Category Archives: Project – Areas of Illustration

Exercise: A Tattoo

Design a tattoo (for a friend!) based on the word ‘Mum’ which also will become a greeting card.

Research the history and convention of Tattoos and body art.

Make decisions about complexity and colour.

Draw up design… mindful that it is for skin and paper!

History and Conventions of Tattoos


In the documentary Skin Geoff Ostling and tattoo artist eX de Medici consider donating Geoff’s skin as a work of art after his death. This turns the phrase ‘Living Artwork’ on its head… as the host will die and the work becomes merely not living… deosn’t it? (Excerpt from skin)


Naturally mummified Sudanese woman found to have tattoo of St Michael on her thigh. (Telegraph, 2014). She died and began to become a mummy in around AD700. The letters, superimposed in one spot, are M, I, X, A, H, A – spelling the Ancient Greek for the name Michael. The reasons for the tattoo are unknown but could be for protection – the woman was part of a Christian community.

Ötzi the iceman (from3250BC) had 61 tattoos – incisions into which charcoal was rubbed. Many of his tattoos match acupuncture sites. Lines tattoo’d around the wrist became popular after Ötzi started sporting them.


Initial look around at website blurs and confuses the different meanings of common sailors’ tattoos. In general all of the sailors’ tattoos seem to be strongly linked to the environment that they lived in and the traditions have outlived the initial inspirations.

The Anchor

This seemingly mundane piece of marine equipment was used only at some of the most interesting parts of the journey – arriving and leaving land locations. It is suggested that they represent a solid place – hence why Mum or Mom might be added to them – the home ground.

However The physics of an anchor suggests, and perhaps the sailors knew about this, that a ship ‘rides’ an anchor like a person rides a horse. The anchor is heavy and tries to lock to a position on the seabed by its design but will not simply become attached like a limpet – it will move and drag along the sea bed in the worst of conditions… but, it will stay attached to the ship via the chain. Even when it’s out of sight, it is there doing its best to hold fast.

In a well equipped harbour the anchor might not have been used. So perhaps upon returning home to Portsmouth no anchor was used – the ship would dock.

So the ship would use its anchor when it was abroad in the most remote and unsophisticated places. The tattoo could be a mark of achievement indicating a well travelled sailor. When combined with ‘Mum’ it might indicate their inspiration, reason for doing it, who they were thinking of once at these exotic locations, and perhaps the sense that ‘Mum’ was always with them… on the end of that unbreakable chain, to steady them and keep them from being dashed upon the rocks.

Aside from all this… the anchor was adopted the British Royal Navy as the emblem of the Lord High Admiral – an office created in 1408. It hadn’t appeared prior to that in flags and such ( It included the ‘fouled line’ – the wavy decoration often adorning anchor tattoos these day which otherwise would make no-sense to add. A fouled anchor can’t be lucky.

The Swallow

The swallow, like, it is suspected now, many birds have an amazing piece of biology in one of their eyes – they can effectively ‘see’ the magnetic field lines that enfold Earth. This gives them the ability to return home and migrate with uncanny accuracy. As a sailor in more primitive times (before ships acquired good clocks during the 1700s) navigation was difficult and the swallow must have seemed like a magician. Sailing was dangerous and surviving to return home after months or years at sea was good fortune. The swallow, who can do it year on year, might be considered a mark of success and the tattoo of a swallow indicate yet more experience.

Another way to look at it is to have the swallow as a good-luck charm – to encourage safe return.

Some websites cite 5,000 nautical miles per swallow, which is about 9,200 km – a bit further than Portsmouth to Mogadishu in Somalia (via the Cape of Good Hope – before the Suez canal was navigable). So if you made it to India and back you’d earn a pair of swallows in one return trip, seeing swallows as you made ports all the way around the African coast.

The Bluebird

As far as I can work out Bluebirds are from the Americas so are the indigenous alternative to the swallow for sailors originating from those continents.

The Bird (Pinup)

Women were not sailors in those ever-so romantic times of Henry V and the Spanish Armada so if you needed a woman with you on your voyage you’d best have one tattoo’d to your forearm where no-one can steal her. Perhaps they were likenesses of loved-ones back home, or perhaps they were more generic, or celebrity, a pin-up: something to admire to help you… erm… ‘relax’. Just guessing.

The big idea

Summing up sailors’  tattoos a bit they are drawn from mundane surrounds with an infusion of the beliefs of the time and place – superstition, religion, family ties

Russian Prisoners

I don’t think I want to delve too deeply into these but, as I’ve come across a guide to Decoding the hidden meaning behind Russian prison tattoos I thought I’d mention that they exist as it’s quite interesting, but doesn’t seem to relate to MUM…

Many of these tattoos are to denote status within the criminal fraternity, as you might expect. But they are quite elaborate – both in size and meaning in some cases. The degree of commitment is quite astonishing in some cases – tattoos that advertise the recipient as a murderer for hire or as someone who is making their way into and up within organised crime. Stars on the knees indicating that the wearer will not ‘kneel before the police’… they are not a snitch and will not think of themselves if in trouble.

Perhaps the reason for these tattoos being successful can be seen when a criminal does not have them… does this mean they are not committed and will betray their fellow criminals?


