Tag Archives: illustration

Of Ravens, Inktober and Froggicorns

Decorative raven image with wild roses, moths and magical tomes
The Raven

In the months leading up to the Raven King’s Faery Ball and the Faery Fayre in Glastonbury I found it a lot easier to create artwork inspired by ravens than by faeries. I sketched stuffed ravens at Manchester Museum and live ravens at Gauntlet Bird of Prey centre, as well as taking some useful photos. I drew bird skulls and listened to Grimms’ raven-themed fairy tales on audiobook, ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Seven Ravens’. I discovered, among other things, that ravens mate for life, have a complex vocabulary, like to play and can fly upside-down for long distances!

At the same time I was looking at Regency style costume and decorative detail, with the plan of incorporating it into fairy-ish images, but these ideas didn’t really come together. (I think it may have the difficulty of representing the fae while allowing them to remain mysterious which was inhibiting my creative process…see my last post.) However, my Regency researches did inform my Raven picture, above (read more about it here). I also bought some paper fans, which seemed like a brilliant idea for an event involving a ball, but they proved quite difficult to decorate. Most media bled through the paper quite easily and looked messy on the reverse side. It certainly wasn’t possible to use layers of blended markers with pencil crayons on top, as I do for most of my artwork – the paper would’ve disintegrated! My most successful fan featured – you guessed it – ravens.

Regency style hand-decorated fan with ravens
Hand-decorated paper fan with ink and black glitter. And ravens.

The latter part of my plan for creating artwork for the Faery Fayre involved Inktober. For the uninitiated, this is an annual challenge started by Jake Parker, which involves producing an ink drawing every day throughout October. Participating artists post their work online with the hashtag #inktober. My plan was to try to do some raven or/and fairy themed artwork as part of the challenge. I thought that black and white might lend itself to the world of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’.

So, predictably, I drew a raven.

Raven Portrait for #inktober
Raven Portrait

…and another raven.

Clever Raven drawing for #inktober
Clever Raven

These ones are not ravens, they are crows. Which is quite different.

Crow drawing for #inktober
Not Ravens

Also, remarkably, I did some other Inktober drawings which were not ravens – or even like ravens. You can see the whole series on Instagram. I managed to do an Inktober drawing every day but one…on the day we travelled down to Glastonbury we had a dreadful journey and I was in a dark car till after midnight, so it proved impossible to do a drawing during the right twenty-four hour period. (Nor was I particularly inclined to when we finally arrived, especially as I had to be up for the Faery Fayre the next morning!) The whole Inktober experience was surprisingly exhausting. (Probably I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was difficult to fit an extra thirty-one drawings into a month!) I’d definitely recommend it though…it was encouraging to find that I could produce a daily ink drawing, regardless of whether it was convenient or whether I thought I had any ideas. It also proved to me that I can work more quickly than I imagine…and that I can get good results (sometimes, at least!) with little or nothing in the way of reference.

I even managed some faeries.

Faerie Ball drawing for #inktober
Faerie Ball

I’m currently having an Art Sale of all my available Inktober work on Facebook – at very affordable prices. The last day is November 16th and to date I’ve sold exactly half of my available work (a few of my Inktober drawings were in sketchbooks I didn’t want to dismember, so I didn’t offer them for sale). I’m really pleased to have sold so many! It’s very satisfying to send my drawings off to good homes!

Hagstone drawing for #inktober
Hagstone – a stone with a natural hole, through which faeries can be seen!

I can’t end this post without saying that today (8th November…technically it’s now 9th, but only just!) was the official release date of the picture book I illustrated for writer Kay Green, ‘The Loveliest of all was the Froggicorn’! The best source of information about the book is probably the Facebook page, but there is now a Froggicorn Twitter account too.  I have some books available myself, which I am happy to personalixe. You can contact me using the link above to arrange a purchase.

Edit: You can now purchase a signed and personalized copy of ‘The Loveliest of all was the Froggicorn’ from my online shop.

Fae Folk drawing for #inktober
Fae Folk I drew while running my stall at the Faery Fayre. I was inspired by the amazing costumes I saw, though no one looked quite like this!!


In the Court of the Raven King

Carrion Crow Sketch
Not actually a raven.

I fell in love with Susanna Clarke’s ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ about a decade ago, I suppose. A copy was handed to me reverently by a friend who told me, ‘I think this is the next ‘Harry Potter’!’. The book was indeed received with the wildest rapture by an enthusiastic portion of the reading public. Looking at online reviews now, though, I see that it’s not for everyone. I imagine that if you don’t read pre-twentieth-century literature you might find it hard going. Otherwise, it’s basically Jane Austen with fairies, so…what’s not to like?

