Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Foil, embossing AND spot varnish?

Just before Christmas I did this REALLY FAST job re-designing Cecelia Ahern's back catalogue, following the publication of her latest 'The Time Of My Life'.

There isn't a lot to say about these apart from it was good to do a whole series in one go, and to walk into a briefing (yeah, I actually WENT there and had a cup of tea! Lovely) and see A3 spreads with each brief on clearly built around my work and way of doing things. That doesn't happen very often - or when it does, you don't get to see it, which can be one of the 'minuses' of working via email. They were done in about a month.

I'm sure they won't mind me showing you one of their briefs, below. The books are published one by one over the coming months, and my favourite is The Book of Tomorrow.

Where you see grey or yellow, by the way - that's silver and gold foil. They're also embossed and spot varnished. That's like CHRISTMAS for an illustrator!

Whatever our souls are made of...

When I was in my final year studying Visual Communication, I didn't want to be an illustrator - or rather, I didn't really know what one was. I was very into theatre and costume and three dimensional things, and had by around Christmas time got my heart set on that instead. My final project - you know, the big one where they let you do anything you want for a whole two terms, and write endlessly about it - was a stage production of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, including eight third-life-size costume figures, ten costume designs, a stage set, on-location photo shoots and an ad campaign, together with all the storyboarding.

It also included a black Heathcliff (no-one had done this yet). I got my degree, had my photograph taken by the press ('Crazy Designer Dresses Up As Bronte Heroine!'), went to work for the Bronte Society as a consultant educational 'geek' and that, after a while, was that.

(Since the work was done before anything went digital, I don't have many shots, but this is Cathy - the daughter of Catherine).

Twenty years later, I've just seen the Andrea Arnold version of the film, in which she not only casts complete unknowns but includes her (my) black Heathcliff, removes enormous amounts of dialogue, starves it of music and focuses hard on the horrifically cold, muddy, violent reality of living in isolation on the moors in the early 1800s. Animal fur, feathers, wet grass, dirt, coaly faces, ice and horizontal rain. It really is like that - I've been in it, and I've shivered the consequences. In essence, she came as close to 'my' interpretation of the book as it is possible to get.

Obviously, the 3D work lasted only a couple of years and I became a fully-fledged illustrator. And, the same week I went to see the film I was asked to create the cover for a new hardback book about the Bronte sisters, called 'The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne'. I was beside myself with excitement. Did they want Branwell in there too? Maria and Elizabeth? The shadow of Patrick in the background? Well, no - this was just about the three best-known of the siblings - but nonetheless, I was very happy to do it, especially since the brief was all about the torrid, freezing vibe up there on those legendary moors. There have been many, many books on the sisters since Mrs Gaskell's 'biography' of Charlotte not long after her death, so I'm keen to see if this throws up any new research or discoveries.

Since it's not published yet, I can't show the whole thing, but here's a bit of it. When it's on shelves, I'll let you know.

Monday, January 30, 2012

- and a small mushy peas please.

I drew this in order to invite people to my fatty birthday party over Christmas. It's ink and watercolour. Compare the chips with the real thing, which we actually consumed, below.

I have never met anyone who DOESN'T like chips.

Have you?

(I think we may be seeing a lot more of bunting over the next few months too.)

Flint and Food

On Thursday we went to the Pure Evil gallery in Shoreditch, London for the opening of Kev Foakes (aka Strictly Kev's) exhibition of album artwork from 'The Search Engine', a collaboration between him and Henry Flint, who made the drawings in ink and allowed Kev to colour them up.

The resultant album imagery you'll have already seen on the previous blog post ('11 Years In The Making'), but there's never anything like seeing artwork in the flesh, and we were able to stare at Henry's drawings one inch from our noses, and drink in the black ink at close range. Henry Flint is a comic book artist who works mainly for 2000AD. You'll see Judge Dredd makes an honorary appearance below, and his comic book work has the writhing, muscly appearance you'd associate with big superheroes wielding massive weapons and snarling metal-headed foes.


But the stuff he did for Kev is personal work. It's still writhing but much more 'organic' looking - creatures stroll through the images, faces appear, and you can see the evidence of a family of ink pens allowed to do what they fancy, rather than the strict, carefully-spaced and space-filling narrative work of 2000AD. See here where he's scratched into the ink with something sharp (this was on tracing paper):

This is the main image Kev used in creating the artwork - lonely spaceman, charmingly knock-kneed and delicate hand held aloft. Kev's deleted the inkblots under his massive back pack (wouldn't be done if I was in charge!):

In other work on show, little people leap and hide and faces loom out of shapes and corners. Henry sometimes works with his daughter Rosalie, who contributed to a couple of pieces on show. She draws, and Dad fills in the details! Can you spot Rosalie's bits?