A recent trend in tattoos (although I can imagine it’s happened before in some circumstances) is for the concealment (or camouflage) of scars. In the contemporary sense these have most notably been scars left from breast tissue removal following breast cancer. There is a very strong psychological idea behind this which is the turning of a marring of the flesh into a work of art… a psychological scar into a strength of spirit. The fact that tattoos and scars are both ‘permanent’ (“scarred for life”) makes them two sides of the same coin.

There is another connotation… “scarred for life” is something often said (in sit-com shows too) by a grown-up child about what their parents have done for them. “Mum, when you made me wear Asda trainers on my first sports day you scarred me for life”. Opportunity here for a really hard dig at your mum by having an unbranded trainer tattoo, especially if the tattoo included a scar in the design.


The people indigenous to New Zealand call these markings Ta Moko. Much like the Europeans  continue to do today with other countries they sold weapons to the Maori in the 1800s and incited tribal warfare (offical moko guide). The weapons were traded for tattoo’d enemy heads so that the Europeans could study the markings. Genius [ironic stress]. The Maori would capture slaves and commoners, behead them, and tattoo their heads after beheading which gave them greater value.

A reversed-out version of the designs was called puhoro.

The designs are all unique and are arranged about the face in order to describe the person’s accomplishments, work, marriage, rank, signature (used in trade), prestige, birth status.

The painful practice subsided only to resurge since the 1990s due to modern techniques and equipment.


The whole tattoo idea seems to have originated in Tahiti from whence it travelled to New Zealand and was adopted by sailors. This paragraph from the Tahiti Tourism website is very interesting:

The word tattoo originated in French Polynesia. The legend of Tohu, the god of tattoo, describes painting all the oceans’ fish in beautiful colors and patterns. In Polynesian culture, tattoos have long been considered signs of beauty, and in earlier times were ceremoniously applied when reaching adolescence.

The ocean’s fish seem to have inspired the whole thing… which makes it all the more appropriate for sailors.


Naturally the US of A has it’s own, complete, internal history of Tattoos which is also the history of one man’s life: ‘Sailor Jerry’. Now a brand of Rum too!

Norman Collins (1911- 1973) was many things in his lifetime but dedicated the majority of it to being the best Tattoo artist of his time in America. He started tattooing by hand, one dot at a time, with a simple needle and whatever he could get for ink while riding trains across America. He travelled the world in the US Navy and settled in Hawaii where his tattoo shop served the sailors, providing them with their famous anchors, hearts and birds (both varieties). Tattooing in this era was not sterile, and very painful – having a tattoo meant you had taken the pain.

He was always ahead in his art. His designs benefited from skilled composition and a sense of linguistic humour. Later in his career he made links with Japanese tattoo artists who had taken the traditions of Japanese art and applied them to skin in huge, body-wrapping designs. Sailor Jerry was highly influenced by the methods and materials (inks and shading techniques) which he incorporated into american designs of his own creation.

Today’s tattoo artists are considered to have an easier time getting to the work because of the technological advances and the cultural acceptance of tattoos. In the early 1900s in America the tattoo was a difficult, secretive subculture found only in back alleys, and there was ‘at least 100 miles’ between tattoo shops.

The documentary Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry:The Life of Norman K. Collins attributes the arrival of tattoos to US shores in the early 1900s to the travels of the High Society to the now open Japan. They encountered tattooing there and brought it back to the west as an expensive and elite practice.

Some of the top Tattooist mentioned, who knew Norman, are…

  • Bob Roberts
  • Ed Hardy
  • Lyle Tuttle
  • Rollo Banks
  • Mike Malone
  • Eddie Funk


MUM Tattoo

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Initial doodles have led me to consider the double-helix as the modern-day ‘line’ of connection… which is appropriate for a birth-mother but might be odd for an adopted child.

DNA is an attractive, geometric shape that might lend itself to several designs – it could substitute for ‘rope’ quite well, but also can be the central focus. The style in which it is drawn is flexible as the shape can be represented in  different ways – perhaps made up from smaller imagery or symbols.

This is a symbol of ‘Nature’ and to balance it perhaps I need an aspect of ‘Nurture’… the ‘parenting’ part. Perhaps a ‘nest’ – like the provision of a home. Or just a circle of protection.

While looking into the current trend in tattoos I cam across the story of a young man who had acquired a tattoo after university and his mother refused to look at it and became a little estranged from her sone because of it. From her point of view he had marred the skin that she had cared for and looked after all of his life and was offended by the idea of it rather than anything to do with the image itself.

In designing this tattoo I’m straying into a very difficult area – a personal and familial relationship between a person and their mother. At this point I feel a bit disappointed with the progress I’ve made so far… like I haven’t cracked the problem. The issue of having a tattoo… a mark for life on your body… combined with the fact that it is to honour ‘mum’ makes it all of a very human dimension yet I’ve ended up with a chemical symbol… the double helix.

This video  documents a tattoo of a peacock being applied to a woman’s shoulder in honour of her mother who has survived a heart condition that put her into a coma for two months. It’s notable that this beautiful artwork is very personal – the meaning to the recipient is not readable from the image. The tattoo itself is also a hugely noticeable – not subtle: an enormous statement.

Although the double helix is clever and relevant I don’t feel it chimes in with the way tattoos are used – they are personal statements of identity which connect deeply with the wearer and the mystic beauty comes before the direct symbolism. I suppose there are people for whom the double helix is beautiful (perhaps me!) but I’m still looking for a more classical beauty for the adornment of skin. This might mean just an adaption of the double helix in order to fulfil the decorative requirement.

