Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Mind, body and spirit.

Oh dear, it's been a long time since I posted. I'll try and post more regularly.

Anyway, back to the point of this post which is about exercise.  My upbringing was in an arty 60s-70s, family where making art was considered a wholly intellectual way of life. Physical exercise, if there was any, was a secondary by-product of some other intellectual purpose, such as having to climb a big hill to look at the view. Even my youthful cycling with the CTC in the early 80s wasn't about the physical, more about bikes, tea shops, old churches and the, of course, the view. Hills were just annoying because they got you out of breath. I kept cycling joining the mountain biking revolution, still sort of denying that it was also about exercise.

It was only a few years later when a illustrator friend of mine told me he attended a gym that I started to think may be exercise for it's own sake could be cool. I also had a shock when some holiday snaps came back from the developers. I was in my late 20's and I'd developed a bit of paunch and rest of my physique looked far from toned. I started attending the gym and really making sure I got some serious exercise in and started to really enjoy it.

Now in my mid 40s it seems more important than ever. I am becoming aware that even being pretty fit I'm only mitigating against the start of the long slow decline of ageing. I'm definitely going to go down fighting. I remember my father's last 10 years. He would complain to me endlessly about all his illnesses and physical problems. While many were unavoidable so most could have been avoided with even a little exercise. He barely moved, hours reading or watching the box. I was passed the other day by a guy on a road race bike who must have been in his 60s, of not 70s, judging by his face, but not physique. He looked great, strong, fit and healthy clad in garish racing lycra, he powered past me. That's where I want to be.

I was thinking about all this and here's 10 reasons why I keep fit:

#1 Vanity. I admit, this is my no.1 reason. I'm no oil painting but keeping trim is one thing I can do. I see a lot of guys around with fat bellies, and it's not a great look.

#2 Ready. I want to be physically ready for as many eventualities as I can. This may sound daft, but if I need to run, I can, or if I have to spend 6 hours digging a hole, I can, or sawing wood for 3 hours, etc. For some reason I'm impressed by capability, aren't we all? I think keeping your body "ready" and able is one of the tools in life's tool kit.

#3 Bright. There is no doubt that working the body brightens the mind. If for some reason I miss a week or more of exercise I feel my brain gets fuggy. I'm just not as alert, awake and with it. Exercise blows the cobwebs away!

#4 Achievement. Working freelance in a creative industry is full of ups and downs. Your ability to achieve is often out of your control, often in the hands of people with little ability themselves. It can be frustrating and stressful. Exercise and improving things like stamina or strength are all achievable if you work at it. It's such an easy way to achieve!

#5 High. Sheer pleasure. I know this sounds crazy but listen to this. I used to approach hills on my bike with dread. The awful pain of exertion in legs, the gulping for oxygen, and what seems like the total draining of all my energy. Now I search out the biggest hills. I've grown to love the sensation of physical effort.

#6 Whizz. This is most specific to cycling. It is pure schoolboy exhilaration at whizzing about on a bike. Panting up hills to a drummed out tempo then hurtling faster than you dare down them. Even slogging away on my rusty elliptical trainer, when it's too icy to ride, I'm visualising whizzing around on my bike. Just brilliant!

#7 Cool. It kind of goes back to vanity, but there's no doubt it's cool to be fit. Cool people in films, or on stage or whatever, are usually fit. You've got at least one plus with the opposite sex if you are fit.

#8 Alive. Life is so in the screen these days. Exercise, even the pain of it, tells me I'm alive as a whole 3D entity. It tells me I'm not just a (smallish) brain attached to a keyboard.

#9 Respect. I feel gifted by life itself. I know I'm lucky to be alive! I think you have to respect that by looking after your precious body. All of it, right down to the tips of your toes. After all, it's the only one you've got!

#10 ...and the view.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Time Wasters and Ranting

I get a little upset when I make a complaint, a quite justified complaint, to be told that I am ranting. To be told one is ranting somehow reduces the severity of the complaint to the extent that one becomes classed as the one at fault rather than the injured party. The particularly annoying and dangerous aspect is that the party that caused the complaint in the first place can dismiss one's reaction as a rant and basically get away with all kinds of bad behaviour.

