this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Tag: art

Guest post: Conor Nolan

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This is the second of my guest blog posts, and my guest author today is Conor Nolan. I’ll quote Conor’s bio from his website, as it’s definitely worth a read.

Conor Nolan’s first memory was getting a paper cut after drawing an amorphous blob meant to be a sumo wrestler. Two and a half decades later he’s still drawing, though practice has reduced risk of injury. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 2012, Conor gradually found his footing in the world of illustration. Since then he has worked with a variety of clients, from VICE to Dark Horse Comics to Dungeons & Dragons, and has had his work appear on posters, shirts, card and board games, beer labeling, record covers, magazines, newspapers and a battery of other platforms. Conor lives in Rhode Island with his dog, where they break up time at the drawing desk with nature walks and well deserved coffee breaks.

You can find more of his work on his web site, Twitter, and Instagram. You should definitely check out Conor’s store too.

Now, over to Conor…

Imagine a book of maps. Each page shows a different place, with a multitude of paths leading to a multitude of destinations. Within each path there are beginnings, twists and turns, and eventually, an end. The journeys shown on one page may not resemble the next, but in embarking on each, there are certain consistencies implied: the use of a compass, a continual pressing forward, and the buzzing excitement of seeing your final destination on the horizon. This book, and the myriad journeys within it, looks a lot like my process. Rarely does the path to a final piece share the same route as the last, but all share certain commonalities of exploration, persistence, and fulfilment. Let’s start at the beginning of one such journey, and follow it to its destination.

In early February 2019 I was asked to supply the artwork for a concert poster. The band was Phish, and they’d be playing two shows in July back to back. Inspired by the show structure, it was decided that the poster should be a diptych, with one poster representing each show, and the two coming together to create a single unified artwork. The final art was due in late May, allowing enough time between art delivery and the show for printing. Phish has an avid fan base, and has supported an ongoing legacy with their concert posters, with past artists including Jim Pollock, David Welker, Chuck Sperry, and Ken Taylor, amongst many others—so I was looking forward to being a part of that tradition.

The guidelines for the project were set. The posters would be screen-printed (giving me 3-5 colors to work with) and the dimensions were 16 x 22”. 800 of each night would be printed, and then delivered to my studio where I’d sign them. The subject matter of the art was generally up to my discretion, however it was advised to stay away from fish, skulls and anything too morbid or macabre.

My first step was to start putting ideas down on paper. It was important to me to create an image that would work across both posters, but still feel singular if someone could only afford one of the two. I started to thumbnail possible directions to hash out ideas. These thumbnails are rarely legible to anyone but myself, but excepting this blog post, usually no one but me sees them!

Once I’ve selected the strongest concepts from the pile, I draw out more coherent sketches with additional details and clarifications added. The majority of sketches that I use for professional work don’t include color, but I felt that the limited palette available to me with screen-printing made it wise to consider color earlier in the process than usual.

I submitted the following three sketches, and a short description for each, to the client for review.

 

 

The art director for the project reacted positively to these sketches, but suggested there might be room to push things further. Fortunately, there was room in the budget and schedule to allow for this, so she keenly asked for an additional sketch, which I happily submitted. 

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This concept was a continuation of a narrative that I created in 2015 for my first concert poster for Phish. In that poster, I showed an intergalactic cowboy and his spacesuit-clad horse mining fallen stars from the surface of an alien planet. For this new sketch, the same cowboy was still prospecting a far away world, but this time, he was birdwatching, and taking in the local fauna. One bird in particular is highlighted, with the cowboy’s binoculars fixed on its location. The art director selected it as the sketch to move forward.

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My next step was to develop a rock solid drawing. Many years back, I was lucky enough to see a talk by Kali Ciesemier at The Society of Illustrators in New York, where something she said really stuck with me: that the key to a good illustration is a good drawing. As obvious as it seems now, what resonated with me about this advice was the realization that it never pays to be lazy when drawing, especially at the beginning. Consider the eraser your friend! If something doesn’t look right, get rid of it and start anew. 