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I’ve changed my mind… there are adequately different people in the world that a DNA tattoo expressing gratitude for their mum in a non lushey way would be suitable for some and I’m attracted to the simplicity of the double helix as a design motif.

“You’re in my DNA” is great way to express, in a non-traditional way, how close a person is to their mother. The word mum needs to be there too, so that there’s no ambiguity.

In terms of the detail of the design modern tattooing, and in fact the art practiced by the very top tattoo artists of the 20th century, especially in Japan, is limited only by the ‘resolution of the skin’. But in practice the tattoo will be seen from a certain distance which means detail would be lost.


a4-3_page_64A standard greeting card… say around 6 inches by 4 inches is about the size that a ‘Mum’ tattoo might be made. Lettering might be 20mm high (about the width of Sellotape)  with larger decorative lettering about twice that.

The inclusion of ‘hearts’ in the design seems like a good idea…as it will convey the love feeling.

There are three mahor components to my design… the helical bands, the lettering and the hearts which I’m using to join the helical bands together as if theyare the DNA base pairs. I think the hearts can be more loosly drawn that the real base pairs would be but they will create a mass of hear-colour in the centre.

I’ve noticed that my double helix could be drawn as a continuous band around a wrist or ankle (or neck or torso or thigh!) provided the design canbe made to join up at the far side… it needs to be ‘in phase’. This would be achieved by skillful measurement and pr-planning by the tattoo artist scaling the design until it fits the circum-inscription distance.


this is an Illustrator version of my design which is easy to produce due to the geometric nature of the design.

When hand drawing it I found the hearts very cluttered in their linked chains which were a very littoral interpretation of the normal DNA image. After experimenting a little I found that column of hearts were more pleasing


The Design can be cropped square or continued infinitely…


as fits the body position or card use. I later realised that the blank turns on the helix could be used to add names of children etc.


I’ve found this particular task frustrating because, although I can research the facts – what people have done before – I can’t put myself in the position of a person who wants a tattoo – I don’t understand their motivation, or the satisfaction that they derive from having one, neither do I understand the objection some people have to others’ tattoos. I enjoy the artwork and admire the skill; I admire the look people achieve… just don’t feel it!

I’m not terribly happy with my own design because I feel like it should be more decorative – ornaments and embellishments – that make it more like jewellery. To cap it all I haven’t experienced the kind of relationship that drives the desire for this particular theme of tattoo.


Exercise: A Children’s Book Cover

This exercise requests the eventual creation of 3 colour visuals as possible alternatives for a book title “Animals from Around the World”.

I plan to research existing children’s book cover illustrations for this age range (7 to 11, which is also known as “Key Stage 2” in UK, although there are other ways to measure the reading abilities within that).

I will then generate ways to do the illustration (composition, style, media) then select three approaches that I deem to be the most likely to succeed… somewhere I’ll need to be clear about what ‘success’ entails!… and create the three colour visuals indicating how they would proceed to finished artwork by giving examples of existing work – either by me or other practitioners.

From the millions of titles on Amazon I’ve found a range that are likely candidates…


Richard Platt (Author)
Rupert van Wyk (Illustrator)

This is a story centred around a child of a tribe who live in the rainforest. The central character is presumably the one pictured, a girl named Remaema. The cover image is in the same style as every page in the book where the text is printed over the image, and the artwork covers every inch of every page. There are no borders.

The way that the story works is that many issues to do with logging are introduced into the narrative which involves the tribespeople and are discussed amongst them. The illustrations bring the discussions to life by showing the loggers at work and the home and surrounds of the tribespeople.

I’m struggling to identify how the pictures are made… I first thought pencil or charcoal but I think now that it’s paint, maybe oil paint. The book is old and Rupert’s blog doesn’t cover it. The images are full of texture and based very powerfully in Greens and Reds. This high colour contrast could be an echo of the issues at stake in the story. The textures make it rich and ‘alive’ – a living rainforest – and make many angles unlike a cityscape where horizontals and verticals might dominate. There are lots of dark nooks where mysteries could be waiting.

The illustrator uses other styles in other work and has a more whimsical approach for humorous topics… for example in a book of collected poems by Michael Rosen… another approach is employed successfully but you can see how this book’s illustrations have helped to build in an air of seriousness.


I cannot find a synopsis of this story but it comes up as a KS2 book so it is presumably educational in nature and might follow a similar idea of a fictional story that allows the introduction of topics for discussion about the time of the Tudors in the UK.

That it is called a ‘Tudor spy story’ is slightly at odds with the picture on the cover in this case as there is little to indicate the type of thing you’d expect from a ‘Spy’ story: tension, concealment, daring [an Aston Martin and a lethal biro], risk-taking etc… it [the cover picture] all seems quite happy and normal.

Despite this the picture invokes an historic period – an objective illustration of a young boy and girl at the hour before sunset arriving at a house. They wear clothes of the style, ride in a cart and the house architecture is suitable. The similarity with the previous book is that children of a similar age to the reader have been shown, rather than any of the (presumably) more numerous adults in the story, and this will be an attempt to help the reader to identify with the story.

I presume the scene on the cover is also recognisably described within the text. It has a warm tone to it which also suggests ‘old fashioned’ rather than contemporary.


The Street Child series are used in schools to generate topics for discussion (I know this because my daughter did it!)… there seems to be a pattern for books for KS2 being ones that generate topics for discussion… it’s probably not the only reason that books are written for this age group but seems to be high on the agenda!

