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?


Ancient heroes, modern times

With my keyword ‘heroes’ I am currently looking at heroes in science, how scientists have built on the work of their own ‘heroes’ over the centuries. I am interested in making historic scientific figures appear as heroes in a contempory way. Linked with this, I have been looking at the work of Sanjay Patel, an artist, illustrator and animator who has worked with Pixar.

First up, ‘his book ‘Ramayana: Divine Loophole’.  This is his take on the ancient Indian epic poem which narrates the struggle of the divine prince Rama to rescue his wife Sita from a demon king.   He has re-written it and illustrated in a modern-day comic book, filmic style, much in common with the superhero genre.  I love the way he has taken ancient Hindu characters and made them completely contemporary and exciting for a modern-day audience.


‘Ramayana: Divine Loophole’ by Sanjay Patel, Chronicle Books 2010, plus images from iside the book below…

sanjay rrip

I like the use of perspective in the image above from the book.  Patel uses mostly flat blocks of colour yet his images show such action and depth.  I really like the use of line across the villain and eminating from the arrow. In terms of ‘heroes’ it is so clear who are the heroes here and their heroic deed.  They are central to the image are creating movement heading towards the viewer… something to remember as I try to create adapt Galileo’s ‘heroic deeds’ into imagery.

sanjay bow

Again, I admire the use of line here as it cuts through Rama’s arm parallel with the arrow – and the use of concentric circles eminating from Rama himself across the page.  The character design is so clear and clean.  Rama stares straight at the reader, perhaps as if breaking the ‘fourth wall’.  Unlike Galileo, of course, he is a more traditional hero in that he is younger and fitter.  My designs have naturally progresses the scientist so that he himself is younger than in most depictions from the time.

In contrast to Sanjay Patel’s reinvention, below I include a more traditional image of the poem from the 17th century.  This is epic in its complexity of telling as much of the story as possible in one image, but I feel it lacks the impact on the viewer that Patel has achieved – his use of colour and capture of movement makes his work instantly appealing and relevant to a modern-day audience.  Coincindentally (and interestingly) the image below was created during Galileo’s lifetime.


Ramayana manuscripts commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar (1628-1652), British Library

sanjay draw draw

From the appendix of ‘Ramayana: Divine Loophole’ by Sanjay Patel which includes a ‘making of’ section

“Sketching is just another way of thinking and another form of writing”

I have been concerned that I am thinking too much about the story of Galileo and not enough about the imagery I am/will be creating.  As a writer also, this quote reassures me that writing and drawing are (or can be) two sides of the same coin and that I shouldn’t worry too much about this.

Here I instill Patel’s working process into three points to guide me as I attempt something similar myself…

1.) Sketch and sketch some more – tell the story point with symbols and icons.
2.) Hundreds of mini rectangles – arrange the largest shapes in the most dynamic way
3.) Enlarge and carefully work out the shapes and details as tightly possible

Patel then uses Adobe Illustrator to trace and fill in the drawings. Although I have used Illustrator a little bit, I am probably not going to attempt this part of the process at this point in the MA (or probably not) as I want to try out other things too.

sanjay monkey sketch

Patel’s pencil drawings from the Ramayana appendix.  This is stage ‘3’ of the process I outline above.


The second work by Patel I wanted to write about here is his animated short ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’ (2015) which he made with Pixar.  Video clip here.

In this film, an Indian boy does not want to worship with his father, instead wanting to play/watch superheroes.  A fantasy sequence then shows the ancient Hindu gods reinvented as superheroes. It is based on his own childhood and how he realised once grown up that the ancient stories had much in common with contemporary superhero comics and films.  Again, the image below shows how Patel worked out the sequences for the movie with thumbnail sketches and how he drew upon modern-day cliched superhero imagery to then help him reinvent the ancient god characters.



Photos of ‘The Art of Sanjay’s Super Team’ book from Pixar



Stills from ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’ short film from Pixar


Here Patel is creating his characters out of clay as part of the film-making process. Although the animation is computer generated, this is an important part. I plan to do some 3D modelling as part of this project too.

Cobuild dictionary definition

Just a quick post – I like this definition for my keyword ‘heroes’ (or rather the singular ‘hero’) in the Collins Cobuild dictionary, which we use for EAL pupils (English as an additional language) as it has simple,  clear definitions and examples for learners new to English.

Hero noun (heroes)

1. the main character of a story: The actor Daniel Radcliffe plays the hero in the Harry Potter films.

2. someone who has done something brave or good: Mr Mandela is a hero who has inspired millions.

These definitions are useful as they give a clear idea of the two paths that I believe ‘heroes’ can go down.  My preference is to explore the second definition most of all, but I am thinking about what the crossover might be between the two and how this might be explored in different fields.


