Random Musings III

It’s taken 24 days of 2019 to write my first blog post, but only because I have been busy finishing off the jobs that started just before Christmas. It was the usual - some DVD work and some book covers, one of which was huge fun (dinosaurs and samurai swords - give me that brief any day of the week) and more on what will be my biggest, most exciting commission of my ten-year career. I still can’t talk about it, but I’m hoping they announce soon (the product itself won’t be out until late Autumn). A dream come true.

So on to what to blog about. How about an aimless ramble? No? Well.. maybe just a collection of various musings of a random nature…

Make stuff for yourself (and try to earn from it)

First thing that has been on my mind in these first fresh weeks of the year is that I need to give my personal work some more fiscal viability. I am a huge proponent of personal work as an illustrator - I am always shouting from the rooftops that it is an essential use of your time as a pro (or burgeoning pro) and it has always opened more doors for me than anything else. And it’s come to my immediate attention that I need to do even more of it, between experimenting with art or making music as Our Wanderer or anything else I might find interesting. I need to do more of it to keep myself sane. Time being creative for myself as opposed to following a brief (while I enjoy that challenge) is of upmost importance for my head. But, I have to earn a crust and at the moment I will always sacrifice time on my own stuff for pro jobs. I know this is a ‘poor-me’ scenario - I realise I am lucky to have the pro jobs. But what if I could make the personal work more viable by earning a little from it? So, I have the print shop.

Me and my print shop have always had a difficult relationship. For one, it’s giclee rather than screen print, and the latter is by far the favourite of collectors. For another, I found the printing & shipping aspect hard to manage - but I’ve solved that by going with a great new Irish fulfilment company called Print Beast. And, so far, I’m not sure I’ve made art that is appealing enough to sell more than a couple of copies. It’s important to me to make the prints for myself, expressively, and not cow-tow to trends or second guess potential customers. But I need to find a balance. So my idea is this - I’m going to make a load of personal work to sell as prints, try to make it appealing to people (ie not all vintage sci-fi) while still enjoying, and expressing myself. Some of it might be crap, one or two might be cool but I am going to make sure I enjoy making all of it. Like this blog, it’ll be my little corner of the internet to do whatever the f*** I want. Bliss.

So with that in mind, I thought I might start doing mock gig posters. A little bit like I did for Whelans all those years ago. That job was so much fun - no brief, make anything I want, combine typography and art.. Perfect, really. Here’s the first one, and wouldn’t you know - it’s vintage sci-fi. I promise it won’t all be.

Making time to make crap

Leading on from this, I’ve also decided to spend way more time making crap. By that I mean, make stuff free of worrying about other people seeing it - full experimentation. Sitting at the drawing desk with whatever materials are close by and just seeing what happens. I tend to go through periods of this and then let it lapse. But it’s so important. The amazing Jeffrey Alan Love wrote a great Twitter thread about it here.

I am not one of those artists with amazing-looking sketchbooks. Mine are awful. And I think they’re awful because I try to make them good, and then get annoyed when they aren’t. So I am determined to abandon any notions of making something great and just make.. crap. Very constructive, enjoyable crap though.

Being honest. I’m quite bored of how I draw. Certainly with characters. I’d like to play around and see if I can some up with something new.

Speaking of constructive mistakes, I found this article about the Uruguayan artist Guido Iafigliola (aka Glitchdo) , courtesy of WeTransfer, really interesting and am delighted to have discovered his work. Really, really inspiring.

New/Old Pastures

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted my work & career to evolve a little this year. One path that’s opening up is actually one I’ve been dipping my toe in since I started freelancing - story development for films. Being able to dream up stories, and make art, is a good combination for this. Over the years I’ve been in and around it, became friends with people who produce/direct for real and had one or two of my ideas touted as possibilities. But now things are actually moving up a gear - I’ve learned about whats needed (from screenplay-construction to pitch decks) and I’m ambling my way into those new waters, especially, hopefully, with Voidonauts. Watch this space (but bear in mind these things move glacially-slow).

I think that’s about it. Maybe one last mention of music and films currently floating my boat:

Music - I am obsessed with Go Go Penguin. A piano, a double bass and a drum kit make this? Holy moly.

Film - Last night I watched Don’t Breath. I liked it - great tension, great character arcs (it plays with your sympathies). It struck me that Stephen Lang would have made a great Old Man Logan.

Books - Currently reading Dune Messiah. Dune is one of my favourite books but shamefully I had never read the sequels - righting that wrong now. Next up, Children of Dune and then on to Ursula le Guin - Left Hand of Darkness & The Dispossessed (another two I should have read years ago but never did).

My 10 Year Anniversary

September 2018 marks ten years since I decided to leave my career in the media in London and move home to Ireland to pursue my dream of being a freelance illustrator. 