The cover illustration shows two sisters holding hands and running. They look happy and are running in step with each other. They are in a town which looks to have industrial roots, on cobble stones, but all of the background is in pale monotone peach colour. The town could be a memory… either the one that is ‘home’ of the title or the one that is ‘far from home’ of the title, that they are running away from.

The effect is to present the two things separately – the two girls and the town, although shown in context together, the girls stand out and you could take the context to be notional – they may not actually be in this setting as you see it but the town is a backdrop to the story, perhaps.


I found that a series, the ‘Halfpenny Orphans’, which uses photography rather than illustration for the front cover… a photomontage in effect as the background looks like a London street from 1940s (railings gone from in front of the houses to support the war effort) but the two children are added from a contemporary photo.

As it’s not an illustration maybe it doesn’t count (!) but this composition could have been done illustrated and it might be personal preference that sees it done using photography. The particular era in question lends itself well to the use of black and white photography as imagery as show is readily available.

The composition includes features such as a street with perspective where the end (ie: vanishing point) is not in sight (hidden)… the characters look over their shoulders (‘the past’ perhaps)… and they look straight at the viewer/reader engaging them in a direct manner.

Judging this book by its cover I would expect it to take the reader into the world of theses children in order to experience the choices, mistakes, hurts and joys that they encounter in their search for a better life… the blue sky and fluffy clouds might just be hope.


I included this cover because it has a very straight, posed photograph. Maybe it’s a bit weak… but it’s actually the book of three TV episodes of Dawson’s Creek so the people in the photo are actors from the TV show… probably still dressed in character (I don’t watch it so I con’t tell!)… which puts a different perspective on the whole thing. Illustrations are often done for movies where the lead characters are portrayed as recognisable celebrities. Where a work exists only as a text an illustrator can ‘make up’ the actual look of a charcter.

This is an example of ‘expectation’… sort of in reverse. Whereas we, as image creators, are familiar with the the question ‘does the illustration give you a good idea about the contents of the book’, this is an example of ‘does the well-understood and predictable contents of the book lead us to expect the inevitable cast-photo for the cover’? Dawson’s Creek fans may actually be disappointed if they do not get the cast photo that they are expecting!

It does point to the wider genre of children’s book though – they do all look somehow familiar and there is an expectation that the contents that we are expecting will have a cover-style that we can predict. Is children’s literature very limited in scope? Does it require an equally limited scope for the cover illustration?

Thank you, Dawson’s Creek for opening a whole new avenue for discussion!


‘My Sister the Vampire’ is a series of stories recommended for ages 9+ but the main characters are 13 years old (I suppose there’s some latitude in the possible age of the vampire one… but as they’re twin sisters, near enough.). The style of the illustration reminds me of ‘Bratz’ dolls – very big eyes – lots of eye-lashes.

The covers are almost all bright pinks and blues with a darker tone to represent the vampire half of the siblings. Billed as having ‘innocent paranormal romance‘ (what?!) the cover illustrations hint lightly at the paranormal in their colour but frequently, as this one, include a coffin, or a coffin shape, or other accoutrements of the graveyard like sinister railings, bats or just more coffins. It’s a slight juxtaposition to mix the two – or certainly would be in some Vampire contexts – not here, possibly building on the cult growth of vampires in teenage social life (Buffy, Angel, Twilight). I’m going to stick my neck out and point out a similarity between this and Bewitched…


…and sitcom that evoked a playfulness around the paranormal that we came to regard as… just normal. Bewitched was a family show.


How the leopard got its spots [and its hat?] published 1993, the second cover belonging to a 2013 book – a 20 year gap. Does it show?

The 1993 book belongs to a series including Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales all of which are arranged around the square ‘window’ on a white background. This style of presentation has not disappeared – it is common still to find collections of children’s stories presented as sets with matching design. These are often more colourful, but the neat white boxed arrangement has a ‘classical’ appeal used for things such as Beatrix Potter as late as 2002 and newer books use it to emphasise the word ‘Classic’ in the presentation.

The newer  book cover is more familiar as a contemporary design. The animals are even more stylised in presentation – boxier with legs more like modern tables than living creatures – and presented in more vivid colour. There is no white space left – no sense of framing or of an edge to the design which moves away from the separate appreciation of the illustration as a ‘Plate’ or ‘Framed Print’ or an exhibited painting… and more towards the integration of the illustration into the fabric of the narrative. It’s become more common for the words of the story itself to be a part of the illustration rather than a separate graphic process.

The newer illustration also may serve as a contents page… I’m not sure if the 10 or so animals shown are the ones whose stories are told but I would perhaps jump to that conclusion upon seeing this cover.



Every word of blurb for these books warns the potential reader about the unforgiving misery of the stories and the main characters, the Baudelaire children. There are thirteen books in the series.

This illustration features, I think, the Baudelaires’ new guardian who is bent on ridding himself of the children by some unfortunate accident so that he might receive the fortune that is held in trust for them. The caricature and composition work together to communicate these things… his features are like a bird of prey – sharp eyes, beak-like nose; and his finger is poised pensively as if plotting. There is a hint of a frown and a grave, downturned mouth that all create instant unease. The children are seen in the background outside – as if unaware of the plotting… there is a sinister eye just glimpsed on the left past the guardian. The starched, white collar and jacket present a respectable outer. The curtains around the window billow of their own accord.

