Thursday 16 August 2018

Dennis Severs House drawings

Here's a big post of new drawings. In the last month or so I've been making a series of illustrations on the Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields, London. It's an amazing place, part installation and part time capsule. It's stuffed with detail and atmosphere, and is based in the late 17th-18th century. For added interest there is a theme running through- it's the house of a fictional Huguenot weaving family, the Jervis's (originally Gervais), and their lives as successful traders, which deteriorate to living in poverty in a small room on the top floor.

The website is and a documentary can be found here:

As a history and architecture fan (and loving unusual projects) I had to create something about this place. So far 3 rooms are drawn and I hope to do the other 7 in the next few months. Each drawing is roughly 50 x 30cm.

The first drawing is the reception room on the ground floor. The sketch is from my actual sketchbook made with actual pencil 😆. It was time to use my sketchbook, using a Wacom Cintiq most of the time I started to miss instant smudgy drawing.

Transferring it to the drawing tablet I started making sense of the sketch. 

The next stage is a neater version of the lines, and a messy watercolour background to help pull out the right colours and lighting. I chose the messy watercolour to keep it more organic.

The final drawing is really dark; the room is set at some point in 1720's at Christmas, so there's still a Jacobean quality to the furniture and dark painted walls. Tackling the candlelight was my favourite bit, I love chiaroscuro and all the shadows it creates. 

Mrs Jervis's Bedroom. 
This is such a pretty and light room, a total change from the reception room. I wanted it to look like a lovely bright saturday morning with the light falling on the floor. The chimney breast decoration is made of all sorts of random Dutch style pots, a lot of it is tourist stuff from Schipol airport, but giving the impression of being from the 18th century. It was intense to draw,  along with all the other little pots and bowls. Elipses are still a bit of a struggle to get right, but after this I'm getting better.😆

This is the first drawing, it's a more relaxed sketchbook drawing, just to get the room roughly set down in my head.

This is the rough line stage when I transferred to Photoshop. The sketch had to be moved to the right as the window was nowhere as interesting as the dressing table. Also the image was being cut in half- windows one side and room on the other. What was more interesting, the room or the window frames? 

The neater line stage. The line is drawn in a rough pencil tool, to stop it looking plastic, and also gives it a lot of charm. A lot of time was spent making sure the perspective was right, but it was still fun to draw, there's a part of me that loves being particular about detail, it's very relaxing.

The background tones are on now, so I can tell what to push back or bring forward. Again, it's in a rough watercolour as a good starting point for other colours.

The main part of the drawing is on this layer. I wanted to use a delicate neutral blue to set off the other lovely gold, green and pink areas. I used the Conte 2 brush which has a lovely toothy texture like drawing on Ingres paper. It also keeps the drawing fresh and there's no chance of making it super neat, you just have to work within the constraints of the roughness. Drawing the dress was so complex because there are some lovely subtle soft colours, and then the woven silk pattern to work with too. The little pink bow is so cute and sets the fabric off beautifully.

The last stage is some extra lighting- darkening the ceiling and the hallway and adding the sunlight on the floor, which stops the rugs from being so dominant. It also helps your eye to run in a curve from the doorway to the bed, across the floor and back up to the chimney breast, dress and window. It gives it a bit of punch too, bringing the outside world into the room.

The cellar kitchen.
It was so much fun drawing this first rough sketch. Back in the sketchbook and trying to carve out some details on two A5 pages is a bit tricky, but it's the most comfortable size for me, especially for carrying around. Sometimes it does feel like 'carving'- especially when you're rubbing out and redrawing, smoothing and solving problem bits that stick out like a sore thumb. Also the amount of pencil shavings and rubber strands make you feel like you're removing something from the page. 
For this stage I wanted to get the tones and general atmosphere down, and also show how full of objects it is. 

Transferring the sketch to photoshop, and drawing everything out more accurately. The kitchen is quite a rough functional room, in contrast to the refinement of the other parts of the house. To get this feeling across I decided not to refine the lines too much like the bedroom drawing, but let it be kind of half tidied. I still wanted to show where everything was and let the colours underneath be rougher too. 

Roughing in the tones using watercolour and some dull browns and blues. It's quite a dingy room so I was relying on the lighting from the fire and candles to show the way. There's also a weak blue light from outside, adding a second light source and colour, which can make things more interesting.

