this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Tag: thisnorthernboy

Innsmouth

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.

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Fun(gi) in the woods.

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.

Weird Field World – The Book

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.

Rob

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Park Walk

Another beautiful walk in Bushy Park. The ground frosty, the air clear and crisp, the sky bright blue. Couldn’t be bettered. Here are some pics.

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.

 

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His Art Materials – 2019 update

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.

But first…

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.

Now to the inky, graphitey stuff…

IMG_3488

Pencils (from top to bottom)

Staedtler Tradition, from 3H to 3B

Staedtler Mars Lumograph, 3H and 3B

Palomino Blackwing 602, not sure of the hardness – maybe a B?

Faber-Castell 9000, HB and 2B

IMG_6783

Mechanical Pencil

Pentel Graphgear 1000 0.7mm By far my favourite mechanical pencil to use.

IMG_3489

Technical Pens

Copic Multiliner SP, 0.03 to 0.7 thickness nibs (my favourite technical pens)

Rotring Tikky Graphic, 0.3 to 0.7

Staedtler Pigment Liner, 0.05 to 0.8

IMG_6780

Brush Pens and Nib Pens

Carbon Platinum

Kuretake Nib Holder and Kuretake G Pen nib

Pentel Pocket Brush

Kuretake No 8 Brush Pen

 

IMG_6782

Coloured Pens

Copic Ciao Markers (lots of them, particularly orange ones)

IMG_3493

Miscellaneous Pens

Edding Gold Paint Marker

Stabilo Point 88 Fineliner

Sharpie Twin Tip Marker

Sakura Gelly Roll Glaze Pen (opaque white)

Lamy Scribble Mechanical Pencil

IMG_3494

Bits and Pieces

Swann Morton Scalpel Blades, 10A

Swann Morton Scalpel

Steel Rule

Faber-Castell Eraser

Faber-Castell Sharpener

Cheap brush for clearing loose graphite or eraser bits

Toothbrush (an old one) for splattering paint or masking fluid

IMG_3495

Bottled Things

Higgins Black Magic Waterproof Ink

Kuretake Sumi Ink

Winsor & Newton Masking Fluid

IMG_3496

Paper

Goldline A3 Layout Pad (the big yellow one)

Daler Rowney A4 Tracing Pad (the grey one)

Daler Rowney A4 Smooth Heavy Weight Cartridge Pad (the pink one)

Daler Rowney A4 Bristol Board (the green one)

Daler Rowney A4 Fine Grain Heavy Weight Cartridge Pad (the brown one)

And also

A3 Minisun LED Lightbox – essential for tracing and refining sketches

Life-size human skull model – reference to die for

Caveat

As I said before, nothing on this blog post will make you draw any better, that’s up to you. Now, stop reading, and draw!

 

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An early morning stumble in to the park

Usually if I wake up early I just lay there wishing I could go back to sleep. Today, at 5.15am, I decided to get up and go for a walk in the park. Proved to be a pretty marvellous idea as I got there before it became inundated with joggers and dog walkers.

The park – Bushy Park – is just a couple of minute’s walk from my house, and I feel very privileged to have it so close by. It’s a Royal Park, set up by Henry VIII for his hunting requirements and its oak trees were used to build ships for his naval fleet.

It’s a varied landscape, acid grasslands, acres of Yellow Meadow Ant anthills, open oak woodland – as well as lots of later ornamental landscaping put in place by Charles I and later monarchs. There are herds of Red and Fallow Deer, Green and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, and an abundance of other birds. This morning I watched a Sparrow Hawk circling and a male Kestrel perched on a branch with its prey. Getting out of bed early has really set me up for the day.

Fifty years since one small step

Apollo_Two Up

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m a bit of a space nut. I’ve always been fascinated by space, astronomy, astrophysics… and to be honest I’d still like to be an astronaut.

2019 marks fifty years since the first moon landing, when Eagle the lunar lander of Apollo 11 touched down. To commemorate that historic moment, and because I just love everything about the Apollo missions, I’ve created a couple of posters.

The first, Twelve Human Hearts, celebrates the humans to have stepped on the surface of the moon. It’s a huge shame that nobody has been back since Apollo 17.

The second poster, F-1, marks the power and brilliance of the Rocketdyne F-1 engine that powered the Saturn V rocket.

Both posters are available from Ellipress. You can also get them as postcards.

 

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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.

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Patronage

First-Five

I’ve started a Patreon page. If you don’t know of Patreon –

For creators, Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs). Fans pay a few dollars per month OR per post you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new.

Currently I make a living dividing my time between being a freelance graphic designer, and being an illustrator. My income from illustration breaks down in to Commercial work – like book illustration or video game concept art, Private commissions – selling original art to order, or by selling prints and postcards of my work. These are all great outlets for my work, but it’s hard to predict how busy I’ll be with commissions at any one time, or if I’ll receive any commercial work.

Starting a Patreon page should give me a small, but regular monthly income from my art. It may be enough to buy some art materials, it might be enough to pay some bills. I’ve really no idea yet, but every little helps.

Here’s how it works.

My Patreon page will feature only my work on Weird Field World – that’s all the strange knobbly spaceships I draw.

If you want to become a Patron, and to support my work you can choose from three tiers of membership.

$2 per months gets you access to –

  • Regular posts including illustrations, background, and fiction.
  • Access to sketches and process videos as I work on the project.
  • Early opportunity to buy original illustrations.
  • Digital exclusives – like desktop or phone wallpapers.

$4 per month gets you all of the above plus – 

  • One original Weird Field World sketch per year.
  • A set of three postcards featuring WF spaceships.

$6 per months gets you all of the above plus – 

  • Choose the name of a Weird Field World spaceship (which will become canon in the universe) and receive a colour sketch of that ship.

Regular content for all subscribers will be sketches and final illustrations, background writing on the universe including a timeline and history of the story, maps and charts, technical drawings of spaceships, and I will also be writing some fiction to accompany the drawings.

If you’re interested in supporting me in this way, head over to my Patreon page for a look. Patronage starts at just $2 per month.

 

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