Friday, December 17, 2010

Silly Voices! Ooo-ArrR!

EeeeK! It's been two months since I posted! That's rubbish!! But anyway...

Last week I visited London Town because the lovely folk at Templar had asked me to do a sound recording of 'The Pirate Cruncher', so they can publish a version of the book with a CD in the back. They said they could hire an actor, but it's more special when the author reads the book.

So I found myself in a proper recording studio, with big headphones on, and the sound engineer/director asking me to "ham it up a bit". I think he was used to proper actors, there were CDs by Stephen Fry and Dawn French on the desk in reception, rather than bungling doodlers from Wales. But he did get me to do a variety of silly voices, which I am sure will be terribly embarrassing when I have to listen to myself on CD. I even had to keep the voices consistent for each character, which doesn't normally happen when I read the book to kids.

I'll post again on publication, on April Fools Day(!!), but the new book's already listed on Amazon, here!

Thank you to Rebecca Elliot, Templar's UK Publishing Manager, for coming along to hold my hand, and sending me the photo! And thanks to Heavy Entertainment, for trying to make me sound like a pirate!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Alienology: We Are Not Alone...

OooOooH, it's been aaaaages....... Sorry. It's been a busy month (again).

On 1st October, Templar published 'Alienology' , part of their hugely successful 'Ology' series and the first of these books that I've had the opportunity to work on. I love aliens and robots and space, so it was great fun to work on. Nghiem Ta, the wonderful and very organised Art Director, gave me a spreadsheet with all sorts of information about twenty or so aliens and then I spent a few weeks doodling away, until I had a couple of nice line-ups showing all the aliens to scale.

Here's one of the line-ups, and a few of the aliens at a larger scale. 'Alienology' is available from all good bookstores now!

And one illustration I particularly enjoyed researching... The internal organs of the 'Grey' alien!! EeeurggHh!!! (I with an under drawing by the very clever pencil maestro, Douglas Carrel)

And for anyone who lives in London and likes books (and aliens), I'll be at the Waterstones store in Kensington on the 28th October doing some drawing and colouring-in, along with the author of 'Alienology', Dugald Steer. I think we're due at 2pm....

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lecker Piraten!! Pirata Nhac! Alle Tiders Bitte!

I've been a bit quiet. My original plan to blog once a week has gone awry. But it was the summer holidays. I had a lot to do. Some book covers. An enormous jigsaw. An off-putting five-year-old who spent too much time in my doodling room. And we went on holiday to Cardigan Bay.

But when we arrived home from our sunny Welsh holiday I had a card from UPS, and after one of those funny automated calls, they delivered a surprise package from my publisher, Templar....

Five foreign editions of 'The Pirate Cruncher'!! Oo-aRR!! (With little post-it notes so I know which one is which!)

So now the UK, US and Oz editions have been joined by Danish, Finnish, Italian, German and Brazilian editions. I'm struggling to get my head around the fact that a little boy, or girl, could be leafing through my silly pirate story in a sunny suburb of Rio de Janiero. It's just weeeeeeird!!But very very exciting!

And soon I shall be able to talk all pirate-y in six different languages. Yup. Or "Achtung, Monster!" as they say in Germany.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

'Beastly Business: Battle of the Zombies!'
One of my first book jobs was a cover and fifteen black-and-white illustrations for the first 'Beastly Business' book, 'Werewolf vs. Dragon'. That was published a couple of years ago, and now we're on number five!
'Battle of the Zombies' was published at the end of last week, so here's the cover, which has a lenticular in the centre that changes the normal Ulf in to the werewolf Ulf. The lenticulars are fun to look at, but make the cover a little bit complicated to design, because anything that flips within the lenticular (in this case, Ulf on his dirtbike and the two grabbing zombies) has to be contained in a circle in the centre of the image, and I also have to allow an area for 'bleed'.

Each book has fifteen illustrations inside which I draw in Photoshop on my Wacom Cintiq, with a brush tip that gives a traditional 'pen and ink' feel. Here's one, showing the ghostly Headless Harold looking for his undead army, who are buried in the woods. He's followed by the regular baddie, Baron Marackai, and his incompetent henchmen, Blud and Bone, aboard their wobbly tractor.
I've also been working on some new covers for the paperback versions. Books one and two are done, and I'm working on books three and four this month. They don't have the lenticulars, and that makes them much more straightforward to design and 'paint'. Phew.
The 'Read it Again!' Award goes to....