Meeting Martin Brown

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I organise the Doncaster Book Awards and had arranged for ‘Horrible Histories’ illustrator Martin Brown to speak to some 1,200 Doncaster school children at our 2018/19 launch on Thursday.  On the subject of ‘heroes’, Martin is a bit of an illustration hero for me having created my own ‘horrible’ local history book.  It was fantastic to have Martin enthuse the children of my home town about drawing, history and reading – and as a bonus, what he said also got me thinking about my own practice, its development and the current MA project itself.


The cartoony style of my own illustrations is not dissimilar to Martin’s, although I vastly admire the detail he includes with the costumes of his characters and often the settings that surround them. These are two aspects that I hope to improve on during my MA course.  At the SCWBI conference last year, I had a one-to-one critique which recommended these as a focus for me, which I entirely agree with.  I spoke to Martin about how he researches the costumes for his characters. He told me about a book he used until it fell to pieces which had illustrations for clothes through the ages, but says he now relies mainly on the Internet. He also mentioned collections and images at the V&A, which is something I plan to look into.

the team MB

During his speech to the children, Martin was very keen to persuade his audience to draw, no matter what they thought of their own drawings.  “By the end of this talk,” he said, “You’ll either be better at drawing… or you’ll feel better about being crap at drawing!”.  He talked about realistic drawing versus ‘unrealistic’ ones.  He showed his his audience what he meant in a very clear manner using images of art through history.  He said, for example, that there is a lot of evidence that cave people could draw realistically – but they often chose to draw in the stylistic way shown below…


Martin then took us through other examples from history to illustrate how artists chose to draw ‘unrealistically’, including the Greeks “drawing chests on backs”…


… artists in the Middle Ages drawing figures with massive hands …


… and these guys with no shoulders:


Of course, Martin’s intention was to help children believe in their ability to draw and not to worry about accuracy, whilst giving them a basic lesson in art history – but it also reminded me of the development of my own illustrations and the direction these are taking.  Back at the SCBWI conference last year, I remember illustrator Alex T Smith telling us about a major breakthrough he had when he realised that he did not have to be accurate or realistic in the way his characters’ limbs moved or bent.  I include an example of his work that shows this below (left).  I took this advice to solve a problem when illustrating my poem ‘The Rhyme Thief’ (below, right) and plan to explore this more in my work.  It is worth noting that this does not mean that detail is sacrificed in the drawings  – both Alex T Smith and Martin Brown often include a lot of detail in their drawings, particularly with their clothing which, as I said earlier, I am looking at in my own practice.



Back at the Doncaster Book Award talk, Martin then took the audience through various contemporary illustrators that do not “draw realistically’.  We take it for granted that an illustrator drawing a rat riding a horse would look look something like this.  In real life, it would look much more bizarre than the drawing Alex Scheffler creates.


I love the way the illustrator below uses only three main colours to create this heart-warming illustration.  Of course, a girl hugging a lion created realistically would have a very different effect on the viewer/reader!


Martin spoke about this illustration by Sarah McIntyre (below), an illustrator I’ve admired for some time. This made me look more closely at this particular image.  I’ve created a shark character myself before to illustrate my poem ‘The Princess and the Shark’ (also below).  During the critique at SCBWI, we discussed these characters of mine at length.  My one-to-one tutor was complimentary about some aspects of my shark design – but now I can see how much further I could have taken it.  A bit of experimentation could have made my shark much more distinctive.  McIntyre’s shark here has huge yellow teeth with dirty patches, patterned skin and even a moustache.  As well as making it distinctive, it’ll be really fun for the target audience.  If anything, this teaches me to spend longer on character design, to be more experimental and not to stick with the first few ideas.


Princess and the Shark book_no words

Finally, this image from Nick Sharratt shows how important it is to develop your own distinctive style and that, sometimes, simplicity if key…


Coming soon:  As an interesting aside in relation to my key word “heroes”, Martin also talked about his heroes in illustration and cartooning, mentioning Bugs Bunny as a frame of reference.  In a later blog, I plan to look at Warner Bros drawings in relation to movement and character design.

The Journey Begins

My keyword, taken directly from my application for the MA in illustration at the University of Hertfordshire, is ‘heroes’.

In the last 24 hours the word ‘heroes’ has leapt out at me twice: once whilst reading the newspaper (“Being a Python was pure rock’n’roll.  George Harrison, Mick Jagger, David Bowie – all my heroes wanted to be my friends” – interview with Eric Idle, The Times, 6th Oct 2018) and again through an e-mail from Waterstones advertising Stephen Fry’s new book called ‘Heroes’ which retells Greek myths.  Interestingly, both of these illustrate avenues I am planning to explore through this project: heroes as figures of admiration and in turn influencers, and ‘heroes’ in literature, their historic origins and recent trends.

