Saturday, 17 December 2011

Hopes, Fears and Opportunities

This post in itself I a scary proposition, It’s amazing how quickly the final year of my degree has crept up on me and in less than seven months time I’ll be ready to leave the safe haven of the university in pursuit of a career. 


One of the things I was hoping at the beginning of the term was that I would start to veer towards a style. This has thankfully started to happen in the sense that I now know which media I’m best suited for and this has helped me to acquaint myself with a love for traditional inking. Now that I have a way of working that I feel truly comfortable with I can start to work towards refining my methods and look at the style in which I draw particular things. Thankfully the tutors at Stockport college have been really patient with my indecisiveness in the past two years and helped to direct me onto the right path. So now I know exactly how I want to work my hope is I stick to this path and see some major improvement with a lot of hard work and experimentation. I also hope to have some time free to explore animation as this was a dream I had from an early age. It’s a subject I have dabbled with briefly in my first and second year and I think the way in which I work especially with the character style sheets would lend itself well to moving into animation. It would definitely be a good string to add to my bow.
Another hope I had at the beginning of term was that I would get a website up and running before the end of my 3rd year. I held off setting up a web hosted site for ages as I wanted to put my own stamp on it and didn’t want it looking like just another boring templated website. However, I decided last month to bite the bullet and set one up through Cargo as I thought it was better to have a website than none at all. I still need to take a proper look at the design of it as I’m not overly confident it’s really selling my talents very well, so my new hope is I’ll be able to get a swish looking site that I’m really proud of by the time I finish uni. I also hope that I can discover exactly what market place my work fits into before I leave so I can start to make the right connections with that industry.


One of my biggest fears (apart from heights) is not being able to find illustrative work at the end of my degree. I do have a design background that I can always fall back on and connections within that industry. I don’t have the luxury of becoming an illustrator straight off the bat because I have a responsibility as a parent to provide for my children. I spoke to the nice people at Taylor O’Brien about this fear recently and they said it would be a great shame for me if I were not to carry on as an illustrator when I finish. I guess the problem is if I take a job in the mean time will I be one of the many illustration graduates that fall by the wayside because I had to do it to pay the bills. I took a big gamble leaving a full time job as a designer to pursue the dream of being an illustrator and I have never been afraid of hard work, I hope I can still keep that dream in my sights when I leave and make freelancing a reality. One fear I had at the beginning of the term was that my works not good enough, but the recent portfolio visits have given my confidence the boost it needed to realise my work is good, but I also know I can make it so much better and the forthcoming major project will be the opportunity to focus on my strengths and work on the weaknesses.


"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty". Winston Churchill.

What I really need to work on with my remaining time at uni is my time management; I crumbled under the pressure this term instead of rising above everything and getting things done. Admittedly I need to stop changing my mind last minute, as this is not a productive way of working. I really want to get my head round InDesign before I leave as I think this would be highly beneficial for me in the future. I already know how to use QuarkXpress so there should be some similarities between the two packages that will help me to figure it out. Amongst the many packages I want to learn are Flash and After Effects and I hope to again find some spare time to get some basics under my belt so I can start to animate some of my work. Hopefully the opportunity will arise next term for me to explore these avenues even if I have to ask people in moving image to help me. I would also like the opportunity to do some more networking, but this time with the handy aid of a business card. I could have kicked myself for not having a business card when I was at the Thought Bubble Convention back in November as everyone I spoke to asked I If I had a card! I also secretly enjoy chatting to new people and this is a trait I don’t take enough advantage of.
One opportunity that has come up constantly over the past 3 years is presentations. I don’t think I will ever be comfortable talking in front of big groups of people no matter how many presentations I do, but I have found although I feel like I’m physically shaking on the outside my delivery isn’t as bad as I thought.

Illustrations Digital Future

The future for illustrators is better than ever before with opportunities for us to get our work seen at the click of a button via the Internet and even through the access of a hand held device such as the smart phone or I-pad. This fast paced world has seen the rise of a new digital era in which people can share information and connect with people in a matter of seconds thanks to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The rate in which we now freely share information is alarming, but for the illustrator it presents the opportunity to promote work on a global scale and connect with like-minded people and even gain much needed advice from professional practitioners.

The publishing industry is undoubtedly suffering in these hard times with printing costs at an all time high and the rising popularity of people accessing news for free via the Internet. This has a knock on effect on the illustrator who relies on editorial work as their bread and butter. However the popularity of devices such as the I-pad and Kindle have challenged traditional printing methods bringing new opportunities for illustrators.

American illustrator Will Terry is a children’s book illustrator who has embraced the e-book market and on his blog he talks about the advantages of illustrating for e-books. In his 20 min video report he describes how an illustrator can self publish an e-book for next to nothing. This is undoubtedly an advantage as it means the illustrator can get a book straight to market without the need to seek a publisher. On the other side of the coin this means that over time as people get to grips with working with this new medium the market place will become over saturated with self-published work. This means the illustrator will need to use every resource possible to make sure their work doesn’t go un-noticed in the sea of e-books. The advantages of producing work for e-books means the illustrator is not confined to any number of pages, there are no overheads to worry about and the work can be turned over as quickly as the illustrator wishes. The other advantage is the opportunity to create books with an exciting interactive element for the reader thus giving the illustrator a chance to explore new ways of working. This doesn’t mean that illustrators working in a traditional sense will be missing out, as their work will translate across this medium just as well as a digital illustrators work would.

