Saturday, 12 November 2011

"Respectable people...what bastards!" - Emilé Zola

Lewis recently introduced me to the work of the writer Emilé Zola - at the moment, I have just begun reading The Belly of Paris. I admire his ability to go out and document the world around him in great detail - his books are precious resources, capturing the essence of a place and time before the existence of film. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try.

These are a few examples of illustrations I made a few months ago for a commission. 

The brief was to design a set of characters - Mr and Mrs Farmer, their son Junior, Grandpa, Mrs Farmer's friend and Mr Farmer's colleague, who all discuss the work required of a pharmacist, and what this entails. 

The client stipulated that they didn't want the characters to have any racial resemblance "to avoid an awkward choice". They wanted four double page spreads to convey four conversations between the characters.

I sent the characters, along with a storyboard rough to the client, after which they gave me the green light to continue. That led to these illustrations:

After they saw these illustrations, they changed their minds. Now they wanted green silhouettes based on stock photography instead of illustrated characters. And they needed them by the next morning. Really, I should have told them to find another illustrator at this point - I felt quite depressed thinking I would have to put my name to something so far removed from my own ideas. But I really needed the money, so I was in a bind. I duly sent over these images:

Surprisingly, given that I was asked to use stock photography, they found the silhouettes too "catalogue pose". The woman was too slim for their liking and because she was a pharmacist she wasn't supposed to be wearing jeans. Now they were asking for an illustration of Grandpa and Junior, which they wanted to be "generic yet stylised". It would have been much more helpful if they had sent some sample images of what they thought "generic yet stylised" meant. I sent over this illustration:
After this shocking image, they cancelled the project.

I didn't feel that I was taking huge risks - I was trying to create images that people could relate to - women having tea together, a boy playing with a ball with his grandad.

The client was asking for Grandpa to have a walking stick and for Junior to be in a wheelchair and for the main character Mrs Farmer to be overweight, and for none of the characters to have a racial identity. They were so afraid of offending people, and I found this really sad. I'm sure that people with disabilities don't need characters to be disabled for them to relate to them. And it is terribly patronising to expect a white person to fail to identify with the thoughts and ideas of a black person.

More festive pattern making...

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Gouache patterns

I've been making limited palette patterns with gouache. (Would love to find a way to get them made into wrapping paper...)

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Ladies' Paradise

Today I've been experimenting with watercolour.

This is a book cover design for The Ladies' Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) by Emilé Zola, a novel and documentation of the inner workings of a department store (based on the Bon Marché in Paris), detailing the experiences of the staff and the techniques used to overwhelm the senses, aimed at encouraging customers to spend. (The handrendered typography is based on Zola's own handwriting on the original manuscript.)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

New Empress Magazine

I had a nice surprise in the post this morning...

Issue 3 of New Empress is now available from these stockists:

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

you-kulele, me-kulele

I've begun to learn the ukulele and because its swiftly becoming my new obsession I decided to make a little information book covering the history of this petite instrument, its ancestor the Portuguese cavaquinho, its close relatives, its place in Hawaiian culture, the basic chords, strumming technique, its popularity during the 1920s with stars like Buster Keaton...but I only got as far as its name: "ukulele" (Hawaiian for "jumping flea") and got so distracted by this little piece of information that instead of the planned information book, I have a little narrative developing, about the peculiar life of a Jazz-age, Gregor Samsa-ish, parasitic beastie.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Monday, 3 October 2011

Pumpkins and Peaches

My Grandad Cyril has been growing beef tomatoes, and has been very generous in sharing them with us. He is 87 years old, and his garden always looks full of colour and completely beautiful. I made him a drawing of some of his tomatoes in watercolour and charcoal (Lewis cheekily calls it "pumpkins and peaches").

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually

My Dad asked me if I'd make him a portrait of Jimi Hendrix.

I've liked his music for a long time, but I didn't know much about his life, so I watched this documentary while making the drawing ("Jimi Hendrix: The Uncut Story"). His family and friends are interviewed, and while there is a tendency for people to elevate him into a prophet-like figure, its really insightful about the meaning behind many of the lyrics of his songs, and about his early life. He had a really difficult life, but he was also incredibly talented - able to play the guitar upside down and back to front, as well as playing songs backwards, by ear. I felt quite sad by the end of it all, but it made me start listening to his music again.

