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?