this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Category: general

Mountains, moors and make-believe

There is something magical about creating a place or a world that previously only existed inside your own head. It’s impossible to draw (at least it is for me) an imaginary landscape without wondering about the people who inhabit it, or the history of it, or the flora and fauna that fill it.

Some of my landscapes are very much rooted in the real world, the lake district is never far from the tip of my pen, while some have only the loosest foundations here on earth.

Only one of my landscapes exists as is, Slater’s Bridge in Little Langdale in the Lake District. I really must get back there with a sketchbook. It’s an amazingly beautiful place.

Slater's Bridge

Slater’s Bridge

People are very rare in my drawings, partly because I’m pretty terrible at drawing them, but partly because I want to be the person in the picture. I don’t want to share these places with anyone else. Extreme escapism for me would be stepping into one of my illustrations and exploring what’s beyond the edge of the page.

Of Steel and Bone…

One of the many responses I had to my blog post A Crisis of Confidence was a very thoughtful one from Daniel Benneworth-Gray. One of Daniel’s many insightful points was that one way of getting over my frustration would be to invite people to tweet a micro-story for me to illustrate.

Obviously, the first person I asked was Daniel, and he didn’t disappoint…

Daniel's micro-story.

Daniel’s micro-story.

Working to someone else’s idea was liberating, and challenging. Luckily for me Mr Benneworth-Gray’s words are always damn fine and well considered, which made my job of illustrating so much easier.

As soon as I read the tweet I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do. I had the idea of a normal family staring up at a huge giant robot, that was, in turn, staring right back at them. There was a definite ‘The Iron Man’ thing going on here (the book, not the film or the superhero).

The result of Daniel's micro-story

The result of Daniel’s micro-story

The point Daniel made, about the fact that I hadn’t been illustrating – just drawing, was right. Interpreting somebody else’s words and ideas is a completely different challenge to just opening a sketchbook and making something up. It’s easier in some ways, and much harder in others. It is very worthwhile, and even if I don’t take this approach with all my future robots (110 to go), I’ll definitely give it a go from time to time, especially if I’m in a rut.

Huge thanks to Daniel for the idea, advice and encouragement. If you aren’t already following him on Twitter, or Instagram, I suggest you rectify that immediately. His blog is always a joy to read too.

A Crisis of Confidence

I’m 239 days into my project to draw one robot every day for a year. Naively, I thought that by now I’d have transformed into a capable illustrator. The truth is a long way from that.

I’m really no better than when I started. Looking back at my last week or so’s drawings – there’s nothing I couldn’t have done eight months ago. In fact I’m not even sure I’m doing much that I couldn’t have done 20 years ago. It’s pretty tough realising that I’m such a long way from where I want to be, but… I think I just expected way too much.

I started the Droid A Day project to make sure I drew every day, and to try to become a better artist, or illustrator. For the previous 20 years I’d barely drawn anything, I don’t know why not, somehow I’d just stopped drawing. I’d gone from a kid who drew all the time, to a bloke who never picked up a pencil. If people had asked me during those 20 years what my hobbies were, I’d still have said drawing. It was like a blind spot. Now I’m here, trying to become an illustrator, hoping at some point to be good enough to be doing this for a living – and those 20 years weigh so heavily on my shoulders. 20 years of missed opportunity. 7,300 days of missed practice.

I think that 7,300 number is important. It’s a big number, and it’s an awful lot of drawing missed. It puts in perspective the 239 days I am into this project. I’m kidding myself if I think that doing a robot drawing every day for a few months is going to turn me into an illustrator. It’s definitely better than doing nothing, but it’s not the panacea I thought, and hoped, it might be.

What I need, I think, is more structure to my drawing. I think I need, in effect, to educate myself – to teach myself to draw. The difficulty will be in critiquing my own work, deciding where I need to change or improve, deciding when I’m deserving of a gold star, and when I need a detention.

There are a lot of resources out there for someone who wants to improve their drawing skills – YouTube videos, Tumblr feeds, art technique books, anatomy references… So I just need to make a start, decide what needs fixing first.

Perhaps there are bad habits I need to unlearn, maybe I don’t look closely enough, maybe I’m too impatient when I draw…

The Droid a Day project will continue. I’m not prepared to throw that away, so there’ll definitely be 126 more robots, but I’m going to have to supplement that with some other drawing. Exercises, life drawing, sketching, perspective work…

I made a mistake of thinking that because I was good at drawing as a kid, that I’d get really good again if I put a bit of effort in. Actually, I need to put a huge amount of effort in (and not just for 365 days) to make up for those lost 20 years.

I want to be an illustrator. Starting from now.

Size Matters

Bigger is better. Or so they say. Particularly in Texas I believe.

When it comes to my work, I’ve never been into ‘big’. My work tends to be small, tightly controlled, detailed – rather than expressive and sprawling. I’ve recently begun working much smaller though, as way of getting more ideas down on paper – rather than worrying too much about the finished product. Some of these little doodles will stay just that, but a few of them may become something else at a later date. Redrawn at a larger scale, details added, lines refined – all the while trying to keep the essence of what it was I liked about the doodle in the first place.

All the following drawings were done in pen, so no pencil or rubbing out, and were begun with almost no thought in mind as to what the aim was. In terms of scale, the largest of these little doodles is about 25mm high.

Mechs, probes, flyers…

Mechs, probes, flyers…

Flyers, skiffs, speeders…

Flyers, skiffs, speeders…

Low altitude flyers

Low altitude flyers

Multi-legged mechs

Multi-legged mechs

Some kind of hovering probe

Some kind of hovering probe

Three-legged mech and pilot

Three-legged mech and pilot

Heavy transport flyer

Heavy transport flyer

Stubby little speeder

Stubby little speeder

One-man flyer

One-man flyer

These were all drawn using a 0.1 or 0.2 Staedtler Pigment Liner, on bristol board.

It’s good fun drawing at this scale. There’s no room for obsessing over details, you just have to get in there and create some forms and hint at structure. They have bags of character at this scale too – the challenge will be to capture that if I work these up into full-scale illustrations.

A place to doodle

I’ve been drawing pretty much all my life, but I’ve never really done anything with it. As a graphic designer I occasionally have to sketch a concept and very rarely I might do an illustration for a client. But those occasions are few and far between.

That means that generally nobody sees my doodles and sketches, and it’s probably why I don’t draw as often as I should/like, which is why I’m starting a blog of my work. Hopefully it’ll act as a catalyst for me to draw an awful lot more, and by drawing more I hope to get better at it. If I get better at it, then maybe people will enjoy having a peek at it every now and again.

In the future, if things go to plan, the drawings that feature on this blog might become something else, or part of something else, or they might just spur me on to create something more substantial. What that might be I don’t really know.

Even if this all comes to nothing, at least I’ll still be drawing.