Thursday, 29 September 2016

A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.6: Old Man earthenware figure, 1978

The sixth item in A History of my Archive in 10 Objects is an earthenware figure, made during my Foundation Course at Bournville School of Art early in 1978.

Old Man, earthenware figure, 31cm tall, 1978

Bournville School of Art was located at Ruskin Hall in the beautiful surroundings of Bournville Village, the famously idyllic workers' community built by the Cadbury brothers next to their chocolate factory. Opened in 1903, it was purpose built as an art school by a friend of John Ruskin, and stood in that role until it's controversial closure in 2012. The suburb was deliberately created to mirror a pastural tudor village, the college overlooked the 'village' green. It was a very straightforward commute for me, as it lay on the same train from Four Oaks to Birmingham, just on the opposite side of the city. Every morning I'd get off the train and walk past the chocolate factory to Ruskin Hall, breathing the chocolate scented air - it was almost perfect, the only downside (from a student point of view) was the lack of a pub, the Quaker Cadbury brothers being of course abstainers.

There was also a secondary studio at Steelhouse in the middle of the city, used mainly for life drawing and painting.

The year I spent at Bournville School of Art was an incredibly rewarding experience, it opened my eyes to new artists and a more directly relevant graphic business, many of the tutors were working artists and designers as well as lecturers, so had direct experience of the creative business, it was an intense, exciting course that broadened my horizons, introducing me to life drawing, etching, photography ... and ceramics.



And so to this figure, the "little old man" as my mum always called him. It's a character from my doomed novel In Search of Summer Gold, so in many ways a last gasp of my adolescent fantasising before the maelstrom of degree course. Standing 37cm tall he's quite heavy, with a detachable head. He used to hold a clay pipe in one hand, which has now broken off and lost.

Like many of the things studied at Foundation Course, this is regretably the only thing I made in ceramics, the course was all too short - focusing all my attention on illustration thereafter, I've never been anywhere near a kiln since. Similarly I've not made etchings either, which I greatly regret.

This figure would have been familiar to anyone who visited my parent's home, as it sat in their front room window looking out onto the world for decades, it was the first thing you noticed as you approached the house.

For that reason it conjures intense memories of the family home to me, every trip back from Japan I'd wander up the drive and there he'd be, my "little man", welcoming me back to the old place. He now sits in my studio, not looking through a window onto the world, but instead glaring reproachfully at my work table. He's telling me to get back to work....

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.5: Birds, 1977

Number 5 in the History of my Archive in 10 Objects, is this triple set of bird studies from early 1977.

Buzzard, Kingfisher, Long-Eared Owl. Watercolour on paper, 1977
I was 17,  I was about to leave school and start a foundation course at the now-gone and much lamented Bournville School of Art, I was full steam ahead for a career in illustration, the world of graphic art, experimentation and adventure awaited.

But all that was in the future - in the meantime I was generating some income from selling these kinds of traditional studies in a local giftshop/framing gallery in Mere Green. The owner, Mrs Gameson, was extremely supportive of my work and gave me wall space to display and sell pictures of wildlife and familiar scenes of Sutton Coldfield, in watercolour (as here) or pen and ink. Gameson Gallery on Belwell Lane also managed me as an artist on commission - word of mouth recommendations led me to draw many of the big houses on the private estate in Four Oaks, I'd cycle with sketchpad and ink bottle to anywhere that wanted a drawing - unfortunately this came to an end when one customer returned their house sketch, upset that I'd included the washing on her line in the drawing.

Virtually everything I painted at that time was sold by the gallery, but these three studies survived because they were a birthday gift to my mum in January 1977. I believe they were amongst my first attempts to paint in pure watercolour (that is, just paint, no pen lines).

 I carried on working with the Gameson Gallery even after I started my Foundation course, right up until I left for Manchester, Mrs Gameson gave me my first ever one-man (or one kid!) exhibition, mostly wildlife paintings. My parents were particularly proud of this and my father was disappointed when I drifted away from such work. Being an artist in the eyes of my father was to paint attractive pictures, exhibit them, sell them and put them on the wall. He could never really get to grips with my choice to be an illustrator rather than a gallery fine artist, there was a suspicion I was under-selling my talents. I'll always remember him saying "when are you going to paint a proper picture I can put on the wall?" By "proper", he meant a landscape, seascape or genre oil painting. But eventually he did come round to understanding my creative path.