Despite these hard times there is still much illustration work available. Illustration can be used to compliment articles in newspapers and magazines. Also advertising, brochures, direct mail, posters, billboards and packaging are all areas that require illustration.
As long as there is a need to sell products there will always be a need for a creative means of communication. People will always have a need for art even if it means viewing it from the confinements of a small screen, so I guess illustration is here to ride the digital wave. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Surrealism and Randomly Generated Art

Over the last few days I've been reading a couple of books as part of my research for the journal, the first book is called "Movements in Modern Art: Surrealism" by Fiona Bradley and the second is "The Innocent Eye: Children's Art and the Modern Artist" by Jonathan Fineberg.

On reading these two books it suddenly occurred to me that I've dabbled with surrealist methods to produce work in the past and completely over looked the importance these methods had in moving me forward. I have always been drawn to randomly generated art such as doodle art and most recently Jon Burgerman and found it difficult to pinpoint what it was I actually enjoyed about the work. I now realise it’s the freedom of expression and randomness that comes through in these works.

I was looking through some old sketchbooks after reading about the automatic drawing techniques used by surrealists like Andre Masson and I feel like Paul Klee did when he found his old childhood drawings. Below are a few pages of my automatisms done in the first year of my degree. By looking at these random's I believe this is the true me. I’ve been using pen and ink over the last year, which I feel really comfortable with, but am wondering if my cross-hatching methods have become too laboured. By this I mean it's possibly taking over as I have a tendency to get carried away. I guess it's a case of finding the right balance and harmony which will become refined with time. Perhaps by simplifying the hatching to areas of shadow would work best for me as I did in the chicken empathy illustration last year.

Most recently I have realised the projects I have found truly excited me were the ones where I had an arbitrary beginning i.e. the 'Disney Brief' and most recently the 'Lord Whitney brief' and this has got me thinking how I should approach projects in the future. I find I work best when I'm at play with my work and have found if I start to over-work or complicate things I loose that essence of fun and go through an unproductive stage. The sketchbook pages illustrated below are a great example of me at play with my work and this is what I feel I am currently lacking. From the positive feedback about my portfolio I have decided to give myself a break from Photoshop and Illustrator for a while to explore my hand drawn style to it's fullest.
Sketchbook Randoms 1

Sketchbook Randoms 2
Sketchbook Randoms 3

Sketchbook Randoms 4

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Lord Whitney

On Monday last week we had a visiting lecture by the creative force known as Lord Whitney. Lord Whitney is made up of Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney who met at Leeds Metropolitan and together they create stunning 3D Illustrations. The talk was about their journey through university and how they began their collaboration.

After graduating from uni and working as temps the pair began building sets in their basements and experimenting with different props lying around the house. As they talked us through various projects they had been involved in the main point that shone through was how they were driven to create things not for money but because they loved it so much. There is great playfulness and fun in their work, which is the reason they are so successful in what they do. Later on in the morning they joined us in our studio to set us a brief on compound nouns. The brief was to create an illustration in any way we saw fit using a compound noun. I was fortunate enough to chat to the girls whilst working on the brief that afternoon. They were really down to earth and offered me advice on the way I work and said they would love to see my drawings without the computer element as they thought it looked strong enough without it.

I really enjoyed working with Lord Whitney and their project helped me find a different way of generating ideas that could really help me with my work. I came up with ideas that I perhaps wouldn’t have thought of before by mashing words together and creating a page of really quick sketches.
Rough Sketches

As usual I wanted to make them into characters and decided to submit the below image. I plan to turn this little cheese character and some of the others I created during the brief into comic strips or short stories.

Final Submission

Personal Project Completion

(Final artwork for the school mural before printing. Actual size 812.8mm high x 4000mm wide.)

It's been a while since I posted anything about my personal project and I’m happy to say I’ve finally finished it.

I’ve had a few late nights this week trying to get the artwork finalised so could get it printed and in the school before Christmas and here it is in all it's glory.

There have been a few teething problems along the way, these problems were mainly to do with how I would get my artwork on the wall, but after careful research into different printing materials I finally found a way of having it printed large scale without compromising my artwork.

One of the biggest problems I faced was ensuring the final print would still show my hand drawn quality and because I prefer to work small how that would have an effect on my work at large scale. I found from an earlier 2nd year project if I scanned my work in at a high enough resolution I could vectorise it in Illustrator without losing any fine detail. I scanned the final inked artwork in sections and pieced it together in Photoshop, I then took that into illustrator to be vectorised and tidied up.

The material I decided on after talking to expert printers XCEL Signs in Wrexham is normally used for banners. The durabiltity of the material means it can't be ripped easily, which was an important factor, as the children at Hayes Lane Primary School will eventually add colour to it. I collected the print earlier this morning and delivered it to the school, they were absolutely delighted with the final result and have asked me if I can spare some time to come in and work on the colouring in stage with the children before Christmas. They also asked if they can get a photo of me with the finished product to put on their website, which will be a nice bit of exposure.

The final concept for the mural is based on the Wacky Races with each character driving a vehicle that links to their profession.

I hope to have some photographs to post up soon.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Portfolio Visit – Taylor O’Brien

Earlier this morning I had another portfolio visit this time with the good people at Taylor O’Brien. I arrived 15 minutes early (as I’m still not too familiar with the streets of Manchester) and was greeted by Helen who very kindly made me a brew. Helen had a couple of things to sort before she could see me so I waited happily in the sitting and enjoyed my hot beverage. After a couple of minutes she was ready to see me along with head designer Lee. Before they looked at my work they asked me a few questions about what I’d done before and what I wanted to do when I graduate. I spoke a little about where I had come from and how I decided to become an illustrator and my love of character creation.

