Last summer, whilst cycling about the lanes, I was set upon by a delinquent gang of Guinea Fowl. Despite their amusing appearance, they are tough birds. It turned out a friend also found them intimidating; they would often perch on a fence and mock him as he was going about his business: keeping bees and raising cabbages. Anyway, it turned out Guinea Fowl were too difficult to paint (they are far too speckily) , so I turned them into chickens for the purpose of this picture.
A few days ago I went to Oxford to discuss a new project with David Fickling. David has been a phenomenal driving force in British children’s books for many a year, publishing Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Horrible Histories, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and much more. Back in the early nineties, he kick-started my career in book illustration, so when David calls, I come a-running.
Mr Fickling also publishes The Phoenix, and is passionate about telling stories through the medium of comics. If you’ve not seen it, the graphic novel Mezolith is worth looking at – it’s a great example.
The idea is to develop some stories with Conrad Mason, the writer of Demon’s Watch and Goblin’s Gift (out this month – see cover in previous entry!) which is quite an exciting prospect for me as I’ve been itching to do this sort of thing for ages. My first professional job was illustrating a Future Shock for 2000AD when I was 17 (written by some guy called Neil Gaiman – wonder what became of him?) but after the work fizzled out I drifted way from the genre. I’ve made a few attempts to get back into it, but my efforts have come to nowt, until now.
So at the moment I’m doing a lot of doodling; trying out ideas and styles – playtime, basically.
I managed to squeeze in a quick ‘Local Character’ picture. A bit of a strange one, but the idea was haunting me; it had to come out onto the page so I could get some peace. It was inspired by a friend’s daughter, who is working on her art A level.
I was reminded of my brief time at college, where we would stand drawing endless pictures of bottles and onions. It was quite tedious at the time, but in retrospect it was an invaluable exercise in expressing shape and form. After a while you become very focused; the objects lose their meaning and you see them purely as abstract entities made of light and dark.
For some reason, I wanted to give the picture a Carl Larsson-y feel. Maybe because the last few Local Character pictures have been quite heavy and dark.
Next week, if time allows, Samurai Chicken Defender!
This is the final Dragonology cover. Although it is the third in the series, I left it until last as it was by far the most difficult. For my book covers, I like to choose dynamic angles to give movement and drama to a scene. This can cause a lot of problems in the perspective department, especially when drawing extravagant neo-gothic clock towers. I also had to take into account all the typography that will appear on the cover; even though the image appears fairly simple, finding the balance of the basic layout was quite an ordeal. I had decided early on to blanket London in some low cloud, a classic move to aid depth (and avoid painting hundreds of Victorian buildings from an awkward angle) but it was still a struggle to make the colours work. As one of the previous covers was predominantly blue, I had to be careful not to stray too far into that palette again.
Here are a couple of development pieces – there were a lot more, but I used them to start a fire (it’s been unfeasibly cold this week).
I took a break from painting mythical beasties to record a bit of music.
This started out as a song, which didn’t work. Then it was an instrumental for guitar and piano, which also didn’t work (mainly because I can’t play the piano). I re-arranged the piece to work for two guitars; you can listen to the results by clicking on the link below. If you are feeling frisky, you may dance an Argentinian Tango to it, because it is a waltz.
Due to the post-Christmas tumble back to normality, I forgot to mention the latest in the Frogspell series was released in January. Full of Arthurian inspired shenanigans, with added frogs and rats and dragons (which are much easier to draw in cartoon form).
Swordspell is written by CJ Busby and published by Templar Books.
Also this week, the fine people of Lines and Colors made a feature of me. It’s a great blog to visit – packed full of diverse art and very inspiring, especially if your creative juices are in need of rehydrating.
I accidentally happened upon this Twitter conversation, wrangled by a chap called Giuseppe who is an Art Director at Penguin Books in the U.S.
Sometimes I get asked how one goes about becoming an illustrator; although I answer as helpfully as my experience allows, the truth is I have no idea, especially as things have changed a bit since I started. For example, computers were things that lived in a room at school that only hyper-intelligent beings could look at, now you are rarely a foot away from one at any given time. This is how astonishingly prehistoric I am.
Luckily, because the computers escaped from their scholastic confinement, proliferated and became all-powerful, you can now directly access the mind of a man who knows exactly how to become an illustrator. Scroll down to Feb 21st, where all is revealed…