Saturday, 9 August 2014

'In the Shadow of Giants' Exhibition at Space Yui

I'm currently in Tokyo again, preparing for my upcoming exhibition at SPACE YUI in Aoyama. The show runs from 21st-30th August, and will be chiefly showing original artwork from my recent picture book Stone Giant (Charlesbridge/Komine Shoten), plus there will be other original artwork on sale, copies of the book, prints and Tshirts. If you're in town please drop by the show! I'll be at the gallery from around 2pm daily.

Space Yui is open 11.00am-19.00pm daily (closed Sunday). Nearest stations are Gaienmae and Omotesando on the Ginza line.

After the close of the show at Space Yui, the exhibition will be re-shown for another week at a new gallery Yui Garden, set in the relaxed environment of Seseragi Park in Nakamachidai, Yokohama. However I'll be on my way back to the UK by then so won't be in the gallery.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Summer Dreaming

Thinking of making a big splash this summer!

  ... here's hoping your summer dreams come true!

I'll be in Tokyo from the end of July throughout August, with an exhibition at Aoyama’s Space Yui running from 21st-30th August. Please drop by if you're in town.


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Big Splash for Summer

It looks to be another hot summer, so here's a splash of cold water - another recent illustration for ANA's inflight magazine Wingspan.

It's to illustrate a piece about the opening of the world's biggest waterslide, the Verruckt in Kansas City in the USA, which was supposed to open in May. The drop is 168 feet, longer than falling off Niagara Falls, at speeds of up to 65 mph. Apparently the opening has been twice delayed, but now, finally, is happening, tomorrow!

Sounds exciting? Can't wait to try the jump? Off you go then, I think I'll just watch.  

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Tribute to my Dad on Father's Day

I thought I'd take the opportunity of Father's Day to show some of my dad's paintings.

I inherited it all from my father. Though I generally take after my mum, an imaginative and aspirational woman who had a great influence on my development, the nuts and bolts of drawing and painting is all from my dad.

Ken Shelley (after Charles Brooking)
Ken was born with a natural ability to paint, but had no opportunity to develop this in the post-war landscape of Birmingham, like many of his generation art school was out of the question, it was straight from school to National Service, then a succession of mechanical jobs in the metropolis. Ken worked tirelessly in often uncomfortable jobs to raise a family, and through that created the carefree space for me to explore my creativity. I was given the chance to pursue art in a way that was entirely denied his generation. I'm incredibly grateful to my parents for that.

Ken Shelley, (after Charles Brooking)
In the meantime Ken's own talent was completely suspended until he retired. Suddenly, with time to pursue art for the first time since he was at school, Ken picked up a paintbrush again and started produced a string of oil paintings, mostly focused on his love of the sea and the heritage of the English countryside.

Ken honed his technique producing copies of the great 18th century sea painters, which is a great way to learn. However he's also painted many of his own compositions, most of them covering the walls of his house, rarely seen by anyone. The next time I visit him I'll take some more photos and post some more.

Please do comment with feedback. Ken rarely paints now, few people ever see his work so he needs some encouragement, I'd love to see him pick up a paint brush again.

I own everything to my parents, however where my dad gets his painting abilities from though is much more of a mystery.

Happy Father's Day dad!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

30 Years on: A Canoe in the Mist

I like anniversaries, especially when they concern my illustrations! So here's another fond memory - this year is the 30th anniversary of the publication of Elsie Locke's A Canoe in the Mist.

Cover of the 1st edition
The Waka Wairua. Title Page vignette

This was my third commissioned book contract, after Jeremy Strong's Fatbag (A & C Black) and Roger Collinson's Get Lavinia Goodbody! (Andersen Press), both first released in 1983. Like them, it was a commission for black and white text drawings to a novel. Unlike those titles however, both of which were fun, humorous books requiring comic drawings, this new commission was a dramatised narrative of real events during the catastrophic 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera in New Zealand.

