Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Seasons Greetings!

Hoping all my followers have a wonderful festive season filled with starry dreams!


Friday, 13 December 2013

Ho.. ho.. oh?

Hush! What's that sound? A strange old man with a long white beard is creeping through the night.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Under Siege by Sound

My house and studio is an island in a raging sea of noise. Right outside my window the builders are digging up the road yet again. The daily cacophony of tractors, diggers, clanging scaffolding and other commotion from the building site over the road has been a constant companion ever since we moved here in July, and there's a long way to go yet. The house feels like a refuge. Much as I'm fascinated by the bustle of the construction site, much as the activity outside encourages me to get on with my own work, the incessant tension of noise throughout the day doesn't leave much room for just drifting with my own ideas.  There are times, like today, when I just can't think at all because of the noise so I tend to crank up the radio and get on with deadline stuff, and by the time the builders go home, I'm mentally drained and domestic issues (feeding the family etc) take precedence.

Which is one reason for the lack of doodles and sketches lately, it's only when I can get away from the studio to quiet cafe's or on increasingly rare train journeys that I'm able to put myself in the mind to explore ideas and doodle. When that happens this is where I go...

I keep telling myself I should spend more time in cafe's, though perhaps not all my clients would see it as essential part of the creative process!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Father's Diary

Illustrators can be a lonely bunch, one cog in a production process involving a team of people you usually never meet. More often than not you deal with an art director, designer or editor, just one or two staff members who are merely the tip of an iceberg of people involved in the project. Others might include creative directors, producers, authors, copywriters, designers, marketing staff, printers and distributors.

Teamwork! - this and other drawings from A Father's Diary

So it's always a pleasure to meet someone for the first time who had some kind of involvement in a past job, especially when it's the author of a book, and even more so when illustrations and story were created at opposite ends of the world.

Printed front cover of the Japanese edition of "A Father's Diary",  Bury St. Edmunds no Kofuku-na Oka, Media Factory 1994

Back in 1994 I was deeply emerged in Tokyo life, having at that stage been based in Japan virtually without a break for eight years. This was before the internet, and although I travelled back to the UK for the occasional brief holiday, for all intensive purposes I was wholly preoccupied with business and life in Tokyo. All my work was in Japanese, from Japanese clients, regarding subjects in Japan. My friends at that time were exclusively Japanese too, largely connected with the creative business. All in all the UK seemed a very distant place.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to be asked to illustrate the Japanese edition of Fraser Harrison's A Father's Diary, a non-fiction journal recording the day to day life of two children in the Suffolk countryside.  The book had been recently published in the UK, Media Factory had just bought the rights for Japan. The journal is set in a village outside Bury St. Edmunds, I'd never been to Bury, but as my parents were at that time in Norwich I was quite familiar with the East Anglian landscape. The commission was for a simple cover and a few light black and white drawings in the text, a modest job amidst the high profile advertising that usually filled my schedule then. But of course I agreed to the assignment, not only was it a welcome reminder of the old country, as a father of very young children myself Fraser's touching account resonated strongly.

The book is divided into 13 months, so I created 13 little section heads and 13 narrative drawings, 26 black and white drawings altogether, plus the simple cover. Deadline was short and there was no time for research, this was way before Google image search of course! So the pictures flowed naturally, I pictured the children Jack and Tilly from descriptions in the text, the setting was based on my memories of the region, with a few references from the UK I had to hand.

The Japanese edition, translated by Sakae Kokawa, carried the somewhat bemusing title Bury St. Edmunds no Kofuku-na Oka "The Happy Hills of Bury St. Edmunds" - curious, Bury isn't exactly noted for it's hilly country!

From the rear cover
So that was that.

Fast forward nineteen years. I'm now back in the UK (in Norwich in fact), there arrives an email out of the blue. It's from author Fraser Harrison, who'd tracked me down online.

