this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Green

Green. I seek out green places more and more as I get older. The combination of peace and the sounds of nature seem to give me an incredible sense of well-being. Advocates of ‘Forest bathing’ have a point. At this time of year, particularly, the colours are incredible. Fresh, vibrant, jewel greens. White and yellow of Cow Parsley and Cowslip. The unexpected violet-blue of a glade of Bluebells. But green, always the green. Dappled sunlight and mossy roots and rocks. There’s a path I’ll always take.

I now have a new Instagram account solely for my photography.

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Bempton Cliffs

I’ve just got back from a week spent up in York with my parents. I miss Yorkshire, and a few days roaming around the countryside in good weather made me realise just how much.

One of those days was spent at the RSPB site at Bempton Cliffs, on Yorkshire’s East coast. 300′ high chalk cliffs alive with seabirds, and cliff-top meadows full of life. It’s an incredible place and I really do recommend visiting if you’re ever in the area.

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Well, it’s been a while (again).

Apologies for not updating my blog for such a long time. I think once the Weird Field World book was printed, packaged, and mailed out to all the Kickstart backers I was a bit drained. I’d been so focused on the book for so long it was difficult to give anything else my attention really.

With a bit of distance I can start to give a bit more love to the blog and to my Patreon page that’s also been a bit neglected of late.

I thought I could start by letting you know what I have been filling my time with over the last few months.

It’s mainly been nature photography. I got a new camera back in October, which I blogged a little about here, and in March, I bought myself a new zoom lens for it. I’d grown increasingly frustrated by seeing animals and birds, but not being able to get a half decent photograph of them, so a zoom seemed a necessary addition. I went for the Fuji 70-300mm zoom, rather than the 100-400mm version, mainly because of the difference of almost £1k in price. I’ve been incredibly happy with it so far. What I didn’t really expect was that it would really change how I experienced the outdoors. Previously, if I was out for a walk I wouldn’t give a huge amount of attention to those things I couldn’t photograph – little birds skulking in bushes, or distant buzzards and kites circling. The new lens brought all those things close enough for me to identify and to get some decent photos, which made me massively more interested in them. Since getting the new lens in March, I’ve counted seeing 68 species of bird, and 13 of those were brand new to me. Even though I was walking in the same places mostly, and at the same times of day, I was noticing much, much more.

Some of my favourite photos are below. All taken with the Fuji X-T4 and 70-300mm lens. If you enjoy these, then please consider following my new Instagram photography account.

Besides taking photographs, I have managed to find time to get a few new products up on my online shop. If you enjoyed the Weird Field World book there are some matching stickers and prints available.

In March and April I worked with the UK fragrance company Thomas Clipper, on the packaging for their new men’s scent – Atlantic. This was a really enjoyable project to be part of. Here are a few images from the final packaging.

I’m going to make an effort to blog more regularly for the rest of the year. As always, if there’s something you’d like me to write about – let me know in the comments.

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Weird Field World book now available.

My first book, Weird Field World, is now available to buy here. If you’re a regular reader of the blog you’ll know that I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the book, and now all of the backers’ rewards have been mailed, the book is available to the general public.

The Weird Field World is a project I’ve been working on for around three years. It started off as a couple of little doodles on scrap paper, as I wondered what a spaceship might look like if it had an entirely novel form of propulsion. I figured it might look a little weird, and that name kind of stuck.

I built the project and produced content for it over on Patreon. The income from my supporters there allowing me some time to develop ideas, to write, and to draw lots of spaceships. What I’ve ended up with is a book full of spaceship illustrations, character drawings, written fiction, maps, diagrams, and a lot of world-building. I’m very proud of it, and the feedback so far has been fantastic.

If you’d like a copy, click here to buy one from my shop.

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Innsmouth

I’ve started a new project over on Twitter. It’s a story, with some illustrations, about a curious Massachusetts harbour town. It’s very obviously, but very, very loosely influenced by the work of H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve wanted to write something vaguely occultish for a very long time, and I think I have finally found an interesting way to do it. If you’re a 2000AD reader (of a certain age) you might remember Luke Kirby and Summer Magic, or if you’re a fan of folk horror you might well know the 1973 British film The Wicker Man. Those two things, as much as Lovecraft, are my influences for Innsmouth I really hope you’ll join me.

