Got a question for creatives?

A new Creative networking Manchester event in Manchester. I'm running an event! Aimed at connecting business folks directly with creatives. It's on June 3rd at GRIT Studios in Manchester.

Here's the info...

Connecting creativity with commerce, ART+WORK connects local artists and creatives with Manchester’s vibrant business community to explore ideas and create new opportunities.

Join us for an evening of chilled networking, chat and idea-generating discussion.

ART+WORK is designed to help businesses who want to work with creatives, and vice versa. To help answer common questions when working on creative projects, provide practical advice and chat with professional working artists and creatives in the city.

Creative networking Manchester

Update!

Today I was on BBC Radio 4 talking about side hustles. These are exactly the kind of conversations we'll be having as this event going forward.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001zg4y

Book Cover Illustration

Need a book cover design? As a freelance book cover illustrator I can help with that. it's not always humour, though these covers generate the most interest when opening my portfolio. I can work direct with an author or publisher and I'm (at the time of writing) not represented by an agent, so I can offer value for money too.

Here are some examples of previous books I've worked on. I also do interior artwork, and the examples below have 10 black-and-white interior illustrations too, but you'll need to check them yourself to see that! All my book artwork is created traditionally and digitally by hand.

Got questions?

Here's a recent book cover illustration for 'Football's Tallest Tales' by Bryan Gibson.

Getting the cover right is important. In this case, nailing the humour and tone the author is after. Illustration is problem solving too. You'll see in this artwork in the background, on one side is the crowd is cheering, while the other is fed up as the ball whistles past the distracted keeper.

We could have had the fans in colour but after discussion, it was decided to keep them in shades of grey. Why? Well, imagine if one side was red and the other blue. It's important to make the book appealing to everyone, so if one colour was the losing team, that could put off a potential reader who supports a team that wears that colour. Make sense? These are the things I consider when doing illustration work.

For this book, I created illustrations for the cover and inside panels - but to see those you'll need to get the book!

Available from Waterside press


If you need a freelance book cover illustrator, get in touch for a chat;

Spring Clean - Need a website audit?

Once a quarter I do a website audit. What's that then? It's looking over all the pages of my website just to check that they are all optimized to the best they can be.


There are some great tools out there that can help check your website including Ubersuggest and Screaming Frog. Running your website through these will let you know how well your website is performing.

Knowing how well your website is performing is something that's become more important since the rise of AI content, as there's now SO MUCH content being created that not all of it, unsurprisingly is great quality or worth reading.
Moreover, Google recently begun penalizing websites that used lots of AI-generated content which can only be a good thing for quality, and humans.

With that in mind it's worth asking if you, or the agency you're using are creating AI content on your website, and if so how much of it?

As the metrics for search ranking change it's important to give your website a review. Make sure you're not piling on poor quality AI content that will help now, but tank your search results later.

If you're not sure where to get started with a website audit, or you just need help with your website in general, get in touch.

I'm a Generation One web designer, which means I've been around quite a while. I'm a website petrolhead, a massive website nerd who loves keeping websites well-oiled and easy to use.

From cool-looking design to speeding up slow sites. If you need a new website or have problems with the one you've got, get in touch. I cover the full journey from idea to finished website and beyond. Helping you understand what your website needs.

Get a new website, find a freelancer website designer.

Medical Illustration

Illustrating anatomy, science and medicine

Rocket Steps specialises in medical illustration (medcomms illustration) and motion graphics. Helping clients communicate medical and scientific information effectively through clear visuals and animation.

John's background in art, production and visual storytelling creates detailed and engaging medical illustrations for use in education and marketing. From anatomy to theory models, we can help you find the correct level of detail needed in your images to convey bodily structures and procedures clearly and concisely.

Catering for large and small-scale delivery, from one-to-one consultations to collaborations with other artists in the studio, John works with public and private medical healthcare organisations across the world. We assess project requirements and offer a variety of options to create visuals with precision and clarity that bring your project in on time and on budget.

Stem illustration, for science, Engineering, technology and Maths, medicine

We provide medical communication artwork which can be turned into motion graphics animation to explain complex processes clearly. As well as animation we also provide graphic design for leaflets brochures and exhibition stands.

