Character Design: Tech Detective

I was approached by a design agency in Manchester to illustrate robot characters for their client, a tech company who were looking for something quite specific.

I had the free rein to come up with suggestions of robots that would best suit their brand. Out of the ideas I suggested they opted for the detective and their dog.

In early sketches, I used a rough and ready style, and also provided a vector version. Vector art can be helpful in reproduction as it can scale to any size, from a pin badge to the side of a van.

In design apps, vector brushes can create very good clean line work, but I still find that they can't quite match the variation and liveliness of line work in pixel form, due to how software needs to process the data. Even converting pixels into vectors with the very best industry tools will smooth off lines and simplify them. I'm sure it won't be long before line work and speed of drawing is captured perfectly in pixels or vectors with no discernible difference, we're very nearly there. Saying that the software doesn't really matter, as long as the end product looks great.

This work was created in clip studio and the vectors in affinity designer. Affinity designer is super fast, but also Clip studio has the ability to export pixels in 4K and 600dpi resolution, which makes bigger files but keeps the aesthetic intact. Whatever gets the job done.


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.

Illustration and video for schools. This video has no sound.

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!

Greater Manchester Fringe Festival

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.

For this kind of work I'm available by the hour, or full day. Get in touch for info on prices.

Character Design

A selection of character design work from books and publicity.

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    Speed Portraits.

    Looking for a caricaturist or event artist? Here's a sample of my speed portrait work. These photos were taken at Art Battle Manchester.

    I've done speed portraits for a few different types of events, which I can turn around pretty quickly.

    Getting an event artist is a great way to give attendees something permanent that they can take away as a souvenir. Weddings, conferences, conventions, etc. It's a quick win at any event. I'm available to book by the hour, or for a full day with a discount. All materials are provided.

    I've got a performance background (in improv comedy), and use humour to help ease any nerves of those who want to sit and be drawn but are a bit apprehensive about it. In my experience once the first brave few have been drawn, others are quickly drawn to ...bring drawn.

    Get in touch for rates and more info:

    Distance - A comic strip diary about life during Covid.

    Get Distance books 1 & 2

    Collecting strips both collections in softcover. 106 pages.
    UK Delivery £24.95 (inc P&P)

    Update Jan 2022

    New Distance strips for 2022 - Read them here

    The first 100 strips - Read them here

    Update Dec 2021.

    Distance at Manchester Open Exhibition 2022.

    Artwork from my 2020 comic strip diary about a comedians life during the outbreak of the global pandemic has been selected for HOME Manchester's open exhibition in 2022. From  Mon 24 Jan - Sun 27 Mar 2022, the duration of the exhibition, you can read all the strips here on my website.
    Find out more about the open exhibition here

    Update - July 2021.

    Shortly after publishing both collections in print, I contracted covid 19. It was horrible. Having tested positive I could have been infected at a few places and was impossible for me to pin down where and how? I was lucky, having had my first jab it didn't hit me very hard.
    With headaches and lots of fatigue, I recovered in around a week. Lots of relief and gratitude. I considered drawing a few more strips to record the moment, but thought better of it, as the ending that had presented itself felt perfect, and I didn't want to change the tone and positive message of the strip. - John.

    About Distance

    Through 2020-21 I've drawn life during the pandemic as a comic strip diary, one page at a time, as it happened.

    Distance is a comic strip diary about right now, getting inside the head of a comedian (me) with an empty diary. From the introduction of social distancing, clapping for the NHS, and the discovery of the vaccine. I looked for positivity and humour visualising my thoughts, hope and fears in real-time.

    The format really dictated itself. At the time I was reading 'Charleys War', a classic British comic strip about a soldier in World War I. In it, a lot of story is squeezed into a few pages, with very economical storytelling through thoughts and moments.

    As we know, in the early days of the pandemic a lot was happening, and very quickly, Drawing allowed me to slow down a bit and process the world around when people were panic buying bog roll and wine. I just drew what was happened and put it online. As times went on became more reflective, and as the world has changed the process has revealed more to me about myself than I ever thought it would.

    I collected the first 50 strips in print in July 2020, and the second 50 in June 2021 through two successful Kickstarter campaigns, available here.

    comic strip covid

    I've been very lucky and not contracted Covid19 (update - I did eventually, not too serious). The pandemic has caused tragedy and sadness and at times I have questioned what to draw - what to leave in, what to leave out. How quickly would the "Hey folks, let's be positive" message wear thin?

    At the very least, creating Distance has been something I could do while there are no gigs, a focus to help get me through, and feedback has been super supportive.

    Lockdown three in the UK in March 2021 was really hard, fatigue kicked in and I was really reaching for what to include that wouldn't be negative. That's where running really helped.

    All the best thoughts, words and images that I've put into the strip have come into my head during a run, and that's why it's so core to the strip. Running is a perfect space to process thoughts and emotions. I still have a few 'covid pounds' and the half marathons of 2018 feel like a distant memory, but I'll get there again, in the future.

    comic covid graphic medicine

    I had been considering how and when to wrap up the strip in early 2021. Covid isn't going away there as still countries suffering badly. I knew if I tried to engineer narrative closure and 'look for a story' it would feel a bit fake. It's a diary, life goes on.

    May 2021 felt like a natural end for the strip. The vaccine rollout here has been successful and as events are playing out, two of the things I lost are coming back. Running in groups and Comedysportz my improv gang, have their first scheduled indoor show later this month, face to face, with a real audience!