The fact remains though, of all the work I created and showed my parents in the intervening years, the one thing that never left their walls, on display without a break for nearly forty years from 1977 until 2016, were these three bird studies.

I always wonder what became of Mrs Gameson...


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.4: Corona 4 typewriter, 1924

Number 4 in this series of 10 Images from my Archives found at my dad's house is my old typewriter... and I mean old typewriter!

Corona Model 4 portable typewriter, 1924 pattern

When I was 16 I discovered the work of the Golden Age illustrators (Rackham, Dulac, Heath-Robinson, Stratton etc). In fact it was a re-discovery really as my mum had kept a couple of compendiums from her childhood that had been illustrated by these artists, but I rarely saw those. It was only in the mid-70's that I began seriously examining children's illustration, Arthur Rackham's work in particular began transporting me to realms of the imagination. Gradually my artwork at school began to take on the iconography of old fashioned ethereal fairy tales, anthropomorphised animals and so on. By the time I reached 6th Form I knew I wanted to be a children's book illustrator, so it was only natural I'd also pursue writing too.

My first attempts at writing children's books had been laughable copies of Enid Blyton adventures, written by hand when I was around 13.... none extended past the first chapter! But by 1977 I was serious, and so managed to persuade my parents to buy me a typewriter.

Of course, what I had in mind was a modern, zippy electric typewriter that I could churn out pages of manuscript. But, ever watchful for a bargain, my mum spotted an ad for something second-hand, and what I ended up with was a Corona 4 manual machine,  released onto the market in 1924. I remember the day we picked this up from a big old house on the private estate, I didn't quite know what to make of it - this wasn't hi-tech! though I fell in love with it's look.



I'd never touched a typewriter before in my life, so the fact the ribbon feed was rusty, you had to bang down the keys so hard it made your fingers ache, or that the 'e' was slightly misaligned didn't bother me, I had no other experience to compare to so just got on with it - it was the only way for me. I felt I was following the route of the great writers, rather than obsolete, it was 'classic'.

While other 18-year olds were discovering pubs, I spent most of my free time typing out my first manuscript In Search of Summer Gold - my one and only attempt at a novel - a long, pretty unpublishable tale of anthropomorphised mice and fairies in the 18th century, a mix of The Wind in the Willows meets The Lord of the Rings, with a good dollop of Brothers Grimm and Peter Pan thrown in for good measure. And of course I illustrated it with highly derivative pen drawings. From a professional level it was not very good and was turned down by two publishers before I eventually shelved it .... but at least it taught me to type!


Later on I used the Corona to type up my degree thesis, and in the early '80's the first issues of the Norwich post-punk fanzine/magazine The Blue Blanket ... banging those keys down with a satisfying smack! smack! smack! as they hit the ribbon, it was the perfect instrument on which to take out frustrations with the world. But thereafter it was retired, and I've never attempted to write a novel again.

It took a battering in the years I used it, 35 years in my dad's loft has not been good to my old stalwart either, but I was very glad to rediscover it there.


Monday, 26 September 2016

A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.3: Toothless Old Man, 1976

In part three of 10 objects from the archive of objects found in my dad's house, I'd like to offer this.

School project: Toothless Old Man. Pen & Ink. 80cm x 60cm, 1976
After the tentative steps of the Henry Hudson picture I worked on two other school projects before setting to work on this large piece, which proved to be the most experimental and successful of my school drawings in pure pen and ink. It was drawn from a randomly selected photo reference using a multi coloured pen and ink line technique - on the face and hat I used three separate pen nibs to switch colours and gradually build up the drawing in different coloured cross-hatching, the waistcoat was filled in by dabbing ink with sponge. It was a labour-intensive technique for such a large sized drawing, but proved a great success. Sadly many of the coloured inks have faded over time.

