Illustration tutorial – step by step guide – part 1

Illustration tutorial “Pirates”

Illustration tutorial showing my working process to create a dynamic, dashing, daring image filled with glorious swashbuckling action, heroics, disaster and mayhem.

Part one – rough sketches

I decided that if I was going to do a big and exciting picture, it’d be worthwhile coming up with a decent composition. In my mind’s eye I’d decided that I wanted some kind of pirate mutiny scene. I love drawing pirates, so this seemed like the ideal mix of buccaneers and action. I came up with 5 different versions. I knew I wanted a leering, jeering mob poking the captain on a plank, and some tentacles from a krakenesque beast lurking in the hidden depths. And probably a bit of ship or castle, and maybe some city, and whilst I’m at it, a bunch of other stuff too.

Rough pencil layout of Pirate Captain Walking the plank

Illustration tutorial thumbnail of Pirate walking the plank
Pirate Captain walking the plank illustration rough


After various angles, I chose the final pencil drawing to work from. I’ve got a big old block of Saunders Waterford watercolour paper. It’s one of those epic pads that’s glued on all sides to keep the paper taut when you paint on it. Only…. this time, my approach would be different.


I sketched out the drawing with a regular “F” pencil, very lightly, and quite roughly, just blobby and outliney so that I had the people and objects in the right place. Using a Faber Castell 192 pencil “Indian Red“, I then started drawing. And drawing. And drawing. Using the outline that I’d roughly placed down, I embellished and exaggerated to my hearts content.  Then I did a bit more, adding some shadows to the background, to make the characters stand out more. Then a bit of shadow to the bottom of the page to draw your eye up to the hapless captain about to meet his doom.

Stretching watercolour paper – correctly

An old trick I learned many years back when stretching paper has helped me immensely many times over. However, I usually stretch the paper prior to drawing on it, so this time  round I’ve gone a bit while and done things effectively back to front by drawing the image first, then stretching. There’s a rationale for this though, (though I’ll have to wait a day or two to see if it works), and that’s because apparently if you soak a pencil drawing for 15 mins then stretch it, the pencil gets absorbed into the paper so that it doesn’t smudge. Hence this time not needing that incredibly expensive addition of the glued edges on my watercolour paper block.

Pinning out

Anyway, after a 15 minute soak I lay the paper on a stretcher board, placed some wet pieces of gum strip along the edges – and here’s the trick – then placed a series of drawing pins through the gum strip and the paper into the board to secure everything in place. I noticed that this paper didn’t wrinkle at all, so laying everything down was very easy; other paper’s aren’t necessarily this easy to work with I’ve discovered. So this was a lovely revelation. Anyway, here’s the finished pencil artwork ready for the next stage once everything’s dried up and I’m back in the studio next week.

Pirate captain walking the plank to his doom - pencilled version
Pirate captain walking the plank to his doom – pencilled version


Iphone charger on New York’s Broadway

Iphone charger; jumps on set!

Iphone chargers – seemingly the bane of the masses’ lives. Stories like this “broadway-hand-to-god-cellphone-charge-fake-outlet” as reported by the Guardian here in the UK are pure gold!

Socket doesn’t work

Of course, being a theatre, the socket was a prop and didn’t work! The story gets better and better.  I can just imagine the bemused look of the ladies and gentlemen in the audience, twitching into their frocks and tweed at the sheer audacity of someone needing to ensure they could blog about whatever it is that’s going to happen on stage and second now.

I was in a play once

My experiences of theatre are short and sweet. Aged about 7 I had the delightful role of being a “Bell” in a christmas production at my school. This involved wearing a bell shaped piece of gold cardboard affixed to a pair of braces and rocking slowly side to side. Naturally I only had my underpants on to keep me warm. Recently I had a discussion about this incident with my fellow arty types in the studio, all of whom had similar ghastly experiences of acting to tell. We’ve all been scarred by the horror of Thespos, casting a wizzend old finger at us. I’ll wager the iphone charger in question just wanted something to do whilst the play was going on, as he’d been dragged there by a friend or something. To be honest, I’d probably prefer to play snake too.

Iphone not quite reachable illustration
Man makes mad dash for plug to charge phone on set of Broad Way theatre production in New York

You are running on reserve power

I enjoyed this story so much, that I decided to do two different illustrations showing the man in question being apprehended by security. You’ll be pleased to know that he’s come forward since the incident and comes across exactly as you’d anticipate. Read all about here if you’ve nothing better to do – thanks to the Guardian (again).

