The Last Expedition: A Text Adventure Game

My brother Mikey and I have teamed forces again to create ‘The Last Expedition’ a text adventure game set in a frozen, dystopian future. Well, Mikey built it, wrote the story and composed the music for it, I just created the background art! It’s a work in progress (so a few bugs and unfinished sections) but I was excited to share how it’s come together…

Inspired in part by the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard and Arctic exploration, the story asks you to follow in the footsteps of a young, female explorer who has ventured onto the frozen wastes in hope of finding the now mythical landmark. As the adventure unfolds you are presented with choices about which icy paths to take, faced with decisions to make camp or push on risking frostbite and given the opportunity to investigate long forgotten structures.

Created during lockdown for Mikey’s final University project, it brought us closer together at a time when geographically we were quite far apart. Looking back at that time now, I realise just how special it was. We checked in on Skype every morning to discuss next steps for his compositions or coding. Briefly catching up on the news before checking our schedules and planning his deadlines. It gave me structure and emotional support in the midst of all that fear and uncertainty. Plus it was the most time we’d spent ‘together’ in years.

Though the game is a work in progress that we would both like to develop further – I’m very proud of what we achieved so far. You can listen to the entire soundtrack on Mikey’s Soundcloud page too, but here’s a taster from the Archive Facility…

If you like mystery, dystopian futures and ice, check it out! You can play The Last Expedition on Share My Game here. Don’t forget to wear headphones!

Project Flashback: Secret Life of Boys

Today I thought I’d share a little snapshot of one of my digital design projects – Secret Life of Boys, an interactive comedy for CBBC. I had an absolute blast working on three series of the show with our amazing digital team. As lead designer I was responsible for creating the user experience, interfaces, environment art – plus lots of fun graphic illustrations for game objects like stickers and secret treasure chests!

In the interactive version of the show, players can watch episodes, hunt for secrets, trigger bonus animations, stories and gags and explore the surreal, slightly magical world in which the characters live. Above and below are examples of some of the game screens along with an early wireframe.

Wireframes are almost like a blueprint for a game or digital experience. They help you to work out the best possible experience for a player, and take place before any visual design happens. Investing time on these at the start of a digital project can save a lot of time and effort down the line!…

I’ll share a bit more on this project in the future, but just wanted to let my games design flag fly a little today! Also, for any parents looking for something to keep the young ones entertained, I wanted to give Secret Life of Boys 3 a shout as a really lovely, fun series.

The Woods are Dark and Dangerous

owlstation illustration_the woods are dark and dangerous_2020I’ve been making more time to play in my sketchbook lately and draw things just for fun. Little, one off experiments based on references or prompts that I find particularly enticing and exciting. Raiding my Pinterest boards for images that have inspired me and then getting my art materials out to see what feels right.

Whilst not all of these experiments result in images I’m pleased with (aka ready to share on Instagram!) they’ve definitely been helping me develop my illustration skills and learn more about the mediums I work with. I was pleased with how this Crayola and pencil study turned out though…I added the owl separately after finishing the woodland background, sticking him on top collage style. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of typography underneath to encourage the story that was forming in my head!

Discovering Dungeons & Dragons

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For many years I’ve been keen to try Dungeons & Dragons.  As a gamer and fantasy lover I suspected it would be something I’d get on well with and its appearances in Stranger Things and before that The IT Crowd, spurred my intrigue further. However, although I’d been invited to join a few campaigns, it wasn’t until lockdown that I was finally able to make the time to play. In March, when a friend asked if I’d like to join their new online campaign (and my calendar was suddenly devoid of all weddings, birthdays and anything that would stop me from saying yes) I decided to go for it!

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We’re now several weeks into our Monday night sessions of dungeon crawling and I am completely hooked! I’ve met new friends, learned the basics of the game and been expanding my problem solving imagination. We play on Roll20, a website geared for online tabletop and role-play games. Whilst I can’t pretend I’d have had any clue how to set up our campaign or run the sessions as a Dungeon Master, I’ve been lucky to join some more experienced players who have been happy to show me the ropes.

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Something I didn’t expect, is that Roll20 enables you to see the dungeon or location your exploring and allows you to move your character through the environment. Whilst it’s fairly simple in it’s graphical style, it just adds so much to the fun. Creating and getting to know my character and his abilities has also been a source of great joy.

Engelbert Bramble Tamer, my Druid Gnome is curious, at one with nature and now able to transform into a handful of animals. He was a wolf in our previous session.

…that’s him at the top of the post there, I made a quick doodle. If you’ve been thinking about trying DnD yourself and are still unsure, let me encourage you to go for it! If you don’t know people that play already, I believe you can find new campaigns to join on Roll20. There are also lots of great online resources to teach you the basics and help demystify the rules. You might find your first session a bit overwhelming, I was unprepared and quite confused – but stick with it and you’ll soon find yourself drawn in to this vast, magical world!

Screenshot from Roll20 Campaign and Stranger Things image used here without permission. Drawing of Engelbert is my own!