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Keeping this lesson in mind, I tend to draw on Bristol paper when working through my drawings, as it can really take a beating with an eraser and not show it too much. Bristol paper is sold by a lot of different brands, at all different price points, but in my experience, the variation in quality between options is minimal. I didn’t have a sheet big enough to match the final size, so I taped two pieces of 12.25 x 15.5” Bristol together, making the entire canvas 25.5 x 15.5”. My preference is always to draw slightly smaller than printing size, as it saves me time when working through an elaborate drawing. 

I almost always use Bic mechanical pencils when I draw. I buy them at the supermarket in bulk right after “Back to School” season and everything is on sale—$10 gets me a year’s supply. Their points are consistently and remarkably sharp, which makes them very conducive to detail-oriented work. I also find their erasers to be far sturdier than those on the typical pencil. The main downside to Bic mechanical pencils is that I’m certainly not helping the environment by using a disposable plastic pencil! My 2020 resolution is to invest in more permanent and durable mechanical pencil that I can continually refill. 

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After the drawing is complete, I scan it with my HP Officejet 7610. It’s both a scanner and decent printer, and has been a reliable workhorse of mine since I bought it in 2012. Since the drawing is smaller than print size, I scan it in at 600dpi. I use my Wacom Intuos Pro tablet to clean problem areas in Photoshop; anything from proportional irregularities to eraser lines to typographic placement is fair game. When I’m happy with the drawing, I change its Color Mode from grayscale to duotone. The duotone color I use is a non-photo blue, for reasons I’ll outline a bit later on. Instructions for this step below:

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After this I divided the drawing in half, and printed both halves on separate 11 x 17” pieces of Bristol paper. These two prints are pieced together with archival tape on the backside, revealing the full non-photo blue print of the drawing, and also the start of the inking phase. 

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Illustrator Henry Pitz wrote in his 1957 book Ink Drawing Techniques that “no medium reveals its deepest secrets except to those who love it”—a feeling that couldn’t resonate more with me. To me, drawing is the battle, and inking is reaping the spoils of war. I find a quality of expression in inking that is unsurpassed. It’s my favorite stage of the whole process, one that I find calms my mind and leaves me oddly meditative.  

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For these posters, the inking process took me about two and a half days of work. I prefer small brushes for the same reasons I work with mechanical pencils—they can get into tight corners and allow for a lot of detail-orientation and precision. When I ink something large like this, I tend to work in a rotating fashion, starting in a corner, inking a good chunk, and then spinning the paper around to work on another corner. The main purpose of this is to let the ink dry. It’s not uncommon for me to put my hand on wet ink, smudging a segment of the drawing, and rotating the canvas prevents that chance. Another concern I watch out for is prevents natural oils from getting on the paper. These natural oils will show up as fingerprints or palm prints in blacked out areas. It’s a small thing, but I try to prevent it to keep the illustration as pure and high contrast as possible.

Once the inking is completed, I scan it into my computer on grayscale mode at 600 dpi. This mode doesn’t pick up the non-photo blue and therefore the ink drawing is left isolated. The ink drawing is enlarged to print size, and coloring commences. With the amount of adjacent projects I had on the table, I chose to hire a colorist friend of mine, Meg Casey, to color flat the drawing: a process that includes blocking out the main shapes, coloring book style, within the drawing so that shading and color can be applied. Fortunately there was room in the budget for me to hire Meg, and it saved me a ton of time to work on other projects. When I received the flats back, they looked great.

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https://www.behance.net/megcasey

Finally, it was time to figure out coloring. The original sketch was a warm palette, with red, orange, and yellow, plus the white of the paper. After living with this combination for a couple days, I decided to reassess: I found it to be a bit of a strain on my eyes, and too close to my 2015 Phish poster palette as well. I wanted to mellow it down without sacrificing the psychedelic vibe that was achieved by three analogous hues. Intuition told me that a purple oriented palette was the right way to go, but it took me a few tries to get there. Remember, only 3-5 colors could be used since this would be screen printed. 

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The approved end result was 5 layers. The colors spanned from the deep, dark purple of the line work, to a sky blue that cuts through the purple like lightning. 

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Here’s how the isolated color palette looks.