Friday, 16 September 2011

a little rant, and then back to work

"I think the situation is that there are art directors out there who I'm sure think I'm a total bastard to work with, and there are art directors out there who think I'm a complete dream to work with...and I think its in direct relation to how much they try and change me, basically. If I get an art director who likes what I do -that's why I'm doing it in the first place - and then trusts me to do it, and trusts that I know my audience and that I won't just mess around...I'm doing the project because I really feel something for it, I want to do it as best as possible...if theres that air of trust, then we get on famously and I have wonderful working relationships with art directors and designers. 
But the ones who come with preconceptions and want me to change and do something gets very testy. Because really I just like to be left alone to do my own thing, and so I'm just not appropriate for those jobs that need tonnes of roughs and tonnes of development and constant changing, I'd rather not do that. I don't like doing roughs because the roughs just kill it for me. I like to work out the piece as I'm doing it and allow for mistakes and for inspiration and abstraction - for things just to happen." - Dave McKean, (in an interview with Escape From Illustration Island  - podcast episode 61)

Monday, 12 September 2011

New Empress Magazine are currently doing a survey on cinema-going habits - giving entrants the chance of winning a set of DVDs. You can find the survey here.

Friday, 9 September 2011

No one knows where we go, when we're dead or when we're dreaming

Here are some photos I took last time I went back home. I love nasturtiums, they are so vivid, and the way they grow makes them look like fireworks or explosions. These pictures were taken in my mum's garden:

I've just taken 4 paintings to Mustard Cafe in Norwich - the original Nikola Tesla drawing that WeAdmire turned into tshirts (and probably the most popular of all my t-shirt designs), a painted portrait of the daschund from my comicbook "Les Jardins...", and two of the Mata Hari illustrations, are now all available to buy (framed) at my favourite cafe in Norwich. Mustard also make amazing coffee and really really good food - pictured is their Ginger & Lemon cake and a flat white:

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


a birthday card for Dan's Mum, featuring their cat, Blake (whose pastimes include persuading people to open doors for him).

Sunday, 21 August 2011


an illustration for New Empress magazine, for an editorial on Sensurround, a process used in the 1970s to create "extended-range bass for sound effects" in cinemas. Film producer and agent Jennings Lang (pictured) wanted to create an "event movie" - and Sensurround was first utilized to create the film "Earthquake", using sound to emphasise the feeling of an earthquake for the cinema audience. Unfortunately, the bass was so loud that ceiling tiles would fall down, cracks appeared in the walls of cinemas, the windows of nearby businesses shattered, and some people reported nose bleeds and headaches.

(You can find the latest issue of New Empress Magazine at BFI Southbank, Wardour News in Soho, The Prince Charles Cinema London, Riverside Studios London (one of my favourite cinemas), and Watershed Media Centre in Bristol, and via the New Empress webshop).

A selection of my illustration work has also just been featured on the blog of Juxtapoz Magazine (one of my favourite magazines). You can find the article here.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Character designs

I've found a few old character designs for a children's book I began (but had to abandon) a few years ago.

Epic Studios

3 of my illustrations are now on display (and for sale) at Epic Studios (117 Magdalen Street, Norwich), along with the work of 9 other Norfolk artists. The exhibition was organised by Making Space and will last for a month.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Richard Ayoade

an attempt at drawing Richard Ayoade; actor, writer, comedian and director of Submarine.

Friday, 29 July 2011

"It takes a long time to become young" - Picasso

"Nowhere you can go is more peaceful than your own soul" - Marcus Aurelius

I like the idea of snails being low and ugly creatures, but having somewhere beautiful and sacred to retreat into. Marcus Aurelius said: "People try to get away from it all - to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it any time you like. By going within".
The temple in this illustration looks a bit like a dragons face - it is based on the wats of Thailand. I was lucky enough to visit Phuket a couple of years ago and see a few of these beautiful temples for myself:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

"Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self" - Kafka

The castle belonging to this snail is based on Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, Germany. It was commissioned by King Ludvig II, a product of his own imagination, inspired by "old German knight's castles" and the music of Richard Wagner, and a place that he could retreat into. Inside the castle, the walls were decorated with murals based on the legends used in Wagner's operas. 

His cousin Elizabeth said of him: "The King was not mad; he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams."

(Neuschwanstein later inspired Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.)