Ink and style

I lucky enough to stumble across an original ink drawing in an antique shop recently. The image was in a tatty old frame with no artist listed on the work(image below). On closer inspection, I could just make out the faint remains of the pencil sketch work in places and see the ink nib marks, it had all of the hall marks of an image in the created around the same time and a using similar techniques to that of Sir John Tenniel (19820 – 1914).

So $50 and some research later, I found out the artist was Frank Reyonlds, (1876 – 1953) and the etching created from this drawing appeared in the January 1920 edition of Punch magazine.

Reynolds Frank Slightly Deaf FootmanThe slightly deaf footman (Reynolds, 1920)


I love this style of illustration and the work of Reynolds more famous contemporaries, such as E.H. Shepard (1879 – 1976)

Shepard drawn from life

Drawn from life (Shepard, 1962)

And Sir John Tenniel (1820 – 1914)

Screen Shot 2019-04-30 at 10.18.06 am

John Tenniel  – self-portrait.

The discovery of Reynolds illustration reminded me of a number of images that I have created using a similar style of line work in recent years. Inspired I set about creating a range of new images both for the pure pleasure of using such a rich illustration style and also to understand the style more deeply.

Here are some of the results;


Legends concept sample 1Miffy the Samurai (ink, watercolour and pencil on paper), 2019

Legends concept sample 5Shinobi Pug (ink, watercolour and pencil on paper), 2019


Legends concept sample 4bCooking with an octopus (ink, watercolour and pencil on paper), 2019

Just in case your interested and have managed to read this far, here is the print version (as appeared in Punch, Jan 1920) of the illustration that I purchased.


See if you can spot the differences between the original drawing and the finished work.


Reynolds, F. (1920). Slightly Deaf Footman (pp. Ink drawing). London, UK: Punch magazine.

Shepard, E. H. (1962). Drawn from life. Michigan, USA: Dutton.

Sketchbook​ exercises

I thought that I might post some images from my current sketchbook. Some of these have been posted on Facebook in the past, but not as a collection with an explanation (albeit a rambling one). I have shown my sketchbook to a number of people, all of whom focus in on these images. This may be as they are a little different to my normal illustration style.

Alice sketch 1

After my recent travels where I was able to visit the Harvard University’s rare books and manuscript collection at Houghton Library (see my older posts from September), I have been exploring the styles of Edward Lear and John Tenniel. This has been done initially through examining the original sketches of both artists and reproducing their line work, enabling me to get a feel for how each of them approached their drawings.

Tenniel for instance, has a very structured approach to his images, describing the form and volume through the use of cross hatch that will be later translated into the final printed image. Tenniel is best known for his illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice rabbit 1 smf

These images were sketched in the Houghton Library’s reading room and the colour was watercolour washed in later emphasising the character’s silhouette.


Lear has two predominant styles, the first is the simplistic line work used in his books of nonsense poems, such as his most famous work “The Owl and the Pussycat”. The second style is more of a realistic study of natural history subjects, such as the bird that he painted for John Gould ( Lear was also a prolific landscape artist, but I left these works outside of my terms of reference for this exploration.



Once I had started to develop an appreciation for their approach to drawing I then produced some sketches as an exercise to apply these approaches to my own work. I decided to create studies of my cats (Miffy and Cleopatra) and puppy (Freya). My beautiful German Shepherd (Thor) has so far missed out on this visual treatment.


Cleo smf

My first look at Cleopatra was done with my Edward Lear illustrators hat on looking at both his realistic and simplistic nonsense style, including a version of his ‘Phos’ drawing, which is an illustration of his own cat. Lear was such an avid cat lover and it is said that when Lear had a house built late in lif he had the floor plan exactly replicated from his last home as his cat ‘Phos’ was old and blind and he didn’t want his cat to feel lost.

Cleo smfA

While my attempts at realism are a mere shallow version of anything done by Lear himself, I am just happy about working through the basics of the process for the purpose of the exercise.

Freya smf

My next study looks at my young puppy Freya (a Belgium Shepherd) who was 9 weeks old at the time of the drawings. These were done primarily with my Tenniel hat on. Looking at how Tenniel’s drawings of the White rabbit could be adapted for Freya, I then looked at some of Lears drawing styles before finally drawing a sketch of my own character in my normal style (image on the far right).

Miffy 1 smf

Next, I have tried to capture the picture book looks of my Myfanwy (aka Miffy). Most people think this threating looking cat is a work of pure imagination. She is not,  she actually looks like this, and this is normal, even when she is purring. Miffy is a Britsh Shorthair. Interestingly enough, the rumoured cat breed that Tenniel based his Cheshire Cat on.

Lumograph Black sample 2

If you have read some of my older posts you will have seen some of my early illustrations of Miffy as a potenial book character.

