Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Last Lie

A new book is out in hardback on August 1st - the follow up to Patricia Forde’s ‘The List’ (published also as ‘The Wordsmith’) which I illustrated a couple of years ago.

This cover was created for Sourcebooks USA, and was made with a combination of large, hand-drawn inky pieces and elements made in Procreate.

 I loved putting it together this way - for me, tools are tools, and I get as much out of slopping inks onto a big sheet of paper as I do creating worlds within Procreate, which I still feel like a novice with, but I’m getting there!

What Goes Up

Out today is this book by Christine Heppermann, for which I made this cover using just ink on paper for Greenwillow Books, USA.

This is a YA story told in prose, an unusual format which lends the book a slightly magical, wistful atmosphere, despite dealing with some heavy topics - secrets, regret, mistakes, break-ups. And the narrator is a teenage spore print collector - which, yes, had me bungee-jumping into an online search too.

Unusually, although I suggested seven or eight different roughs, this cover went to press almost completely unaltered from the rough that was chosen. Always a lovely thing to happen! Made with ink and pencil.

Thursday, July 23, 2020


I wrote about my 26 year relationship recently with my local gym, John’s Gym as it was then, now known as Empire Fitness, in my blog ‘Two Habits.

I’ve been going to this gym for more than half my life, and it feels like a second home. Over the years it’s had many logos, and looks, and changed names of course, but it’s been Joe’s gym rather than John’s for almost two years now, so when it was forced into closure by The C That Shall Not Be Named, it was an excellent chance to rebrand.

Owner Joe seized on the notion of several weeks (we didn’t know it would actually be months) of closed doors to reorganise the rooms, build new spaces, clear out old kit and invest in new. He's hung new lights, got little electrical jobs sorted, reconfigured the reception and catering spaces, re-thought the pathways through the various workout areas, grouped kit together in ways that make more sense, repainted, and installed all the necessary new distancing and health and safety measures.

I’d always wanted to rebrand the gym. The existing logo of a roaring lion, though I could always see its intention, never really felt like a good fit for the area’s largest and most down to earth gym, set up over 30 years ago for those serious about lifting heavy lumps of iron. Though it’s always had cardio spaces and, eventually, classes, coffee, saunas and a supplements area, it was always the gym for people who are less interested in lycra selfies and Instagram and more focussed on the grunt and face-contortion of Heavy Lifting and Doing The Work. With personal training and advice on tap, should you want it. It’s a no-nonsense, businesslike, inclusive space for all genders, shapes and sizes, housed poetically in the building of one of Hinckley's many old hosiery manufacturers. 

Set in the epicentre of the Druid Quarter, you could in fact say it's a proper fitness factory - you're there to work! - and no-one will try and sell you a subscription or a discounted T shirt with an 'inspirational' quote on it as you walk in the door (though you can get a nice free coffee after your workout).

We think (though are not 100% sure) that Puffer's Factory became the home of Empire Fitness. We think this because the iron columns and the shape and styling of the windows match exactly. The Druid Quarter, in which we live, had a great many factories like this!

So setting aside that little advert for the gym itself, when Joe asked me to create the logo I immediately felt the weight of pressure; the kind of pressure I put on myself when I’ve wanted to do a job so much I’ve freaked myself out when it actually comes to doing it. It’s the kind of specific pressure I feel when a friend or family member asks me to do something. After all, I knew this gym inside and out - was I too close to the subject to do it justice?

I originally wanted a particular, non-verbal logo  which I'd been visualising for weeks, taking the emphasis off the word ‘Empire’, which the owner wanted to keep. I've not shown it here, but try as I might I couldn’t make that route work, so had to set back and re-think.

Though I did really like this one with its prominent weight belt and sneaky kettle bell (sketch + Procreate work-up):

A lettered solution in the end was the answer. I played with calligraphic, spiky letters, a little bit on the Goth/metal side, which would work as just a simple 'E' too:

These weren't popular with anybody except me, but these ones, taking inspiration from the dumbell-wielding strongmen of old, the big top of the circus and the flex and stretch of muscles themselves, were.

Not a font or even derived from one, the letters were hand-drawn one at a time (sketch + Procreate work-up again):

Originally it was suggested with what was going to be a multi-purpose dumbell-holding hand in the centre over the top. However, a fist of triumph at finally deadlifting your own bodyweight, or defeating the grappler, or losing that final half stone, is still a fist, and with all its attendant suggestions of power, rage, protest or politics, we decided to leave it out.

Drawn in Illustrator from the original sketch, here’s the final:

The final logo is clean and robust and I’ve since painted it as large as possible on the reception wall, and is gradually being rolled out across their stationery, website and gear. It will eventually go on the outside of the gym too - but that’s for down the line!

The finished thing. I know I'm gonna be asked 2 questions: 1) is it vinyl and 2) what font did you use? :D

Previous wall and mural work includes this one for Hilton's Canopy Hotel chain in the US - during which we worked for a week in Baltimore city centre, having been flown 3000 miles at ten days' notice and just a week to design the piece, which was still being finished on the plane and in the client's office on arrival.

You can also see the largest piece we've ever done, on retail design kings' Briggs Hiller's wall - a 15m mural created in the studio but painted on a scaffold in a half-finished building with no power. Generators and bags of chips ahoy!

Seven Stories, aka The National Centre for Children's Books, in Newcastle, asked us to paint a wall piece in their café too - for which we lived in the next-door B&B and drank exquisite coffee from the roastery across the rover.

Finally, if you fancy viewing something more local, we designed and painted the brand new logo for the re-opened Bounty pub in Hinckley, as well as gilded details for the interior.

As you can see - we like to paint on walls!


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