That is not really the subject of this post, just prepare yourself for a complaint... or, if you like, a rant. In an earlier post I bemoaned the fact that I do a fair amount of work that will never sees the light of day. This post is a follow on. About 3 weeks ago I was asked by my agent to do yet another sample. At the time I was short of work so I agreed even though it is not at all in any style I have done before. Of course the deadline was to be 24hrs, or some such short amount of time. I duly stayed up late to complete it, then later still when I realised I'd somehow overwritten the finished file with a much earlier one. (A problem I keep having.. even today I overwrote an entire day's work.) So I send off the image and get a cursory, "lovely, thanks" email from the agent. Then nothing. Even my agent does not reply for 3 weeks (probably off on some luxury holiday that I could never afford).

Bear in mind that I have exactly reproduced the characters and background styles from animation character drawings they supplied, so they have no reason to reject it as it fulfils the brief perfectly. I would accept any explanation. Perhaps they wanted the sample for some business deal that didn't work out, or they changed their mind on the characters, or even a straight "no thanks". What makes me rant with fury is the totally contemptible way they they cannot be bothered to communicate anything with me. It's the most basic common courtesy that is missing. It also reveals the fact that they do not value, at all, the contribution of the creatives without which their business would not exist at all. Bizarre behaviour yet sadly common.

There you go, now was that a rant or a complaint?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Enid in Colour!

Cover for one of the Enid Blyton covers that I am currently working on for Award publications. For the first time I used Art Rage on a professional job. It's a great program that now has a nearly realistic watercolour paint system. I say "nearly", because although I mostly get good results, I still struggle to get the same flexibility that traditional paint on paper provides. Computer watercolour can't seem to match the way real paint mixes and merges. Perhaps Art Rage, Painter, Photoshop, etc. can manage it and it's me being incompetent in the use of the program. These days I don't think that is a reasonable excuse from the developers. A user should be able to pick up the brush and get painting straight away instead of grinding through tutorials and help files. Art Rage, of all paint programs I have tried over the years, comes closest to this ideal. Best of all it's so cheap, if you've never used it give it a go. Art Rage

Friday, 26 March 2010

Trouser Pump

Find out more over at the Bantering Boys blog.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Spot the Difference

I just finished this little job for Oxford University Press, the English Language Teaching Department. They've been good clients of mine since I first started out. I quite enjoy drawing domestic everyday scenes, but the jobs are often quite tough where they ask for many different elements in the same picture.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Orchestral Cutout

I recently found an orchestra cut out that I did in 1992 for a now defunct part work publisher. I was thinking of dusting it off, tidying it up, and popping it on Fantasy Cutouts so that, even though I say it myself, a great fun educational piece of work sees the light of day again.

Wheely Very Difficult

One of the interesting things about being a freelancer is that you are sort of up for anything. I can't say I've ever been asked to join a team of mercenaries to overthrow a foreign government, but I sometimes get jobs that are quite different to my usual style of work. Take Wheeliebugs. An old friend of mine contacted me after years of not seeing her to ask if I fancied designing some new "skins" for a line of toddlers push along toys (I'm not going explain any more, you can look at the picture!) I said "yes" because paid work's a little slow at the moment and they looked simple. ... which they are, but made the big mistake of saying I could do them in 3-D. I know Newtek Lightwave 3D pretty well, but I still struggle with UV mapping. (The process of taking a flat artwork and wrapping it around a 3-D object).

It's fine on my paper model kits because it's built into the process, you have to flatten everything out anyway when making the cut out pattern. Also, the paper kit has to me constructed of simple shapes to make it possible for the user to put together. Although the bean-shaped seat on the wheeliebug looks like a simple shape for the purposes of UV-mapping it's a foul group of compound curves that totally resist accurate wrapping of a 2-D image. Like trying to wrap an orange in a sheet of paper you are going get folds and creases and parts of the image disappearing.  All of his is made worse by having a number of straight lines that need to seamlessly cross the awkward curved areas.