....Amy Husband! For her wonderful book, 'Dear Miss...'

I had a great day out last week at Cambridgeshire Libraries' 'Read it Again!' award ceremony. I was shortlisted, along with eight other debut author-illustrators, most of whom were at the event in Buckden. Here's some info:
As a virtual hermit, shackled to my desk in the hills of Wales, it was lovely to get out into the daylight and meet all the other illustrators, chat about colouring-in and be swamped by excited kids. We signed lots of pieces of paper, a few books and the odd poster. We stood on stage and babbled on about our books for a few minutes (I showed a few photos of when I was a pirate), and then we all escaped to a nearby pub, where I enjoyed a couple of pints of Guinness. All in all, a super day out.

It was a four hour train journey to Cambridgeshire, and a four hour train journey home. On the way there, I managed to scribble a few sketchy layouts for a possible new picture book, but on the way back I was lured into a deep snooze by the aforementioned Guinness. I woke up with a start as the train pulled into Crewe station, pulled my sandals on, stuffed my things into my bag and dashed off the train in a panic, as people were trying to get on. I breathed a sigh of relief on the platform until I suddenly remembered my train went direct to Chester, and I didn't need to change at Crewe at all. I just got back on as the buzzer was sounding and the doors slammed shut behind me. I felt such a buffoon, I went to sit in a different carriage. And fell asleep again. Zzzzzzzzzz.

So, a big 'Congratulations!' to Amy, whose book about a boy writing more and more fantastical letters in an attempt to avoid a return to school, is hilarious! If she had a website, I'd link to it. But she hasn't. So I told her to make one. Or start a blog. She said she would. So maybe she will. And then I'll link to it. Hooray!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Daisy had a sleep when she got home from school yesterday, so when it came to bedtime she just wasn't tired. So we decided to draw aliens in the garden. I had a big glass of red wine, and Daisy had milk with a chocolate straw. We stayed up until 9pm, until we both got tired and a little bit moody.

I did a sketch of Rex, the King of Space...

And Daisy copied one of my aliens. Or maybe I copied one of hers.... Hmmmmm.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Thingies!
I was packing up my office in March, because we were moving house, and I found this old drawing. I'd scanned it and sent it to 'Imagine FX' a while back, for an article on inspiration. I think the drawing dates from about 1982 when I was 11 years old. I've got a photo somewhere of me lying on a blanket on our back lawn drawing this.

The 'Thingies' were an alien race, and over the next few years, my Friend Daniel (who I generously made Vice President of the RSPCT) and I, created a whole universe for the Thingies to live in. I liked drawing the bad guys, called the Morons (a lot of thought went into the names!!), who had German infantry helmets and big tanks.

The funny thing about this, is that it's not so far removed from the work I do as a concept artist now. A rough-ish doodle, a few notes and a bit of silliness.

I'll try and scan some other stuff if I can find it.....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Life as a Pirate...
I've had quite a few emails since 'The Pirate Cruncher' was published, asking me where I get my ideas, and how I find reference.

My ideas come from all the things I experience in life. Just like everyone, the inside of my head is a mish-mash of all the places I've been, the people I've met, books I've read, films I've watched, animals I've seen, museums I've visited, conversations I've had, and dreams I can still remember when I wake up. They all get jumbled up in my head. Sometimes they emerge as daft conversations, sometimes as doodles in my sketchbook and sometimes they trickle out as ideas for a story. Everyone's head has a different jumble of ingredients, but we can all have daft conversations, draw doodles and make up stories. I'm just very lucky that I can do it for a living.

With 'The Pirate Cruncher' it was slightly different. I didn't have to make much up, because I used to be a pirate. I may not have been the usual marauding, ship-attacking, rum-guzzling, salty sea dog you might expect, but I did live and work aboard a square-rig ship for almost a year. I dressed up in old-fashioned clothes, climbed the rigging and sailed the seas. We took kids on board to educate them in the ways of the waves, drank some rum (but not too much), waved our swords occasionally, fired the cannons at nothing in particular, clambered aloft for film crews making movies and beer adverts, and lazed about on deck in the sun. So it was almost like being a real pirate, minus the looting, prosthetic limbs and gibbets.

Eventually I jumped ship in Dublin, because the ship's cook didn't like my vegetarian ways, and Dublin was quite close to my Mum and Dad's house in North Wales. but I still fondly remember my days at sea. And just to prove I'm no fibbing landlubber, here are some photos....

