Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Masque with a dash of colour

Every time I looked at the angst-ridden mask wearer I wanted to add a little colour - so I did.
A little rough round the edges, but it'll do for now.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Interpret this

It is said that doodles can be interpreted as an indicator of the the state of mind of the doodler.
Last night, with no particular purpose, I was pushing the pencil around, and this image seemed to emerge from the shapes. It felt logical to go with it, so worked into it and made it more presentable. I wonder if the passing psychologist could have a look at it for me and tell me what it means.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Show yourself

Isn't there a theory that an artist will often include aspects of themselves in their work?
Why is it then, that when I have a brief break in the adrenaline and I have the temerity to have a doodle just for the sake of it, I will draw skinny naked guys?
Here's me, in reality making a fine job of looking like Captain Plumpy, and at a time when I could be absent mindedly revealing my true self, I do stuff like this? What's that about?
No doubt any passing psychologist could provide a rational answer.

If you know anyone, please drag them along to tell me what the deal is.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Not so Dark Satanic Mill

A few days ago, I went on a site visit to the old hosiery mill that is going to become the vibrant centre for many small creative businesses.
I mentioned a while back that I'd become a member of the steering group involved in putting the plan together and making sure it works. What started out as an excuse to drag myself away from the drawing board for a while has turned into quite an adventure.

The venture is really exciting. We're going to have an art gallery, studios and workshops for a wide range of creative processes. There will be rehearsal rooms and recording studios in the lower ground floor, a stylish cafe vibe on the floor above, performance space for intimate little gigs and a place where the resident artists, and those from the Hinckley and Bosworth area, will be able to offer their work for sale. There's also going to be a space to hold workshops for stuff like community art, teaching sessions or group events.
In addition to providing the space for fledgling and established artists to do their thing, there's going to be all the technology and business support to help everyone make a real go of building their passion into a successful business.
At the moment, it looks like it'll take a couple of years to get the place into shape, but I'll keep you updated as things move along.

The photographs show the outside of the building, the space with the folks in hi-vis jackets is the size of the gallery and the other image is the area that will become individual studio workspaces.

All very exciting.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A cat goes forth

Tiddles, the cat I drew for the first time a few weeks ago, seems to be running away with himself. The feedback I've had for him has been great and there have been wonderfully positive posts about him on various forums. My friends at Heritage Crafts asked me for another - apparently it was their intention to have a set of four Tiddles designs, however, such is the enthusiasm for the character, they want more so they can keep producing more of their cross stitch kits of him.

It's my intention to try and get him onto other merchandise. I just have to find the time to get him out to see people. I hope he's not hungry when other people meet him - it could get messy.

OK, so he may not be as cute as a fluffy kitten, but he's honest and doesn't pretend to be something he isn't. A bit like me, really.
Here's Tiddles the fourth.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tiddles the third

The feline fiend makes a third outing.
I like it when words and pictures work together.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Word Play

Last week, I submitted some designs for Christmas cards. The client - a well known high street stationer, in response to my initial designs, asked perhaps could I provide some one-liner jokes and an accompanying description of the image. I realised at that moment that this particular client is more concerned with the text than the image - which is fair enough. At the same time, I baulked at the idea that I could be happy to deliver a gag without the image. For me, the two are a symbiosis - one cannot exist without the other. So, even though it meant spending far more time in getting my idea across, I continued with producing pen and pencil roughs with accompanying caption.
In recent weeks I've been putting quite a lot of thought to Christmas card ideas for specific areas. A by-product of which, while I'm tuned in to the whole festive vibe, I came up with this image.

Imagine if I'd captured that thought with this:
Caption: "Tiddles wishes you a very Happy Crisp Mouse"
Image: Cat holds a dead mouse on a skewer over a candle.
See what I mean? It takes away the impact, a little, don't you agree?
My chums at Heritage Crafts have since snapped up the design and have created a kit enabling you to do some festive stitchery - see

The design has been so well received, they asked me to do another. Here's one I finished off yesterday morning. Interestingly, I had to draw thirteen different fish before I arrived at a couple I was happy with, but the cat came out right first time - weird.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ding Diddle Ing Ding....

