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.

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.

Illustrating a point, drawing conclusions

Sitting in my office doing some illustration I had a flashback to my first 'real' job as a designer back in the late nineties. There were two bosses,  they were chalk and cheese. Where one saw creativity the other saw only hard-to-define labour costs. I was working on graphics for an 'online shop' selling the new DVD format and did some Sci-fi inspired illustrations, so the website would have some nice original content. Boss #2 saw that I had a sketch pad and pencil drawing out ideas. He stopped me and got me doing something else, can't quite remember...scanning dvd covers or something like that. The point was he didn't like what I was doing.

Publicity illustrations for PR company JWCPR
Publicity illustrations for PR company JWCPR

I'll grant you this was in Sunderland in an office next to a warehouse in 1998, but I was employed as a designer for his emerging website company and he couldn't bring himself to accept what I was doing was work. He liked to see the the finished work and show it off, but couldn't deal with seeing the creative process, certainly I felt I had to hide the early stages of a project from him. Eventually I got frustrated and left.

Now  I've the benefit of hindsight. Being self-employed I have to balance budgets between the creativity and the more practical leg-work, or more specifically hand-work, and can guess that concept work will take that little bit longer than I think it will, so I budget based on individual projects. Boss #2 came from a different background to me, if a cost needed cutting the first thing to go would be the 'airy-fairy nonsense' of drawing pictures - the 'hand-work' needs doing. However that needs guidance, and as I'm doing both it's important to find a good balance between the two, so at the end there not just something to see, but something to show off.