A new string to my bow: artwork and illustrations

It will be twenty years this June since I graduated from Loughborough University in Fine Art (Painting). I had spent the previous four years happily creating artworks, but I knew (or thought I knew) that I didn’t want a career as an artist. I didn’t relish the idea of having to draw or paint whatever the client wanted, no matter how unappealing. However, it’s with a big smile on my face that I now announce that I’ve recently completed my first paid-for artworks in over twenty years!

When I was nineteen, I was paid to do an oil painting for my dad’s workplace when they moved into new premises. It was a 6′ x 2′ depiction of silhouettes related to the film industry, black against a dramatically lit, colourful background. I have only the vaguest memory of it, and I’m pretty sure that if I ever saw it again, I’d cringe and notice all kinds of horrible faults. I recently learned that it’s still there, in the foyer, and I must admit, I’m a little bit proud that someone liked it enough to keep it there instead of commissioning something better and gleefully burning it.

I like to think my work has improved a tiny bit in the last twenty years, even though I’ve gone through long stretches without practice. I was delighted when an author whose work I edited commissioned me to do some artwork for him. First came a family tree. Then he asked me to do a piece for the cover. It didn’t end up on the cover because – well, it wasn’t in keeping with the theme of the book. An impressionistic view of three figures floating down a river in a canoe was the author’s vision, but at the same time it didn’t reflect the genre. Nevertheless, I was really glad to do this piece because it challenged me in different ways. It wasn’t a topic I’d have chosen – I know nothing about canoes and have no experience of the landscapes or geography that feature in the book – but it’s good to broaden your horizons and try new things.

I also discovered, right from square one with the family tree, that I don’t mind being told what to do nearly as much as I thought I would. Far from feeling threatened or insulted by suggestions that I change aspects of my work, I enjoyed getting feedback and building up a clearer picture of the client’s vision. At first it was a little embarrassing sending sketches I knew to be rough or substandard, but it was exciting to see the responses they generated and the ideas that sprang out of them. ‘Try bringing the viewpoint down a bit’ or ‘the angle to the left’, the client would suggest, or ‘can we make this a bit bigger?’ I’d make sure that we nailed the composition before I got stuck into colours and brushstrokes and texture, and I had a lot of fun with the process. Here is the result:

impressionistic painting of three figures in a canoe paddling down a river with mountains in the distance

To my delight, the author was pleased enough with my work to commission another painting for their novella, even though the previous one didn’t end up on the cover. This took me to another level in terms of research – Canadian trains of the 1980s definitely aren’t one of my specialist areas. I even emailed a train buff whose site I found online! (Thank you, John MacDonald of, by the way, for your useful technical input and for the use of some of your pictures as reference material!)

It’s amazing how different railway stations are in different countries. As a Brit, I’ve very rarely seen a platform without a good drop off the edge to the line, and we tend to either have a brick station building or nothing – no wooden or corrugated iron huts here, as far as I know. Here is the fruit of my research:

painting of man running after retreating train in the distance in a mountainous landscape

I’m pleased with the way this has gone, and I’m learning new things about my tools of the trade all the time. Both of these were done on ProCreate Pocket for iPhone, and I’m hoping to progress to the full version on an iPad soon, so watch this space!

If you have ever thought that you’d like to have someone illustrate either your book cover or just a scene from your book or short story, please get in touch – I’ve discovered that I love working on commissions!