Helen and Lee were really easy to chat to and gave me an in-depth and helpful overview of my portfolio and advice on what they thought I could do to improve it. Helen thought my vector drawn work was really strong and said that this kind of work would be favoured in a corporate environment as it could be used for logo’s and branding. They could also see potential for editorial work in my pen and ink drawings and thought the characters drawn for the child audience would sit well in education or children’s books. Helen suggested sorting my work into sections in my portfolio so that clients could see how my style could work over different market areas.
They mentioned that I didn’t really need to put textures in my work and I should maybe think about playing with colour washes like I had done with the Craig Oldham poster. They thought by doing this it would be appealing for a corporate client who might want an illustration with their corporate colours.

Near the end of the visit I asked for some advice on how to best market myself and Helen told me it was a good thing to have a web presence don't fall into the trap of relying on a website bringing in work. She thought the best way was to visit a lot of different design agencies and speak to people in the flesh as this way you stand more of a chance of being remembered. They suggested sending people new illustrations through email with a note to say hello and keep you in mind should any relevant work come up. Another nice suggestion was to drop in samples of work with your contact details at the receptions of design agencies this way a small sample of work could be pinned to a notice board near a desk and help to keep you in peoples thoughts, it would also be a nice distraction for a designer to look at something different. They also thought getting an agent to represent you would be beneficial.

I really enjoyed this meeting as they made me feel really welcome and I think I kept them chatting for over 40 minutes. It was all good and I've come away with some nice ideas to think about.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Website Research

Having a website as well as a blog is a good way of getting your work out there and a well planned and thought out website will ensure the user finds it easy to navigate around your site without getting lost or worse bored. I don’t yet have a website as I want to make sure I have everything planned out just the way I want it before I go about designing it. I’ve browsed through many websites over the years and one thing that really annoys me when I reach someone’s page is when there’s too much going on and the page takes too long to load everything up. This is when I normally hit the close window button and go somewhere else. The sad thing is I probably missed out on something really good because of my impatience, but I’m guessing many other people will act in the same way as me.

One thing I like a website to have is an introduction page before you enter the site with buttons to navigate to different areas of interest. The McBess website is a brilliant example of this as it has buttons to direct you to his blog, main website, shop and his bands music. I like how the icons change as you hover over them and this is an aspect I’d like to have on my site. 

Another example of a neat and well organised website can be found here. I like how Neil has a nice crisp stylized look and feel to his site and how he has made it easy for people to navigate through his pages. He has a really nice portfolio page where it gives you info on the image as you hover over it. The image loads up at the bottom of the page instead of opening a new window so there's not the problem of having to try and navigate back to the page you were on previously.

I also found a nice website done by Simon Spilsbury. It has a really smooth animated opening page which then opens to the main page revealing his illustrations as thumbnails. When you click on a thumbnail it slides onto the page from the right and there are really smooth scrolling pop up menus at the bottom to navigate back to the main page or other pages of interest.

Edwina White has a really interesting page with some nice animated elements of her work that instantly give you an idea of what her style is all about. Each category has a different illustrated animation assigned to it that brings her work to life. My only criticism of the site is there are a lot of additional pages to navigate through once you choose a category to look at and they tend to load a little jerkily.

Here is an example of a website I’m not keen on. Although it has a nicely illustrated opening page there is nothing to say who they are and where to click to enter the site. I clicked on the main image and was greeted with a quite dull and unorganised page with loads of little circles that need to be clicked on to find out what the image is. They have categorised each section into posters, covers and a category called stuff which appears to be t-shirt designs and posters, but to be honest I was bored after a couple of clicks and gave up.

So I guess for my website I would like to have an interesting intro page with animated icons to guide people to different sections of my site and a nicely organized portfolio page with smooth opening images that don’t open a new window or get you lost. I would also like to be able to guide people to my blog, shop and twitter page so they can see what I'm getting up to and be able to contact me. Ha ha I don't want much!

A Welcome Bit Of Exposure

Last week I saw a competition on asking for submissions for the Movember Moustache Illustrations Awards. They were inviting people to submit character illustrations of moustaches to help further promote the Movember campaign which happens every year creating awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men. 

The brief was open to interpretation and split into 3 categories of Moustache Characters, Moustache Wearers and Moustache Theme. As well as the three category awards there will also be a "Drawer's Drawer Award" which will be voted on by all entrants. All winners and runners up will be included in an e-book which will publish not long after the winners are announced. 

I decided to have a go at submitting some artwork as it seemed like a fun and worthwhile brief.
I received an email yesterday to confirm my work had been posted up on the site check out my submission here

There wasn't really a concept behind my work I just sketched out a couple of characters that popped into my head and imagined a cowboy duel scene amongst some other ideas.

If you fancy submitting an entry to this competition you still have time as the closing date is 23rd November at 12pm. Click here for the brief and how to enter......and remember it's all for a good cause.