The 'Santa Maria' moored in Charlestown, Cornwall. The ship was actually called the Phoenix, but was rebuilt to look like Columbus' Santa Maria for the movie '1492: Conquest of Paradise'. I lived on a small bunk below decks for a few months, as we sailed between Bristol, Cornwall, London, Chatham and Brighton.
The Captain even let me steer the ship! This was sailing from Cornwall to London in March 1995. I'm using a compass to navigate which you can see in front of me, alongside the very distracting bar of chocolate. Everybody knows that pirates love chocolate. That's why they hung about in Central America, had bad teeth, big pot bellies and suffered from scurvy. Fortunately I don't have scurvy yet, and have never been to Central America.
This is me dangling aloft on the Santa Maria, rubbing tallow on the chains and tackle. Tallow is congealed lamb fat which is used to make sure all the ropes and chains and moving bits run smoothly and don't rust, and I was usually asked to do this job because I was a vegetarian and it got right up my nose. Grrr.
In the summer of 1995 we set sail for Ireland aboard the Kaskelot, and met up with another ship, the Earl of Pembroke. We made a couple of films; 'Kidnapped' (a TV movie with Armand Assante), and 'Moll Flanders' with Morgan Freeman. It was a lovely hot summer and I drank a lot of Guinness.
I got dressed up a lot and scurried about the rigging for the cameras. This is me on the bowsprit (the long bit that sticks out the front), doing nothing in particular, but if you ever see 'Kidnapped' I actually got to coil a rope on camera too. They should probably have asked a more experienced sea dog than me...
Here's what it looks like 'aloft' whilst 'furling' sails. Before I worked on the ships I wasn't too keen on heights, but after a few weeks I loved climbing the rigging, and often took my camera up with me to take snaps. "Look, no hands!" I'd say and all the proper pirates would 'tut' and tell me to get on with some furling, to stop colouring in and eat some meat. 'Eat Yer Greens!' I'd say, because pirates would've been much healthier and less prone to scurvy if they'd eaten more fruit, eaten less goat's heads, drank less rum and visited their dentist once in a while.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

There be Pirates Abroad!
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I've been without the magical world-wide interweb for several weeks, since moving to the Welsh hills. That was fixed a couple of days ago, and once again I will need to show some restraint if I'm going to get any work done.

But one big thing happened while I was cut off from the world, 'The Pirate Cruncher' was published in the United States of America!! Hoorah! Or should I say "Ooooo-ArRR!"

I was sent a copy of the book a little while back, and on first glance there was something peculiar about it. Hmmmm.

Spot the Difference
(apart from the jaunty angle!)

Here's the US cover (above), and the UK cover (below)
I'm afraid there are no prizes. I just wanted to point out to the US book buying public that they're actually getting a little bit more for their money. has quite a few pages in it's preview, if anyone would like to 'Look Inside'.... Look here!

There are also a couple of lovely reviews. For now at least, it's got half a star more than the UK version with a full five stars, but then a couple of snippets in the book have been changed and they rhyme better. That may well be it, a quarter of a star per rhyming couplet. Or maybe it's just the extra bit of tentacle on the cover. Ooops...

And on a related note, my publisher told me that there are only a couple of hundred copies of the UK hardback left in their stock cupboard. So that's good. But if they manage to flog the lot, a paperback version will be published in the UK on the 1st June, I think.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Homeward Bound...
It's been a while, but we've been moving house! We've got a new life in Wales! We've only gone and bought the house I grew up in...

My Mum's moved down the lane, my daughter Daisy is at the same tiny village school I attended as a child, and I've got a new studio in my sister's old bedroom... It's kinda weird, but I'm so happy. I just wish my dad could be here with us.

And my excuse for not blogging..? We've not had an internet connection since April!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Einstein's Underpants!

'Einstein's Underpants- And How They Saved the World' written by Anthony McGowan is published today by Corgi Yearling. This was a book cover I worked on in September last year. I read the manuscript first and thought it was hilarious. It's just the sort of book I'd have loved reading as a kid. It's very very silly.

Alexander is given a pair of old stained Y-fronts, by his bonkers Uncle Otto. Reputedly worn by Albert Einstein himself, the pants bestow magical powers of cleverness on Alexander. And that's just what he needs to foil an imminent alien invasion and an impending meteor strike that could destroy all mankind.

