Wednesday, December 14, 2016


We've spent the last few weeks (well months in total) working on the Christmas window display for Cocoa Amore, the new chocolate shop of whom we were appointed Creative Directors this year.

The job's been very involved - music, merchandising, signage, branding, interior decor, other aspects of the store that you can't predict being involved in! - but these massive ink baubles have been a lot of fun. Last year's windows were hand-painted snowtrees - so this year had to be a big contrast:

Here was my Photoshopped vision for the windows:

The baubles were to be enormous versions of the tiny ones drawn for my Christmas 'Vintage Bauble' wrapping paper:

I bought A1 paper, foam board and the fattest Japanese brush pen I could find, and set to with my 50s and 60s baubles references from my own wrapping paper, recreating them with bright, dry, coloured acrylic drawing inks:

Left to dry on top of the wood burner, the design was repeated for the back of the each bauble, then spray-mounted onto black foam board - haven't spray-mounted that much since I was a student!
O, the smells...the toxic vibes!

And they were hung, courtesy of some ladder-based acrobatics and drills held aloft to the ceiling, over the shop's window of goodies, flanked by fresh Christmas tree branches and (real) red sparkly baubles, a handful at a time:

Here was my Photoshopped mockup of the plan for the windows:

...and the real thing!

Friday, December 02, 2016

'Forest of Sleep' Game Titles

Back in the late summer my friend Dick Hogg recommended me via Twitter to British company Twisted Tree Games, who were searching for a lettering artist to create a logo for their new game in development, Forest of Sleep. After shoving my hand in the air like a keen kid in class, and sending some samples their way, I got the job.

Inspired by and based on Eastern European folk tales, storytelling and narrative, and led by Nicolai Troshinsky's illustration work, the game is a beautiful journey through the woods. But you have to make your own way - and it might not work out for you, as unpredictable outcomes, for better or for worse, await you every time you play.

I was extremely impressed by its aesthetic, and even more impressed to read about the process, study and research that was going on behind the scenes, informing this curious game the likes of which I'd never seen before. It didn't fit my slightly out of date notion of 'gaming'  - despite being a fan of such beautiful contemporary games as Firewatch, HohokumPoto and Cabenga and the strange Papers Please which are illustration-led and work in a very different way from the platform / level-up format I knew in my teens and early 20s, I've been outside that world for too long, and was excited by this way of being re-introduced.

Hannah and Ed at Twisted Tree are clever people. They talk of things which in themselves sounds to the layman like a series of Dark Arts - AI, procedural generation and storytelling - and indeed producer Hannah has a PhD in Games-influenced Theatre and Theatre-influenced Games. In this article, she breaks down why this way of playing is so different and what she and Ed are trying to do:

We’re trying to make something that’s interesting to play, and which the player can push back against. Both in the sense of leaving gaps and letting the player fill those gaps with their imagination (which also relies on us framing things in a way that feels important enough that you might want to fill those gaps) and letting the player show what they’re interested in by how they interact with the game.
We’re doing this thing of reacting to the player, taking things from them, transforming and giving them back, rather than generating a story and the player just walking through it'.

Ed explained what they were looking for over the phone and I got to work researching Eastern European folk tales, Cyrillic script, Slavic languages and typefaces, Yuri Norstein films and folk art:

I started sketching in pencil in my sketchbook, and moved through rounds of feedback till a look was arrived at that was neither too Goth, too spiky, scary, menacing for playful - a balance that was tricky but very enjoyable to achieve as I immersed myself in the rare indulgences of fine-honing, endless tweaking and refining; we had quite a bit of time on this, which felt like an unusual pleasure:

The first problem was how to avoid what's known as 'Faux Cyrillic' - a device I've used myself on teen fiction to create the immediate suggestion of an exotic, somehow dangerous foreign language - which is the mimicking of the backward-appearance of some letters used in Soviet or Russian languages. Although it can look startling and impactful when done carefully and in the appropriate context, this was something to be avoided for this identity. So that was deleted from the concepts!

I moved to ink pretty quickly once early sketches were done; much as I love the look of a pencil drawing, it's often much easier for a client to visualise the weight and impact of a piece of type when it's rendered - albeit crudely or as a rough - in the actual medium it'll eventually appear in:

Ed liked the moon, but was wary of anything whimsical that might in any way Disney-fy the look - so this ink-washed moon was cut:

The letterforms were drawn freehand with a calligraphic nib pen, about 1/8" wide, with some strokes made with a 1/8" wide nib. The flourishes were done with my standard dip pen and favourite nib - but an older one, a little bit worn, to ensure the line wasn't too 'clean':

The final logo with its 'insignia' version, in colours to suit different uses within the game:

I'm really looking forward to seeing the game in its full and final form, and spend hours, the way I used to, playing the afternoons away. Thank you to Ed and Hannah for giving me the opportunity to get stuck into this job; it's gone down as one of my favourites, I think.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

DJ Food In Your Ears, Cocoa Amore In Your Mouth.

It might have become obvious over the past year that Inkymole has been building on its involvement with chocolatier Cocoa Amore, whose shop and all-round hub of chocolate education moved last year into its beautiful new store in ancient Silver Street, in the heart of medieval Leicester (just along from the cathedral where Richard III is buried).

Our role there began with an event we put on - a chocolate-infused Buddy Wakefield show co-organised with Pete, Cocoa Amore’s owner - and has evolved from helping out with a little window decoration and signage here and there to fully immersive Creative Direction. We’re currently enjoying the fulsome challenges of everything to do with getting an exciting new franchise off the ground - branding, consistency, interior decoration, marketing, merchandising, communications…and more. It’s hard work, but we’re loving every part of it.

One of the first things we focused on is the in-store music. It’s well-recognised that music can help enhance the atmosphere of a cafe and store (Cocoa Amore is both) and so as soon as we were given the ‘keys to the shop’ we installed a new amplifier, good speakers and a live music streaming system. Playlists curated by us or by our guest artists is not only streamed live into the shop from our studio, but as Cocoa Amore Radio can be listened to anywhere in the world courtesy of Tune In.

Our first playlist we put together ourselves, but our second has been by our long-term friend and collaborator Strictly Kev aka DJ Food. Pivotal in the founding of groundbreaking record label Ninja Tune in the early 90s, Kev’s worked non-stop as a musician, designer, collector and writer ever since, staying ridiculously busy at the forefront of new music and design for music over a jam-packed two-decade career.

His current playlist takes a sci-fi, cosmic/psychedelic vibe and smushes it into different genre corners, roping in such glittering gems as Radiohead (from the new album), Gaz Coombes, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Jane Weaver, Annabel (lee), The Dragons, Lalo Schifrin, Jan Hammer and Vangelis. It strides across decades easily and with audible panache, and has provided the soundtrack to many an overnight session working at the shop. And we’re still not bored of it - in fact, it’s one of my favourite playlists of all time.

Listen in at any time, and feel the cocoa-y feels as you go about your day! (better still, if you’re close enough, get a gingerbread hot chocolate in the shop and listen in the warm chocolatey fug):

Cocoa Amore Radio

You can also listen to more DJ Food music and mixes and/or follow at these online establishments:


There is plenty more happening at Cocoa Amore to write about, but here are some historic blogs about our work at the shop:

Halloween Windows

Share Certificates

Christmas Trees

Mothers’ Day

The Legend That Is Solid Egg


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