McCrae's Rotomahana Hotel in Te Wairoa.
Lillian meets Mattie
Canoe in the Mist follows the story of two girls during the eruption.  Lillian Perham lives in the village of Te Wairoa with her widowed mother, where western tourists flock to view the famous pink and white terraces, natural stairs of silica pools on Lake Rotomahana. Set in a volcanic wonderland often described as the 8th wonder of the world, Lillian only has chance to see the terraces herself when she befriends Mattie, the daughter of visiting English tourists. But the day they set off for Rotomahana the waters of the lake are mysteriously lifted by a tidal wave, the tohunga sage of the local maori village propheses disaster, and a mysterious ghostly apparition of a canoe, waka wairua, is seen on the lake. 

The Terraces (unused version). This 1/2 page drawing was re-drawn as a full page illustration for the final book (artwork now lost)

That night the volcano violently erupts, followed soon after by fissures underneath the lake that destroy the terraces and turn Lake Rotomahana into an explosion of steam and mud, burying the Maori villages of Moura and Te Ariki, killing 153 people. Caught in a deluge of debris and mud, the girls, parents and villagers struggle to escape a world that has been torn apart.

The first eruption
The commission came at the very end of 1983 from Jonathan Cape publishers, at that time based in Bedford Square, long before they were absorbed by Random House, I think it was simply a case of showing my work in their office at the right time. It was a fortuitous commission, coming soon after I'd moved to London, I threw myself into sketches straight away.

Character studies for Lillian, Mattie and Sophia (unused)
Visit to Hinemihi, the Maori meeting hall
 This was of course, long before the internet, so finding accurate reference material was going to be a struggle. Despite the book being a historical topic my editor was unable to provide visual references, I knew very little about New Zealand in the 1880's, and despite my suggestion Jonathan Cape wasn't about to fly me out there to do some ground research! However my local library in Crouch End was a tremendous help, especially on information on Maori culture. The publisher also passed on my queries to the author in New Zealand, who after a short while very kindly sent me a package of photos and cuttings outlining the region today and before the earthquake.

Tuhoto, the village sage

What I didn't realise until much later on however, was just how deeply embedded in the background of the book the author was. Elsie Locke (1912-2001), writer, feminist, historian and peace campaigner, is today recognised as one of the most important figures of New Zealand culture of the last century. Although she passed away in 2001, the Elsie Locke Memorial Trust continues to promote her life, work and writings, and sponsors an annual competition for young writers in New Zealand.
Elsie Locke in 1991, courtesy of the Elsie Locke Trust

I was a young struggling illustrator in London, for me New Zealand seemed a very remote and exotic place at the time, and yet the correspondence I exchanged with Elsie not only brought the region to life visually, it helped greatly to spark my imagination.

Before the eruption guests discuss the unusual signs

The drawings were largely crafted at my humble abode in London - this was just before I joined a studio so I was working on the kitchen table in a shared house. One morning in a curious parallel to the book's plot I almost lost everything. I walked into the kitchen and found it awash with water - one of my house mates had run a bath upstairs then completely forgot about it -  the bath overflowed, water poured through the ceiling into the kitchen beneath, the table was drenched, my drawings were soaked. This in itself wasn't quite as much of a disaster as it sounds - indian ink is waterproof after all, but my flatmate had compounded the problem by pinning each wet drawing to the washing line with rusty old clothes pegs, which made horrible indelible brown marks and ripped the sodden paper.

The hotel ablaze
So, many of the drawings were re-drawn from scratch, some of them several times, with time running out I finished the book in the much safer and more comfortable environment of my parent's house in Norwich. But eventually all was done, the artwork was delivered.

Rescuing a surviving horse from the mud

This book was a major watershed for me (excuse the pun!). With the painful experience of my own little disaster in the kitchen flood I was desperate to find somewhere else to work, so straight after completing the artwork for  A Canoe in the Mist I joined with my old friend, designer Andy Royston and co-founded Facade Art Studios in Crouch End, right next to the library that had been so helpful in my research.