Special Agent?
A long time ago I had an agent. As I see it, an agent is meant to do all the legwork that an artist would do to sell their work if they weren't too busy being an artist.
Imagine doing a piece of work that you're quite pleased with and that you believe is suitable for some commercial application or another. What you have to do then is tell the commercial world what a loverly thing it is. So, you have to put your salesperson head on and start showing it around, discussing deals, applications, territorial exclusivity and a ton of other stuff that you have to do if you're going to benefit from your toils.
About ten years ago, my agent and me split because I was working like a nutter, but he wasn't doing all the twiddly things that he was supposed to.
I'm a busy little sausage and I know what Tigger does best, so this year, I decided I need someone to do the legwork for me. I found an agent in the form of Advocate ( that fits in nicely with the way I work. So far it's been very interesting and the work they've asked me to do is very enjoyable.
I never realised how far in advance companies prepare for Christmas. It's now October 2008. For the past few weeks I've been producing ideas for Christmas 2009. Talking about thinking ahead!
With global markets in freefall and banking systems crumbling, at least I can look forward to next Christmas!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hamilton's Head

At any one time, I have several books in varying states of development. One that I'm currently working on is called 'Hamilton's Hiccups'.
Hamilton is a dragon who, as you probably already guessed, has hiccups, and asks the help of his friend, Tilly, to cure them.
To help myself with the illustration process, I sculpted a maquette of Hamilton's head.
It's so much easier to draw something in front of me than to try and imagine how he might look from any angle. The body will probably never appear in the same pose, so I'll draw that out as I go along. Meanwhile, here are a couple of photographs of Hamilton's head.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


There are two kinds of tasks in life - 'Got to do' things and 'Want to do' things.
The key to a happy life is getting the balance right.

I had a letter from my accountant last Friday. In it he asked for my accounts for last year. Gulp! I'd completely forgot to do them and I was three months late. I've been too busy doing the things I wanted to, that it completely slipped my mind. Well, that was pretty much my weekend sorted. Crunching numbers and shuffling paper. Not the most fun I've ever had, but I got it done.

In this case, my 'Want to do's got in the way of my 'Got to do's and I suffered the consequences.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

No Fish

Brilliant! No nasty fishy burps from my Sainsbury's Crumpets.
They must've changed the recipe.
I'm now looking forward to my breakfast in the morning.

Over recent days I've been practicing drawing characterful faces. For some reason they've been coming out long and thin, but they've been fun to work on.
I decided I'd like to add some colour digitally and wanted to try an idea I had.
When I paint with acrylics, I lay down a block of colour of the darkest tone of the subject, then progressively bring the tones up to the highlight - the opposite of working in watercolour where white paper is progressively overlaid with colour to arrive at the darkest tone.
I wanted to try the acrylic method digitally.
I scanned my drawing and created a separate layer in Photoshop to apply colour and went for it.
I deliberately kept the brushwork loose because I was just doing this to explore the process and didn't want to overcook it. I like art that keeps a look of energy, which is often lost on highly finished pieces.
I started a few days ago and showed my progress to my good friend James Ryman ( At the time I'd used a purple secondary light from the right of the image and he advised I make it warm. So, tonight I continued with the image, taking James' advice. It works. He's called 'The Worrier' for obvious reasons.
I'm pleased with the result and will definitely explore the method further - when I get the opportunity.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fishy Burps

I've just had two very nice crumpets for my breakfast.
While I stood in the kitchen, munching away, I looked at the list of ingredients printed on the side of the wrapper.
There was nothing in the list that might help me with a question that has bugged me for years - Why, if I eat crumpets for breakfast (or any meal, for that matter), a matter of hours later do I start burping fishy flavours?
I love eating fish, but I can confirm that no fishy substance has passed my lips for a while.

Let's see what today holds.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Free Biscuits!

Working from home is an odd existence. These days I seldom need to leave the house for business. I might have to walk 100 yards to the Post Office to send parcels etc., but other than that, I call someone if I need materials and most of my communication is via email.
So, it's all too easy to detach myself from the world and scratch away in my little bubble of self-containment.

A while back I saw an article in our local newspaper about a group of local professional creative folk who were working together to develop an old sock factory and turn it into a 'centre of creativity' and they were having a meeting to launch the scheme. I was intrigued. You mean there are other creative people in this area? They must have their own bubbles of existence, or maybe mine is double insulated. I decided I could do with getting out of the house for a while, besides, there was the added lure of a drink and some food, so I went along to see what kind of biscuits they had.

The meeting was interesting. There were far more and diverse creative people in my area than I'd expected. To cut a long story short, I put myself forward as a potential member of the committee. Me! I've never been on a flippin' committee in my life. Committees are what grown-ups do. Organised, rational people go on committees to be rational and organised.
The aim of the group is to bring together all threads of the local creative community and and use the old building as a place to do it. Proper community spirited and all that. A proper adventure outside my little bubble to be sure.
The food was nice too, but no biscuits as I recall.

