Le P’tit Colin and Le Grand Colin do Mischief

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Back to Guernsey and a few illustrations of some crafty customers known locally as Le Petit Colin and Le Grand Colin; supernatural creatures that enjoy meddling in the domestic affairs of their human neighbours, much like a Hobgoblin or Boggart.

Here’s the very first thumbnail I did for the above painting, scribbled between the paragraphs of the brief. Unusually, it’s quite close to the final in terms of its basic layout. I wanted to paint the spectral horses look like they were made of the same stuff as the moon, but for some reason I couldn’t make it work so I had to settle for a subtler approach.  Often, what’s in my head (and looks marvellous in there) refuses to plop out onto the paper. This is a very annoying thing to have to put with.

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Next up, an unfortunate householder rescues someone from a storm, only to find it’s a pesky Colin. Once invited in, Le Colin is a tricky guest to extricate…s428kitchen

Next, a rough for the incident at La Longue Roque, a megalithic standing stone that can still be found on the island. Naturally, its particular placement is down to a quarrel between the Colins.

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Lastly, the Colins like nothing better to creep in and steal bread from your furze oven. A furze (or gorse) oven is a small cubby hole in the fireplace, common on the Channel Islands and also here in Devon. They are stuffed full of furze that is sealed in and burnt until the oven is red hot, whereupon the bread (or cake or joint of meat) is slow cooked within. In the following image, Le P’tit Colin has trouble hanging onto the scalding loaf with his thieving hands.15

Disabled Rabbit Storms Book Awards

Thought I’d go for a tabloid-style heading for maximum impact, if you don’t mind.

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Yes, Podkin One-Ear has won the 2017 Blue Peter Book Award. This Thursday, author Kieran Larwood will be on the programme to talk about his creation – you won’t be seeing me accompanying him as I’ve been on telly before and it’s a frightful experience that I’m not after repeating. In my absence, they were quite keen on some kind of representation of me, so I went round to Todd and Carol’s for an impromptu photoshoot – I imagine the results will scare the nippers, so our efforts will probably have been in vain. UK viewers can catch the programme on the BBC iPlayer.

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Besides, I’ve been too busy reading Podkin Book 2 to be galavanting on the media circuit; making lots of (in retrospect) completely unintelligible scribbles that I assume will have some relevance at some point…

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The triumphant book is out in paperback very soon here, or, one would hope, your local high street bookshop.

Suicidal Faerie Squad

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Since December I’ve been working on a pile of illustrations based on the folklore of Guernsey. Here’s a cheery little tale called Lé Gibet des Faies.

All the paintings are in the style of my Mythic Village pictures – pen and ink and watercolour (with assistance from Prismacolor pencils when things get out of control).

Unusually, I didn’t make a colour rough before commencing any of the pictures, just the usual tonal pencil/Photoshop preparations.df

That’s not to say I didn’t think very hard about the colours I wanted to use – so much so I had quite a strong mental polaroid* of what I was aiming for before I started flinging paint about. Several of the other pictures involve various nocturnal shenanigans so it was important they didn’t look too similar colour-wise.

Along with eight paintings, I’ve made thirteen pencil drawings. I had already conceived the central characters to this tale (there’s a little bit of a homage to Susanna Clarke in the depiction of the ‘Gentleman’ with his thistledown hair). The client wasn’t happy with the original elaborate hairstyle of his companion, but it wasn’t too difficult to re-style her. I love working in pencil – it really is the least stressful of mediums (assuming your eraser hasn’t been eaten by a dog).

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Here’s the altered version:

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Currently I have two more paintings to do, plus a little bit of last-minute fiddling on the ones that are supposedly finished. I hope to show a few more of them in the near future; meanwhile, here are some of the paintings from a distance…

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*Mental Polaroid – good name for a band?

Discworld Emporium

 

What a dog’s dinner of a post. Still, got there in the end…

EDIT- I’ve taken away some of the first images at the request of the Discworld Emporium – check back in a week or so when they will be reinstated and this post will make sense!

YET ANOTHER EDIT – the pictures have now been restored – apologies for the horrendous deviation in normal practice.

h2This is the artwork (it’s made of real paint!) for the new Hogswatch stamps about to be released by the Discworld Emporium.

It’s three scenes in one – here’s the original rough to show how the individual stamps will be perforated. It was a tricky task to wrestle all the elements into place – I haven’t seen the completed item yet so I hope the print finishing was accurate otherwise the whole thing will be a dog’s dinner (hog’s dinner).