The image was the centre piece of my school's 1976 art show during the summer festival, and made it to the pages of the local newspaper - my first press appearance! Even my junior school headmistress came to see it. By this time I was absolutely determined to be an illustrator and had my sights set on art college.

After the show this picture adorned the walls of my parent's house for a few years before being consigned to the loft. The identity of the man in the photo I never knew!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.2: The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, 1975

Number 2 in the discoveries made at my dad's house from long hidden archives of my work. In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd ever see this picture again, but there it was, in my dad's loft, warts and all, the very first drawing I ever attempted in pen and ink, from 1975, aged 16.

School project: The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson,
copy of an engraving in The Graphic,
after the painting by John Collier.
Pen & Ink with watercolour on paper. 73cm x 51cm. 1975.

Prior to this drawing I'd worked steadily but unassumedly at school on assigned projects. It was acknowledged that I was "good at art", but this was post modernist, late hippy mid 1970's, most of the art classes were light on drawing skills, heavy on texture and tactility, I found little to inspire me and positively hated that year's art teacher. Batik tshirts? Organic bio-plant patterns? Yeuk! No, I wanted to draw! Draw people! Things!

Away from school however I'd long since discovered the joy of the BIC biro, and filled old unused school exercise books with drawings, copied or inspired by WW2 Commando comics. After my dad bought me a couple of Adrian Hill guides to drawing and sketching I'd taken a sketchbook with me everywhere I went, and on every holiday over the previous year filled it with directly observed sketches from life in biro. This was all entirely independant from school. Then one day a confrontation with a school bully ended up with the contents of my school bag scattered across the classroom floor, and my sketchbooks were discovered by my form tutor (and head of Art Dept) Al Sayers.

Everything changed from then on. My next wonderful art teacher Jackie Asbury (where is she now?) introduced me to a dip pen and a bottle of indian ink for the first time, and told me to draw something challenging. A 19th century engraving of Collier's The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson seemed to fit the bill.  I knew absolutely nothing about Henry Hudson or John Collier, or for that matter pen and ink drawing, but I set to and produced this clumsy, tentative piece, little knowing that pen and ink was to become my chief medium for the next 40 years.

Well, this is what I wanted it to look like....

The source engraving, The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, after the painting by John Collier

It's embarassing - those terribly badly drawn hands... it bears little resemblance to the source image, how could I hope to reproduce an engraving with a dip-pen? I had a lot to learn, but it was a start, and I never looked back.


Saturday, 24 September 2016

A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.1: Sketch from the back garden of Butlers Lane, 1976

For the first in the Museum of My Archive in 10 Objects  (apologies to Neil MacGregor and the British Museum) I bring you a sketch of our house, drawn just before my 17th birthday from our back garden during the sweltering summer of 1976.

23 Butler's Lane from the Back Garden Rotring pen and Winsor & Newton ink on paper, June 1976.

We lived in Butlers Lane, Sutton Coldfield from 1970 until the end of 1977,  this was the house where I grew from child to teenager.

It was a corner house and significantly bigger than any of our previous (and subsequent!) homes. My parents bought it for a bargain, it hadn't been altered since it was built in the 1920's and was in desperate need of complete modernisation, much of which my dad did himself. I still have clear memories of when we moved in - there were slate fossils of ammonites and other pre-historic sea life left in the kitchen from the previous owner, also a big, black cast iron built in range, and in one of the bedroom cupboards an old clockwork railway set. All were disposed of very quickly in the urgency to fix up the house, much to my regret!

The reason this is the first in my History is because this house is where it all started, this is where I really embraced a love of history and of art, where I began drawing in earnest. I've more fond memories of this house than any other.

