Sunday 20 December 2009

"Shy Ted" - xmas present

I won't try and explain the meaning of this gift for my dad (I think you had to be there...) but nevertheless he asked for a pitiful greyhound called "Shy Ted" (and yes there is the other phonetic meaning that name... get it...? It's OK I didn't at first either...) winning a trophy at the dog track. Bit out of left field for my dad as he doesn't have any interest in greyhound racing (not the real reference for the pic), nor do I. Anyway, it was a good exercise in getting back to real media. As Ronald Searle was quoted as saying on matt jones excellent Ronald Searle blog:

"Forgive me if I take advantage of this exotic occasion to make a small plea as an infatuated pen & ink dipper. Please do not forget that the magical pen line still exists! Also, merely as an observer, I feel that some of you could switch off the automatic pilot and wing your way into wilder territory. Just a thought."

I know I do too much work relying on the digital safety net (or, as Searle says, automatic pilot). Photoshop really is a warm, fuzzy and predictable place to work, but sticking to the computer precludes (to some extent at any rate) the unexpected (or skillful hand where Ronald Searle is concerned...) improving the work. I adore working in watercolour, especially when something surprising, and not aimed for, occurs. There is also the personal touch (and commodity of a finished hands on piece) that natural media give you.

I never quite get there when I don't work on the computer (even on the computer I never quite get what I'm after...but at least I can tickle and retickle to get closer... apple Z and file "version2.psd" :) With this pic for my dad there are a handful of things I'm happy with and a flood of things I'm desperate to apple Z! I seldom ink my pencils but the painting was crying out for more contrast so I braved the dip pen on a finished watercolour without a safety net. aaaargh! Still, put anything in a mount in a frame and it looks more considered. Regardless of what I think I guess it's the thought that counts... and it doesn't hurt to leave my comfort zone. Onward with the never ending search to balance the real and the digital!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Sunday 13 December 2009

Happy Holidays Everyone! KEEP CALM AND CAROL ON

I normally like to draw something for my christmas cards but I've still got things on the drawing board begging to be finished off before the silly season propper so I took the graphic route and did a knock off of the KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON POSTER...y'know it...? I loved the sentiment when I first saw it, but perhaps the reference is wearing thin with over exposure...? I didn't let that didn't stop me though :) I've been very lax on the blog commenting front. Hopefully I'll get comments and best wishes to individual blogs before santa arrives but just in case

To all who have been kind enough to stop by the blog and say hi HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE! Here's to more blogging in the new year.

Thursday 10 December 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 15

And finally..."Chuck the Shark." Poor old Hammerhead Chuck is picked on by the callous shrimps and squid because of the shape of his head. Even Snorky the limping shrimp joins in, you think he'd know better than that about what it feels like to be an outsider. Still the bullies get their just desserts as along comes a trawler net and scoops them all up. Lucky for them Chuck has a forgiving nature (and sharp teeth) because he comes to the rescue and the shrimps and squid learn a valuable lesson.

This one took a little longer to complete than I expected. The look of Chuck came pretty quickly. In fact the shark design I used on sheet 2 was only my third scribble in the sketch book... normally I waste at least a couple of pages worth before I get a sniff of a direction to go in! Of course I then went around the houses trying out more geometric designs for the head (ala version 3) before I decided what I had originally would be OK. What really took the time was all the secondary characters. I originally thought I could interpret the text in such a way as to have a whole collection of interesting sea creatures to fill the net (see the last sheet). I did try the layout from version two, filling the net with lots of different characters, but it really didn't read clearly enough. Besides that I reread the text a few times and it dawned on me I really shouldn't be using any creatures other than the squid and shrimps. Next came many shrimp and squid sketches (both happy/evil and also sad. Luckily I'd got my shrimp sketch eye in previously with Snorky, and surprisingly, shrimp are quite relaxing to draw on mass. The squid tentacles can run away with you if you're not careful but they are a lot of fun too. On a related note, while gathering image reference for the squid I happened upon pictures of FLYING SQUID... who knew...?! Isn't natural history a constant marvel! Anyway, back to my waffle... I ended up with more squid and shrimp than I needed as, when it came down to populating the net and Chuck's surroundings I felt I should keep the bullies fairly large so they read clearly at size. Enough said! So that wraps it up for the initial sketch work on the book. Hopefully feedback will be positive and I'll start on the final illustrations come the new year.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 14