Medical science illustration

We don't use AI-generated imagery, everything is bespoke and human-made. All artwork provided to the client is owned by the client on completion. We have a large bank of existing illustration reference images that we refer to to make projects cost-efficient.

Links:

Healthcare Graphic Design & illustration
Medcomms illustrator
STEM Education
Science and Education illustration

Medcomms illustration for the University of Manchester
e-learning illustration html5

Discussing the future of creative design at Grit

Since moving into Grit (Manchester) in December the studio has provided some amazing events and opportunities. I've met some unique creative folks and organizations and had meaty discussions on the why's and how's of making good design work.


In February we had a gallery show and this month two University events. One with students from Manchester Metropolitan's School of Art, and the other from The University of Manchester (Don't get them mixed up!), Creative Manchester and Digital Futures.


There was a lot of discussion on the subject of art, design & technology and how they influence learning and education. This connects strongly with my work, as I bridge the gap between the artistic side of design with illustration and the technical side of design with websites and coding.

The opportunity to speak to the students and also listen to their plans and concerns was insightful. Of course, the subject of AI came up, as well as the purpose and the practicality of finding work that we want to do versus the work that we need to do, and finding that balance.

Client work and passion projects don't always need to be separate. As designers and creatives, any work that improves our skills is time well spent. We can bring our best work to potential new clients where we can create scenarios where both win.

With more events planned, there's a bit of a buzz, and it's great to be at the heart of it.
Massive thanks to John and Sophie for their work so far in making this such a great space.

Links;

Digital Futures
Creative Manchester
Manchester School of Art
Turing Innovation Catalyst


Find me at GRIT Studios Manchester

GRIT Art Studio Manchester

Announcement! I have a base at GRIT Studios Manchester, an amazing new art studio in the city centre.

It's a new community of creative professionals from all different arts, design and crafts backgrounds, with years of skill under their collective belts.

This is where clients can come and chat about live art, illustration, design, motion graphics, websites and all the things I do, and also soak up the creative vibes. It's early days at the moment but I can already feel the buzz, with creatives joining and setting up their spaces.

Where is GRIT Studios Manchester?

Located in the Great Northern building, just off Deansgate, the studio is based upstairs in the old Barclays Bank RISE business incubator suite where I taught workshops many years ago!

This is the second GRIT, the first one being a very popular space in nearby Stockport. Big thanks to John and Sophie at People with Grit for making it happen.

It's not forever. As John Macauley said when I went to take a look at the space, "it’s not your forever space, but it is your forever community.” The whole building will be redeveloped at some point in the future, and that's fine. In the creative industries, change is an inevitable part of the process.

Connect, create and embrace this amazing opportunity as it's happening, right now.

Animated explainer videos

Animated explainer videos. Telling stories with illustration and engagement.

I recently worked the the Cheshire and Wirral Partnership, a department of the NHS that helps autistic people access healthcare. For this project, I animated two stories, those of Robbie and Helen, capturing their experiences in illustration and animation (motion graphics).

Chatting with Robbie, Helen and the team, I listened to their stories and put together visuals to add movement to, I guess you could say I took on the role of art director. Working in subdued colours and subtle image transitions, It was a deliberate choice to make the vocals the primary focus, letting the story of lived experience inform the flow and tone of the visuals. I'm really proud of this work.

Both videos had slightly different considerations. The audio has been edited, to keep the videos short for social media, while keeping the message of the story clear.

Massive thanks to Robbie, Helen, Sharon, Lesley and team. This was a great project to collaborate on. While the illustration, video and animation are all my work, this never felt like a solo project, and that's the mark of a great client.

Looking for animated explainer videos for your project?

Links:

Candid autism strategy

More animation and motion graphics

Graphic Design for Your Event

Updated for 2024

Are you taking a show to a festival this year? Need a poster design for your posters, flyers and socials? I can help.

Festivals are crowded markets so it's important to get a design that communicates quickly and looks professional. It's often the first thing a potential audience member will see, and the reaction you need is "That looks good" not "What is it?". Get in touch.

Good posters are crucial part of persuading potential audience members to come and see your show.

Poster design for events, campaigns and promotions. We work a lot with the live events industry where design needs to be high impact. We provide posters alongside branding and social media packages.