Sophia addresses the survivors. This was the finished version intended for the book, but a mix-up led the designer to use an inferior preparatory version instead!

Looking back at the drawings now they're clearly an early work with some rough edges, also there were a couple of slips by the designer too - one drawing was reproduced back-to-front, in the case of another an inferior first version was printed instead of the intended drawing. Were I to illustrate the book again now I'd handle some drawings differently, and I certainly would not have given the art director more than one version of each drawing! But these were learning times, I was just beginning to find my feet as an illustrator, and to this day I'm proud of my involvement with the book, and the writer. A Canoe in the Mist was re-issued by Collins in their Modern Classics series in 2005, though, due to constraints of the series, sadly without any illustrations.

The families struggle through a deluge of mud

Interestingly, though the Pink and White Terraces were thought to be utterly destroyed and the area left largely uninhabitable, in 2011 parts of the Pink Terraces were re-discovered still in existence, hidden under thick layers of mud.

The final illustration - escape through a devastated landscape

And there lies a strange parallel - I assumed my old drawings for the book had also been lost long ago, but recently was amazed to discover them in my dad's loft, including some sketches and alternative versions that never made it into the final book. So for those who don't know A Canoe in the Mist, or may only have read the unillustrated Collins Classic edition, here they are!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Recent work for Wingspan Magazine

Those who've been following my antics for a while may remember I draw a regular monthly comic illustration for Japanese airline ANA's inflight magazine Wingspan. Here's a recent selection with links to the article themes.

Experiments indicate that carrying a musical instrument makes you sexier

The illustrations accompany short news snippets collected from around the world, unbelievable-but-true nuggets from the obscure depths of journalism, they're always fun to draw because the topics are invariably oddball and sometimes bizarre.

Appenzell New Year Bell Ringers in Switzerland

Report about an exhibition of work by Cholla the Painting Horse

I love to explore visual ideas, so when I receive the brief I send the designer a selection of sketches to choose from. I like to explore fantasy and surrealism, but for this series the stories are often odd enough in themselves they don't need much embellishment, I'm under instructions to play it straight for the most part.

Beard Advertising

The world's only modern day School for Gladiators

Although I work a lot with Photoshop I wouldn't call myself a digital-expert illustrator by any standards, I prefer to hinge my drawings on hand drawn pen lines and keep the pixel-manipulation simple and minimum. One of the most satisfying things about creating these drawings is that they allow me to explore textures and colour schemes within the parameters of my style.

Guinness World Record attempt for Most People Dressed as a Penguin in One Place

Since beginning this series I've learned a lot about the human world, this is indeed a remarkable planet we live on!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Mainichi Newspaper - News Without Words Part 2!

You may remember the map of the world I created for Mainichi Newspaper last year (the web interactive map is still online, see my previous post about it here). Well what do you know, I've done another one! This time a map of Japan.

This new map is in the morning edition of today's Mainichi Newspaper, sold across Japan. You can zoom in on all the details by accessing the fabulous interactive web version.

Can you spot a tiny self-portrait in there?

The observant will immediately notice we had to tweak the outline proportions of the country so it would fill the double page spread of the newspaper. Once again there was a lot of research involved, and the production was a challenge, with every figure and news item drawn separately in pen & ink, scanned and compiled together on screen. Many of the elements of the map will perhaps be more familiar to Japanese readers than overseas viewers, however even if you've never been to the Far East, I hope you can enjoy my virtual tour across Japan!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Stone Giant US Release

Yippee! Today the US edition of Jane Sutcliffe's picture book Stone Giant - Michelangelo's David and How He Came to Be is officially released. 

Some time ago when the Japanese edition was advance-released I blogged about my process in creating the illustrations for this title, now, finally it's revealed to the public in it's originally commissioned, English edition for the United States. Other than language the only differences are a somewhat different cover for the Japanese edition, and an artist statement from me instead of the list of sources on the last page of the US edition. However the American edition is printed in a slightly silkier, matte paper, which gives it a feeling reminiscent of classic older books

As today is the release day, here are a couple more of the artwork interiors before text was added!  

