this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Tag: pencil

August blogfest – day 7


Reinforcements arrive in the nick of time

I’ve been drawing with Palomino Blackwing pencils for most of this year. I’d thought they were just posh, over-priced, designery nonsense, but actually having tried them I bloody love using them. They are just great quality, simple as that. A much smoother graphite than I’ve found in any other pencils, and the wood sharpens beautifully. They are expensive, but for me they are worth it.

Today, I did order a couple of other high-end pencils to compare them with – a couple of Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HBs, and some of Tombow Mono 100s. I’ll post my thoughts when they arrive and I have chance to give them a go.

I used to always use a Swann Morton scalpel, with a 10A blade to sharpen my pencils, but as I’ve got busier I just use a sharpener as they’re so much quicker. When I was in London recently I went to L. Cornelissen & Son, a truly wonderful art shop in Bloomsbury, where I picked up a long point sharpener – and I love it.


Just a smidgen of the loveliness that lay behind the doors of L. Cornelissen & Son.

August blogfest – day 2

Yesterday’s work went pretty well. The sketch I was working on for the company in California has been approved, so that can get drawn up a little neater and inked. The tattoo commission is coming along nicely, although I put that to one side for a while  – it’s sometimes good to take a look at your work with a fresh pair of eyes after a few hours away from it. I’ll finish the inking of that today and it can go in the mail tomorrow to Connecticut.

Once the tattoo is out of the way I’ll work on some ideas for the branding project. I’ve already jotted down some stuff in my notebook, so I’m not starting from scratch on that.

While I’m working on all those things, I’ll be trying to think about my website. Currently I don’t have one, or I do, but it’s a holding page that hasn’t been updated in six or seven years. I’m planning on designing something simple, that just links to my social media instead of having a gallery I’d have to update regularly. I’ve asked Jon, who I work on the North v South podcast with, to build it for me.

And finally, I’ve just been commissioned by a new illustration magazine to work on a step-by-step tutorial article for them. Nervous and excited about that in equal measure. It’ll probably end up being similar, visually, to this post. It’s a sci-fi themed illustration, so it’s right up my alley. I’ll probably start work on that later in the week.


Illustration sketch.


Drawing lots of weird little floating rocks at the moment. Not sure what I’m doing, or where I’m going, with them. But I’m having fun.

Drawn with Blackwing or Lamy pencils in a Moleskine sketchbook.


Four Flyers

Sometimes, it’s nice to just sketch very loosely, and see what happens. I had no idea what the first of these was going to be before I put pencil to paper, but very quickly it became a little one-man spaceship. I liked it so much I carried on and drew another three. I might do more, they look pretty cool as a set I think.

Drawn on cheap copy paper with a Blacking pencil. Tweaked in photoshop for contrast and levels, and a bit of paper texture added.


Four flyers, pencil sketch

A lone spaceship…

It’s been a while since I drew a spaceship, so it was fun to create this little one-man flyer. I think it’ll get some colour in the next few days – probably orange.

One-man flyer.

One-man flyer.


One of the recurring themes of my droids has to be tentacles. I don’t know why but I do love drawing a nice set of tentacles (no sniggering at the back). I quite like drawing octopus and squid too, so it’s not just droids.

There’s definitely a weird hybrid of jellyfish and octopus going on in most of these, with hints of The Matrix and The Empire Strikes Back.


A thing about fish…

I have a thing about drawing fish. You should know that already, because this is the second time I’ve started a blog post with that line. The first fishy blog was more about the illustrator Ian Miller and his continuing influence on me. This blog concentrates on the fish.

I’m not really sure where this fishy fascination comes from. I did have a tropical fish tank when I was a kid… but my drawings very rarely resemble guppies or neon tetras. I do like the mystery of those fish that swim in the deep oceans, I even love the names of the ocean depth zones – bathyal, abyssal, hadal. Hadal in particular, named after Hades. Pretty appropriate for some of the demonic looking fish that live there.

The first of my recent fish, isn’t that deep living. It’s more carp like, maybe with a little Piranha thrown in. It started as a pretty rough sketch done over lunch one day, and at that point I wasn’t really sure if there was anything worth pursuing. I did nothing for a few days and came back to it and began inking in some outlines.

Things progressed reasonably smoothly, if slowly, until I came to the scales. No matter how many times I pencilled in the pattern, it just didn’t look right. In the end I resorted to drawing a criss-cross pattern on the back of my hand and then twisting and turning it until it looked vaguely like my fish.

It’s still not right – definitely something for me to work on – but overall I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out.

Fish two is my Angler Fish. One of those curious deep ocean dwellers with the illuminated lures that dangle over a jaw full of sharp teeth. Nothing too unusual about the drawing itself, but I definitely made a painful decision about cross hatching the background. Sometime you just have to bite the bullet though. I think it took me over 20 hours just to complete – and a rough estimate of around 35,000 lines of hatching.

I’ll think twice before I do that again.

The Other Side of the Street

It was pointed out to me that Doodle Street was missing a few crucial amenities. Notably a flower shop, a pie shop, and of course a pub.

This oversight has now been rectified.

Illustration of a row of shops

Who says the high street is dying?

Imaginary idyll

I’ve taken to carrying a sketchbook with me over the last few months, particularly if I’ve been working at a client’s office. It’s nice to get out on a lunchtime and doodle while I have a bite to eat.

This landscape is the product of a few lunchtimes in a pub by the Thames. It began as nothing but a doodle of a rock…

Beginnings of a sketch

First doodlings

It took a couple of days, but only an hour or so of actual drawing, for it to progress into a landscape…

Sketch book drawing

Work in progress

The final drawing. Could be the lake district, or possibly somewhere east of the Shire in Middle Earth.

Finished drawing of a landscape

The final sketch


I’ve realised that this drawing reminds me of the drawings of the British walking book author Alfred Wainwright. His Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells are full of beautiful renderings of the Lake District.

Doodle Street

Doodles often end up being much more, which is sometimes a problem if I’ve started doodling on a scrap of paper, or if I’m simply sketching in a corner of another drawing. However, yesterday, my doodle simply evolved to fill the space available.

I began scribbling the beginnings of a house on a folded piece of paper I was using to keep another drawing clean while I worked.

Sketch in pen of a couple of buildings

Initial doodles…

I quite liked where it was going, so I carried on, and on. Eventually filling the space I had with half a street’s worth of buildings.

Sketch in pen of additional buildings

More building work on Doodle Street

I added some background, and extended the street with a little tudor building to the left, worked in a bit more detail and the pen work was finished, just the colouring was left.

Final black and white sketch

Ready for some colour…

I use photoshop to colour my drawings, using multiple layers to build up the colour and detail. The final version of Doodle Street has over 80 of these layers. To show how this builds up into a final illustration I made a process movie…

The final image is shown below…

Finished coloured sketch

The builders have finished, Doodle Street is complete.