 

 

 

Drawing in the Cotswolds

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Please note – this is was pre quarantine drawing adventure! I won’t be creating artwork outside until it’s safe for us to do so again. I’ve included links to spots we visited in case, when it’s safe once more post quarantine, you’re able to make a visit. 

Last year to celebrate my 30th birthday, Adam and I planned a clamping trip to the Cotswolds. I had always wanted to stay in a yurt and loved the idea of being nestled in the countryside in springtime with our sketchbooks and plenty of nature to draw. Above and below are some of my sketches, photos and select memories from that magical trip…

Fancy Service Station

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I’ve always enjoyed stopping off at service stations as part of a long car journey. Stretching my legs and picking up a treat or two. The transitory buzz of people heading off on their different adventures. But the Gloucester Farm Shop and Kitchen services that we stopped at on our journey into Stroud was by far the fanciest, most beautiful service station I have ever seen in my life! We settled down for a delicious, fresh lunch, then got the sketchbooks out to draw the idyllic views through its windows. After perusing the fancy goods of the farm shop for supplies we set off again to find our yurt.

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The Yurt

The Teasel Yurt was everything I hoped it would be! An enchanting little cosy space lit by fairy lights and a wood burning stove. Fabulous views looking out over Stroud in one direction and a thick pocket of luscious, green woods behind us. The little deck provided space for us to cook our tasty, treaty dinners at sunset and to spy birds of prey over tea and biscuits whilst huddled in blankets in the chill morning air. At night the stars were bright and clear and the smell of the wood smoke clung to our hair and clothes. It was the perfect little base for us to begin our drawing adventures from.

 

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Selsey Common

On our first day of drawing and exploring, we decided to check out our more immediate surroundings. Our Yurt was perched about half way up Selsey Common, a popular walking destination forming part of the Cotswolds way. We planned a little round route that would take us over the nearby hills, up through the forest behind us, up to the very top of the common and back down again on the opposite side – back to the yurt in time for tea. Of course we would be breaking up our journey with a few stops for sketching.

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A group of curious cows watched as as we worked on our first drawings. When we stopped for our second sketch in the trees behind us, I spotted a woodpecker flying back and forth to its nest. I could hear its hungry, chirruping babies from where I sat! I was using a combination of pen, chalks and oil pastel for these, whilst Adam had the oil paints out!

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Woodchester Mansion

Later on in our trip we visited Woodchester Mansion. An unfinished, gothic revival house situated in beautiful parkland. It was a hot day and after treating ourselves to ice cream and a quick look inside the mansion, we went wandering in the grounds beyond. I didn’t make any drawings I was pleased with on this occasion, but I remember watching the sunshine sparkle of the boat lakes and the smell of wild garlic (pictured below) in the early evening as we returned to the car, blissful!

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Puzzlewood

Finally, some of my fondest memories of this trip are from our day spent at Puzzlewood near the Forest of Dean. Magical, ancient woodland riddled with twisted trees, little wooden bridges, tumbling rocky drops and moss covered rocks. We had so much fun drawing and painting here – I could easily imagine that we were being watched by fairies and wood elves as we took in our surroundings. It’s easy to understand why it’s a popular location for filming. It even makes an appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens! We ended our day by driving to Stroud Brewery were we ate a delicious oven baked pizza and enjoyed a cold beer in the warm, cosy atmosphere.

 

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little look back into some pre quarantine adventure times. Especially if (like me) you’re missing nature and the freedom to go out in that we’re normally blessed with…those days will come again my friends. I’ve included links to the places we visited in case, when it’s safe again, you’re able to make a visit. For now, I hope that you’re safe and well at home, sending love and good vibes to you!

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see some more drawing adventure fun, do check out my Skye and Shetland posts for some more outdoorsy goodness!

 

Prospect Cottage Saved!

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I’m so glad to hear that Prospect Cottage, the former home of British filmmaker, artist and activist Derek Jarman has been saved by an arts crowdfunding campaign! The striking cottage and garden sit nestled in the shingle of Dungeness, a vast beachy headland known for its eerie power station and stark, windswept beauty.

The cottage, which was under threat of private acquisition, will now be preserved and maintained for future visitors, along with its unique pebble garden. The proceeds will help to fund a permanent public programme set to include residencies for artists, academics, writers, filmmakers and gardeners according to this Guardian article.

Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage

We paid a visit back in 2019 and I would highly recommend adding it to your ‘To Visit’ list for when the Pandemic is over and quarantine is lifted. Ghostly fishing boats and seemingly abandoned structures pepper the horizon. Tough, hardy plants grow up through the stones. Climbing the many steps of the light house will reward you with spectacular views of the sci fi-esque power station to one side and the roaring sea to the other. Here’s a couple of my snaps and a little lighthouse sketch from our visit.

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First two images used here without permission, all other images are my own.