So, the point of this post? It boils down to what I charged. I decided, for the first time ever, to charge per day mainly because the job was open ended. There was no definite end point in the design process because my client hadn't settled on a final number of designs. Of course I can't charge for the hours wasted faffing around with the UV mapping because that's a part of the technical expertise she could reasonably expect me to have already. When you take your car to the garage for a new tire you don't expect to be charged for the mechanic to learn how to change the tire. Or do you? I think yes, in the higher price you pay for a service. All jobs at a professional level require some bespoke design that even the professional has not had experience of and will need to learn on the job. Knowing how to gain the required new knowledge is what being professional is, then the pay off is having further jobs where that new learning from the previous job becomes experience.

You are probably wondering why professionalism could possibly be associated with those simple wheelybugs pictured above, you must be thinking, "What's he going on about? I could easily do that". If you are a 3-D design professional, yes, you probably could.

Wheelybugs are brilliant and you can buy them along with lots of other marvellous wooden toys from Little Fish Toys

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Good old Enid

I'm just illustrating the covers on a few Enid Blyton books. They're some of her less well known titles, but great non-the less. I've been skim reading them for this job and I'm amazed at how good she was at articulating children's experiences, fears and desires. She often touches on really interesting areas such as class and how different "types" of families bring up their children. At the same time she isn't judgemental preferring to see these adult concerns as problems the children can sweep aside in favour of children themselves organising and co-operating in their play together. Anyway, here are a couple of roughs.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010



It seems a shame to do work that never sees the light of day. This is a sketch I was asked to do for a publisher who was looking to have a series of books illustrated. I quite often get asked to draw specific samples for free, which I am willing to do if the project interests me and will eventually be reasonably paid. I've had the odd one of these rejected recently, which is fair enough, perhaps my style didn't suit. What's annoying is that the publisher couldn't be bothered to tell me that they had decided not to use me, not even bothered to acknowledge receipt of the drawing, let alone thank me for the unpaid use of my time. This arrogant rudeness and carelessness of the creative people of which their entire industry is founded is sadly common.

Paper patterns

I thought I'd just post this page from the Rust Locoblade as an example of what I love about cardstock models. I have a smallish collection of unmade cardstock models I've picked up over the years, a collection that will remain unmade. The reason that they'll stay 2-D is not just that I'm short of time to build them, but instead that I love the graphic appearance of flattened out parts with all their tabs and numbering. I think they are works of art in themselves, sometimes worthy of framing and hanging on the wall.

My model parts are laid out with some lazy abandon, too much space between them, particularly considering we should all be saving paper for the sake of the planet. The act of laying out parts in as efficient a paper saving way as possible is actually the most time consuming and difficult part of the development process. Like a really tough puzzle with pieces that may fit together in the final 3D model, but don't add up on a sheet of A4.  Hence my liberal use of white space. Have a look at for some examples from the masters of tight pattern arrangement.

Howitza Logo

I just finished this logo for the Howitza trike. The model itself is not far off, I'm just working on the instructions. It's interesting working on this logo. I guess it took about and hour and half and didn't turn out how I imagined it would. I'm not crazy about it's obvious done before appearance along with the rather poor plasticy 3D lettering. It's a first attempt that will have to do for now at least. The problem is that I just don't have time to spend any more than a couple of hours on this kind of thing. Is it important? Will it attract people to buy the model, or even repel them?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Howitzer Trike first build photos

 The build was a little tougher than the Locoblade mainly because of the shape of the front wheel. I've redesigned the order of construction to make it easier, and generally it's all looking good. On with some minor corrections and then the instruction sheets. Should be on sale next week (week of 1st of March).
Take a look at all that detailed illustration that even extends to the underside. Lush!

Get the old blog out

I thought I'd move news items for Fantasy Cutouts to a blog so I dusted off this old banger and gave it a bit of a face lift. Over time I'll work on making the main site more coherent and professional and keep this blog for development news and other bits and bobs. In fact you'll also probably find posts about the rest of my life here that link across to my illustration work at Leo Hartas and my comic strip Mirabilis along with the odd photo of my bicycle, garden, chickens, cats... and maybe my family.