This whole image is in a gothic-window-shaped frame, set on a textured, dark background and the spine has the effect of tooled red leather and trim like this book is ancient.

Unlike the sense of ‘Classical’ that was invoked by the Just So Stories this design creates a reverence – a sense of ‘only open if you’re worthy’ by being dressed up so elegantly. It’s a sense that children might have felt a century ago upon entering father’s study and looking in awe at the small collection of priceless tomes that held who-knows-what infinite wisdom.


A level 2 reading book the cover is furnished with tactical information about its educational deployment. There is a ‘Level 2’ mark, the words ‘Reading Leader’ and a ladder on the orange part of the spine edge. No doubt all of these things are carried across a whole host of books of every level with numbering and colour coding as appropriate.

The remaining space contains the title, a ‘Logo’ which is reminiscent of the Beano or Dandy – a circle with the character’s head sticking out – and an illustration of a happy event from the story. The title seems part of the overall illustration with, ironically, the 3D effect of the lettering giving a sense of flatness like the title character.

Flat Stanley is also drawn not completely flat, not paper-thin, but more like a uniform thickness of 18mm. This too emphasises that he is flat… by showing exactly what his thickness is, it is not completely flat, but it is undeniably an unusually small dimension for a child and quite visibly out of the ordinary. I think if you tried to draw Stanley as completely flat like paper it would impact on the ways that he could be drawn as you would have to find poses that help the viewer to see that he is flat. By allowing an 18mm thickness more different poses are possible without losing the perception of his neatly trouser-pressed anatomy.


Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Quentin Blake.

It’s a little hard to stand back from this illustration and see it as a brief for a book cover because of how infused into popular culture Quentin Blake’s illustrations have become. I think this style has informed the development of many others over the years.

The drawing has both a looseness to it where the lines are as a sketched but fleshed out by a mixture of deep and paler colours. The looseness belies the accuracy of the perspective and the 3D shading. All this said… the characters are exaggerated – oversized noses, skinny limbs, tiny knobbles of shoulders, knees and elbows and beady eyes. It sounds ‘orrible but it ain’t… it’s so far from objective as to be new but not alien.

This book cover’s illustration bleeds of the edge and reveals the title character on a tea chest surrounded by magnificently high piles of books. She looks small compared to the tea chest (feet don’t touch the ground) which makes her vulnerable in a physical sense but she is reading. Perhaps she has read half of these books, maybe all of them, which gives her an intellectual strength – there could actually be a ‘fortress of books’ around her.


Georges Rémi’s (Hergé’s) hero of Belgium and legend Tintin is shown here in a kilt, in a boat with his dog (Snowey?) powering towards “The Black Island”. The viewer is looking in the same direction as Tintin – so we are accompanying him on his adventure, looking over his shoulder. The horizon and water are a flat, solid feature but the sky’s broken cloud cover tilts in towards the island, Tintin’s boat enters the visual from the corner and the island itself defies simple geometry in favour of a ragged, towering but uncertain shape. Its sides are unassailably steep so. There’s a sense of falling towards the island rather than travelling towards it and we are as intrigued as Tintin about its inhabitants. The birds fly counter to this on the opposite diagonal as if warding us off.


Author: Andy Stanton
Illustrator: David Tazzyman

This image is a riot! Mr Gum… presumably the fire-bearded 60-year-old skateboarder… is an angular figure with over-pointy knees, shoes and head. There’s a gingerbread man walking along gleefully carrying a biscuit barrel full of money. There’s some kind of story behind all of this (perhaps the one in the book?!?!?) but the illustration doesn’t reveal what’s going on… only cryptic hints.

The more I look at the cross-section of illustration for children’s books the more I start to see something in common – there’s an accessibility about the work that is completely in spite of the skill required to produce it. Mr Gum has components of ‘scribble’ and parts where colour texture has been applied as if with a felt-tip pen from a supermarket colouring set. This is deceptive as the expert application of the marks maintains the balance and dynamic of the picture… although it is reminiscent of a child’s drawing it has features that are far more exact, and lacks childlike qualities of drawing like impatience, not using the whole space, excessive detail or obsessive re-drawing where imperfection is detected.

Holding both those sets of qualities in one picture might be key to most illustrations for children’s books. I’m not exactly sure why that is at the moment… why is it better to have that particular combination? why not be more childlike in approach? why is that sophisticated composition still important even for a child? would a child not be more attracted to something even more familiar?

The answers to these questions in part seem ‘obvious’ – controlling the composition in order to create the desired effect is going to be better than using no approach at all. But who chooses these books? The bookstore? The Parent? or the Child? Who are these covers really aimed at? Is a successful cover one that looks good on the shelf in the book store, or in the window, or as a huge poster outside the store?

In any case… this illustration has great big blue stripes, like wallpaper, for a sky. A bit surreal, but it’s bold and makes for a nice ordered backdrop on which to apply the wilder image of Mr Gum. It’s like we all drew on the wall in a posh lounge.


Stone Age Boy is square (I mean the book is square, not the boy). Written and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. It has a magical allure like “King Soloman’s Mines” or “The Lost World” but the treasure/dinosaurs are replaced with a boy from another age… or do the children adventure into the past? Have to read the book to find out. Anyway the cover sets us up for an exciting adventure by taking us to a threshold – the two characters peer into a cave holding hands for extra courage, his eyes look wide because of the glasses and they both look a little apprehensive about whether they should enter and what’s inside. I presume it will be a boy from the stone age – very exciting.

