A note on squared paper

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Fig. 1-3: illustrations by David Roberts from ‘Iggy Peck: Architect’ (Harry N. Abrams Inc, 2007) and ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting’ (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2017) and (right) from my final piece


I am a big fan of the illustrator David Roberts and have noticed that he often chooses to draw on squared paper.  This seemed an ideal fit for my piece as it would communicate the scientific nature of my central characters. Looking at David’s work, he uses squared paper in a number of ways. For example, he uses the squares themselves to create architectural designs in ‘Iggy Peck Architect’ (above) or sketches directly onto the squares in the ‘bear’ image above.  Interesting to me was the picture of Iggy himself, which doesn’t appear to be drawn onto the squares, instead added afterwards.

Below is my final piece where you can see I have experimented in using the squares in various ways – either for the scientific drawings in the background, using different sized squares to indicate the background and foreground, as well as scrunching the paper up in the corner for the ‘big reveal’ of the universe.

Using squared (and other types of paper) is definitely something I will keep exploring as I move forward.

heroes _ Phil Sheppard _ FAT1

Fig 4: my final piece for Practice 1 module

Mythical adventures

When initially settling on the keyword ‘heroes’ I thought instantly of heroes in Greek myths.  I have been looking at heroes in classic pieces of art with a particular interest in the ways in which the Greek heroes were depicted in painting. For example, ‘Fury of Achilles’ (Coypel, Charles-Antoine, 1737, oil on canvas) depicts the hero in the centre of the painting, surrounded by the gods and striving forwards. I liked the ‘ensemble’ element of such paintings with the hero or heroes battling forwards. I tried to replicate this in my final piece.

Fig. 1: ‘Fury of Achilles’ (Coypel, Charles-Antoine, 1737, oil on canvas)

This subject also made me think of the work of Joe Todd-Stanton, an illustrator whose work I greatly admire.  Todd-Stanton’s books often include mythical gods or creatures reinvented to serve his stories and contemporary style.  This made me think of my own work and how I might do a similar thing with historical scientific figures.

‘Arthur and the Golden Rope’, for example, is an introduction to a Norse myth in which the young, gentle Iclandic Arthur is chosen to seek help from the Norse gods.

I read an interview with Todd-Stanton in Carousel magazine.  Here is a quote that sums up this aspect of his work:

“I wanted to find different mythologies I loved as a kid and try to inspire that love in children… I wanted to explore [Nordic mythology].  It is strange this isn’t part of the curriculum… Pretty much everything in the book, apart from Arthur, is accurate.  I wanted it to be a resource for teachers as well as a useful story.”
Joe Todd-Stanton in Carousel magazine, the guide to children’s books, issue 64, edited by Chant, Elaine et al. (2017), p12

One of the things I admire most about Todd-Stanton’s work is his use of colour, how he limits his colour paletter to one or two colour families. This has a really striking effect and may have had an impact on the progression of my work – the scientists, for example, began by being in many different colours but, in the end, I limited the colours I used for them to reds and yellows which united them and worked well against the blues in the background.  I also like how the detail in Todd-Stnaton’s drawings more keep the reader enthralled, giving them a lot of things to spot and discover as they revisit the pages. Again, this is something I will endeavour to achieve in my work.

Fig. 2: images from ‘Arthur and the Golden Rope’ and ‘Marcy and the Riddle of the Sphinx’ by Joe Todd-Stanton, Flying Eye Books




Heroes in stories (protagonists and antagonists)

One of the best books I’ve read on the telling of stories is ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke.  I read the book to help when writing a novel for children.  Beginning this MA in illustration, I revisited ‘Into the Woods’ in light of my ‘heroes’ keyword, looking specifically at protagonists and antagonists.

“All archetypal stories are defined by [one] essential tenet,” says Yorke, “The central character has an active goal.  They desire something.”  It was helpful to think of it in these terms.  For me, having chosen scientists as heroes with this project, their goal is discovery and progress.  Reading Yorke further cemented this and helped extend my thinking further.