Charlesbridge has posted an interview with Jane about Stone Giant here. I was interviewed about the illustrations by Elizabeth Dulemba here

Reviews have already been very supportive of the book! Kirkus Reviews has called it "a handsome offering that helps youngsters understand both an artist’s process and how this stunning statue became the enduring symbol of a city and its people". A School Library Journal review posted on the Charlesbridge site states "This well-written, lively account is graced with excellent illustrations, rendered in pen-and-ink and painted with watercolors, that truly convey a Renaissance Italian flavor".  Smart Books for Kids says it's an "Engaging storytelling with beautiful illustrations".

So I'm hoping the book will do well!

The book is on sale in the US, and also through online sellers in the UK and elsewhere. I always recommend people buy or order copies through their local bookshop whenever possible, but here are some direct online links:

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Happy Birthday Andrea Brown

My agent for children's books in the USA is Laura Rennert of the marvellous Andrea Brown Literary. This year the head of the agency Andrea is celebrating a milestone birthday, and the other agents had the idea to commission a piece of original artwork from one of the agency's illustrators to be framed and presented as a gift from the staff.

Guess which artist they chose?

I painted Andrea and the staff in front of a cabin of Big Sur Lodge, where the agency holds it's annual Writing Workshops, a location that has deep significance and is full of memories for the agency.

The painting, which measures 43 x 37cm, was presented to Andrea on her birthday.... last night!

Many happy returns Andrea!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Bearing up!

It's been a while since my last post! In fact you may notice I've not blogged since the New Year, blimey, what's been going on?

Well the short answer is "work!".  I usually write blog posts in two languages to go on separate English and Japanese language blogs, which can take up a chunk of time, so I took a tactical decision to stand back from blogging while I tackled more urgent matters.  Other social media? Well, yes, to a point, but I've tried to keep my online activities short, sweet and quick. As some people read this blog from feeds on Facebook and Twitter I thought it would be quicker to just post occasional updates directly to those platforms, but it's not quite the same is it. Blogs are more personal, more of a journal, more themed.

Earlier this year I posted daily sketches on Twitter and Facebook until work issues obliged me to stop that too - however sketches will return shortly!

Things have been very hectic. At the moment I'm working on a picture book for Holiday House in the US. It's my second collaboration with author Marion Dane Bauer, after the spooky Halloween Forest. Though not a follow-up to that title at all, our new book has a somewhat complimentary rhythm.

Without giving too much away at this stage, I'll just say the book follows the journey of a bear, a child and various other animals through a late winter night, because, as the bear explains, "It is time..."

Time for what you ask? aha....

The title is Crinkle, Crackle, CRACK! Right now I'm painting the spreads, here are some scans of the pen work before colouring.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year Greeting

Happy New Year of the Horse!

Wishing all my friends and followers a joyous New Year, I hope 2014 be bountiful, jolly and successful to all!!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Seasons Greetings!

Hoping all my followers have a wonderful festive season filled with starry dreams!


Friday, 13 December 2013

Ho.. ho.. oh?

Hush! What's that sound? A strange old man with a long white beard is creeping through the night.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Under Siege by Sound

My house and studio is an island in a raging sea of noise. Right outside my window the builders are digging up the road yet again. The daily cacophony of tractors, diggers, clanging scaffolding and other commotion from the building site over the road has been a constant companion ever since we moved here in July, and there's a long way to go yet. The house feels like a refuge. Much as I'm fascinated by the bustle of the construction site, much as the activity outside encourages me to get on with my own work, the incessant tension of noise throughout the day doesn't leave much room for just drifting with my own ideas.  There are times, like today, when I just can't think at all because of the noise so I tend to crank up the radio and get on with deadline stuff, and by the time the builders go home, I'm mentally drained and domestic issues (feeding the family etc) take precedence.