The rest of the world discovered Jonathan Strange et al last year, when the BBC TV adaptation came out. It was satisfyingly atmospheric and Childermass, Arabella and Jonathan Strange himself were wonderfully portrayed. Some of the magic looked brilliant on screen (Strange’s sand horses come to mind) but I was a little less convinced by the fairies. Perhaps this is because the evocative language used to describe the fairies and their realm in the book simply cannot be translated into something as definite as a filmed image, without losing most of its mystery. How, for instance, can the costume department create “a gown the colour of storms, shadows, and rain and a necklace of broken promises and regrets”? The fairies in Clarke’s novel are just beyond the reach of our imaginations; but fairies on screen are seen, revealed, defined, pinned down; and so, I think, inherently less magical.

The fairies were one of the aspects of the novel I thought was exceptionally interesting (besides the humour, the totally convincing magical Regency world, the characters and the intricate footnotes…). Susanna Clarke’s fairies are so ‘other,’ so much more fairylike than other fictional fairies. In comparison there is something rather disappointing about Tolkien’s elves – which are basically nobler, better-looking humans – or Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies, which are diminutive, dressed-up kindergarteners. Clarke’s fairies are wilder, much less comprehensible, far less rule-bound and, above all, far less human. They are the fairies of traditional English folk tales.

All of this is on my mind, because I have recently bought tickets for the Raven King’s Faery Ball, this October, in Glastonbury. I’ll be selling my artwork at the associated Faery Fayre that same weekend, so I’m planning to develop some artwork loosely inspired by Susanna Clarke’s novel and the folklore which informs it. (I’m feeling slightly daunted, because drawings and paintings of fairies share the drawbacks of TV adaptation – it is difficult to maintain mystery whilst visually portraying it!) I’m intending to research the Regency fashions which appear as part of the backdrop to the book – and which are adopted by some of the fairies; I think a sketching trip to Manchester Gallery of Costume might be in order. I also need to draw ravens and revisit some of my books of English fairy lore. I need to get busy…

Sketching at Manchester Museum

So, one of my plans for 2016 is to sketch more (maybe one of my plans for 2016 should be to update my blog more often…ahem). As well as sketching in coffee shops, in the house and at the park, I’ve paid a few visits to Manchester Museum to draw their stuffed animals. The first time I sketched wolves (which led to a mixed media piece called Not Out of the Woods) and the second time I drew a nine-banded armadillo. This week I wanted to research dragons.

Now, you may think that they wouldn’t have dragons in Manchester Museum, but you would be wrong! I wasn’t expecting to see any actual dragons, but I found a rather appealing eastern bearded specimen in one of their display cases, along with a number of other lizards.

Lizard Sketches from Manchester Museum
Lizard Sketches. The Eastern Bearded Dragon is at the top left.

I am really enjoying sketching with Faber-Castell Pitt artist brush pens at the moment. I’ve been using the finer ones for a while, but until recently I more or less ignored the ones with brush tips. You really can’t be at all tentative about your sketching using these, which makes a change for me…and I like the results! For most of these I used Cold Grey IV and added a bit of tonal variety with the lighter Cold Grey I.

Sketches of bats, snakeskin, toad's eye and skin
‘Eye of frog, and wool of bat’…or something like that.

I was expecting to sketch a lot of birds in flight, but there weren’t too many in the museum. However, bat wings are surely closer to dragon wings than birds’ wings are, so I went with this Fruit Bat (poor thing looks a bit crispy in real life…I don’t think bat wings respond well to taxidermy). I also drew some snake and cane toad skin and the toad’s eye. The cane toad’s bumpy skin is similar to my idea of the skin on a dragon’s face.

Sketches of lizard faces, dog bat, bird talonHere is another bat, along with some different lizard faces and a griffon vulture’s foot. This unfortunate tuatara was pickled, and looks a bit pained!

Sketches of a crocodile skull and stuffed albatross
Saltwater crocodile skull and a wandering albatross

I finished off with this crocodile skull, which was amazingly textured, though I didn’t spend much time trying to capture that…I was mostly interested in the teeth and the shape of the jaw. I finally sketched a bird with outstretched wings in the shape of this albatross. It’s not really saying ‘dragon’ to me, but it might be useful!

The Loveliest of All was the Froggicorn

Some of you will know that for the last eight months or so I have been almost-but-not-quite-officially going ahead with the illustrations for a children’s book about a froggicorn! In fact, it’s been on the back burner for years, but for many reasons – not least the fact that I wanted to devote a considerable amount of time to it – the project hasn’t been able to get properly under way until now.

The Loveliest of All

The story, entitled ‘The Loveliest of All was the Froggicorn,’ was written by Kay Green of Circaidy Gregory Press some years ago, but has never been published until now.  I’m incredibly excited to be illustrating it, partly because it’s a perfectly formed and very appealing story and partly because it features a whole variety of mythical beings, so illustrating it really is a fantasy artist’s dream!

Early sketches
Early sketches

We’re planning to release the book by September 2015, so it will be my main project for the next year and a bit.  I want to illustrate it lavishly, so there’s a lot to do!