Tim Harries Words Of Wisdom

Another person that gave me some great advice on my work yesterday was cartoonist and humorous illustrator Tim Harries. Tim hales from Newport, South Wales and has been illustrating for over 14 years. Given that he'd been working professionally for such a long time I thought I should ask some questions. I asked how he started out and he told me he held down a regular job to begin with and worked on his illustration on the side until he had built up a decent client base that was sufficient enough for him to quit his job and concentrate on what he loved doing best and that’s drawing.
I told him a little about myself and what I liked drawing and he asked if he could take a look through my portfolio. Like other people had mentioned this week he was drawn to the character sketches and thought I should develop some of my work into comic strips. He recommended I approach newspaper editors to try and get them published. He said I had strong skills in my hand drawn work and should continue to build upon those strengths and maybe consider going into children’s book illustration. Tim said it was important to have a website to begin establishing a good web presence and gave me one of his printed postcards with his contact details on. It was interesting chatting to someone who worked in a similar way to me and also interesting to look at some of the work he has produced in different formats and now I have his email address I will make sure I keep in contact with him and ask him further questions in the future.

You can check out Tim Harries website here  

Networking at Thought Bubble

After the Nobrow portfolio visit I started to feel confident enough to do a little networking and spoke to a guy called Paul Fryer who has a little zine comic called Rockfall. What I liked about his work was that it was black and white and he used a considerable amount of cross-hatching. I asked him a few questions about his techniques and how he started out. He told me he had been working on his own comics for over 8 year and that he held down a normal job until he became established enough to leave that work behind and concentrate full time on his artwork. We spoke a little about technique and he told me he used the same pens that I use to make his work, but also said although he loves cross hatching it is very time consuming and may not be ideal if you need to produce something quick for a client. I had been worrying a little about my technique over the last few weeks and this kind of confirmed to me I need to ease off on the cross hatching a little or find a quicker way of working that’s not so laboured. I asked Paul if I could show him my work to get some feedback and he was happy to help. He was impressed with my character designs and said he liked the hand drawn sketches and thought my work would transfer well into either animation or children’s books. I asked him how I could go about getting my name out there and Paul suggested posting up work on DeviantArt as it’s a good start to getting your work seen by a global audience although one criticism he had about Deviant was "don’t expect to get any useful feedback on your work there". I bought a couple of Paul’s comics and he kindly sketched some of his characters inside the covers for me. He asked if I had a business card, epic fail on my behalf, but I jotted down my email address for him.
You can check out the work of Paul Fryer here

Portfolio Visit - with Nobrow

Whilst at the Thought Bubble convention I managed to get in a couple of portfolio viewings. The main people I wanted to show my work to were Nobrow who are an independent publishing platform for new and established illustrators. They had a portfolio drop in session scheduled for 2pm which I was really keen to get to. It took me a while to work out where the Nobrow table was as it didn't have a plaque like the other main stalls, but when I did eventually find it I asked how I could go about getting some feedback on my portfolio. The guy said they didn’t officially start till 2 but he would be happy to look at my work there and then, which was a massive bonus as I got to beat the rush. It was a fairly brief session but the guy said I had some strong skills in character design and said I had the potential to branch out into animation, children’s books or editorial. He said I should consider adding more pages of the character design roughs and think about creating some narratives for my characters and maybe create some comic strips of the characters I did for the Disney brief and the Uganda characters. He thought that by adding more of the development of these characters to my portfolio would showcase my potential for animation and story book illustration and give me a greater scope of opportunity. He liked the hand drawn quality of my work over the digitally worked stuff and said he thought textures and digital inking were being used far too much at the moment and thought that by concentrate on generating more of the hand drawn work would be more beneficial to me. At the end of the session he asked me to leave my email details with him and recommended I set up a website to start showcasing my work to the world.

Portfolio Visit - Chase Design Consultants

On Thursday I went to Chase Design Consultants in Manchester for a portfolio visit. Having never been to the Chase before my first impression of the place was met with the delightful smell of coffee. I thought I had stepped into a posh café with a sleek print of the Mona Lisa on the wall and tables and chairs set out in the reception area. After the receptionist confirmed I was in the right place I made myself comfortable at one of the tables. I had originally arranged to meet with Mika Shephard but unfortunately she was off ill. All was not lost though as Associate Director Lise Brian was kind enough to spare me some her time to look at my work. Lise was really friendly and gave me some excellent feedback on my work. She liked the layout of my portfolio and commented on how the presentation had been well thought out. I had a good mix of black & white and colour work. She asked me if I had considered working as a children’s book illustrator as she could see my characters working well in a book, she also said she could see my work transferring well editorially especially the black and white stuff.
Lise explained that she preferred the original sketch drawings of my characters to the finished coloured versions and said it could be a style all by itself.  She would have liked to have seen more of my work, but appreciated I probably had unfinished work which I could later add. She also said It would be a good idea to show some of my finished work in context so that whoever looks at it can fully appreciate the artwork. This could be in the form of a photograph showing a poster in the setting or the finished mural print on the wall of the school. I really enjoyed my visit to the Chase and appreciate the advice I was given. I still have a lot more to do to get my portfolio up to scratch but I’m starting to get a better understanding of what a potential client might want to see and what can strengthen the skills I have.

