A pickle of a story!

RCHRD’S GLSSS ND TH WRRNG NGHBRSRCHRD’S GLSSS ND TH WRRNG NGHBRS is an entertaining eBook written by new authors Julie and Luca Harper, mostly about Giant Spider Crabs, Greater Bulldog Bats, Green Iguanas, maths, music, timekeeping and vowels!

I was asked to provide a cover design, including a full series logotype and hand lettering, plus a few mono interior illustrations (three shown below) for the book, which at times proved to be more challenging and time intensive than I had envisaged.

RGNTWN_ShoppeRGNTWN_Boris and EddieRGNTWN_Clearview Village mapThe mono illustrations were completed in Illustrator using the pressure sensitive blob brush, and were created as loosely sketched pieces, capturing some of the energy found in the written style of the book. The main characters themselves proved to be somewhat hard to successfully define and capture accurately, and we went through a number of iterations and revisions before I produced the simple character sketches for protagonists Nigel Le Nez, and Madame La Bouche.

RGNTWN_Nigel Le NezThese hand drawn pencil sketches then became desired final art, with colour added (as seen above) to match the cover formatting. This wasn’t planned, and it introduced a number of design issues to solve, as the two standing characters dramatically altered the spacing and balance of all the cover elements, which required an intensive rethink of the layout to retain a reasonable design structure.

Ultimately the client was happy – which is all that really matters – and the book moved on into the final production stage. It is now available to purchase from Amazon for Kindle, or the Kindle Reader App, and can be downloaded HERE. So, if you know someone who would like to read a fast paced rollicking story for 7-10 year olds, then I can fully recommend the eBook as a highly entertaining reading experience. And, don’t worry, the vowels are supposed to be left out!



Tales of Quahnarren: The Dreamer

Tales of Quahnarren: The DreamerThe Dreamer

The Dreamer is the latest addition to my Tales of Quahnarren illustrated short story project.

This character went through an interesting visual development process, during which he transformed from a troublesome outlaw into a civilised musician and entertainer – quite a switch!

As is my normal working process, I saved many stages of completion whilst producing the illustration, which captures the evolution of the image over time. Below I’ve set up four individual versions into one image, which tracks development (top, left to right, then bottom, left to right) and shows the way I like to work on specific areas of importance, before making balancing adjustments or detail improvements across the overall piece.

The Dreamer: development steps

This illustration initially started with a loose sketch drawn directly in Painter with my Wacom tablet, which at the time was little more than just a head shot without any preplanning for a particular background design or treatment. A key element for this particular character was to capture an expression that matched his nature, which partly explains his personal change in destiny. This pose presented a nice faraway look, which helped to solidify the character in my mind and brought forth the idea to place him in an outdoor setting, suggesting his travels through the countryside as a wandering entertainer. As the focus was purely on the main interest area of the face I only needed to suggest organic shapes and continued to blend his form with the background itself.

As can be seen I wasn’t originally working with any colour, and was unsure until almost complete about changing it from a duotone to a colour piece. I regularly import my finished Painter files into Photoshop for final colour, contrast and saturation adjustments, so after completing that stage added some colour overlays to decide if a suitable effect could be achieved without losing the simplicity of the piece that I favoured. Introducing a light brown for the character of Leahslee and supporting that with a blue-green background added a bit more mood and interest, so I was happy to finish with the final version you see as the main image.

The illustration took about 8-9 hours to complete and is a welcome new part of my Quahnarren series.

Tales of Quahnarren: The Silent Tower

The Silent Tower from the Tales of Quahnarren

This digital illustration is a brand new addition to my ongoing fantasy universe ‘Tales of Quahnarren‘. Located in the more populated eastern region of Quahnarren, The Silent Tower is the locally given name to the Tower of Xaanagh – a landmark structure sitting in the fertile Dehanthor Valley.

This illustration, completed in Photoshop CS5, was slowly completed over the last 6-7 months and became quite an extended and laborious project in many unexpected ways. Originally proposed as a more fluid and sketchy landscape image, the illustration quickly became heavily detailed after experimenting with standard brushes to form the foreground grass. As I was happy with this unanticipated level of micro detailing, it now set the direction for all the remaining areas and the creative process took itself off down a different path.

To visually document my techniques and approach to image creation, I’ve saved versions of my progress throughout the completion of this illustration. These files were combined into a short video, recording the evolution from the original idea through to the final finished illustration. Here you can watch the early basic forms of my initial layout gradually change into fully detailed areas of colour and interest:

The creative bicycle

Learning to again ride with poise

It is suggested that certain talents or learnt and nurtured skills always remain with you, regardless of inactivity, disuse or neglect. After a lengthy period of time of near total artistic and illustrative abandonment (in the region of 20 years) personally finding my way once again has proved to be a sometimes difficult and very frustrating experience.

Rediscovering my own original ability, technique, creative vision and conceptual understanding – something that I believe was only significantly constrained by age, inexperience and a lack of opportunity – is proving to be a painful journey in many tangible ways.