For years he'd presumed the Japanese edition had been illustrated by an anonymous Japanese artist, and was astounded to discover not only was I from the UK, but that I was now in East Anglia. The Japanese edition was the only one that carried illustrations, the children Jack and Tilly had grown up with the images, though the family no longer had a copy of the book.

Shortly afterwards I met Fraser and his wife in a local cafe on a day trip up to Norwich from Bury, where they still live. Despite having only worked from a few descriptive references in the text I was assured the drawings were close to the real children. Both are of course very much grown up now, and parents in their own right.

Meeting Fraser in the Cafe (sorry for the poor quality, the cafe staff only took this one image!)
It all seemed satisfyingly fated. I was able to present Fraser and his family not only a spare copy of the book, but also the original illustration artwork, which, despite all the losses and upheavals when I left Japan I'd held onto over these years. I still have most of my children's book artwork, and I had an affection for these simple drawings, a link for me with the UK at a time I was so very much involved in Japan. It seemed they were destined to find their way to the author's family. It was really great to meet Fraser and his charming wife, one of those strange full-circle moments where everything just seemed to come together beautifully.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Stone Giant

The Giant has awoke!

Cover, US edition
Cover, Japanese edition

Stone Giant - Michelangelo's David and How He Came to Be, written by Jane Sutcliffe, has been my biggest illustration project of the last year. Although the book was commissioned from the US, the first version to hit the shops is in Japanese - in order to tie in with a major exhibition of Michelangelo's work at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Komine Shoten have fast released their edition of the book in advance, it's now on sale throughout Japan. The originally commissioned English language edition from Charlesbridge in the US will be out next spring (ISBN: 978-1-58089-295-7), but is already available for pre-order from your local independent bookshop, or Random House, Amazon, Foyles, Barnes and Noble and other online sites.

Anyway, I thought it was about time I started yelling about it! The images here are scans of artwork spreads before print, in the final book several have seperately drawn text boxes dropped over.

First spread, initial sketch. I originally envisaged the stoneyard close to the river, with a glimpse of the bridges behind.
Completed image. My editor pointed out that the yard was probably close to the cathedral rather than the river, so the background was changed.

As the title indicates, Stone Giant is a non-fiction picture book telling the story of how the statue of David was first commissioned and an enormous block of marble cut, but after some limited attempts by obscure artists the project was abandoned and the flawed stone left forgotten and abandoned in a stonemason's yard for over 40 years. Finally the young Michelangelo came along to carve the statue and create one of his greatest masterpieces.

The stone is worked on by inferior artists then abandoned, even Leonardo turns down the commission.

This was a really wonderful project to work on, the history, the subject, and the location all connected with me very much. It was a joy to research. I closely examined as many contemporary paintings and other references as I could and spent a long time accumulating material for costume and setting, involving many hours in the library and online. The more I delved into the era, the more I connected, the more I was compelled to instill the illustrations with a flavour of the period.

There were many sketches, numerous revisions, but slowly the book began to emerge, just like David himself emerging from the rough rock. I became completely absorbed in the world of Renaissance Italy and of Michelangelo. This is what I really love about illustrating books, you mentally inhabit the worlds you create.

One of two panels inspired by Renaissance designs

I incorporated a number of motifs and decorative devices inspired by Renaissance works. The aim was to make the book a fun, contemporary read for children, whilst connecting with the art of the period.

I wasn't afraid to use the ultimate device: line-for-line facsimiles of Michelangelo's sketches. Oh, the impertinence! I wanted to show his work of course, but it had to be in the same pen and watercolour as the rest of the spreads, so I tried my hand at reproducing his work with my own materials. These were drawn in homage to the master, I hope the ghost of the great man will rest easy!

Michelangelo? Erm, well ....

Another challenge was the depiction of Michelangelo at work on the statue. I based my stone cutters yard loosely on a painting by Canaletto, with a good dose of conjecture. It's known that Michelangelo built a wooden shed around the stone to protect it while he worked and keep out prying eyes, however experts don't entirely agree how the statue was carved - was it laid out at an angle or carved upright, or flat? I used my imagination to fill in the gaps and settled for the most striking visual appeal, this is how he may have worked, we'll probably never know the actual truth.