The first committee meeting I attended turned out to be at the studio of a photographer I'd used many years ago for some work I needed for a brochure. He was a fellow committee member and our common involvement with photography proved a good icebreaker.

My first contribution to 'Creative Hinckley', for that's the name of the project, was to propose I did a corporate ID with which the group could represent ourselves.
The existing one had been put together by a member of the committee and it needed a little help.
Now, it's been a while since I did any ID work, but it's something I've always enjoyed, so I rattled out some ideas and Lo, we now have a logo.
Interestingly, a colleague on the committee showed my work to someone who needed an identity for another project, so I was asked to do something for that too. What's more, I got wonderfully positive feedback from him. It's always nice to receive a good response to stuff, whatever it is.

It's been really refreshing plunging back into the world of people. I'm even looking forward to the next committee meeting. At the last one we had chocolate biscuits!
At the first one I went to there was cake too!

I'll let you know how things go - outside my bubble!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I can do horses!

If you're familiar with my biography, you'll know I grew up with the notion that I couldn't draw horses. Well, wonder of wonders, I found out after all this time that I can draw horses!
I had a request from the charity Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) if I could produce a piece of artwork for this year's Christmas card. They sell the cards to raise funds for their very worthy cause.
I have to admit, a shudder ran down my spine at the thought of doing anything equine.
My belief that horsey art was simply beyond my capabilities must've become so deeply entrenched over the years because I'd never actually been called upon to do any.
So, I looked at a horse or two and started sketching out ideas - Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, it needed to be cartoony and, hopefully, funny.
I sent off two drawings as proposed designs, and waited.
The reaction was that the RDA liked both ideas and they would like to use one now and the other for next year's card. Brilliant!
Chuffed to bits, I completed the artwork and sent it off to the printers.
Samples and a letter of thanks arrived this week and I have to say, I'm delighted with the result.
As an extra way of the RDA raising some funds, I donated the artwork for them to sell. That'll be on eBay during the first week of December this year, so look out for it. I hope it goes to a good home and manages to raise a few pounds for the charity. After all, it's a very important piece of artwork for me - it means I can now say "I can do horses!"

Monday, August 11, 2008

One cat, two homes

About a year ago, one of our cats, Poppy, disappeared. Any number of things could've happened to her. She might've wandered off and been adopted by another family or got lost. She could've been hit by a car and ended her pretty little life.
One day, after she'd been gone eight or nine months, I was talking to a neighbour about nothing in particular, when Poppy appeared on the fence beside us!
She was huge - not having kittens, we'd had her 'seen to' years ago - she was a fat cat. She was always the lean, mean, mouse catching machine and here she was, almost spherical!
Not a healthy situation.
"I thought you were dead" I told her.

The neighbour told me that after one of their own cats had died, Poppy has been living in their conservatory. She'd never thought of coming twenty yards to tell me our cat, wearing our collar with our address on it wasn't in our house!
Seems like Poppy saw an opening of a cushy lifestyle and took it.
I asked Mrs Nextdoorbutone not to encourage her to stay and shoo her away which she agreed to.
These days Poppy lives with us. She's a healthier shape, but will often disappear for hours to languish on a wicker sofa in the neighbour's conservatory - they have a cat flap and she gets in while they are out.
That's what happened yesterday. They were out - she went in - on the day I'd booked to have her immunisation booster jab.
I couldn't get to her. The neighbours were out all day and I had to cancel the flippin' appointment!
I made another appointment for today - Poppy is under house arrest, at least until she's had her injections.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Top Spot - Again!!

I heard today that my design for Heritage Crafts, 'Is that all?' was their best selling embroidery design for June. That's two months at the top spot. I'm so proud of my forlorn feline.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Once upon a slime

I had an idea of a story that explored the relationship between slugs and snails. I know they're closely related, but what happened to make one branch of the family become different?
Did they begin as shell-dwelling creatures and one faction cast off their shell or was it the other way round - squishy creature fancies getting a caravan?
It felt like a good basis for a story, but then I started working on the characters and things went a bit daft.
I realised that snails and their shells offer far more potential for development and I flung myself into a maelstrom of molluscy mucus - drawing snails.
I've done twelve so far. The pirate is one of my favourites. He would've been a key character in the story - if it had got written.