Links:

Motion Graphics Showreel

Motion Graphics, Design & Illustration. I've connected with some amazing new clients this year and collaborated on some wonderful projects.

There have been a few long hours and late nights, but I can feel creative boundaries being pushed in the finished work going out the door (FYI, It makes an excited 'whooshing' sound).

Last 2 years I've been super focused. To step up, be seen, and keep it fresh. At the beginning of the year I rebranded, changing 'John Cooper Design' into Rocket Steps, Creative Studio ( reckon that's where the 'whooshing' sound came from).

It's helped me clarify my ethos. I don't outsource, I work directly with clients and the best ideas win.

I don't think I'd have had the confidence 10 years ago to be as bold with ideas as I am now. Also, I'm experienced enough to be humble when the client's idea is great, and I just need to execute it with style.

What Rocket Steps does;

  • Illustration
  • Motion graphics & animation
  • Website design
  • Branding
  • Explainer videos
  • Graphic design
  • Graphic recording
Illustration by John Cooper

Working directly with clients

I work directly with clients end-to-end. From ideas sessions to final delivery, to get the most from their budget and suggest ways to make the most of what they need.

Collaboration

I'm used by agencies and events companies for illustration and live art, when my style suits their needs. Being a solo studio means I can be super flexible on times, places and deadlines.

Looking to hire a motion graphics designer?

You can book me by the day or by the project. I can help you pin down a brief (a description of the work you need doing) and suggestions the best ways to tell your story and get your message across.

Need to hire an illustrator?

You can book me by the hour or the day. Never used an illustrator before, or have questions that's fine too. Whether you have a clear idea of what you want, or would you benefit from a handful of quick sketches to get the ball rolling.

Illustration by John Cooper

WordPress Tips to save you time.

Have I mentioned I'm a complete nerd for WordPress? I've been working with it for over 10 years now, building sites for businesses and keeping track of the cool things you can do to keep your website ahead of the curve.

Other builders have arrived like Webflow and Squarespace (which seems to sponsor every Youtube video I watch!) but WordPress still surprises me with its flexibility and adaptation.

At the moment I'm looking at the trend of storytelling or 'scrolly-telling' pages, that use video and animation to engage as the user scrolls down the page. No need to make a new website, as WordPress templates can handle this comfortably. Anyway, this blog isn't intended as a humblebrag, just an update and knowledge share.

Here are 4 ways to make the best use of WordPress on your website;

1. Check you're using Google Analytics 4.

Important if you're keeping track of visitors and traffic on your website.
At the end of July 2023 google stopped tracking traffic on websites that use early versions of Google Analytics. If you're tracking your stats, you should upgrade.

The good news is there's a plug-in called Site Kit which pulls Google stats directly into WordPress, making it easier to see traffic and visitor numbers.

2. Use patterns to make your page design more engaging.

WordPress 6 has a tool called Patterns. It's not that new, but it's now much easier to use. Selecting a pattern gives you a pre-made design block. Just change the text and images as you need to make your pages more visually interesting.

3. Manage social media posts from your website.

If you've used an app like Hootsuite you'll know it's a great time saver for posting to your social media channels with one click. You can also do this through your website with jetpack integrations. Connecting your social media accounts means that when you publish s new blog, it'll automatically share to your socials.

4. Save time and connect similar blogs with the query loop.

You may have a 'related news' feature on your website. A block at the bottom of the page that pulls in links to other blogs. Well, now you can add this feature anywhere on a page, automatically creating links to other blogs without having to search or create manual links.

The 'query loop' block uses categories and tags and is a great way to guide users to older blogs they might have missed. It's my favourite recent feature.

I try to keep my WordPress blogs as easy to digest as possible, avoiding as jargon and technical terms. After all, WordPress was designed to be used by non-technical users. If you're looking to upgrade your site, freshen it up with a new design, or get a new one from scratch, I can help. Your website should be easy and - dare I say it- fun to use, so you don't have to worry about technical issues, and can focus on creating good (human) content.

Winning WordPress Website designs

The Art of Scamps

Need scamps? You're in the right place.

Rough and ready quick drawings getting ideas down on paper. A lot of my output involves making scamp artwork. For production companies and collaborations with other creative agencies who need to generate visuals quickly.

