Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The making of 'Conflict'.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
Carl Gustav Jung.

Sometime ago I was encouraged to adapt my style of illustration aimed primarily for publication purposes to that suitable for a commercial gallery. It was something I’ve never considered. I decided to rise to the challenge. This artwork is the result of a long process of trial and error to reach a point where an iconic piece could be used as a proposal for a series.

I needed an idea that had potential to be explored at depth. It had to be something that would capture my imagination enough to keep enthusiasm alive. It had to have emotional impact for it to connect with the viewer.

I arrived at the idea of using positive and negative emotional states as the basis of the project. By exploring these, I could produce artwork that represented each state. For example, on the positive side there was scope to use love, joy and laughter balanced on the negative side with hatred, rage and misery. I had originally decided to call the project Gods and Monsters but settled on a more socially acceptable Angels and Demons. Besides, we all have our own angels and demons.

With the initial idea conceptualised, I decided to produce a single piece that captured this theme. It needed to show how the positive state of mind was manifested and equally, show the negative state of mind. Most can place themselves somewhere within this spectrum at any given time. There are those that are equally torn between euphoria and dysphoria. That isn’t a particularly nice place to be. Continuously seduced in either direction by those extremes is debilitating.

And so Conflict, part of the Angels and Demons proposal, came to be.

The interpretation of this individual piece within the proposed series is subjective. The actual meaning is roughly about acknowledging weaknesses within oneself which in turn proves to be great strength.


My angels and demons are not typical of their entities due to the fact they are manifestations of emotional states. As a result, I stayed away from halos and horns. Female figures are chosen to represent seduction, the desire to be lead in any given direction. There needed to be something tactile that would wrap itself around the tormented. I chose soft flowing ribbons for the light. I chose prickly, rigid brambles for the dark. They appear everywhere on their appropriate aspects, twisting around limbs, tangling hair and searching for a way to get a hold. Amongst the explosion of emotions are white and black roses to further enhance light and dark moods.

Both manifestations are not actually touching the tormented. As it is, there is a perpetual standoff between the two, summarised in the Latin quote where light meets dark:

Qui me tangit, vocem meam audit.
(Roughly translated as: Who touches me, hears my voice.)
This suggests that should either actually touch the tormented, their aspect would come to the fore and resolve inner conflict. At the tormented’s feet is a book that represents knowledge that may prove helpful.

A pitiful image, however, upon closer inspection, it’s actually one of hope. The tormented has everything needed to untangle their struggle with both states of mind. All they have to do is unfold themselves from their cocoon, lift their head and see what’s on offer in front of them.

Here are several images showing a variety of stages in the making of the artwork.


The piece uses many aspects of creativity. The illustration style is my signature hand inked hatching and pointillism. There is papier-mâché sculpture. Several decoupage elements give more three-dimensional relief. Finally, the frame itself is entirely hand crafted.
This initial piece is representative of what could be and opens up another avenue of work I never before considered. Curiosity boutiques, galleries and merchandise can all benefit from exploring the possibilities within this project.
It's food for thought, much like the image itself.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Macclesfield Silk Museum Open Art Exhibition 2013 - 2014

Macclesfield Silk Museum has its first open art exhibition on right now through to 1st February 2014. I was lucky enough to be chosen to exhibit two illustrations representative of my work.

All my work is initially inked by hand then scanned into the pc to be tweaked digitally. The illustrations on display are professional matt laminated prints mounted in bespoke frames.

These are created by building a solid pine frame coated in papier-mâché and carefully painting it with enamel before giving it a layer of matt varnish. The effect goes some way to being a three dimensional manifestation of my illustration style. Each mount is then signed discretely in pencil, the print located, the glass secured and everything assembled.


The gallery space has an intimate vibe with a wide variety of work on display. It’s obvious to see the hard work gone into selecting such a diverse range of styles. I went along to the preview evening and enjoyed meeting several staff and contributors to chat casually about my work. The positive feedback they gave was encouraging and appreciated. It's a thrill to be part of the Museum's first exhibition of its kind.

Each piece comes as an illustration print, mounted, signed and presented in a bespoke frame. They are available to order via the museum until the end of the exhibition for the special price of £85.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Page, the Oracle's Lair.

Page, the Oracle's Lair is taken from a range of four themed illustrations. It shows the interactions of two characters in an imaginary world. Here, the characters have unwittingly stumbled onto the Page, an area within Dreamie Land that's the lair to an all knowing entity called The Oracle. The Oracle protects his domain of knowledge by using his fearsome guise. These illustrations are based upon a hypothetical story whilst showcasing illustration style and technique that can be adapted to many uses.

During the inking of the illustration. The notebook is there for sketching out ideas should they pop into my head at inappropriate times!

Original A3 hand inked illustration ready to be scanned into the pc for digital work.

The original scan of the hand inked illustration. The character's faces were added digitally to aid continuity. A lot of little tweaks here and there were made. These were such things as altering proportions, duplicating details, adding effects and more.

Detail showing digital work on the magically enlarged magnifying glass. Note the shine.

Detail to show depth of field effect to the distant toys. This helps create the illusion of space within the image.

Another detail to show the depth of field effect. The toys nearer to the viewer look in focus and stand out against those further away.