I have to confess, I did get a bit carried away when I started working on the sports range.
Taking the ball and turning that into the snail's shell and adding other aspects of the particular sport, I could turn any sport that uses a ball or into a snail. I even gave the sporty snails a name of their own - Slimeballs. Logical, really I suppose.
The world should embrace snails!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Crossing your eyes and dotting your tees

All finished. Time to let my book go off to the printers.
All of the pages, pictures, files, typefaces and bits and pieces are collected and put onto CD to take the book to production.
Apart from various stages of approval, signing off page layouts and answering minor questions, I just had to sit back and wait.
So, freed up from the intensity of The Boy with an Axe in his Head, I can swing my focus onto one of my other projects. I have several books in various stages of development and there is also this illustrative thing I want to do with snails.

That's not to say I'm finished with Maxwell. I'll get involved again when the book is delivered and the process of promoting the book begins.
Time for a cup of tea, I think, and maybe a nice biscuit.

Thank you Weddington Primary

My thanks must go to Weddington Primary School for showing me where I'd got it wrong.

An interesting thing about writing in verse. You can slog away for ages, shuffling words around, getting the rhyme to work, counting syllables and getting your stresses all mixed up, but until you actually read it out loud, you never really get the feel for your own words.
Perhaps it was the haste in putting the book together for the school event, or that I simply made some errors, but reading The Boy with an Axe in his Head to four classes of children at Weddington Primary emphasised to me so many points that needed addressing.
I'd initially decided on an April 2008 publication, because it seemed logical timing. However, having come away from the school with a list of things in the book that bugged me, I changed my plans.
It wasn't exactly back to square one for me, but I took quite a big step backward.
I spent the next few weeks tuning and retuning my words. I don't think a single verse came out without some change, albeit quite small.
Of the illustrations, I tidied up the one with Maxwell's sister on the swing and made a change to one of the earlier pictures. Finally, I decided that I should totally re-work the illustration on page 30. The original one wasn't 'homey' enough, so I replaced it with this one.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A little distraction

Just to change the subject for a moment. In the current issue of the magazine (June 2008) 'The World of Cross Stitching' there is an article about the work I do with Heritage Crafts in Staffordshire. I've worked with them for quite a few years now and they are lovely people to deal with.
The article talks about the 'Cats Rule' range and there's a page solely about me! I did an interview about where my ideas come from and what else I'm working on etc., etc. Heck, there's even a picture of me!
I was delighted recently to receive a phone call from Susan Ryder, the boss of Heritage Crafts, telling me that one of the designs I did for them under the name of 'Cats Rule' was their best selling design for the month. It's always nice to hear that a design has been well accepted.

Friday, June 13, 2008


What an amazing week that was.
Everything went according to the planned list, but one thing I added was, as the children came into the classroom, I decided, rather than me just stand around like a spare part, I'd do a drawing.
So, I took in an easel and drawing board and drew out the thing that triggered the idea for The Boy with an Axe in His Head - a bear with... well, you know.
It was a little bit of a performance thing on my part, but it proved to the class that I could at least draw a bear. I put the finishing touches to the drawing and added the caption during registration.
After a brief introduction from the teacher, it was my turn.
When I attend signings or public appearances of any sort, I often has a degree of uncertainty about how the occasion will go. Will it be difficult? Will it go wrong? Will I make an idiot of myself. These four mornings were similar. Until I began, I had no idea what the outcome would be.
So, away I went. I spoke, I pointed, I waved my arms around quite a bit. I read my book.
But the amazing thing for me was the enthusiasm from the children. Maybe it was the subject matter, perhaps it was the chance to do something different to regular lessons. But it was so rewarding to work with all of the children and get the wheels and cogs of their imaginations turning. Luckily, the teachers kept an eye on the time and sent children out for break and lunch, otherwise, I'd still be there today.
I had no need for any of my worries beforehand - I assume it's similar to stage fright.
For each of the mornings, I was carried along on a roller coaster of energy provided by the children. Propelled through the morning until, when lunchtime arrived and my morning with the class ended, I'd be buzzing with energy and excitement from the experience.
Interestingly, on the first morning, no one asked for an autograph. On the second morning, one or two children asked me to draw the bear on a sheet of paper and sign it. The third day saw more autographs and sketches. Day four, I was still signing and drawing bears with axes in their head when the class came back in for the afternoon session.
Another effect I noticed - often, when I write captions, envelopes etc. I'll use a cartoony serif type of writing. Some of the children picked up on this and asked me how I did it. "Easy" I said, "just give your letters hats and boots" and demonstrated by writing some of the children's names. Funny how a typographical element derived from Roman antiquity can be summed up in such a simple fashion. Hats and boots.
As I left the class, I saw some of the children practising writing their names in a serif font. Viral education - I often wonder if I cased an epidemic of typographic proportions.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Baby!

