Horrid Auntie Morag

I love getting ideas for characters and just sketching them out. The idea for evil Auntie Morag came to me as I was thinking of names for an elderly lady character. I remembered the name Morag from a kid’s TV show and always thought it was such an unusual name. The kind of name that would probably suit an old hag!

Auntie Morag and her horrible cats

Auntie Morag and her horrible cats

I imagined that Morag would be a hunched old woman with a kind of a hunchback. Her clothes would be rags and she’d be followed by her beloved cats. Horribly spoiled cats that she fed fresh salmon throughout the day. Consequently she stank of fish and her clothes were a mess of cat hairs and pulled threads.

Worse still she had grandma stubble and claws for fingers. Probably from years of sewing things or doing rubbish 10,000 piece jigsaws.
And of course she had to have mad staring eyes :)

Illustrating a character for a children’s story using Corel Painter

I love Corel Painter. The version that I use is Corel Painter X3 on iMac.

One of my on-going projects just now is a story about a young boy and his dog lost in a magical realm. It’s an adventure story for children aged 6 – 9 years. I’ve been writing it for a little while and have tried numerous art styles to bring it to life with pictures.

I’m currently angling toward using Painter for all of the artwork. Here’s a snapshot of my process.


Rough outline sketch using a Soft 6B Pencil on a textured canvas

I always start with a good sized canvas. This sketch was started on a canvas 5″x7″x300dpi.

To start with I’m using a Soft 6B Pencil to pick out the form and the composition. In the story the kid and his dog are stepping across a lava pool using tiny stepping stones. The dog, as always, is pretty fearless. But the kid is extremely cautious.
So I have two things that I need to show; trepidation and bubbling lava.

The pencil is a wonderful way of quickly laying down some form. I particularly love using it against a heavy canvas. You can see the texture that it presents, below. For me this is pretty vital. I really like to enjoy every aspect of the sketching and producing these marks on the canvas is extremely appealing.


Detail of 6B pencil on textured canvas

For the outline I use the Flat Color pen set to black. This is a common theme in my work. I just love the variation in its stroke. With little pressure – a barely visible hairline. With more pressure – a wonderfully satisfying thickness.

Something that I never do is pause for any length of time before starting the inking process. I like to dive right in. It’s far easier to adjust an image once the marks are down. I do find that if I stare at the canvas for too long I can become quite precious about the lines that I make.


Applying an ink outlined with the Flat Color pen

I build the composition around the pencil sketch and add a little texture with the ink. Notably around the hair and some of the clothing. I also like to add the darker areas with a thicker ink stroke. It’s important not to overdo it and this stage takes a fair bit of zooming out and looking at the image from a distance to gauge the balance of the strokes.


Detail of the Flat Color pen’s varied line strength

You can see just how much more interesting the lines are when you zoom in a little. That variation in the line strength adds some interest to the final image and helps to prevent it looking like a vectored / computer generated piece.

For the colour I work on the lowest layer with a Fine Tip Water brush from the Digital Watercolor collection.

I deliberately set the Diffusion level to 0. This provides a satisfying fringe to each stroke that I think works quite well. Any setting above 0 would produce a level of Diffusion that I think takes something away from the final piece.

As with the ink work I’m not overly precious about the colouring. I certainly don’t worry about being tight to the black ink lines. For me it’s more interesting an image where there are areas left blank.
That said I am conscious that the best effects would be to have the lighter areas on one side of the image.


Detail of ink and colour applied with the Fine Tip Water brush (Digital Watercolor)

As with the 6B pencil, the texture that the heavy canvas provides for the digital watercolour is very satisfying.

You can see from the detail above that the canvas clearly shows through. I have the Grain setting on the brush set to around 70-80%.

To help get a feel for how the image may appear in a book I mocked up a paperback presentation in Photoshop and placed the image in amongst some text.


Mock up of the final image in a paperback presentation

The layers were merged and set to Luminosity in the layer blending drop down.

And that’s pretty much it!
You can see a short video of me producing this work on YouTube via the link below.



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.

Doodling a random character in Corel Painter X3 on iMac

As you may have noticed I love to doodle. I love to doodle with no clear idea in my mind as to what I’m going to create.

I created this video earlier to try and capture the process. In it I explain a little about my setup with Corel Painter as well as my prefered pens / brushes etc.

The Secret Society of the Hideous


Every year The Secret Society of the Hideous holds its Creepy Cabaret, and every year it’s an enormous success.

Mere mortals cannot attend. Oh no, sirreee. This is for the truly grotesque and its location every year is the best kept secret in monsterland.

This year, back by popular demand, is the outrageously camp but supremely talented Squidge Morrison. His unique blend of jazz and showmanship has transformed him from deep sea hobo to a theatre sell out in just four hundred short years.

Intensely private and notoriously abusive to reporters, Squidge was kind enough to offer us a few words following his standing ovation as the curtain fell.

Sadly we can’t print them. But rest assured he was in fine form.

