Friday, 10 December 2010

Claw Surfaces

Some gratis copies of 'The Treasure of Captain Claw' written by Jonathan Emmett arrived in the post today. It's always a moment loaded with equal amounts of excitement and fear. Fortunately, there was nothing to worry about in terms of reproduction and I am pretty pleased with the way this has turned out. The showpiece in the book has to be the fold-out cross section of the pirate submarine. Maybe I'll do a sneak preview of that sometime soon.

This was a follow-up in terms of it being the second picture book I've collaborated with Jonathan on. The previous tome being 'Pigs Might Fly' published by Puffin.

The Treasure of Captain Claw is going to be published by Orchard Books in May 2011.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Design Week

Click on article for an easier read

It's always nice to hear when somebody likes your work, even more so when it appears in a journal aimed at other creatives. This is from the current issue of Design Week. Thanks to Dean Johnson for his encouraging words - and thanks to Sqz for flagging it up.

More on Commander Nova's Space Station here.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Balancing Act

Whilst walking on the beach at Sennen Cove in Cornwall recently, I came across the amazing spectacle of rocks seemingly defying gravity. This photo shows two balancing rocks but there were several more in the area. Unfortunately my phone battery expired and I was only able to take a couple of shots. Strange and somewhat visually pleasing.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Killer Cat On The Loose

A little while ago I was asked by the Nottingham Library Service for permission to use one of my Killer Cat illustrations on the side of their new mobile library. I was only too happy to oblige and today I was emailed a few photos of the finished vehicle, all ready to go out and provide children with a great selection of books to read. I think the finished result looks pretty good.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

All Bar One

Click diagram for clearer view

I'm trying to show a friend a few tips on playing rock guitar at the moment and he emailed me to ask about how bar chords worked. I decided it was easier to try and explain diagrammatically and put together a couple of A4 sheets so that he could refer to it when trying to work out chords for songs. Knowing that the song goes: D, Bminor, G, A isn't quite enough information for folk just picking up a guitar for the first time.

You can play a lot of rock songs with these few chords so once you've worked out these few shapes you're away. I thought I'd put them up here so any new guitarists may find them useful. Of course if anyone has spotted any mistakes please let me know.

We'll be covering Pentatonic Scales next week (only joking).

Click diagram for clearer view

Monday, 19 April 2010

Pier Git

click for big

I thought I'd lost this postcard but it showed up during a clear out for a car boot sale (my first and last, hopefully).

One of my favourite Ralph Steadman images from the early 80's. On the back it's signed: 'Belated Birthday Greetings "old person". I hope it was good? See you soon...Michael.' (1982)

Thank you and good taste Mr Wright.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


click for big

I was sifting through some old vinyl the other day and came across this gem. A collection of early David Bowie songs recorded in the mid to late Sixties. The release date on the cover is 1973 so it looks like Deram were trying to cash in on Mr Bowie's rise to fame during his Ziggy Stardust period. There are quite a few decent songs on here but embarrassingly, the one howler is 'The Laughing Gnome' which Deram decided to re-release right at the peak of Ziggy fever and just after 'Life on Mars' had hit the No. 3 slot in the charts.

I've seen these songs repackaged many times but this is my favourite vinyl sleeve with illustrations credited to 'Neon Park'. Featured are several caricatures of Ziggy and what appears to be Ringo Starr riding his bike as 'Uncle Arthur'. You wouldn't get artwork like this on CD sleeves these days. From a long-gone era when one would spend ages pondering artwork and sleeve notes whilst listening to the music. Great stuff.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Click on map for a closer look

This is an image I remember from my childhood. I've always been fascinated by maps ...and pirates of course. Here they are together on one postcard. I remember this from even before my family relocated to Cornwall and now having grown up there I think this still has an air of romantic history about it, even if the pirate looks like he's emerged from a Sixties fancy dress party. Yo ho ho.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Gif us a Lift

Just a quick experiment to see if I could get this flying saucer off the ground with an animated Gif. Mmmm...seems to have worked...but for how long?

