The Trouble with Layers


Warning: post contains tedious Photoshop-based conundrums. Skip to the last bit if allergic to digital dilemmas.

Conrad Mason’s Demon’s Watch books are being publishing by Scholastic in the U.S. (splendid news), but they found my first cover a little overly weaponised and requested an alternative version. Personally, I find happy trolls with blunderbusses cute and amusing, and I struggled to find a different approach. I read the book again and decided on a rather exciting scene that has witches and aquatic behemoths and our heroes in trouble, with no flintlocks or cutlasses in sight. This is the rough idea…


Unfortunately this was considered too frightening for the nippers, which left me in a quandary as I couldn’t think of anything else. Luckily, Conrad stepped in and suggested an idea (top of post) which thankfully did the trick.

When creating pictures digitally, it’s customary to build the elements up on layers, so things can be easily accessed and altered. Unfortunately this also gives the unsuspecting artist many more potential avenues to explore, resulting in a lot of procrastinating and scratching of beard. I can’t count the number of wasted hours altering the opacity of layers minutely or changing the tone subtly, then reverting back to the way it was, then looking at it the next day and inexplicably repeating the whole sorry, indecisive affair. I had a particularly bad case of layer-meddling on this one, which nearly resulted in me submitting this as an alternative:


I liked the simplicity and space, plus it looks better really small (the size you might see it on a website). I didn’t suggest it in the end, as it’s a bit too different from the other two covers and would be summarily rejected. This version happened by accident when I turned the other layers off – here is the opposite effect when the swooping figures are turned off:


Not quite as exciting, but with some fiery typography slapped in the middle it could make a decent enough cover. You see what I’m getting at? Sometimes there are too many options. Wait, maybe I should have done the background less blue…


Enough already.

This week I did an interview for an online magazine called Last Laugh, which features an eclectic mix of art and artists. Have a look through the previous issues as there’s a lot of interesting and inspiring stuff.

Heros, Hedgespoken and Church

A rare book cover this week – part three of Conrad Mason’s Demon’s Watch series entitled the Hero’s Tomb. This will be released next March, along with the Tales of Fayt graphic novel (set in the same world) which I’m currently putting together.


A few weeks ago, a motley assortment of local folk descended on Rima and Tom’s field to help them film a video for their crowd-funded project, Hedgespoken. This involves turning a rather impressive 60′s Bedford truck into a home and mobile stage, like a real-life Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.


Luckily, the suspension coped admirably with us jumping up and down on it for half an hour playing Russian folk tunes, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. You can view the finished video here, find out more about the project and maybe contribute to the magic (various rewards are on offer from the talented pair).

Earlier this week I found myself exploring the Roseland Peninsular down in Cornwall.  I happened upon an interesting 13th century church, and did a sketch…


What’s particularly fascinating about this place is that it inhabits a sub-tropical microclimate; the ancient headstones are festooned in palms, making it (what I imagine) a pirate’s graveyard in the West Indies would look like…


Pod Girl and Bind-Ups


Here’s another Local Character that’s been lurking in the sketchbook waiting to be finished. Here are the 3 stages of development, from scribble in sketchbook to pen and ink drawing. Once again, it was mostly painted with the ‘toothbrush and dab’ method and then lots of coloured pencil to make it look less of a muddy disgrace.

More about what Pod Girl gets up to here.


Layouts are very nearly complete for The Mythic Village Yearbook, I just need to print them out and check for mistakes. Here are a few pages so you get an idea of how it will look:


There are a few words on each spread to expand on the themes of the paintings, some mildly amusing, some verging on the profound (I’m not Paramahansa Yogananda so don’t expect too much) and of course a variety of sketches.

This month I will be putting together another book: Tales of Fayt – The Crippled Imp. Yesterday I was sent the previous excellent ‘Phoenix Presents’ editions, which are serving as a template.


The Crippled Imp appeared in the Phoenix Comic in episodes earlier this year, and now has to be slightly adjusted so it reads as one complete story (which means taking out title pages, ‘what happened last week’ panels, etc.). There’s also room for displaying some of the work that went into the pre-production – sketches, storyboards, models and the like. There will be a couple of bits of new artwork as well, and I need to do a cover; currently I’ve absolutely no idea what to do for that. I’m hoping someone will rescue me by suggesting something good.

Balthazar and Assorted Sketches


A while back I completed a cover for a friend of mine, Stu Jenks. Stu is based in Tucson, Arizona and makes intriguing photographs (as well as playing a mean mandolin). He also writes - this is a magical Christmas story and you can find out more here.


This week I have been putting together my local character pictures with a view to releasing them as a book. I wanted to include some ‘behind the scenes’ sketches, but as I tend to burn most of them I’ve had to scribble some new ones.

It will be called The Mythic Village Yearbook, the idea being the images will unfold in the order of the seasons - when I was looking through the pictures it seemed that almost all of them could be assigned to specific times of the year.

Here’s the rather treacherous stile that leads up to the Black Prince’s path – the wooden bar and step has since been removed – the signpost is my own addition.


This is Ozwald the whippet, who features in one of the paintings:


The area around nearby Kestor Rock has an abundance of hut circles, stone rows and circles; a perfect loping ground for Warlock the Hunter:


Finally, a steampunk couple, rescued from an abandoned illustration project called Pictura – a sort of colouring-in book.


Ruthgar, Mother of Cakes.


A companion piece to the Chagford Leisure Pirates (which featured Jason of England and Finn), this is Mrs ‘of England’, Ruth.

Among Ruth’s special skills are expertise in deadly weapons and baking the best carrot cake in Devon. Softy the half-feral cat looks on.

So the family is (more or less) complete…


Puppeteer at the Gates of Dawn


Todd has been bringing creatures to life on stage and screen for many years.

At least that’s what he claims – really he just hangs around Pinewood studios with a felt pen. Then he wrestles any passing film star to the ground and draws dots on them, like this:


I did a little rough, then a big pencil drawing. I decided not to have the birds on wires in the end as it made it look like they were captured and not puppets; even though Todd is a serial celebrity dotter, you certainly won’t find him oppressing common warblers.


The gateway features a design for a clock I made about 20 years ago – I never got round to putting the mechanism in it, but it has made an excellent kettle rest.


Find more about Mr Todd-Jones here:

Winter Lamentation and Summer Celebration



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:


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:


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,


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…



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…



Tote bags and pillows now available from Redbubble!

Dead Hares and Mad Hatters


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…


Massive Pirate Troll Attack


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.


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


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.



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.


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…)


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.