Below is the story so far, as it appeared on Twitter. It’s not a continuous narrative, it drops illustrations and other bits of information in-between the story.

The Innsmouth Lights, protecting the New England town of Innsmouth since 1642. Guaranteeing safe passage for vessels all year round, except on those peculiar days when the membrane between this world and others becomes thin and stretched.

Just seven nights remain until the Winter Solstice. Time for the people of Innsmouth to nominate their candidates for King and Queen of the Oceans.

Innsmouth Lightship No 01. Betty Tilley pilots the 01. Keeping the shoals safe for shipping at low tides. She painted the ship in dazzle camouflage last winter, helps avoid unwanted attentions from the depths. If you know what I mean.

The bell on the Black Reef rings loud tonight. The wind is up, and the heavens are hungry.

Dawn brings news of a wreck. Masts prick the shoals like needles in a cushion. Of the crew there is no sign.

The Bishop knocks on every door West of the Rock in Innsmouth tonight, tallying the nominations. East of the Rock, the Cleric does the same. They’ll meet at midnight to tally the numbers. Tomorrow the King and the Queen of the Ocean will be announced to the town.

The Bishop and the Cleric add up the votes. Tomorrow the two young townsfolk and their families will be notified. 

West of the Rock live the fisherfolk. To the East, the whalers. 

The Pelagic. Innsmouth’s only Tugboat. Piloted by Robert Coppin, whose mother was a fishwife and whose father was a whaler. He’s always felt like he was between people and places. 

John Chapman, a whaler’s son, and Jennifer Cochrane, a scallop dredger’s daughter, will be this year’s King and Queen of the sea. Tonight the town, East and West, prepare a feast for their families. Halibut and octopus will be the heart of the festive meal.

Whale irons. Two flued. English. One flued. Toggle. Explosive. Lance. Spade.

It’s quiet across the town today. Last night’s feast and revelry has left people delicate and moody. On the Black Reef, Degorius Priest unloads timber from his clinker-built skiff. He’ll spend half a day there, between tides, building for the solstice ceremony.

Artefact: Granite cephalopod pendant. Probably 17th Century. Found in the footings of the wharf during rebuilding work in 1837. 

The Low Ebb.Moses Fletcher inherited the Low Ebb from his father twenty years ago. Since then he’s made a living (barely) fishing for cod, ling, and herring off the Far Banks.

The solstice sun creeps over the horizon, weakly illuminating the rooftops of Innsmouth, through a veil of fog.

As noon approaches, all the townsfolk make their way to the harbour wall. They are dressed in their Sunday best, the whalers all wearing their harpoon brooches, the fishers all wearing a pin of the sealamb. They stand in silence looking out toward the shoals.

The King and the Queen of the Ocean walk towards the dock, flanked by their parents. As they reach the harbour a piper plays a mournful tune.

The Queen is wearing a white knitted dress adorned with pearls. On her head sits a gilded shark’s jaw crown. The King wears an oiled leather tunic, inlaid with rings of iron. On his head, a nautilus shell trimmed with jet.

John and Jennifer kiss their parents goodbye. John’s mother sobs and cries out, her husband holds her tightly. The King and Queen descend the steps of the dock to the waiting rowing boat. The boat is decorated in white shells and pearls, and at the stern a gaff and a harpoon are crossed.

Degorius Priest pushes the boat away from the dock with an oar, and slowly begins to row. The crowds of townsfolk chant softly as the King and Queen make their way to the Black Reef.

Don’t you hear the old sea growlinDon’t you hear the wind a howlin
Don’t you hear the captain pawlinDon’t you hear the pilot bawlin
Only one more day hungryOnly one more day an empty net
The King and Queen we give to theeOur two souls a gift for the sea
Let’s not hear the old god callinLet’s not see the waves a thundrin
The King and Queen we give to thee

The boat reaches the reef as the chanting stops. Degorius helps the children on to the rocks and seats them in the stout wooden thrones he’d built two days earlier. John and Jennifer are quiet and calm. The air and sea as still as oil.

