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There’s no Place Like Home

Illustration of the word 'Home'.
My first mortgage was with Principality Building Society and my experiences of them were very positive. Their latest mortgage campaign encourages customers to share what home means to them. I was asked to illustrate what home means to me using a quote, song lyric or poem which is something that caught my imagination so I thought it would be a good opportunity to write a post about how I approached an illustration project.

There is a lengthy process that I go through with any illustration job. It would be nice if I could sit down for half an hour, do a doodle, email it to my client and then relax with a cup of tea but unfortunately it doesn’t really work like that. At least not for me!


The first step was to start researching. I had to find or write a poem or quote that could be used in the ad. There was no point in drawing anything until I’d fixed this so I had a think. I like to write but I didn’t want to inflict my poetry on the world just yet so I went searching for quotes and came across one that I really liked by American author Laura Ingalls Wilder. The quote read: “Home is the nicest word there is.” I liked it because it made me stop and think about how important our homes are to us and also how home can mean lots of different things to each of us.


I started to write notes about what home might mean. A place to relax, eat, sleep, spend time with our families, keep pets, be creative. All sorts of things to all sorts of people.


Having been a designer for a number of years I tend to think a lot about things before I do them. An idea will usually pop into my head at some point – usually when I’m doing something else. I thought about how it would look on the page. Home is a nice, short chunky word. Often in creativity you are trying to link up two different ideas that wouldn’t normally be put together. I liked the idea of making the letters of HOME into little houses with lots of things going on inside. I thought about doing this from head on perspective but quickly realised that it would work much better as an isometric drawing.


After completing a tiny thumbnail sketch I felt that the concept would work. I realised though that the scale would mean that the people would be tiny in the illustration. This was a problem because it’s hard for a viewer to relate to a character if they can’t see their expressions. The solution came in the form of little bubbles placed above the word HOME. These vignettes would allow us to ‘zoom’ in on the action in the little town below so that we could see the expressions and hopefully relate to the people.


A sketch of my initial idea.


The next step was to create a more detailed rough. I scanned in an isometric grid and created the main lettering. I could have done this on paper but as it was fairly technical I decided that my many mistakes would be more easily rectified on the computer!

Isometric drawing.

I drew the main lettering on an isometric grid.


Once that was done I printed it out and began to sketch over the top all the ideas. I need to work on paper at this stage as it’s much quicker and gives more freedom. I referred back to my notes for ideas and tried to draw a range of different people. The other thing I’m looking for is that the overall design has a strong layout. That a viewer’s eye can quickly make sense of the image and focus on the right parts. This is probably the most creative stage of the process. This is where all the content and ideas are added to the image and also where all the problems need to be worked out to avoid wasting time later.


Starting to make a more detailed rough.

It was important to seek client approval at this stage as there’s no point in going further if they aren’t happy with it. Fortunately they could see what I was aiming for and really loved it so I breathed a sigh of relief and carried on…

Line Art

Once I had the rough it was time to start creating the black line work. With a detailed illustration like this it can be very time consuming. Sometimes I do this on paper with ink but in this instance I opted to create the line art on computer using a graphics tablet and Adobe Illustrator.

Again I get approval from the client at this stage before moving on to the next.


I started to ‘ink’ the detail to create a clean line version.

Colour and Texture

The next stage is to take the line work and colour it. I use Photoshop for this which gives a lot of control and allows me to change my mind a thousand times. Palette is important and I try to pick a handful of colours for an image that work well together and fit the theme. You can find colour palettes all around – in magazines, shop windows, on the street etc. If I see some colours that work well together and really pop out then I take a picture and store it away in a reference file. Because this was about home I wanted to go with a warm colour palette.

Once I’m happy that the colour looks okay I start to add textures. These can be from photographs I’ve taken of peeling paint or from special brushes I’ve created in Photoshop. The main aim is to add interest to the image and prevent it looking too ‘computery.’ I love the control that a computer gives but if you let it have its way it can make images look flat and boring.

Dave Gray Illustration

Everyone lives happily ever after.

