this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Category: science fiction

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.

You can also find prints of my work here

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And you can find more of my work online…
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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.

You can also find prints of my work here

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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

You can find prints of my work here

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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.

Patronage

First-Five

I’ve started a Patreon page. If you don’t know of Patreon –

For creators, Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs). Fans pay a few dollars per month OR per post you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new.

Currently I make a living dividing my time between being a freelance graphic designer, and being an illustrator. My income from illustration breaks down in to Commercial work – like book illustration or video game concept art, Private commissions – selling original art to order, or by selling prints and postcards of my work. These are all great outlets for my work, but it’s hard to predict how busy I’ll be with commissions at any one time, or if I’ll receive any commercial work.

Starting a Patreon page should give me a small, but regular monthly income from my art. It may be enough to buy some art materials, it might be enough to pay some bills. I’ve really no idea yet, but every little helps.

Here’s how it works.

My Patreon page will feature only my work on Weird Field World – that’s all the strange knobbly spaceships I draw.

If you want to become a Patron, and to support my work you can choose from three tiers of membership.

$2 per months gets you access to –

  • Regular posts including illustrations, background, and fiction.
  • Access to sketches and process videos as I work on the project.
  • Early opportunity to buy original illustrations.
  • Digital exclusives – like desktop or phone wallpapers.

$4 per month gets you all of the above plus – 

  • One original Weird Field World sketch per year.
  • A set of three postcards featuring WF spaceships.

$6 per months gets you all of the above plus – 

  • Choose the name of a Weird Field World spaceship (which will become canon in the universe) and receive a colour sketch of that ship.

Regular content for all subscribers will be sketches and final illustrations, background writing on the universe including a timeline and history of the story, maps and charts, technical drawings of spaceships, and I will also be writing some fiction to accompany the drawings.

If you’re interested in supporting me in this way, head over to my Patreon page for a look. Patronage starts at just $2 per month.

 

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Machineries of Joy

gubbins-i-colour

I started a little sketch lately. Nothing more than a doodle really. Started off as nothing on a sheet of copy paper. Wasn’t sure what it was going to be, if anything. But after a few minutes I had a bit of machinery. So I thought I’d carry on. Definitely channeling a little of Geof Darrow’s work on The Matrix, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, I decided that I’d try and fill the whole page with machinery and cables and wires.

It took a while. But I got there in the end. Here are a few process shots…

Once I’d finished the pencils, I decided I’d scan the illustration, blow it up and print it out, and then drop it on the lightbox for inking. I wanted to go a little larger when I inked it just so I could get a little more detail in, and to make sure the quality was good enough for a print for my store.

The final inked illustration looks like this…

Final-Inks

At the top of the page you can see the colour version I’m working on to be produced as a print.

If you’re interested in the materials I used in this piece…

Pentel GraphGear 1000 mechanical pencil
Daler Rowney Heavyweight cartridge paper
Copic SP Multiliner pens
A3 Minisun lightbox

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NEW PRINT AVAILABLE

Deep Space Fleet II

I have a new print available over at Ellipress. It’s a follow up to my Deep Space Fleet work of last year. Deep Space Fleet II features fifty brand new spaceships, in (for me) a surprising variety of colours! Printed on 308gsm 100% cotton artist’s paper, using archival inks the new poster can be bought in A4, A3, and A2 sizes.

I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. It might be my favourite print yet.

Head over to here if you’d like to purchase one.

 

You can also find prints of my work here

I also have a Patreon page

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Spaceship Drawing Time-lapse

I’m planning to do a lot more process videos this year. I’ll have to get a proper rig set up above my desk, rather than just using a GorillaPod.

 

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‘Weird-Field’ Spaceships

‘Weird-Field’ Spaceships. That’s what I’m calling them. I’ve been toying with the idea of drawing some spaceships for a while that don’t use standard means of propulsion, or even non-standard. I wanted to draw a spaceship that looked weird, as if the means of its technology were slightly other-worldly. I came up with an idea of a set of machinery that manipulates some exotic fields in dimensions we don’t understand, to create drive. Maybe these were alien ships, maybe just something human, but far future. It was lots of fun trying to figure out some narrative to all this as was sketching. Eventually, after a bunch of doodles, I worked up a few of the ships in to a more finished form.

 

Weird-Field Spaceships – a brief history (part 1)

The first set of instructions was received in May of 2089. After a period of disbelief, skepticism and blame, it was the scientists who finally knuckled down to decipher the message. Written in a slightly abstracted form of Base-7, this didn’t take too long and the content of the message became clear.