Degorius rows back to shore alone, reaching the harbour just as the town’s clock began to strike noon. He looked back out to the reef some three hundred yards away, the King and Queen little more than dots to his ageing eyes. 

The townsfolk hold their breath as the bell chimes – ten, eleven, twelve. For a second it seems as if time stops, and then…

The sea behind the reef erupts. A great beast surfaces. It’s outline blurred by sea spray and a thrashing of tentacles. Eyes surround a gaping, many-toothed, jaw. Membranous wings shudder and snap. There’s no distinction between head and body, just a leathery mass.

The creature searches the reef, its eyes swelling and twisting, never blinking. The King and Queen, paralysed with fear, soaked by the sea, have its attention now. It leans, or possibly the world tilts, until its shadow falls across them.

The townsfolk know what comes next, and almost all of them avert their eyes, wanting to shut out the horror for another half-year. There’s a wrenching sound that echoes in rock and bone alike, the creature pauses, its mouth becomes a maw – endless and black.

And then, another noise, a man-made sound. A harpoon launches from the end of the whalers quay. Huge, much larger than those that take down the sperm and fin whales, it arcs across the sky. The creature is oblivious, giving no thought to a threat from mere mammals.

The iron spear, its tip multi-barbed and laden with explosives, strikes the creature in the centre of its middlemost eye. A shriek shreds the air as the creature hurls itself backwards – just as the harpoon detonates. The blast rends the beast in to pieces.

Gelatinous flesh, brittle bone, and fragmented teeth erupt in to the air. Silence falls across Innsmouth, before a deep, pulsating, thrum drowns out the sound of the creature falling back beneath the waves. The sound builds. Louder than the most terrifying thunder.

Cracks appear in the fabric of the town. Tiles fall from roofs, the spire on the church cracks and falls to the ground. The whalers’ wharf falls gracelessly in to the sea. As the people of Innsmouth prepare to take cover, another sound gains their attention.

A keening, high pitched whine. It emanates from the Black Reef. Where the creature was, now there was an absence, not simply of the beast, but of anything. And the absence grew larger. An impossible, expanding, sphere of nothingness. People fainted at its wrongness.

Still it grew. Those still standing ran for their lives. A primal need in their very flesh to be wherever the absence wasn’t. And still it grew. The sphere expanded quicker now, reaching the town and its people. It swept over the harbour and enveloped the seafront.

The church, the Chapel, the pubs, the boat makers were all subsumed. The membrane of the aberration sped across Innsmouth, accelerating out from where the creature died. Now a sphere over a thousand yards across. All of Innsmouth was consumed.

Still it grew. The wrongness expanded out, miles to sea, embracing the four lighthouses that spread in an arc from the harbour. The village of Bedfordthorpe, Threkeld Farm, and the dairy at the Needles were all vanished in to nothing.

Then, miles in diameter, the sphere paused. It shimmered in the grey light of the solstice sun, its surface slipping from a petrol dappled rainbow, to a nacreous white. 
Everything stopped. 

The very air paused. Birds stopped still in the air. Waves paused as if made of glass. A fish, caught mid-leap, hung above the sea. Time did not pass.

An eternity could have elapsed, or less than a heartbeat. The sphere vanished, simply ceasing to be. The only evidence of its disappearing the howling of the wind as air rushed in to fill the space it occupied.

Of Innsmouth, no sign remained. A perfect arc of Massachusetts coastline had been eaten by the event, and the sea crashed in to replace the land. Waves heaved back and forth against the virgin shore before settling in to a new arrangement for map-makers to ponder.

The sea forgets quickly and showed no sign of the phenomenon that had robbed New England of a part of it. The air calmed. Birds flew. Fish swam. Waves lapped gently.

Innsmouth was gone.

Time did, or did not pass. The sun and moon raced across the sky, or hung motionless against an unmoving gale.

Eventually, Innsmouth awoke, an island, in a strange and unfamiliar sea.

So ends Chapter One of the telling of Innsmouth. A town once of Massachusetts, now an island in an unfamiliar ocean. A town cleft in two by The Rock. A town of fishers and of whalers. A town beholden to a beast.

Follow along here.

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Fun(gi) in the woods.

