What am I working on right now?
Right now I’m juggling a few different projects; I’m writing my postgrad thesis at the moment which I’m trying to wrangle all the writing into a few hours every morning each week day. I’m also working on planning and organising the 24 Hour Comic Marathon at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. There’s a lot of work to do there that is basically invisible, so I don’t particularly have anything to show for that yet I’m afraid. I’m plotting my way through two stories, one a shorter one and another much longer story that I’ve been banging my head against for some time now. Feel like I’m close to a breakthrough though. I’ve got a couple of freelance jobs on that take up my evenings.
I’m always engaged in either research or production of the podcast I run called Make It Then Tell Everybody, where I talk to a different artist each week about how they do what they do. That can be very time consuming to produce and edit and difficult to schedule but I love doing it.
Other than that, I’m deep into planning for the coming academic year in my day job as lecturer, teaching comics in North Wales.
All that said, I always feel like I’m not doing enough work. There is probably something wrong with me.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not entirely sure because I don’t really consider my work to be genre work. I write short stories that either make me laugh or move me in some way. I’ve done some stories that you could count as autobiography, but I don’t classify them that way myself because what I’m writing is by and large a fictionalised version of one aspect of myself. It always feels quite weird when someone asks if I really did buy a key-cutting machine. (I didn’t, I made it up!) I guess the thing that makes my work different is that I made it. I try to write with honesty and simplicity and try to draw in the same way.
How does my illustration process work?
Much of my work is initiated by myself, so i need to be able to capture an idea when I have one. I keep notes on my phone. I used to keep a small notebook with me all the time, but I tended to lose them or fill them with doodles. I like that if I put a note into my iPhone it makes me to articulate my idea verbally and quickly. It synchronises to my laptop too, which is really useful. I’ll open that very basic idea on my laptop and flesh it out, writing and rewriting until I’m happy with the flow of the story and the way it resolves. I’ll try out as many variations as I can, time allowing and then I print it out.
For the story I’m working on at the moment, I stuck the printout into a sketchbook to start playing with how I could draw the characters, key moments or striking imagery. I do this fairly small so I’m not precious about getting it right or wrong. I only want to get the idea right, not the drawing, so my work at this stage is pretty scrappy.
I’ll do this a couple of times before I draw up in pencil a rough version of the page on a grid I keep everything very loose. This is the stage where I’m more concerned with getting the composition right rather than getting really well produced drawings. Once I’m happy with the rough, I’ll glue it along the top edge to the back of a sheet of watercolour paper. Yup, glue it. I used to use masking tape but I never really reposition it or start again once I’ve started the final drawing that I just jump right in and glue it down for all time. This isn’t to say that I don’t make mistakes, I do, but I feel like I’ve reached a point where I am confident enough in my process and my drawing that I know how to make my errors part of the image. I don’t really use photoshop for corrections but it is nice to know it is there.
I draw directly in ink onto the page without pencilling anything again. I use the rough pencil drawing to tell me where to draw and a mix of reference and imagination to tell me what to draw. I had a strange revelation a year or two ago. The drawings in my sketchbook were much looser and more visually appealing than my ‘finished’ artwork. I realised that I had been putting the “Final Artwork” on some kind of pedestal and it was crippling the spontaneity of line that I was looking for. I’m not at all now precious about the final drawing. Not that I don’t take care, I very much do, but I trust my line and my ability a lot more.
I use vintage fountain pens to draw with. I use by turns a couple of old Stylomine 303 pens and an old Waterman’s. They have a beautiful smooth flex to the nib and give me a very controllable and predictably variable line. I love them. Here’s a short video of me using the Waterman’s;
I then add watercolour directly on top of the line work. I use waterproof inks - either a Platinum Carbon (which will clog a pen but is very water-resistant) or a Sailor Pigment Ink (which smells great, is fairly water-resistant and is also lubricated so it doesn't clog pens as much)
After that, I scan it in and turn it into a book, upload it, send it to the client and put the artwork in a document wallet in a box on my shelf and never really think about it again.
Why do I illustrate what I illustrate? (or write what I write)
I love the idea that I can think of something that amuses or moves me in some way and by some directed thought and moving my hands around for a bit, I can make a version of that same idea appear magically inside your head. I feel this as a compulsion. There's a seduction to the whole idea of storytelling, but there's a very real and deep pleasure in taking a small idea and through effort and iteration transforming it into something tangible. I love drawing and the more I draw, the more I find there is to learn about drawing. The same with stories. Stories are a deep ocean of possibility.