He recruits a bunch of misfit kids from his school with this advert in the 'Items Wanted' section of the school message board:

"Any persons with special powers, such as super strength, telekinetic ability (i.e. moving stuff with just your brain), anti-gravity skills (e.g. flying), controlling magnetism, etc. etc., to join an elite team of heroes to save the world. Come to room 111 at 12.30 on Wednesday. No time-wasters. No loonies. Refreshments not supllied."

Although I liked the previous advert more.

"Girlfriend. Must be gorgeous and like snogging. She must not mind clammy hands, acne, BO or bad breath."

If only I'd thought of this, I might have met my wife much sooner....

Anyway, here's the final art:

There were a few fiddles with deciding where Alexander should go, and at one point his friend Melvyn featured on the back cover. I might post some roughs if I can dig them out....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Invisible Fiends: Mr.Mumbles! EeeK!

I was out and about yesterday and I spotted another book cover I'd done on the shelves of W.H.Smith! 'Invisible Fiends: Mr. Mumbles' by Barry Hutchison was published by Harper Collins in February.

This was something a little bit different for me, at least as far as children's publishing is concerned, because it's HoRRoR!!! EeeEK!!

I painted this cover last summer, after reading Barry's manuscript. It gave me the heebie-jeebies, and scared the life out of me. I thought 'The Pirate Cruncher' was scary until I read 'Mr.Mumbles'.

The 'Invisible Fiends' series is about a boy named Kyle who has forgotten the imaginary friends he had as a small child... But they've not forgotten him....

So Mr.Mumbles is the first to return, and it was all a bit scary for a big wuss like me, particularly the climax in a disused swimming pool which further reinforced my fear of dark, murky water.

I love the graphic look of the finished covers with the slit and torn edges. I went through a few different ideas with the designer, Nina Tara. Here's the first rough:

And a second version, where we tried to include the whole figure, but it lost impact and Mr.Mumbles was too small on the page to get a good look at his stitched up mouth and other details:

So we kept with the full figure on the back of the book, and ended up with a cool, creepy close-up on the front. Here's a close up of the final art, with the temporary paper edge from me, before Nina added the torn white edging and the type:

Next up is Raggie Maggie. I've not read the book, but I painted the cover from Barry's description of the character. I wasn't going to show this one, because I'd not seen the final design, but I just found this on Amazon:

I'll post some WiP, sketches and roughs for 'Raggie Maggie' when the book is published in August!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

'The Badness of Ballydog'

I received a new book in the post last week. Somehow I missed publication, but 'The Badness of Ballydog' by Garrett Carr was published on 4th February.

This job was done at quite short notice, and I didn't get to read the manuscript, but I really like how it turned out. I was happy with the artwork, and I think Simon and Schuster have done a great job with the design. The book sounds fun, and it's next on my list once I've read a couple of manuscripts (for illustrations I'm currently working on). Here's the blurb from the back of the book:

"Something is coming ...something big. May knows it, but no one will listen to her. She is an outcast due to her odd ways and freakish ability with animals. Andrew knows it, but he has his position as gang leader to maintain. Ewan knows it, but what can he do? The sea creature is the biggest living thing on the face of the earth. And it won't stop until it has destroyed Ballydog. Can three teenagers save the baddest town in the world from its fate? Is it even worth saving?"

Here's the rough I submitted, and the final wraparound artwork. I had fun with the stylization of the buildings and the waves, but not much changed between rough and the finished painting. As usual, the colouring-in was all done in Photoshop CS3 and Corel Painter 11.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

World Book Day!

It's World Book Day! Hooray! My daughter, Daisy, scooted off to school with an extra bag, containing her favourite book and a hat to match. And nope, it wasn't 'The Pirate Cruncher'. It was Julia Donaldson's and Axel Sheffler's 'Room on the Broom'! Daisy had her witch's hat in the same bag, and when we arrived at school they were twenty kids in different hats all chattering away excitedly. Kids love books! And hats!

So my daughter's favourite book isn't 'The Pirate Cruncher', but someone out there likes it, because I found out the other day that I've been nominated for the "Read it Again!" Cambridgeshire Children's Picture Book Award! The award is for a book published in 2009 by a first time author/illustrator, and I'm very excited!

It's great to be nominated, but more importantly, it's fantastic to know that there will be so many children reading my book (and those by the other nominees) in their schools. As a newbie to the world of children's books, I've had limited experience reading my book in front of children, but when I have dressed up and read aloud it's inspiring to see how enthusiastic the children can be, especially in a group situation.