Not sure why the right hand edge has been chopped off though.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Talk of motorcycles elsewhere reminds me that my own machine languishes outside with a starter motor problem. With Spring almost upon us (allegedly)my thoughts are turning to long, winding roads and days in the saddle spent exploring those parts of the country I wouldn't normally entertain visiting in a car.
The days when I used to tag along to various motorcycle events have gone mostly by-the-by but my head often turns automatically to the throb of a V4 or the thud of a British single.

I did these bits and pieces whilst I was residing in Cornwall during part of the 90's.

Time to dig out the leathers and get that bike sorted for the Summer...

Friday, 19 March 2010


Found in a 28 year old sketch book. Based on my room when I was at college. Not sure what was meant to happening here but most of my favourite music was enjoyed in this room whilst sitting in an old battered brown corduroy armchair.

Monday, 1 March 2010


It was only a week ago that I was lucky enough to be able to stay at a friend's flat overlooking Port Gaverne in Cornwall. The above video clippage was taken from the doorstep and was pretty much the view out of the main window.

The picturesque village of Port Isaac was a few minutes walk away and makes a great short stroll to a pub lunch (one of my favourite weekend activities). Fresh fish, Cornish fudge, fish and chips and Cornish ale were all indulged in and helped greatly to focus my mind on writing a story for a picture book which I've had on the go for years but never got anywhere with it...

...until now that is. I managed a very productive weekend, brainstorming ideas and I can't believe I've never thought of having a working weekend away before. I think I'll have to do this a lot more often.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Working On An Angle

One of the key things that has bugged me about working with a graphics tablet and drawing or painting straight into the computer used to be that you couldn't rotate the canvas or work area as you can with natural media (ok, you can't turn big canvases on an easel but you get what I mean). I only upgraded to Photoshop CS4 last year and I have to say that the 'rotate view tool' is probably the biggest step forward (for me) from previous versions. You still can't beat spinning a piece of paper or a sketch pad around to get at an awkward curve but this makes life a lot easier and makes drawing feel a lot more natural.

And yes, I know about the Wacom Cintiq but I haven't had a go on one yet. Maybe sometime soon though...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Unfinished Tales

The Visitors - click for bigger view

Back in 1992 I found myself as managing 'creative' director of my own design and illustration company called Primary Design, based in Bristol. We specialised in children's TV licensed characters and their merchandising, design and illustration for products and packaging and the like.

In the space of less than four years I had gone from a freelancing illustrator/visualiser/designer to employing 9 others, mostly designers and illustrators. I had also donned a suit and was spending more time than I liked travelling up to places like London and Manchester to discuss business with clients. I enjoyed the meetings but the hours on the motorway trying to keep awake were taking their toll.

I was missing the hands-on illustration and design work which had initially enabled me to grow the company in the first place so in the small amounts of free time I had in the evenings, I started to put together a portfolio of my own work with a view to approaching children's book publishers for some potential work that would be completely different to the work that I was doing during the day.

The image above of the house being visited by aliens started out as a cross-hatching exercise to get me back into drawing again. Having spent several evenings hatching away with pen and ink I began to wonder what it might look like in colour. I enlarged the finished drawing on a photocopier and then set about washing in some colour with the fabulous Dr Martin's Liquid Watercolours. The finished result you can see below.

There is an unfinished tale floating about in the back of my head for this image but to date it has failed to emerge in any form that I've felt strong enough to approach a publisher with. One day the story may get written, one day...

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Antique Space Station

Original cover illustration and design before the publisher 'tinkered' with it.

My daughter called me yesterday evening to say that 'Commander Nova's Pop-Up Alien Space Station' by Nick Denchfield and myself had been featured on BBC2's Priceless Antiques Roadshow. Apparently one of the resident experts was predicting that pop-up books could be a good investment and could be worth considerably more than the cover price in ten or twenty years time.