There's a warm fuzzy feeling I get when I hold a new book for the first time. A book encompasses lots of hours of thinking, typing, scribbling and pacing up and down (and quite a bit of chocolate eating). So, even though these twelve copies of The Boy with an Axe in his Head were digitally produced copies before the main production run, they still made me go all squiggly inside.

A couple of days before my visit to school, the books arrived and I put some thoughts to what would be happening during the four mornings at Weddington Primary School.
I'd discussed what I'd be doing with the children with Mrs Ward, the head teacher and Miss Booth, the literacy co-ordinator.
I was to spend a morning with each of four classes. Each morning would go like this:
• I'd introduce myself and explain what I do and how I came up with the idea.
• Explain the process of creating the book - words, drawings, page layouts etc.
• Hand out copies to the class and read to book to them while they followed the pictures.
• After a brief explanation of the mechanics of poetry, have the children write a verse of their own.
• Once a verse has been arrived at, create an illustration, bearing in mind how it would sit with the verse on the page.
• Finally, the children would read their verses and show the illustration to the rest of the class.

That was quite a lot to fit into a morning, but I was sure the teachers knew what we could achieve.

I gathered up my preliminary drawings and bits and pieces - and twelve fresh copies of the book - and headed off to school.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Full Steam Ahead

My deadline was looming and I feared I was running out of time. So, in case that happened, I took the last four or five illustrations that still needed colouring and really quickly dashed in some colour. Imagine being told you have five minutes to finish something that you know will take hours. I worked like that. The result was a bit messy and I went over the lines more than I would with the final one, but if it came to it and I had to send the job to print before I completed the real version, I would at least have all of the pages coloured. Black and white line drawings would stick out like a sore thumb.
In the end, there was only one illustration that appeared in the digital copies - the one where Maxwell's sister is on the swing. It wasn't too bad. Anyway, better than nothing.

So, off it went to the printers with my fingers firmly crossed!

To Print or Not to Print

I'd spoken to the printer I intended to use for the actual production run of the book and had been told that it would take around three months for them to deliver the final books.
Since I'd agreed to be guest author at Weddington Primary School in Nuneaton in mid-October and it was now September, it was clear, so I'd have books ready to use with the classes, that I needed something much quicker.
Digital printing was the answer. A friend of mine, Ron Hoe of Ocean Digital in Coventry had agreed to turn around a dozen copies for me in a week and a half. Brilliant!
I'd never used this type of digital printing before and went to see some samples. I was amazed at how good they were. It was such a relief because I didn't want to create something that wouldn't resemble the real thing.
I set a date when I needed to get my completed artwork to him and began laying out the pages.
Things were going to be slightly different for the digital copies. These were going to be paperback rather than the hardback of the final print run, and the binding was going to be a little different too.
So, once I'd made up several small mock-ups of the book to decide what went on each page, I assembled the artwork as it was going to be printed.
As I completed the illustrations, I'd put a page together, including the verse. It soon became obvious, by the number of pages with no picture, that I had a lot of work to do in a very short time.

On a roll - well, maybe on a little bun

There's a great feeling you get when things start to come together.
I found I was belting out images with some confidence. I could be working on perhaps two or three at a time. It would seem logical to start at the beginning and work my way through to the end, but I found it didn't happen that way.
Because each illustration needed to pass through three stages, these being:
Pencilling - working out the shapes and how they would sit on the page and 'embrace' the verse.
Inking - Putting down the black linework on material similar to tracing paper, which would be scanned into the computer to take me to stage three, which is...
Colouring - adding colour using Photoshop and saving in a format that can be placed on the page,
not every illustration was at the same stage. Depending how I felt when I started a session, I would flip through what I had left to do and choose something. If I felt like doing colour, that's what I did. Similarly, if there were still pencil stages to play with, I might do that, if the mood took me,
Eventually, of course, all of the pencilling was complete. Then I did all of the linework, which left me with many hours of colouring.
While all of this is going on, I have to earn a living because working on a project like this, which is a bit like a hobby, I'm not earning money. So, I'd get up at 6.00am, like I normally do, and work on The Boy with an Axe in His Head until 9.00am. At that time I'd work on the things that earn me a living - creating all kinds of stuff like embroidery designs or characters to be sculpted as figurines for people to collect.
At 5.00pm, I'd go back to my book illustrating maybe grabbing something to eat when my belly began rumbling too loud I couldn't hear the music I play while I'm working.
I'd then work until sleep made my eyes close and flop into bed. I'm lucky enough to work from a studio at home, so I can work as long as I feel like.
Whenever I tell people I work from home, they often think I get up when I like, take lots of breaks, an extra long lunch and finish early.
Nothing could be further from the truth. When you do something that you love for a living, which I am so fortunate to say I do, you find that you happily put all of your time and energy into your work because it's special. It's not like school homework or something that you are required to do.
So, here I was working between 16 and 18 hours a day between July and the first week in October and I loving every minute.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Spectre Hovers