Leeds Comic Con

Yesterday I attended the Leeds Comic Con, this was the first time I’d been to anything like this and it was a real eye opener. As you would expect there were lots of people dressed up in costumes of their favourite comic book characters and the atmosphere was very friendly. The festival was split into various different buildings around Leeds with different activities going on but the main venue was split between the Saviles Hall and the Royal Armoury building. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of stalls packed into one room and the amount of people, but after doing a couple of laps of the venue to establish where I wanted to go I soon found my feet. As I described in an earlier post there were some really big names there including illustrators from both Marvel and DC Comics and many different illustrators for Super Hero comics, Sci-Fi and Manga. Apart from these obvious stalls there were also a great many stalls of artists selling their own hand made merchandise including t-shirts, badges, zines, jewellery, figurines and masks. There were also a few children’s book illustrators and writers over at the Armories building including Sarah Mcintyre and Gillian Rogerson who were running a Madcap Pirate Drop-in art workshop where everyone was welcome to create piratey pictures and comics. After doing a lot of walking around between the two buildings I found that people were really easy to talk to and were also happy to impart their knowledge on how to get started in the business and this gave me the perfect opportunity to do a little networking and show my portfolio around. There was an epic fail on my behalf that I didn’t have a business card with me, but I wrote down my email address for all the people that asked for my card.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Thought Bubble Sequential Arts Festival

This week is turning out to be a really busy week for me with the opportunity for portfolio visits popping up everywhere. Last week I managed to get my grubby little hands on some tickets for the Thought Bubble Sequential Arts Festival in Leeds on Saturday 19th November, which is this coming weekend and I must say the line up is looking absolutely brilliant. At the moment I’m a bit spoilt for choice as to what to see and do when I get there (I feel a well needed list coming on). Just scrolling through the guide book there are some great looking workshops to attend including Manga, Madcap Pirate, Dr Simpo’s Drop-In Comix. Also listed in the guide are the opportunities to get your portfolio seen with drop in sessions from Nobrow and SelfMadeHero, which I will certainly be looking to get in on. There are also a couple of portfolio critique sessions with the big guns Marvels Steve Wacker and a Dragons Den style portfolio session with 2000AD, but to be totally honest I’m way too scared to book into those sessions as I don’t see myself as the next Will Eisner (I’d love to be a fly on the wall though!).
Another event advertised in the guidebook is an art exhibition at the Traveling Man in Leeds between 14th and 20th of November entitled “Comics, Creatures & Curios” it sounds really interesting and if I have time in my busy schedule I will be heading down there to check it out. 

Visiting Lecture - Craig Oldham

A few weeks ago we had a visiting lecture by Craig Oldham who is a designer and art director at the award winning design agency Music in Manchester.
The title of the lecture was “But Isn’t That Your Job?” and was an informative and funny talk about Craig’s personal experiences with illustrators through 6 different projects. The first project was a marketing campaign for Manchester City Football Club called the “Big Four”. The job of the campaign was to promote four new players the club had bought and whip up some excitement amongst the fans and I guess in doing so taunt the other big football clubs.  At some point in their career each of these new players had played for one of the top-opposing clubs. A poster was created for each player and was themed according to the player’s attributes on the pitch. The below posters left to right are Emmanuel Adebayor illustrated by Michael Gillette, Craig Bellamy illustrated by Todd Slater, Shaun Wright Phillips illustrated by Chris White and Carlos Teves illustrated by Shephard Fairey. Although I know absolutely nothing about football Craig made the presentation of the project really enjoyable and I must say I found his raw style of presenting very refreshing. Craig described the process from roughs to finished pieces and spoke about the many problems the project presented in terms of budget and artwork. Another interesting project that was highlighted was the re-branding of Chester Zoo. Craig approached illustrator Adam Hayes who is a master of typography and asked him to create several sets of lettering for the project, which were later turned into a font. Adams approach to the project was one of complete enthusiasm, and you could definitely tell he really enjoyed what he was doing.

Through each project Craig explained how important it was to find the right illustrator for the job and told us how difficult it can be to find illustrators out there. This just goes to show how important self-marketing is and having a good web presence is the start of making sure you get seen.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Craig Oldham Poster

We recently had a brief to create a poster for a visiting talk about art direction, which will be given this coming Thursday by Music design agencies art director Craig Oldham. The brief was to create a completely illustrated A3 poster that focuses on a detail or concept from Craig's website:
My idea for this poster came from a minuscule aspect on Craig's website that said he was a prince fan (I hope  he didn't mean Prince William or that's this post knackered). I thought it would be fun to create a characterture of Craig in full Prince attire and imagined the title being a bone of contention between artist and designer. I really enjoyed working with a limited colour pallet for this project and think It might be a way that suits my style in the future.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

School Mural

I've just been sorting through some drawings done by Year 4 pupils at Hayes Lane Junior School ready for my personal project. I asked them to draw what their dreams for the future were and below is a small selection of my favourites.....

The response from the pupils was amazing with 84 drawings in total and some really interesting career choices. I now have the mammoth task of creating a mural for the side of a garage near the main playground so no pressure!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Illustration – Today and Tomorrow

I found this article in Computer Arts Magazine explaining current trends and the bright future of illustration. It's really long so to read the rest follow this link.

Illustration is booming again, after years when photography was more popular with art directors. Craig Grannell finds out why, and whether the trend is set to last

Things were looking decidedly shaky for a while in the world of illustration. Photography took over from the drawn, painted or rendered image in advertising and editorial, leaving desperate illustrators fighting for scraps. As reported in these pages, however, illustration has recently undergone something of a resurgence. So much so that it’s time to ask if what’s happening today could eventually echo the heyday of printed artwork during the 60s and 70s.

“A feeling of desperation has been replaced by an optimistic outlook, in that the vogue for illustration isn’t just a flash in the pan, and is here to stay as a viable alternative to the photographic image,” argues illustrator, agent and author Lawrence Zeegen, observing that numerous large, corporate brands now regularly use illustration to differentiate themselves.