Freya 3 smf

The next image, above, is a Cleopatra again. In this image, I am just looking at Lear’s approach to realism, overlaid with Tenniel’s cross-hatching to describe volume. Note the ink work around the eyes and nose.

Cleo 2 small

Above is another Cleopatra experiment. For anyone who is interested in mediums, these drawings are done with colour pencils, watercolour and ink. For pencils, I generally use a combination of Staedtler* Ergosoft and Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils. For watercolours I love AS, Art Spectrum watercolour tubes ( ), their  Australian Grey is the mid-perfect skin colour. I also use Windsor Newtons, both tube and block stock. And for ink, while I will occasionally bust out the old school nib and ink bottle, I generally use Staedtler pigment liners.   (*Staedtler generously provide me with a large range of drawing pencils and pens)

Freya 2 small

This Freya image (she is now almost 12 weeks old) is more of natural history study to examine her markings and fur patterns (fur directions). The right-hand page is then an experiment with a simple illustration style, more like my normal style of drawing.

This does raise the question Why would I do this? Well as an illustrator I am always trying to improve my skills and look at things though other people’s eyes. It also lets me refine my own style. By doing these exercises and allowing myself to be influenced by them I can see small changes to my own style that I like.

Freya character sketches smf

The final set drawings above are of Freya in my normal illustration style. While they do not resemble either the work of Tenniel or Lear I can see the influence of Tenniel in the shape and movement of her ears and the silhouette of her nose. I can see the simplicity of Lear’s lines in her outline, yet it feels as natural as my normal illustration work. This is probably due to the fact that while I am influenced by other illustrators, I am not a slave to replicating their work. Quite the opposite, after the initial study exercises, I don’t even think about technique when I draw. Rather, with the germ of an idea to draw Freya in my mind, I just let the pen find its own path across the paper. Through this dance between pen and paper, the marks left behind become Freya.


I should point out that while Tenniel and Lear were the main subjects that I focused on for these experiments, throughout the past few months I have also looked closely at the works of Arthur Rackham, Phil May, Charles Gir, the Aardman studios (exhibition at ACMI in Melbourne) and Dr Seuss.

Ready to fly

I’m making final preparations for my trip to America on Wednesday. I am heading to the International Visual Literacy Conference which is being held at the Leslie University in Cambridge Massachusetts.  At the conference, I will be presenting a paper on ‘Illustrating Visual Language Research” at 10 am on Sunday the 17th. In which I discuss some of the overlapping theories from the academic world on illustrative works and from the world of illustration practice.

Slide Vector 6 v2

While I am in Cambridge I plan to take advantage of some of Harvard university’s collections. I will be heading to the wonderfully named “Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology” to draw some of the Mayan artifacts from expeditions conducted in South America in the last 1800’s. I plan to include these in an upcoming book project.


I also hope to get access to some early sketches by John Tenniel. Harvard has some of his early drawings for his version of the character of Alice, from Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass”. I’m sure that these will great for future research work and may link back into my current Thesis on illustrative work practices and visual literacy.

Houghton Lib Alice image

And finally, if I get time I would love to catch a train to Salem one evening for a ‘Voodoo, Vampires and Ghost walking tour’. I’m sure that this tour would be illustratively inspirational in some way. It should also be heaps of fun as I haven’t done a Ghost tour in years, The last one I went on was at Port Arthur in Tasmania.


IVLA conference 2017

I have been lucky enough to have a paper accepted for the International Visual Literacy Association Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For those of us not from the States, that is right next to Boston and the home Harvard University and a number of other universities, I will be presenting at the Lesley University. The conference runs from the 14th to the 17th of September.


My paper on ‘Illustrating Visual Language Research’ comes from the research that I have been doing for my Ph.D. at the University of Canberra. I have been extremely lucky to have had a number of generous illustrators open their studios and their homes to me. Allowing me to invade and ask all sorts of questions about how they create their amazing images.

Blog image 1 announcment

I would like to thank Graeme Base, Rod Clement, Sarah Davis, Stephen Michael King, Freya Blackwood, Ann James, Gus Gordon and Matt Ottley. Who all gave so generously of their time and patience.


I would love to share more about the talk, but that would mean you no longer have an excuse to come and see me in Cambridge! I am sure that you will be able to follow some of the proceedings on social media in September.

Build your story night

I will be taking parting in an event organised by the ACT Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) on Tuesday evening, 5:30 pm to 9 pm, on the 20th of June. The event, “building your story” will be a great night if you’re interested in creating your own stories or just love children’s books. There will be a number of author talking about story structure and plot work.

SCBWI June2017 ACT

I will be presenting a talk on illustrating story plot elements. This will be one of the first events that I have done since completing some extensive research into illustration as part of my doctoral research. So I intend to skim some of the words of wisdom on the night, from such great illustrators as Stephen Michael King, Graeme Base, Ann James, Rod Clement, Freya Blackwood, just to name a few.