No, not a spectre hoovers. Nothing to do with ghosts vacuuming. All the time I was working on the illustrations, I'd revisit my words. These are words that I'd looked at many times, made minor changes and then put down again, thinking the story was complete. As I've said before, every time I'd read them, I'd be convinced that I could make a nip here, a tuck there, to get the words to work better together. So, the spectre of re-writes never really goes away. I just learn to live with its intervention and be happy with the results.
On one occasion, I realised that one piece of fine tuning took a verse back to a form it was in a couple of weeks before. I'd changed and re-changed and arrived back where I'd already been.

I began laying out the pages to accept the illustrations as they were completed.
Because of the way they are printed, books work with page quantities in units of eight.
32 pages plus covers worked just right to have a verse per page with a couple left over for title pages etc.
At this point I decided I wanted to have an X-Ray type image for the front cover, so added that to my list of illustrations and began collecting reference and researching X-Ray images.

Inking and colouring

Once my drawings were laid out in pencil, I'd lay a sheet of detail paper over the top and ink directly onto that. I'd decided during the design stage that I wanted a border around the page. That would prove useful when I'd scanned the line artwork because the drawings were larger than the image area of my scanner, so they all had to be scanned in two pieces and put together in Photoshop. The borders enabled me to see the overall shape of the image, thus making the stitching together easier, and quicker. In retrospect, making the artwork fit the scanner would've made the process a little faster, but then I would've been doing my drawings at a smaller scale, which would've made the drawing process less relaxed and constrained and thus less 'free' in style.
In my first colour test, I made a conscious effort to keep the application of quite scruffy and deliberately went over the lines in places. The lines are quite hard and solid, so a certain looseness in the colour would be more fun.
One beauty in working in Photoshop for me is being able to work in layers. I kept the linework on the top layer and added colour on another. As I worked I could view the colour layer alone to confirm I was doing OK. I quite liked the look of the colour layer on it's own, but perhaps that would be something I could apply to something another time. I had no time for experimentation. After all I had thirty one illustrations to complete!

No time to lose

I've always said that adrenaline shouldn't get involved when making creative decisions, but, on this occasion, I had to choose a method of Illustrating The Boy with an Axe in his Head that would help me get the book finished in time for 'Book Week' in October.
My first choice was whether to go for traditional media - ink, paints on paper or board, which I often prefer because there's a 'real' piece of art at the end to show for my efforts, or would I opt for digital methods?
Ultimately, I'd be doing the assembly of the artwork myself in Quark Xpress, a piece of software I've used extensively since I first began working on Apple Macs in 1991. So, at some point my artwork would have to be digitised, either by scanning or having been created in the computer from the beginning.
By this time, I'd got most of my illustrations roughed out. Five were ready to begin work on, the rest were waiting like greyhounds at the starting gate.
Looking back through my portfolio, I noticed that within all of the styles I've adopted over the years, there is one which I'd say isn't derivative of anyone else's work. One I drop into when I'm 'getting into the groove' and it was one I could simply apply to what I'd done so far.
What I'd do, was create inked lines of my drawing, scan them into the computer and apply the colour in Photoshop - another of my favourite packages.
A 'EUREKA!' moment.
This way I'd only be scanning in linework, so the scanning process would be faster. Applying colour digitally cuts out all of the time mixing colours, cleaning paintbrushes, spilling water all over the place (OK, so I'm occasionally clumsy) and cleaning up afterwards.
Time to get to work!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Get Scribblin'