The reasons for the resurgence are complex, with several important factors converging at once. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the sheer number of styles continues to grow; and despite the near-ubiquity of technology available to artists, work that looks too obviously digital is on the out. An emphasis on hitting a more savvy, visually aware consumer means that art directors are keen to find individual and dynamic visuals that aren’t overly polished and clinical. An increase in the volume of illustration work out there has not only meant that more artists are able to make money from their work, but that briefs are becoming less prescriptive, giving illustrators scope to be more creative and experimental.

The last decade has seen colleges increasingly taking a multidisciplinary approach, with students more often involved in project teams including designers, illustrators and photographers. As students graduate, the industry absorbs more people who are comfortable working alongside an illustrator, whatever the project. Indeed, it could be argued that many new graphic designers are frustrated illustrators and this is to an extent feeding the popularity of the varied and dynamic work that is now being commissioned.

Illustration is fashion-focused, like many areas of creativity. People always want to see something new, and their surprise and delight at novelty are increasingly transient. It’s easy for illustrators to get sucked into micro-trends, drawing inspiration from all sorts of online image galleries yet creating work with no enduring impact. The smart money is currently on a move towards individuality, personality and concept – thinking more like an artist, rather than churning out what you think someone might like based on what’s popular.

Australian illustrator Eamo Donnelly is an up-and-coming creative who admits that he almost slipped into the trap of developing styles for a purely commercial portfolio. Rather than focus on looks that may have won some easy commissions at the time, he decided to take a year out to work solely on non-commercial projects. The result is a unique style that is making his name. “It’s a sort of ocker Aussie-manga style with a traditional slant towards vintage comics,” he says. “It’s a way of standing out as more of an artist than a commercial illustrator, and as a result things like exhibitions, book projects and artist collaborations come along.”

Donnelly is not alone in veering towards the idea of taking on illustration as more of an artform than a commercial pursuit. This line of thinking is sometimes driven by a desire to be more creative, and some criticise those who follow it for being too precious when, after all, someone else is paying the bills. However, illustration work does have a growing value as an artistic commodity, both in terms of historical pieces and contemporary projects.
A recent Sotheby’s auction featured a Norman Rockwell illustration on the cover. For the auction, a separate catalogue was published in order to separate and compile the dozens of illustration lots, providing biographies, photographs and collector’s info. Was Sotheby’s sending a message to the fine-art community, showing an acceptance of the value of classic illustration? Who knows, but when the likes of a Rockwell is on the front page of The New York Times as the star sale of a Sotheby’s auction, art directors worldwide are reminded that illustration exists and that it’s important. At the same time, it makes gallery owners more receptive to the idea of offering illustrators the chance to exhibit their work and display it to potential clients in a more creative setting.

Of all the self-promotion techniques that are possible – an online portfolio, working with an agent, regular mail-outs, coldcalling and merchandise – the gallery exhibition has to be the most exciting setting for an illustrator to show their work.

Preparing an exhibition is not only great promotion; it can also prove a boost to creativity. Seldon Hunt is a young US artist known for his highly elaborate digital pieces, created using Illustrator because of its capacity for immense detail, and the fact that the art can be expanded to extremely large sizes. His Antwerp solo exhibition, while partly a retrospective of his work for the music industry, also included personal compositions, some of which were created specifically for the show.

Hunt still falls under the label of illustrator, but his descriptions of his own work could have come straight out of the world of fine art: “abstract investigations into the complexity of a moment in digital rapture” and “visual imprints reflecting the paradox of how much of our pleasures now rely on digital devices that have become inexplicably second-nature in the last ten years.”

Jo ‘Miss Led’ Henly is another illustrator whose work is making people take notice. She’s not just dabbling in the UK art scene – she’s used it to launch her career. After falling into teaching art, she realised she was inspiring others to do what she was frightened to do herself. Subsequent work involved online and offline exhibitions closer in concept to traditional art than illustration work. Everything was entirely self-initiated. This gave her the confidence to keep pushing her boundaries, thereby increasing the creativity and experimentation in her work. Inspired by poster pop, Pre-Raphaelite portraits, graffiti and art nouveau, her free-flowing, almost classic illustration style came about on its own. She is now regularly taking on editorial work as well as further opportunities in the art space.

When Secret Wars took their live drawing competition to the Designersblock festival in London last September, Henly emerged the winner. She says, “Being the only female ever to enter was enough for me, but after three exhausting hours over a 20x8-foot wall space, four rounds and four stories, I was victorious!”
The conceptual, artistic side of creativity is not the only field that illustrators are exploring. Graphic design is another huge area of crossover, with the two disciplines becoming blurred like never before. The freelance illustrator touting for work frequently has a ‘Graphic Design’ or ‘Art Direction’ tab to click on their online portfolio, and vice versa.

To observers like Zeegen, illustrators who take control and set off into graphic design are throwing the balance of power between picture-makers and commissioning art directors out of whack. Craig Atkinson is mixing a strong foundation in art and illustration with design aspirations, through his Café Royal books and magazines. Doing so, he follows in the footsteps of the likes of Monorex, Jasper Goodall, Miles Donovan and Jo Ratcliffe, but with his own twist.

“Working across many areas has enhanced my career but that was never the intention,” he says. “My intention is always to try new things, to learn and to make work that I like. I suppose by making more work you become more visible, which leads to more contacts and more commissions.”

With creative freedom at an all-time high within the industry, and the explosion of illustrators making a living, it’s no surprise that the invention and turnover of styles is more rapid than ever. Trends come and go quickly, and some commissioning editors warn that illustrators must be aware of what’s ‘out’, to avoid creating work seen as dated rather than something likely to lead somewhere new.