Here's the last but one set of sketches for the book. Saving the real villains of the piece till the end its time for the dastardly barbecue "Dragons" (BBQ Dragons... is that a good name for a band...?!). These nasty pieces of work barbecue chopped up children! Dragons are always fun to draw and I started sketching these wanting to incorporate aspects of some alligator sketches from my website into the mix. As I always seem to do when I have a mental image I just cannot quite get down on paper I ended up by sketching all the freshness out of my character designs. Two very quick ink doodles I scribbled down (sheets two and three left hand side black ink sketches) had something of the quirky, fun evil quality I just wasn't getting in my more labored sketches and, long story short, I used them enlarged on the light box as loose underdrawings. To my great surprise they held together and I managed to get out some what I was after from inside my addled brain (especially on my favourite on sheet 3). I was determined to steer clear of drawing conventional style flames in these (I wanted the flames more dragony) and, I hope, the afterthought addition of the 'looney tunes' post explosion soot blast helps to tie BBQ and chef together.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 13

Off to the surreal and happy place called "Beddy-byes Land" with these next sketches. In B.B.L many things have beards (including bees... and cleaning ladies), kites fly without a breeze in skies filled with cheese shaped clouds and the lovely ruler, king "Dandy Dan" has decreed no household chores. Not sure what the author was smoking when he wrote this one ;) My first thought (and my favourite approach I think) was to marry up two different themes from the poem. How can the kites fly without a breeze...? Because bearded bees carry them of course. There was a chance with this to develop an unused bee design from the "food" poem but in the end I simplified the bees to work at a smaller size on the page. Think I ended up with vaguely Bill Bailey like bees on sketch sheet 1 (not necessarily a bad thing I feel, hope some of his humour rubs off). On sketch sheet 2 I tried for more individuality in the face fur. Strictly speaking the mutton chop whiskers on the far left bee aren't a beard but mutton chops are funny, and that's reason enough to stray from the text ever so slightly. I don't know if it really works but I tried out a more surreal kite design in sketch two to attempt to visualise some of the quirkiness of this weird dreamlike place. Maybe the Miro like surreal shapes just amuse me while confusing things, not sure... I didn't know what to do with the royal reference in the poem but as I started sketching out the king (with every costumed 'dandy' frippery going) he just naturally held a pair of scissors (probably going to open a supermarket...). The vacuum cleaner, red carpet and cleaning lady followed on from there... and of course she has to have the suggestion of facial hair.

Saturday 5 December 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 12

Even if I do say so myself I'm pretty contented with these two variations for "Sid the Fly". Not to say that I didn't like the poem itself but on first reading the short rhyme about a daredevil fly who flew backwards for fun, until a chimney spout put pay to his play, I must admit to feeling a little underwhelmed with the possibilities for different illustration scenarios and character design. Once I got doodling however I think it's a case of limited options sometimes pushing you to come up with something interesting. I suppose illustration should never be limited options but always endless possibilities (although it's not always easy to think 'two faces in silhouette' instead of 'white candle stick'). For myself I cannot decide which version I prefer. I'm very happy with the multi-eyed close up on the fly and the approaching chimney spout but I also like the slapstick pacing of the dotted line double bounce off the chimney and the puzzled pigeon (for me it needs the second bounce...!) I did think of having the crows from "My Girlfriend" make a return appearance but it somehow seem more appropriate to have a pigeon on the TV aerial. I hope I'm not just amusing myself with this set of sketches... you start to wonder...

Thursday 3 December 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 11

Poem number 11 tells the tale of "The Girl With Springs For Feet." Ok, so I took liberties a little bit and gave her springs for legs, and I didn't stop there. Seems to me that the logical conclusion for a girl whose genes are in such a tangle that her DNA helix manifests itself as legs would also have springy hands and hair too! The text tells of the springy girls epic, medal winning jumps. We need this girl for olympics in 2012! The first leap reaches all the way to the north pole then she tops that by jumping to the moon. Both settings were great for me as I really enjoy drawing astronauts and polar bears. Maybe I should draw a polar bear in a space suit next...sounds like fun! Might be appropriate too. With the mess we are making of the arctic (and antarctic come to that) I reckon it won't be long till the polar bears make like the dolphins in "So long and thats for all the fish" and leave the human race to it and bugger off to a new planet! Anyway, I digress. The polar jump gave me an opportunity to revisit some old characters of mine from a children's story book I planned early last year about a mother bear and her cub. It felt very comfortable to be drawing them again. Onward, keep ticking them off the list. "Sid the Fly" next...