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With the illustration completed, thus started a back and forth conversation with the very patient Half and Half printing. They received the final print file, and executed the necessary tweaks to get it ready for screen-printing before starting the process. A couple weeks later, the prints arrived, and the quality blew me away. Hats off to the wonderful people at Half and Half. They did impeccable work and I hope to collaborate with them again in the future. 

http://thehalfandhalf.com/printing/

The second to last step was to sign all of the posters. Vanity aside, this was no easy task with 1600 prints! Signing took me another three days, followed by packing the prints up again for transport. Luckily, the venue of the show was only an hours drive from my studio, so I was able to hand deliver the posters myself. 

So: one journey ends and many more await. Hopefully you enjoyed the ride, and gained some insight along the way. My process is personal and imperfect at times, but over my career I’ve learned to trust my instinct and do what works for me. Should you have any questions about any of these steps or my work, feel free to reach out at nolanillustration@gmail.com. 

Thanks to Rob for letting me take up valuable real estate on his blog. He’s a great artist, and a wonderful person. 

You can follow my work here:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nolanillustration/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/conor_draws

Website: www.conornolan.com

Massive thanks to Conor for putting this post together for me to publish, I think he did an incredible job – of both the poster and the blog post. Conor’s work really is stunning, and he’s definitely an artist whose work I look out for on social media. Brilliant and inspirational. Do check out his links.

Thanks again Conor.

Machineries of Joy

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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

You can also find prints of my work here

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Commissions for 2019

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I’m now happily accepting a new round of illustration commissions for 2019. 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 let me know what kind of thing you are looking for. While you can ask me to draw absolutely anything, it’s probably best to stick to subjects and themes that you’ve seen me produce already. I’m not saying I’d never draw a portrait of your cats, for instance, but it’s unlikely. Some subjects I love to draw are:

Isometric buildings
Robots
Astronauts
Spaceships
Imaginary places

What you’ll receive will be a black and white pen drawing, on 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 £85 + post & packaging.
For an A4 (210 x 297mm) commission I charge £125 + post & packaging.
For an A3 (297 x 420mm) commission I charge £220 + post & packaging.
For an A2 (420 x 594mm) commission I charge £420 + 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 accept payment by PayPal.

When will you get your drawing?

I aim to complete and post all illustrations within one month of receiving payment.

 

PLEASE NOTE: This post is regarding private, personal commissions. If you want to discuss a commercial proposition – illustrations for a book, game, or anything else that you would be selling, then please get in touch directly.

 

You can find prints of my work here

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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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The All Father

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I was recently asked to draw Odin, the Norse god, for a commission. After a few tweets back and forth, between myself and the buyer, it was decided that a head shot of Odin, featuring his raven familiars – Huginn and Muninn – would work best.

I decided I’d try and make this illustration a little more graphic in composition, so right from the beginning I wanted to try and incorporate some Norse carving.

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I’m really pleased with how the final illustration came out. I think the details, shadows and textures work really well. Tim, the chap who commissioned the illustration, was pretty pleased too – which is great, and always a relief.

Drawn, as usual, on A5 Daler Rowney Smooth – Heavyweight cartridge paper, using Copic SP Multiliners and a Rotring Tikky.

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Available for Commissions

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I’m currently available for commissions, so if you’ve always wanted some original art now’s a great time to get in touch. Commissions start at £60 + postage, and I ship world wide. Whether you want a robot, a spaceship, a creature, an isometric building, a floating island, or something completely different, I’d love to work with you on a commission.

You can leave a comment here on my blog, or drop me an email – rob [at] thisnorthernboy [dot] co [dot] uk

You can also find prints of my work here

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PRINTS!

Prints are now available of a selection of my illustrations. My good friend Jon Elliman has created a site – Ellipress – to produce and sell prints for artists and designers. I’m delighted to be the first illustrator to be involved.

Jon prints using Ultrachrome HD inks and archival quality, 100% cotton papers. The prints he produces look absolutely stunning – just as good as my originals!

We’ve launched with just over a dozen illustrations to choose from, at a few different sizes. There’s also a signed and numbered, limited edition of one of my favourites.

Head over to Ellipress and have a look. If there’s an illustration of mine that you like that we haven’t yet made available, just let us know.