It has been an oscillating path, full of ups and downs, peak and troughs, disasters and delights. It's certainly never been boring. And it couldn't have happened without the support of those around me, most particularly my incredibly patient wife, Orla. 

So as it's a special anniversary for me, I'm going to be a little (very) self-indulgent and list some of the great things that happened. Then I'll get on my trusty soap box and (briefly) describe why I got to do these things. But before I do, know that these are the highlights - they were peaks, poking out from a thick soup of panic, anxiety, relentless ambition and more panic. It's not an easy road, but it is so rewarding. The soup was worth it. 

So, here is my self-indulgent list (yay me) 

Whelan's changed my career because they gave me carte blanche to create any kind of art I wanted as long as it was cool. One piece, The Bogs, got my first professional recognition with inclusion in the Society of Illustrators 56 book and exhibition. Doors opened.  

The Dublin restaurant Pichet let me do a similar thing, but in a totally different style. So different I invented a pseudonym, Ignatius Fitzpatrick, to avoid Portfolio Confusion Syndrome. Another fishing line in the water, and another way to knock on those doors.  

The O'Brien Press took a punt on me and published my debut novel, A Cage of Roots. Then took more punts and published two more. So now I have a trilogy, and a prize-winning one at that. Life-long dream fulfilled.

A famous Irish actor who shall remain unnamed commissioned me to make posters for his favourite films. Made me realise I love making posters for films. I made some more for myself, including one for Pan's Labyrinth that to this day is still the most popular thing I've done. I sent some to Arrow Video, who have since commissioned 76 pieces from me and counting (amazing client). The Pan's became the cover art for a special edition in Germany & Austria. I got to work with Warner Bros (twice - on IT & Mowgli) & Universal (more on that in a sec). All on the back of one private commission and some fan art. 

My first cover for Arrow

My first cover for Arrow

Another punt, this time from the agency Shannon Associates. They became my agents even though I wasn't a 'slam dunk' (a quote - it meant I wasn't immediately marketable (true), but they had faith and took a chance). I asked if they could get me book cover work. They did, and I've gotten to make covers for all of the biggest publishers in the world, for famous authors like Michael Grant, Rick Riordan and more. They basically changed my career, and I'm forever grateful. 

Back to the movie posters, because this is my favourite one. Mike Woods of Under The Floorboards had a license from Universal and asked if I'd like to do a poster for Back to the Future. I'm an 80s kid, so it was a firm 'yes'. He submitted my rough for approval and it all went a bit crazy. We ended up on Skype calls to Universal with them telling us that 'Steve' (Spielberg) and 'Bob' (Zemeckis) loved the design and they wanted it to be their official 30th Anniversary poster, to be used at London Film & Comic Con to raise money for The Michael J Fox Foundation. I got a personal letter from Bob Gale (who wrote and produced the three films). I even got in the local paper with a government minister. Will always owe Mike a debt of gratitude for that. 

More punting on me... A couple of years ago a very old friend was doing a Kickstarter for his band's new album. One of the things they were hoping to raise money for was a music video. I had never animated before, but I asked them if they'd consider me for the job, and, thankfully, they agreed. Knowing that I couldn't animate. That's faith. The old mate was Simon Cullen, the band was the incredible Ships, and thanks to them I got to add 'animation' to my job description.

Ok I'm wrapping up the boasting now. Just one more. The good people of Light House Cinema recently commissioned me to do artwork for their Brad Bird Season. I'm a big Brad Bird fan (especially The Iron Giant) so I jumped at the chance. I made this:

...and then they invited me to a special preview screening of The Incredibles 2, where this happened:


There's been so much more. Good and bad. But, honestly, pretty much mostly good. Too many things to list here without boring the pants off you (if I haven't already). 

Oh and this is all obviously just professional stuff. I also got married, moved to my favourite part of the world (Co.Clare) and had two amazing daughters. That's the important stuff, so I left it out.

And now, the soapbox... 

The reason I got to do these things was I didn't give up. I just flat-out refused to stop making art my job. I could not have done this without Orla and the rest of my family being so supportive (even when it was harder for her than me. She may argue it still is...) 

I also put a huge emphasis on personal work. I never considered working on my own projects a waste of time. They are the opposite of that. Nothing opens doors more than personal work. So if you are an aspiring commercial artist - make sure you draw what you love, make time for the stuff you are passionate about and I promise opportunities will arise, your work will improve and you will get where you want to go. And when it comes to books - just write the f***ing thing. Start writing - the first draft doesn't have to be good. An idea will only be an idea until you actually start putting words down. Oh and (cheese warning) believe in yourself. Self-doubt is in all of us, particularly creative people. Just push the doubt aside and remind yourself that you have what it takes to succeed. All the time.

