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!

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!

 

 

 

 

3 Illustration Portfolio Tips

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As I’ve had a few emails from new illustrators with questions about my Owlstation portfolio, I thought it might be helpful to write a blogpost to share some tips and advice for creating your first website. Firstly a disclaimer *I am not an illustration portfolio expert!* however I do enjoy a creative and fulfilling freelance career and I’m very happy to share with you what I have learned (and am still learning) as I grow.

I’ll keep these short and stick to 3 portfolio tips for now. If you have any further questions on these or would like me to elaborate, please feel free to leave a comment! Finally to note that this advice assumes you’ve already made some initial steps on your path as an illustrator, perhaps by taking a course or lessons online and want to keep things moving…

1. You Need a Portfolio!

If you’re looking to pursue a career in illustration, you’ll need to get your work out there. Most clients will expect you to have a portfolio website that shows off a selection of your best work. When starting out, and even later on – think quality over quantity.

Select a handful of relevant projects that you’re proud of, for each of these select a few, strong images that best show off the work you did. Make sure they are high resolution, not blurry or pixellated in any way. Nowadays I like to include one or two process images as well – a scan of early sketches or high quality photograph of relevant sketchbook pages can give a client insight into your process. But these should come after the final images, a dessert after the main meal!

Include some information about the project/illustration; perhaps what you did, the goal, how you achieved it. But keep this short and use simple language, no need to be poetic or flowery here. A spelling and grammar check afterwards and you’re ready to publish.

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Carbonmade’s Website Design Tools

2. Choose a Good Template

My very first website looked hideous. I didn’t know much about website tools and picked a very clunky, free service. It was difficult to use and the ugly template made it look like a website for a bank designed when the internet was first born.

Luckily, I followed my instinct that there had to be a better way and moved on. The template I have now is very clean and simple. A white background, a home page with evenly spaced images, my logo at the top and a neat menu button. I have four main pages – a home page showing my projects, about page, contact page and a page link to this very blog. Tapping a project thumbnail on the home page opens a new page where your project images can be viewed. Navigation is simple.

Having poured over many illustrator’s websites, most have a very similar approach. I like to think of it like a gallery in the real world – white walls, space for artwork to breathe, minimal text, no nonsense!

3. Find a Good Service

Unless you’re going to build and code your website yourself, you’ll need to find a portfolio/website service that works well for you and fits into your price range. As this is the shop front to you career as an illustrator, it’s worth investing a little money and time into making your portfolio the best it can be.

I use Carbonmade which has served me very well over the years. It has a selection of cleanly designed, ready to go templates (called themes). It’s very user friendly and quite affordable. I use the ‘Whoo’ option which is approx £9 ($12) a month. I hear very good things about Squarespace and know they offer loads of different templates that also include blog or news pages and shop features, which could be very useful as you expand your practice and start selling work.

I use Behance for my digital freelance portfolio (I keep my digital and hand drawn portfolios separate, but that’s a whole other blogpost right there!). It’s free and pretty easy to use. I understand it’s fairly well respected and is a great platform for sharing work too. Ultimately, you’ll need to do a bit of research and find what works best for you, but hopefully these suggestions will help you get started.

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Behance

There’s lots more I could say about how having a portfolio is a constant task, that it always needs checking, updating, trimming and cultivating…that looking at other illustrators websites is very helpful when creating your own and so on… but I’ll leave it here for now.

Good luck! If you’ve found this helpful do pop back as I’ll be sharing more of my illustration learnings in the future.

Tove Jansson & the Creative Process

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As a long time fan of Tove Jansson’s illustrations, seeing the exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery before it closed was a big treat. Though the Moomins took centre stage, there was an excellent variety of her work on display.

Watercolours and drawings from Tove’s illustrated versions of Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit. Large oil-painted self portraits and abstracts. Also a selection of her political cartoons and magazine covers, some of which were created during the Second World War. There was even a series of models, like this one of Snufkin (below) that I took the opportunity to sketch!

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However, what I enjoyed most about this exhibition was the touch of insight it gave me into Tove’s creative process. Evidence of pencil lines not quite rubbed out underneath delicate ink work. Some barely perceptible tippex-like corrections on typography. Roughs and layout sketches shown next to final versions. I noticed that a few of the watercolours had sections which appear to have been carefully cut out, perhaps by scalpel, and removed or replaced with a new layer of card fixed precisely in place over the top.

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It was very heartening to see these little human touches and imagine that even my illustration heroes made/make changes and tweaks to improve their work. That things don’t always come out perfectly first time and that there are many different ways to create. It’s all part of the process and one that we don’t always get to see – especially in today’s slick, Photoshop world.

I love it when illustrators share what goes on behind the scenes and how they make their work. I’ll be sure to share more of my creative process this year too!

The above Tove Jansson Illustration from Alice In Wonderland is used here without permission via Pinterest. 

Habibi, Secret Treasure

My cousin and I decided to go halves on Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Habibi as our Christmas present to each other this year. I’ve been eyeing it up for quite some time and it certainly doesn’t disappoint!

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From the outside it feels like a secret treasure with its thick, gold embossed covers. It is tactile and just the right weight, heavy, but still manageable for reading under the covers at night. Inside, every panel is beautiful. Rich patterns that tangle into the story, devouring characters; fantastic use of perspective and composition. On the Habibi website I was really pleased to find that Thompson has shared photos of his creative process. I love this behind the scenes stuff and find it so useful to see how other artists go about making things. He appears to start with a very rough sketch which he then works back into with pen. It looks as if he sometimes uses a computer to improve or double check composition. Then, like a total boss, he inks everything by hand!

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Before I saw these images, I felt sure that he must have used a computer to somehow help speed up the process of inking the huge number of panels that make up the book. Though certainly all the images have a heart and warmth to them that might be lost if not drawn by hand. I just can’t imagine the precision, dedication and time it must have taken to finish them all! Either way, by hand or computer it is a most excellent tome.

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Images used without permission from www.habibibook.com