Hillside Cityscape

I’ve done three or four of these illustrations now, each one a little different. Part rundown NYC, part Gotham. Drawn with Copic Multiliners and Rotring Tikky pens on Daler Rowney Cartridge paper.

Hillside Cityscape I

Hillside Cityscape I

Pencilling…

Pencilling…

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Finished pencils.

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Adding ink.

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Finished.

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Hillside Cityscape II.

 

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Inspiration Monday

I’m going to start blogging every Monday about what inspires me as an illustrator. It could be about other artists, science, a book I’ve read. Whatever it is that makes me want to pick up a pencil and draw.

Recent book haul

I’m starting today with a very bookish blog post, featuring some titles I’ve got over the last month or so. In no particular order –

One. Lead Poisoning – The Pencil Art of Geof Darrow
Geof Darrow is a comic artist from the US, best known for his work on Hard Boiled and Shaolin Cowboy (see Two). Darrow’s work is incredibly richly detailed, it’s actually hard to describe just how much work he puts in to each image. He’s also an incredible draftsman, with a real knowledge of how things look – whether that’s people, zombies, machinery, creatures, or architecture – Geof’s drawings are always believable – no matter how unbelievable the subject. Lead Poisoning is a fantastic insight in to the world of Geof Darrow, just prepare to be astounded.

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Two. The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet – by Geof Darrow.
The Shaolin Cowboy is a character created by Geof Darrow in 2005. The title character is an unnamed former Shaolin monk on the road with a bounty on his head. This book is almost without any words at all, and instead it’s pretty much one extended fight scene between the – dual chainsaw wielding – Shaolin Cowboy and a horde of zombies. When I say it’s an extended fight scene, I really mean that. There’s a 99 page section of monk vs zombie, with only a single word uttered. It is audacious and unrelenting and it only works because Darrow’s art is so spectacularly detailed and inventive. I’m not sure any other comic artist could have pulled it off. Colour on this book is by the supremely talented Dave Stewart – most famous for his work on Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, and lettering is by Peter Doherty – who I’m sure would admit didn’t have the trickiest job on this particular book.

Three. The Collector by Sergio Toppi.
I’m pretty new to Sergio Toppi, not really looking at any of his work until I was already in my forties. I would have loved his books as a teenager, but there’s no way I would have appreciated his art to the same degree. Sergio Toppi was a Milanese artist born in 1932, he began his career as an editorial and advertising illustrator, but really made his name as a comic artist beginning in the mid 60s.
The Collector is series of tales about a mysterious collector of artefacts from around the world. Set against the backdrop of 19th Century colonialism, the book’s locations include the American West, East Africa, Romania, New Zealand… Toppi creates every place and character with a masterly array of linework, textures, and patterns. His style is almost dizzying, a kind of controlled chaos – all structured with fantastic fundamental drawing skills. The thing about Toppi that continually blows me away though is his composition. He creates images from images. Negative space giving his illustrations light and freedom, which compliments his intricate pen work perfectly. Like Mike Mignola, Sergio Toppi is a master at using dark and light, super high contrast making his images even more dynamic. I don’t think he has an equal when it comes to composing or framing an image. The Collector is entirely illustrated in black and white, and it looks magnificent.

Four. Sharaz-De, Tales from the Arabian Nights – by Sergio Toppi.
Sergio Toppi’s take on the Arabian Nights. Whereas The Collector is entirely black and white, Sharaz-De is punctuated by beautiful colour sections. Toppi’s colours add another mysterious, magical layer to his linework with a palette of blues and greens or pinks and oranges. No where does the colour subsume the ink though. Toppi’s drawings still sing out from every page, his composition and inventive panelling brilliantly evident.

Five. I Wonder What I’m Thinking About – by Moose Allain.
Moose Allain is a twitter phenomenon. He’s also an incredibly prolific artist, cartoonist, writer, poet, and all around charming human. With a background in architecture Moose now creates wonderful worlds of cartoon figures and beasts, buildings and cities, all wrapped up in a sense of playfulness and wonder. His book – I Wonder What I’m Thinking About is a gorgeously produced (via Unbound) collection of his writing and art. The content varies from cartoons to watercolours, from poems to prose, from wordplay to jokes. It’s really quite a hard book to describe, so I just suggest you check out Moose on Twitter and then pick yourself up a copy.
Of all the books featured in this blog post, it’s Moose’s that most makes me want to pick up a pen or pencil and create something. There’s a love of life and a joy that shines through all of Moose’s work, and it’s infectious.