I’ve recently bought a new camera, a Fuji X-T4. It’s a more serious beast than my old Olympus Pen EP3. Having a better camera means I have to try and improve my photography skills, and not just rely on the auto settings. The auto settings do a reasonable job in most cases, but by using them on the Olympus, I wasn’t learning anything. Now I have the X-T4 I’m trying to at least shoot on aperture priority mode if not full manual. It’s fun. Not just the photography, but the learning a new skill. Wish I’d started it earlier in lockdown now.

I’m also making more of an effort to get out and about to go for walks and to take photos. It’s great having 1200 acres of royal park on my doorstep, but I kind of know it like the back of my hand now, so it’s well past time to explore new places.

Last Friday I visited Ockham Common, and today I went for a walk around Wisley Common. They are actually part of the same area and habitat, but divided by the A3 road from London to Portsmouth. It’s quite strange to be in the middle of a beautiful open heath or ancient woodland, and yet be only half a mile from one of Britain’s busiest roads. You can just about forget about the road noise once you get walking.

Today’s treats were: hundreds of incredible toadstools and fungi, including the fairytale-like Fly Agaric, which I’d never seen before, and a Scots Pine full of Crossbills, which was another first. Add that to the dozens of Siskins and Redpolls I saw last week at Ockham and it’s been a great time for me to tick things off. I can’t wait to visit both commons again over the different seasons. Maybe in summer I’ll be lucky enough to see the UK’s rarest reptile – the Sand Lizard, or one of its strangest birds – the Nightjar.

It’s been a while…

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I’m just coming to the end of finishing off the book and that’s taken a lot of my time over the last few weeks. It’ll be going to print next week, so I should have some time to write a blog post to let you know what I’ve been up to over the summer.

Cheers, Rob

PS. I got a new camera and I’ve spent lots of time in the woods

Weird Field World – The Book

I’ve been working on the Weird Field World project for about two and a half years. For the first year and a bit it was nothing more than a collection of sketches and doodles, and then I decided to write a bit of background and I got hooked. Just over a year ago I launched my Patreon page to feature solely my Weird Field World stuff, and just yesterday I launched the Kickstarter to produce a book of the project.

It’s a hardback book, full colour, with a mixture of illustrations, sketches, and background prose and fiction. Part art book, part future history.

My funding goal was £2500 initially, with the hope that I’d get up to six or seven thousand. That would mean putting my book in the hands of around 150 people.

I passed my initial funding target in 36 minutes, £5000 in an hour and forty minutes, and right now just over 20 hours since launch, the funding stands at over 11 and a half thousand pounds. I’m absolutely astounded by the reception it’s got – so a huge thank you to anyone and everyone that’s backed or shared the project.

If you’re interested, head over to the campaign page, there are a few different pledge options to choose from.

I’ll post another update here in a couple of weeks and let you know how the fundraising is going.

Rob

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Guest post: Alastair Temple

This is the second of my guest blog posts, and my guest author today is Alastair Temple.

From Alastair’s website –

Alastair is a professional engineer who has been known to dabble in Digital Art and Photography. He is a founding member and administrator of the international art collective The Luminarium. Alastair has worked with a number of clients worldwide ranging from bands and artists such as Delta Mainline and Jonathan Kreisberg to publishers such as HarperCollins. Alastair is from Scotland and is currently based in Malmö, Sweden.

You can find more of Alastair’s work on:
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Behance

Enough of me, over to Alastair.

This blog post has taken me quite a long time to write (we are coming up for about 10 months now), partly because I am very good at putting things off and partly because I really wasn’t sure what to write about. When I initially put myself forward for doing this I had suggested that I put together a walkthrough for my piece Going Home, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed relatively uninteresting (for those that do want it, I have included a quick overview at the end).

Going Home

It was only after making a more recent piece, my Lighthugger illustration, and how well received it was that I thought of something which will hopefully be more interesting. I realised what I had done well in these pieces, and it is consistent if you look back through my portfolio (for example my first ‘successful’ scifi piece The Guardians has similar features) it is that I hide the lack of details, and hint at them rather than showing them.