“Something happens to a central character that throws them off the beaten track and forces them into a world they’ve never seen.  A beanstalk grows, a patient collapses, a murder is committed.  All of these actions have consequences, which in turn provoke obstacles that are commonly dubbed forces of antagonism… they are a problem or obstacle the protagonist has to overcome.”

Yorke (2013), p7

This particular passage helped move my designs on further.  Rather than a more static image with the scientist looking noble or important (the form many statues of heroes take, for example), I started to think about adversity for the heroes to overcome.  For scientists, this would be people blocking progress, those sticking to previous beliefs or denying strong scientific indicators (Michael Gove’s famous “We’ve had enough of experts” Quote springs to mind), or simply the constraints of time and money.  This would form the antagonist.  Later I took this a step further and personified these antagonistic forces into monsters battling against the scientists.

Another quote from Yorke made me think too:

“There’s a reason Herge’s Tintin has absolutely no discernible character while he’s surrounded by an extraordinary rich gallery of archetypes – how easy it is for a child to step into his plus fours and become a hero of the adventure, for the character is so like himself.”

Yorke, 2013, p147

This made me try out an additional ‘kid’ protagonist alongside the scientific heroes as an ‘in’ for the viewer.  In the end, however, this seemed superfluous although it could be something to consider if I revisit or further develop the project.


Yorke, John. (2013) Into the Woods: How stories work and why we tell them, Penguin Books


As part of my experimentation, I decided to try wood as a base for my creations. This was partly inspired by Derek Yaniger who often paints his retro characters onto plywood…

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Fig 1: from ‘Wildsville, the art of Derek Yaniger, Koreo Books PPL, 2008, acrylic on plywood


Another reason for choosing to paint of wood was so that I could play around with the composition of my cast of ‘scientific heroes’.  Here, for example, they are piled on top of one another (for which I was going for a ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ effect) and then with different characters foregrounded and others omitted…


Fig 2: The scientific heroes are (from the bottom left) Eratosthenes, Aryabhatta, Copernicus, Einstein, Halley, Galileo, Lovelace, Newton, Mae Jemison and the child at the top (I wanted this to represent the viewer, a modern-day child taing inspiration from scientists that have gone before).


This was really useful and I ended up rejecting my initial ‘piled up’ idea for a pared down version with fewer characters and my main protagonist, Galileo, being foregrounded.

Also worth noticing here is the simpler technique I have used in creating the characters themselves. This was a consious decision, partly because I wanted to save time, but also as I wanted to create more stylised characters to see if I could make them instantly recognisable as the famous scientists without facial likeness or complicated detail. I used chalk to create the ‘line of action’ on the wood (see previous post on the Looney Tunes) then, again with chalk, sketched out the basic shapes before using acrylic paint quickly in block of colour. This meant that the faces were just patches with no features, but I think that works here. Some images were more successful than others in terms of creating a recognisable figure.  For example, I feel that Galileo and Ada Lovelace work quite well, whilst Newton in his ‘refracted light’ coat looks more like Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat!  Of course, I will adapt these as I move forward but have found many interesting features that work by working in this basic way.

A lucky accident occurred whilst applying black ink to the background of the Galileo wooden block. I noticed that it really brought out the grain in the wood and that this echoed Galileo’s view of the universe with the sun at the centre (one of his most famous discoveries). I took this forward, applying black ink to different kinds of wood in various ways, experimenting with soaking the wood with water first, applying the ink in blotches, different thicknesses, dropping it on, rubbing chalk in afterwards and with different colours. Eventually, I was able to create a really interesting image of the universe by dripping and flicking masking fluid down first, then soaking with water and applying a thinner layer of black ink.

Galileo on wooduniverse on wooduniverse on wood 2


Looney Tunes and creating movement

Looney frontJPG

I have revisited this book as part of my project. More than a guide to ‘drawing the Looney Tunes’, I found it a useful guide to character design in general (this, as well as ‘The Animator’s Survival Kit’ by Richard Williams, Faber & Faber; Main – Revised edition 2009).

