Saturday, 31 December 2011

Another useful calculator

Did you know there is such a thing as a Time calculator?
Very useful if you want to do sums that have hours and minutes, and really can't be bothered remembering how to do that.

Friday, 23 December 2011

How cool is that?

I thought we were needing a picture, so here's something I see every Tuesday: A motor bike for someone in a wheelchair!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


"A good font should be invisible. In other words, if you've done it right, your audience shouldn't even notice it."

Thursday, 8 December 2011

'Contextualised parables'

The article is really about his children's books - which I didn't illustrate - but a lot of the same things apply.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Hallellujah - praise the Lord!

I have found a tutorial on the internet showing me a way you can create bleed in Publisher. I've tried it (with a bit of adaption), and the art editor says it's fine.

I have found a website which will convert any type of font to ttf. This means I don't need to change the fonts in my book, which could cause all kinds of problems. I have tried it, and it works. 

Although buying copies of the clipart I used was going to be prohibitively expensive, I was able to draw some new pictures to replace the clipart ones. I used an easy style I like doing, and it took under 2 hours.

I can go out tonight with a clear conscience!!!

Also, it is snowing :-)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Warning 4: Microsoft Publisher cannot handle bleed properly

If you don't know what bleed is, I don't have time to explain properly just now.

But, in a nutshell, it allows you to have pages where the pictures, backgrounds etc go right to the edge.  This is a basic publishing task which you would expect a program called 'Publisher' would be able to cope with.

You know that 50 page book I was talking about?

Have I designed it in Publisher? Yes I have.

Does it have pictures etc going to the edge? Yes, it does.

Do I have time for all this nonsense? No, I don't.

Time to listen to this song again, I think... 

(Edit: I have found a way to do this)

Warning 3: microsoft clipart is for personal use only

You may not use it for commercial purposes.
I have just designed a bunch of stuff using it. I will now need to see if I can find them all on stock sites and buy them.

Warning 2: making a pdf involves embedding fonts

I have just designed 50 pages of a book with otf fonts (and others) used throughout. I need to pdf it to send to the printers.

New free download

It's that time of year again, when children dress up in tea towels and dressing gowns to represent first century Jews (who wore neither tea towels nor dressing gowns).

As I was doing this anyway for a project, thought I'd post a simple, no-sew, historically accurate first century costume.

Could do with cloak-draping instructions too, but that will have to wait. Basically, wrap a bit of cloth round you for a cloak.

If you really want a hat, a beanie would probably be a bit more (very approximately!) accurate than a tea towel.

A girl can have the same costume ankle length. If she's depicting a married woman, she should cover her hair with a shawl.

Click picture to enlarge.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Warning: otf fonts cannot embed in Microsoft Office

You can only embed true type (ttf) fonts in programs such as Word or PowerPoint.

I didn't know that. I do now. I wish I had known sooner. 

Like, before I chose the fonts for a project. Or at least before I made all the PowerPoint presentations.

I designed the PowerPoint slides using Myriad Pro, which is the font used in the whole project, and is an otf font (I have no idea what the difference is).

I embedded the font, which means that whoever uses it will have the text appearing properly, even if they don't actually have Myriad Pro on their computer. Or I thought I had embedded the font. No helpful warning was given, such as 'You can't do this".

They were meant to look like this:

  Fortunately, I decided to test it, by uninstalling the font on my computer, and opening the PowerPoint again. It should have looked the same. That's why I embedded the font. Instead, it looked like this:

Slight problem, I think! Some were even worse, with words overlapping. (The reason it's so odd is because each word is in a separate text box, and you click on them to make them disappear one by one, to teach the verse. And Arial, which it has changed it to, is wider than Myriad Pro).


After a bit of looking, I did find a very similar font (Raldo RE), which will do for the PowerPoints. So, after three hours and £31.74 for a new font, we now have this:

Not bad, though I don't like the square full stops, and the word spacing isn't quite even in places now - hopefully no-one will notice, as I really don't have time...

Don't you just hate computers?

OK, rant over.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The problem with working for non profit organisations... that you end up feeling guilty and unreasonable when asking for money. Even if it's very modest fee for the work. Rationally, I know this doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Some helpful advice

You’re never as good as you think you are. And you’re never as bad as you think you are.
Gabe Bridwell
He's talking about making comics, but the advice is relevant to many things. 
Being a medium sized fish in a fairly small pond, I can easily be over-impressed with my outstanding talents ;-)
And then I look at the internet, or a book, and I despair!