One of the best things about it was the long extended back garden, which had two large trees and several smaller ones (not visible in this drawing), a rock garden and an allotment at the bottom, which my grandfather cultivated when he later moved in with us. I shared a bedroom with my brother (on the whole amicably), on my side of the room my dad built a study alcove which we were supposed to use for homework, but which I actually used mainly to paint Napoleonic soldiers. Airfix model aeroplanes hung from the ceiling in an eternal dogfight. On my brother's side of the room was a large cardboard cut-out of Marc Bolan, Roger Dean posters and a fur trimmed record player. We got on okey. My sister always had her own room, bedecked with posters of Black Sabbath and David Bowie. The house was easy walking distance to school and local shops at Mere Green, a bike ride from Sutton Park, and just a couple of minutes walk from Butlers Lane train station, which gave us access to Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham. In the summer I'd cycle the opposite direction along country lanes out towards Lichfield.

From this distance in time it seems a pretty well perfect place to have grown up. I loved this house.

This wasn't the first time I'd drawn it, nor would it be the last, but this particular image seems to me to sum up a perfect summer at one of the happiest and most carefree times of my life.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Museum of Me

My dad was the last of his generation in our immediate family. One of the consequences of his passing has been the sorting out of all the nooks and crannies of his house, which revealed a lot of things I'd completely forgotten still existed. Not only parental items we grew up with from childhood, but also things left behind by us kids as we moved on in life. As the artist of the family I've by far been the worst offender - when I set off to art college all my school art work was consigned to my dad's loft, where some of it stayed for 40 years. Even when my parents moved house, they loyally took my old artwork with them.

Other bits and pieces were thrown away, but artwork was sacred, even the scrappiest of work. To this initial pile of stuff in their loft was later added my degree course sketchbooks (though I threw away most of my finished course work when I left Manchester), then bags of artwork from my London studio after I gave it up and headed out for the Far East, and various bits and pieces from the 21 years I lived in Japan, including every single letter I wrote home to my parents.


They kept it all. Yellowed, damp and foxed from all those years in my dad's loft, great wads of the stuff. And now it's all in my possession again.

This is in addition to my dad's creative life - the contents of his little art studio room, his oil paints and other materials, some of his paintings, boxes of books and postcards that inspired him (largely seascapes, the Impressionists and Victorian genre painters). Plus his collection of First World War books, and most importantly for me, our family archive of photos and documents - as the family genealogist I worked a lot on these with my dad's encouragement, painstakingly identifying faces, scanning and photoshop restoring, compiling and researching our family history, these are all in my safe keeping now.


So I've been buying new storage furniture for a major reorganisation.

When I left Japan I came back to the UK pretty well empty handed, in grief over my wife's death I threw away virtually all artwork except children's book illustrations, abandoned my furniture, household items and record collection, and sold off 2/3 of my books. I brought very little back from Japan, it was a new life coming back to England, I wanted to start afresh, not be burdened by the weight of a previous existence. I regret throwing so much away now, but it did stand me in good stead over the numerous times daughter and I moved house.

But now with the arrival of all this material I'm in a bit of a dilemma what to do with it, not the family archives, but particularly my old artwork. My dad's occasional paintings are one thing, but my adolescent stumbling art attempts? Some of these ancient works are truly embarrassing, for the prosaic subject matter as much as anything - what was I thinking? It always surprised me that my parents were more interested in displaying my immature work on their walls rather than my professional illustration career. But age has given this work a resonance and unique significance I can't ignore. It's now an archive, I can't throw it away, it's history!

..... some of it I'm quite proud of actually, these were important stepping stones.

So, inspired by Neil McGregor's successful BBC/British Museum tie-up series A History of the World in 100 objects, I'll share a few bits and pieces of in a History of my Archive in 10 Objects.

Coming up is Object Number One....

Monday, 29 August 2016

More Peeping on People

Here's a few more sketches of people on trains from all the recent rail trips to and from the Midlands.

Some people are contemplative.... 


...others bemused.
Activities on trains have changed over the years. There was a time when most people would be reading books or staring out of the window. Now there's an awful lot of tapping on little machines.
Though of course still plenty of dozing too...

... unfortunately he woke up before I could finish.

I've not only been drawing fellow travellers of course, whimsical doodles, experiments and so on have also been filling the pages on these journeys, though I've not been sharing my more imaginative wanderings on social media much recently. Partly because of deadline pressure, but also for reasons I outlined last week in this article for Words & Pictures.