Looking back at some of my few retained early illustrations, I now find it hard to recognise myself as the person responsible, such is the feeling of separation over time and the skills apparently forgotten. Most disconcerting is my current inability to artistically ‘see’ as I firmly believe I should – recognising form, shape and volume, together with basic natural competence in conceptualizing, sketching and drawing – a struggle that has knocked me sideways at different points and created a very hollow internal reaction.

As part of the required process to achieve positive results, clear methodologies and specific technical approaches are paramount, particularly when attempting detailed or intricate illustration techniques or complex and involved new software applications. I’ve unpleasantly discovered that it can be rather daunting and regularly discouraging to not automatically grasp and perform the necessary steps, exacerbated as my expectations don’t match initial outcomes, and the navigation through repeated difficulties appears to be full of sizable obstacles.

Believing that all my seemingly lost skills will immediately and magically return may be a direct form of personal deception, however the feeling that they should be more readily apparent at this point of time is genuinely inescapable. In time, with required application, lessons are learned and understanding becomes second nature, but the spectre of unrealised proficiency will likely remain for an extended and unwelcome period. Have you ever found your own creative bicycle no longer riding true?

Note: my sketch used above is taken from the enRICH KIDS book ‘The Big Win’ – head to enrichkids.com.au to check out their range of financial education resources for children.

Shaded Path, Nuriootpa

My adventure with oil pastels continues: this piece is my second large format oil pastel ‘painting’, and the first true landscape illustration that I’ve ever attempted. ‘Shaded Path, Nuriootpa’ is based on multiple photos taken around Nuriootpa, a town surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills, located in South Australia’s famous Barossa Valley.

The creative process

For this image I decided to record the creation process, by taking photos at significant points or after reasonable progress had been made. Tracking the evolution of an idea like this became an interesting process by itself, as it was now possible to go back and view previous incarnations and watch my ideas come to life as I made decisions and settled on style and detail across the image.

Step 1 shows the base sketch and initial colour blocking – my key focus here was to develop the concept to the point where I could see the balance of trees, sky and foreground and decide if I was happy with the overall direction as a complete image. My white areas on the trees indicate patches of bright light and this helped me to plan the application of colour with the pastels, a media that require a bit of careful thinking, otherwise it can be difficult to build light into dark – unlike my reverse process for digital creations. I was still to decide exactly what effect I wanted for the path surface and was also intending to place a few extra posts along the tree lines.

In Step 2 I began to work up detail in what I believed were the important parts of the image: the area around the end of the path, the hill line behind the vines and the front right tree trunk. I was now focusing on the texturing of the trunks – beginning to build up layered detail and discovering how to generate differing varieties, as was desired for the right side trees especially. Further work continued on the rear trees and I also began to detail the grasses that would eventually fill both sides – I was undecided on what I would fill the smaller area along the right edge with until after I had completed the small grass section shown here.

I was really happy with the progress of the elements at the back of the image, as shown in Step 3. By now I had added streaky clouds to the sky and had created a slight glow effect with my cloud forms rising off the hilltops, which added some contrast and a nice sense of depth. The remainder of the trees and grasses had been coloured and I was beginning to sort out my thoughts regarding the path and shadow construction.

Step 4 was all about the shadows. By now I had decided that the path would be a natural surface, featuring short to medium length grass around the outer area and worn grass with soil showing through the middle track. Again, I planned out the light and dark patterns as basic forms and proceeded to gradually build up these areas, using a wide range of colours to ensure that there was plenty of life within the shadows.

Step 5 shows the completed tree shadows and the final path shape. I was continually adjusting various small parts and details, particularly the brightly highlighted grass areas near the tree lines and I was also blurring some of the branch shadows that required little defined form. At this point I could finally see the overall image coming together and was pleased that my original thoughts regarding both the composition and the colour palette were bearing pleasing results.

The major element added for Step 6 was the tree canopies. Most of the forms for the small tree branches and leaves were no more than suggested shapes and I was a bit surprised to find that this part of the image was comparatively quite quick to finish – unlike the tree trunks or the foreground path, which were many, many hours of detailed work to complete. I continued to adjust some of the trunks, with a lot of attention on the shadowed trunk (third from the right) which I had basically left unfinished from early on as I wasn’t really sure on how to execute the final surface texture and look that this tree required.

Shaded Path, Nuriootpa

I finished off with minor adjustments and additions across the entire image and corrected a few mistakes that I felt required some attention. Estimated time for completion would be around 35 hours, which is longer than I would wish, but as part of a learning process isn’t too bad for this type of image. The final result captures the mood and quality of light I was wishing to reproduce and has given me some genuine confidence to tackle further projects with the oil pastels.

My pastel coloured adventure

I’ve always enjoyed drawing with charcoal and chalk, and appreciated the abstract nature that many of the created marks seemed to express. Compared to other similar types of projects, that I would complete with pencil or ink, charcoal offered an extra layer or unpredictability and some fantastic results would appear, completely unplanned on numerous occasions. The unavoidable negative impact from working with charcoal or chalk is that they can be very messy mediums, and not something highly advisable for my current work space. Nice carpet and many small and dusty particles aren’t really the best of friends!

