Inspired by the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, I'm opening my sketchbook on 24th Nov for the first National Illustration Day.
If you have an idea for an image I'll do it gratis, in my own signature line art style. It can be for your business, a charity or any other cause. Just needs to be something that can be done in an afternoon. Use the contact form, or email to get in touch.
I'll choose the 20th Nov, which idea gets the green light.
You must be a new client
There are no rounds of feedback, so keep that description tight!
The final piece and the process of making it will be shared on social media.
The final piece must be tagged with @johncooper_uk and #NationalIllustrationDay wherever it's used.
Here's a recent book cover illustration for 'Football's Tallest Tales' by Bryan Gibson.
Getting the cover right is important, 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!
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.
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.
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.
The NHS Cheshire & Wirral are launching their new autism awareness strategy and were looking for someone to help promote it with some animation. Hello. What was so cool about this project, is how open to ideas they were when I suggested using characters to tell a 'day in the life' story. We are all keen to get it right and make it really engaging. So less data and more story. It became a really positive collaborative process.
The Characters Taking feedback from a group, the team tested a few types of characters, from basic shapes to talking animals and, settled on people with easy-to-read expressions. Robbie, who brought me into the project had seen my pandemic comic strip, Distance, and was keen to use that style to render the characters, giving the animation (motion graphics to be fair) a comic strip feel to tell the story, some of which was taken from his own life experience.
The script was created collaboratively. I wrote up a first draft, a jumping-off point to work from. The team then added, edited and in our online meeting gave me plenty of notes to create a more well-rounded, story while keeping a light-hearted tone. If you want funny stories about real life - crikey, the folks in the NHS have loads of them!
I did a first run, and then Robbie suggested recording people with lived experience. This made perfect sense, and as we weren't budgeting for full lip-synched animation and made the piece a lot more authentic.
In discussion with the NHS team, we looked at details like the use of colour, sound and clear facial expressions of the characters of Andy and his pal Seema. Big thanks to Maddy, Sharon, Lesley, Robbie and Mahesh for getting me in to be their art director, and creator of this video animation.
The science itself was a bit tricky to get my head around, but then learning new things is one of my passions, and creating educational content like this is one of the pillars of the design studio - to make work that has value outside of just doing the work. So what are neutral inclusions I hear you ask? Well, I'm just the messenger, here's the video.
Big detailed Wall Illustration.
Here are a few excerpts from a large-scale wall art illustration I did recently. The final pieces are very big and I can't show you the whole thing, but this gives you a flavour of the final pieces.
These pieces are super detailed illustrations, not quite Where's Wally level wall artwork, but they did have to convey a lot of information and be engaging enough to stand the test of time if people were going to be seeing the work every day. It was a great project to work on and also time intensive!
Turning messages into illustration
The process of creating illustration work like this involved taking a lot of text content and then boiling it down. Turning those messages into visuals that were inspiring. Generating a lot of ideas and being imaginative with the messages was key to creating a good piece of wall art.
The whole project was done digitally, although it could have easily been done live on the wall. First off I created a series of sketches to cover each topic then needed depicting, and then these were arranged onto a larger canvas to find a good composition that would be narrative (tell a story), and not be confusing.
The sketches were drawn up in clip studio and converted into vector graphics from there. Vector conversion has come on a long way in recent years to convert pixel art into vectors, a format that can scale to any size. However, it's not perfect and still has a problem with very detailed artwork becoming muddy. Some of the original sketches had to be output at very high resolutions in order to convert without losing detail. The final pieces were tweaked by hand to smooth out any rough edges and then delivered to a very happy client.
Creating the visual identity for Wentworth Festival, the full design service.
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 was approached by a design agency in Manchester to illustrate robot characters for their client, a tech company who were looking for something quite specific.
I had the free rein to come up with suggestions of robots that would best suit their brand. Out of the ideas I suggested they opted for the detective and their dog.
In early sketches, I used a rough and ready style, and also provided a vector version. Vector art can be helpful in reproduction as it can scale to any size, from a pin badge to the side of a van.
In design apps, vector brushes can create very good clean line work, but I still find that they can't quite match the variation and liveliness of line work in pixel form, due to how software needs to process the data. Even converting pixels into vectors with the very best industry tools will smooth off lines and simplify them. I'm sure it won't be long before line work and speed of drawing is captured perfectly in pixels or vectors with no discernible difference, we're very nearly there. Saying that the software doesn't really matter, as long as the end product looks great.