Scamps are very similar to storyboards or mock-ups. They help frame an idea, giving an art director or advertiser something to see that can help 'proof' a good idea, pushing it to the next stage, or decide if they aren't quite working, to help find the right direction.

They're an important early part of the creative process where speed and clarity are more important than the quality of the image.

Note: I often work under NDA's (non-disclosure agreements). That means the work is not for public display, on websites or social media. Scamps are often only for private use and owned by the company they are created for. The examples on this page are from real projects, and I've been permitted to share them. Just in case you're production company looking for a scamps artist and are worried about privacy.

Scamp artwork examples

These examples are from various projects I've worked on with leading production houses around the UK. From TV adverts to product design, it's often about facilitation, taking other people's ideas and converting them into images without being precious.

As you'll see in these examples, even at the early stage colour can be introduced a little, which often helps align with branding when presenting to clients. I've worked under direction with an art director to help achieve their vision, and I can offer ideas too.

Scamps happen at the very beginning of the process, and can on occasion stressful when they are created alongside conversations - that can go in different directions, but they don't have to be.

Good quality scamps help win pitches.

I have a background in comic art and improv comedy, and studied sequential art and communication design as a student. Learning the shorthand for storytelling and attention-grabbing that comics use so often really helps when it comes to composing images. Scamps can get messy quickly, and less is often more when it comes to choosing images for a presentation.

Get in touch for more info and rates.

Links:

What can an explainer video look like?

You've probably seen an explainer video. Traditionally it starts with someone talking, and then a hand appears and starts drawing what's being talked about, speedily making pictures to illustrate the subject. I've done a few of those, but they don't always need to look like that, do they?

I think it's just in the terminology, perhaps more folk have heard of the word 'explainer video' than say 'motion graphics' or 'storytelling video'. There are loads of ways of telling a story in a video, and explainer style is just one.

Where will it appear?

He's an example I did recently for NHS North West. You'll notice no sound or voiceover in this version. That's because in the initial meeting, we looked at what the team needed the video for, and where it would be seen. From there I could Then plan the best formats, so they got maximum value from the result.

Getting maximum value from the explainer video format

There were separate illustrations for print, a PowerPoint slideshow someone could talk over to an audience, and a version with text overlayered, to play out on a big screen in a conference room to engage an audience before an event began.

The end goal in mind

Having the end goal in mind helped the format. Identifying where and how the content would appear, meant I could lean into detail with the illustrations to engage the audience in my signature style. A great project to work on and cheers to the team for giving me creative freedom on it.

Illustration taken from an explainer video

Ask the robot dog assistant

Question: Come on then Turbine fella, how would you describe an explainer video?

Woof, an explainer video is a short and engaging video that explains a complex or tricky-to-understand subject in a simple and accessible way. It can be created using different styles such as hand-drawn animation or clean and technical data animation.

What could I use it for?

They can be used for a variety of purposes. They are great for simplifying complex ideas, introducing a new product or service, showcasing a brand or company, educating customers or employees, and promoting a cause or idea. 

How long should an explainer video be?

the ideal length of an explainer video depends on the complexity of the subject matter and the attention span of your target audience. Generally, most explainer videos range from 60 to 90 seconds. This is because attention spans are short, and you want to get your message across quickly and effectively. However, if the subject matter is more complex, the video can be longer, up to 2-3 minutes.

Useful links:

NHS GM integrated care

Can you draw sound?

Do you know what Phononics are? Can you draw sound?

Here's some new work I did for Professor Will J. Parnell for the International Phononics conference this year. As a creative, I love learning new things when I make animations and visuals - and this is a brilliant challenge.

"Phononic materials are engineered media that can manipulate waves propagating through them due to their synthetic and periodic architecture" Got that? My rough understanding is how soundwaves move through materials, and how soundproofing works.

Illustrating sound waves was pretty straightforward, with waveforms. Soundproofing materials was trickier. I looked at maths-based art (as that formed the exciting logo) with all its geometry, tesselation and symmetry, and the two parts came together nicely to carry the theme of the event. But where does the sound come from? These are the questions, and that's when the train the visual whoosh came in at the beginning.