Earth had picked up a broadcast for a set of instructions on how to build a spaceship. By the time the UN, various organisations, and the couple of dozen governments capable of building the ship had finally decided on a course of action to build it, South Africa had already done so.

The first completed ship, christened the Mandela, was a bizarre conglomeration of pipes, cells, and pods, surrounding a crew capsule built for seven. There was zero space for any cargo bar moderate supplies for the crew.

After extensive ground tests, which revealed almost nothing about the ship, the Mandela took off for the first time in early 2090. A shakedown flight proved the ship to be an intuitive and capable flyer, after which the initial mission was launched.

During this time various governments and agencies attempted to build another ship from the same instructions. All failed. Design and manufacture were checked and rechecked, scientists from the successful Mandela construction were brought in to no avail. The ships simply sat there, inert. All attempts to coax them in to life failed. The South African team began construction of a second ship from the same instructions, to be called Biko, but after several months found the same problem as all the other teams. The Biko simply sat in its construction bay, refusing to do anything at all.

Earth now had one functioning spaceship that was able to journey to Saturn in a single flight. The data it brought back was invaluable in research terms, but from a practical point of view – apart from some minor advances in material sciences – the alien instructions had brought little to the people of Earth.

Eighteen months after the failed attempt to build the Biko, another message was received. This time there wasn’t just one set of instructions, but three. The three spaceships were all totally different from each other, and from the Mandela. The only similarity was in the style and construction of the weird pods, capsules, modules, and nacelles. One of the ships was huge, measuring over 120m from tip to tip, yet only had room for a crew of one. The next was a similar size to the Mandela, but room for a crew of four and a large storage area that seemed to be made for cargo. The third ship was smaller than all the others, had two identical crew compartments, each with seating for one, and had a very small cargo compartment.

If there was method or design to the types of ship instructions being beamed to earth, nobody had manage to figure it out yet.

The three ships were to be built, instructed by the UN, by China, the US, and the EU. No other agencies, corporations or governments were permitted to attempt to build ships. This obviously didn’t stop rogue building projects starting up. Some were discovered and shut down, some were only rumoured, and some weren’t discovered until it was too late.

Of the three official ship-building projects, two were successful. The EU, and China both managed to produce working ships, almost identical in operation to the Mandela, but with slightly different performance figures. The US attempt to build a ship failed. Nothing seemed amiss during construction, but once completed the ship simply sat inert in its berth. Scientists from South Africa who had successfully built the Mandela, and failed with the Biko consulted with the US, but nothing was found that could explain the dead ship. Until a few weeks later when a new ship, launching out of Russia, was observed. It was identical in design to the ship the US was had built – but it was obviously successful. Once the diplomatic incident had died down the scientific consensus seemed to be that there was something inherently unique about the way the ships manipulated Space/Time, and that meant only one of each specific ship could be built. The way each ship interacted with whatever weird dimensions, forces and fields provided propulsion, seemed to prevent that exact configuration being used elsewhere. There was much discussion about whether or not this effect was proximity based. Would the Biko work if the Mandela was far enough away? The answer to that, after extensive tests, was no. After sending the Mandela out past the orbit of Neptune, testing of the Biko commenced – and it still just sat there like an expensive rock.

Over the next eighty years, at intervals which were as random as could possibly be established, the instructions for another 317 spaceships were received on Earth. Sometimes the messages included instructions for up to a dozen ships, sometimes the instructions were for a single ship. Eight sets of instructions were received in 2099 for what were obviously interplanetary communications relays. Looking like small ships these provided a massive boost to the speed and bandwidth available for human communications between the planets.

More to come.

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

I’ll be expanding on my Weird Field world over on my Patreon page.

 

You can find prints of my work here

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Cloud Mining

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been pretty busy balancing freelance design work with illustration, so haven’t had a lot of time for the blog.

I’ll try and post a little more regularly throughout the summer.

I drew this cloud mining station (think the dirty underside of Bespin Cloud City) a while ago, and it proved pretty popular on instagram, so I decided to add a little colour.

I wanted to keep the colour palette pretty muted, so just stuck to oranges and some grey tones.

Hope you like it!

IMG_5940IMG_8049

 

Drawn in a Moleskine sketchbook, with Copic SP Multiliners and Copic Ciao markers.

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