Rocket Steps. The art of communication.

An illustration every day for Inktober

This October I took part in Inktober, drawing an inked picture every day for a month that I found out about via an illustrator friend Alex.  I hadn’t heard of it, googled it to the source and found a guy called Jake Parker who set up the challenge back in 2009. The aim is simply get more people drawing everyday for fun and creativity which. It’s a great idea, so got on board and did my first sketch on the 1st October.

I’m writing this post on 2nd November and looking at the picture I did thirty days ago, it’s terrible, really rushed and no line quality. Which is the point of course, to get habitually back into drawing and inking as a means to improve a little each day for fun. I don’t think I can be reminded too often how much I like drawing, and so I love the idea of inktober.

With all my commissioned illustration work, like the book I did for Arthur Bostrom which launched in the middle of the month, getting it right is by nature really time consuming. As an illustrator, stand-up comedian, teacher and all the other professional hats I wear, there’s only so much time in the day. So I allowed myself this month to really focus on inktober, and reminded myself how I love drawing without a deadline.

The whole point is just to drawing with whatever tools you have, you don’t need fancy pens or brushes, straight to ink if possible. There’s a great video by Jake Parker which talks about it being as much about drawing as filling your ‘ideas bank’, and he’s dead right,  because often half the battle when you don’t have a brief is deciding what to draw.

After the first few days I was quite literally drawing a blank, so took a time out to brainstorm a load of ideas. A favourite quote of mine  goes something along the lines of “the world doesn’t need big ideas, it needs lots of little experiments”, so I jotted down a load of quirky things that were funny, or something that happened that day, and filled out a list.

Some of my ideas were odd but the point was bit not to overthink it, just have an idea and draw it. My thinking was if it was a strong enough idea it would explain itself.

There was a prompt list a list for every day he has a word that you can be inspired by to draw something, but I didn’t used that. I think it’s important to have a lot of  ideas and not  get precious about them. I got as much reward from generating good ideas as the drawing.

Watching other peoples work online was great, and seeing my line quality, and pen strokes tighten and refine over the course of days was really rewarding. I’m about to commence a large illustration commission, and it’s great to feel already ‘match fit’ at the sketch stage, having come straight off #inktober.

Here are some highlights;

 

Book illustration for Arthur Bostrom

Actor Arthur Bostrom ask if I’d like to be the book illustrator of his new  French phrasebook ‘Good Moaning France’. He’s written the book in character as Officer Crabtree, the role he made famous in sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo!  Of course I said yes.

 

Arthur has a list of acting credits a mile long, but is probably best remembered as Crabtree from ‘Allo ‘Allo.  The character’s poor grasp of the French language was the source of many gags, as well as his introductory catchphrase ‘Good Moaning’ which also the title of the book, recapturing the style and humour of Crabtree’s verbal mangling.

Officer Crabtree by book illustrator John Cooper
Arthur Bostrom’s Officer Crabtree in illustrated form.

There was a long lead time on this project, permissions for usage and suchlike, which was an advantage for me as book illustrator, as it meant I had a bit time to think about the style and sketch ideas. Looking back at the early concept illustration now, my style, technique and tools have changed a lot. Even in a short space of time.

Arthur knew I could work in a few styles and wanted something a little more animated than the original concept sketches.  I cast my ideas net wide, looking at the European ligne claire style popularised in the 50’s and 60’s by book illustrators like Herge, Bob de Moor and Joost Swarte.  I’m a big fan of that illustration style and in context of the character  and French origins of ‘Allo ‘Allo! it looked right. Also I was probably overthinking it.

The character of Crabtree really lends itself to this clean dynamic style, and in illustrated form I could easily see him rubbing shoulders with the Thompson and Thomson, or Agaton Sax.

Creating the cover was a good touchstone character reference for the other ten black and white illustrations which appear in the book. Details were referenced from photo stills, making sure the lapel buttons, badges and cloak all matched Crabtree’s Gendarme costume as worn on screen.

The finished cover was realised first as a series of separate images. Handdrawn, scanned,  then moved around on layers in clip studio to find the right composition, then digitally inked and coloured using a wacom intuos  tablet. This technique is less time consuming that it looks, as it allows for experimentation in the composition. If the text title graphics overlap any elements, they can be shuffled around for clarity. Here’s the cover composition:

You can order Arthur’s book at the Waterside Press website, here.

Rocket Steps. The art of communication.


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The Art of Communication

John Cooper, Comedian & Improviser. Public speaking workshops and training for UK businesses. Dealing with public speaking nerves and providing confident focus through unique and entertaining workshops