Then I read the blurb -he’s gone back to the stone age where he has met the girl who is an actual stone age girl. I thought her hair would be darker and more messy than his! Maybe they did hair care in stone age.

Again the protagonists pictured are for the reader to identify with – someone their own age and one of each sex.

There are some large compositional structures at work… the horizon and cave make several complimentary arcs which accentuate the focus on the characters and frame them. The colour use from the grey inside the cave and the green and blue outside make a strong, large shape at the cave entrance. Space for the title and author credit has been worked in and those words appear to be part of the illustration rather than overprinted or added at a later stage. If the title was not to be there the framing of the cave around the characters may have been tighter.


This looks as if collaged and depicts a place that is idyllic… judging from the blurb – Anne does not want to leave ‘Green Gables’ and this illustration depicts not the details of that perfection but ideas that are associated with happiness – birds and butterflies, green grass, blue skies and fluffy white clouds, apples ripe on a tree, flowers, a white ‘picket’ fence (maybe not ‘picket’ but carries that idyllic idea with it) and a safe-looking house. A book is left momentarily half read on a pic-nic blanket. There are no scary corners and no woods. Nowhere to get lost. There’s a duck or goose – a family friend perhaps. Everything is soft, rounded and fluffy.

The lettering is a little playful – not too perfect, more natural and just how it fell on the page.

The colour pallet of Greens with highlights in Red (slightly surprised to notice that the word ‘Green’ is actually red!) is calming and joyful.


The syle adopted for this is the reverse of the classic Just So Story – the illustration takes up the whole page but a panel has been added to accommodate the title and author’s name.

It is like the text is in the frame now rather than the illustration which makes the text come forward to the reader and the scene recedes but become more 3D.

The egg is seen on a bed… the boy’s bed perhaps… with a bookcase behind. there is a hint of magic in this with the sand timer and the leather bound books on view.

This is also the opposite of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by having none of the warm, summery comforts depicted there. These days we’d think of Hogwarts. The moonlight makes moonbeams in the air and a warmer light uplights the boy and his book from behind as well as the book case. There is a cold/warm contrast cutting the composition diagonally nearly in half. Overall there is a spooky expectation


So this cover does for me what the Tudor spy book didn’t – here’s a chap on a ledge outside a window… definitely a bit dangerous, he probably risks discovery as much as falling. the red pallet with yellow touches helps emphasise the danger as does the character’s stance – knees bent, arms out, ready to react to the next problem.

Animals from Around The World – Existing Titles

I think this book is factual, perhaps like this Dorling Kindersley book… “A visual encyclopedia of life on Earth”:6546924aae104a4bb1b253882dbdcab8

Whitespace is their style… most things in DK books are cut out and placed onto a white background.

The approach they’ve adopted is exactly as you’d expect from DK and perhaps from a title like this… pictures (high quality photos) of lots of animals to represent different places. There’s also a popular selection process going on – penguins for the south, but no Polar Bear for the North. Could be a question of being more colourful too.Animal World fr_cover

Here;s another in a very similar style. A greater diversity of animals which perhaps does not look as good.615oKOjzpCL._AC_UL320_SR268,320_.jpg

This one takes another approach – the animals are collected in a hatching egg to create excitement.Animal-World_bljlks

Another collection of animal photographs that has been arranged in a ‘clump’


I was thinking about picturing the planet – this is the planet but it’s not about animals exclusively and shows an odd collection of containers and a spider!


These animals all look fierce – a snake has been chosen as the centrepiece.


In this case a tiger has been chosen as the focus.


Here a child is drawn with a cute cat and a map effect


This time the explorer is an adult


I’ve had something like this in my mind only because it’s a globe and some animals together.

Illustrations of Animals


Amy Hamilton


These drawing are along the lines that I would expect for this kind of book – more the life-like end of the scale in order to represent accuracy. The ‘Can Stock Photo’ image is the most simplified but it has only removed detail rather than exaggerating characteristics.

Amy Hamilton’s illustrations are still objective-looking images but they have the most style of these images – you can see some of the brushwork and artefacts of the process. I personally am a fan of this kind of expression and since the animal’s natural appearance is present through the work it would be possible to use this style if needed.

The monkey picture is skilfully observed and drawn but reminds me of a scientific plate in a very factual book rather than anything aimed at children… although they might like the realism… again, who chooses the book? I’m starting to wonder if the child-like imagery is aimed at the adults as a cue that the book is for children.

My Covers

From my research into book covers I’ve accumulated some safe conclusions… which are:

  • There must be pictures of many animals on the cover in order to accurately depict what the book is about.
  • The animals could be drawn in a style that is reminiscent of child-like drawings in order to cue the buyer that it is for children…
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Colour Visual 1


Animals come out around the world. The lure is both the exotic (animals) and the dynamic nature of the image.


This image inspired the idea and I think the style of illustration here is also appropriate. It shows texture and detail in the animals and can be used to bring the dynamic qualities to life… perhaps even being a little scary.

Colour Visual 2


I imagine this one finished in the following style…


…which is quite ‘graphic’ rather than ‘painterly’ but will help keep the scene clear so that individual animals can be identified and not get lost in the background.

Colour Visual 3


I found a use the for border!

I don’t want to ignore the inclusion of children in the image in order to attempt to identify with the potential reader so here’s a way to do it…


The animals would be used to fill up the landmass spaces… perhaps as photographs.


