Sunday 30 November 2014

Peach coloured roof against an oncoming storm, oil 15 x 20cm

Thursday 27 November 2014

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Monday 24 November 2014

First Edition Auction at the House of Illustration, London


First Editions: Redrawn will be a unique auction of re-illustrated and annotated first editions to raise money for the House of Illustration. Thirty-four acclaimed illustrators – and some authors – have returned to one of their classic books, adding extra illustrations, comments on existing drawings and personal insights about the motivation behind characters. You can find out more about this, as well as view the catalogue here:

I've contributed a first edition of The Bird King (as inscribed above) and a rare first edition of The Arrival. The auction takes place on Monday, December 8, 2014.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Chinese Room, scraperboard, 1998

The philosophical concept of the Chinese Room, as explored in this intriguing story by Chris Lawson (Eidolon, 1998) involves a question of artificial intelligence: if something can respond to input (like questions coming through a slot in a room) according to a set of rules (a coded book in an unknown language, for example) does this constitute consciousness? The answer is not so clear, the more you think about it. The medium of this illustration is scraperboard (or scratchboard), a card with a chalky coating painted with indian ink and then scratched into using a scalpel-like tool, and a favourite of mine throughout my twenties, especially for b&w works.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

The Other Side of Paradise, ink, 1994

The story by Andrew Whitmore, published in Eidolon in 1994. It's about the devil being tricked into a bottle, which it turns out is just what he wants, as a world without sin turns out to be unbearably dull (hence he looks happily incarcerated in the picture). The technique here is one I used a lot in my 20's to simulate woodcut printing. What you do is paint all the open areas with white gouache (which is soluble) and then cover the whole surface with indian ink (insoluble). When all dry, wash the paper with water: what you are left with is irregular lines where indian ink has filled the gaps not masked by gouache.

Monday 17 November 2014

Anatomy of a painting

Preliminary sketch for Never be late for a parade, pencil 2011

I was recently invited to contribute to the excellent site Picturebook Makers which asks artists to write about their recent work, however they like. I chose to select one painting from Rules of Summer and follow its evolution from concept to the printed page, thinking this would be of particular interest to other illustrators, given that all of us have a different approach. I certainly recommend browsing the rest of this blog, it's very accessible and fascinating, and a great way to discover new work.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Gargoyle, pencil 1994

This one was for Rough Trade by horror writer Robert Hood, published in Aurealis, which is the first magazine to publish my illustrations. Horror is a terrific genre when it comes to learning how to illustrate, as so much depends so much on perspective, light, and a balance between seen and unseen elements.
Threnody, pen and ink, 1994

Another SF illustration from 20 years ago, for short story Threnody by Trent Jamieson, published in Eidolon. I recall it had something to do with a relationship between two women in a post-apocalyptic world. Sometimes small details in a picture are enough to suggest a story, such as a car key chain with a forgotten symbol, worn as jewellery.

Friday 14 November 2014

Chaff, pen and ink, 1995

Another of my old SF illustrations, this one for a story by Greg Egan, the acclaimed SF writer who is also from Perth. A futuristic tale with parallels to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Chaff is about a mercenary sent into a jungle that has become unpredictably transformed by genetic interference. I decided to represent the jungle as a brain-like mass to suggest something sinister and sentient at the journey's end. This illustration appeared in the collection Our Lady of Chernobyl.

The chaff (grain husks) of the title refers to a line in Conrad's novel: "No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze."

Thursday 13 November 2014

The Kind Old Sun Will Know, pen & ink, 1996

Another of my old illustrations from SF magazine days (and on a similar WWI  theme), this one for a short story by Garth Nix, who has since become very well known for his terrific Old Kingdom and Keys To the Kingdom fantasy novels. Back in the '90s we were among many regular contributors to a non-profit small press magazine called Eidolon, based in Perth. All the illustrations needed to be black and white and easy to reproduce given budget limitations, and I took the opportunity to experiment with many different styles, particularly when I was also the art director of that magazine for a period.

Monday 10 November 2014

Remembrance Day

Return, pencil on torn paper patchwork, 1999
An illustration detail from my picture book with Gary Crew, Memorial, Lothian Books, 1999. I was thinking here of own great grandfather, who I remember from early childhood as a happy old man with a halo of white hair who bred canaries in his backyard, and fought in WWI but never wanted to talk about it.

Twenty years ago today

The Man Who Lost Red, pen & ink, A4, 1994

I was recently cleaning up my image archives (ie. rearranging an ongoing mess) and recovered some old illustrations from twenty years previously, around the time when I began illustrating a lot of science fiction short stories for magazines (sending original drawings through the post), in between doing an Arts degree at uni, without much idea of any career path. It's an interesting mid-point, since I was 20 then, and am 40 now, and leads me to reflect on any stylistic differences... and some improvement I hope! Interestingly, I don't feel there's been a dramatic shift. A lot of the thematic preoccupations remain current: helmeted figures standing in fields for instance, as in this illustration for Terry Dowling's novelette, The Man Who Lost Red (above), which is not unlike my cover for Rules of Summer, and a painting in Tales from Outer Suburbia (below). 

In case you're wondering, Dowling's intriguing story is partly about a man punished for a crime he can't remember, by the a loss of specific sensory perception. The picture does not illustrate the tale in any very literal sense, produced a time I began experimenting with more metaphorical imagery, that is, drawing things to one side of the text. That was an important conceptual step and more or less established my style as a narrative artist to this day. Credit is due to the many unusual and often difficult stories I was assigned to illustrate throughout the 90's for small press publications, which is also when I began to have an interest in picture books as an adult.

Detail from Tales from Outer Suburbia, acrylic and oil on paper, 2006

Detail from Rules of Summer, oil on paper, 2012-13

I suppose when people talk about style, it really comes down to this: not so much a certain signature of line, colour, facility with a medium, or even subject, but rather a recurring pattern of thinking, something the artist might not even be conscious of. I'm still not sure why I'm drawn to these images of occlusion, of figures with an artificial encasement over their heads, at once stuffy and opening up some new perception. I wonder if twenty years from now I'll end up painting the same thing, once I've forgotten about all these other ones! Check this blog on your iBrain implant to find out.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Mother and daughters, pastel, A2
A variation on the earlier drawing posted below, mother and daughter, not related to anything in particular, although this stern griffin-like character makes an appearance from time to time in my sketchbooks; often with a formidable maternal instinct.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Cows marching along the foot of an outcrop, oil 25 x 18cm

Monday 3 November 2014

Haystacks wrapped in plastic, oil on plywood 18 x 15cm