Stanley and his pet T-Rex

The wonderful thing about writing stories is that you can be ridiculous.
My son is a proper livewire and has no apparent sense of danger. So it makes perfect sense that he should befriend a T-Rex from baby to fully grown terrifying carnivore.

Imagine the fun that could be had if such a friend went to school with him :)

Here’s a quick concept sketched using Mischief.


Kid Warrior – Concept art drawn with Mischief

Some days I just want to sketch and explore ideas. I’ll grab a coffee and fire up the iMac / Wacom / Mischief combination and just draw.

This morning was shaping up to be just one of those days so I sat down and thought about a character I’d had mapped out for some time – The Kid Warrior.

The kid is just an ordinary and very English kid called Eric. He loves cricket and often hits a ball in a nearby field while out walking his beloved dog, Hugo. Then it all gets a bit weird and Eric undergoes a mini transformation from shy and nervous kid into a potential dragon slayer in a mystical realm!

I’ve had the story mapped out for a little while but other more pressing projects have got in the way a bit. So it’s nice to spend some time with Eric and keep edging toward that stage where we can start to create his story.

Here’s a few concepts created with Mischief this morning.


Presenting my illustrations in a mock paperback format

I draw so much that I sometimes find it hard to maintain a particular style. So many different styles resonate with me and I often enjoy turning my hand to them to see how they work.

As an illustrator in search of an agent I’m always looking at different ways to present my work. So I crafted a paperback spread using Photoshop and applied some of my more recent drawings.


Paperback spread created with Photoshop (click to view / download)

The drawings I wanted to present are from a collection I’ve been working on that involve a young boy and his dog in a fantasy realm. Here’s an example. It’s a linear style that I enjoy using when creating some interesting textures, such as wood or a gravelly floor.

barter for the bird

Here’s another one. This drawing was created using Mischief. It’s a much looser style and perhaps a bit more fun.


I took a couple of images using each style and placed them onto the paper background.


Line art on a paperback background


Loose cartoon style on a paperback background

I honestly like both styles. Which to present?
Or both, even!

To create the desired effect I used Multiply from the layer blends in Photoshop. It renders neatly against the paper backdrop.

The type is Georgia.


While on holiday in France a number of years back I picked up a hardover comic book called Le Petit Spirou. I’d never heard of it before but fell in love with the art.


A Janry character

So much about this little character inspired me and still inspires me.

The solidity of the character combined with the beautiful pen strokes really appeal to my artist’s mind. There’s so much fun and energy in it.

I particularly like the way the artist places those thicker strokes as shadow. Something that I’ve copied a great deal myself.

The artist in question is Janry (or Jean-Richard Geurts). Wikipedia info.
I’ve no doubt that he is familiar to many cartoonists but for those to whom he isn’t, I heartily recommend you check his work.

For my most recent video I wanted to attempt his ink style.


I sketched this dancing girl in Mischief. The black strokes were achieved with a flat marker pen. I wasn’t too confident in producing the lines so zoomed in a little to ensure that I got the desired effects.

You can see a video of me producing this piece on YouTube. Please forgive the anatomical inaccuracies !!


Clean up technique with Mischief

My cartoon style varies depending on the job in hand but I will always start with a rough sketch to depict form. I try not to add too much detail to the sketch as it can have a pretty negative effect on the final piece.

cartoon sketch

Sketch of a cartoon character in Mischief

Once the sketch is complete and I’m happy with the form and composition of the character, I dive straight into the clean up.

For me there’s nothing worse than ‘perfection’ in art. In fine art I love to see the brush strokes or the effect of the canvas through the acrylic or oil. In fact, in animation, I often prefer the roughs to the final piece.
Milt Kahl’s character sketches were beautiful and didn’t necessarily gain anything from going through the clean up process. In some respects I’d love to see Madame Medusa in action purely from the roughs.

Madame Medusa by Milt Kahl

Madame Medusa by Milt Kahl

I use Mischief to create most of my cartoon work and I always start with a modified pencil to create the rough outlines.

When I ‘ink’ the work I use a straightforward pen with the colour set to black. At this point I’m thinking more about the colouring than I am about the quality of the inked stroke. I want to create something that lends itself to good colour but also something that has imperfections. For me this is far more interesting to look at.

I see some wonderful art around the web that is most likely created professionally using Manga Studio or Photoshop. These images can look stunning but just a little too perfect. The lines are pixel perfect where they join. The variation in the line is minimal and the edges can be just too smooth for my tastes.

blog_spacehero3I like to adopt a ‘sketching style’ with my ink pen that is precise but not pixel perfect.

When the ink work is complete I sit back and look at it in terms of my colour ideas. It often helps me to but a strong background colour in place. Normally a deep blue. I generally think that most images look fantastic against blue.


As I’m colouring I’m really just concerned with filling the shapes with solid colour. The texture is in the outlines so I’m happy just to use this flat coloured approach.