The boy is a cartoon-guide and could be very simple – perhaps as in the similarly-titled book above. I also have the style of Dora the Explorer in mind…


The eyes are very engaging. Dora is apparently 10 years old… she looks a little young to me. I think this is the ‘Manga’ quality. The inclusion of a cartoon character alongside photographs means that the ‘guide’ has some distance from the subject so the subject (the animals) could be made more appealing to more children using an intermediary…. for those that don’t just automatically love animals!

Exercise: A Menu Card

Examples from the world

Fish Restaurant and Wine Bar

Fish: Located in Marlborough, MA (US).


Use of a fish’s head after the word fish alludes to the classic image of the fishbone…Fish_Bone-512…and head that is left after the meat has been removed. The Trailing upright of the ‘H’ even completes the triangle of the fish head shape. The lettering is drawn as if written by hand quite casually. The overall effect is not as casual – it suggests some sophistication in its simplicity and style, especially in the way that the head shape appears to be made from a single stroke of the brush – a confident mark.

The logo has no mouth. The fishbone has a smile!

Silver Darling Seafood Restaurant

Located in Aberdeen, Scotland (UK), the Silver Darling has a circular motif which shows two local lighthouses (the old one in the photo here is right outside the restaurant), the bay in which is moored a fishing boat and the new lighthouse on the end of the bay wall:

silver-darling-restaurant-aberdeen.png Old Lighthouse, Aberdeen

This is all effectively the view from the restaurant perhaps. The appearance is like a seal or stamp – an official mark. It also resembles a life preserver (ring) or a porthole.

Ancient Greek

Fish-plate_Karlsruhe_BM_F2665ee42c18236ac1e7122ae805542b9991 a9a8d889d3cc34f540aa0ecba2e624586617cadbac8f77a83eaabf28b6cfabd7

Plates of ancient greek style – links to the Mediterranean fishing tradition and “High culture” of Greek mythology. The waves motif on the edge of the first plate is transferable as an iconic style in itself.

About Cats


This is gourmet fish… for sophisticated cats.

This is of course the opposite of what we’re looking for…

  • Raw fish… although popular as ‘sushi’ is not the required effect – this is a ‘Restaurant’ therefore not like a Sushi bar, so shouldn’t be one
  • Tinned… is not the effect. Freshly caught and probably whole-fish parts (not flakes) are the order of the day
  • This is probably some old cobblers ‘with Ocean Fish’ which sounds a bit like second-rate trawler droppings – not at all classy
  • If you watch cats eat they tend to purr loudly whilst eating with their mouths half open… which is terribly endearing to the owner who takes it all to be ‘gratitude’ and ‘love’ but translates badly to a linen-covered environment.


Located in Gothenburg and looks pretty sophisticated but it’s all in Swedish. Still, that’s what you get in a European city – different languages. A warning against using lettering with the image as in some countries four-letter f-words like ‘Fish’ might not even start with an ‘F’.


They use a lobster (which is not a fish its a crustacean I think but…) which is a well known high-class meal for those who like to choose their food while it’s alive and then like to meet it again after its been boiled to death for them… really, really fresh.

The lobster appears to be in gold on a white background which enhances the sophistication.

Georges Fish & Souvlaki Bar

More a fish and chip shop, in the English tradition, with a dine-in area… but also sporting a contemporary and stylish fish in its logo…



Which is also a ‘G’… with a tail.

This very interesting fact is also found on this website…

The chips eaten in Great Britain each year come from potatoes weighing the equivalent of nearly 2.9 million Formula 1 cars.

There’s a prize for this kind of thing in New Scientist I believe.


Other Menu Examples

35302a184e6414f446a5c123f636aa29e5caeE_Menu_Kissing_FishSaltWater_1212552_rycqhg8w0qupsnkagsjygnwybwedding-menus-08b_800images (1)images

A mixture of more classical-looking and more contemporary-looking menus, although some of the more classical ones are labelled contemporary. The more colourful and illustrated ones seem not to fit with a bright-contemporary, as does not the black one.

I’m only concerned with a single 40mm square rather than the whole design but I’m guessing that ‘whitespace’ might be a feature of the overall menu.

Krishna Ashok

Krishna Ashok 1964 - Indian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@ (8)Krishna Ashok 1964 - Indian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@ (9)Krishna Ashok 1964 - Indian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@ (14)Krishna Ashok 1964 - Indian Figurative painter - Tutt'Art@ (20)

I was searching for something with cubist influence that already included a fish to see how it was treated. Ashok has more in his style than cubism – the more vivid pallet is sharp and attractive for example. I like the way that the scales have been simplified to a criss-cross pattern in one of the images – it shows that the idea of scales could be rendered without slavish adherence to a perceived shape.

Having now dabbled in Picasso and Braque the original cubist movement is very drab offering little scope for the ‘bright’ from the brief. Ashok’s style (in the particular works above) is suitably more bright and modern to enable me to have my cake and eat it – a Cubist influence with a happier mood.

