Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

After a very slow-going year, in work and also on this blog, I suddenly have a million deadlines to meet, so this is the closest most people are going to be getting to a christmas card from me. Sorry about that!

Friday, June 27, 2014


I keep wanting to show what I'm working on, but all I can show are the tiniest corners without giving the story away.

But look, real paints! For the moment anyway.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Addis Back in Town

This great big poster from my book Addis Berner Bear Forgets is currently proudly adorning the hoarding alongside the street that leads from Kings Cross station to The House of Illustration at 2 Granary Sq. It's in excellent company as you can see here. Obviously it's a great honour for me, and especially nice as I am currently revisiting some of the techniques I used to make this book.

The House of Illustration opens on the 2nd of July, and Quentin Blake is interviewed about it in the FT here.

Monday, May 12, 2014


...are in for The Cow Jumped Over the Moon, A Nursery Emergency, by Jeanne Willis.

It's interesting (to me) how much these illustrations hark back to the earliest books I ever did. This is partly to do with the text, partly to do with digital techniques I've developed that happened emulate those early colours and mark-making, and maybe also to do with the sense of starting to make picture books again after several years away making The Adventures of Abney and Teal. 

This book will be out until early next year I think, but there are two new Abney and Teal activity books, with pictures by Davide Arnone and me, available now.

Currently I'm working on ways to mix more direct black-line drawings with all sorts of different techniques to try to make some work that is as direct as the drawings, and perhaps a bit more contemporary looking. I've got a picture book that is hopefully ready for final art soon, and some new stories and characters brewing for slightly older readers.

More recent experiments are on tumblr.

Also, big news since I have represented myself for the last fourteen years, I have signed with the great Jodie Hodges at United Agents, and am open to illustration commissions, especially black and white or two-colour work for fiction.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Nursery Rhyme Emergency

Here's a peek at some of the finished artworks for The Cow Jumped Over the moon (A Nursery Rhyme Emergency) by Jeanne Willis. I've been working on these, off and on, for almost a year and a half and now they are all finished (well, even now there might be a small change but I have to draw the line somewhere!)

It will be published by Walker Books next year.

Now I'm concentrating on another picture book which I've been working on for about the same length of time. Honestly, I'm actually pretty fast when it comes to illustrating, but for this one the writing duties are mine too, and what seemed like a beautifully simple idea is still proving really difficult to get into a straight line.

I'm tinkering with some ideas for longer illustrated fiction again, but that's sure to be a slow burner even by the standards demonstrated above.

I'm also still posting up general sketches and experiments, but they're going straight onto my tumblr here. As of about a month ago it is all new stuff there, but as an archive it goes back about five years.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Off now for my birthday and Christmas and New Year and that.

Here's a low resolution bonus, some creature consequences doodles that Alexis Deacon and I did the other day in the pub.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Digital and Handmade part 2

Ha, so the last "ten percent" of these illustrations took almost a month of solid work to get right! Barring changes from the publisher I'm going to let them go now. I can certainly say that the almost fully digital process that I used has not been good for my eyes. About 250 hrs of staring into the screen and mostly ignoring the system I'd set up for working standing up has left me feeling I need new glasses and a new back, and looking like I've been hidden in a cave for three months. (By the way these illustrations are for a book by Jeanne Willis, but more on the actual book in another post.)

Here's a couple of videos of the process where I pretend it's idyllic! That's mostly down to the music by my friends the Rheingans Sisters. You can see more actual drawing in the second one.

To cut a long story short I think I digitally painted myself into a corner with the technique. Just look at the layers for a typical spread! 

But I did hugely appreciate the computer when I started to spot flaws in the underlying drawing towards the end (it is always the underlying drawing where there's trouble). Now time to wait and see how it looks in print.

For this book I started with some digital experiments (that I did a while ago as a contribution to Over the Hills and Faraway, a collection of nursery rhymes to be published by Frances Lincoln some time soon) and took the technique to its logical conclusion; I did it with backgrounds. Little did I know what a challenge that'd be! In fact it didn't really start to work until I got some real paint involved there.

The main tools I used were custom Photoshop brushes that I first started work on when doing the kit for the Abney & Teal Picture books (which is still being used for this purpose by Davide Arnone).

I've refined and added texture to these brushes since. In the picture below I even left out some elements and finished the image with real paint over a giclee print.

Like many people I wonder about my concentration span in the digital age, though my mother says that when I was tiny she used to have to feed me in the dark as I was so distractible, and so perhaps it is just me. Given this, it's very helpful to be able to fix and change things as I go on the computer and make up for my lapses during the process. The book as a whole is the project after all, not individual bits of artwork.

I sometimes wonder about a certain generic feeling that seems to be creeping into illustration generally at the moment perhaps because of digital techniques, and the way we share work too, but I don't know, if you can improve or simplify your drawings why would you not? And it was ever thus, even if the circles of influence now turn especially fast. In certain ways visual literacy is probably at its highest point in history and I definitely need the help of machines just to be anywhere close to keeping up. 

For me, a respite from worrying away at the skeuomorphic properties of the marks I'm making, and not just their purpose as part of a drawing, would be probably healthy. And for the sake of my eyes and my sanity I'm planning now to work on some simpler techniques that make more use of drawing and painting away from the computer. It's probably simplicity that's important though, more than running away from computers. When I get sucked into playing with techniques and mark-making, whether on paper or with pixels, all hope of writing my own stories goes out of the window. 

All that said, and in direct contradiction to what I've said here and in the last post, I've been playing with drawing on an iPad because I'm still very curious about drawing with all sorts of computers. (Above is a quick doodle done using Procreate on an iPad Mini, with an obvious nod to the king of iPad pictures.) 

Here's an ultra-geeky tip: If you're using the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus on one of the new iPads (Air or Mini with Retina Screen) you can make it behave much more naturally by removing the rubber tip and tying with thread a piece of conductive cloth (available online) around the metal tip, just loosely enough to behave like a stubby brush. (Apparently this very costly pressure sensitive stylus behaves better out of the box on earlier machines).