More darkness...

The finished drawing. This was really enjoyable, holding back on being very neat and showing the roughness like the ceiling plaster and floorboards. It's a triangular composition, starting at the fire to table to window and candle to the sink, and back to fireplace. 
The fireplace was an interesting challenge, getting the fading reflected fire colours and shadows right, and making the gingerbread men lit from below with fine yellow strokes. 
Drawing the fruit dishes and other things on the table was fun; I've always loved Dutch interiors from the 17-18th century, they seem to be very gentle and personal.
I used a rough conte pastel for most of this drawing, apart from the lines which were in the same pencil as the bedroom drawing. Some of the edges had to be sharp so were done in a slightly less toothy pastel e.g. the lamp by the mantlepiece.

Each drawing features Madge the Cat. She's important.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Food illustration Seven Dials, London

This past year I've discovered a love of food illustration. This is really unexpected, as I'd never given it a thought as something I'd like to draw. It began with another architecture drawing of London- the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden. Then I saw that a lot of food places were there, the Neal's Yard Dairy, a bakery, a macaroon patisserie, and a restaurant bar. They each have a lot of beautiful food on show, and I wanted to turn it into a drawing which could work as a magazine spread.
To start with, the base of the drawing would be 7 Dials seen from above, and in research I discovered the 3d button on Google Earth. After spending an afternoon flying around the rooftops of London like a virtual Mary Poppins I started to block out the buildings. The plan was to keep it loose but not too sketchy, and also keep a chunky feel to the buildings. 

The base drawing, where the 7 streets meet, with a sundial obelisk in the centre.

I'd already drawn some cakes earlier last year, but it was good to tackle something savoury. The idea was to make it really 3d and colourful, and also take loving care of the way it was shaded. It gave the food a storybook quality, traditional but still fresh with colour.  Some food illustration can be a bit too sketchy for my taste; which made me realise that the food could look really appetising if it was very full bodied, with glaze on sauces and shining colour in the drinks (basically, pimp that food up).
 Balans Soho Society- Eggs Benedict (with crab claw) and Pimms.
Bread Ahead- Sourdough loaf, cherry tomato ciabatta and their special cinder toffee doughnut.

Neal's Yard Dairy- totemic cheese stacks.

Pierre Hermé Paris- dancing macaroons.

The final piece, with everything in place. 
Making the food images fit onto the street view was a challenge- should they be put on straight? 
Then I realised that as it's a very 3d image the food should be placed as if it was on the same 
angle as the streets, like giant billboards.

A portrait of St. Vincent.

My latest portrait is St Vincent, also known as Annie Clark. She has a stark look to her image, and I really wanted to portray it. After some research the drawing took a change in direction when I found a great image of her on stage playing her guitar, the dramatic lighting giving her hair a 'mad scientist' quality.
The drawing took some time, portraits never get any easier. I had to draw the face at a normal angle because the angles and features can get out of kilter, but afterwards turned it back to the original angle. The most fun was putting the colours on, and how the subtle shades and tones work next to each other. Also, I held back on too much detail because the most interesting qualities of the picture were the stark colours and dramatic lighting. The guitar is mostly a white line because I wanted the focal point to be her blue eye shadow. Her hair was a lot of fun to paint, there were some really unexpected colours in the shadows, and making it 3d drew my eye even further into the picture.

The first stage drawing. The dodgy left hand was sorted out with colour, it was actually 
blurred on the photo, so I had to use my hand as a model and blur it a little.

The finished drawing.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Some amazing graphic novels

In the last year some really amazing graphic novels have been published. I just wanted to share them with you, they're just so fantastic.

Black Dog: the Dreams of Paul Nash, by David McKean

Irmina by Barbara Yelin

Night Lights by Lorena Alvarez

The Celestial Bibendum by Nicolas de Crécy


I'm rediscovering a love for Converse trainers (there's a pair I'm drooling over at the moment with waves and sun rays on the ankle). It's a company I'd love to work with as an illustrator. 
This drawing started about 8 years ago as an exercise to keep my skills sharp. Afterwards it became a watercolour (which looks a bit weak now), and now finally it's a digital drawing. 
I wanted to give the impression it was the shoe version of a bag of sweets; the colours were most important, and I learned so much about different shifts of hue in the shadows. Also the marks had to stay fresh and lively, so I had to pull back from getting intense about detail and neatness. Sometimes if the habit of being neat is calling I have to hold the pen like a brush and have the screen upright like an easel. Weirdly, this makes my mind shift from hard concentration to a more relaxed and painterly way of thinking. 
Looking at the piece I can't help seeing that it's a bit too detailed at average size, it would work better scaled up to over a metre wide. But for medium sized drawings, roughness is something to experiment with, how far can it go before falling apart as a recognisable object?