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Here’s a photograph of the work in progress to prove it really exists and no pixels were used in its construction. This is the first time in over fifteen years that I’ve done a industry commissioned illustration non-digitally so I’m all cock-of-the-walk about it.

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I also did a less Christmassy version for the all new and improved Discworld Emporium website. It’s drawn as four separate elements (foreground, middle distance, slightly further away in the distance and sky) then subtly animated to give a feeling of depth. If you go to the page and scroll down you’ll see what I’m on about… it’ll save me trying to explain. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do today.

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JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT THERE COULDN’T BE ANY MORE ANNOYING EDITS – the stamps are now out. Go here to see how things turned out…

 

Thought Fox and Willow

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This looks okay-ish from a distance and in the dark, but generally it’s a bit of a disaster. I’m not entirely sure how to fix it, so the plan is to put it to one side and hope the future provides a solution.

It got off to a good start and I was pleased with the first rough (that should have been a clue to my impending doom); I also had a very strong idea of the colours to be employed.

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The setting is a tumbling stream on the edge of the moor, hidden away in a steep-sided, gorse-guarded valley. Home to a community of young and ancient willow trees, the inaccessibility has preserved its untamed, other-worldly quality. Ted Hughes wrote a poem called Thought Fox and this environment struck me as being sympathetic to the ideas about creativity described therein.

Spurred on by an uncharacteristic confidence, I decided to alter my normal procedure of drawing the image in pen and ink first by making a tighter pencil drawing which I then painted over. This was about half the size of the original rough. The idea was to build up a purply-grey background that the orange would then shine out of like a guiding beacon. On no account was I going to use any green whatsoever.

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Things started to go downhill after that. I got into a muddy muddle with the purples, and had to rescue everything with copious amounts of coloured pencil. Finally, I admitted defeat and lobbed in some green. This just about saved it from tottering into the abyss (or the wood-burner) but something’s still not right…

And now for something a little brighter.

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This is entitled Up the May! and is a celebration of our community’s little Beltane festival.

As a side effect to this picture I designed a Pop Vinyl Green Man, although he ended up looking more like an owl on the t-shirt.

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Here’s a photo to give a flavour of the festivities – after this, things just got weird.

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Photo courtesy of Terri Windling

 

I Am Not a Serial Killer

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Four whole years ago, friend and neighbour Billy O’Brien asked me to do some concept sketches for the film he was working on, I Am Not a Serial Killer, based on the YA book by Dan Wells. At the time it was thought John Hurt was going to be in it, but the role ended up going to Christopher Lloyd – equally legendary in terms of sci-fi film credentials.

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After overcoming a frustrating obstacle course of delays (not uncommon in the film industry) the film was finally shot in Minnesota last year, with the special effects shots completed in Billy’s garage a stone’s throw from where I’m typing this. Toby Froud (stripey pyjama wearing baby from Labyrinth) flew back home to help – he grew up here on Dartmoor but now lives in the States where he works for animation film company Laika.

The film was finally released a couple of weeks ago (although it’ll be a couple more months before you can see it in the UK); the official poster isn’t bad, but Billy was keen to get some different looks out there to reflect the quirky nature of the film. Unfortunately, marketing is often taken out of the director’s hands, and Billy is particularly unhappy with the image used to sell the film on iTunes and Amazon USA, which makes the film look like a cheap slasher flick (it isn’t).

Here’s the official poster for the USA release with the first variant designed by Midnight Marauder.

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Billy was after a “Bande Dessinée, Tin Tin meets Rear Window” feel, and provided me with the sketch on the far left. It turned out to be quite a task settling all the elements into place, but having the perspective lines emanating from the Christopher Lloyd character helped anchor things.

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Once that was sorted, I drew the design out in pen…

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…then dropped some tone onto it via Photoshop (this is the tone layer without the lines).

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There followed a lot of experimenting with colour palettes, strength of line, typeface, etc. until the final poster was settled on.

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You can see what Billy gets up to via his Tumblr and see his short film The Tale of the Rat that Wrote here.

Just Visiting

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As a result of the Widdershins exhibition finishing, I felt a sudden inclination to do a Mythic Village picture. I haven’t made one for a year and a half, but this idea has been sitting around for just as long, shamefully scribbled on the back of a receipt for a projector lens. I’m afraid I can’t get into the habit of using sketchbooks, which is unfortunate because it would make life a lot easier and also help me feel like a proper artist. Too late now, I suppose. Here’s the murky original doodle – there’s just enough information there to remind me of the picture that popped into my head at the time.