So, the words existed, I had my hero, so it was time to put some shapes down.
By now, I'd worked out a rough sequence for the book and had put a rough visual together indicating the content of each illustration. One thing I'd yet to establish was what style of illustration to use and what method.
I'd been toying with various media, for example - ink line and watercolour wash or perhaps acrylics.
I'd penciled out four or five pages. There was no reason why I couldn't lay out every page before deciding on how to complete the illustrations.
On an unrelated subject, I was talking to my accountant, Jim Simmons, about a theory I have that I could teach someone to draw using an unusual approach I'd arrived at. He suggested I'd be able to try out the method by visiting a school, of which he was a parent/governor. I did just that and went to see the head teacher, the very helpful Mrs Ward, of Weddington Primary School in Nuneaton.
I was telling her about my idea for teaching children to draw and, in passing, mentioned the book I was working on. Suddenly, all thoughts of me helping to develop the artistic abilities of kids at the school and I'd agreed to be 'guest author' for the book week the school was holding in October. I explained that the book was far from complete. To which the Head said "I'm sure you can get it finished in time."
That was the middle of July. I was going on holiday for two weeks the following day, which meant I had two and a half months to finish the book! Gulp

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Got him!

It was quite a relief to be able to pin Maxwell down and say "That's how he looks".
While it is quite liberating to be able to work for yourself on projects like this, there is a common theory that if you are your own client, you are the most difficult to satisfy.
It seemed to take weeks on and off, deliberating and pontificating, agonising and pondering. But then I said to myself - Hold on, this is meant to be fun!
So, rather than adopting a style to do the job, I simply took the style that comes easiest and went from there.
With no particular purpose in mind, I would draw Maxwell in a range of activities - running, jumping, looking up, down, in profile or from behind. He was my new best friend and I needed to get to know him because we were going on a journey together!

Establishing a style

Because I've been producing illustrations for a lot of years, I've used a wide range of styles.
So, when it came to selecting which style to use for The Boy with an Axe in His Head, I was unsure which would work the best to help tell the story.
As this was my own project, I could do what I liked. There was no client paying me to do the work, nobody telling me what Maxwell should look like. I explored a little further.
By this point I'd decided on the proportions of my character. Using the head as a measurement, a regular proportioned man is around eight heads tall. For Maxwell, I went for four.

Fixing a face

I began to draw faces. If I'm trying to establish a character's face from scratch, I simply draw face after face after face. Each one different from the last, in a random fashion, similar to speed writing where you write thoughts as they occur. I drew faces as they came along. Once I'd done one, I'd swiftly do another until I had sheets of faces.
From these exercises I chose faces that felt they had potential. Yes, I needed a face for Maxwell, but I'd also have to draw his friends, so nothing was discarded, just in case.

Maxwell the first

My very first sketch of the boy, Maxwell, came out like this.
If I'm going to draw a character several times from different angles, in various poses, in a range of activities, the character needs to have signature features that identify him or her.
Having worked on the poem, it required the boy to be older than this, also, to be able to draw him in the poses needed for some of the illustrations, he'd have to be slightly better proportioned.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Write and rewrite

If I produce a drawing or painting and leave it alone for a while, when I come back to it, there are things that stand out that need changing. I'll question why I did it like that in the first place. It could be that, while you're in the process of doing something creative, you can be so involved with it that you fail to see small errors and misjudgments made along the way.
For me, writing is the same. Having typed the words into my computer, I revisit them with a fresh eye and often have to make changes. A tweak here, a line modified there.
It could be that every time you leave a piece of work, you go away and undergo subtle changes in yourself. Your perspective might change, opinions might shift based on experiences that might happen to you whilst separated from your work. Then when you come back to it, you make changes to the work to realign it with your updated view on life. I wonder whether this process would ever end.
There comes a time when you have to force yourself to step away from the piece for fear of overworking it. How finished is finished?
After weeks of jotting, scribbling and word juggling with The Boy with an Axe in His Head, I'd arrived at something I was seeing as a whole. Sure, there were places I could still go, but somehow it didn't seem necessary to explore absolutely every aspect of having a handle protruding from the boy's head. The boy, by the way, is called Maxwell.
It was time to start thinking about the visual aspect.
Time to sharpen my pencils.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Another thing I discovered with writing in verse, I need to work longhand with pen or pencil on good old fashioned paper. I push thoughts around by scribbling key phrases, setting up rhyming partnerships and fooling around with word relationships by simply jotting them down. One idea will give flight to another while something totally unexpected can pop into being by the collision of words on a page. I find typing into the regimented format of a word processor restricts this organic process.

