Green. I seek out green places more and more as I get older. The combination of peace and the sounds of nature seem to give me an incredible sense of well-being. Advocates of ‘Forest bathing’ have a point. At this time of year, particularly, the colours are incredible. Fresh, vibrant, jewel greens. White and yellow of Cow Parsley and Cowslip. The unexpected violet-blue of a glade of Bluebells. But green, always the green. Dappled sunlight and mossy roots and rocks. There’s a path I’ll always take.
I’ve just got back from a week spent up in York with my parents. I miss Yorkshire, and a few days roaming around the countryside in good weather made me realise just how much.
One of those days was spent at the RSPB site at Bempton Cliffs, on Yorkshire’s East coast. 300′ high chalk cliffs alive with seabirds, and cliff-top meadows full of life. It’s an incredible place and I really do recommend visiting if you’re ever in the area.
Apologies for not updating my blog for such a long time. I think once the Weird Field World book was printed, packaged, and mailed out to all the Kickstart backers I was a bit drained. I’d been so focused on the book for so long it was difficult to give anything else my attention really.
With a bit of distance I can start to give a bit more love to the blog and to my Patreon page that’s also been a bit neglected of late.
I thought I could start by letting you know what I have been filling my time with over the last few months.
It’s mainly been nature photography. I got a new camera back in October, which I blogged a little about here, and in March, I bought myself a new zoom lens for it. I’d grown increasingly frustrated by seeing animals and birds, but not being able to get a half decent photograph of them, so a zoom seemed a necessary addition. I went for the Fuji 70-300mm zoom, rather than the 100-400mm version, mainly because of the difference of almost £1k in price. I’ve been incredibly happy with it so far. What I didn’t really expect was that it would really change how I experienced the outdoors. Previously, if I was out for a walk I wouldn’t give a huge amount of attention to those things I couldn’t photograph – little birds skulking in bushes, or distant buzzards and kites circling. The new lens brought all those things close enough for me to identify and to get some decent photos, which made me massively more interested in them. Since getting the new lens in March, I’ve counted seeing 68 species of bird, and 13 of those were brand new to me. Even though I was walking in the same places mostly, and at the same times of day, I was noticing much, much more.
Besides taking photographs, I have managed to find time to get a few new products up on my online shop. If you enjoyed the Weird Field World book there are some matching stickers and prints available.
In March and April I worked with the UK fragrance company Thomas Clipper, on the packaging for their new men’s scent – Atlantic. This was a really enjoyable project to be part of. Here are a few images from the final packaging.
I’m going to make an effort to blog more regularly for the rest of the year. As always, if there’s something you’d like me to write about – let me know in the comments.
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.
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.
I’ve recently bought a new camera, a Fuji X-T4. It’s a more serious beast than my old Olympus Pen EP3. Having a better camera means I have to try and improve my photography skills, and not just rely on the auto settings. The auto settings do a reasonable job in most cases, but by using them on the Olympus, I wasn’t learning anything. Now I have the X-T4 I’m trying to at least shoot on aperture priority mode if not full manual. It’s fun. Not just the photography, but the learning a new skill. Wish I’d started it earlier in lockdown now.
I’m also making more of an effort to get out and about to go for walks and to take photos. It’s great having 1200 acres of royal park on my doorstep, but I kind of know it like the back of my hand now, so it’s well past time to explore new places.
Last Friday I visited Ockham Common, and today I went for a walk around Wisley Common. They are actually part of the same area and habitat, but divided by the A3 road from London to Portsmouth. It’s quite strange to be in the middle of a beautiful open heath or ancient woodland, and yet be only half a mile from one of Britain’s busiest roads. You can just about forget about the road noise once you get walking.
Today’s treats were: hundreds of incredible toadstools and fungi, including the fairytale-like Fly Agaric, which I’d never seen before, and a Scots Pine full of Crossbills, which was another first. Add that to the dozens of Siskins and Redpolls I saw last week at Ockham and it’s been a great time for me to tick things off. I can’t wait to visit both commons again over the different seasons. Maybe in summer I’ll be lucky enough to see the UK’s rarest reptile – the Sand Lizard, or one of its strangest birds – the Nightjar.
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.
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 War – Fleet 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.
I get asked a lot about what art materials I use for my drawings and illustrations. So here’s a blog post showing exactly what I have scattered around on my desk right now. If you aren’t familiar with the kind of stuff I draw, have a browse though the blog, or have a look at my work on Instagram or Facebook.
A good pencil won’t make you any better at drawing than that rubbish one you have in your pocket from a recent trip to Ikea. An expensive brush won’t instantly turn you in to the worlds best watercolourist. That watercolour pad you splashed out on, you know the one – hand made, 100% cotton, acid-free, cold pressed – isn’t going to make your drawings and paintings any better than if you were drawing on a Post-It note – unless you practice, unless you draw and draw and draw. New art materials are great, but they aren’t a short cut to being great at art, because there isn’t a short cut to being great at art. You just have to draw. Draw the stuff you love, draw the things you find difficult, set yourself some challenges, but most importantly just bloody well draw.