See you next Monday with another post of artistic inspiration.

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FAQs

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I get quite a lot of comments on my posts on social media, and often people are asking me the same questions, so I thought I may as well answer a few of them here.

“Where can I find more of your work?”

I post regularly on social media, so find more of my illustrations on –
Instagram
Facebook
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Twitter
Artstation

“Do you have a Patreon?”

Yes I do. On my Patreon page I’ll be building more of my Weird Field World of spaceships and alien technology. I’ll regularly post sketches, finishes illustrations, maps and charts, and even some written fiction. Supporting me gives you access to unseen work and gives you the opportunity to buy original art before anyone else, and also the chance to get involved with the world building of my Weird Field universe.

“What pen do you use?”

This is the question I get asked more than any other, and I know other illustrators get it a lot too. The first thing to say is – it isn’t about the pen. Yes you might get a bit of a difference in quality of line from pen to pen, obviously a brush pen gets you a different look to a pigment liner, but the pen doesn’t make you any better at drawing. The only way to get better at drawing – is to draw.

However, if you’re interested in the geekery of pens:

Copic Multiliner – 0.03 to 0.7 nibs
Rotring Tikky – 0.3 to 0.7 nibs
Pentel Pocket Brush
Kuretake No8 Brush Pen
Stabilo Point 88

Blackwing 602 pencil
Tombow Mono100 pencil
Steadtler Tradition HB pencil
Rotring Tikky mechanical pencil
Lamy Scribble mechanical pencil

Platinum Carbon fountain pen
Kuretake Zig Manga dip pen

Uni Posca White pen
Sharpies

Other kit…
Minisun A3 Lightbox

Sumi Ink 60
Winsor & Newton Masking Fluid
Daler Rowney A4 Cartridge paper
Moleskine A5 Sketchbook

“Where did you learn to draw?”

I was always the kid that drew, from as far back as I remember I was always drawing. When I was a little kid I used to sit in an armchair at home with a bit of wood across the arms, like a desk. I’d sit there and draw spaceships and monsters and dinosaurs and dragons for hours. Throughout all my school years, despite studying art, I don’t really recall being taught anything at all. Even at college (studying for a graphic design degree) I don’t think I got much in the way of tutoring. After college I barely drew at all for twenty years, since then all my progress has been through practice, and being inspired by all the great artists doing great work out there. One thing that has definitely helped since I started drawing again, has been daily drawing projects. For a whole year I drew a robot every day, and I’ve also taken part in the Inktober initiative for the last few years. Committing to drawing every day, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, is a fantastic way to improve.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Where aren’t there ideas? If you read books or comics, if you watch TV or film, if you look out of your window at home or school or work – there are ideas everywhere. You just have to look and let everything soak in. I get inspired by all kinds of things – looking at industrial buildings from the window of my train commute, the weird old oak trees in the park near my house. Films and books are a big influence – I’ve always been a sci-fi nerd so in my work you can see bits of Ralph McQuarrie, Jim Burns, Carlos Ezquerra, Cam KennedyJean Giraud and Enki Bilal.

“Why don’t you do a book?”

I’m working on a book. Slowly. It’ll be written and illustrated by me. Currently it’s about 75% written, but I’ve barely started thinking about the illustrations yet. So, nothing will be out for a while. There will definitely be a book at some point. And it will be about trolls. I have worked on illustrations for a couple of other books –  Build! A Knight’s Castle, and The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines (of which you can read more about here).

You can also find my work in Beginners Guide to Sketching: Robots, Vehicles and Sci-Fi ConceptsSketching From The Imagination: Sci-Fi, and Issue 2 of the brilliant Graphite Magazine.

“Where can I buy your work?”

You can buy prints of my work here. My good friend Jon Elliman runs Ellipress and has an amazing eye for detail and makes sure my prints look great.

If you would like to own some original artwork drop me a message on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and let me know what you are interested in. There’s a little more information here.

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