Sunday 29 November 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 10

Double figures with the sketches! I'm sure this next could be fodder for a country song, "The tale of Tex, the slowest gun in the west". Short and sweet, that's all you need to know about the "Tex" text. Now I know which one of these sketches I like the best, but I think it might be going a little too far for younger readers...? I recall having pages in books from my childhood that stay with me till now (the head on photograph of a great white shark swimming straight at me in my "Dangerous Sea Creatures" book for one...the other Great White eating a horses leg makes 2... both were scary and fascinating in equal measure) but maybe a corpse cowboy in his coffin is too intense...? I hope not though.

I like the fact that Robin Hood's arrow is sticking out of Tex's hat. Bit of an in joke for me alone as I'm pretty sure Robin didn't operate much farther west than Derby :) I'm really happy with the portrait shot of Tex in his tall 'swiss cheese' hat but I think it has something to do with the sepia "Wanted poster" feel to it. As with all these sketches the final illustrations will be in greyscale. I've only left my '3 colour pencil' sketches as they appear straight from the sketch book to show how I like to plan things (OK some digital tone as I cannot help myself tinkering, even at this early stage). Hopefully the differentiation of elements in the sketches by pencil colour will be born through to the final illustrations using contrast alone (that's the plan!).

Sketch sheet 3 has the old hat 'cowboy full of bullet holes leaks whiskey in the saloon' gag. I think this is a bit tired and can be difficult to read clearly but I had to get it down in a thumbnail to clear my head.

Thursday 26 November 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 9

The poem "Favorite Toy" describes the life of domestic servitude of an unfortunate robot named Roy. The young narrator makes poor Roy do all the work and eventually the put upon robot just runs out of juice. I figured that for Roy to keep up with all the demands of his owner he'd need at least an extra pair of arms, and eyes to go with them! And of course (for me at any rate) robot arms have to be of the madly flailing 'danger Will Robinson' Lost in Space variety. It was unintentional but I think I've ended up with a little bit of Picasso cubism going on in the design. Once I hit on trying to get the metal panels to describe the expression on Roy's face I had a lot of fun with it. It's a great opportunity to get some asymmetry as well, which I always find useful in making the character seem less 'wooden' (or, in this case, metal) and more alive. I think if Roy's mood ever improved his mouth would just rotate through 180 degrees into a smile. The bottom eye bags on the left pair of eyes were another fluke as they allowed me to show Roy's less than content mood while also giving him the ability to look up at his work (a nightmare to do with sleepy, heavy lids I find). Once again more asymmetry as they also stopped all the eyes having the same heavy lids. So, show four eyes and you can make your characters show a range of emotions, all at once! That's it, I'm drawing all my characters with multiple eyes from now on :)

Monday 23 November 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 8

I want to make use of some textures when it comes to the final pieces for the book and this next poem about a worm who overindulges in his favourite snack, what else but soil, gives me the chance to try out a wall rubbing texture (sketch sheet 2) I've had kicking around on my desk for a while. I'm really pleased with the contrast between the dirty, stippled background and the smooth voluminous worm. Hopefully it will give a bit of contrast to the final greyscale artwork. I took inspiration from the wonderful character design of Kaa in Disney's Jungle Book (later used for Sir Hiss in Robin Hood) where the coils of the snake's body were used to create arms and shoulders and not just to serve a functional role, grabbing Mowgli, but also to beautifully express Kaa (and Sir Hiss) personality. How else can you make a snake look like he's sulking! The poem calls for Jonas the Worm to suffer from heartburn, hopefully I'm in the right area, though I did stray into nauseous at one stage.

Friday 20 November 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 7

Over the half way hummock with the book illustrations. The next set of sketches is for the poem "Lonely Tree". A slight change of mood with this poem about a depressed tree that asks of a passerby to chop it down and put it out of it's misery. The kind hearted individual refuses to do the dirty deed but instead offers to be the trees friend and keep it company. Now the poem didn't describe the passerby in any depth but for me making him a lumberjack adds a quirky significance and depth to this friendship, a kind of skewed view more fitting to the rest of the book. I hope it doesn't water down the warmth of the poem with needless humour or the potentially macabre 'axe argument incident' which might occur?! For me lumberjacks always have an instant visual appeal if only because of Monty Python and 'that' song... Perhaps this grizzled trunk thumper, (or is it bark basher, log lopper...?) always yerned to be a tree surgeon just as Michael Palin's barber longed for the life of the lumberjack..."leaping from tree to tree...etc...etc...! Maybe I should give my lumberjack suspenders and a bra, and a plate of buttered scones to eat :)