Watch your 'facts'

From xkcd:

Monday, 7 November 2011

I like Sundays

No matter how busy you are, no matter how near the deadlines, a day off you don't need to feel guilty about.

Reference material

Amazing what a difference reference material makes.
My attempt at a picture of arm wrestling, out of my head:

After I Googled it:

Easier to draw, infinitely more convincing!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

7 billion

People are much more than mouths to feed. They are also hands to create, minds to think, hearts to love.
Brendan O'Neill writing in The Big Issue

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Do not be anxious

We learned this in Sunday School last Sunday, and I've been listening to it through the week. A good song as deadlines approach!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

How myths get perpetuated

In the course of my work, we sometimes give instructions for children's crafts which involve toilet roll insides. At least, they would involve toilet roll insides, if it weren't for the fact that 'you're not allowed to use toilet roll insides in crafts any more - Health and Safety.' So we make vague references to 'cardboard rolls', or perhaps tell them to cut paper towel rolls in half.

However, I discovered recently that, despite popular belief, there is no law, or even official guidance, against using toilet roll insides. Schools may have their own rules, but there is no sense in which there is some kind of blanket ban. On the contrary, according the the Health and Safety Executive (who are unfairly blamed for a lot of nonsense): "as long as egg boxes and toilet roll centres look clean, there is no reason why they should not be used."

Great! So we can stop beating around the bush and tell people to use toilet rolls again!

Except... no, we can't. If we did, people buying the book would think, 'don't they know you're not allowed to do that?' It would look bad, like we were out of the ark.

We could put an explanation, but depending on the context that might be a bit OTT. And even if the club leaders are convinced, some parents will be horrified if their children come home with crafts made of toilet roll insides.

So we continue to speak vaguely of 'cardboard rolls', and because the myth is unchallenged, it continues...

 OK, OK, I'll get back to work...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


We were doing the story of Lazarus in Sunday School. The book suggested a craft which I liked very much. In fact, I thought it was quite cute.


My class of 5-6 year old boys were excited to go home and show their parents what they had been making -  

(Please imagine this written in a creepy Hallowe'en font.)

Monday, 10 October 2011


I believe my father made me for a purpose. We all have a purpose. Don't you think, detective?
Sonny in I, Robot (the film, not the book)

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Historical Accuracy

In my illustration work, I try to be as accurate as possible. When illustrating real events that happened in a real place and time (or indeed, fictional events set in a real place and time) it makes sense to make the illustrations as close as possible to how it would really have been. And I love doing research about it - particularly the clothes.

So, when I was illustrating Daniel in the lions' den recently, I made sure to dress him with accurate Persian clothes and hairstyle for the time (really easy – there are so many ancient pictures to copy).

The thing is, though. How accurate is this really? I've given him grey hair, because he was in his eighties at the time. Actually, though, I've a feeling an important Persian official might have dyed his hair. But with a picture in this simple style, how else can I show he is old? And then of course, I've read somewhere (though not verified) that men at the time wore heavy makeup… That might look just a tiny bit odd to today's eyes!

So you have to compromise. If I were doing an educational book that could have info boxes explaining the pics, I would be more pedantic. But when a picture has to speak for itself, you have to not confuse people.

Of course, there are some times when it's OK to stretch the historical accuracy just a wee bit more…

Parts of King Darius are very accurate :-)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Journey of Life


Just arrived this morning.

I'm really pleased with how it's turned out - particularly considering I photographed the pictures myself - I was a bit concerned how it would look in print.

Some random pages:

Not to say it's perfect. In fact, the whole project has been an example of how not to do it! But I've learned a lot, and I'm basically pleased with the result.

The layout was worked out by me, but the cover, all the fancy design and the typesetting was done by a designer called Paul Lewis. He's in America, and the author's in Malawi - what would we do without the internet!

Discussion questions at the back.

Not sure when it will be available yet (or price). Watch this space...

