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.
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.
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.
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.
A busy few weeks in the sunshine making live art for events, it's good to be in demand! Here are some pics from Stockport's secret street party and Salfords we invented the weekend Festival. In the coming weeks, I'm at Overdrawn, Manchester Art Battle, and a couple of conferences too.
If you work in events and you're looking for a live artist to create graphic recordings, visual minutes, live scribing or whatever else it's currently being called, all and portraits two. Get in touch here.
What Turbine says: Woof, hello there! Graphic recording is a form of graphic art created live during an event, such as conferences and summits. It involves capturing opinions, stories, and light bulb moments through images and words, which are then remembered by attendees long after the event has passed. John is quite good at graphic recording.
Question: Are there other names for graphic recording? yes there are! Graphic recording is also known as live scribing, live drawing, visual scribing, and graphic facilitation.
Question: How detailed can a graphic recording be? The level of detail in graphic recording can vary depending on the needs of the event and the preferences of the client. Generally, graphic recording captures the key ideas and themes of the event, as well as important quotes and insights from speakers and attendees. The artwork created during the event is then sent to attendees as a visual summary of what was covered. John is quite good at finding the right balance between words and pictures to create engaging and memorable graphic recordings. You can see examples of his work
Question: Do I get to keep the artwork? Woof, that depends on the agreement between you and the graphic recorder. (Yes you do - John) In most cases, the artwork created during an event belongs to the client who commissioned it. This means that you would be able to keep the artwork and use it as you wish. However, it's always a good idea to confirm this with the graphic recorder beforehand. John is quite good at communicating with clients and ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Motion Graphics for NHS North West
I recently worked with an NHS team in Leyland to create a video celebrating their progress.
They were a great team to work with, telling me their story and providing ideas to work with help articulate the story they wanted to tell. I created warm, eye-catching illustrations to capture the events that they wanted to recognize.
I started with some rough sketches suggesting how the video could look and put together an animatic, which is a rough version to show the team and make sure we were on the right Lines. I also got to work with a professional voice actor Drew whose vocals really gave the final work.
Do you have a story your looking to tell visually? Whether you have a clear idea or you're not sure where to start get in touch and I can help you create your vision. Below are some stills taken from the video.
Turbine (robot dog assistant) on the benefits of using animated videos for your marketing;
Woof! Using motion graphics for marketing offers several benefits:
Attention-Grabbing: They use animation and visual effects, making them highly engaging. They attract attention more effectively than static images or text, helping your marketing materials stand out in a crowded digital landscape.
Enhanced Branding: Motion graphics allow you to incorporate your brand's visual identity, such as logo, colours, and typography, into dynamic and animated elements. This helps reinforce your brand recognition.
Improved Information Retention: Animated visuals can be more memorable Woof! Using motion graphics, you can present complex information, data, or whatever you like in a visually appealing way.
Increased Engagement: People are more likely to engage with and share content that includes motion graphics. The dynamic nature of motion graphics can evoke emotions, spark curiosity, and encourage viewers to interact with your marketing materials, resulting in higher engagement rates.
Versatility: Motion graphics can be used across various marketing platforms and formats, including social media, websites, presentations, advertisements, and videos. They are adaptable and can be tailored to suit different purposes, making them a versatile tool for conveying your marketing message consistently across different channels.
Improved Storytelling: Motion graphic animation allow you to tell stories in a visually compelling way. By combining visuals, text, and audio, you can create narratives that resonate with your audience, evoke emotions, and convey the essence of your brand or product effectively.
Increased Conversion Rates: Engaging motion graphics can have a positive impact on conversion rates. By capturing attention and creating an emotional connection, motion graphics can drive user actions, such as signing up for newsletters, making purchases, or sharing content, leading to higher conversion rates.
Modern and Innovative Image: Incorporating motion in your marketing strategy demonstrates your brand is up-to-date with current trends and appeals to tech-savvy audiences.
Overall, motion graphics offer a powerful way to communicate your marketing message, enhance brand awareness, and drive audience engagement, leading to improved marketing outcomes.
Can AI help answer your questions about illustration and graphic design?
Ok, so this is an experiment. I went to an AI workshop and learned how to add an AI chatbot to my website. 'Argh' I hear you cry that's a terrible idea, what about the personal service? Well, that's very much still here. This is me John, typing this post as a human, and I'm well aware that the human element is key to good communication and good design. That's a constant.
This is an experiment, so see if it can help around the edges of things I get asked a lot. "How much" and "how long will it take", are questions I get asked a lot, but it's not just that. I don't like chatbots. So I wondered how I could change my own opinion, and the answer I came up with was to add character.
Call it a dog and name it Turbine.
By giving it a character and a name, I'm hoping to soften the edges and make interaction easier. I could be wrong, I've read how AI is both a great new tool, and the end of the world, and I think it's better to understand it than not.
I've used CodyAI, and trained it on my own content, and wrote a big post on tone of voice, what to say and what not to say, and trained it on that too. Now the plan is to monitor the website and see what kind of responses I get. An experiment.
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.
Do you have a story to tell? Not sure how to get started with it or just need some ideas? Get in touch to see how I can help bring it to life.
Unearthodox ways to get a new website
A website can be many things. Unearthodox is an organisation dedicated to research, change and getting their word out. Their website is a marketing and information resource to share their pioneering work.
My role was taking the concept designs made by Radley Yelder and building the site in WordPress. There were plenty of moving parts in getting the 250+ page website up and running, and WP scaled brilliantly to the task.
What do you use your website for, and what do you need it to do?
Getting down to the nitty gritty, the Unearthodox website had great design, and engaging case studies. The team wanted to be able to add content easily, and categorise projects so they could keep track of the diversity of their output. I added interactivity and motion to create a really modern website.
In terms of getting the word out, the new Unearthodox website uses Google Analytics 4, and pulls the statistics directly into the site, so no need to go to the rather complex looking Google control panel to see what visitors are clicking on, it's all there to see in the website dashboard. This is really helpful see whats popular and help your content strategy.
I'm biased as a website designer, but a website will give you a level of control that social media can't. With your website sitting on your own bit of internet 'land', you can do whatever you want with it and choose how you present yourself to audiences and search engines.
Why not just use social media?
Sure, social media is easy to use and services are often free, but you'll never own the content you post. Social media can change how they function too (I'm looking at you twitter) which can have a knock-on effect of how you're seen. The key difference is SEARCH. On social media, you're just one of the thousands of companies being catered for, so how you appear in searches can be limited.
Is WordPress any good?
In my opinion, it's the best tool out there. Certainly, this 250+ page website would be impractical with other off-the-shelf website builders. Of course, not every website starts at 250 pages, and WP's scalability is one of its great assets. Need a 10-page website? WordPress will do it, and will still be there in 5 years as you grow to 50 or 100 pages (the area where other builders become more cumbersome).
I still see WordPress websites that are mishandled, and I think that's just WP becoming a victim of it's own popularity. WordPress is open source. That's great for progression and innovation, but means it can fall prey to intrusive plugins and page builders. Getting a skilled WordPress developer is key to a good WordPress website.