Decorative swirls and repetitive patterns, largely comprising forms fashioned using vector graphics, is one style that was very popular but is now being avoided. Like its popular forebear – abstract 3D explosions of pixel chaos – vector art has had its day, mostly thanks to overexposure. Although the decorative has its place in specific circumstances, industry momentum is now towards conceptual, technique-based work. Handmade is being favoured rather than overtly digital, and clinical production values – at least in terms of output, if not the methods used to create illustrations.

It’s not surprising that long-time illustrators welcome this trend. Gerald Scarfe believes that overtly digital output can be problematic. “When you start depicting the human body, it feels wrong, and even in the case of scenery it’s never absolutely convincing,” he says. “There’s nothing better than touching the paper and drawing the figure, but then as an artist I would say that.”

Younger creatives too are supporting the more human approach, even if their tools remain digital, unlike Scarfe’s pen and inks. US-based Autumn Whitehurst, who fashions her intricate figure work entirely digitally, says, “As soon as I can relax the Wacom-trained muscle memory in my hand, I’m going to try introducing some traditional methods into the work for the sake of variety.” She’s noticed a strong interest in hand-drawn work recently, and thinks this is because we’ve become enamoured with things that are handmade: “It’s a response to the clinical perfection of that streamlined aesthetic that has been so prevalent.”

Other reasons also explain the surge in popularity of this hand-made aesthetic. There’s an explicit desire to get more character into illustration, resulting in work that genuinely engages its audience on a conceptual and emotional level, rather than merely dazzling with eye-candy. With digital tools becoming endemic, the public is no longer impressed with visuals that have been pushed out quickly.

What is captivating people is artwork with craft and technique behind it - obvious painting and drawing skills make more of a connection. Zeegen reckons what we’re seeing is just the beginning of a more open, honest return to the use of craft within illustration. “We’ve had a glut of Photoshop collages, followed by vector coolness, followed by pattern and over-embellishment, but now the field seems far wider. There is no house style - everything and anything goes! The difference, I hope, is that now the best work floats to the top and the rest sinks,” he says.

Although style can be important in getting noticed, substance is crucial when creating successful work. Now that we’re leaving a period in which too much illustration was devoid of any real essence, it’s important that illustrators marry visual flair with ideas. Mat Wiggins, the freelance designer who commissions UK Esquire’s illustrations, reckons ideas are the one place where an illustrator can really come into their own and make a difference. Despite the newfound emphasis on craft, a strong piece isn’t necessarily about whether an illustrator is more technically gifted than someone else, but about the ideas they can generate and communicate. The best illustrators today, he argues, are those who do something effectively, turn it around quickly and get the idea right first time, saying a lot with a little.

Traditional-looking imagery is experiencing a definite revival, but those who work in other areas, such as vector output, needn’t panic so long as they can clearly put their own imprint, personality, character and ideas into their work.Terry Brown is director emeritus of the Society of Illustrators in the US, and he argues against the idea that one style kills another in commercial art. “I don’t believe scratch-board is dead,” he says. “I don’t believe big heads on little bodies is dead. If the artist is good, their work is going to get used. If you get right to the point with your picture – if you give the art director what they were looking for, and then some – medium doesn’t matter, size doesn’t matter and gender doesn’t matter. If the image is good, you’re there.”


I found this article really interesting.....there's a lot more scope for illustrators than I realised. Yes times are hard, but it's all down to how hard you work on promoting yourself and getting your name out there and making sure your staying original and true to yourself that will determine your success. 

On a personal note, I feel I'm at a stage to start stylizing my work so there's more consistency and originality, the perfect marriage for me would be a digital and hand drawn fusion.

I Wish I'd Done This

Monsterism Island Mural by Pete Fowler 


Because of my love for character design I can really relate to this piece and say it’s one I really wish I’d done.

Monsterism Island is the brainchild of Welsh Illustrator Pete Fowler in which he has built and entire world around the characters he’s created. His monster creations all live on Monster Island, which he explains “represents an island on earth that’s yet to be discovered due to some strange atmospheric pressures.” Each character has its own elaborate back-story, specific traits and levels of “Monsterism”. These characters are a reoccurring theme in Fowlers work and have been developed into a range of toys, cartoons and music.

2009 the Idea Generation Gallery in Chance Street, London showed an exhibition entitled “Monsters Inked”. The idea of this exhibition was to give illustrators the chance to let their imaginations run wild. There were over 100 monster images on show giving the viewer a chance to experience the illustrator’s processes from roughs to finished pieces.

The above image was featured in this exhibition and spans a massive 800 square foot of wall. Despite its size the image was installed in just one day using a new product called “Wallapeel”. This new product is just like wallpaper with the added value that it can be easily removed without leaving any marks on the wall. This also benefits the gallery who can remove the installation on their own once the exhibition has finished.

Fowlers mural uses a brilliant combination of bright colours, repeating pattern and amusing characters, these elements combine in a vector illustration and give the piece a 70’s psychedelic look. His influences come from Japanese art, folklore, myth and psychadelia, these influences can be seen as a theme running throughout this piece.

There’s a character in the middle rising from the ground, complete with handle bar moustache and pink flowers sprouting from his beard, he looks like he’s meant to be the god of nature as his hair forms into tree branches. Resting on his arms and head are strange tree like people who stare blankly with their tiny eyes and seem to have a connection to the larger figure, perhaps these creatures symbolize ancient legend and folklore. The mural is full of quirky characters like this.