I took a swig of beer and made myself brave enough to approach Henry with a few questions. I'm not one to wander right up to 'famous people' or those I look up to, especially when there's a queue of other people doing the same, preferring to watch from afar and speculate. But I wanted to know what tools he uses. As usual I shouldn't have fretted about appearing a goon; Henry was quietly charming and not at all the Comic Book Uber-Geek I foolishly expected. He talked me through all of his different pens - 'whatever comes to hand' was a common theme! - but the answer was mainly fine liners and the odd Rotring. He didn't mention an ink, but I think he must have one in his artillery in order to get those splats. I felt bad for not buying his book, but we'd just spent the last tenner on...

...one of these, a limited run of 30 postcard-sized records, which were, for obvious reasons, in high demand on the night. We managed to get one, but the pile was gone only an hour later. Check it: tiny but playable grooves on an A6 full colour plastic postcard. Sweet! (we haven't played it yet...not sure whether we will!) Number 22 of 30.

The night had the same warmth and joy as the Planetarium event, Kev beaming with the contentment (and relief) of a man for whom everything's gone smoothly, and he can relax a bit finally. We know that feeling from doing any shows ourselves, and in particular the immense amount of work that goes into producing one, and we've often wondered why Kev's not held or been part of a show of his visual work before. 'Look at me having exhibitions!' he was finally able to beam as we walked in. Indeed Kev - except you hired the Planetarium and made a record with one of your music heroes! Matt Johnson (The The) was at the show, but again..my nerves forced me to turn back as before I could tell him 'if it wasn't for your albums I doubt I'd be doing this job' (but that's another blog...!)

A contented Kev with a deserved beer:

Henry and his wife:

And this photo could have been taken at any time at any Ninja gig in the last fifteen years - lights on faces, music too loud to speak over, a chilly underground room...and check the old banner! Ah... (Kev also made a 12" slip mat on his inkjet, colourful and cute and sitting on his little record player on the stage. it was still there when we left, but it had 'cheeky souvenir' written all over it!)
Right then Kev, thanks for everything - we'll be expecting you to top that lot next time, OK?

You can read about Henry Flint here:

and DJ Food here:

and his and Henry's collaborative album artwork is for sale as prints here:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Do it yoursen.

If you can't get Happy 41st paper in the shops, why not get your felt-tips out and make your own?

Chiseling and scraping.

The students of the University of Brighton's Materials Practice course sent me a blank sheet of board, and asked if I'd draw on it and post it back to raise funds for their show at New Designers. I did this show myself as a new graduate, and remember how massively exciting it was - feeling like it was all about to happen, the start of my creative life. It wasn't, it was other things which kicked that off for me which happened more slowly and without a fanfare - but we did somehow manage to pay for it all ourselves, despite it being a struggle, and that made us proud.

So remembering all of that, I thought I'd send some wisdom from a space in time 18 years ahead of where those studes are right now. It'll likely put no more than 12p in their kitty, but the knowledge is priceless!

Blowing in the wind.

Northeastern University in Boston is currently showing off these big banners, which I drew last year for them.

You can see in the first image how they were created, drawn in ink over a photo of the model. Quite tough actually, as they had to be readable from a great distance, and had to communicate the energy and excitement of studying there. I like this science one best, but as you can see I edited them quite a bit for the final versions, to make sure they were immediate and clear.

We're over that side of the world later this year - maybe we'll get to wander underneath them ourselves! Thank you in the meantime to Bruce at the university's design department for taking these shots for me. Nice job.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A marriage in type.

At the end of last year I made this illustration for my friend Emma, resident of Portugal but one of those people at school everyone knew and liked, and who I've managed to stay in touch with courtesy of Facebook's less sinister facilities.

She's been married to Lawrence for a long time, and they've lived...all over the place. She wanted this capturing for their fifteenth wedding anniversary, and I was happy to do it.

This was tricky as it wasn't a piece to be scanned and digitised; the real thing was to be posted to her, warts and all. That meant no Control-Z. It also meant using colours first-hand, which was great as I got to break out the 20 or so Ecoline colours I had delivered a couple of months ago. It's good to be reminded you can do things like this, even when you're painfully aware of how much you've come to rely on the ease of a sneaky patch tool and eraser.

I really, really enjoyed it, and happily Lawrence was very pleased with his surprise.


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