Illustration of man getting dragged off theatre stage
Man makes mad dash for plug to charge phone on set of Broad Way theatre production in New York

Advertising dinner and a theatre show

And finally; to show just how inclusive the theatre is to everyone, here’s a little advertisement from the bottom of the Guardian’s article.

Hamlet + Dinner

Combine your ticket with a meal & Save

Packages from: £289.00

An evening at the theatre wouldn’t be complete without a pre-show meal. We have a great choice of excellent restaurants conveniently located for your chosen show. The best news is that you will enjoy some great savings on our packages and look out for our free dinner offers.

Seriously? £289? Two hundred and eighty nine pounds? I’ll take my whole family.

Loch ness monster doesn’t exist after all illustration

Loch Ness Monster debunked

Loch Ness monster is nothing more than a giant type of fish that was popular in Victorian times and was released into the wild. Allegedly it can grow up to 13 foot long. Bah, what a rip-off, I still believe there’s a giant monster in there, or at the very least a family of Brontosaurus’s that have kept a secret vigil in the middle of Scotland for the last 150 million years. Honest, what’s so preposterous about that?

Check your sources

This delightful bit of information, that adds further layers of extraordinary complexity to a rumour based on a photograph of an elephants nose, came from The Week magazine recently, and try as I might, I don’t have the enthusiasm to wade through endless pages of speculation and conjecture on the internet to find an appropriate link.  Still, it was a fun story to illustrate, and reminded of my siblings and I prancing around on the edge of the Loch when we were much smaller, bellowing at our parents that we’d seen endless versions of the monster in a similar style to the “Family-Ness” cartoon that we all enjoyed immensely

illustration of loch ness monster
You don’t exist Loch Ness Monster





parking meter destruction causes shopping boom in Wales

Parking meter smashed; joy all round!

Vandals smashed a parking meter or two in Cardigan, Wales recently. The knock on effect is that local business’s have had up to a 30% increase in sales (or footfall, I’m not sure which), according to this news article on the BBC.

Destroy!  Destroy!

I’ll wager the local’s are all rather happy with this new arrangement. Slowly councils appear to be realising that people won’t drive and pay for parking if they want to buy something, or merely browse. Clifton in Bristol has started offering a free ‘first 30 minutes‘ to parkers whilst wandering around the village shopping area.  Good idea to me, I reckon.


I’m more than happy to park my battle-tank at a haphazard and jaunty angle if I know I don’t have to pay for it.  Thinking about it, I don’t think I’d ever pay for parking unless I desperately have to.


I think I’ve broken my own personal record for least interesting blog post now. Thank you ladies and gentlemen!

parking meter smashed - shop keeper rubbing his hands with glee
Broken parking meter means shops benefit.

Editorial illustration

This is a story I read about in “The Week” magazine, which gets delivered weekly (true), to my house, and features all sorts of snippets of news. As a portfolio bolstering mission, I elected to chose a number of the features and illustrate them, week in, week out.

As a freelance illustrator, I draw the things that clients want, so this is my way of promoting myself through choosing news and editorial stories that I’ve found interesting, poignant, amusing, or somewhat odd.

Grimms Fairy Tales illustration

Grimms Fairy Tales illustration

The Prince and the Fox

I’ve been reading Grimms Fairy Tales, (finally). It’s sat on my shelf since time began, I’m sure, and whilst I thought I knew them all, as it turns out I actually only know a very small number.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m enjoying the way they’re written that much, the style is very much of its time, and like most things that are antiquated, it reads as much. However, the underlying stories are quite good; a little Aesopian in nature with their moralistic overtones from time to time, but a good read non the less.  And frightfully macabre to boot, which can only be a good thing in this day and age of nanny-stating everything.

Off on a mission

This particular illustration is for the first story in the book. Namely one about a prince who hitches a ride on a fox to win the heart of a comely maiden, only to find he has to do a succession of missions in order to balance the books correctly.

Here he is, sitting on the foxes back, prancing through the veg fields in the German Schwartzwald.

Prance through the fields on a fox
Prince riding a fox in a Grimms Fairy Tale epic

Illustrator and cartoonist – International clients making the world more beautiful!