this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Tag: illustration

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.

Off the radar

Hi all, apologies for the lack of blog posts in the last few months. I’ve become a little disillusioned with social media lately and that’s meant I haven’t been posting content as frequently. I’m not sure if that’ll change too much, algorithms and the like are taking a bit of the joy out of it. When you post something and it gets half the engagement a similar post was getting a couple of years ago, despite having more than twice the number of followers, it’s a bit discouraging.

Anyway, here’s what I have been up to since summer.

Patreon. I’ve continued to work on my Patreon project – Weird Field World. There’s a bit of info about it here. I’m really enjoying fleshing out the world, adding background, history, little stories and characters. The engagement with my supporters there is great, and it’s very energising to have people to discuss the project with. You can support me here.

Inktober. I failed to finish Inktober this year. I think I just ran out of steam and enthusiasm for the project after a couple of weeks. My plan was to draw a series of little building based, loosely, on the play Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas. I started off OK, but there wasn’t, perhaps, quite enough to go on for a whole month of building drawings. I think I managed 14 or 15 in the end. I was reasonably happy with most of them, and I might add one or two more at some point. A bunch of the illustrations are available to buy, so I’ll add a separate post soon.

Illustration work. This year has been a disappointment compared to last year. Working on a couple of books, plus work in a couple of magazines, some t-shirt designs and a little concept art work meant that 2018 was by far my best year for paid illustration work. 2019 by comparison has been awful. I’ve had a steady flow of private commissions this year, but no major commercial work at all. I’ve worked on concept art for a couple of clients, but both of those projects fizzled out due to publishing or financial issues. It has made me realise that I need to be much more proactive in seeking work, so in the last few weeks I’ve been getting organised. The year has ended brighter, a few little commercial projects have come in over the last two weeks, and I’ve had enquiries about a couple more.

Digital Illustration. A year or so ago I bought myself an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, hoping to dive in to the world of digital illustration. One of the main reasons for doing so was to be able to produce super clean linework that would reproduce well in print. I have found working digitally a huge, and difficult, leap. The simple act of drawing on something other than paper, even with a matt screen protector on the iPad, has taken a huge amount of time to get used to – and there were many times when I thought it simply wasn’t going to be possible for me. The turning point was a suggestion from Rob McCallum on Twitter that I simply give up working on paper for a while, and only sketch on the iPad. It might seem like an obvious solution, but to draw digitally, and not get the results you want, for even a day was quite a task for me. Gradually, over the course of a couple of weeks things began to feel more natural. I got used to the feel of the stylus on glass, to the way digital lines worked, how to tweak brush settings to suit my way of drawing. Now, although I still have huge amounts to learn, I really do feel comfortable working on the iPad. I even enjoy it. Part of that is down to just how good the iPad and Pencil are, and how great a piece of software Procreate is. Together they are really quite formidable. Adobe and Wacom should be worried, particularly with the lacklustre release of Photoshop for iPad.

Parklife. I’ve continued to get out for walks as often as I can, if not as often as I’d like, in Bushy Park. Getting out in to the fresh air, and out in the open is hugely important for me, particularly if I’ve been stuck at my desk for a few days. I still get a thrill from seeing the variety of wildlife in the park – Red and Fallow deer, woodpeckers, kingfishers, and a huge number of other different bird species. I can’t recommend getting out in to the countryside enough. Make the effort if you can, you won’t regret it.

Reading. I’ve struggled to find moments to read this year. Not commuting in to London at all has been one factor – the only good thing about a three hour commute each day is that it gives you three guilt-free hours to read each day. Apart from that I just don’t seem to have been in the right frame of mind. Perhaps it’s a feeling of guilt – spending time reading when ideally I’d be working – even if I haven’t had the work to do this year. I’ve tried to put things right in the last month or so. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Gareth Powell’s sequel to Embers of WarFleet of Knives. And Ann Leckie’s Provenance, set in the Imperial Radch universe she introduced us to in Ancillary Justice, was a great read. Currently I’m reading Wilding by the appropriately named Isabella Tree. It’s the story of how she and her (affluent) family set about rewilding large parts of their 1400 acre estate in Sussex.

That’s it for now. I’ll do my best to post more often. Do let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to write about.

 

You can find prints of my work here

I also have a Patreon page

And you can find more of my work online…
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Charity Raffle for the Alzheimer’s Society

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My good friend Gareth Hammond is doing something amazing in aid of The Alzheimer’s Society. He’s cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats – 980 miles in just nine days. To help him raise some money I did this little tribute to The Beatles Yellow Submarine (Gareth’s a big Beatles fan) to be raffled off.

You can buy a ticket for the raffle here.

Guest posts

Hi all. Over the next few months I’m going to publish some guest posts here on the blog. I’ve asked a bunch of people over on Twitter and the response has been great. There’ll be posts from established illustrators, 3D modellers, comic artists, video game concept artists, book cover illustrators… It should be lots of fun and a bit of a change from my usual posts. If there’s a type of creative person you’d like me to feature on the blog just let me know in the comments.

You can find prints of my work here

And you can find more of my work online…

Patreon
Twitter
Instagram
Facebook
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Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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

Become a Patron!

And you can find more of my work online…
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Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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

And you can find more of my work online…
Twitter
Instagram
Facebook
Tumblr

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

 

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.

 

You can also find prints of my work here

And you can find more of my work online…
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Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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

I also have a Patreon page

And you can find more of my work online…
Twitter
Instagram
Facebook
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Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

 

‘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

I also have a Patreon page

And you can find more of my work online…
Twitter
Instagram
Facebook
Tumblr

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

 

Mortal Engines: Original Art Sale

If you’ve read my earlier post you’ll know that I worked on The Illustrated Guide to Mortal Engines during the summer. Now that the book is out, and the film has had its world premiere, I thought it would be good to make some of my original drawings available to buy.

The illustrations below all feature in the book, and are hand drawn in ink on cartridge paper. The size of the illustrations, and in some cases the paper varies as multiple illustrations were sometimes drawn on a single sheet. If you are interested in buying an illustration then you can message me on Twitter or Instagram, or drop me an email – rob [at] thisnorthernboy [dot] co [dot] uk

Please note: © Rob Turpin, 2018. These original artworks may not be reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of Scholastic Limited. All rights reserved.

I’m happy to answer any questions you have about the illustrations.