Looney line quote

Fig. 1, image from ‘Draw the Looney Tunes’


I was inspired to revisit the book after being advised to be ‘freer’ with my drawing and wanting to create a real ‘forward-momentum’ in the characters in my ‘heroes’ piece. The images I include below from the book show how an initial, energetic line is used as a basis for the character. The ‘Line of Action’ gives the character its momentum and direction. I am using this technique with all (or most) of the the sketches as I work towards my final piece.  I find using charcoal is also useful in giving a freer interpretation, especially early on in the process of character design.  Although I unfortunately did not photograph my drawings as they were built up in this way, I have added a pink line to one of my drawings (Fig. 6, below) to show the initial ‘line of action’.

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Fig. 2, image from ‘Draw the Looney Tunes’

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Fig 3, image from ‘Draw the Looney Tunes’

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Fig 4, image from ‘Draw the Looney Tunes’

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Fig 5, image from ‘Draw the Looney Tunes’


Line of action

Fig 6: the pink chalk line shows the ‘line of action’ in one of my sketches


Espinosa, Frank. (2005), Draw the Looney Tunes: the Warner Bros. Character Design Manual, Chronicle Books LLC

This is a mistake… or is it?

After speaking with my tutor and reading about the work of Marion Deuchars in Carousel (the guide to children’s books, issue 64, spring 2017) and her work with ‘Art Play’, I have been much freer in the way I work.  As Deuchars says in the magazine:

“I love to look out for interesting things that happen in ‘the mistakes’… creating new and unusual juxtapositions between two bits of coloured paper. Here, in the mistakes, is where I find inspiration that would fall unnoticed without a willingness to embrace art play.  [I] enjoy the process of making art as much as the final result.”

As you will see elsewhere in my blog, lucky accidents when painting on wood and when dropping ink onto paper have made it into my finished piece and, I would argue, have really enhanced it beyond my usual style.

I was also interested to read, in the same magazine, an interview with illustrator Shaun Tan, an artist who I have admired for some time and whose picture books I often use in my teaching.  The following extract in particular interested me:

“…pens, acrylics, charcoal, scraperboards, photocopies and linocuts are all mediums he employs; even his works in colour all begin being monochromatic.  He uses graphite pencil… on ordinary copy paper and then these sketches are reproduced many times.  A ‘cut and paste collage’ at this early stage often extends to the finished work, featuring materials such as glass, metal or dead insects.”

I have attempted to use some of this media in my artwork during the keyword project (pens, acrylics, charcoal, photocopies) and this also reinforced for me that there’s no harm in sticking with good old pencil and cheap copy paper! Although I haven’t yet used glass or metal (or dead insects) I did use wood as a basis for my painting which, as mentioned, added a new dimension to my work.  Tan uses bottle tops in one of my favourite books of his (‘The Lost Thing’) and I plan to use an old wooden chequers board at some point in my ‘heroes’ project, with the positive and negative squares to host heroes and villains.

In contrast with to Tan’s extensive prep, Tony Ross in issue 69 of Carousel magazine (autumn/winter 2018) says: “I usually draw in black indian ink and coloured Dr Martins liquid watercolours. I do as few drafts as possible. I feel that the first drawings are the liveliest.”

This is more advice I’ve taken on board: to not ‘overwork’ my drawings.  Like Ross, I am using black ink for the outline of the characters in my final piece – and am not doing too many drafts so to keep the work looking fresh and lively.

Finally here, going back to Marion Deuchars, I like the quote she ends on: “For me, the musician Brian Eno sums up how I feel… “When we grow up, we don’t stop playing, we just continue to play in our own way, through this thing called art”.

Galileo! Galileo!

Central to my ‘scientists as heroes’ concept is Galileo.  I have been interested in this historical figure for some time and have been reading more about him.  Here I will post some of my sketches, ideas and experimentation with media as I try to create images of Galileo as a hero. My task is to make his image contemporary and heroic whilst ensuring that he is instantly recognisable to anyone with a passing interest in science.  I plan to include other scientific heroes as I progress but feel that Galileo is my starting point – I will then look at who might have been Galileo’s heroes and who in history would have held him up as a hero.  Heroes only exist in context of other people – so I might look at ‘antagonists’ to Galileo’s story too.