This work was created in clip studio and the vectors in affinity designer. Affinity designer is super fast, but also Clip studio has the ability to export pixels in 4K and 600dpi resolution, which makes bigger files but keeps the aesthetic intact. Whatever gets the job done.
Artwork from my 2020 comic strip diary about a comedians life during the outbreak of the global pandemic has been selected for HOME Manchester's open exhibition in 2022. From Mon 24 Jan - Sun 27 Mar 2022, the duration of the exhibition, you can read all the strips here on my website. Find out more about the open exhibition here
Update - July 2021.
Shortly after publishing both collections in print, I contracted covid 19. It was horrible. Having tested positive I could have been infected at a few places and was impossible for me to pin down where and how? I was lucky, having had my first jab it didn't hit me very hard. With headaches and lots of fatigue, I recovered in around a week. Lots of relief and gratitude. I considered drawing a few more strips to record the moment, but thought better of it, as the ending that had presented itself felt perfect, and I didn't want to change the tone and positive message of the strip. - John.
Through 2020-21 I've drawn life during the pandemic as a comic strip diary, one page at a time, as it happened.
Distance is a comic strip diary about right now, getting inside the head of a comedian (me) with an empty diary. From the introduction of social distancing, clapping for the NHS, and the discovery of the vaccine. I looked for positivity and humour visualising my thoughts, hope and fears in real-time.
The format really dictated itself. At the time I was reading 'Charleys War', a classic British comic strip about a soldier in World War I. In it, a lot of story is squeezed into a few pages, with very economical storytelling through thoughts and moments.
As we know, in the early days of the pandemic a lot was happening, and very quickly, Drawing allowed me to slow down a bit and process the world around when people were panic buying bog roll and wine. I just drew what was happened and put it online. As times went on became more reflective, and as the world has changed the process has revealed more to me about myself than I ever thought it would.
I collected the first 50 strips in print in July 2020, and the second 50 in June 2021 through two successful Kickstarter campaigns, available here.
I've been very lucky and not contracted Covid19 (update - I did eventually, not too serious). The pandemic has caused tragedy and sadness and at times I have questioned what to draw - what to leave in, what to leave out. How quickly would the "Hey folks, let's be positive" message wear thin?
At the very least, creating Distance has been something I could do while there are no gigs, a focus to help get me through, and feedback has been super supportive.
Lockdown three in the UK in March 2021 was really hard, fatigue kicked in and I was really reaching for what to include that wouldn't be negative. That's where running really helped.
All the best thoughts, words and images that I've put into the strip have come into my head during a run, and that's why it's so core to the strip. Running is a perfect space to process thoughts and emotions. I still have a few 'covid pounds' and the half marathons of 2018 feel like a distant memory, but I'll get there again, in the future.
I had been considering how and when to wrap up the strip in early 2021. Covid isn't going away there as still countries suffering badly. I knew if I tried to engineer narrative closure and 'look for a story' it would feel a bit fake. It's a diary, life goes on.
May 2021 felt like a natural end for the strip. The vaccine rollout here has been successful and as events are playing out, two of the things I lost are coming back. Running in groups and Comedysportz my improv gang, have their first scheduled indoor show later this month, face to face, with a real audience!
The 100th strip also coincides with an event that's really significant to me. Nothing I've planned - and I don't want to write about it more, because right now it's in the future, and having things to look forward to again is is really special.
"Empowering, affirming fuel for strange times...a wonderful addition to any comic fans shelf."
In March 2020 the UK went into lock-down and the world went dark and scary in the grip of COVID-19. For comedian and runner John Cooper, Parkruns were cancelled and comedy clubs closed. Stay at home, control the virus...draw comics.
Created one page at a time, as it happens, Distance gets inside the head of a comedian looking for humour in real life during dark times.
“A comic strip diary about right now’. Washing my hands, washing my shopping and avoiding the news”.
I’ve always drawn stuff and I keep a diary. When I saw the way things were going in other countries, I started thinking about ways to keep my mind active and generate new material, and doing a comic strip about day to day social distancing just made sense. It can be really serious obviously, as these are scary times, but I want it to be fun too - something to provide a little bit of light relief, and the odd visual gag. It also stops me from going round the twist, being stuck at home.
I'm a big fan of Doctor Who and all the below is based on Doctor Who characters. These are private commissions and fan artwork.