To succeed in this style the end artwork will need incorporate some of the following…

  • A sense of the overlapping elements… lines that continue to break up other areas into different colours
  • The shading technique for adjacent areas (“Passage”?) that heightens contrast and influences how we pick out shapes visually (as they don’t always follow the colour boundaries)
  • An overall effect that this is a cubist-influenced work in order to tie-in with the expected sophistication of the audience
  • A rendering of a fish (or more than one!) to give the big clue about the food style
  • a distancing from the reality of a fish being a dead thing when we eat it and a corresponding lean towards the ‘celebration’ of the fish as a happy food
  • Square
  • Works at 40mm



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From thinking around the requirements and subject I came up with the idea that the sophistication could be achieved by a visual form that connected to an established style of artwork… this is what lead me to the cubist influence above.

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I tried out a few other ancient Greek ideas to see if the classical angle would suggest anything.

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After establishing the basic form of fish I experimented with using fragments of simple line drawings to make a cubist-style collection of fragments that overlapped and were shaded. At some point I hit upon the shwash as being a way to draw scales.

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The swash also became a cast fishing line here… maybe useful for another project but it detracts from the sophistication for this one.


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Here I feel it’s coming together – the more colourful version of the fish and shading make it attractive… the question is how to use this within the 40mm square.

The question has also arisen about making this into a food rather than just a fish. The context in which it is used… on the menu of a fish restaurant… obviates the need to be too specific about it. But, if it’s to have the potential to be used on the vans and as a logo it needs to create the context of being food somehow.

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Discovered that the calligraphy of the swash can be used to create gills if the number of strokes is limited to 3 or so.

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Experiments with some compositional choices to see how all of the possible elements might work together.

Decided to address the primary brief of the menu card rather than trying to place too much emphasis on the suitability for a logo otherwise the suitability for a decorative menu card piece tends to dwindle. This is more because I have already chosen an approach which is not well-suited to becoming a modern commercial logo. If the brief were presented as “design a logo that will be used in many places including on the menu card” then things might be different.

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This is my chosen composition. The two fish overlap to help make the cubism-influenced style work better. A plate is implied by the curved part behind the fish (or in front!) and the horizontal and vertical lines, as well as making a nice textural contrast, may imply a tablecloth.

This is the pencil version before inking and colouring.

I will re-check that this composition is suitable for the scale before continuing.

I feel the hardest part is yet to come – placing the colours in each area. There is an Illustrator tool that I think allows one to experiment with this very thing which I might try in order to help decide the colour scheme.

Finally, creating the shading within each area will be a long task requiring focus and patience. Having tested it with black shading, dots and colour intensity the dots are perhaps the least successful. It’s vital for the style to succeed though.

There’s a part of me that wants to return to some of the very first brightly coloured designs that I did which seemed to succeed in terms of simple impact. They are also whole fish which was an advantage visually. My reason for moving away from whole fish was to ensure that I made good use of the square. It may be worth thinking about that again.

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On my screen this is the actual size of the finished artwork. Overall it still seems to be too complicated. I was keen to get the style where the colours change for the overlapping parts so I have made two fish overlap and now I’m thinking that maybe there are other ways to achieve that which might also help improve the clarity o the swash effect.


  • Have one fish and use other elements such as the plate or the grid line effect as the overlapping parts
  • Re-position the fish so that the less complicated parts of one fish only overlap with the more complicated parts of the other, and vice-versa.

I’m also wondering if the purple colour of the top fish is the best colour. I have a limited number of pencil colours but maybe I need a different, redder or more orange colour (warm). It’s only that I may have gone too far from the colour of food. The blue colour, even though food is not blue, works because of the association with water, but that could change too. The red diamonds have become lost because they are so small and overpowered by the surrounding colours.

I’ve just discovered something about my ‘gills’. I had stumbled across this while playing with the swash and making it a bit more calligraphic by emphasising the strokes in one direction… the thicker parts looked like gills and I’ve been emphasising that idea ever since. However, while investigating something else to do with the look of a cooked fish I’e seen some that have deep cuts in them – similar orientation for gills but bigger and wider spaced, sometimes the whole length of the body. These cuts are supposed to help the fish grill better. This is a fortunate stroke as my swash looks much more similar to these cuts that represent a fish for eating far more than gills, which are more to do with a fish swimming.

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I’ve re-designed the work as above to make it less cluttered but also to make the swash more prominent as an indicator of ‘sophistication’ knowing also that I can emphasise the marks in one direction to make them look like the cuts put in fish for cooking. The plate is going to show through the fish and affect the way it is coloured.

Perhaps in this form the image is more suitable for placing on vans etc.


This is what Adobe Illustrator could do for me… I scanned the line drawing and converted it using Trace & Expand, then used Live Paint to fill in the different areas to try out ways of colouring it. So far it doesn’t do shading, perhaps it could, but I’m just using this as a rough way to plan the colouring. It’s starting to look much better at this size.


Here the fish is blue again but the parts where the plate rim intersect are brightly coloured creating a stand-out feature.


I’m discovering with this design that I can make a wave shape with the colour emphasis through the fish along the line of the plate rim.

I find that I’m not particularly fond of it now… I think I enjoyed it more when it was too complicated, and now it becomes too bold. It will be better when it has the graduated colours though which I’m doing by hand.


This has orange and no other warm colours. I prefer it with a bit more warm in it… might have to work out the warmness using the pencils.

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This is the final piece which uses four colours of pencil and black ink. Possibly a little rushed in places which is down to me fitting in this work in odd locations (like when I’m waiting (parked) in the car!).


I’ve re-cropped it to reduce the tail slightly here, cleaned up a couple of distracting pen marks and added a tiny bit more contrast.


…and this is it at about 40mm square (on my screen anyway).