However, maybe I'll share some of those shortly.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Journeying through the Peaks and the Troughs

So, we approach the end of summer, and for me things are beginning to calm down after months of precipitous highs and lows. Amongst the highs are the release of two picture books - Will's Words in the US (distributed in the UK) I've previously mentioned, but also Yozora o Miage-yo (Look Up at the Night Sky) for Fukuinkan Shoten in Japan..... more on these titles shortly.

Yozora o Miage-yo, written by Yuriko Matsumura
I've talked about these releases on Twitter and Facebook, but the reason I've not blogged about new books, or much else at all this year is due to all the other stuff, a variety of pressures, much of it (though not all) work related, as hinted in previous posts, plus latterly these have been overshadowed by the terminal illness of my father. I'll not linger on these, other than to say that things are just beginning to settle down now.

One consequence of all this has been much rail travel between Norwich and the Midlands for one reason or another, which has seen a lot of sketchbook activity. Having been shut up in my studio with deadlines for so long, just getting out and about is nourishing, whatever the circumstances. When I travel, I tend to sketch and doodle a lot more, lately I've been taking a revived look at my creative direction and position in the UK.

Enroute to the SCBWI Picturebook Retreat in Worcestershire, June.
In June, straight after completing the last of a string of challenging picture book deadlines I was off to the Worcestershire countryside for the SCBWI Picture-book Retreat. This was a fantastic weekend held at Holland House in Cropthorne, focused entirely on creating picture books, led by illustrators David Lucas and Lynne Chapman, both inspiring speakers. There's a full report of the weekend by Helen Liston in the SCBWI journal Words and Pictures. As I've been so focused on illustrating books by other writers the last few years the weekend was particularly effective for just nurturing the neglected buds of storytelling in my own right. Though I've had my own stories published in Japan, I find myself easily disheartened with story submission in the UK, so this was just a perfect weekend.

Most of the retreat attendees, mentors and leaders at Holland House, missing chief organiser Anne-Marie Perks and a few others (photo by Candy Gourlay)
While I was there my father was taken seriously ill, and I spent the following week further north in the Midlands, in Lichfield, travelling by bus to his hospital in Burton-upon-Trent every day. I know Lichfield well, having lived there a year when daughter and I first came back to the UK, but Burton was new to me. The return journey from the hospital meant long waits in in the town centre for the evening X12 express bus, so plenty of time to ponder the sights.

Burton War Memorial
On the wall of the Leopard Inn

It was the time of that intense heat wave in July, the beautiful, lush green of summer contrasted against the declining health of my dad. On a couple of days I gave up waiting for the X12 and took the local village bus, which winds it's way through the villages of Branston, Barton-under-Needwood, Yoxall, Kings Bromley, Alrewas, Fradley and Streethay. Glimpses of the narrow boats... the half timbered cottages... I thought I knew the area, but this was a revelation. A bus crawling the bumpy local back lanes of rural Staffordshire are hardly the best for sketching, but I managed to record his man and his coiffure...

On the local No.7 bus from Burton to Lichfield, 18th July
Staying on my own in Lichfield I ate out every night, so had the chance to try a large range of eateries. The solitude of thoughts and my sketchbook was comforting, as was re-discovering the town.

Diners in the Bowling Green pub, 18th July

I grew up a few miles south of Lichfield in Four Oaks, which I also got to see during this week. I left the area in 1978 and have rarely been back since, I couldn't believe how green everything had become in the intervening years. Standing one night on the platform of my old local station, I was gripped by a sudden bond with the Midlands. It felt like everything was falling into place, every experience framed within context of the circumstances of impending loss.

Waiting for the last train to Lichfield, 11pm, Butler's Lane Station

At the end of the week I had to return to Norwich due to visiting family from Japan, but soon booked another train ticket to Lichfield as my dad's condition worsened. Unfortunately I missed his passing by one day, nevertheless it seemed like I'd already shared a journey of conclusion with my father. I felt like he was with me all the time. He'll be with me in memory forever.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Sad News

@Godfox
Summer skies between Lichfield and Burton, July 2016

Dear friends, some readers may have heard that my father passed away very recently, his illness this year has been one reason for my recent silence on the blog, though other various factors have also had a major part.