A detail to show a toy element. The jack-in-a-box is just one of many toys scattered amongst the books that belong to the character 'The Oracle'.

A close up look at the hand inking. The forearm here was stretched digitally to alter the proportions. Little tweaks can be done quickly once the image has become a digital file. The aged paper on the spell book has also been created digitally.

The full hand inked illustration complete with all digital effects. A larger image can be seen over on my web site, together with others in the series. Check out it over here.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Templar Publishing's Picture This exhibition.

I discovered the other day that Templar Publishing were showcasing various talent over at Salts Mill near Shipley, West Yorkshire. Not being a huge distance away from my area, I thought the hour or so drive would be a great way to clear my mind and regain a little equilibrium. With the prospect of also being steeped in art at the end, it sounded just what the doctor would order.

Salts Mill, as the name suggests, is located inside an old mill typical of the region. I thought the location would be a bit greener. Described on their web site to be ‘semi-rural’ I’d say that’s stretching things a bit. Any notion of an easy journey was gone as I descended into traffic hell that made my local rush hour look like a Sunday drive in tranquil countryside. The mill itself is impressive.


Once through the main entrance I was surprised by how huge the interior was. There was piped music too. Not the irritating type found in lifts. Something that was fitting and at a level that actually added decent ambience. Certainly a good place to work and I actually envied the various attendants. The ground floor was taken up by a local artist, which was a pleasant experience but I was there for Templar’s exhibit!

The second floor was just as enormous as the first, with equally pleasant ambient music and a bookstore. I soon found what I was looking for tucked away in a corner. A wall of talent!

It was very well done and the actual prints were great quality. Fortunately, being mid week, only a handful of people lingered close by at any given moment. I had the area to myself for a while to soak up all the arty goodness.

A good selection of Templar’s books were scattered around, including a side by side offering of Dragonology and Dinosaurology. It’s taken for granted that production values are high with their books but these are things of tactile beauty. Each are chock full with pully-outy bits and stuffed to busting with flippy-flappy bobs.

The area given to illustrated children’s books, from pre-school to young adult, was a treasure trove of bookish discovery. In fact, the entire floor was amazing. It just goes to show what a book shop should really be about.

It was an inspiring afternoon. I thoroughly recommend having a peek if you’re in the area.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What time is it Mr Wolf?

When I discovered Templar Publishing’s fundraiser for Breast Cancer Care I had an overwhelming urge to contribute. Maybe it was because, after I lost Dad to prostate cancer several years ago, I knew from experience the importance of support organisations like these provided? Maybe I just wanted to rise to a creative challenge for a good cause? An artistically designed paper watch auctioned for charity? For whatever reason, to jump in and give it my all just seemed right.

From the start I thought of added value to increase desirability. This idea led to how I could display the paper watch. Considering Templar Publishing is well known for books with high production standards, I thought it quirky to actually make my own. By using the old playground game of What time is it Mr Wolf? as a concept, I was able to tie together themes of children’s activities, time, books, illustration and creativity.

The first task was a foundation illustration. My emaciated Mr Wolf started out in a notebook just before bedtime. Ideas come fast and at such inappropriate times it’s best to scribble them down before they disappear. Sketches are exactly that. Sometimes even I can’t tell what’s going on.

Building stuff from scratch has always been something I've enjoyed. As a breather from inking the illustration, work began on the papier-mâché book. Glue and gunk formed a heavy texture applied to its casing and reinforced the book’s hinge. A felt lined interior was fixed into place. The whole thing was painted with durable satin paint. Meticulous dry brushing gave an aged leather effect. A coat of satin varnish added protection. As a finishing touch, a ribbon book mark was secured and cut to shape.

As the book hardened off, thoughts turned to the watch.

It was always going to incorporate elements of the main illustration that featured on the ‘endpapers’ of the book. I also wanted to focus on an actual timepiece and so decided Mr Wolf should have his own grandfather clock. The watch strap was perfect for the cabinet that housed the pendulum and weights.

By sketching out a few ideas again, I settled on something along the lines of what you see here. I later decided to have Mr Wolf wrap around the clock waving his knife in anticipation of his dinner.

Sometime later I had completed all the hand inking of the main illustration, book and watch. Everything had been scanned, tinkered with digitally and turned into a print ready pdf.

I wanted the best finish possible for all my artwork and that meant matt laminated prints at a professional printer. The process of lamination, a film applied to the printed surface, takes a bit longer but the result is an extremely smooth touch. Having everything printed in such a way also made sure the project had a certain amount of durability.

Once back from the printers I cut out and assembled the watch and book. The book parts were straight forward. The watch was a bit trickier as I was going to veneer the matt laminated printed artwork to the flimsy original strap. In doing so I had to re-cut all the holes! Slowly bending the reinforced strap back and forth meant I could break down the stiffness of the card to create suppleness and wear. To add to the distressed look, I cut notches, painted and varnished it the same way as the book.

Finally, the watch was mounted inside the completed gift box, the original illustration mounted on card and the package positioned in a variety of alluring poses!

From start to finish the whole project was an enjoyable experience. Thanks to Emma O’Donovan and Templar Publishing for allowing me to take part. A heap of talent contributed outstanding pieces of collectable art. With a little luck, my Mr Wolf donation will also help raise money for Breast Cancer Care.