Not everything is exactly as reality, some things were designed purely for visual effect, for instance the wall of the Palazzo Vecchio isn't really blue!

the statue is revealed!
Then there is the town. I'm quite familiar with modern Florence, but one of the biggest challenges was depicting the city as it appeared at the beginning of the 16th Century.  This climatic spread was a particular conundrum, as I wanted to show a specific scene as Michelangelo would have known it, but virtually all of these buildings were demolished after Michelangelo's era, and there are very few references.

The statue in this illustration is elevated much higher than it actually stood - that's a deliberate compositional device I make no apologies for! But the rest of the image is an attempt to show the Piazza della Signoria as it was, facing away from the Palazzo Vecchio, with the cathedral in view. However virtually all contemporary depictions of the square are facing the opposite direction towards the Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi, away from the more run-down west side. 

My main sources were later images by Giuseppe Zocchi showing an oblique view of the old Loggia dei Pisani, the wall of the merchants (demolished in the 19th Century), and another by Bernardo Bellotto showing a glimpse of the church of San Romolo, also long vanished, pulled down in 1769. Using these references and a few others I was able to plan out, turn around and draw in a series of sketches of the buildings from a completely different angle. This felt like real historical research, I hope the experts are satisfied!

preparatory sketch of the Loggia dei Pisani and buildings sourced from Zocchi's works and turned around.

Therein lies the problem of research using old paintings - they can never quite tell the whole story, only glimpses through the eyes and materials of the original artist. So when you're looking for authenticity, often the more you find, the deeper you have to look in order to "nail it", to reassure yourself that you've got it right. It's easy to spend entire days chasing references for some minor detail, at some point you have to stop searching and start drawing, so unless you're literally copying an image (not recommended, the facsimiles above are an exception!) then there will always be need to cross-reference, invent, re-interpret and imagine parts of a scene. The resulting illustration is therefore a matching of your imagination with that of the artists' you source.

I aimed for a believably authentic feel, inputting accurate research for those spreads that required it. How did I do?

The Japanese edition, 石の巨人 (Ishi no Kyojin) is available now from Komine Shoten publishers.
English language US Edition of Stone Giant with Jane Sutcliffe's wonderful text is published on 8th April 2014 from Charlesbridge/Random House, available for pre-order now, ISBN: 978-1-58089-295-7.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

News Without Words

 Last Sunday the biggest daily newspaper in Japan, Mainichi Shinbun, included a special pull-out poster feature - Moji no Nai News "News Without Words",  consisting of a large map of the world showing current events, local features and so on. I created the whole poster map, with direction from Tokyo Planet Design. 
the published map

There is a lot of detail to see, the best way to view it is with the zoom-in online version here! (click on the image to bring up the zoomable version).

Sunday was "Grandparents Day" in Japan, the idea behind the map was to present news visually in a way that could be shared between grandparents and grandchildren. This turned out to be a tremendous amount of work, as I was required to create the artwork at very large size, and, as it needed to include current news events, would probably require redraw edits right up until the press day. I was given a number of key news items to include, but for several big regions I had no briefing, so ended up doing a lot of my own research for things to fill in.   

Australia, (original colouring before final edit)
I was also asked to render it in the same style as a small watercolour from one of my exhibitions, a very different kind of picture, which led to a lot of head scratching! I estimated the project would take around 3 weeks; in fact it stretched to almost 6 weeks of intensive activity.

I first drew the background land map and wave texture for the sea in pen and ink on 16 sheets of A3 layout paper, which were scanned and matched together in Photoshop. I scanned in my own large watercolour textures for the sea and land to provide a rich coloured background. If I were to put the sheets together, the picture at actual size would be around 1.5 by 1 metres. 