I had hoped to post a full tribute to my dad, but I've been asked by family not to share our grief on social media. I will be back shortly with illustration and art related posts however.

Many thanks for your understanding.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

In memory of my father Ken Shelley, who passed away 2nd August 2016



Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
                      (Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953)

Sunday, 10 April 2016

New Book Release - Will's Words

Wow, busy April! The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death is almost upon us and things have been very hectic here in the studio, hence my silence on the blog.

 Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk was officially launched on 22nd March in the USA, and widely distributed in the UK.


Written by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by yours truly. 
ISBN 9781580896382,  40 pages long
Published by Charlesbridge (Penguin/Random House US), and distributed in the UK through PGUK.

Following my previous collaboration with Jane Sutcliffe Stone Giant, this book was another very involved project which occupied a great part of my activity last year. I've always had a big fascination for the 17th Century, so it's no surprise the research alone completely sucked me into the era (more on this in a future post!)



The narrative describes London in 1606, how the Bankside theatres were the entertainment focus points of their day, and one playwright stood out more than any other - William Shakespeare.

However, as Jane relates the story of The Globe, she finds that whatever she tries to write William 'gets in the way' - the text is punctuated with words and phrases coined by Shakespeare himself. Expressions such as 'excitement', 'a sorry sight', 'wild goose chase', 'cold-blooded', 'amazement', these all come down to us from Shakespeare through his plays to become 'household words' (another expression invented by the Bard). Jane uses these and many other Shakespeare expressions and explains their origins in the plays, while my illustrations form the background and setting of London life and the Globe in the early 1600's.



I'll post about some of the research and processes shortly, in the meantime the first reviews are in!

"Shelley’s meticulously detailed painted pen-and-ink drawings brim with life and convey a clear sense of 1606 London, “a bustling, jostling, clinging, singing, stinking, head-chopping, pickpocketing wonder of a city,” while still managing to individualize the personages both onstage and off. They are perfectly married to Sutcliffe’s concise, humorous, fact-filled prose" (School Library Journal starred review,  Spring 2016 selection)


"Shakespeare could turn a phrase, and Sutcliffe brings a number of them to readers' attention, smartly worked into a vestpocket history of London theater during Shakespeare's days. Shelley's artwork is a lively accompaniment, delicate in color and linework but bustling as only a big population in small confines can be." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Each spread is crowded with intricate, colorful details that seem to spring to life in, for instance, a cutaway of backstage actions, the crowd arriving for an afternoon's performance, how different social classes positioned themselves during the play, London street scenes, and so on. These watercolor and pen-and-ink images invite endless searching of the crowds' unique faces and Thames River vistas" (Booklist)

The Guardian ran a pre-launch gallery of some of the artwork here.

As the Shakespeare anniversary approaches I plan to be out and about with Will's Words in the UK, so do get in touch if you'd like me to be involved in your Shakespeare celebration! Jane Sutcliffe is touring New England bookshops this month, if you're in the US please check the upcoming events page of her website for dates.

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Balance Between Deadlines and Doodles

Sketching, sketching!


I've not posted any sketches to the blog for a while, for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I've just not been travelling very much lately, and it's on train journeys that I tend to find the time to sketch and doodle for the most part. Most of this past year has been spent in the studio every day, working on overdue picture books and other work tasks, no trip to Tokyo last year, (almost) no train journeys outside this area. The fact is I just don't sketch as much when I'm in the home/studio all the time. One of my New Year resolutions is to get out a lot more, it's important to refresh, exercise your legs ... and brain!


I've not posted any doodles from my sketchbook pages either recently, partly for the same reason. But also I made a conscience decision last year not to post idea drawings to social media, for once a drawing is "out there" it's shared, it's somehow "finished" so I thought I'd be less likely to do anything else with it, like re-work it as a finished illustration/exhibition piece, or develop it into a story. I also wondered what my patient editors may think of it all - are they not worrying "why does he have time to doodle and post things on social media? What about my deadline?" If you're in your work studio (as opposed to time off on a train journey) is doodling simply a form of procrastination, distracting you from the real job in hand?


