Buzzing with Character design.

This is Liza Bee-nelli, the mascot for the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. The character design is a reimagining of the Fringe Mascot from 2017, when she was first introduced to promote shows. For this new version, I started with a pencil sketch in ClipStudio, then took it into Affinity Designer, my new favourite playground for designing vector artwork, as the mascot had to be flexible enough to be recreated at any size.

I've been using Affinity designer for around 16 months now and it's more than proven itself as a professional workflow tool, it just clicks with me a lot more than illustrator ever did. In particular features like layers and gradients are just a joy to use.

Here's the previous character design mascot logo from 2016, designed in illustrator. I've come a long way!

Greater Manchester Fringe Festival

Illustration for video production

Teaming up with animation and CGI company, The Outset.

Illustration for video production
artwork for video

Providing the illustrations for this promotional video on place-based innovation

See also:

The Outset.

Motion graphics work

Branding & Graphic Design: Making Presentations

Making Presentations is a training company that specialises in presenting skills, online and face to face.

The design work, logo, icons and deck slides are all bespoke. This is communication design, where the artwork has a very specific job to. The icons are more detailed illustrations, to keep online attendees engaged longer. The series of deck slides also are illustrations, in a simple neutral style to connect with as broad a demographic as possible and guide the attendees through their training journey.

Making Presentations founder Richard Pascoe put a lot of thought into what he needed for his artwork slide deck, and it shows.

Brand designing logos
presentation graphic design
icon design set of icons
character design harry potter

Graphic Design- Posters

Posters for events, campaigns and promotions. We work a lot with the live events industry where design needs to be high impact. We provide posters alongside branding and social media packages.

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    Isometric graphic design for maps

    Isometric design and illustration for maps, infographics and cutaways. illustrated map artwork for your event.

    Isometric design is a form of 3D drawing that's ideal for maps and infographics. The location in this example is Wasing Park in Berkshire. The event theme was 'enchanted forest', so the fantastical elements are placed around the outside, to keep the informative elements clear.

    See more graphic design styles here.

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      Live recording at the firefighters conference

      Busy times and places. A few weeks back I spent 2 days live recording 'Firefit', the national UK firefighter's conference. They got in touch back in Sept via one of their speakers, the brilliant John Parkinson who coaches and mentors folks in the firefighting service.

      I'm always curious so it was great to hear talks over the 2 days on Wellbeing, Fitness, and the dilemas faces by those in the fire fighting service who keep us safe. There was a brilliant talk from Dr Gile Yeo about obseity, too.


      My job wasn't just to listen of course but visually record as much as I could - while it happened.

      Graphic recording / Live recording / Live drawing (it has many names,) is a niche gig, and I don't mind saying I was a little mentally fried after two days of turning words into visuals as they were spoken.

      It's a challenge I relish and very much feeds the same part of my brain as improv. I have to be present and adapt quickly to the visuals I'm creating. If I spend too long on one drawing, the speaker might have moved onto a new subject by the time I'm done. Writing down keywords is good, but not too many, as a sheet full of words are just words. The goal is to find the balance of words and pictures to summarise the theme of the talk.

      There's a graphic design shorthand at work, connecting what speakers are saying with what images are commonly represented by the subject being spoken about. There's also humour, more my own take as I like to add appropriate humour into visuals. Just my opinion, though I think with more serious topics, using a little light humour can help with how people engage with difficult subjects.

      Hard for me to be objective about my own work, but the response was very positive. Attendees were encouraged to photo the art and share it across their social media, which was a great way for them to remember the event and what was covered, but also increased the engagement and reach of the event as a whole. As a freelance illustrator, to me this was a win win.

      The events team at Firefit were great. As an outside contractor coming into their space, they were very welcoming.

      I've already got a few more bookings for other events in 2022, and look forward to creating new event artwork in the future.

      Do you think your event could benefit from a live artist?

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        Branding the Kings Arms, Salford

        Back in 2018, I did the logo and rebranding on the Kings Arms Theatre pub in Salford, but I never did a blog, so here it is.

        As a regular there they knew me well as my graphic design work for other productions had already graced their walls. When it came to their rebrand, they just had to ask.

        Rebranding of the King.

        The venue is pretty unique, being a great real ale pub, and also a theatre. Many times I've sat in the bar, watching it fill up in seconds as the sold-out show upstairs has its halftime break. It's a grand old place bursting with fresh new talent (The sitcom Fresh Meat was filmed there).

        Above the bar is a stained glass window of a king. Not sure which one, but it was a starting point. For the rebrand, I took what was already there and gave it a bit of modern pop.

        I got a lot of great feedback from Lisa, who commissioned the work and suggested the tattoos of local legends.

        Using the same forms from the window; beard, robes and crown I created sketches, simplifying the stained glass into line art and turning the king to face and embrace his subjects. A new king with a broad smile who likes to put on a performance. (in my mind he sounds like Brian Blessed!).

        Since the rebranding, the pub has launched its own ale, the Queen's Legs. Does the queen have hairy legs or is it the King in drag? I'm afraid even I can't reveal that.

        Explainer Video - For Science!

