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.
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.
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.
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 my own projects 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.
Scamp artwork examples
These examples are from various projects I've worked on (some unused, that I can show). From TV adverts to product design, it's often about facilitation, taking other people's ideas and converting them into images without being precious.
I've worked under NDA (non-disclosure agreements) with leading creative production houses around the UK. 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.
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 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.
The lineup for and graphic design has just been revealed for Wentworth festival 2023. Every year I help the festival brand reinvent it's publicity to stay fresh and engaging, with great input from the folks that put it on. Looks like another banger of a year.
Here's a great way to get a lot of mileage from your illustration work, refreshing or updating what's already there.
For 'Liza Beenelli', the brand mascot of the Great Manchester fringe, it seems just right to update her image for 2023. She's had loads of updates, and she still looks great.
If you need illustration you want to get as much value as possible. Here it makes sense to keep the 'master' illustration and change little bits at a time, so we still recognise the brand mascot.
Brand mascots are cool.
And they work too. From Tony the tiger or the meerkats to Colonel Sanders. Having a character that captures your brand is a wonderful wordless attention-grabbing way to remind everyone who you are and what you do. All in a single relatable image. So why don't more companies do it?
I'm speculating, but from my experience, I'd say budget plays one part but also, consistency over time.
Many creative agencies have in-house graphic designers and outsource illustration, this is a practical and pretty sensible decision. Graphic design is more affordable to replicate in-house if there's a staff change later, using a style guide. With brand mascots in illustration, "drawing a new face" in the style of an existing image can be a much trickier ask* further down the line.
This project works because it's a direct relationship with the illustrator. It's John (hello, this is me). If a brand mascot it something you're thinking about to give your brand a bit of personality, I can happily answer any questions. How much? how long? More importantly, what is your brand's spirit animal?
April 22022. Here's a great example of a full design package, for the GM Fringe. The central illustration has been reused across the different designs to maintain a strong identity while getting maximum value from a piece of the original illustration.
This is Liza Bee-nelli, the mascot for the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. The character design is a reimagining of the Fringe Mascot from 2017, when she was first introduced to promote shows. For this new version, I started with a pencil sketch in ClipStudio, then took it into Affinity Designer, my new favourite playground for designing vector artwork, as the mascot had to be flexible enough to be recreated at any size.
I've been using Affinity designer for around 16 months now and it's more than proven itself as a professional workflow tool, it just clicks with me a lot more than illustrator ever did. In particular features like layers and gradients are just a joy to use.
Here's the previous character design mascot logo from 2016, designed in illustrator. She's come a long way!
Card Game Illustration
Over the last few months, I've collaborated with Prof Martin Fitgerald at the University of Bradford, creating illustrations for a card game titled' 'Capturing the Sun'.
The game is designed to help with cognitive restructuring (a term used in CBT) and is aimed at people with long-term psychiatric conditions. Based on the Mouri folk tale of Maui, the Polynesian Demi-god who captures the sun with powerful ropes to make the day last longer. As described in the games manual;
"This game is designed to help people who experience serious mental illness to make their own powerful ropes so they can capture the skills, knowledge and understandings required for recovery, so they too, can live in the light."
It's been a fascinating project to work on as an illustrator, and I've always wanted to illustrate games.
Martin's a fan of monochrome linocut illustration and liked my work, so I leaned into that for these card game illustrations.
Deck cards depicted the terms used in cognitive restructuring, the challenge was then finding the right visual metaphor to describe the term. Some were straightforward, such as 'fortune telling' being depicted by a crystal ball.
Others needed more revisions to get right. We were exploring visual ideas that aren't too prescriptive - or lead to incorrectly interpreting the meaning. In the case of 'Generalizations', the concept sketch began as a fog cloud, which was fine but not very, then an image of different hats, labelled 'hats' to signify the general. This had the opposite effect, being visually interesting but a little confusing for the term it was trying to encapsulate. We settled on a signpost with vague directions like 'here' and 'there', which was a good balance of communication design.
The question cards needed faces. Heads of people from a diversity of backgrounds and ethnicities. As each card poses a dilemma, these folks expressions should be deep in thought, pondering their situation. In early drafts it was easy to push a little too far, drawing folks who looked very stressed out, so expressions were pulled back a little for a more subtle look. A raised eyebrow here or slight pout there was enough to capture what was needed without the character leaning into what could be perceived as negative.
The game also needed a box cover and logo. The logo was based on Mau the sun god and the general feel was simple, using the clarity and monochrome lino-cut aesthetic to give the game it's style. Here's a mock-up of the final cover design of the sun god.
Do you need illustration or graphic design for your next project or want creative input to help put your ideas in motion?
Early sketches, exploring ideas for the box and cards.