And there's the dilemma.

Drawing for yourself is good for you, sketching and doodling is very important for illustrators, without it we become stale, we need to sketch and doodle to explore and express our creativity outside the confines of commissions. Sharing encourages you to draw more and create new ideas - one drawing shared makes you want to create another. But you still have to work and earn a crust!

Getting the balance right is the key thing, everyone has 'time-off' from work, whether you realise it or not, no artist works from early morning until late at night without break, seven days a week. The challenge is to identify those transient time-off moments and focus on using them in a creative way, though it may be difficult to differentiate between time "on" and time "off" when your studio is a room in your domestic home. Switching between work and non-work is tough, work and home life, everything blends together. You can try placing a sketchbook in every room in the house, so that when the urge to sketch hits you the materials are always at the ready, however there no guarantee you'll use them. It's not about the convenience of materials, it's focusing the brain on using time-off to sketch, and that's very tough in a home studio.

So this is another reason it's important to just get out, get away from the studio for a change of scene,  encourage yourself to have "sketchbook lunches" in cafe's etc..... if only there was a decent cafe near where I live!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Season's Greetings !


To all my friends and readers, whatever faith, background or heritage.  Wishing everyone a festive, relaxing and very Merry Christmas!





Monday, 23 November 2015

Why are children's book deadlines like buses?

They always run over time and then three arrive at once. 


What is it with my local buses? Yesterday the bus into town was 15 minutes late, then I waited nearly an hour with my daughter in the rain for a homebound bus back again. Why can't they keep to timetables? What is it that holds them up? 

From Michael Rosen's Nasty (Barn Owl Books edition, UK)

Well I shouldn't complain too much, I'm hardly one to point the finger at other people running late. This year has been demanding, illustrating books can take up a very large chunk of time, and I've been very, very late with all my projects, hence my limited online activity for much of this year. 

I wish I could anticipate production time for books more accurately, it's so much easier when you only have one or two images to create, e.g. for editorial (magazines) or other non-book work. I wouldn't say I prefer 'other' illustration over books, they're two entirely different types of work, but editorial is a lot more straightforward and easier to calculate schedules for. You read the commission, bash out some idea sketches which the editor quickly evaluates (in the case of Tokyo's Wingspan magazine it's within a matter of hours), do the artwork, and it's done! An editorial drawing might take just a couple of days including sketches, or at the most a week to turn around. 
Idea sketches for a recent editorial feature in Wingspan magazine, about an environmental exhibition featuring the biggest paper ball in the world. 
The finished illustration

Scheduling books however is much more difficult to calculate. 

For a start my technique and style of working is very different for books, the artwork for which is usually non-digital, in ink and watercolour. Books pull you into the 'world' of the text, you have to absorb the tone of the writing, to plan and compose the pages with a coherent narrative, to tell the story visually over succeeding spreads with strong characters and compelling compositions. It takes a great deal of contemplation and experiment to get into the skin of the text. Picture books usually have at least 20 images, often more, and always evolve and develop between concept to final book, whether self-penned or illustrating a commissioned text. At every stage of a book's production there are tweaks, re-writes/re-draws, adjustments and revisions, especially in the case of non-fiction where research is such a crucial aspect of the process. Books are complicated things with a whole manner of challenges that can potentially upset your carefully laid plans, even before you get to final drawing and painting the artwork. Despite the assumptions of a recent TV programme, you can't turn a book around in a day.

Early pencil sketch for Yozora o Miage-yo. A great deal changed between this and the final book.

All this planning and tweaking is okey if you just plan one commission at a time, but if you've more than one project in the pipeline the pressure is on. You might find a relatively small unanticipated delay with book 1 causes a major re-scheduling of book 2, and complete postponement for book 3, if the publishers can't wait you find yourself in a mad dash to meet multiple deadlines all landing at the same time. It's exactly comparable to how the ripple effects of minor delays cause major traffic jams, or buses to arrive late and bunched together.