One benefit of working with pen and paper is that I can work anywhere. No bulky laptop for me to lug around. No problems trying to hook up to a Wi-Fi hotspot or power outlet.
The little notepad I use to capture my thoughts really came into its own. On a train, sat on a park bench, sitting in the car - the world was my studio.
As I arrived at material with which I was reasonably happy, I clattered it into my computer for safekeeping.
In my early notes, I'd put down situations to be explored - shopping, sports, clothing, etc.
I had no set sequence in which to work. I planned, once I had a verse for each of my ideas, to arrange them in some logical order, but that was to be some time in the future.
I'd take an idea that appealed to me at the time and begin scribbling words. I didn't always have my notepad with me, so any available paper would be recruited as a launchpad for my words. This led to me regularly stuffing mismatched sheets, napkins, drinks mats etc. into my rucksack to work on later.

By this time, I'd decided on a title for this piece of work 'The Boy with an Axe in His Head'. Simple and to the point. I didn't see any point in trying to mislead anyone.

The Silence Goblins

I don't like silence when I work. A few years ago when I worked in a design studio, my chum, Paul Crowley and me created these fictitious characters 'The Silence Goblins'. When the music stopped, they'd creep out of the shadows to tamper with our creative thought processes and make us rubbish at our work. Well, that was our excuse. So, when it fell quite, we'd look at each other in mock panic proclaiming "The Silence Goblins are here!", to which one of us would have to respond by hastily putting some music on.

The music I have on in the background is often dictated by my state of mind at the time.
Sometimes it can be soft and floaty, others it could be banging dance 'choonz'.
One thing I have discovered, if I'm writing from my imagination where the words are being lined up in my head before I squeeze them down my arms and out of my fingertips onto the keyboard, I can't have music with lyrics - I think they're called songs. I find the words in the music get all tangled up with the ones I'm trying to line up, like disruptive naughty children in a line of soldiers on parade. It all goes wrong and I have to put on something instrumental to chase away the unruly little rascals.
Interestingly, if I'm typing from experience, as if making an entry in a diary, lyrics aren't invasive at all. In fact, as I'm typing this, I'm listening to REM, Accelerate - an album plump, juicy and fit to burst with rich lyrics and they're not bothering me in the slightest.
That probably means something, but I don't have a clue what.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Unwisely Santa offered a teddy bear to James, unaware that
he had been mauled by a grizzly earlier that year.

With acknowledgement to Tim Burton.

One of the characters from Tim Burton's 'The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy'.
OK, it's not written in verse, but you get the idea.

Thick and fast they came

It's really quite astounding, how an idea can run away with you. I carry a notebook everywhere I go (well, almost everywhere) just in case something pops into my head. Pinning down ideas is like catching falling leaves in autumn. They can flutter around and are so elusive, but if you can catch them in a book before they join the mess of fallen fragments on the floor, you stand a chance of doing something with them.

Ideas of what it would be like to live with a handle protruding from my head were popping into being like falling leaves on a windy day in autumn. So much so I decided I wanted to make them into something permanent.

For some time I've been an admirer of Tim Burton's poetry, particularly 'The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy' - a collection of tales of bizarre and startling characters. He has the ability to make the absurd acceptable and his delivery in verse makes it all the more intriguing.
So, to follow his lead, I decided I would write a poem about how it would be to live with an axe in the head.
Fairly quickly I came to the conclusion that to write the poem about a bear wouldn't be as interesting to read because bears just don't get involved in similar circumstances to us humans. I settled on a boy because I was one, a long time ago, so I could perhaps trawl my memories for situations I might have encountered. I did briefly consider having a girl go through the experience, but somehow, a boy seemed logical. I mean, whoever heard of a girl with an axe in her head? Anyway, axes are just so 'blokey' aren't they?

So I started writing and writing and writing......

Friday, May 2, 2008

I had an idea...

I was designing a greetings card with the caption 'I can't get you out of my head'.
On the card was an image of a cuddly bear with a huge axe in its head.

The image got me thinking what it would be like to have an axe like that permanently sticking out of my head.
Let's forget the gruesome part of blood and stuff. It's a cuddly toy bear, so they don't have to worry about such things. I mean the physical presence of the handle.
I started thinking about all the things that I'd be able to do. All the things I'd be prevented from doing, all because of this new extra part of me.

The idea intrigued me and I decided to explore the concept and started jotting down situations where the handle of the axe would make a difference. I was surprised to arrive at quite a few situations where it would be a benefit.
I'm not very tall, so to be able to reach an extra couple of feet could work to my advantage. Imagine trying to reach that tasty apple just out of reach on the tree. Not a problem. I'd simply be able, with a flick of my head, to tap the apple from the tree into my waiting hands.
This could be the start of something quite interesting. Let's see where it goes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008