this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Category: fantasy

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.

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Inktober 2018

It’s that time of year again where illustrators, artists, and other pen-and-ink wielding entities take part in Jake Parker‘s Inktober initiative.

Last year I only got as far as day eight. A combination of work, and my Inktober drawings being just too detailed and time-consuming meant that I couldn’t complete the project. I will come back to last year’s at some point though. I think Asteroid Belt Blues deserves an ending.

This year I’ve chosen British Folklore as my theme, and each day I’m drawing a creature or a character from some of the wonderfully weird tales we have on the British Isles. Many of the tales I’m drawing I’ve sourced from a couple of great books by Katherine Briggs – British Folk Tales and Legends, and The Fairies in Tradition and Literature. I started with the Lambton Worm, and today (day 18) I drew a Witch-Hare!

Below are all 16 illustrations from the first 17 days. Obviously doing a folklore theme there was no way I was doing anything on the 13th! Each illustration is drawn on A6 (105x148mm) cartridge paper, using Copic SP Multiliners and a Kuretake No.8 Brush Pen. Initial sketches are done with Palomino Blackwings and a Pentel Graphgear Mechanical Pencil.

 

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If I had a hammer…

I do love a good bit or Norse Mythology. Thor and Odin, Asgard and Midgard, Huginn and Muninn… So when Gareth asked me to illustrate Yggdrasil, the World Tree that connects the nine realms, I jumped at the chance.

I was really pleased how this turned out.

Yggdrasil

Drawn, as usual, on A4 Daler Rowney Smooth – Heavyweight cartridge paper, using Copic SP Multiliners and a Rotring Tikky.

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An Ent of Fangorn Forest

Ent-Final

I’ve just started re-reading Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings again – partly just because it’s brilliant and I always enjoy it, but also because myself and Jon Elliman are making a feature of it on our weekly (mostly) podcast – North v South.

The moment I started thinking about reading the book again, I had the urge to start drawing some of the creatures from it. I started with one of my favourite Tolkien creations – an Ent.

Described in the books as…

A large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck. Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say. At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with a brown smooth skin. The large feet had seven toes each. The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the roots, thin and mossy at the ends. But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes. These deep eyes were now surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating.

They are lots of fun to draw. Trying to convey all that texture and age is a really nice challenge.

 

 

Which Tolkien creature should I draw next?

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PRINT SALE!!!

My prints are on sale until midnight tonight! Head over to Ellipress and get 25% off using the code EP25 at checkout. Valid until midnight tonight (Sunday 12th November).

Prints – coming soon.

Test prints.

Checking prints.

In the next week or two I’ll have prints of my work available to buy online. The plan is to have perhaps a dozen illustrations available at a couple of different sizes, shipping worldwide. My good friend Jon Elliman is in charge of printing and despatching – and this week I’ve been checking the first batch of test prints and they look awesome.

As soon as the shop is online I’ll post the link on the blog.

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Fancy some original art?

the-island-redux

I’m now happily accepting a new round of illustration commissions. If you’ve ever wanted to own some original art – and like my work – now’s your chance.

Commissions

If you would like to buy an original drawing, email me at rob [at] thisnorthernboy [dot] co [dot] uk , and you can request one of the following:

An isometric building
A robot
An Astronaut
A Spaceship
An imagined place
Something else entirely

What you’ll receive will be a black and white pen drawing, on an A4 or A5 sheet of good quality, 220gsm cartridge paper. If you would prefer a colour illustration – let me know and we can have a chat.

You can also request for the illustration to be landscape or portrait in orientation.

Any other requests – type of landscape, style of robot etc. can be made, but there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to take this into account. I know this sounds a little strict, but I only want to accept commissions that I’ll enjoy drawing right now, and in return you get a lovely surprise when you open your finished illustration.

What will this cost?

For an A5 (148 x 210mm) commission I charge £60 + post & packaging.
For an A4 (210 x 297mm) commission I charge £100 + post & packaging.

When you email me to request a commission, if you can include the address you’d like it shipped to, I’ll work out the cost of postage and let you know. If you’re happy with the overall cost I can accept payment by PayPal.

When will you get your drawing?

I’ll aim to complete and post all illustrations within three weeks of receiving payment.

 

Tentacles Redux

Recently I’ve been working on a new version of my illustration The Island. I want to offer this as a print, but the original was drawn pretty small in a Moleskine sketchbook so not really good enough quality.

The new version is drawn on good quality smooth cartridge paper. I’ve kept the drawing very close to the original, just tweaking a few things here and there. I’m really pleased with the end result and I think it’ll look great as a print.

I should have prints available, in a selection of sizes, from mid March. I’ll post more information soon.

the-island-redux

Best of the Year?

Instagram is full of #2016bestnine posts right now. Everyone uploading a little three by three image of their most popular images of the year – you can do the same by going to https://2016bestnine.com

Mine are mostly from October, or Inktober. That’s fine, it was a month where my follower count went bonkers and I got lots of lovely feedback about the isometric drawings. Not sure any of these would be my favourite illustration of the year though. (This might be, although I can’t post the full image for another week or so.)

Do you have a favourite image I’ve posted in 2016?

New Year’s Eve sets like an appropriate time to thank you all for continuing to support my blog, to comment and like here and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I can’t really work in a vacuum, so your feedback and encouragement is incredibly important, and I am very grateful. Thank you all, I hope to create some great stuff in 2017 and I hope you’ll be with me all the way.

Isometricness

As I mentioned in my last post I’m drawing a month’s worth of little isometric buildings for this year’s Inktober project. I’ve started off with some medieval / fantasy type buildings, and I’m planning to delve in to sci-fi, WWII, and perhaps Victorian eras too.

Here are the first five. All my Inktober illustrations go on sale as soon as they are posted on Instagram (a couple of these first few are still available) for the price of £31 (including UK postage. Overseas will be a little extra).

I’ll be drawing each building on Daler Rowney cartridge paper, using Rotring Tikky and Copic Multiliner pens.