In the last few years, WordPress has gone from strength to strength. I last did a video on WordPress when version five had launched, and now WordPress has 6 even more layout features, making it even more powerful as a website designer's editor of choice.
While new features like page templates and new layout blocks mean that it's not as easy to 'pick up and go' as it used to be, the premise of WordPress is still core - putting the power of editing into the hands of non-technical uses so they can get on with adding content to their websites without worrying how to do it.
The ability to edit headers and footers separately, and change templates and colour schemes on the fly are very helpful and I hope in time will make cumbersome page builders a thing of the past.
As a website designer helping my clients get the best out of their websites and I recommend WordPress for websites.
John Cooper is a website designer and developer working directly with Global clients. Nothing is outsourced. John designs WordPress websites for small and medium businesses around the world since 2008.
Contact John today for a website quote.
Illustration and video animation
I recently worked with Gorse Hill Studios, creating illustration and video animation for schools on the subject of CCE (child criminal exploitation).
For the brief, I had text descriptions of scenarios that can happen in CCE . Animatics were created - roughly sketched storyboards with movement - so the client could see what the end videos would look like. Voice-over narration was recorded by the Gorse Hill team with school children describing the scenarios they may encounter. The video animation was kept really (really) simple. It's mostly image transitions, as the voice-over was added later, and the turnaround time was really tight.
I'd like to think my signature style works well here, helping to soften the tough message the studio and project leaders are addressing in the work they do in schools.
Working in the educational space is really rewarding as the work has a purpose outside of the aesthetic of the illustrations. Having simple scenarios to work from, as opposed to a script, meant that I could try and tell the story in as fewer frames as possible.
The illustrations where created in ClipStudio then broken into elements. The audio was edited in audacity. These assets were imported into DaVinci resolve for video editing and exported as 1080pHD MP4 for videos. Some colour correction was done Affinity Photo.
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!
Live drawing the BCorp conference
A full day of capturing an event, as is happened. Live drawing, graphic recording, it has many names, is the process where an artist (me!) draws quickly to capture an event as it happens. This is often talks, discussions and Q&A's, visually representing the themes and subjects that are spoken about. Like taking minutes, but much more fun.
It's a great way to document an event and create marketing and publicity material that can be used after the event to share and remind attendees. Also it's great for social media.
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.
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.
Isometric graphic design for maps
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.
Illustrations: The Not-so Horrible History of Cheadle Hulme School
I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but if you look at some of my illustrations and compare them to the great Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown there are some similarities, we both clearly have a sense of humour.
I'm a fan of clean lines, stylised yet accurate anatomy and exaggerated expressions. You could say it's my signature style.
I got a call from work pal Kelly, head honcho 'Making You Content', a content agency here in Manchester (It's a content agency, get it? Some top wordplay there). They were updating a history book for Cheadle Hulme School and looking for an illustrator. She passed on my details as a good fit "in the style of horrible histories". They handled the words while I tackled the visuals, and added the humour. Teamwork.
Charlotte from Cheadle Hulme sent me the brief and I was fascinated to read about a school born out of orphans and the industrial revolution that has survived two world wars and has the odd famous parent among those attending today.
My early sketches were a bit dark. 1940's kids playing footy with an unexploded bomb on the school field never got off the drawing table, however, all the other sketches did the job and made it to the finished book.
What do you need to provide, for a freelance illustrator to create you an amazing artwork commission?
Do you have a clear idea of what you want to visualise or would you prefer some quick sketch ideas to help you get the ball rolling?
How much detail you want to provide and how much input you request in the creative stages is up to you. I take a flexible approach to help you achieve the best result with your budget.
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.
Building the new Luc Hoffmann Institute Website
Way back in December 2019 I was invited to help relaunch the Luc Hoffmann Institute's website, an environmental organisation dedicated to maintaining biodiversity in life on earth through innovative projects.
I'd already been working on updating the site in its previous form which was showing a little bit of age and using a page builder. Page builders are good to get websites up and running quickly, but are cumbersome on larger websites. This site had become slow and somewhat of a technical chore to update. That needed to change.
The Luc Hoffmann team were great to work alongside, very clear and thorough in what they needed. We reviewed the development of the site continuously as it evolved in line with their mission statement. In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund they are "the world’s leading catalyst for innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, the foundation for all life on Earth".
I ran a demo of WordPress 5 past the team, showing the new features that could be achieved, then stripped down and rebuilt their content on a fresh install of WP5, running to around at around 150 pages and no page builders in sight.
This was a big project, but the goal was the same as any good website; ease of use. Training and video tutorials allow the team to focus on publishing and promoting their work, without calling on a developer every time they want to update the site.
Since it's launch I've used WP5 on my own website and am impressed with how the new block system allows for dynamic page layouts. It also keeps the best basic functionality, templates and categories - which help automate publishing content to site with minimum fuss, all of which came into play here.
On a technical level, I used tried and tested plugins to manage content and SEO. Content views is great for automating news articles and Yoast is a great gateway into Search Engine Optimisation that helps users write content with search engines in mind. I also coded some custom blocks for the project timeline pages.
There was a lot of feedback and de-bugging required before a site with this many moving parts was ready to go live, and I had a real sense of achievement when we went into soft launch in April.
At this scale it's impressive to see WordPress flexing its content management muscles, a long way from the simple blogging platform it was ten years ago.
2020 also marks 10 years since I began creating websites in WordPress, watching it become the industry-standard platform it is today. Before WordPress, a website of this size might have been created by a team of 2 or 3 developers. I'd like to think my knowledge and experience have paid off with this project.
As I became familiar with The Luc Hoffmann Institute and their work, they really do some fascinating work in innovation and the environment. Check them out here.
“John was wonderfully proactive and efficient in getting our new website up and running. He took the time to understand our needs and always strove to find solutions. His keen communication sense, positive attitude and good sense of humour made the process of updating our website clear, easy, and even fun!”
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.
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 email@example.com
Branding for Shore Thing Theater
'Theater'? That's not a typo. My annual visit to the USA allows me to meet a lot of new creative folks with business plans. This month I've been helping Ria Toricelli with the branding of her new theatre space 'Shore Thing Theater' in New Jersey.
Simliar to a previous branding project for The Fresnel Theater in Portland, and Comedysportz Las Vegas, the brief for Shore Thing Theater was to create a brand logo reflecting the ethos of this venue. An entertainment space near the New Jersey shoreline, Shore Thing hosts live comedy, arts and education in a safe environment for the diverse surrounding community.
Working with Ria, we discussed a few different approaches, eventually settling on a logo where waves and a shoreline met with a stage and spotlights, blending the two aspects together into a memorable brand image.
Here's the final design, together with some earlier iterations, showing how the brand design evolved.