In this first blog, I explore the term ‘heroes’ through these two prisms, then spend some time deconstructing the dictionary definition. I also ask myself a lot of questions…

Heroes: admiration and influence

I work as a primary school teacher, just starting in Year 2 (six and seven year olds) after years teaching older children.  A popular topic for this year group, and the current topic in my class, is ‘superheroes’.  The National Curriculum dictates that we look at real life heroes (historical figures and ‘people who help us’ such as police and fire service).  I think this illustrates the basic meaning of the word ‘hero’ and the broad scope it can take, even at this young age. So, as well as heroes in fiction, who are the real life heroes of everyday people or people of influence themselves?  It could be family members, teachers or experts in chosen fields.

“Standing on the shoulders of giants” is a phrase I am planning to explore in this project.  To me, this summarises the idea of heroes as figures of admiration. I would like to explore how this leads to influence, which in turn can lead to progress and a continuing chain through time.  What does this look like in the worlds of politics, science, art and engineering, for example?

From a personal point of view, and coming back to the context of the word in my initial application, who are my heroes? In my application I cited my heroes in illustration. So why do I look up to these illustrators? What do I admire in these artists’ work? Can I use any of these factors to improve my own practice? Straight away here I think of illustrators David Roberts and Alex T Smith: clothing is very prominent in their work.  I met Roberts through my work with the Doncaster Book Awards and he told me that he used to work in fashion design as a miliner and how this has influenced him.  Myself, I have had little personal interest in fashion so to delve into this world would be something new and exciting. I have come to realise the importance of clothing in children’s book illustration and for character development it is vital, so this will certainly be something that I look into.

Are there any heroes of my own that I can add to the list in the application? Do these have to be illustrators, or can I think of personal heroes in other fields or in my everyday life? And most importantly, how can these influence my practice as I move forwards?

Heroes in literature and popular culture

The Greek myths contain some of the most influenctial heroes. The Greeks even named constellations after them – showing how their influence and achievements stretch from literature to science. I plan on exploring this relationship further within this project.

Modern day superheroes have much in common with the Greek heroes from which they derive.  As well as their superhuman heroics, they have flaws which are explored a lot in popular films such as Mystery Men, Super and The Incredibles. Scratch the surface of the Marvel films and it is clear the filmmakers have ensured the characters have flaws that make them identifiable to their target audience.

Perhaps more interesting is that a ‘hero’ is a subjective term. A hero is only a hero through someone else’s eyes; whether someone is a hero or not depends on point of view.  Is Batman a hero? To the people of Gotham, sometimes he is and sometimes he isn’t.  In the Christopher Nolan Batman films, for example, this point of view is scewed and spinned by those in charge.  In ‘The Incredibles’ of course, these heroes are seen a nuisances causing public damage.I feel that this angle has been taken a lot, but I might be able to find a new truth in there to explore.

On the subject of subjectivity, a traditonal villain can be a hero to some people; there are many examples of ‘anti-heroes’ in fiction.  In real life too, who we look up to depends on our own values and priorities.  This might be an interesting avenue, especially when when thinking about heroes through history – a ‘Herogue’s gallery’ of villains as heroes perhaps.


Heroes: the definition

Here is the definition of ‘hero’ from the Oxford English Dictionary…


  • 1A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

    ‘a war hero’
    1.1 The chief male character in a book, play, or film, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.

    ‘the hero of Kipling’s story’
    1.2 (in mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities and often semi-divine origin, in particular one whose exploits were the subject of ancient Greek myths.

    1.3usually as modifier The best or most important thing in a set or group.
    ‘jumpsuits are hands down our hottest hero piece right now’
    ‘the hero of the range is the daily face peel’

How are the three facets of a ‘hero’ given in the definition (courage, acheivements, noble qualities) related? Does a hero need all three of just one? Does one quality necessarily lead to another or, again, are these qualities in the eye of the beholder?  I would argue subjectivity again: does seeing someone as ‘a war hero’ depend on which side you’re on? What if you’re a pacifist?

Protagonists in stories and ‘superhumans’ are mentioned, which gives me confidence that I am heading down the right track with what I’m exploring above, as does the fact that the ancient Greel myths are cited.

I do not want to lose sight of the fact that my word is plural… I am not just looking at one hero but multiple heroes. How does this change my outcome? How many heroes do people have in life and how does they change and influence the direction they take?

Likewise, the word ‘male’ leaps out at me from the Oxford dictionary definition.  Do people still see ‘hero’ as a male term? Is the word ‘heroine’ still widely used or is ‘hero’ now widely accepted for both genders?  There is a recent trend in children’s books to redress the historical balance with books such as ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World’ and its sequel by Kate Pankhurst, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Ellen Favilli), Women In… (Rachel Inotofsky) and the ‘Little People Big Dreams’ series (Barbera Alca).  I’ve recently used these books in my primary school teaching to redress the balance, especially with popular superheroes being mostly made.

The third example from the dictionary definition surprises me (“the best or most important thing in a set or group”). I had not thought of a hero as being an object and have not really noticed the word being used in this context in my everyday life or reading.  This is something to bear in mind but, at the moment, it is not as interesting to me as the major strands outlined above.