Which is one reason for the lack of doodles and sketches lately, it's only when I can get away from the studio to quiet cafe's or on increasingly rare train journeys that I'm able to put myself in the mind to explore ideas and doodle. When that happens this is where I go...

I keep telling myself I should spend more time in cafe's, though perhaps not all my clients would see it as essential part of the creative process!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Father's Diary

Illustrators can be a lonely bunch, one cog in a production process involving a team of people you usually never meet. More often than not you deal with an art director, designer or editor, just one or two staff members who are merely the tip of an iceberg of people involved in the project. Others might include creative directors, producers, authors, copywriters, designers, marketing staff, printers and distributors.

Teamwork! - this and other drawings from A Father's Diary

So it's always a pleasure to meet someone for the first time who had some kind of involvement in a past job, especially when it's the author of a book, and even more so when illustrations and story were created at opposite ends of the world.

Printed front cover of the Japanese edition of "A Father's Diary",  Bury St. Edmunds no Kofuku-na Oka, Media Factory 1994

Back in 1994 I was deeply emerged in Tokyo life, having at that stage been based in Japan virtually without a break for eight years. This was before the internet, and although I travelled back to the UK for the occasional brief holiday, for all intensive purposes I was wholly preoccupied with business and life in Tokyo. All my work was in Japanese, from Japanese clients, regarding subjects in Japan. My friends at that time were exclusively Japanese too, largely connected with the creative business. All in all the UK seemed a very distant place.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to be asked to illustrate the Japanese edition of Fraser Harrison's A Father's Diary, a non-fiction journal recording the day to day life of two children in the Suffolk countryside.  The book had been recently published in the UK, Media Factory had just bought the rights for Japan. The journal is set in a village outside Bury St. Edmunds, I'd never been to Bury, but as my parents were at that time in Norwich I was quite familiar with the East Anglian landscape. The commission was for a simple cover and a few light black and white drawings in the text, a modest job amidst the high profile advertising that usually filled my schedule then. But of course I agreed to the assignment, not only was it a welcome reminder of the old country, as a father of very young children myself Fraser's touching account resonated strongly.

The book is divided into 13 months, so I created 13 little section heads and 13 narrative drawings, 26 black and white drawings altogether, plus the simple cover. Deadline was short and there was no time for research, this was way before Google image search of course! So the pictures flowed naturally, I pictured the children Jack and Tilly from descriptions in the text, the setting was based on my memories of the region, with a few references from the UK I had to hand.

The Japanese edition, translated by Sakae Kokawa, carried the somewhat bemusing title Bury St. Edmunds no Kofuku-na Oka "The Happy Hills of Bury St. Edmunds" - curious, Bury isn't exactly noted for it's hilly country!

From the rear cover
So that was that.

Fast forward nineteen years. I'm now back in the UK (in Norwich in fact), there arrives an email out of the blue. It's from author Fraser Harrison, who'd tracked me down online.

For years he'd presumed the Japanese edition had been illustrated by an anonymous Japanese artist, and was astounded to discover not only was I from the UK, but that I was now in East Anglia. The Japanese edition was the only one that carried illustrations, the children Jack and Tilly had grown up with the images, though the family no longer had a copy of the book.

Shortly afterwards I met Fraser and his wife in a local cafe on a day trip up to Norwich from Bury, where they still live. Despite having only worked from a few descriptive references in the text I was assured the drawings were close to the real children. Both are of course very much grown up now, and parents in their own right.

Meeting Fraser in the Cafe (sorry for the poor quality, the cafe staff only took this one image!)
It all seemed satisfyingly fated. I was able to present Fraser and his family not only a spare copy of the book, but also the original illustration artwork, which, despite all the losses and upheavals when I left Japan I'd held onto over these years. I still have most of my children's book artwork, and I had an affection for these simple drawings, a link for me with the UK at a time I was so very much involved in Japan. It seemed they were destined to find their way to the author's family. It was really great to meet Fraser and his charming wife, one of those strange full-circle moments where everything just seemed to come together beautifully.