I’ve spent five weeks in the city of Oxford, In order to to get a good start on the Tale of the Crooked Imp. David Fickling locked us in his office until things started to shape up; apparently he did the same to Philip Pullman when he was writing His Dark Materials (that might not be true).
Anyway, Conrad, Will, David and I spent many an hour thrashing out the story and how it could be better served narratively and visually. It was tough going, but very rewarding. Will is the editor of The Phoenix, where the Crooked Imp will be first published in episodes, before being released as a graphic novel later next year.
When I was allowed out, I spent my time being stalked, Cato-like, by Alfie the kitten.
I went for a lot of walks by the many rivers – Oxford is the willow capital of the country.
I was often accompanied by the town Heron, who was less bothered by the thundering traffic than I was…
I also did a lot of drawing, between Handel concerts at the Sheldonian. There was a lot of Handel music in Oxford. Here are a couple of finished pages of the Crippled Imp, to whet your appetite…
At the top of this post is an old postcard of one of my favourite bits of Oxford architecture that I often walked by (and Oxford is particularly rich in architectural loveliness) – it looked particularly mad illuminated at night but I’m afraid my photograph didn’t come out very well. It’s counterpointed by a lovely twisty tree that probably was a mere sapling when this picture was taken, but I think it captures the feel of the place quite nicely.
So I’ve finished story-boarding the Tale of the Crippled Imp, the forthcoming graphic novel; it’s now in the hands of the editors, who will help Conrad and I fashion it into something worth reading. Here are some of the rough pages…
While all that is being examined, I’ve turned my attention to the technical details of how I’m actually going to present the finished thing. Traditionally, comics are pencilled then inked and coloured, but I’ve been experimenting with cutting out the inking process by computer trickery courtesy of Photoshop. Using a filter called ‘threshold’, it’s possible to turn a pencil drawing into a black and white outline.
Here is one of the characters to help demonstrate:
1 is the original pencil drawing, 2 is the ‘threshold’ application, 3 has been coloured mostly using Painter, which provides nice watercoloury textures. My current quandary involves whether to go for the stark black and white line drawing look of 4, or to leave the pencil as it is (5). I quite like the natural feel that this gives, but I might lose the crispness of the line drawing approach. I’ll probably have to do a whole page to see how it looks with either option – hopefully that will make the decision easier (bet it doesn’t). I have used a similar technique before, when I made Sunsound, but I wasn’t completely convinced of the effectiveness (admittedly I didn’t use the ‘threshold option, just upped the contrast of the pencil drawing). I was inspired to give it another go while reading about the creation of the excellent Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon, who used a similar technique: read about it here. Like me, he fears the tyranny of the inked line…
…Well, it seems that long. Lovely Nghiem from Templar Publishing came down at the weekend with a box of Dinosaurologies, fresh from the printers.
I did the cover way back in February 2012, and completed the 14 colour interior pictures last summer.
As usual, this ‘Ology is packed full of secret flaps, maps, things to pull out and generally rummage around in. It’s crammed full of illustrations – other artists who worked on the book are Gary Blythe, Douglas Carrel, Helen Ward and Nikki Palin.
As is traditional, there are a few things I would have preferred to have painted better, but I like the overall feel of the book. Unlike some of my previous Ology’s, I went for a more muted, watercolour look that I feel sits nicely with the ‘explorer’s journal’ atmosphere. This was achieved mostly in a program called Painter. It probably took the same amount of time to paint digitally as it would have using real paints, but there were a lot of changes made along the way (due to story developments and layout alterations) which would have been very difficult to do on traditional artwork.
Dinosaurology (being an account of Percy Fawcett’s expedition into the unknown) will be available in September.
Recently I’ve been making a lot of sketches for book covers and the on-going pre-production for the Tales of Fayt project.
Here is a portrait of a family of Griffins for the German edition of a book called Menagerie. This won’t be the final design; I need to re-think everything, but I may be able to salvage some of Griffin pups for future use.
Here are some concept drawings for The Tale of the Crippled Imp, being the first episode of the comic strip I’m working on with Conrad Mason.
I’ve storyboarded the first few pages; now I need to refine things and really work out the characters so I know what they look like from various angles. To help with this endeavour I thought it might be useful to construct my own models. Unfortunately my sculpting skills are abysmal. I also forgot the troll was in the oven and he came out with toasted ears and a crispy hat, which is why I’ve had to cover up the burnt areas with paint. Never mind, the Tricorn hat will be useful as they are a nightmare to draw without reference.
On Friday night the Widdershins exhibition was officially opened.
The preview evening was extremely well attended; the gallery could barely contain the throng and it spilled out onto the street (filled with the sounds of Klezmer, ably evoked by Tim, Lisa and Rima).
Two of the exhibiting artists can be spotted in the above photograph, Brian Froud and Terri Windling. All the other artists were in attendance, with the exception of Wendy Froud who is recovering from an operation (get well soon Wendy!) and Alan Lee who is still wrestling with Hobbits in Middle Earth (New Zealand).