Thursday, 15 September 2011


The people who invented the A series of paper (A4, A3 etc) deserve a medal. Best thing since sliced bread.* I'm working on some illustrations at the minute, and we're not quite sure how big they'll be printed. But it doesn't matter. Because all the paper is the same proportion, we can do them 71% smaller and they'll still fit exactly. 

*Why is every good invention always compared to sliced bread? Yes, it's useful, but personally I think disposable toilet paper wins hands down.

British weather

On Tuesday it was so cold in the studio I had to go out and buy an extra jumper in a charity shop and gloves in the £ shop.

This afternoon I am sitting in a T-shirt with the window open.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Obesity is rising

Inspired by a comment my mum made about a radio report she'd heard.

Logo design

When designing a logo, it makes sense to design it in black & white first, and get it to work perfectly - then add colour (assuming you will need a b/w version, which you will if it is ever going to be photocopied.)

This means you will not finish designing a perfect colour logo and then discover it doesn't work in b/w.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The studio progresses...

A bit of DIY (with a little help from Ikea):

Now I just need to transport all the books and files...

I couldn't do this when I was working at home:

I actually drew these as 2 inch thumbnails, but printed them out A4 to see how they'll look. Quite a good idea actually - forces you to be simple, which they'll need to be, due to lack of time. I won't actually be drawing these - I'm just commissioning them for the Holiday Club I'm designing.

I have also met a couple of people in my corridor - in fact, the lady who has just moved in next door and I spent a couple of hours cleaning the kitchen! We don't think many people had been using it, and it was a wee bit untidy and grubby.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A useful tool for the mathematically challenged

I can never get my head round percentages, but I've just come across this site

It gives it in words:

What is % of ?

is what percent of ?

What is the percentage increase/decrease from to ?

Very useful - now I don't need to try and remember if I'm supposed to be multiplying or dividing (and which number I'm to divide by what...)

Ah well, back to the admin...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Happy Birthday... the World Wide Web.
20 years old today!

Strange how something you use almost every day of your life is something you had never even heard of a few years ago.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Studio so far


It's great having space to move!

At the minute my stuff is rattling around in it a bit, but once I have shelves I can bring the rest of my files and books and art materials. 

I plan to replace the computer desk with a big drawing table along that wall.

It's quite strange, after working from home for 11 years!

Monday, 27 June 2011

How blind people see the world

Apparently, in one study, when blind children were asked to draw a tree, they drew the trunk as a circle. Logical, when you think of it.

A useful thing to know

If you are wanting to use a template to cut circles out of cardboard/paper, a CD is the perfect size to get three circles out of an A4 sheet. Place two circles right in the corners of one long side, and a third in the middle of the other long side.

But, as I told the children yesterday: only do this with an old, unwanted CD, and never with one that belongs to someone else (just in case your pencil slips...)

Monday, 20 June 2011


I have a studio!

Paid my deposit and got my keys today.
Will look a bit different when it has another desk, computer, shelves, and one or two books...

View from the window:

Thursday, 16 June 2011


I was having to draw some 'How To' instructions for making a CD fish mobile, so I made one to check they worked OK. Sometimes my work is fun!

If you want to make one yourself, there are a number of versions on the internet this is a good one, though the knot in the thread isn't necessary. I just used ordinary sewing thread. Make sure you use really small pleats for the centre fin, or you'll have to redo it - as I did.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Braille v Print

The problem with knowing a blind person is that you can't lend each other books.

(The advantage is that you can't accidentally lose yourself in their books when you're meant to be cleaning their house)

Monday, 13 June 2011

Life's unanswered questions :-)

I can see why they always draw Tarzan with a loincloth.
Unlikely, but fair enough.

But why is he always clean-shaven?

Friday, 27 May 2011

Staple food

I've been writing some stuff about staple foods.
Today I just happened to be reading a (completely unconnected) book, and came across this quote:
Jesus ... is the staple of eternal life; without him and his death, we die.
D.A. Carson

Monday, 23 May 2011

Google it

Today I have had occasion, in the course of my work, to use Google to find:
  • pictures of an octopus
  • pictures of a shark's fins
  • pictures of flip-flops
  • pictures of flippers
  • what a 500ml juice bottle looks like
  • when John Newton stopped being involved in the slave trade
  • whether they have Captain Birdseye in America
  • the size of a Tunnocks teacake
  • whether a duck's quack echoes
What did we do without it?