This has been the case for me this year, which has been filled with two non-fiction picture books involving a lot of research and revision, one, Will's Words being a history of Shakespeare and the original Globe theatre, written by Jane Sutcliffe, and the other Yozora o Miage-yo (Let's Look at the Night Sky), written by Yuriko Matsumoto, on the subject of star-gazing. 


It's finished! Completed artwork for Yozora o Miage-yo

These were exciting but very involved projects, requiring much more time than initially anticipated. Both will see publication in 2016 - Will's Words by Charlesbridge publishers in the USA, and Yozora by Fukuinkan Shoten in Japan. 

There are certain ways you can speed things up - spend less time in front of a computer screen, work to more stringent daily routines etc., there are ways to limit distractions and cut down procrastination. But finding the correct balance is important, it's all very well working into the early hours, but with longer commissions what you gain from over-working on one day you tend to lose the next day due to fatigue. Sleep and exercise is important for efficiency, and for illustrators working from home studios both can suffer if you're not careful. Additionally as a widowed single parent I'm entirely responsible for the needs of my daughter, get her off to school in the morning, feeding, clothing and spending time with her, so burning the candle late at night is only an occasional option.
 
These books were absolutely fascinating to work on. I love being absorbed by non-fiction, the research, the challenges of getting it right and so on. With the artwork for these titles now completed though things will get a lot easier hereafter (touch wood!) -  I've other delayed book commissions waiting in the wings, and they are fun fiction projects - so not quite so much research required!

To all my long-suffering publishers and editors, my deepest apologies.

Now, onwards!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Update

My, it's been a long time since I posted to my blog, you may have thought in fact I'd given up on the blog entirely. Well no, not given up at all - but I made a decision to put things on ice for a while. There are a few reasons for this, one of the biggest being a very heavy workload this year, so I've cut back on a lot of social media until things get a little easier. 

So what have I been up to then? Here's a brief update on activities. 

First and foremost, a cover reveal! 


My next picture book collaboration with Jane Sutcliffe is currently awaiting release in the US in March 2016. Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk, is published to coincide with the anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 1616, and takes the reader through the streets of Jacobean London to the Globe theatre. Dropped into the narrative are numerous words and phrases from his plays that are widely used in everyday speech today. I'm greatly excited about this book, research and production of the artwork consumed much of my workload during the first half of this year. This will be my second collaboration with Jane, (our previous book together Stone Giant: Michelangelo's David and How He Came to Be was released in 2013).


Currently I'm working on a picture book for Japanese publisher Fukuinkan Shoten, Yozora o Miageyo, with words by Yuriko Matsumura, which follows a child's discovery of the stars of the night sky, culminating in a country trip to see the Perseids meteor shower. This too is due for release in 2016 in Japan. Here's a sneak snapshot of some work-in-progress.



Other book projects thereafter are currently under wrap - all will be revealed in due time! 

Finally, I was recently honoured to be interviewed by writer Kathy Temean for her excellent blog Writing and Illustrating. This is a very full interview with plenty of images, so if you haven't seen it already do please have a look!


Saturday, 6 June 2015

More work for Wingspan

While I'm on a hiatus due to deadlines, here's some more work for Wingspan magazine....

Aroma Dating parties in London

Bathing in beer at the Starkenberger Beer Spa, Austria
A Silent Disco is shut down by the mayor of Salzburg for being too loud.

Yes, that's a self-portrait behind the turntables... well I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Recent work for Wingspan Magazine

Here's some more of my regular monthly cut illustrations for Wingspan, ANA's inflight magazine on their international flights.

A story about a wild boar in Australia that went on a rampage after swigging 18 cans of beer.

Nepal's Bird man Gautam Sapkota, world record holder for his ability to mimic 151 species of bird

Dracula's Castle goes on sale
In Dresden a moose became stuck in an office building for six hours

More to come!

I've been shamefully behind with my blog this year, chiefly because I've been pretty well overwhelmed by some very involved book deadlines, things have been extremely hectic! It's not over yet, things are still very busy, but I'll post again when things get easier.