Tuesday, 28 April 2009

SCBWI British Isles Featured Artist

My work for children's literature is currently being showcased by SCBWI British Isles, having elected me the current Featured Artist. The website spotlight runs until July.

Many thanks to the organizers.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

St Georges Day

Well I'm not what anyone would describe as much of a patriot, but it seems in my long absence from the UK that celebrating the patron saint of England is nowadays acceptable. Actually I'm only half English (the other being Welsh), but any excuse to celebrate. Here's something I did for the George & Dragon pub in Florida a while back.

Happy St.Georges Day!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


My thanks to Desdemona McCannon for querying the subject of doodling for a feature she's writing for Varoom (AOI magazine). I'm repeating my response here:

I always carry a small sketchbook with me everywhere I go, sometimes I use it to sketch, sometimes to practice, sometimes to work out ideas for jobs, and sometimes just to doodle. Doodling is a distinct activity for me. It's never sketching, it's not preparative drawing, and never has any deliberate connection to work, were it so it would cease to be a doodle. Doodling is something unto itself.

A typical day's rambling

For me it's all about flexing of the boundaries, going outside parameters of what I think my professional style should be. All of the baggage of career can be put aside for a while. Doodling can be an exploration of texture on the page, often in my case it's an exploration of grotesque, which is perhaps odd as my professional work is rarely grotesque at all.

I remember in younger years I would often get into trouble with my parents for defacing photos of celebrities in Radio Times etc, you know, adding goggle eyes, goatees and afro hairstyles. Mum and Dad could never see the creativity in it all. I think my doodles can be an extension of that pleasure.

It's an antidote to the need to please others, I doodle purely for my own enjoyment. Doodling is emotional therapy. It has no forced point to it, I never sit down and think "okey, I'm going to doodle about this" so, relieved of the weight of the commission or need to explain itself, the drawing follows it's own course, it soars, it breathes as it expands, and through that it connects with creativity in an unforced, natural manner.

Half way through a "serious" sketch I often reach a point when I think - "hey, this is quite good" and that's the time to stop. But with a doodle often I don't stop, I carry on, seeing it through to the bitter end, fill the page or push it so the drawing is overweight or ruined. It's not important, because sometimes the act of doodling is more important than the final product. For me sketches and working drawings are often quite light, doodles on the other hand can be heavy or laden.

Are doodles art? I think they can be, if, as they unravel themselves, they touch on your emotional state, or other subconscious thoughts, and can connect with the viewer. But it doesn't always happen, and the more self conscious you become, the more you feel you need to make a pleasing drawing, somehow the less personal it becomes. Great doodles should create themselves, they should meander from the end of your pen almost without command. Ideally anyway.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Family Reminders images

Here's a sneak preview of some of the drawings from the book.

One of the most interesting things about working on historical fiction is researching the period. I've always been fascinated by history, I often think if I wasn't an illustrator I'd have become a researcher or archaeologist, nevertheless I have to admit my knowledge of 1880's Colorado was limited. Nowadays the internet is a great help in finding accurate period references, but the publishers also kindly sent me a package of material to give me a very clear idea of the setting. For book illustrators it's important to be able to use the details of reference material to place yourself right in the location and time period. Often the pursuit of visual reference takes you in paths completely unrelated to the book. Thanks to Family Reminders I've learned a great deal about the gold rush, Colorado, and the late nineteenth century frontier in general.

Although the book is fiction, the location, the furniture, costume, hair styles and outside scenes are all based closely on actual references from Cripple Creek at the time, so I'm quietly confident that although I've never visited the town, my drawings fit accurately. If you see any slip ups however do let me know!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Family Reminders

My next book out in America will be Family Reminders. Written by Julie Danneberg and published by Charlesbridge, with black and white illustrations by your's truely.

Mary McHugh has a nearly perfect life in the frontier town of Cripple Creek, Colorado, but all that changes when her father suffers a serius mining accident. He no longer whistles, plays the piano, or carves the intricate wooden "Reminders" that mark the milestones in the family's life together. Mostly he sits in silence at the kitchen table or sleeps. As winter's chill gives way to spring's thaw, Mary tries to remind her family of how much they have to live for - namely, each other.
(From the jacket copy).

The book is officially released on 1st July, though you can pre-order on Amazon. Here's the cover