Galileo beard

Galileo collars

Galileo thumbnailGalileo pointing

Above are pencil sketches of clothing from images I have found of Galileo and other pictures from the time period.  I feel that it is important to get the costumes right and this is something that I want to develop in my own practice. Some of my own illustration heroes such as David Roberts, Alex T Smith and Martin Brown all go to town on their characters’ clothing and I feel that this is something I can do to improve my own character design.  Images from the Internet, however, can only go so far so I am planning on finding other sources such as books or to visit a museum with costumes from the time period.

Galileo portrait

Sketch of Galileo in pencil

Galileo red

Here I am beginning to experiment in making Galileo a ‘hero’ by using Superman’s primary colour scheme (coloured inks, above). I found an image of Galileo wearing a red robe (in contrast to most images of him that depict him in black).  This is something to bear in mind as I move forward. However, the image is still very ‘staid’ and still – if Galileo is to be a hero in the contemporary sense, he’ll need more movement and ‘pizzazz’!

Galileo ink splat

The portrait above is created using black ink. I used accidental ink splats as the basis then worked into this quickly with ink on a big brush. I like the effect and hope to use ink splats more as I move forward.

Galileo Dr Who

Here I imagine Galileo in a more cartoony style. This is after a few attempts – it helped to imagine him use a quick pencil stroke to start with (something I learnt from reading about how the Looney Tunes characters are drawn – I’ll blog about that at a later date).  This added more energy and gave him more of a heroic stance.  Also here I am looking at different shoes from the period.  Below, I use an initial stroke of charcoal as the basis for the character which again, I feel, adds smoother movement and energy.  The ripping of the old model of the universe is inspired by Sanjay’s Patel’s ‘Rama shooting an arrow’ image from my previous blog.  I don’t feel the composition is right here but I like some features such as using the historic image and the universe eminating from the telescope in the background.

Galileo rrrip

Charcoal image with photocopied ancient view of the universe

Galileo sil

I remember illustrator Alex T Smith saying at last year’s SCBWI that the best characters need to be recongisable from their silhouette. Above I use ink to create Galileo’s silhouette.  I feel that this is successful and that he’s recognisable with his costume and props.  I also used ink splats for the planets around his hand, which I think works well.  This brings to mind Marvel character Doctor Strange who conjures circles and spheres with his hands. I will look at that link in more depth soon – but it is interesting that contemporary superhero characters are coming to mind after I rejected the idea of looking at them earlier on.  I am going to reconsider this – which contemporary characters match up with historical scientists and how can I use iconic comic book/TV/film characters to iform my own character design?

Galileo biro

Galileo Dr Strange

The above two sketches, primary drawn in ballpoint pen, show some development in the cartoon-style character design. The bottom image is more successful I feel and shows further development of the ink splat idea.  The image below uses Galileo’s view of the universe. I am not happy with the purple silhouette but will continue to try to use Galileo’s actual images of the universe as I progress.

Galileo solarGalileo point

Exploring the ‘comic book’ angle further, here I have experimented with pointellism in the style of Lichtenstein.  I feel this is a backwards step in terms of the portrait created (Galileo is back to being staid rather than heroic) but I will continue to consider the use of pointellism or comic book art.  Incidentally, the circles are created using cotton buds and acrylic for the coloured dots and ink for the black.  The ink worked much better and gave a more defined circular ‘point’.  I then experimented using coloured inks which again worked much better.

Galileo planets

Here (above) I experiment further with making ink splats, dropped from different heights into squared paper (which I like the idea of using given the scientific subject matter).

Galileo books

Some of the books I’ve been using for research

Galileo copernicus

I am now starting to explore other scientific figures from history – I want to get moving now creating a ‘cast of characters’ to explore how they interact, making ‘heroes’ rather than the singular ‘hero’.  Here is an intitial sketch of Copernicus, who inspired Galileo.  How will he differ from Galileo?