So, I wanted something that would provide me with a similar feel of adventure, but not be as harmful to the indoors environment. I’d considered oil pastels many times before, but never actually purchased any to try for myself. Now was the time. I knew that I wanted to start with an impressionist, broken colour style (optical mixing) and see exactly how they worked, especially in comparison to the chalky variety, that offer enhanced mixing and shading capabilities. I had a few basic sketches and small ideas that were good to go for an introductory experiment, so chose this duck-like form to start things off:

I was immediately enjoying the softness and overall sensation of using the oil pastels with this particular technique of copious small strokes, and was keen to tackle something with a bit more complexity and requirement for increased precision. This is only an A5 piece and I was intrigued about how much detail was possible at a small scale with these pastels. Overlaying the colours would only yield certain results, so some planning was necessary and it seemed unlikely that true definition would be easily achievable.

As a keen motor racing fan, I turned to my bookshelf to locate an interesting subject. A classic shape with just enough small detail was what I was seeking and I didn’t hesitate to try the following angle of the classic 1972 Tyrrell-Ford with Jackie Stewart at the wheel.

This was a larger piece (although still smaller than A4) and was a much bigger challenge. As I’d expected the small details could only be suggested and if I was to produce any further illustrations requiring such precision, then I’d have to work at a much larger scale to balance the natural tendencies of the medium. I’m happy with the finished result and found it a small challenge to suggest detail and achieve colour depth and transition, whilst working within a limited available range.

I’d quickly learned some very valuable lessons and gained some solid knowledge about how to tackle illustrative ideas using the techniques I favoured. Time now to move on and produce a portrait for a project needing something with a bit of individuality and colourful life:

Say hello to Billie-Rose – the subject of a pop ballad in this the CD cover image. Capturing the accurate likeness of a real person isn’t always the easiest and with a fairly loose and free style the task becomes slightly more difficult. To bring forth the youthful energy and charm that Billie-Rose has I’ve used a wide range of colours across the face and mainly worked with very short strokes and marks to create the facial forms. This piece was actually a bit smaller than the Stewart Ford above, but the lack of required small detail meant that artwork scale wasn’t a major issue.

The oil pastels have such a wonderful texture that they really add great depth to an illustration and add something particularly ‘artistic’ without a serious amount of extra effort. There’s still plenty of further pastel types and techniques waiting for me and of course, I’ve already moved on to newer work at a larger scale – likely to be the subject of a new update here, sometime down the track.

Forgotten Chornobyl?

The old people had been talking with great anxiety.

Black storks had been seen not far from the village.

Black storks – a bad omen.

At 1:23am on April 26 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine suffered a catastrophic explosion and resulting fires. a radioactive plume was carried across large parts of western Soviet Union and Europe. The most severely contaminated areas were Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

The nearby city of Pripyat was quietly evacuated on April 27, with the authorities not informing residents of the scale of the disaster, nor the likely health risks from radiation exposure and contamination. Pripyat is now an abandoned city within the 30km exclusion zone around the reactor site, known as ‘The Zone of Alienation’. Many personal belongings still remain scattered around the streets, parks and buildings, as residents were told it would only be a temporary move.

The true cost of the disaster is hard to quantify. 47 people died – mostly plant workers and the firemen who came to their aid, and over 350,000 people have been relocated. A possible 1 million people are likely to have been exposed to radiation and it is estimated by the World Health Organization that 4,000 deaths may ultimately be attributed to the disaster.

• • •

At the 2004 Adelaide Fringe, Conscious Theatre presented the multimedia music play Chornobyl Story – written by Adelaide musician Ray Rains.

The play delivers its story by focussing on one family – the Banduras. Their ‘babusia’ – or grandmother – Svitlana, recalls the incident and acts as narrator as the play unfolds the tragedy of a way of life that had existed for centuries only to be destroyed over night by the invisible enemy of radiation. Svitlana fights government secrecy about the incident in an attempt to honour the memory of the heroes, including some of her family members, who saved the world that terrible day.

Following this in 2008 was the release of the 3-track CD Children of Chornobyl by Gone Troppo, featuring music from the play:

These two projects were great opportunities for me to be involved in something beyond just another print design or marketing strategy. As seen above, the CD booklet is a three panel fold out, with an additional inlay for the back of the jewel case. My intention with the artwork was to illustrate the decay, destruction and confusion at the plant, and also the hopelessness and despair of the people who were affected and quickly excluded from their homes.

A timeline of key events runs across the outer panels, ending in clear space on the front cover with the final and fatal explosion time highlighted in red. The design features various texture overlays, distressed type, hand drawn scribbles and scattered graphical elements.

The colours were chosen to reflect the nature of the events and also technically allowed the use of overprint text, which expanded the story surrounding the disaster.