Monday 16 November 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 6

The food metaphor is appropriate with this next set of sketches for the poem titled "Food". What you need to know for this one is that the unnamed narrator spends three verses describing all the unpalatable and downright inedible meals they would happily scoff (bees on toast being but one unsavory dish...). However this glutton, like so many right thinking people, draws the line at sprouts! I really didn't want to only go with the obvious on this one and simply show one or more of the weird foods. Bees on toast is there as a straightforward illustration but right from the start I wondered who it was that was enjoying such a varied diet...? He started out seated at a table but the logical conclusion for me was to make him a 'beached whale' of a couch potato. If you wonder why the stripy top, he's vaguely modelled on a 'big boned' tutor I had at university who always (well in my memory always...) wore horizontal striped tops. Maybe the guy was tiny and the stripy tops were an optical illusion that made him look wider than he was...? Anyway fat men wear stripes (wasn't that a Steve Martin film...?!). I digress but this ramble on the subject of the fat, slovenly and unkempt reminds me of a PG Wodehouse quote I heard regarding an untidy, disheveled man who "looked like he'd been poured into his suit, but forgot to say when..."

Saturday 14 November 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 5

Almost a week between posts! I haven't been shirking though. I've a few posts for the book saved up but I won't flood the blog all in one go (might be a difficult 'meal to digest all at once :). Here's the 'appetiser' as it were. These are two versions for the poem titled "My Girlfriend". All that you really need to know is the unnamed narrator of the piece has built themselves a girlfriend out of an assortment of odds (very odds) and ends. As one line in the poem says this creation was perfect for warding off crows I decided to hang my hat on that. You could say an alternative title might now be the farmers romance...?! I actually don't think the addition of the farmer in the second sheet is doing all that much for the poem but in the interests of variety and choice I put him in there for to see how he fit. More 'courses' to follow shortly!

Sunday 8 November 2009

Salamander twisted creatures

Sorry Kev & Phil that my contribution has been so long in appearing! It's been a while since I've done a complete sketch on the wacom tablet and it made a pleasant change to all my sketchbook work of late. I know these salamanders aren't all that freaky twisted Phil (although they are anatomically twisted you have to admit...) but the main thing to inspire me from a google of the topic was the amazing colours and patterning of all the various salamanders so I decided to play it bright and bold and loose! Onward to the next creature sirs... camel spider it is!

Saturday 7 November 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 4

These are two approaches for "The Boy Who Was Awful At Magic". The pint size prestidigitator is a little over enthusiastic in his sawing an old lady in half and he forgets the safety catch! Luckily there's a doctor in the house to set things right. I wonder whether there might not also be a simpler third variation just using the sheepish boy pose from the far left of sheet 2 by himself...? I held back from showing any blood on these so as to keep things suitable for more sensitive viewers.

Thanks so much to everyone who has been giving me feedback on these posts. I've been fixated on sketching every free moment, hence little time for blogging. Sorry not to repay in kind at the moment but I really appreciate your comments!

Sunday 1 November 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 3

Busy, busy, busy. Amongst other things I've been working on the next 'Bathroom Lion' instalment. This is to illustrate the tale of "Snorky the Shrimp" where the unfortunate crustacean of the title bemoans his bad limp and is comforted by a kind hearted plaice. A brotherly bond in the briny blue. My early attempts at the shrimp were a little to insect like, then I headed into Aardman animation mouths for a while, but once I'd sketched the bottom middle fella on sheet two I really felt I'd started in the right direction for the character. Hope you agree.

Saturday 24 October 2009

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 2

Two posts in one day! Making up for lost time... This next post is for illustrations for the poem "Sir Robin Hood & Friar Tuck". Once again I cannot include the poem itself but I think (hope) you can see from the 'before' & 'after' that things don't go quite according to plan in the archery competition! I must admit to feeling a little lacking in thoughts as to how to depict such familiar characters as Robin and his merriest man but once I started sketching I had a lot of fun with them both. I think it has something to do with that Laurel & Hardey factor (WARNING. strong language from the link, but I couldn't resist, one of the funniest things I've seen in decades :) of it just working so well from a visual and humor point of view when you stick a big guy and a little guy together...see Mike & Sulley, Pooh & Piglet, Basil & Manuel, Fletch & Godber etc... etc... In case you cannot make it out the pay off to the ballad of the hapless Robin involves a metal codpiece!