I also add some coloured tone and I usually like to have my light sourced from the right. i.e. shadow falls to the left.
I also employ thicker ink lines where body parts are pretty tight, such as under the arm or the neck.

To set the image from the background I add a white fringe. The finished piece is enormously satisfying to me as it honours my love of strong colour and an interesting line.


You can see this in action on YouTube.

Creating a school storybook at Weston Primary School

I really do have to pinch myself sometimes.

Next week I am thrilled to be attending Weston Primary School where I will be working with the children to illustrate a story that they’ve written.

This is a story that the entire school has contributed to and it’s a real privilege to be invited to spend time with them.

The way that the day will pan out is that, following a quick introduction during assembly, I generally meet with various children from key stage 1 in the morning and key stage 2 in the afternoon.
We work together in sketching out some visual ideas for their story and defining the characters.
Of course the children have their own thoughts and ideas as to how their story should look and this is perfect.


Wacom Cintiq Companion 2

I always take my full technical kit with me.
This is a Mac Mini with a Wacom Companion plugged into it. I project from there through an Epson projector onto a large screen in the school hall. My drawing app of choice is always Mischief.

The children sit with pencil and paper and we all have a huge amount of fun bashing out ideas. It’s essentially a storyboarding session and I enjoy getting the children excited about sketching.

What’s essential to this process is that the children cannot make a mistake. It’s just ideas. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. All ideas are welcomed and all contributions explored.

I have a range of coffee table books that focus on story development and conceptual art and I will always take those with me.
Books such as PIXAR’s FUNNY! which I heartily recommend to anybody with an interest in storyboarding.

What falls out of the bottom of the process is a series of sketches that the children can then go away and work with during class time.

I’ll sit with children individually to help them where they need it. I love listening to the children’s ideas and I love to see them expressing themselves visually.

Following what will probably be an extremely productive few days or weeks in class I will take all of their artwork and assemble the book using InDesign. The PDF book is handed back to the school for review and then it’s uploaded to an online publisher (usually Amazon’s CreateSpace) and a book is produced.

If you are involved with schools and this sounds interesting to you there is much more information available over at my Cartoon Academy website.

Sketching and drawing a cartoon using Mischief

I am a huge fan of digital sketching. I remember almost 20 years ago playing around with my very first drawing tablet – a Wacom Intuos. It was superb and I must have created enough artwork to fit on a handful of floppy disks :-)


Back then I probably used Paint Shop Pro. A wonderful application that allowed for some fine details. I couldn’t afford Photoshop.
These days I have the full suite of applications from Photoshop through Corel Painter to Manga Studio. They are all superb.

I run an Apple iMac 27″ and have a Wacom Cintiq 22HD Touch plugged into it. What a difference 20 years makes in technology. The combination of Mac and Wacom is a digital artist’s dream.


I’m always drawing. When I’m feeling technical I fire up one of the drawing apps and start sketching. My first choice application for sketching is Mischief. A wonderfully versatile and lightweight app that just lets you draw. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s layers but there’s no layer effects. There’s no filters and no fancy text functionality. There isn’t even a paint bucket. It’s just a drawing app. You create your canvas, select a brush and start drawing.


In this step by step tutorial I want to share with you my approach to creating a cartoon (above) in Mischief.


The brush palette is pretty basic but has everything that you’d need to start sketching. For my sketch I chose a pencil and modified it slightly to be less broad. I like the texture that the pencil provides.


Drawing in Mischief is a pleasure. The canvas is infinite which means that you don’t start by defining your image file’s dimensions. You simply launch a new canvas. When you export your image you can select the entire canvas or just a portion of it. More on that a little later.

For now I just want to lay down some marks to help establish the structure of my cartoon.

My main character is rather excitedly controlling a remote-controlled BB-8. He’s leaning back but is stood firm.
I indicate this with a broad red arc. Everything that I draw around this character will now have this red arc at its core.

I also indicate the light source. Later, when I’m inking I’ll reference this light source to apply some darker areas to BB-8 and to also throw a couple of shadows down.


The character’s torso and basic body shape are added. You can see that I’ve also given some consideration to his gaze. I’ve got him staring straight down at the droid. Though I’ve not drawn the arms and hands yet I’ve indicated where I want the controller to be.

In the back of my mind I can picture the character’s facial expression. I know I want him to be smiling but at this point it’s not so important. I just want to create the basic composition.

BB-8 will be in motion and heading from left to right away from my character.


Before I add some detail to BB-8 I want to complete the structure of the character that is controlling him. I add the arms, hands, controller and facial expression.

It makes perfect sense that the guy has a smile on his face. He’s in control.

It’s now time to focus a little on the subject itself.


BB-8 is whizzing along. I angle him back and add some motion marks. In this sketch I place his antenna vertically on his head.
Later, on reflection, I decided that to further emphasise the motion I’d angle them back a little.