I immediately texted Nick to let him know and we are now stockpiling as many copies as we can to boost flagging pension arrangements. I suggest anyone reading this does the same and please spread the word as we could do with the royalties. The Pirate Ship already looks out of stock on Amazon and I'm regretting giving away so many gratis copies as they are bound to be worth a fortune when we're 80. Even Fiona Bruce has one by the sound of it...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Mammoth Discovery

click on image for a closer look

As my trawl through the plan chest and 'old-artwork chuck-out' continues...I came across this. I think this was a sketch for a spread in a book all about stone age folk and how they lived etc. Unfortunately the mammoth fell into the pit and that was that. Never mind.

Monday, 1 February 2010


click on image for a closer look

From more recent work in the last post back to an old sketch I found during my recent rummages. This was something I remember which started out as a doodle with a biro just after I left college and was living in a shared flat in Bristol. The previous inhabitants had left spaghetti dangling from the ceiling which is what might have started it off.

Anyway, I quite liked the effect of the biro which was past it's best and would create interesting broken lines over the rough paper.

I did a couple of others around the same time but I like this one the best.


A Bone-Rattling Adventure - The Cover of the pop-up

Although slightly overshadowed by it's follow-up: "Captain Scurvy's Most Dastardly Pop-Up Pirate Ship", this pop-up haunted castle remains one of my favourite projects to date. Yes, I did spend too much time on it (probably eight months solid work spread over about fourteen months amongst other projects)...but...I was enjoying myself. Nick Denchfield had produced a fantastic 'white' dummy of this and it just caught my imagination instantly. I remember the first meeting at Macmillan with Nick, myself and the editor, which is when I saw it in the 'flesh' for the first time and it just blew me away. I couldn't believe how Nick had made such an intricate model pop-out of a flat book. A particularly neat feature of Nick's meticulous engineering here is the way the main clock tower extends out of the centre of the model and becomes the highest point. (not featured in the photo below as I think Nick was still developing the mechanism for that at this early stage). It really is very, very clever stuff.

A Polaroid of Nick's white dummy

The first thing we established at the design meeting was to work out which parts of the model would represent various rooms of the castle. This was done by applying post-it notes all over the model until every section had been accounted for.

There was an outline for a simple storyline early on but the most important thing at this stage was for me to take away Nick's white dummy and come up with designs of what the finished model might look like.

I decided that due to the much more complex nature of this model in comparison to previous pop-ups, I was going to create some sketches that might give everyone a better idea of how it might look once I was let loose on it.

This was probably one of the biggest challenges of the project as I had to acquaint myself with every single nook and cranny of Nick's model and come up with ideas which would cohesively bring together all the aspects of the model in a meaningful visual way. I wasn't concerned with any figures or creatures that might populate the model at this stage, I was just concerned with the main building and structure itself. I had to pay careful attention to certain shapes and edges of the model which had to stay as Nick had cut them as they were essential to the way the model worked when opening and closing. Many of the other areas I could basically shape how I wanted within reason.

Technically-speaking, this model isn't a book at all. It's called a carousel, and as you open it up and fold the covers or boards back on themselves the model is pushed outwards and upwards to the point where the boards meet back to back and the model is fully extended.

Broken down to it's absolute basics, the model is constructed out of four distinct sections which are joined, back to back.

Anyway, after I had sat there musing on Nick's work, I got out a sheet of A3 paper and started sketching each quadrant in turn. You can see by the time I got to the fourth section I was starting to flag and eager to get on with roughing out the sections of the model itself. I had a much better idea of where I was going with it by then so I felt my time would be better spent working directly on the model itself. The deadline was also a little bit closer...

This was the first section I sketched out - featuring a 'Taxidermist's' with steps going up to it. To the right are various walkways which follow a route around the structure and are part of the game feature.