The top picture features a sculpture by Virginia Lee with a lovely background by Neil Wilkinson Cave. Below, A Paul Kidby sculpture calmly observes my Gidleigh Goat going about his business…
I took lots of pictures on the night, but because it was so hot they all came out blurry (except this one which features a back view of Marja Lee). To make up for this here is a link to a front view of Marja by Brian.
On Saturday we did a mass book signing and I stayed on to see Paul and Vanessa Kidby present a talk (if you weren’t aware, Paul is Terry Pratchett’s main illustrator as well as an excellent sculptor). I sneaked into the gallery just as it was closing to get some non-blurry snaps…
Hazel Brown displayed a selection of intriguing Faerie assemblages (above). Hazel has known the Frouds for many years and provided the typography for Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book, amongst other things. Below, Paul’s sculpture guards a couple of Alan Lee paintings (one is the Widdershins painting detailed earlier in this Blog).
Next week, Hazel, Virginia and I are attending a ‘coffee with the artists’ thingy; Terri Windling will be overseeing. There will be lots of previously unseen artwork to rummage through, and lots of insights into the creative mind (at least that’s what I’m hoping to get). There are also lots of other events going on over the course of the exhibition; check the Green Hill site for all the details.
Due to the recent hot weather work has become a sporadic affair (like Old Goat I have vegetables to nurture) so here is an update of various projects and happenings.
Richard Hammond (of Top Gear fame) has a book coming out, for which I designed the cover using a typographical approach. The background will be created by the designer – I’ve just used black here so the letters stand out. I did something similar for the Black Book of Secrets several years ago; I can’t show you that as my external hard drive is down. I had a look on Amazon, but the book has already been re-covered (such is the ephemeral nature of the book cover).
It’s ten years since The Spook’s Apprentice first strode out over the Witch-infested wilds of Lancashire, and this week I have been illustrating book 13. I think it might be my favourite. Poor Tom has quite a lot on his plate (a hearty dollop of horror with a side order of heartbreak). It’s set in autumn, which provides plenty of opportunity to use falling leaves as a motif; they also help to add movement and life to silhouette images.
Last week I got to hang out with Boston-based writer and fairy-tale academic Theodora Goss. I recommend her ‘The Thorn and The Blossom’, which is a beautifully designed and written book.
Pre-production work also continues on Tales of Fayt, the graphic novel written by Conrad Mason; here are some fairy character concepts…
And while we are in fairy-land, UK residents can see our very own Brian Froud and Elizabeth Jane Baldry on BBC’s Countryfile (I think it expires in Sunday so be quick) when the program came to town to explore matters both practical and metaphysical…
And lastly, I recently posted a brief article over at David Fickling Books concerning magical portals. Because of the imminent Widdershins exhibition it seemed appropriate. Unfortunately I completely failed to mention the exhibition in the post and thus missed an excellent advertising opportunity, but I shall have more news of the event next week.
This is a real Local Character: Jason of England‘s mighty hound, Warlock.
Warlock’s favourite activity is escaping in order to terrorise the local wildlife, but he can often be found in the local hardware store or just wandering about town like he owns the place.
Here’s how to make a picture of Warlock:
Step one: Have idea. Transfer idea from head to small scribble.
Step two: Remove subject to suitable environment for posing opportunities. In this case, the nearby and appropriately named Hound Tor.
Step three: Do a pencil draft, scan it in and fiddle about in Photoshop to get the layout right. On this occasion I made a colour rough – not something I usually do but I predicted I would get into a mess without some prior decision making.
Step four: Draw most of picture with pen and ink.
Step five: Apply watercolour and pencil until reasonably happy with result.
Of course, Psycho-killer Warlock has his soft side – here is photographic evidence…
No lambs were harmed during the making of this Blog entry.
I’ve just been doing some chapter headings for the new Ben Kingdom book (cover above, plus some early roughs). Here are some of the previous ones, from Claws of Evil…
More events have been scheduled for the Widdershins exhibition in summer. Apparently you can come and have coffee and cake with me; it’s described as an Artists Talk, but a more accurate description would be ‘Artists sit in the corner in a slightly embarrassed manner as they are not used to this sort of thing but are happy to answer questions Talk’. I will bring large piles of original art, finished books and sketchbooks to rummage through – it will be quite informal but (hopefully) informative.
I re-painted the next scene in the Ballad of Old Goat and Heron.
When I’d finished, I sat back, looked at and had a conversation in my head that reminded me of Statler and Waldorf, the aged hecklers from the Muppet Show. It went something like this:
“Oh yes, that’s much better, the drawing of the Goat is a great improvement.
Solly Badger is fine too. But the original one was OK anyway.
Actually, I think I prefer the background of the original painting. It’s lighter and the colours are more varied.
The old one had more depth and a feeling of light through trees…
This new one is terrible. Do it again, properly this time!”
I am a muppet.