To allow me to start inking the lines in I drop the opacity of the sketch layer to around 10 – 12%. A pretty neat onion skin effect that allows me to see just enough of the sketch to add the inked detail.

I confess I love this part the most. It’s a wonderful thrill to be able to add some firm ink lines and start to construct the final image.


From the detail above you can see how satisfying the line is with its varied weight. With just a little pressure I can get a very fine line. As I increase the pressure the weight of the line increases and I get that wonderful variation. Particularly noticeable around the eyes.

Whereas before, whilst sketching, I was ‘zoomed out’ (i.e. I could see the entire sketch), I now enjoy zooming in and adding the detail. This is, of course, something that is a key feature of producing digital art. That ability to fine tune your work right down to the pixel.

I occasionally add extra features such as tiny freckles and fine hair lines.

As the cartoon takes shape it throws up opportunities to add things that I’d not considered while sketching. The cheeky little grin, for example.


Once the cartoon is inked I’m done with the lower layer. One of my signature effects is to ‘black out’ the far side of a character and also those areas immediately underneath something. So in the cartoon above you can see that I’ve blacked out the left leg and shaded the left arm and area beneath the right arm. It adds a little depth to the image and a little more interest.

Also, on BB-8, I’ve added some black to the area just beneath his head.

The cartoon is now ready for colour.


For the colour I use the same pen. It gives a satisfyingly solid finish and I find myself simply ‘colouring in’.

To help emphasise the motion with the droid I white out the motion lines against its body. I could almost write the word ‘WHIZZZ’ alongside it.

For some extra interest I erase some of the colour on the main character to show a little white area. You can see these around the face, sweater and pants.

And that’s it!

Mischief is a wonderful tool for conceptual work but as you can see it is also a perfectly adequate application for producing finished art.

To export the image I have some options.

Hitting ‘M’ on the keyboard places me in Marquee mode. I can drag a rectangular marquee around the image. Specifically the region that I want to export.


Thanks to Mischief’s infinite canvas I can draw without boundaries. But this also means that I need to specify which area of the image I want to export. By default Mischief stores its artwork in .art format files. Obviously this format is not something I can work with on the web or in Photoshop. Not yet, anyway! Mischief uses a vector based model for creating the art, hence its versatility and ability to scale.

So I need to export to a format that I can use.

Hitting CMD+E (Mac) I can then export the selected area.


The dialogue box that appears allows me to specifically capture the selection and alter the dimensions of the exported file. It also allows me to specify a DPI and file format.

For the web I’m happy with 72DPI and PNG format, but using the same .art file I can also export to 300DPI which is perfect for print. Extremely powerful and perfect for any digital artist concerned with both web and print production.

If you’ve not already, I heartily encourage you to give Mischief a whirl. It’s free of charge to evaluate (15 days) and inexpensive to purchase. ($25USD, approx £17GBP)

Download Mischief.

Download the original .art file used in this tutorial.


An introduction to Mischief

It’s always a thrill to have created a story and refined its words to the point where I can consider the art. My current project is a children’s picture book that has seen around a dozen re-writes. For this project I’m looking at a slightly different process.

My books to date have seen me using Corel’s Painter to sketch and colour my work. I then use Photoshop to reshape the work where necessary and modify the colours before I place them in to inDesign and create a PDF for production.
I’m going to use a different (and I think far simpler) approach this time.

For the last 6 months I’ve been using a wonderful art program called Mischief. ( I find it a dream to use as it’s really only concerned with the drawing process. It’s flexible enough to be more than that but for me it’s a fabulous way of not only sketching out ideas but refining them for production.


Infinite Canvas

A key feature of the app (and I think its real selling point) is its infinite canvas. The underlying code handles the marks generated on screen with vectors. That is, it’s all mathematical. So the scaling of your art is handled smoothly and reliably. This is a powerful feature of the app as it allows me to just keep drawing at any scale. I can move a picture around freely and add to it as I like. The concept of drawing to a boundary-less sheet of paper is superb.
When I’m ready to export the image (Mischief files are stored with a proprietary .art format) I can select the portion of the worksheet to export or simply export the visible canvas. From there I have .jpg, .png or Photoshop’s .psd formats to choose from. Ideal if you like to tinker with the image at a later date, or use in something like Corel’s Painter.

Screenshot 2015-04-26 11.53.15

What’s also useful is that I can export at any depth. So for print I can export to 8″ x 8″ and 300dpi.

Screenshot 2015-04-26 11.53.54

Here’s a sketch I created and coloured in Mischief.
I use an iMac with a Wacom 22HD Touch attached to create the artwork. If I’m out and about I use a Wacom Cintiq Companion which runs on Windows 8 Pro.
Mischief works great in both environments.


So for my new story project I intend to complete all of the artwork within this app. But better still I will sketch it out using the same app. Storyboard it if you like.

More on Mischief and the process as I reach each milestone in the project.

You can see more of my Mischiefed sketches at my Facebook page at