The next section I tackled features a crypt with steps leading down from a cave mouth. At the bottom in the centre you can see the dungeon area. To the right of that you can see the Taxidermist's which this section backs on to. There is an unfinished section here that was still being decided upon. It eventually became an area where I illustrated some goblin guards eating their supper.

This is part of the project I particularly enjoy. I feel I have the time to experiment and let my imagination have the freedom to shape a little world which I will later get the opportunity to populate with all sorts of creatures. I'm also bearing in mind that with this model there also has to be a game integrated into whatever I choose to illustrate. I decide early on that some kind of stone-flagged path might work quite well.
This section is the graveyard featuring some neat flying-buttresses and a little pop-up tomb which you can open up...

As the covers fold back on themselves and form a solid 'wall', this is the only significantly large surface area of the model that can be illustrated on. I decided to make one side the entrance to a crypt through a cave and the other showed the night sky with a flying-buttress coming down from one of the towers. I had an idea that the flying-buttress might actually stand away from the 'wall' in relief rather than just be illustrated. I was pleased to find out that we could do that without the cost of producing the pop-up increasing significantly.

This last section backs up to the graveyard and had the 'Finish' area of the game. I never quite finished this as I was eager to get on and start roughing out the model sections themselves.

The next spooky post will feature some more of the sketches and finished pieces I produced at the next stage of the project...


Claw's Submarine just after surfacing

The picture book I am currently working on, 'The Treasure of Captain Claw' is very near completion now. I made an older post showing a couple of sketches from the book but as I am close (I hope) to signing this one off I thought I'd post some more pieces from this project.

The sketch above is a rough for the cover which has just been approved. It's inspiration comes from an old 'Boy's Own' type annual cover. I'll also be doing the hand-lettering on this which I always prefer...rather than using existing fonts etc. I've just been told to remove the skull & crossbones from the flag as it might hamper foreign edition sales. That's a real shame as having Pirates without skull & crossbones is like having Cowboys and Indians without six-shooters and tomahawks. Still...mustn't offend anyone...

I think I'm going to make up a symbol which hopefully will be deemed as less offensive but still look 'piratey'.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to doing that one in colour.

The other black and white sketch above was an earlier version and featured an underwater view of the sub. I was keen to keep the submarine from view until we see it in all it's glory in the book but the publisher felt that the sub was too good a selling point to not show more of it on the cover. It's a fair point. Although I do like these underwater images. The title of the book has changed since then as well.

The images at the very top and below are from a couple of spreads within the book. The one at the top opens up as a gate fold, showing a cross-section of Claw's submarine. Hopefully that will look pretty spectacular and it's the centrepiece of the book. I might give you a sneak preview of a section of that at some point soon...

Captain Claw's cabin

Hand Tinting

I came across these images whilst having a bit of a computer clear-out the other day. I bought a bunch of black and white photos (which I am pretty sure are the work of Mick Rock) at a record fair in Bristol many years ago. Several years after that I scanned one in and added some colour. This sort of work used to take a lot more skill than I needed to create these in Photoshop. Quite tempted to get one of these made into a framed print....but which one?

Friday, 29 January 2010

The Island at the Top of The World

In 1974, Disney brought out an adventure movie called Island at the Top of the World. I was about 12 or 13 at the time and I remember walking past this poster on the way to school every day whilst it was showing at the local cinema in Redruth. Actually, I didn't walk past it, I would stop for several minutes to admire the artwork. It's a shame I can't find a decent image of it on the net...or find out who the artist* was.

*Bryan Bysouth - as supplied by Steve Gardner (see comment below - thanks Steve!)

I now own a full size cinema poster for this but have never had the wall space to hang it up. One day maybe...

A man and his dog in Redruth contemplate whether Island at the Top of The World will be worth watching

The other version for the film below, is also a fabulous piece of movie artwork (although a bit of a spoiler if you look at the state of the airship in this one...). They just don't make 'em like this any more as the saying goes. More often than not the posters were better than the actual films.

click on image for a closer look

You can see more of Bryan Bysouth's work here.