Exercise and mediate. These help with that last bit. Watch films, read books, go to galleries - embrace culture in all it's forms. It fills up the well that you need to draw from. An afternoon at the cinema is work. Don't feel bad about it. 

And lastly, you're always learning. Enjoy that part. 

So, I sincerely apologise for the self-aggrandising nature of this post. But, you don't get a ten year anniversary every day, right? And I hope at least the last bit makes it beneficial for someone, other than me and my ego. For me, I can't wait to see what the next ten years brings. I won't give up, that's for sure. 

Some thanks (not in order of merit)

Jamie East - my old boss at Sky Sports and HMPJ/Channel 4. Spotted my talent and encouraged it, allowing me to draw when I should have been working. Hired me twice, didn't fire me when I partied too much, and let me quit with his blessing. 

Damo Farrell - gave me much of my early work, saw potential in my sketchbooks, taught me how to make a story. 

Simon, Justin, Gail, Jodie and the team at Shannon Associates. Game-changing for me. And put up with me hounding about payments. 

Michael, Ivan, Emma, Susan, Kunak, Ruth, Geraldine and all at The O'Brien Press. Took a chance, and helped me realise a dream I've had since I was a nipper. Emma Byrne has to get a special mention as she asked me to pitch a story. Susan Houlden too for being an amazing editor and whipping the books into shape. 

Fran, Kevin and all the producers at Arrow Video for being my most regular clients with consistently fun jobs. 

All the clients I've had over the last ten years. Sorry I can't list individually, but know that I enjoyed working with you and appreciated the work!

Fellow pros, at home and abroad for all the advice and encouragement. I've made some great, lasting friends out of the industry.  Illustrators Ireland & The AOI played a huge part in this.

My folks and my brothers for backing me all the way. In-laws and friends too. 

And Orla, Holly & Chloe. My girls. 



Using the Blog more, and Social Media Less

I have issues with social media, from an illustrator perspective, which you can read about in this article I wrote for the AOI a couple of weeks ago. It's a necessary evil to me, rather than something I relish. But it is necessary, as in this day and age it's my shop window. So, I'm not going to go deleting all my accounts. Yet. 

One thing I am going to do is use this blog more.

As it's mine-all-mine, I'll post whatever it is I feel like posting and I might be able to offer some insight into what it's like as a pro commercial artist & author. So, to that end, here are my first random musings...


I came across this great quote from the amazing writer Warren Ellis (in fact it was his blog, Morning, Computer, that inspired me to make posts like this myself) and it is this:

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I really think this hits the nail on the head. There was an interesting debate on Twitter about it with fellow illustrator & story-maker Nashatobi (check out his Patreon) who felt that we should take the audience into account, and try to create a story to appeal to people, rather than just ourselves. But I disagree. If you try and create things you think other people will like, you'll fall short. You have to create things you are passionate about yourself. That passion will shine through, and has a much better chance of attracting people than second guessing their tastes. It's a 'build it and they will come' scenario. So - make what you love, the rest will follow. I think anyway. Two sides to every coin. 


I'm reading Dune again. It's my third time reading it (I love it - true genius) but, shamefully, I've never read the sequels. But I will after this. I did this image of Paul at the beginning of the year, and I'd love to do illustrations for the whole book - so I'm reading it this time with that in mind. But I give myself so many personal projects, I wonder if I'll ever get around to it. 



I am at the moment in one of those periods where I have almost too much on. But, while I often think I'd love a clear schedule and room to breath, in fact I tend to make better work under pressure. I always do this to myself - take on tons of work - and I think I do it on purpose, because while it might be stressful, my subconscious knows it will bring the best out in me. So I am my own worst enemy and best mentor all in one. Here's what I'm working on:

Three new DVD covers for Arrow (these ones are all involving stills instead of illustrations)

Lots of book covers. One for Harper Collins, one for Penguin, one for Scholastic, one for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and now booked in two for Simon & Schuster. 

A screen print of an imaginary cover for Stanislaw Lem - The Futurological Congress. I've been at this for months, only able to snatch time on it. Which is frustrating, as of all my projects, this is the one I want to do most. It's for a commissioner I've wanted to work for for years, and a subject I love. Need to make some proper time for it this week. 

A poster for Taxi Driver for a gallery in LA, and a poster for Belleville Rendezvous (as my alter-ego Ignatius Fitzpatrick) for the same gallery. 

Content for my Endling Patreon 

Oh and being a parent, husband etc.


Film recommendation - A Prayer Before Dawn. Amazing, harrowing (not for the feint of heart) true story about a heroin addict in the worst Bangkok prison who finds redemption in Muay Thai.

Music Recommendation - What ever you're into - music is subjective. 

Podcast recommendation - Everyone should listen to The Blindboy Boatclub Podcast 


That's it for now, more random musing to come in time...