On the downside, these legitimate areas of research somehow ended up with me reading in Wikipedia about fish cakes, crab cakes, Jamaican cuisine, jerked chicken, beef jerky...  Deep fried Mars bars and Cornish pasties came in somehow, too. Ooops!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Airline Limerick

The captain has turned on the signs
So stow away bags of all kinds
Then make sure your tray
is folded away
and your seat back no longer reclines

Cabin Pressure:Limerick (BBC Radio 4)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Other people's eyes

(I wrote this ages ago and never posted it for some reason) 

I was looking on the site of an illustrator and she had attached a video of some martial arts championships she had attended.

It meant nothing to me.

Occasionally, yes, there were some things I could see were impressive - backflips and one-handed cartwheels and leaping to their feet from lying down. But most of the time, it looked random. I didn't know what I was looking at. I could hear impressed murmurs from the crowd, but I didn't know why. I couldn't see what they were seeing. I didn't understand.

It helped me realise how something that is obvious to me may genuinely not be to other people. They can't
see if something is good design. They can't see that something's just a rough, not finished drawing.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Face Painting

This week I had three apprentices. I was teaching three young teenagers how to face paint, as they have been asked to do it for a children's party. So we spent a fun evening painting each other's faces. They chose three designs and we concentrated on them - better be able to do a few designs well, than have a huge selection on offer, and no idea where to start. I think they'll do OK.

Here are the instructions I printed out for them. One day they may be part of a book - in which case I would put a photo in the blank bit. They're deliberately simple - no complicated shading or anything. So often you need to be a skilled artist (and have a lot of time) to do the designs in facepainting books. I've gone for quick and relatively foolproof. Though painting on a non-flat surface that moves is never easy!

Butterflies are very popular with wee girls. Pink, preferably. Is this a natural tendency, or because they have been indoctrinated?

Now, one of my favourites! It's a good one to do, because it doesn't matter if it's a bit rough. And it looks like a real tiger.

And a couple of really simple ones:

Feel free to use these designs for personal use, or for a charity event. Please do not publish.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Seven Stanzas at Easter

    Make no mistake: if He rose at all
    it was as His body;
    if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
    reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
    the Church will fall.

    It was not as the flowers,
    each soft Spring recurrent;
    it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
    eyes of the eleven apostles;
    it was as His Flesh: ours.

    The same hinged thumbs and toes,
    the same valved heart
    that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then
    regathered out of enduring Might
    new strength to enclose.

    Let us not mock God with metaphor,
    analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
    making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
    faded credulity of earlier ages:
    let us walk through the door.

    The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
    not a stone in a story,
    but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
    grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
    the wide light of day.

    And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
    make it a real angel,
    weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
    opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
    spun on a definite loom.

    Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
    for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
    lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
    embarrassed by the miracle,
    and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike

Christ is Risen!

Death is dead
Love has won
Christ has conquered
Stuart Townend

Friday, 22 April 2011

Cherubim & curtain

A collection of verses inspired by today's page in Explore.

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. 
Genesis 3:24

Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker ... The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. 
Exodus 26:31,33

The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.
Leviticus 16:2

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 
Matthew 27:50-51 
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain ... let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:19-23

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A fact which should be more widely known

The copyright of a picture drawn by a freelance illustrator belongs to the illustrator, unless there is a contract to the contrary.

Monday, 11 April 2011

A useful culinary tip

Tarantulas are best served toasted like marshmallows.
BBC Human Planet: Jungle

Should you ever wish to eat one...

Thursday, 31 March 2011


When people want to compliment a book, they often describe it as 'unputdownable'. But an unputdownable book is the last thing I need. I have other things to do with my life.

To me, the ideal book is one that is really enjoyable to read, but I can stop whenever I want.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Fascinating painting walkthrough

Found a series of videos in which an artist shows how he creates one of his digital paintings.  

This guy never went to art college and paints a beautiful webcomic in his spare time!

Makes me feel quite inadequate! 

P.S. Yes I know I've not put up any British Museum photos yet.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


We were doing the story of Abraham leaving Ur in Sunday School, and the visual aid had a picture of the Ziggurat of Ur. The children were very interested, and wondered what it was, how big it was etc, and we noted the many steps.