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Next up, I had to make some sense of it all by doing a large pencil drawing, then scanning it in and adding some tone in Photoshop. In my experience, if the picture is fine tonally, then the colour takes care of itself. I like to tell myself that especially when I’m feeling too lazy to do a proper colour rough.

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Here are a couple of progress shots – as per usual, it was a case of drawing the main bits in pen and ink, then a deep breath and on with the watercolour. This painting differs slightly from the previous Mythic Village pieces in that I’ve changed the surface I work on. This one is much more absorbent, so I had to approach it with caution as it’s much harder to lift the paint off when things go wrong.

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Widdershins the Sequel

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Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead has been rounding up some dreams and wishes to share with you throughout July and August. Mythic art by Alan Lee, Brian and Wendy Froud, Virginia Lee, Marja Lee, Pauline Lee, Paul Kidby, Hazel Brown, Neil Wilkinson-Cave, Danielle Barlow, Terri Windling, Angharad Barlow, Rima Staines (and me).

Terri (who sprinkled her bag of quotes most effectively over the proceedings) has more pictures here.

What an unimaginable honour to be included in such an excellent line-up. Again!

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Trees and Beasties

d1Roughly the same time I was working on Podkin (see last blog instalment), another interesting job turned up from Bloomsbury Books. As my plan of easing back into illustration by mostly drawing trees seemed to work well with rabbit-based adventures, I decided to apply the same wheeze for the first few pictures of this compendium of mythical beasts.

Here’s the first little rough for a Harpy family portrait – it has a swoopy liveliness that didn’t make it to the final picture.

h2.jpgAs the image developed, it took on a late-Victorian aspect, which is surprising as the initial inspiration was from a William Blake painting. He had illustrated a scene from Dante’s Inferno, showing the Harpies roosting in the forest of suicides. I did a further rough that had the trees all twisty and writhing like tormented bodies, but I scared myself with that so it probably wouldn’t have been suitable for the nippers. Gustave Doré also had a crack at a similar scene.

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Last of the overtly tree-based images: a lovely werewolf caught mid transformation. For absolutely no reason other than I found it amusing, I made him a Hussar. There isn’t any mention of it in the brief; in retrospect I think I must have been channeling the film A Company of Wolves which features a fine lycanthropic gentleman with a similar outfit. It probably would have been more fun to get hold of the film and use the exact same uniform, but I can’t think of everything, unfortunately.

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I have completed several more pictures for the book, but these ones fit my tree narrative better so I’ll stick with these for the time being. Kev Walker is also working on the project (we are linked in that we have both worked for 2000AD at some point); it is due out in October.

Lastly, if you are in Dartmoor this summer you could do worse than visit Widdershins 2016, which is the sequel to Widdershins from a couple of years ago. I blogged about it at the time, here. The exhibition is being put together as I type so I’ve yet to see it, but I’m fairly sure it’s the same artists but with different artwork. Unless you’ve been in my kitchen, you certainly won’t have seen the originals of the six Local Characters that I’m displaying.

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Gap Year Ends in Massive Rabbit Caper

1About a year ago I decided to have a spell of time away from illustration, as I suddenly had the feeling I might prefer to eat my own kidneys than ever draw another picture. I had been doing it for quite a while, so I suppose a change was long overdue. I’m happy to say I didn’t spend the days lolling about in a dressing gown watching television (luckily I own neither), although now I’ve typed that, I find the idea disturbingly attractive. I may do that next time. But as it turns out, not earning money is rather inconvenient if you want to eat, replace shoes, fix broken windows, etc.

Luckily, a pleasant job popped up courtesy of writer Kieran Larwood. The publishers were keen on using double page spreads for the illustrations, which meant I could get my teeth into some tasty environments. I was still a bit fragile in the visual image department; the only subjects I could contemplate  drawing without utter despair were trees, so the first few pictures were basically woods with little figures in them somewhere. Gradually I could ease myself out of my twig-based comfort zone and attempt some rabbit-on-rabbit action. To make life even more bearable, I was allowed to use pencil, which was scanned and beefed-up with a spot of Photoshop craftiness. Here are a few of the pictures…

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The book is called Podkin One Ear, published by Faber & Faber in October.

Coming soon to this blog: A Miscellany of Mythical Beasts, in which I do some paintings of trees that happen to have mythical beasts in them, and What I Did During My Year Off.