Behind the central characters two blue sea monsters rise from the water with shaggy haircuts baring their teeth, sinister owl type creatures in the top corners seem to loom over the scene as if they are guarding their territory. So much detail has gone into this piece and each time I look at it I see something new. I really like the two volcano’s at the back who’s eyes weep out lava tears and the tiny winged skulls coming out of the mouths of the two giant skeletal figures.

There seems to be a musical theme running through this piece, the characters on the cliff edges play their electric instruments and the characters in the foreground are seen walking along playing their enchanting folk music. Fowler has strong links to music having created most of the album artwork for Welsh rock band ”Super Furry Animals” where he introduced his monster world. He has also created an album to correspond with the Monsterism series entitled “The Music Of Monsterism Island”. The music on this album also has a 70’s vibe going on using the characters from his world to form a rock band. The music reminded me a bit of “The Doors” instrumental sets with its trippy keyboard melodies and rock guitar riffs. The great thing about Fowlers work is the way he’s created this style into a complete brand with a massive potential for merchandising by doing what he loves best, creating monsters.

There’s a lot I can learn from this image and the way Fowler works. I love the sense of freedom that went into this piece and that it is solely the creation of Fowlers imagination. I like the way he has carefully considered what material to produce it in allowing the gallery the freedom to remove it with ease.  I hope to be able to produce work in the future that is of the same level of professionalism and allow myself the freedom to create characters in my own time that capture viewer’s imaginations and have the same level of appeal. Ultimately I want to be producing work that looks visually striking and at the same time leaves people asking questions. 

Saturday, 7 May 2011


This years been a really good year for me in terms of progression of technique, style and professionalism. I tried out some new things on various projects some turned out well others not so well.

At the beginning of the year I struggled with the execution of my finished pieces and one great piece of advice I was given at the time was, try to keep consistency throughout my work. At the time I was wrestling with a lot of different styles and ways of doing things, which showed through my work in a mixture of confusion and made my work look sloppy.

The biggest turning point for me was the Dialogue Ignites Change brief. I bought an amazing book by Jurgen Wolff  “Creativity Now” and it’s really helped me get the best out of my ideas when approaching a new project. There’s lots of great advice in there, but one that’s stuck with me is to write down every idea. I had a tendency to not include an idea if I thought it was stupid, but have learnt to embrace all my ideas and get them down onto paper as quickly as I can. I think by doing things this way has helped me to come up with some interesting concepts.

One final piece of advice, which recently came from Tom Gauld was "try to make work, which would appeal to you even if you hadn't made it". In Critical Studies we've learnt the importance of critiquing other peoples work and also how to do the same with our own. Its all very well getting opinions from other people, but it's also good practice to take a step back from things and ask myself "would it still appeal to me if I hadn't done it".

Wolff, Jurgen; 2009, Creativity Now!, Ashford Colour Press Ltd, Gosport, UK

Rushmore Continued

Since the last posting about the 8x8 project a lot has happened. Jo gave me some good feedback on how I could improve my two images so I've done a few changes. Yesterday we met with Gary and the guy from MMU to show our images and explain our thoughts behind them. The meeting went well and we must wait until Tuesday to find out who's images will be selected. I will include the outcome next week so watch this space.

Rushmore Final....Well Almost!

I've just finished my two illustrations for the Rushmore story and I'm really happy with how they've turned out after Photoshopping the final elements together. I decided to do both in watercolour so they look the same when printed. It's been a while since I painted anything in the traditional sense so the process took me a lot longer than usual. I still have some effects to apply to the picnic scene to make it look more weathered but thought I'd post what I've done so far.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Email From Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld's illustrations have fascinated me for a while now. He uses elements of dry wit, and intricate cross hatching techniques that make his work really appealing to me.

I recently emailed Tom a few questions and here is his response.

1. How did you first get into illustration?
I studied illustration at Edinburgh college of art and the royal college of art and graduated in 2001. I made a portfolio, got a few names of art directors from tutors and from looking in magazines and on websites. Then I started cold calling them and asking if I could come in with my folio. Everyone I met I'd ask if they knew anyone else I should see. After quite a few months I started ti get a slow stream of work which became enough to live on.

2. How did your style develop?
I'd say that my style has simplified a bit and Ive probably developed a wider range of things I can draw well and learned to use colour. But I haven't made any major changes.

3. Where do you get inspiration from when coming up with ideas for your work?
I take inspiration from things I see in my life, on tv, films, Internet and books. I come up with specific ideas just by sitting, doodling and thinking.

4. Do you have a working method when starting an illustration?
I draw in sketchbooks and on loose paper, getting various ideas down quite quickly. I never start on a finished drawing till I have a good concept/idea which works as a simple sketch.

5. Your work is very intricate in terms of mark making have you always drawn this way?
Vaguely. I got particularly into crosshatching when I discovered the work of Edward Gorey in about 1996.

6. When your not illustrating what do you like doing?
Reading, cooking, Lego with my children.

7. Do you have a favourite illustrator at the moment?
I like lots of illustrators. I've been looking at jochen gerner quite a lot recently.

8. Is there one piece of your work that you're most proud of?
I've just finished a 96 page graphic novel and I am proud to have got it finished.

9. Your sketchbook work looks amazing, how important is it for you to keep a sketchbook ?
I've got really into my sketchbook in the last 5or so years, I like that it keeps a bit of a record of my ideas, even the ones I don't pursue at the time I have them. When I'm stuck I flick through my old sketchbooks to harvest unused ideas.

10. Lastly, what advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Just try to make work which would appeal to you even if you hadn't made it.