I hope to see you there.


For more SCWBI events visit their web page,


The Book Curator Interview

The attached article (below) is an interesting interview about one of my new books with Nick Falk, ‘How to stop an alien invasion using Shakespeare”.

Cover book 1 How toThis is the first in a series that Nick and I are working on. The next book in this series, “How to beat Genghis Khan in an arm wrestle” will be released in the next few weeks.

Cover Bk 2 How To

This interview is one of the first where I have been able to not only talk about my work as an illustrator but also include insights gained from my reading and research for my PhD at the University of Canberra.

If you’re interested in illustration and illustrative practices or theories of Visual Literacy, you will most likely enjoy this interview.

The Interview:

April 2016 Interview HowTo_TheBookCurator


tee shirt 4 portrait

Golden Ratios in illustration

When planning an illustration there are many composition theories that can be applied. One of my favourite is ‘the Golden Ratio’. Some times referred to a ‘Di Vinci’s Golden Section’ or ‘Golden Spiral’. That is Leonardo Di Vinci not the Mutant Ninja Turtle. “The Golden Proportion is considered as the most pleasing to human visual sensation and not limited to aesthetic beauty but also be found its existence in natural world through the body proportions of living beings, the growth patterns of many plants, insects and also in the model of enigmatic universe” (Akhtaruzzaman & Shafie 2011) BK2 p 66 and 67 Battle image web This image from book 2 of the Samurai vs Ninja series is based on a double ‘Golden Ratio’ spiral composition. Calculating the Golden Ration is very involved and there numerous complex mathematical models are available in print or online. But to keep it simple the ration roughly works out as 1:1.6. This works a grid of rectangles is formed based on the short length of the rectangle being multiplied by 1.6 to give the longer length. Golden Ratio grid 2 MAR2015 Once you had one grid calculated it is simp a mater of ceasing a series of rectangles that for a grid pattern. Golden Ratio grid 1 MAR2015 Each of the intersection or grid line form strong focal points in an illustration. A spiral can be plotted through the intersecting lines. BK2 p 66 and 67 Battle image web In this diagram you can see the spirals have been overlaid on the grids and I have rotated the 1st grid (and spiral) 180 degrees to create a complimentary balance from one page to the next. BK2 p 66 and 67 Battle image explained web The resulting focal point and elements of the illustration that imply the spiral as shown above. So why have I bother to use this technique in such detail? This image is printed in black and white on a small page. I wanted to give a scenes of chaos while maintaining easy readability. The section of battle on the left hand page is cluttered and the characters body become merged together. I have used the spiral to guide the readers eye into the image. On the right hand page I wanted the battle to focus on the fight between the 2 main characters (brothers) Buta-sama and Kingyo-sama. The centre of this spiral leads down to the clash of their weapons. As the spirals are arranged in this way. the eye of the reader is guided form one spiral to the other in an endless loop. For more in-depth reading on he subject I recommend looking at Akhtaruzzaman,Md & Shafie, A.A, 2011.Geometrical Substantiation of Phi, the Golden Ratio and the Baroque of Nature, Architecture, Design and Engineering, International Journal of the Arts, 1(1), p1-22

Research into Visual Literacy

I have recently began a PhD in design at the University of Canberra, looking at the role of visual literacy in emerging reader chapter books.

The purpose of my study will be to investigate visual literacy from the perspective of the creators of illustrated works. From my initial readings on the topic of visual literacy, it is normally tackled by educators and literature experts. While this is highly appropriate, a unique perspective on the subject can be gained by discussing visual literacy with the people who create it.

Books that are narrative driven by text and illustrations occupy a unique phase of in a student’s journey to literacy. The transition from first concept books to pictures books then onto illustrated chapter books can set a student onto a path of life long reading.  As a professional illustrator my work is primarily in the area of emerging reader chapter books for 8 to 12 year olds. I feel that this a very important stage in the reading journey and that through greater understanding we can support children both learn to read and develop a love of books and literature.

While I have access to limited research funds, I am alway looking for more opportunities. One of which is a ‘Big Ideas – pitch for funding’ run through the University. I will have 3 minutes to explain my research proposal and the reason it is relevant and deserves funding. Unlike most of my other presentations, where I can draw illustrations or show an avalanche of images. I am limited to a single image to support my concept. below is my book bridge image for the presentation.

Big Ideas Pitch image Tony Flowers 2015 smf

I am hoping that the pitch will be successful and I receive some extra funding to assist with my research expenses. It is my aim that this research will have a practical out come, giving teachers resources to draw upon for a more in depth understanding of an illustrators work practices and the visual narrative devices they construct. Enhancing their ability to utilise illustrated works in supporting a student’s development of visual and text based literacy skills.

Please feel free to contact me at if you are interested in my research area.

Tony Flowers