

Here’s a picture from the previous Ben Kingdom book, the Feast of Ravens by Andrew Beasley:

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I also squeezed in a couple of book covers, Nightmares and Magic Park 2:

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And a map for the Spook’s Apprentice series, featuring the county of Lancashire. I used an old John Speed map from the 17th century as a guide; it was interesting to see which place names had changed. For example Liverpool was called Lerpool. I’m not sure when the ‘Liver’ bit was added. See? Children’s book illustration can be educational as well as fun!

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Smatterings

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It’s been a peripatetic kind of month, both with living arrangements and work, so there’s a lot to get through.

First up, The Forbidden Library debacle. Every now and then, a book cover just doesn’t work out; despite every effort. I had to abandon the project in the end as I needed to get on with the Crooked Imp, but luckily the publishers weren’t too disgusted with my failure and let me do some illustrations for the inside (hence the girl in the library above – more books! I can’t get enough of them…). Here are some of the roughs for the cover:

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Then it was back to Oxford, where the landscape had changed somewhat since my last visit.

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These are the same willows as in my previous post; a couple of days after this was taken the tow path was completely submerged which curtailed my walks somewhat. I quite enjoyed watching surprised looking Coots and Grebes plop into the water only to zoom off down the river, which had become a fast flowing lake/bird motorway.

Coots and Grebe. Sounds like a firm of solicitors from a Dickens novel.

Like the Thames, Alfie the cat had expanded too.

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Luckily he still had kittenish tendencies and was a fun, if occasionally psychotic, companion.

People often ask me advice about how to become an illustrator, or how to draw, etc. My usual answer is to demand they draw a lot, especially from life; it really helps develop the artist’s powers of observation. Do I follow my own advice? Do I heck.

But I did do a little sketch in the Sheldonian Theatre whilst waiting for the Elias Quartet to show up and swathe me in lovely music…

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Not a particularly interesting image, but it meant I had a really good look around and absorbed things into my visual memory that would normally slip away very quickly. Having said that, I’m not sure if a host of golden cupids parping away on trumpets will be particularly useful in the future, but you get the idea…

When sketching in these situations, I always think to myself I should make more of a habit of it so I feel less of a hypocrite when I suggest others should do likewise. The evidence of my slackness is manifest in my sketchbook – here is the last picture I did in situ, which was at least 3 years ago, I think.

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Meanwhile, The Crooked Imp progresses (hobbles?) further to completion. I’ve just finished page 34, and begun some promotional bits and bobs.

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To avoid spoilers (and the fact I want people to actually buy it) I can’t show too much in the way of finished pages, but here’s one (minus speech balloons) featuring the Jellicoe gang in their hideout… 

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The Spook Rides Again

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It’s ten whole years since the Spook first made his hooded appearance. The thirteenth book, Spook’s Revenge is just out, and I’m taking a short break from The Crooked Imp to illustrate the next in the series. I’m told the film, which was due out next month, has been put back. The trailer seems to have disappeared from the internet; it didn’t look much like the book did in my head, but it had an interesting cast, including Jeff ‘The Dude’ Bridges, Kit ‘Jon Snow’ Harington and Julianne ‘also in The Big Lebowski’ Moore.

There’s a short interview about my involvement in all things Spooky over at Fantasy Book Review.

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The Word Witch

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I started this Local Character back in Summer, but (comme d’habitude) I wasn’t happy with it and it’s been sitting patiently in my kitchen awaiting some attention. The idea of the magical throne of books had been lurking in my head for a while; I just hadn’t found the right subject to take centre stage. Luckily, Theodora Goss visited last year and, as a lecturer and writer specialising in myths and fairy tales, seemed an excellent choice to take the seat.

Anyway, having tinkered with it a little I’m now a bit happier. Here’s the little scribble from whence it sprang…

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Meanwhile, half of The Tale of the Crooked Imp is drawn…

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Twenty pages are coloured and finished, although I keep discovering continuity errors and things that nag at me until I give in and change them. I have found myself lying in bed at night worrying about the interior decor of a Troll’s pie shop (amongst other things), which I’m assuming is not normal or healthy. But, good news for the future, as The Phoenix (where the Crooked Imp will take it’s first steps into the world) was nominated the second best comic of last year by Time magazine.