 

Owl Post, Sending Love

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Dear Friends, I hope that this owl post finds you safe and well in these challenging times. I know that we’re all facing challenges right now. From the smaller adjustments of our daily lives to the bigger and scarier realities that some of us are now having to face. I just wanted to send you some love and warmth. Some positive vibes and hope. Encouragement and strength to look after yourselves, your loved ones and others.

Just to give you a little notice – I’m going to keep posting illustrations and images of nature, creativity and pleasant things here on the blog and across my social pages. I completely understand if that’s not for you right now or doesn’t feel quite right given these heavy times. We’ve all got to handle this in the way that suits us best. For me, that means balancing news checking and Covid updates with some down time and escapism. Staying informed and in touch, but also allowing time for rest and calm – which as I understand is good for the immune system!

That’s all for now, take care in your hobbit hole,
Love Alice X

New Year, New Business Cards!

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Happy New Year! I hope that you’ve had a lovely, festive break. I’m back home in London now after an extended festive period and feeling quite grateful for January’s slower pace. Despite it usually being quite a grey and chilly month, I do enjoy the blank page it offers, the opportunity for reflection and some gentle planning of the year ahead before things gear up too much!

I’m excited to share my new, dragon themed, business cards with you! I got them printed on Moo’s 100% recycled cotton card (made from old T Shirt offcuts) they have a nice, tactile feel to them and are hopefully a greener option too. I had fun illustrating this fantasy, dragon ruled landscape and look forward to handing them out this year.

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If you have a design, illustration or digital project you’d like to discuss for 2020, please do get in touch, I’d love to hear about it!

 

Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington

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I’ve just finished reading Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington. Aside from having a gorgeously illustrated cover featuring a magical barn owl and a shower of gold foil sparks…it’s also a rich and soothing read!

I’m sometimes put off by nature books that can be a little dry and factual in their descriptions, but Miriam’s writing is full of life. Each chapter focusses on a different species of owl and her journey to viewing it in the wild. As the adventures unfold, she shares her in depth research into the habitats, biology, history and mysteries of each creature. At the start of each chapter we’re also treated to an illustration of the owl in question, including; Snowy, Barn, Tawny, Pygmy, Eagle Owls and more…

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Miriam explores our fascination with owls throughout history. She delves into folklore and literature where the owl is sometimes revered – but often times feared as a portent of death and doom. She perfectly conjures up images of dense forest and icy plains and weaves in her personal encounters with bird lovers and experts that she encounters on her quest.

But throughout, there is a steady respect for the wildness of the owl that I very much appreciated. Miriam reminds us that these magnificent creatures belong to nature. We shouldn’t make the mistake of cute-ifying them or imagining them as cuddly Potter-style pets. Nor does she shy away from climate change and how our actions as humans are endangering these precious birds. But even with its urgent messages and heavier thoughts, I found Owl Sense to be a calming book for the soul. And I loved learning more about some of my favourite animals!

Owl Sense jacket illustrations are by Talya Baldwin (owl) and Peter Fitzpatrick (tree).

 

Sibling Skill Swaps & Logo Design

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Though my brother and I both live in London, we don’t always get to hang out as much as we’d like – so when we get the chance to collaborate on a creative project and share our different skills to help each other out, it feels really special!

Mikey Parsons is a talented composer studying his final year at Trinity Laban in Greenwich. You may remember that he worked with me a couple of years back to create atmospheric, chilling soundscapes for my Shackleton Illustration project with the Drawn Chorus.

He’s especially skilled at creating music for video games and as is hoping to enter into the industry when he graduates. As such, he had asked me to design him a logo that would help to represent him across social media and beyond as he reaches out to new contacts…

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I begin most logo projects by creating a few pages of loose, quick experiments. I like to keep these playful and experiment with ideas, shapes, letters and textures to see if any interesting patterns or compositions begin to emerge.

Mikey draws lots of musical inspiration from magical games like Final Fantasy, from adventure stories such as Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter universe. Luckily our sibling interests align, so I was able to have lots of fun playing with dragon motifs and magical emblems.

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For all of my logo and design projects, key moments are built in for the client to review and feedback on the work I’ve completed. This is important to make sure that the project develops in the right direction. Mikey selected a couple of his favourite directions from my experiments and I took these forwards to the next stage.

Owlstation_freelance logo design_2019_2We were both quite taken with a small logo mark I’d drawn, in which each letter of Mikey’s name had a symbolistic feel to it. With the lead letter ‘M’ appearing to dissolve away as if made of magic particles. I took this design into illustrator and started to refine each letter.

Throughout the process, I shared design updates with Mikey. We’d identified quite early on that he would also need a reduced version of the logo that used only his initials. This would be used for social media profile images and read better when viewed at a smaller size. I developed this version in parallel to the larger logo to make sure both felt like they belonged in the same magical family!

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I really enjoy working on logo designs for other creatives. It’s always a fun challenge to take their ideas, inspirations and personality and find a way to turn it into a beautiful logo that helps represent who they are and what they do.

Be sure to check out Mikey’s awesome music and check back for more design project posts from me in the near future!