Sunday, December 30, 2012


I thought I should post this because sometimes
a) people ask me about my process and how I make my pictures look effortless
b) students tell me they have drawn something "loads of times" to get it right and that turns out to be about four times
c) people get scandalised because I "cut up my artwork for no reason" and ask me why I don't work on nice clean sheets of paper that look great framed up.

So here's how it goes.

If I find a pose hard to get right, I paint about three sheets of it. If it's easy, I'll just paint two sheets.
Sometimes I feel really sure of what I'm doing, then I'll just paint one sheet.

Next, I cut out the versions that strike me as good in some way...

...and put the rest straight in the recycling.
Editing improves most things.

I sort through the "good" paintings and pick the one that works best in context. Sometimes there isn't one that's good enough, then I make a note, get on with something else, and redo the whole thing the next day.
In this case I picked the dog at the bottom. The rest goes in a box. Sometimes I pick particularly nice characters from the box and collage them into original art for sale, but really only the best. The rest I might make into gift tags or some such.

This really works for me. I could pretend that I just meditate and then do it beautifully right the first time, but I don't think that's helpful to other people trying to make art. Sometimes it's just a case of trial and error.

Flexible Inking Nibs

I just replied to a request from an illustration student who wanted recommendations for drawing nibs that produce a flexible line.
I thought maybe someone else would be interested, so here's my reply:

Deleter G nib: A very sturdy, easy to clean nib from Japan, flexible
but stiff, doesn't scratch at all. Very easy to use and control, makes
an assured line, doesn't leak. It's pretty much perfect if you want to
do a lot of neat, lively linework. It doesn't have much personality of
its own. You can buy it in a set with two other useful Manga drawing
nibs. Dinkybox sells them in the UK. 
My Favourite Nib For Getting The Job Done. 
Mapping nib: there are a number of these, they are all similar and
I've been using different brands interchangeably. (If you buy a set of
Deleter nibs, there will be a Japanese version included called
'Maru'.) They are wonderfully scratchy and splattery if you put
pressure on them. You can do fast, swirly, jittery, experimental
drawings with these. Buy a whole bunch because if you use them with
pressure and make them splatter they stop working quite quickly. They
are very cheap, and fun, and you can just walk into any art shop and
pick up a bunch.
They need a special pen holder because they are smaller than standard.

Gillott nibs are easy to get in the UK, so here's a list:

Gillott 303: A soft, vey flexible nib, sturdy enough, but it feels
fragile. The line varies from hair-thin to almost brushlike. It picks
up every jitter of your hand. It's full of character. I think once you
work it out it could be easy to use and really expressive. Lovely for fiddly hatching, too.

Gillott 404 has a lot of authority, somehow. It's fairly stiff and
good for decisive lines rather than swirls, and makes you feel like an
important artist Making A Statement In A Few Lines.

Gillott 1950: a tiny crow quill that's nice for hatching and doodling
and noodling about.

Other brands and stuff:

Hunter 100 nib: I've never used one but I want one. People really love
it, apparently it's sensitive and has huge variation in line.

If you want to try doing linework in brush, get a kolinsky sable round
watercolour brush, size 2, 3 or 4. They seem expensive but it's worth
it. Invest in one and keep it really clean. I was given one as a child
and it changed my life. Really good brushes are awesome.

I love Chinese brushes, especially wolf hair ones. They are really
cheap. I have a separate brush for colouring in each of my characters
because they are all so different. That's what I use for gestural work
- a brush pen doesn't ink as expressively and messily as a real brush.

You can make your own brushes if you really get into it, and even use
things like q-tips or broccoli for effect. I tend to put a lot of
fingerprints and smudges on my work.

A great tool to carry with you for sketching is a Noodler's Ahab
Fountain Pen. It's no good for scratchy drawings but it has a
beautiful varied line, and you can fill it with Noodler's Black Eel
Ink which dries waterproof, if you want to do watercolour washes over
I generally use Winsor and Newton black ink, and for colour washes Dr Ph Martin's radiant concentrated water color.