6 year old: If there was a slide down it, that would be good.

Saturday, 12 February 2011


I have finished my scarf, which I have been knitting for just over a year (off & on).
Now we need some snow!

Vicious circle

Sorry :-)

Monday, 7 February 2011

A low-tech art photography studio

Having drawn a blank at finding high quality, low cost scanning for the Pilgrim's Progress illustrations (£40 a picture being a bit much for a low-budget project!), I decided to photograph them instead. Watercolour paper is a pain in the neck to photograph, as a single source of light, such as the sun, will show up all the texture of it. So I adapted an idea I read on the internet:

You will need:
  • One camera (obviously)
  • A tripod (or something to sit it on), and some books/magazines if the legs aren't quite the right length (Broons books are ideal)
  • Two 500W work lights. You will need to take the metal grilles off the front, or you'll get a grid pattern projected on your pictures. 500W lights get very hot. Be careful!
  • Two 500W daylight bulbs for the lights, if possible*. As far as I know you can only get them in Australia. 
  • An old broken clothes airer that was literally on its way to the bin
  • Four clothes pegs
  • A photographer's grey card
Please imagine the camera on top of the tripod - obviously I couldn't take a photo of the camera with the camera.
  • Set the lights up at 45 degrees to the picture, and at the same height as the middle of the picture.
  • Set the camera up in the centre, again at the same height as the picture.
  • Switch the lights on, and set the white balance on the camera.
  • Take the photos. You'll have to zoom in to fill the picture - that is better than getting closer, as there's less distortion. Strangely, I found the 'automatic' setting better than manual. 
Is the quality as good as professional photography or top-quality scanning? No
Is the quality good enough? Yes - if you do some tweaking on the computer afterwards. 

*If you can't get daylight bulbs, you'll have to block out all daylight to the room, and just use the lights, because it is a very different colour of light.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

More tidying

I have found an empty drawer in my room. I don't mean I have emptied it - it was empty (apart from two old advent calendars), and I didn't even realise it, because there were boxes in front of it.

I have now filled the second paper recycling bag to the brim. Mostly old magazines, which I was keeping for the Sunday School kids to cut pictures out of. But you don't really need several boxes of magazines to cut pictures out of once every few years.

And I found a list of New Years' resolutions from, I think, the year I was 7:

Friday, 4 February 2011

The world's smallest stop-motion animation character

Not sure how to make it fit the space, but if you click on the video title it will take you to Youtube

And the making of:

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tax Return

Filed and paid several days early.
What's the world coming to?
I'm getting far too organised.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Conversation with a door-to-door salesman

A man comes to the door, selling Sky TV:

Me: Actually, we don't have a TV.

Salesman: Seriously? You're kidding!

Me: No, honestly.

Salesman: But ... what do you arrange your furniture around?

Me: Well ... It's in a sort of circle round the living room ...

Salesman: You mean ... like facing one another?

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Character sheet

The 12 Disciples (updated version) Click to see larger.

There are reasons for most of their appearances - some very tenuous, but it helps to get variety. I'll post proper character sheets for each of them some time - this is just a sneak preview. 

I've never actually designed all the disciples before. In my regular work, I have a set of clothes/hairstyle/facial features I always use for Peter, John & Matthew, and the others are just drawn out of my head (if you counted all the different ones I've drawn, they would be more than 12!). But none of them have any character. But for these pictures, I researched what was written about them, and made them into real people.

You may use these pictures for personal use (e.g. a Sunday School class). Please do not publish them in any form, sell them, post them elsewhere on the internet, add them to an image library or do anything else with them. Thanks!

If you would like individual figures, you can download for free here.

Edit: I have now done a Jesus figure too. 

Edit II: These pictures are part of a PowerPoint:

You can now buy it by clicking here.

An important piece of social history

Found in my room:

I remember Shiny Buttons coming to playgroup. The policeman asked him to sing his song, and he sang, "I'm the king of the castle; you're the dirty wee rascal," because he was being naughty. But then he sang his proper song, which was, "Stop, look and listen, before you cross the street. Use your eyes, and use your ears, before you use your feet."

In other news: Did you know that if you leave boiled sweets in a tin long enough, they will not only seep out of their wrappings, but through the join at the bottom of the tin? Fortunately, it soaks off easily.