Thursday 17 August 2017

York Minster King Screen

The latest drawing is the Kings Screen in York Minster. It's a very ornately carved stone screen in the centre of the cathedral, showing all the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Henry VII.
A lot of the figures have amazing beautifully carved curly hair and beards, which made me inspired to  draw them.

This is the 2nd phase, after drawing I laid down a rough sand colour background, and then add the shadows and highlights. The only colour on the carving is a red back to the alcoves and gold on the crowns and high decorations. 

Sculptural subjects have always fascinated me, and describing the shapes and how the lighting fell on them was really enjoyable. 

The spooky night-time version (which is inevitable with my drawings). A dark blue overlay and some masking for where the light falls.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

More portrait practice

Roughly once a month I draw a portrait. It's really enjoyable and the best way to sharpen my drawing, and also practice with colour. Also I love it, it's really difficult.

The original photo struck me as the coolest shot of Peter Capaldi (I've been a fan since my 20's), and was struck by how interesting his hands are. They are so German expressionist! The angles of the wrists are quite Egon Schiele. 😀
Once it was drawn I couldn't decide whether to leave it as a drawing or go for colour. The colour is really subtle and complex in the reference photo, and so decided to jump in and tackle it.
The picture actually hangs on the hands, the tension of the hand to wrist, and the fingers locked together really jumps out at you.

Also, I'm starting to develop a 'chunky food' theme- simplified items created almost in facets, with rough areas of colour for interest. How far this idea will go, who knows, but it's good fun.

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Mortal Engines - The Gut- final stage

'The Gut' painting from Mortal Engines is finally finished. It took quite some time to get the colour and lighting right, and to keep it in balance. Adding the blue light at the top of the eaten city was a way of balancing the composition with colour, as it's surrounded by orange/yellow colour, and the uplighting is red, so made a lovely hellish contrast.
I drew from a lot of research material- mostly steel mills for the smoke and atmosphere, and Hugh Ferriss drawings to see how light and dark could be used in the composition.

You can see an animation showing the picture being developed here:

Friday 21 April 2017

Mortal Engines -The Gut

The next big artwork is The Gut, from Mortal Engines (the previous entry covered London the traction city chasing Salthook).

As usual it starts with very simple composition sketches. I find this part the hardest, it's something that has to be really worked on. There were two angles I was interested in, looking down from a walkway onto the industrial scene, and looking from the floor across and upwards. The latter has more impact, I really wanted to show how hellish, dirty and crazy it is in The Gut. This part of London is at the base of the city, and so has 6 storeys of suburbs weighing down on it, so it needs the heaviness of the ceiling bearing down on the viewer.

The drawings look very rough, but the way I think and draw at this stage is rough so I don't get attached to any particular version. It's more likely I'm wrestling the ideas from abstract fluff to a solid concept. Drawings 1 and 2 are looking down from a walkway, using a strong zigzag and criss-crossing. 3 and 4 are showing the scene from floor level, trying to find the strongest angles to use. 5 was too weak, and 6 is looking down at a skewed angle to make it look unsettling. 7 and 8 are back to the floor level, finding the strongest shapes to lead the eye in. 8 was the one I settled on, it had the weight bearing down as the girders and the giant heap of wrecked town in the centre. Halfway through the sketching I realised that you can't have The Gut without it doing it's job, which is disassembling towns and stripping their assets. So you have a central focus, and the girders acting like a frame around it. Some of the references I took are Piranesi's prison prints, Hugh Ferriss' city scenes, and a lot of abandoned factories and refineries. Also, we had an exhibition in the city gallery of WW1 art, views of munitions factories which were really dramatic and huge, like set design backdrops.

Drawing stage 1- using a grid to stop me from going off angle, starting to rough out girders and a town. The town is actually a part which has been sawn off by the rotary saws at the front outside of London. That's why it looks a little like a cross-section.