There's a Lion in my Bathroom - sketches 1

Twenty days and I finally have some work I can put up on the blog! As I said previously I'm pretty busy with a couple of really stimulating and rewarding projects at the moment. One is pretty hush hush (I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you...!) but I'll hopefully have news on that in due course (fingers crossed). The other project is for an anthology of humorous poetry by an amazingly talented writer, Giles Paley-Phillips, which is, all being well, scheduled for publication by Rebel Books LLP next year. I'm working on 15 greyscale, full facing page illustrations for the book plus one of these being worked up into the colour cover, and it's with that cover design / poem illustration that I'll start the blog ball rolling.

The working title for the book is "There's a Lion in my Bathroom" and the titular poem is my favourite piece out of all 34 in the book. It's a shame I cannot share it with you but hopefully these illustrations capture something of the feel of the book (think Spike Milligan meets Tim Burton with hints of Roald Dahl thrown in...). I don't know what more to add regarding the fairly self explanatory visuals save to say I preferred to not reveal the Lion in full... for me it's just funnier (ha ha and peculiar...) that way. I'm also really pleased with the serendipitous lions paw feet on the old style cast iron bath.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Exciting projects (plural) ... & Meeting Quentin Blake!

Well I've had a lot going on over the last few days work wise and so, for the best of reasons my Jabberwock will stay sketchbook bound for a little while yet. The exciting news is that things are about to start on a real life actual book illustration project. I'm going to be providing 15 black & white illustrations, plus a colour cover, for an anthology of humorous poetry, which will be published next year if all goes to plan. I won't go into details yet but I'll try and post if I can as things develop. But wait, there is hopefully more news... of course I cannot go into specifics on this as yet (wouldn't want to jinx things) but I've also been contacted by a well known client who have very kindly asked me to submit a trial spread for a book they are thinking of publishing using one of their very well known characters... Not only that but they are happy for me to handle their character in my own style, very exciting! I realise I've basically revealed nothing at all in this post but I'm really fired up by both these projects and hope to share things on the blog if allowed/ ASAP!

And to top off all the good news I also met Quentin Blake at a Roald Dahl Day event at the National Theatre yesterday and got him to sign my copy of his autobiography "Words & Pictures" ( it's very hard to pick up a copy these days but I highly recommend it for the wealth of professional knowledge he shares...and the amazing pictures too of course!). Like everyone of my generation I've been a fan of Quentin Blake ever since I first picked up a Roald Dahl book. In fact I clearly recall having the Enormous Crocodile read to me as a kid and seeing Blake's illustration of the spinning toothy croc being flung into the sun! There were soooo many people queued up to see the national treasure that, of course, I only grabbed a minute with him, but I managed to ask for his professional advice (he finds that 'work he felt was right on one day can always stand revisiting the next' and also to 'just keep at it'...) and he was good enough to accept a little Toucan sketch I'd done for him (the beak is so long as it was concertina folded into three). They say you shouldn't meet your idols but he was really approachable and just the same in person as he comes across in his books and on TV.

On a related note all with an interest in illustration should consider supporting Quentin Blake's House of Illustration charity which plans to create a London based museum and centre (scheduled for 2011) to champion British & international illustration as the art form it rightly is. Quentin Blake has pledged his entire professional body of work to the collection to kick things off and I for one will be there on opening day! Follow the link -

I hope everyone who pops by this blog will forgive me for not blogging properly of late. I've really gotten out of that blogging habit but I hope to share project work and comment on the fabulous work of other's when I settle back into my usual habits. No excuses, just must try harder!

Wednesday 23 September 2009

The romance is over / the project that never was...

Well, amongst other things, I'd been working on the valentines magazine commission until a few days ago when my US agent flagged up something decidedly iffy in the contract for the job. The long and short of it is the project is no more and I really should have known better than to start work in earnest before the i's were dotted and the t's were crossed. Lesson learned. Still it's more stuff for the blog (feast and famine there for the moment, I know, I know... :) and now I have time to spare for the Jabberwock. I'm finally sketching in the 'tulgey wood' so I hope to have stuff to show soon enough.