        What is an explainer video? Well as you can probably guess they're videos that help explain a particular topic.

        The goal of an explainer video is to take a potentially quite complicated subject and make it engaging and easier to understand.

        They are most often hand-drawn too, sometimes on a whiteboard, where you can see the hand of the artist creating visuals in time to the narration of the subject matter.

        This project was for The Mathematics of Waves and Materials group, a research department within the University of Manchester. They work on the "theoretical, numerical and experimental aspects of both materials and waves. " Crikey.

        I was approached to create a video based on a blog about noise-reducing materials. It took a bit of time to read up and understand what the research was before throwing around ideas. Also as this was about sound, 'what to draw' visually was an open-ended question. It was also lots of fun.

        My contact Naomi had already seen my work and gave me quite a bit of creative freedom. I was expecting some resistance submitting storyboards of geese, trumpets and jetpacks, but what I pitched made the cut. It was all about finding the balance between fun and relevance.

        The video was created in lockdown, so I offered to do the voice over too, as a practical solution.

        Read the The Mathematics of Waves and Materials group blog here

        Explainer video creation

        Brochure Illustration for Manchester City Council

        Before I started drawing and illustration, my older brother Peter would draw comic strips. In some ways he did a lot of things I got interested in, apart from football. Through the years the idea of collaborating had never really crossed my mind, until a few month ago when he suggested it, so it was a great opportunity to combine our skills.

        Peter is a creative person and a problem solver.  He has a cartoony style to his drawing, and doesn't get to draw as much as I do as his real role is working as a commissioning manager at Manchester City Council, in the Directorate for Public Health.

        Last year he drew a series of images for a project highlighting 'the first 1000 days of a child's life'. Focusing on a young couple having a child, it tells their story in relation to the services provided by Health and Social Care providers in Manchester, so anyone in that position can find out about the support they can get  - in a way that is visual and engaging.

        When it was decided to turn this into the Director of Public Health’s annual report, I was approached to convert the original black and white hand-drawn artwork into digitally coloured PDF. I also supplied architectural and background for the cover and double spread.

        The original artwork required photographing, additional artwork was done digitally with a combination of wacom tablet and clip studio pro, a package that specialises in creating comic book style illustration.

        I was initially a bit worried about some of the conversion process, as some of the original artwork was very big A2 in size. Reducing down would loose some of the detail. Fortunately the chunky line work (Peter's signature style) was perfect and the images could be reduced well, and made the colouring process a breeze.

        It was a great opportunity to finally collaborate on something together, and the feedback from children’s health and social care professionals has been incredibly positive. You can download the PDF report here.

        You can see more of my illustration commission work on this site, or if you're thinking about a commission email me at  john@rocketsteps.co.uk

        Illustration and motion graphics for the University of Manchester

        Illustration, motion graphics and voice work combine in this video production for The University of Manchester.

        Back in January, I started work on a video project for The University of Manchester. The brief was to celebrate and publicise their 'school governors initiative', a programme where university staff help schools and colleges to improve, and in turn, provide an opportunity for self-development for those that volunteer.

        Their initiative has won a handful of awards and I was keen to create a video that would do justice to the hard work and accolades won by Alison, Stephanie and the social responsibility team at the university.

        This projects covers;

        The Process

        Working closely with the team, we started with the script.  Concept visuals were sketched out and then both were combined into a slideshow to give a rough idea of the story they wanted to tell, and how the visuals and voice-over would work together.

        There was a lot of information to get across in the script including surveys and stats, so I considered it important that the illustrations carried a narrative. Two of the key scenes identified from the script were the establishing shot of the university itself and the big success of 'over 1000 governors'.

        Naturally, the script went through revisions, and what started as a three-minute video eventually expanded to around eight minutes to get the entire story told. It was a tough call to leave anything out,  so we decided to go ahead with the longer edit and treat it as a short film.

        For the voiceover, I did the initial pass using a Snowball Blue microphone, which is perfect for voice work. Then dipped into the talent pool of my performer friends at Comedysportz, who individually have done voice work for talking books and video games and offered a handful of voices to choose from. After choosing Rob Hudson, a recording session took place, which was edited and synced up to the video.

         
        Illustration and video animation for the University of Manchester
        Illustration for the University of Manchester

        The entire project took three months of working across many different disciplines. Here's the final result;

        Technical info

        Illustration - Christmas Card Campaign 2019

        Every year I do a 'Christmas Card Campaign'. It's a very enjoyable way of doing a bit of marketing, doing my own Christmas cards (well, postcards). I've been doing it on and off since my days at university. It was always intended as a bit of fun but has really become useful in the last ten years. Letting family and friends know I'm thinking of them, and getting under the noses of clients to remind them I'm still around and available.

        This years illustration is still under wraps, I only post it online after Christmas, once the 100 or so hard copies have reached there destination. I like to imagine my card as an unexpected surprise, putting a smile on the face of the recipient.

        Here's the second idea I had, inspired by the brilliant BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials.

        His Dark Materials Christmas Card Illustration
        Snowmen are out, Snowbears are in!

        From 2017

        Performer Publicity

        Poster and flyer design for performers and theatre productions.