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.

Book Illustration for Arthur Bostrom - Good Moaning!

"I’d long been an admirer of John Cooper’s artwork, so when I needed an illustrator for my first book, John was my first choice. His work was always inventive, and often greatly improved on my original ideas. He can work fast, to a deadline, and can adapt quickly to a change of plan. Working with him was a delightful experience."

Arthur Bostrom

Actor Arthur Bostrom ask if I'd like to be the book illustrator of his new  French phrasebook 'Good Moaning France'. He's written the book in character as Officer Crabtree, the role he made famous in sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!  Of course I said yes.

 

Arthur has a list of acting credits a mile long, but is probably best remembered as Crabtree from 'Allo 'Allo.  The character's poor grasp of the French language was the source of many gags, as well as his introductory catchphrase 'Good Moaning' which also the title of the book, recapturing the style and humour of Crabtree's verbal mangling.

There was a long lead time on this project, permissions for usage and suchlike, which was an advantage for me as book illustrator, as it meant I had a bit time to think about the style and sketch ideas. Looking back at the early concept illustration now, my style, technique and tools have changed a lot. Even in a short space of time.

Arthur knew I could work in a few styles and wanted something a little more animated than the original concept sketches.  I cast my ideas net wide, looking at the European ligne claire style popularised in the 50's and 60's by book illustrators like Herge, Bob de Moor and Joost Swarte.  I’m a big fan of that illustration style and in context of the character  and French origins of 'Allo 'Allo! it looked right. Also I was probably overthinking it.

The character of Crabtree really lends itself to this clean dynamic style, and in illustrated form I could easily see him rubbing shoulders with the Thompson and Thomson, or Agaton Sax.

Creating the cover was a good touchstone character reference for the other ten black and white illustrations which appear in the book. Details were referenced from photo stills, making sure the lapel buttons, badges and cloak all matched Crabtree's Gendarme costume as worn on screen.

The finished cover was realised first as a series of separate images. Handdrawn, scanned,  then moved around on layers in clip studio to find the right composition, then digitally inked and coloured using a wacom intuos  tablet. This technique is less time consuming that it looks, as it allows for experimentation in the composition. If the text title graphics overlap any elements, they can be shuffled around for clarity. Here's the cover composition: 

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You can order Arthur's book at the Waterside Press website, here.

Face the music! Branding, web and print design for Wentworth Music Festival

A logo, a poster and a quick loading responsive website that sells tickets, for a new music festival. I love it when I get a project that covers all design disciplines for great cross branding experience.

One such recent project was Wentworth Music Festival. Working with a client I've had for many years they said 'this is what we want, and this is the deadline.  It needed to be bright and punchy, but also put on show the spectacular venue itself, Wentworth Woodhouse. A large privately owned stately home outside of Rotherham.

Choice of font and colour scheme was a delicate process of finding something loud and energetic enough to capture the identity and vibrance of a music festival, while also being respectful of the venue. Chatting with the clients while knee deep in organising  big name bands , I put forward a big splash illustration. Working up detailed sketch of the venue would show it off with a lot more vibrancy than a photo alone could achieve. There was also a tight deadline and go live date. Four bold colour silhouettes of non specific singers and musicians meant the pre-publicity for the event could being while waiting for the confirmation of the big names to come.  After sign off the graphics were reformatted for social media covers and the project was- quite literally - read to rock!

With over 18 years of industry and design studio experience and a dedication to researching the latest design trends and web technology, it's not just about creating a look and feel , but solving design problems. JCU is more than just the final product, it's a design service.

Design is everywhere. Everywhere we look on an increasing number of screens and  on signs of all sizes, each one seeking attention and engagement. We understand the DNA of design communication and how to get you noticed. We do it with efficiency and impact for clients throughout the UK and overseas.

Quick turn around. Illustration design on a half day deadline.

What can get done in a day, or even half a day?

I've had a few  illustration designs recently that had very tight deadlines, mostly to get artwork to the printers and meet submission deadlines. You might think commissioning original illustration work on a quick turnaround might sound a little crazy, but in truth it might be just what's needed.
With a tight deadline, preparation is everything. From the concept design to final piece, it's easy to fall into certain traps.

"We don't have time,  just download some stock photography".

Stock photography can help, but if you don't  allow for enough image sourcing time in your concept pitch, an hour or more can be quickly lost downloading half a dozen images that almost-but-don't-quite get the right message across. They then need to be approved by the client,  and if not accepted, it's more time lost.

Illustration offers a far greater level of flexibility than stock photography. Sketch proposals can be generated quickly, then refined to get a very specific message across.
Full figure drawings, detailed backgrounds and tight accurate light and tone all take time to get right, there' no arguing that. There is no shortcut for good artwork.
Creative and resourceful  thinking on the other hand, (that elusive part of the process that looks very much like sitting still and doing nothing)  can really save time.  Again it's in the prep. Here are 2 examples;

Wring out the clowns

A thin loose sketch style doesn't pack that much punch, but it's ok for a background. Do I have time to draw five well known comedians and get them all looking right in a day? Nope. How about just the heads...or as I've done here, use the flood theme of the event to save time. Half a head each, partially submerged.

Improvised Space Opera

I've used photography here for a background, but an illustrated star field wouldn't have added much time. Avoiding references that may breach copyright while getting the right message and making it funny was import. There are at least five people in the show, but time doesn't permit - no full figures. So for an illustration,  just a hand and a visual gag.

Design Graphic and Illustration update

It's been a busy year here at JCU, with a lot of illustration work appearing on the slate where once it was mostly web. From Album Covers for Rock bands to the trickier end of design, finding the right style for infographics describing IP Cloud solutions, times are as busy as they are diverse. 

The super intensive 'Where's Wally' parody was a real challenge, while putting together my old comedy pal Dan Nightingale tour poster (go see him, he's ace) was a real pleasure. The biggest job came earlier this year with some proposed designs for a Welsh visitors centre converted from an old church. Inspiration came from the wonderful architecture, knights and wolves and er, bees too. The increase in illustration work had been a real joy.

Christmas Cards? Get your festive artwork first.

Get Your Festive Greeting in First and show 'em your not a Scrooge at Christmas.

Now is a good time to start thinking about a Christmas mail out. Getting your own piece of artwork is the best way to show you care at Christmas, it also raises your profile and fosters good relationships, professionally and personally.

You could use Moonpigeon or Funky-pig-templates.com for your Christmas card, but even then you would only get as close to what you want as the template wizard allow.

For more samples and a quote, contact JCU and get your cards in before your friends do.