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Illustration: In The Wild!


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Posted by on in Exhibition

Is it because they provide us with a foretaste of our own mortality? Is it because they serve as a tangible reminder that beneath the flesh we’re all the same? Could it be their lustrous, ivory sheen? Or perhaps it’s simply because they’re just so effective at preventing grey jelly from erupting out of our ears every time someone pats us on the head? Whatever it is, there’s definitely something about that bony, toothy globe underneath all the skin and hair and cartilage and stuff that’s perennially fascinating. Yep, people sure do love skulls – and we’re not just talking about metal fans and phrenologists here, either. Illustrators love skulls, too.



One such connoisseur of the cranium is artist and illustrator Nick Sheehy – or Showchicken, as he is also known. His work has appeared in the likes of Nobrow, Tiny Pencil and Ammo, but If you’ve never before had the pleasure of laying eyes upon Sheehy’s work, imagine (if you will) a noctilucent version of The Owl and the Pussycat rendered by a badass tag-team comprised of Maurice Sendak and Pete Fowler and you will have some idea. It’s strange, folk-infused without recourse to cliché or tweeness, and full of crocodiles, boars, funny little bird people and, of course, skulls. Sheehy’s are skulls of an uncommon sort, though. They’re an ever-evolving species of animate, osseous organism in which the head-bone’s connected not to the neck bone, but directly to the leg-bone, the arm-bone, and quite often another head-bone – which is upside-down.

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Posted by on in Exhibition

This week sees the opening of what is set to be a seminal event in the calendar of London's contemporary art scene: Vision Quest at Atomica gallery. It's an exhibition that will bring together original work from some of the freshest and most exciting artists out there in a celebration of the gallery's first year of presenting extremely nice things to the eyes of the capital's art fans.

Ryan Heshka
Ryan Heshka

It's been a year in which gallerists Holly Lander and Orla Bennett have seen their establishment go from strength to further strength. From their original outpost in bohemian Hackney, to a popular pop-up that just kept sticking around in Soho, to their latest incarnation as the first ever art gallery in Covent Garden's trendy Seven Dials district, each successive move has seen them raise the profile and accessibility of unorthodox contemporary art and artists. The gallery has hosted a regular program of popular shows and events, giving deserving exposure to some underexposed and up-and-coming talents. These have included the likes of a bunch of lady tattooists, an portrait artist who paints his subjects' stories on their very faces, and some other pleasingly unconventional types - a number of whom have been mentioned (in glowing terms) on this blog. Vision Quest will feature the work of fourteen such manufacturers of delicious eye-candy.

Colourful, fun and cool yet unpretentious, Atomica promotes the kind of work that can be appreciated by art lovers, illustrophiles and the relatively uninitiated alike. For those who want to get their art geek on, Vision Quest will contain some stylistic and draftspersonly finesse to ogle, plus enviably fresh and original concepts. And, for those who didn't know they even liked art to begin with, it might just be even more enchanting. Why? Because although it may have been called Lowbrow, Pop Surrealism, New Contemporary and any number of other things besides, Atomica's is the kind of art that doesn't need to be labelled to be appreciated - by any viewing demographic. It's the art that comes out of our culture. It's the books we can't put down, it's the music that moves us, it's the stuff we get up to with our friends, and it's the flickering glow of half-remembered movies across our eyes. It's the ink on our skins. It's the weirdness that plays out in our dreams. It's the art that any one of us might make if we had a paintbrush in our hand - and mad skills, of course. Don't ever forget the mad skills.

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Posted by on in Inspirations

Aesthetic. Visual voice. Style. Call it what you will, it is a thing towards which aspiring illustrators strive (albeit a thing best discovered along the way), and the successful acquisition of which marks an artist out from the million-and-one other people in the world who can draw or paint or push pixels around, or whatever. It's what can serve to make an artist's work distinct - or lucratively indistinct, should that be their chosen strategy. However, it's more than the alchemical admixture of the marks which an artist chooses to make and the medium in which they choose to make them - it's the perspective from which they present the concept to be communicated or issue to be illuminated, it's the influences for which they are a terminal and of which their work is a scrambled transmission, and it's the way they do eyes. And it's a lot more things besides.