The background world
The figures and other details were then drawn individually in pen and ink and scanned in, one by one, positioned and flattened into another layer - there were many separate drawings, not all of which made it to the final illustration, and much repositioning. This is the standard way I work with computers nowadays, scanning in hand drawn linework and textures, arranging and colouring, however this was on a rather grand scale. It felt very much like illustration by jigsaw puzzle. 
Some of the sheets for the figures
 When everything was assembled on screen the file came to 1.5 gigabytes, largely due to the heavy data watercolour backgrounds! The last touch was to add extra landscape features drawn directly on the computer with a Wacom pen. 

The Amazon (original colouring as delivered)
As anticipated, there were many editorial changes right up to the last minute,  even after I delivered the finished artwork, figures were taken out or replaced, enlarged or reduced (especially Japan - I was sad to see my Ainu man was removed from Hokkaido!). Also, at the very last minute the client decided to greatly lighten the colours, my original watercolour textures were smoothed out to a much flatter finish. Hmm, I personally prefer the deeper colours you see here, but this was a commissioned piece and my job is to provide what the client requires - in these instances, the client is always right!

The colour scheme as I delivered it. Compare to the one above or the online version. Which do you prefer?
Although I was given a number of news items to include, there are many other details and large tracts of land which I had no brief for and so researched and filled in myself. I aimed for a balance between news, gentle humour and regional ecology.

East Coast North America (original colouring as delivered)
The Middle East (original colouring as delivered)
Self portraits? Of course! 

With daughter in England. Squeezed north by the Royal Baby. Ayup!
Did you know "sable" watercolour brushes are actually from Siberian weasels?

The online zoomable version is still accessible here!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Catching up!

New studio, open for business!

Ah, back at last!! I've been avoiding social media for a time, chiefly due to a series of hurdles following our big house move, volunteer commitments, and recently more than anything just catching up with illustration deadlines. These last three weeks in particular have seen the studio candles burning very late into the night on my latest job, in fact through the night on a couple of occasions, all for a single newspaper job. I'll talk about this in full once it's gone to press, but here's some sneaky details, it's a large map of the world...

land of sables, cold vodka and horse wrestlers

...yes, self portraits sneaked in!

Blimey, so much has happened over the summer - new book, new poster, a bunch of other illustrations, so much to talk about.

With the pressure mounting then, I deliberately stepped back from social media until much of this was sorted, so I was on hiatus from mail groups, Facebook, Twitter and other cyber distractions including blogs, at least until things were more settled.

But now, finally, I'm on top of deadlines, daughter and I are comfortably moved into our new home, with new studio, and a new assistant.....

Our little Pixie is not much help with achieving deadlines, but she's learning, never under estimate fairy folk. I'm confident she'll be wielding a paint brush soon enough!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Summer Greetings

 Wishing all of my friends and readers a fabulously lush and verdant summer!

As some will know, I've recently moved house just in time for the sunshine. It's a brand new house  right on the very edge of the city of Norwich, so we're surrounded by a building site at the moment, with bright yellow diggers roaring past my door, and a constant cacophony of clanging and banging all day. But when all is settled life here will be a rustic dream of bucolic calm...

....Or at least so I'm dreaming.

What I can definitely say for sure is that, apart from a few issues when we moved in, this house is just about perfect for the requirements of a madcap artist and his wild-eyed daughter. This is going to be great.

Happy summer everyone!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Grimm Road

This year celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Grimm Brother's Household Tales. To commemorate, here's my latest editorial cut from the regular series of monthly illustrations I draw for ANA's in-flight magazine Wingspan.
It's in the June issue, but you have to fly on one of ANA's international flights to find the magazine!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Some more images of Yanesen in 1987-88

Here are some more comparison photos of lost Yanaka and Nezu, "then and now".