    The 100th strip also coincides with an event that's really significant to me. Nothing I've planned - and I don't want to write about it more, because right now it's in the future, and having things to look forward to again is is really special.

    "Empowering, affirming fuel for strange times...a wonderful addition to any comic fans shelf."

    Comic Book News

    “More jogging and bread than Walking Dead”

    The British Comedy Guide


    In March 2020 the UK went into lock-down and the world went dark and scary in the grip of COVID-19. For comedian and runner John Cooper, Parkruns were cancelled and comedy clubs closed. Stay at home, control the virus...draw comics.

    Created one page at a time, as it happens, Distance gets inside the head of a comedian looking for humour in real life during dark times.

    “A comic strip diary about right now’. Washing my hands, washing my shopping and avoiding the news”.

    I’ve always drawn stuff and I keep a diary. When I saw the way things were going in other countries, I started thinking about ways to keep my mind active and generate new material, and doing a comic strip about day to day social distancing just made sense. It can be really serious obviously, as these are scary times, but I want it to be fun too - something to provide a little bit of light relief, and the odd visual gag. It also stops me from going round the twist, being stuck at home.

    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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      Distance at Manchester Home Open Exhibition 2022!

      MCROPEN2022 Home open exhibition artist John Cooper

      This weekend I'm dropping off my artwork for the Home Open Exhibition 2022 in January. Don't mind saying I'm super chuffed to be picked for it, and I sincerely hope that no pandemic related grimness gets in the way of an amazing exhibition.

      Home is Manchester's independent gallery and cinema, a very popular cultural hub for arts in the city (some Distance strips were drawn in the bar there), so it's great to be chosen for their event alongside other artists in Greater Manchester.

      Over 2000 artists submitted and from that 400 get picked to be displayed. It's Home's most popular exhibition showcasing new and unsung talent in and 2 pages from last years Distance comic strip will be part of it.

      MCROPEN2022 Home open exhibition artist John Cooper

      Picking two pieces to submit wasn't hard as it happens. One strip features the home venue and another with a big splash panel talking about the cancelled Edinburgh fringe I'm quite proud of. However, they were both digitally produced...this was a dilemma.

      Many of the Distance strips are hand-drawn, it's 'real' art. Why didn't I submit that? Much better in a gallery to look at that than a digital reproduction? Also, the Edinburgh splash image of all the acts on the royal mile was hand-drawn at A3 and shrunk down to fit the page, with the rest being all digital on a wacom.

      The rules of the Home Open exhibition state you can't change up your submission pieces once selected, which makes sense, but I was kicking myself for a minute. The strips would need printing out high quality to the all detail, but also keeping the imperfections and have the look and feel of hand-drawn tactile art.

      I know nothing about this kind of stuff. zero. Fortunately, back in 2020 I reached out to Nick Burton, a fellow illustrator who had been commissioned by Home to create his own pandemic themed webcomic strip. The quite excellent 'Our Plague Year' (check it out). I'd seen Nick's work exhibited and was really impressed by the reproduction quality.

      MCROPEN2022 Home open exhibition artist John Cooper

      It was as close to a hand-inked-on-paper look as you could get. Nick pointed me to Klein Imaging a Manchester-based art print shop that specialise in that sort of thing and have wonderfully named papers like "Hahnemuhle bright white", they did a great job for what was essentially 2 pieces of A4.

      Frames were also a thing. Clip frames are fine for my walls but not an art gallery! After faffing around on the internet for an hour looking at all manner of efficient minimalist frames I wandered into town to the ever-reliable Fred Aldous art shop, which had exactly what I needed. Solid white frame, nothing fancy, let the art do the talking.

      For the duration of the exhibition, you can read Distance for free on my website, or order a print copy here.

      Illustration for #Inktober

      March of the Robots!

      For October, I'm doing #inktober, a drawing challenge where artists and illustrators have to make an image every day. I did it back in 2018 and it was knackering finding the extra hours in the day to draw.  It has been this year so, on top of what has already been a stressful month, I keep telling myself "It's a great marketing exercise", and yes, folks have been complimenting me on them, so it's a decent enough distraction.

       This year I've kept it simple-ish. There are set suggestions, but I ignore them. Instead, I've gone for obscure or cult robots from British tv and movies. Specificity is where the deep dive happens, just drawing any old robot. So here we have the noo noo from Teletubbies alongside the alien robots from the 1960s movie The Earth Dies Screaming, which was loads of fun to draw.

      I'm told one way to get seen on social media if you're an illustrator is to do fan art, and this is probably as close as I get. I like the more offbeat and obscure characters, drawing the stuff the doesn't get drawn, and some of these characters I'd barely heard of. 

      Robots. John Cooper Manchester Illustrator

      Book Cover Design & Illustration

      Upperthong is a village outside Huddersfield in North Yorkshire. When author John Simes and his agent got in touch asking if I could do the cover to his book, 'The Upperthong Thunderbolt', I just assumed he was from there.

      When I found out he was based in Devon I was surprised, but I shouldn't have been. Authors who write science fiction don't live in outer space (I think).

      As with most of my work, it was the humour angle that bagged me the gig. The Upperthong Thunderbolt is a collection of short stories, and the tale from the title has a lot of humour in it.

      Since working on the cover, I've supplied some other sketches from his larger work A game of chess. You can find out more about John and the lovely picturesque part of the world he lives in here.

      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.

      Making History

      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.

      Find out more about the Making you Content here.

      Find out more about Cheadle Hulme school here

      book Illustration

      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.