The award launches today, ('World Book Day'!) and the winner will be chosen by the children of Cambridgeshire, who will vote for their favourite book. I think it's brilliant that the children make the decision, and I'm hoping they'll see the picture of me in my pirate outfit and be too scared not to vote for me.....

One more thing.... A few months ago I took part in the 'Big Draw' event at the Discover Centre in Stratford, London. This weekend, it's the turn of the 'Big Write'! The event starts today and runs for four days. There are a host of authors and illustrators, including Axel Scheffler, Emma Chichester Clark, Cressida Cowell, Dugald Steer (aka Dr. Ernest Drake) and fellow Arena illustrator, Matt Buckingham, who will be talking through the process of creating a picture book with his new book 'Bright Stanley and the Cave Monster'.

And for any budding illustrators who've managed to spot my new blog in time, on Friday night there's an adult event discussing picture books and how to become a picture book artist and/or author, featuring none other than my lovely agent, Tamlyn Francis!

Here's the programme cover, with a lovely illustration by Adam Stower!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Pirates and Monsters! Ooo-Arr!!

I thought maybe a brief introduction might be worthwhile.

I'm a freelance illustrator and concept artist living and working in Buxton, arguably the highest town in England and almost in the UK's very lovely Peak District.

I worked for eight years in the computer games industry, at Codemasters, Warthog and Eurocom, before going freelance in 2006. Stuff's been a bit mad since then, and I've worked for some fantastic clients in games, film and children's publishing. As a kid my two big goals in life were to write and illustrate my own book and to design stuff for a movie.

With those two big goals in mind, I've been working on and off for the last two years on a major movie project with Aardman Features (sooooo exciting!!), although I can't show even the teeniest morsel of work, because it's all hush hush. What isn't hush-hush is that the project is a stop-motion movie adaptation of Gideon Defoe's "Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists!" For anyone who's not read the book, try and grab a first edition while you still can! I've got three, and one of them is signed by Gideon! Woohoo!

Gideon's pirates are a daft bunch of hopeless ham-lovers who stumble across a young Charles Darwin and astound the scientific community of Victorian London with a funny looking parrot. Gideon wrote the book to impress a girl, so he deserves everybody's support.

And just to complete my life's ambition, my first picture book, 'The Pirate Cruncher' was published by Templar in September 2009. Here's the blurb from the back of the book:

I was sailing one day and what did I see?
And Island of Gold in the Scurvy Sea!
With a fiddle-de-dee,
There'll be treasure for me!
Fiddle-de-dee, across the Sea!

But there's one small thing I forgot to share-
There's also a MONSTER waiting there...

And that about sums it up. It's not a long book, it has a moral and some grown-ups might find it scary.

The launch of the book coincided with Arena's 'Pirate Party' at the Discover centre in Stratford, East London. The event was part of the Big Draw, and the place was swarming with mini-pirates drawing on every wall and floor, which were thankfully covered in paper. Some other Arena artists did some amazing work and demonstrations, including Matt Buckingham, Alex T.Smith and Adam Stower. Here's a picture I liked from the day.... I'm the funny looking fella with the pirate hat and something in my eye, and the little girl is called Siwan and is a particularly fearsome pirate of London Town. Oooo-Arrr!

So life's been pretty pirate-y for me in the last few years (you can throw in fourteen months at Eurocom working on a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' video game too), but then I used to be a pirate once, so I've got a decent excuse. One day I might even post some pictures.

But after all the pirates, it's sci-fi next! Picture book number two is in the works and it's going to be full to the brim of laser guns, aliens, robots and spaceships! Yeh!

And maybe the odd space-pirate...

A New Me...?

So here we go.....

I signed up for this blog about three years ago, as an easier alternative to updating my website. And three years later, I still hadn't posted a thing. So I decided that this would all change on 1st January 2010! Yup!

On 1st January 2010, I would start my blog and update regularly. I would also stop drinking wine and beer for one whole month, stop eating chocolate and biscuits, use our rowing machine every single day, lose half a stone per month for three or four months and stop doing work at the weekends.

So after two whole months, I've just finished a heavy weekend of colouring in, I drank too much wine on Friday night, I ate a whole big bar of Green & Blacks 85% dark chocolate with the wine (enough dark chocolate to kill a small dog apparently), it's nearly three weeks since I used the rower, and I weigh approximately two pounds less than I did on the 1st January.

But I have started my blog.

I might even post some pictures next.