Killian Eng
Killian Eng


Some illustrators, though, advance a stage further than the concoction of their own personal flavour of eye-candy. Whether it's down to mild obsession or (more likely) to qualifying for full citizenship of a private realm of fantasy, some illustrators become the grand architect and de facto reigning deity of their own parallel world. They're places that were getting along just fine before we poked our art-fancying noses in, thank you very much, and they continue to do so when we look away from the page. This is a tour guide to some of them - not on the scale of a Lonely Planet book, admittedly, but perhaps more akin to a TripAdvisor review.

McBess
McBess

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Posted by on in Inspirations



This is a piece that I've recently produced for the excellent Shellsuit Zombie magazine. Their forthcoming fifth issue is “an ULTIMATE GUIDE, on how to cope with money woes in the creative industries”, and they wanted a piece that reflected this struggle. After a bit of brainstorming, I decided on the theme of alchemy for the illustration, as its central quest to turn lead into gold seemed like an appropriate metaphor. In this case, it’s pencil lead. Pretty much every element of the image, from the ‘squared circle’ in the background to the phoenix on the shield, is invested with some kind of alchemical symbolism.



As you can see, the final image isn't too different from the chosen rough here, as the Zombie guys were really happy with the concept, and trusted my ability to render it into something that looked less like a collection of blobs. As usual, it’s painted from scratch in Photoshop.

Oli Rogers: Illustration Cloud Portfolio

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Posted by on in Exhibition

It's that time of year again when the Association of Illustrators presents to the public their judges' selection of the most innovative, the most imaginative, the most ingenious and the most finely-crafted of the year's work in the image-making industry. As any UK illustrator no doubt knows, it's the biggest event of its kind in the calendar - and this year the range of the competition has also been extended beyond these shores to allow for the inclusion of talent from overseas. Last year the Awards also proved to be one of the biggest events in the calendar of Somerset House, which this October once again hosts three stately rooms' worth of illustrative eye- (and brain-) candy from masters of the craft and upcoming ones to watch.


Odd Bods card game by Jonathan Burton

This time around the title of overall Professional winner goes to Jonathan Burton for his surreal and retro-styled Odd Bods playing cards, designed for The Folio Society. The whimsical images look great at both their intended size and on the wall, and it's easy to see why the panel praised the artist's draftsmanship, calling him “an illustrator at the top of his game”. Others evidently agree; the deck has also picked up a silver medal from the Society of Illustration in New York, and an award of excellence from Communication Arts. Playing cards and other gaming cards are a great way for illustrators to showcase their talent; for another excellent example of this format, check out the nautical-themed collaboration The Poop Deck Project.

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Posted by on in Exhibition

Tattoos: they've been around forever. Even the wizened hide of Ötzi the Iceman has ink, and he - if you weren't aware - has the distinction of being the oldest human body yet discovered in Europe. True, this particular ink may be no more than a collection of fuzzy lines etched with a handful of ashes and a jagged splinter of mammoth tusk (or something), but it goes to show that we human beings have been using our own skins as an illustrative medium since way before Photoshop or even sketchbooks were dreamed up.



The art of tattooing has evolved during the five and a half thousand years or so since Ötzi breathed his last, though. And, whether or not you're taken with the idea of having an image implanted permanently into your dermal layer by an electric needle plunging repeatedly in and out of your bleeding anatomy at lightning speed, you have to admit that there are now some highly accomplished painters of the fleshy canvas out there. With advanced techniques and sophisticated artistry as varied as that which comprises any other field of illustration, tattoo culture is gleefully extending its inky tendrils to embrace individuals who are less likely to punch you in the face during a brief but consummately drunken period of shore leave than whip you up an artisan mocha latte with sprinkles. Tattoo culture may still be a shade shy of mainstream acceptance - newsreaders' necks are still strictly tie territory, for now - but it's no longer the preserve of thugs. Nor, thankfully, is it any longer the preserve of men.