So when it’s all finished it’s time to step back and look at the end result. The whole process usually takes a few days and once it’s finished then I send it off to the client. Hopefully they love it and then, well then I can relax and have that cup of tea. Oh no wait, there’s that other deadline…








Undiscovered Voices 2014

It’s been a while and I should be giving more regular updates but it’s been a busy few months! I was fortunate enough to be one of the illustration winners of SCBWI’s (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Undiscovered Voices 2014. www.undiscoveredvoices.com A launchpad for new writers and illustrators.

It’s been fantastic with loads of help and advice from top illustrators to get my portfolio ready to show agents and publishers. Visit the website to find out more and to download the anthology for free with illustrated intro by the eminent Chris Riddell.

Illustration winners (from left) Olivia Palmer, Dave Gray, James Brown and Sarah Palmer with Chris Riddell (centre.)

Illustration winners (from left) Olivia Palmer, Dave Gray, James Brown and Sarah Palmer with Chris Riddell (centre.) 

Photo: Candy Gourlay www.candygourlay.com

SCBWI Picture Book Retreat

Lino printing at SCBWI Picture Book Retreat.

Lino printing at SCBWI Picture Book Retreat.

Just got back from a brilliant weekend at the first ever SCBWI Picture Book Retreat in Worcestershire. Had a great time learning from speakers like Helen Stephens and Gerry Turley as well as meeting editors, authors and brilliant illustrators. A great write up by the super talented Christine Pym here:


CITV Share a Story winners announced!

It was a great privilege to sit in on the CITV Share a Story shortlisting sessions last month. We whittled down 7000 entries to just 8 lucky winners who’s ideas will be turned into short animations for TV. Well done to them, and to the many other brilliant entries that didn’t quite make it.

Winners here:


Caught in the Crossfire.

Paper sculpture of Coventry city center.

Coventry by Matthew Picton.

Just saw the Caught in the Crossfire show at The Herbert in Coventry. It’s a really powerful exhibition of artistic responses to conflict, peace and reconciliation featuring work by a range of artists including Banksy and Jonathan Barnbrook. The standout pieces for me were the large-scale paper sculptures by Matthew Picton (pictured) highlighting the impact of war on Coventry and other cities.

Update: Matthew has a new ebook out featuring some fascinating examples of his work. Get it here: http://store.blurb.com/ebooks/paaaa7e571a41b3027e11

When all else fails, MacGyver it.

A picture of some homemade business cards.With several networking events lined up, looming deadlines and an inkjet printer that’s refusing to play ball (I may actually play football with it soon,) I was stuck with no business cards and no time to get any properly printed. However, in the spirit of everyone’s favourite 80s action hero… OK in the spirit of everyone’s 6th favourite 80s action hero, I decided to MacGyver some up. Scrabbling around the studio I found a bunch of Avery labels, a scalpel, a pile of old leaflets/brochures and the trusty Samsung ML-1670 laser printer. Queue musical montage in which I narrowly avoid slicing my fingertip off whilst trimming random bits of promo material down to size, take eight attempts to get the ML-1670 and Avery labels to see eye to eye and combine it all to create a low-fi, no-budget weapon of self promotion that would make the A-Team jealous. Now all I need is a mullet.

CITV Share a Story 2013

Excited to be involved in CITV’s Share a Story competition again this year. I’m currently designing an updated info pack for the competition and I’ll be helping to sift through the sack fulls of entries to find some real sparks of creativity. The best ideas from children across the country will be made into short animations to be aired on CITV during the coming year. Above is a great example from last year by top animators The Brothers Mcleod.

Update: I’m getting a few requests for more info about the competition. It’s for 5-12 year olds and the deadline is the 19th April. All the info is on this page:


Make sure you download the info pack as it will give you tips on what the judges are looking for.

You can also see the past winners at:


Good luck!

New Year, New Website.

Cartoon of face with stubble.

I had a website. It was held together with the digital equivalent of sticky tape and I was too busy changing my kids nappies/meeting deadlines to do anything about it. So, unusually for me I’m sticking to my New Year’s resolution and building a shiny new site. It’s unlikely that I’ll fulfil any of the other vague resolutions I’ve made about exercising more and shaving at least once a week but it’s a good start. I’ll be updating the portfolio section over the coming weeks so stay tuned.