I've just completed work on the Childrens University of Manchester learning platform. As a freelance graphic designer, I was first brought in to work on these projects they were created in Flash around 12 years ago. Today, in what's now the final iteration of the website, all the content has been converted into either HTML5 or PDF. The goal has been to take the old, still valuable, learning content and convert it into a (hopefully) future-proof format, so it can live long and prosper.
Some of the original modules were designed by myself, and other older sections by other designers, with all content being created and written by students and staff at the university.
The first task was 'harvesting' the original content from old flash files. For content I created I could go back to my source files. With designs not created by myself, I had to be a little more resourceful with only access to SWF files. With flash now deactivated on all web browsers, I used Adobe debugging tool to open the SWF's, and experimented with a few different ways to extract the graphics. From importing the SWFs into an old version of Flash to the rudimentary method of using a high res 2k monitor to screen grab and isolate elements, reduced them, clean up, and even re-traced back into vectors from pixels. This was time-consuming but also offered good results.
Harvesting the text was another challenge. In some cases I got lucky and text from the flash file was being loaded externally from an XML file. The worst case was screen-grabbing text and running it through an OCR program (optical character recognition). This converted graphics into text which then needed proofing to check for things like letter 'o's not showing up as zeros. Again time-consuming but worthwhile.
Once all the content was gathered the new design work could begin. Creating layouts and new graphics where needed to glue together the continuity, or make clear elements that were previously motion graphics.
I was given the flexibility to come up with some new cover images. It's been a bit like being a design archaeologist, unearthing the past. The staff at the university were really pleased with the results and I'd like to think if you came to the website fresh today, You'd just see the learning content, which I hope will be evergreen.
John is a freelance graphic designer based in Manchester with clients around the world. If you have a project or need design advice, contact him here;
Edinburgh Festival Publicity
Heading off to the Edinburgh festival this year? Need posters, flyers and a social media pack for all your online stuff? I've got you covered.
How about some illustration to really make your idea pop out? Edinburgh is a tough space to promote in at festival time (I should know), publicity needs to be super targeted so potential punters can see what you're about in the 2 seconds it takes to walk by your poster. Get in touch for a quote.
Branding & Graphic Design: Making Presentations
Making Presentations is a training company that specialises in presenting skills, online and face to face.
The design work, logo, icons and deck slides are all bespoke. This is communication design, where the artwork has a very specific job to. The icons are more detailed illustrations, to keep online attendees engaged longer. The series of deck slides also are illustrations, in a simple neutral style to connect with as broad a demographic as possible and guide the attendees through their training journey.
Making Presentations founder Richard Pascoe put a lot of thought into what he needed for his artwork slide deck, and it shows.
Graphic Design- Posters
Posters 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.
Isometric design is a form of 3D drawing that's ideal for maps and infographics. The location in this example is Wasing Park in Berkshire. The event theme was 'enchanted forest', so the fantastical elements are placed around the outside, to keep the informative elements clear.
'Full-service design' means 'we do everything'. From logo, branding and website, to social media, graphics, illustration and print design - everything. If I'm honest I'm not a fan of the term as it's a bit too broad and every client is different.
Wentworth Festival has been building its brand since 2017 and each year's look is fresh, vibrant and different, bigger and better than before. As with all the work I do, nothing it outsourced. Creative conversations are direct, and nothing get lost in translation. I wonder what next year will look like?
A logo, a poster and a quick loading responsive website that sells tickets, for a new music festival. I love it when I get a project that covers all design disciplines for great cross branding experience.
One such recent project was Wentworth Music Festival. Working with a client I've had for many years they said 'this is what we want, and this is the deadline. It needed to be bright and punchy, but also put on show the spectacular venue itself, Wentworth Woodhouse. A large privately owned stately home outside of Rotherham.
The choice of font and colours were a delicate process of finding something loud and energetic enough to capture the identity and vibrance of a music festival, while also being respectful of the venue. Chatting with the clients while knee-deep in organising big name bands , I put forward a big-splash illustration. Working up a detailed sketch of the venue would show it off with a lot more vibrancy than a photo alone could achieve. There was also a tight deadline and go-live date. Four bold colour silhouettes of non-specific singers and musicians meant the pre-publicity for the event could be while waiting for the confirmation of the big names to come. After sign off the graphics were reformatted for social media covers and the project was- quite literally - ready to rock!
With over 18 years of industry and design studio experience and a dedication to researching the latest design trends and web technology, it's not just about creating a look and feel , but solving design problems. JCU is more than just the final product, it's a design service.
Design is everywhere. John understands the DNA of great design communication and how to get you noticed. Rocket Steps has clients throughout the UK and overseas.
Flat style graphic design