Thought Fox and Willow


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Photo courtesy of Terri Windling


I Am Not a Serial Killer


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.



Widdershins the Sequel


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!











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.


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.


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.

Low res poster

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…




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.

Patrick Woodroffe


In my youth, when I was first getting into illustration quite seriously, one of my favourite-ist pictures was Hortus Conclusus by Patrick Woodroffe, who died last year.

Yesterday, I was a very happy person as I finally got to see this oil painting in real life; Falmouth Art Gallery is currently running a retrospective of his work. Also present was the cover to The Sentinel, a gatefold-album by Neo-Proggers Pallas, another notable item from my early eighties experience.


Patrick employed an almost miniaturist approach to many of his paintings – they are staggeringly detailed and the gallery should have provided magnifying glasses as I strained my aged eyeballs squinting at many of the works . I knew a little about his processes from his book ‘A Closer Look’, in which Patrick reveals many of his arcane secrets in detail. But mere reproduction cannot begin to capture the texture, colour and clock-maker craftsmanship he lavished on his pictures.


There’s a lot to see in the show; as well as book and record covers, there are etchings, tomographs (Patrick’s painted cut-out puppet thingies) and items from his studio. The event runs until April 18th at Falmouth Art Gallery.

Spinning Moonlight

Spinning Moonlight

Just finished this today, which is appropriate as there have been other moon-based shenanigans afoot (there was an eclipse in this part of the world this morning).

These are my good friends Eloise and Murphy going about their business, which in this case involves collecting skeins of moonlight, presumably to fashion into a stylish, yet practical, garment later on. Eloise recently packed her job in and has become a full time weaver – you can find out more here, or if you are visiting Widecombe-in-the-moor, pop into the National Trust shop where she has some wares on display.

Here are the relevant stages (or struggles, as I prefer to call them). First, the initial scribbly idea…


Then the rough with some colour added via Photoshop…


Next, the pen and ink drawing…


Then the undercoat, which was particularly fiddly on this one because of all the twiggy nonsense.


After this stage there was much toothbrush-flicking of watercolour, added colour pencil, paint taken off and put back on again, scanning in and fiddling about digitally to try things out so as not to make too much of a mess on the painting, more flicking of paint and general fixing of things. Business as usual, in fact. This one will probably undergo a bit more remedial work; normally I live with paintings for a while before releasing them into the wild, but there probably won’t be many lunar-centric stories in the news in the next week so this seemed an appropriate time.

Past Lives

The last few days have been filled with reminiscences of things past.

(Reminiscences? Think I might be on dodgy grammatical ground with that…)


Firstly I was reunited with author Geraldine McCaughrean for an event at my local literary festival. About seven years ago we were involved in the publication of Peter Pan in Scarlet and the subsequent picture-book version. We were spoilt rotten with launch parties, high profile appearances and TV interviews at the time. This weekend’s event was less celebrity-filled, but no less enjoyable; I hope our young audience were inspired to go and write/draw their own stories. Above is the cover of the novel. It was quite a hectic commission as there was little time and I also had to draw a number of illustrations for the inside. Brian Froud was doing the cover originally but he withdrew from the project due to artistic differences with the powers that be. His painting now hangs in the Todd-Jones’ residence (they have been mentioned in past blog entries) as Pan was modelled on a young David Todd-Jones. Google it.


Back in 2003 I worked on packaging design for the band Arena. The Contagion digi-pack is shown above along with a few of the pamphlet images. It was a staggering amount of work, but highly enjoyable. This week the band were rehearsing nearby in preparation for their upcoming 20th anniversary tour, so I popped over to have a listen. I was in a band with guitarist John Mitchell when we were nippers, in what feels like a previous life. John also has a solo album out called Lonely Robot which I believe he will be touring later in the year.

The approach to the rehearsal rooms…


And inside, slaving away at the coal-face of progressive rock perfection…


Lastly, sad news…


I was lucky to work on many of Sir Terry’s books and related paraphernalia (very often instigated by the lovely Bernard who is on the right of this pic). After I completed my first cover for him, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, he very thoughtfully phoned and thanked me for my efforts, a gesture I appreciated immensely. A lovely chap whose imagination and humour will live on.

Ghost of a Tree


Bit of a spooky one this week.

This little creature came to me while I was observing a recently fallen beech tree. From one particular angle the branches seemed like frozen lightning bolts, suggesting great energy; a stark contrast to the fact that it was thoroughly rootless and deceased.

I suddenly imagined a slightly alarming figure amongst the twigs. I couldn’t get the image out of my head, so I made a picture. Better out than in, I say; the last thing you need is to be haunted by a dead beech tree.