Lighthugger

This is even clearer when we look at some of the actual models for example those of the jump gate/portal from Going Home. To put it simply I am not a very good modeller, and I can’t paint, so I have needed to come up with some strategies to hide these facts while I slowly improve them. It is these that I will share with you today, and hopefully they will help someone else out there as well.

The Guardians

Model close/ups (lighting and textures removed):

Model Close Up
Model Close Up

Strategy Number 1 – Scale is your friend
The first and simplest way to reduce the detail needed is to make use of large scale scenes. When things are a long distance from the observer, you simply can’t see as much. For example in Going Home I didn’t need to worry about if the windows looked real or the structure made sense because you can’t see it. Scale allows you to think about general proportions of the object and how it fits into your composition while not having to worry about all the little details that make an object look real when close up.

Strategy Number 2 – Utilising Lighting.
The second strategy is to use lighting to hide or obscure areas and therefore minimise the detailing required. Here backlighting (or side lighting) is your friend. These types of lighting are dramatic to start with which is a definite bonus, but also they highlight the overall shapes of your objects, the shape of any key components and to use textures to hint at smaller details. If we take for example my Lighthugger piece, the use of backlighting, and the nebula behind the ship allows me to define the conical shape of the ship, highlight the two outboard ‘conjoiner drives’ and the ice shield on the front. I can use textures/displacement maps to hint at panelling and other details on the rest of the ship as well as adding some lights to give an impression of windows/exhaust vents/hangar bays etc, without having to worry about if the actual details make any sense. If we take the same model and piece, and reverse the lighting so it is front lit, then you can quickly see it looks like the simple model it is and there aren’t any real details to speak of.

Lighthugger – final with backlighting
Lighthugger – lit from front

Strategy Number 3 – Use Assets (by others and yourself)
This is a fairly simple and straightforward point. You don’t have to create everything from scratch for every piece. In all of the pieces I have talked about today I have re-used things I created for other projects, I have kitbashed from my own assets and kitbash packs (there are a lot of good free ones out there if you don’t have the budget to pay), I have used textures made by others and I have used generative programs to create things in ways I would not be able to myself.

For example in The Guardians we have:

  • The large structure I created in Mandulbulb3D, just messing with parameters until I had something I liked.
  • The lens flare was created by my friend Bobby Myers for me to use for the project.

In Going Home:

  • The ship was kitbashed,
  • The planets were both created using Video Co-pilots orb plugin (and the base texture for the gas giant was an acrylic paint texture by Julian Frener).
  • The engine lens flare is from a pack I bought a while back.

In Lighthugger:

  • The ship utilises textures by Travis Davies and some created in JSPlacement.
  • The background nebula is created through a number of fractals made in Apophysis.

So I guess what I am saying is, don’t let your lack of skills in certain technical aspects stop you. Work on them definitely, but in the meantime, minimise their impact on your final piece by starting simple. Concentrate on getting the composition, colours and feel right and try and do a little more each time!

That walkthrough overview for those who are interested:

  1. Model jump-gate in favoured 3D software (I used Cinema4D, but 3DsMax, Blender or any other could easily achieve the same results). 
  2. Model or kitbash a spaceship design also in 3D. Include both in the same model so they are lit the same, but render separately to ease composition later.
  3. Make 2 planets, I utilised Video co-pilot’s Orb plugin for After Effects for this and utilised an acrylic paint texture for the gas planet.
  4. Composite in photoshop (note for a central composition like this, you want everything to be almost, but not quite symmetrical).
  5. Add lighting effects, lens flares etc and do final colour corrections. 
  6. Save and upload.

Huge thanks to Alastair for putting this blog post together. As someone who is just starting to learn 3D there’s a lot of great advice here. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I have. Do check out Alastair’s links, website and social media.

Up, Up, and Away

I currently have a Kickstarter project live (it ends on Wednesday May 27th), for some enamel pin badges. I’ve worked on the project with Jeremy Levett – a writer of travelogues and collector of pins, who I also worked with on the Mortal Engines book.

We’ve designed a couple of different airship pins, each in a variety of colours. If you back the Kickstarter you can choose just the one badge or, if you’re really an airship fan, several. We’ve already reached, and surpassed, our funding goal so stretch goals are now in play.

If you’d like to have a look you can do so here.