this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Tag: england


I’ve been to both York (my home town) and Windsor in the last couple of weeks, both boasting more crenellations than you can shake a sword at. I always try to take plenty of photos when I’m visiting historic places, just to add to my reference folder. You never know when you might need to draw a castle.

The Towers

I’ve been working on a couple of illustrations of medieval(ish) towers over the last couple of days. I have a little project that I’m thinking about – and these fit in to that in some way.

Drawn on cartridge paper, using Copic Multiliners and Staedtler Pigment Liners. Coloured using Copic Ciao markers.


The Towers

The Towers

Sentry in clour

Sentry in clour

Watchtower in colour

Watchtower in colour

Line Signal

My friend John Panton makes fantastic short films under the banner of Meat Bingo (best to ask him about the name).

His latest work is a perfect seven and a bit minutes of eerie film-making, set amongst the woods and mists of southwest England. It’s well worth watching – and then you should definitely check out the rest of his films.

<p><a href=”″>LINE SIGNAL – Short Film</a> from <a href=””>Meat Bingo</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The Stones…

Inspired by Linda Thompson‘s song “Nine Stone Rig”…

I’ve been drawing standing stones. Part neolithic, part Lord of the Rings.

Drawing of standing stones

Nine Stone Rig

Drawing of a rock formation

The Stones

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.

The queer worm i’ tha well

I woke up a few mornings ago with a vague thought in my head about a dragon coiled around a hill, and I thought it would make a fun illustration. I knew it was a folk story from England but couldn’t recall anymore. As soon as I was at my desk a quick search on wikipedia filled in the rest.

The Lambton Worm is a story from the northeast of England about young John Lambton who skips church one day to go fishing. He catches a lamprey, but can’t be bothered to carry it home so he throws it down a well. Years later John returns from the crusades to find the lamprey has become a monster terrorising his father’s estate. The worm is now so large it can wrap itself seven times around the nearby Penshaw Hill. With the advice of a witch, John Lambton eventually slays the worm, but at a terrible price.

I love English folk tales, so I started to sketch out some ideas of how this worm might look. In the song the worm…

An’ grewed an aaful size;
He’d greet big teeth, a greet big gob,
An greet big goggly eyes.

…so I had something to go on. I wanted to keep something of the lamprey about the creature too, so it was definitely going to be eel-like with the distinctive lamprey gill pores along its side. My first sketches weren’t promising though.

A very poor drawing

Lambton Worm initial sketch.

I decided that rather than try to depict the entire beast, in a fight with John Lambton, or coiled around Penshaw Hill, I’d use a more graphic composition.

A small thumbnail sketch of the worm

A more promising composition

Happy with this, and with the more stylised version of the worm, I worked on a detailed pen drawing. Even though there are lots of straight lines, I shy away from using a ruler as it just gives too sharp a line. Drawing freehand creates a bit more character, and with a bit of practice you can do pretty well without the ruler. The patterned background allows the worm itself to stand out, ready for colour.

B&W version in pen

Finished pen version ready for colour.

Colouring the worm was reasonably simple using Photoshop. The colour palette was always going to be a dark aqua-ish background with a much more vivid worm. The shading and patterns were built up layer by layer, about 30 layers in total, the eye alone having over a dozen layers.

The Lambton Worm, in bright greens with a big goggly eye

The final illustration.

I’m pleased with the final result, and I think it’ll be the first in a series of three or four illustrations of English folk tales. Next, either Jack in Irons, Recdcap, or Peg Pawler!