Stage 2- The town was too small, it didn't look like a big deal to cut it up, so increased it to scrape the top girders. The image looked like it needed a foreground element to make it more 3d, so I added a girder being ripped and lifted from the town.

Stage 3- the final drawing, everything is clear, and I know where to paint. The drawing is actually going above the painting layers, either as overlay, or multiply. It's hard to tell from the picture but I used a Wet Pencil brush to get the rough organic line.

That's the lot for now, I'm hoping this weekend lots of colour will be added. It's set up on layers so the background can be faded/blurred, and likewise with the foreground. There may even be some bits added in After Effects, like dust and smoke movement, or even a camera move as you get closer to the central view.

Thursday 6 April 2017

Mortal Engines

The latest personal project is a scene of London the traction city from Philip Reeve's book Mortal Engines
This is such an enjoyable series that I was inspired to make my own vision of the city. There have been several different pictures by other artists, but I wanted to make a comprehensive version where you could really see each tier's architecture. 

I concentrated on the overall feeling of the scene, how I felt about this giant beast of a city rumbling across the land, and the terror felt by the smaller cities it consumed. 

Pinterest was a real help for research, and I could keep them online instead of downloading loads of images. Reference included old pics of London docks, the Barbican, enormous rock cutting saws, and oil rigs.

In addition I was keen to not fall into the trap of concept work having too much detail in the distance, so gave a veil of Turner-esque raincloud as a backdrop. 

Stage 1- roughing out after the line drawing 

 Stage 2- adding grungy colours, especially the rust and decay on the metalwork and concrete. 

 Stage 3- the caterpillar tracks didn't look beefy enough to carry the city across mud and rock, so I added an extra row each side. Before it looked like it was on tip-toes. 

 Stage 4- working on the sky and smoke, and adding little airships. 

The buildings took a lot of work, including deciding how much tiny detail to have.

 Stage 5- Adding the town 'Salthook' as London's prey, and finishing the hi lights, backdrop and shadows. 

The line layer- (for drawing fans). 

Back into the blogging and more Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

well I've been away for too long, making amazing books for Carlton Books Ltd has taken up a lot of my energy, and now it's time to get some new posts written.

Last year I started a series of large drawings about Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell BBC TV drama. The portraits are in the previous post, but last year I decided to make a set of book pages.

It was created as a challenge to make consistently good drawings for a project, and as the work progressed it became more and more enjoyable. It was very satisfying to be totally creative and push myself, to really improve my drawing and colour skills.

Spread 1- The Characters

Below is the background drawing. This is taken from a drawing which became an etching a couple of years ago. I wanted something suitably spooky and rich, with lots of branches which I could 'hang' the characters' pictures from. In the series there are mirrors which are portals to the Raven King's world, some of it is in a forest. I also wanted to make the artwork rich and detailed, to match that luxurious quality of the Regency era.

Spread 2- The King's Roads

This is the beautiful and decrepit kingdom of the Raven King, which Jonathan explores via mirrors. I wanted to mix the text with the imagery, without it intruding on the main scene- which was the amazing piled up view of towers. The original was created by Milk-vfx, and was absolutely stunning. I was really impressed with how they'd turned a corner of Fountains Abbey into a different world.

When I was an art student at Harrogate College we used to go drawing in the Abbey, getting very cold and sore knees bending down to draw on huge pieces of paper on the ground, and covered in pastel dust. I suppose this is why I have a soft spot for the place.

Spread 3- Strange and Norrell summon the Raven King

This is the climax of the series, when the two magicians summon the very powerful Raven King to help Strange rescue his wife from the evil 'Gentleman'. Again, I had to judge which part of the scene to use, (and then go down a different route), and finally return to the most powerful image of the storm of ravens entering the library. 

Layout drawing.

Final main drawing.

The Cover
I love book covers, and realised if it was to be a complete project, it needed a cover. All the design is illustrated, no photography, and a lot of time was spent in deciding on the layout, mostly where the 2 ravens sat on the front. Would it be a subtle cover where the design hints at the content, or make it rich and detailed? The latter won- it has to spring out from a bookshelf to catch the eye, and I'm a big fan of dramatic imagery. The BBC and Bloomsbury logos are included as they deserved mention, being the publisher and producer of the book and TV drama.