Over the years I experienced a lot of things in Japan, many of them amazing, and occasionally disturbing. There have been a few things that truly shocked me, but the destruction of the old buildings of Yanesen is really heartbreaking

Nezu 2-chome 10 banchi in 1987

Nezu 2-chome 10 banchi today (Google Street view)
Yanesen was not like other areas, it was a survivor, with a culture and charm of it's own. Because the district was so untouched, every old building had a value to the town beyond it's own land price. Each one that is pulled down now is a destruction not only of the property, but of the heritage of the area. In a few years Yanesen will be just another faceless Tokyo suburb in the urban sprawl.

And what are these old buildings being replaced by? Often it's very little, and sometimes it's nothing at all!

Ueno Sakuragi 1-11-12 in 1987. Chinese restaurant Kyoya
the same location today (Google)

Why is this? It's all to do with land taxes - people inherit these properties and find they simply can't afford to pay the property taxes to maintain them, so they're torn down and replaced by car parks, or cheap prefab storage units, or the land is simply left bare.

Yanaka 1-2 in 1987, the entrance to Tengenji Temple on Kototoi-dori and Morita Electricals shop, which stood just a couple of doors along from Shin-Fuji Soba

Morita Electricals was demolished in 2003 and replaced by this structure (Google)

Nezu 2 chome 21 banchi in 1987....
.... and the same location as a car park today (Google)

Nezu 2-chome 31 banchi in 1987
today only the centre structure survives (Google)

One of the most saddening locations for me is the little crossroads between 2-33 Nezu and 2-3 and 2-4 Yanaka.  In my last post I showed a snapshot from 1987 showing a line of lost buildings at 2-33 Nezu, here's another photo of the same buildings.
Nezu 2-chome 33 banchi in 1987

If you turned and walked right at the crossing you would soon find on the left hand side Yoshinoya Sake-ten...
Nezu 2-chome 33 banch, Yoshinoya Sake-ten (1987)

Right next to Yoshinoya was this building...

Nezu 2-chome 33 banchi (1987)

So there was a long continuation of wooden traditional buildings that wrapped around the corner and stretched all the way along the block. Now all of this is gone. The buildings above have been pulled down and been replaced by a large modern 'mansion' condominium...

Nezu 2-chome 33 banchi today, Sunrise Nezu Apartment Block (Google)

Not all is lost just yet however. Back at the crossing the line of buildings at 2-33 Nezu continued over to the Shi gen'nagaya tenement at 2-4 Yanaka.

Yanaka 2-chome 4 banchi, Shi gen'nagaya tenement, 1987

Today this still stands,  a solitary reminder of former times.

Yanaka 2-chome 4 banchi, Shi gen'nagaya tenement, today

Walking from the crossing in the opposite direction from Yoshinoya towards Kototoi-dori, we can still find the traditional indigo dye shop Chojiya. Thank goodness not all is lost!

Nezu 2-chome 32 banchi, Chojiya
This is a beautiful, well preserved building, only a few years ago much of the surrounding neighbourhood was the same.

In some cases the building still exists but has been given a modern make-over...

Yanaka 7-17-11, snapped in 1987

Today the building has evolved into the Italian restaurant Osteria Yanaka no Tramonto

Nezu 2-21, Yoshino Sushi (1987)

Nezu 2-21, Yoshino Sushi (1987)

Nezu 2-21, Yoshino Sushi (2013, Google)
Finally, ending on a positive note, it's not all bad news, there are still many old buildings that survive remarkably unchanged. Rather than posting more photos here, a good web search for Yanesen, Yanaka and Nezu will show a lot of these, some are notable traditional businesses and thus hopefully will be preserved. I'll just end my little tour of lost Yanesen with a couple of well known surviving properties I was very familiar with, right around the corner from my old apartment....

Yanaka 6-chome 1 bancho, Kayaba Coffee Shop in 1987

and on the other side of the junction, the Shitamachi Fuzoku Shiryokan Museum

Though the structures next to the coffee shop have all gone, these two buildings still stand proudly today.

Yanaka 6-chome 1 bancho today (Google)
At least some of my old memories survive! And long may they remain.