Gaggle Spencer – Entertainment Writer
The Monsterland Mirror

Creating interesting characters and defining the ‘golden thread’

The wonderful thing about being a writer and an illustrator is that you get to play with ideas in a very visual sense before you commit to anything with the keyboard.

As an illustrator I love to create characters. Characters that have a story within themselves are the most interesting characters to create and lend themselves to the most interesting stories.

I love to see a strong character curve. For example, a young farm hand dreams of adventure but feels like there is no escape until one day is hand is forced; imperial troops destroy his homestead and murder his family.

I tend to enjoy the concept of immediately placing my protagonist on the back foot. Perhaps they are painfully shy, unadventurous or even disabled. Something for them to overcome themselves before they can entertain achieving their goals and ambitions.

It’s often fun to hurl a character into a scenario and have them deal with it. But this is an approach that I feel you have to be careful with. Whilst it can be exciting to explore as your protagonist explores it can also lead to issues with crafting deeper challenges or tying up loose ends. You just have to be organised and think several steps ahead.

For me it’s far more efficient to establish a few of the protagonist’s goals before they pass through that Inciting Incident.
That way I can plan a good deal more and importantly place those plans into the mind of the reader. It presents a thread (a golden thread, if you will) to the reader which they can follow and will hopefully keep them tuned into the story. Everything that happens in the story hearts back to this golden thread.

the golden thread

The Golden Story Thread

In the diagram you can see that my golden thread is consistent. This is my protagonist’s primary goal.
The black line is the protagonist’s journey toward that goal.
Finally, the red line is what I call the visibility line. The closer the black line (the hero’s journey) gets to the red line, the less visible the golden thread becomes.

You can see that the journey starts off with good visibility and then around a third the way through something happens. Something that places the hero right on track to achieve his goal.

In screen writing terms this is often referred to as the Inciting Incident. That one moment that takes my hero out of his normal life and thrusts them into new and unchartered territory. Literally, in most cases.

You can see that the hero has clear sight of his goal but around half way he suffers a setback. Something pulls him away from his goal and he loses that clarity of the thread. He’s been tested!
A little while later when it looks as though he’s getting back on track he’s tested again. At this point it takes iron will to get over the line.

I often think of the questions that readers may ask themselves.

Why am I still reading this?
What is the point?
Who am I rooting for?

These are great questions to ponder when you’re reading a book or even watching a film. It really helps to have that thread that you keep a hold of throughout the story. No matter where the story takes you, you still have that golden thread which is essentially pulling you through the adventure and you know will lead you to the finale.
Everything in the story is designed to lead you back to that thread.
Clever writers (far more clever than me) are able to wander so far off the path that the thread completely disappears from view for some time, and then, with cleverly crafted prose, you’re right back holding onto that thread.

Yeah, yeah. But what is this golden thread, I hear you ask?
I guess for me it’s the protagonist’s primary goal. It’s what she really wants to achieve, what she’s always wanted to achieve and what we the reader are rooting for her to achieve. We want her to succeed but dramatic structure dictates that she must first be challenged. We cannot simply hand her her goals on a plate.
There will be times when that thread appears to break or vanish completely. We assume all is lost. But then, somehow, she picks that thread up again and motors on.

I want to focus a little more in future posts on stepping outside of my comfort zone as a writer. I’ll be looking at fiction for 8 – 11 year olds specifically and trying to figure out some useful techniques for crafting rich stories that never lose sight of that thread.

Early morning warm up sketch – dog and duck

A reasonably qualified psychologist might have some fun with my head just now. These morning warm up sketches are often bizarre. For some reason today I felt compelled to sketch a dog and a duck. Their own thoughts came as an afterthought. These are sketched using Mischief on Mac with Wacom Cintiq.


A wise old bird

This character came about from me wanting to create a series of wise old characters. The kind of sage-like wizardy types that would appear in a fantasy realm inhabited by creatures and dragons and all that.

He was sketched using an ink pen and light grey marker.


Creating a wise old mentor for my boy warrior

A huge part of the fun in writing adventure stories is creating the characters.
For my short stories about a young orphaned boy lost in a magical realm, I wanted to create rich, exciting and often bizarre characters.
Every young adventurer needs a mentor. (Gandalf, Ben Kenobi / Yoda, Dumbledore, Dr Brown etc) So I wrote a short piece that introduces Calem’s mentor as he arrives in the mystical realm.

I call him Milligan as in my mind I imagined Spike Milligan. A slightly eccentric and bumbling character with a laboratory full of gadgets and potions.
I later thought of Christopher Lloyd’s character in the Back to the Future films which helped enormously to explore the eccentricity I had in mind.

I think ultimately I’m more happy with the smaller character. I liked the idea of a Yoda character who babbles on and on to himself whilst he’s working. But of course this character has incredible skills with magic – something that my young hero will learn over time.

Here’s a few inked concepts.

milligan1 milligan2