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Posted by on in Book

To revisit a picture book from childhood is often to experience a sense of wonder. It can be an Einstein-Rosen Bridge back to hours spent poring over captivating images - but is this wormhole wrought of mere nostalgia, or could it be that there was something truly exceptional within those pages?

Well, let's take the example of Trouble for Trumpets, the intricate pictorial collision of nature, fantasy and miniscule, orange, anthropomorphic hippos created by Peter Cross in the early '80s. To say it's fondly remembered would be an understatement: a pristine copy of the book can today set the collector back upwards of a thousand pounds. In the equivalent coin of three decades past, Cross probably wasn't paid that much to produce his masterpiece in the first place. It's safe to say that he must have done something right - and that thing was creating a treasury of enduringly beguiling images.


Trouble for Trumpets by Peter Cross

Picture books such as this have rarely been matched, and never by the kind of pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap franchised stuff with which the market seems to be awash. Thankfully, though, we now have Flying Eye. Flying Eye Books is the new(ish) children's imprint from ultra-trendy East London independent publisher and purveyor of generally delightful illustrative things, Nobrow, and they're putting out some titles that may well be destined to be the classics of the future. So here's an idea of what they've been getting up to.

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Posted by on in Editorial

“That's cool, which bit did you do?”

“Erm, well... all of it, actually.”

“Yeah, but you cheated though, didn't you? You did it on the computer.”
The above is an exchange that I, and no doubt countless other digital painters, experience on a regular basis. And in a way, it's fair enough - because in a way, it is cheating.

Yeah, I could haul out the airbrush, pick up a pen or splash some real-life actual paint around, but why would I want to do a thing like that? Working digitally, I have access to all sorts of useful things that don't exist in physical media, such as the wonders of colour correction, and the almighty magic of the undo command. Plus, I never spill my paints or have to wait for them to dry, and the risk of inopportune fingerprints is reduced really quite dramatically.



But, if you don't know how to draw or paint, then Photoshop or Corel Painter or any other of the bewildering variety of other such programs aren't going to miraculously create artwork for you, any more than a paintbrush and canvas are. And what's more, you'll have to learn the ins and outs of your program of choice before you can even begin.

This is where publications such as the aptly-named Digital Painting from ImagineFX come in. First things first, though: it won't teach you how to use your graphics package. Internet tutorials, time, and lots of practice are the best way to do that. What it will do is give you lots of useful tips on how to improve your artwork from people who are really rather good at wielding a Wacom pen (other graphics hardware is available).

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Posted by on in Exhibition


Do you remember books? You know, those quaint old things made up of thin sheets of mashed-up tree glued together between two slightly thicker bits of mashed-up tree? Rubbish, weren't they? Not only were they single-function devices with no interactivity whatsoever, but the pictures weren't in HD and they didn't even move, and the story was the same every time you used them. Yes, this is what the banal and depressing experience of 'reading' was like before we all carried wafer-thin things with touch screens in our pockets.

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Could this be how future generations will see the paper book? And what will it mean for the illustrators who enrich them if this is the case? Whether the future status of the book is that of an object of pure nostalgia, an objet d'art, or remains as the vital tool of cultural dissemination that it is today, it can't be denied that this is a pivotal point in the format's history. It's against this backdrop that V&A's new show, Memory Palace, is staged.

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Posted by on in Inspirations

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After six years of absence, desert rock titans Queens of the Stone Age have returned with a new album. It's called ...Like Clockwork, and it's the distilled sound of dusty, sleazy nihilism.

Frontman 'Ginger Elvis' Josh Homme is known for roping in collaborators - usually rock luminaries such as Dave Grohl or Mark Lanegan. This new release is no exception. However, alongside a musical guest list that includes Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and (somewhat bizarrely) Sir Elton John, Homme has enlisted an accomplice of a different sort. He's an illustrator, and his name is Boneface.

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