Friday, December 28, 2012

London Wildlife

Here's a nice thing to watch: a BBC programme on London Wildlife. It has footage of extremely unexpected gutter-dwelling scorpions, hedgehogs hooked on coffee, falcons hunting around very familiar buildings, some dancing grebes, ducklings launching themselves off a high balcony, a Pelican swallowing a pigeon whole, and foxes hunting seagulls on a rubbish tip. And sparrows. I like sparrows.

Warming Up

It's high time to paint the new cat book. I decided to paint all the characters first this time because they will have to be sent off to be drum-scanned. The rest of the book I can scan myself on my flatbed scanner at home, but the characters are painted on rough watercolour paper, and that doesn't scan right unless done on industrial grade equipment.

This is a photo of my first notes of the rules for painting the new character - a rather lively violet puppy. It is harder to paint than the cats because its body is more jointed, and it needs to be very cute, so its head is bigger and rounder than I'd normally paint it. More than half the time it goes very wrong. So I'll fill a few more sheets with dog exercises before I start on the actual artwork, otherwise I'll just use up all the good watercolour paper on lumpy puppies.
Puppy painting ongoing
The puppy is painted with two different brushes and my fingers, which is another complication. All the cat characters have their own brush and that's that, but brushwork looks too sophisticated for the puppy. It needs to be a bit smudgy and clumsy. So my fingers are going to be dyed violet for the next few weeks.

I'll go off to Australia for a month in late February, and I need to finish this book before that.
It should work out... I just need to get back into painting. Today I made some warm-up paintings of dinosaurish beasts. As you can see, I'm a bit stuck on boring poses and all the parts don't quite hang together yet. That'll settle within a few days, as usual.

I do actually have an idea for a book about dinosaurs, by the way, but it's unlikely to happen any time soon, I have other plans for 2013.


Sunday, December 23, 2012


Keep scrolling down for a treat ------

And here's something for you to watch: "Flyboy and The Haunted Snowman", a beautiful little musical puppet show by Matthew Robins.
... now have a Christmas biscuit and a cup of tea, then watch PART TWO:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Plans for 2013

Here's a list of new things I have planned for 2013.

I've been working at Plymouth Uni as an associate lecturer for a while, and I noticed how much I enjoy having a workplace to go to. I also like having colleagues, sharing cups of tea over work, and seeing a variety of work going on.
So this coming year I will get my dream studio - I started by renting a table in a lovely shared studio in central London, let's see how that goes. It certainly seems wonderful, with really nice people, a courtyard, paint stains, an old-fashioned image enlarger... I can't wait to start work there.

I finished writing a novel some time ago, and I am working on another.
It's always been my dream to be a novelist, and this year I will work towards getting one published.

There's one coming out soon. I am really pleased with it.

This is very officially going to happen very soon indeed: the graphic novel I completed some time ago is about to be published. I put a lot into this one, work, care, dreams, memories and ideas... Sometimes I have a chat with some of the characters when I wake up in the morning, before I open my eyes.

Of course. I'm just putting this here so you don't worry. There's one coming out soon that Alexis Deacon wrote, titled "Cheese Belongs To You".

It'll be an exciting year.

Culture Street Review

Here's a great video review of "There are No Cats in This Book" by a bunch of kids, filmed by Culture Street.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Square lizard

Square Lizard is an unexpected guest in an upcoming book. He is perfectly happy where he is, which is wherever you least expect him, as long as it's a cuboid space.
He's very happy to be discovered, and happy to go hide again. He'd eat you but he's worried about his figure, so no need to worry, really.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today Things

Today's treat: Moomin coasters. Just got them.

 Today's challenge: how to make three cats pop out of a paper piano. (I finally solved it, this picture is halfway through the process).