this northern boy

Have pen, will doodle

Of secrets beneath the waves

More imaginary places. I’ve blogged before about how I love to draw make-believe places, and in the last few days I’ve been doing more…

The Copse

The Copse

The Island

The Island

The City

The City

I’d like to visit all of these places. I’d like to know their inhabitants, their histories, their futures… I want to know why that rock floats with its little stand of trees. I want to know about those tentacles beneath the island – I want to know if the people who live there know about them. I want to know about that city, who rules it, who that great wall keeps out…

Maybe I’ll write the stories of these imagined places one day.

If you want to see more of my drawings, and some work-in-progress pics, have a look at my Instagram page.

The Lighthouse in the Sky…

Finally finished and coloured an illustration that I started a few weeks ago. Vaguely inspired by the work of John Evelyn, Conrado Almada and Hayao Miyazaki, it’s one of those illustrations, that as I draw, takes on a little life of its own. I can’t help but wonder who lives there, what the lighthouse is for, what kind of ships need warning of rocks in the sky…?

I think there’s definitely a story to be told here. By somebody.


The Lighthouse in the Sky

The Lighthouse in the Sky


Inspired by the lighthouse, I thought I’d add some more…

Village in the Clouds

Village in the Clouds

New projects…

Well, the Droids are done – although I will be updating my Tumblr blog over the next few weeks as I reblog and rework some of my favourite robots – so it’s time for something new.

Today I wrote my first post over at Asteroid Belt Blues, my new Tumblr. I’ll be posting illustrations, sketches and some writing here, expanding on some of the spaceship and science fiction drawings I’ve been doing alongside my droids. I want to create a believable world, a near future where the asteroid belt and outer planets are the new frontier.

I also have another project I’m beginning, not an illustrative one, so I won’t really be posting updates. Today I’ve begun a children’s story, which will hopefully become a book. I’ve had some ideas swirling around my head for a while, so I thought it was time I did something about it. I’m giving myself a year to write and illustrate it, and to submit it to publishers. I have no idea if that’s a realistic time frame, but I’ll give it a go.

Should be fun.


One of the recurring themes of my droids has to be tentacles. I don’t know why but I do love drawing a nice set of tentacles (no sniggering at the back). I quite like drawing octopus and squid too, so it’s not just droids.

There’s definitely a weird hybrid of jellyfish and octopus going on in most of these, with hints of The Matrix and The Empire Strikes Back.


The home straight…

I’m 355 days into my Droid A Day project. Further than, at times, I thought I’d ever get. Close enough to the finish that I’m thinking constantly about what I do when it’s over. Definitely not another daily drawing project that’s for sure (not straight away).

With just a few more droids to go I thought I’d post some of my recent favourite. Warning: there may be colour.

The Mechs of Mars

Sometimes, when I post my droid pictures on my Tumblr blog, I write a little accompanying text. Sometimes this is just a quick one line description of the droid, or how I’ve drawn it, but sometimes I write a description that hints at a future history of these droids.

Air Defence Drone

Air Defence Drone

Air Defence Drone.
Designed and built in ‘74 by Kinetic Energy Systems Inc., the A.D.D. first saw use in the defence of the Olbers way station on Ceres. Shipping with both an Atlas-class Railgun and a Sigma-rated Plasma Cannon, the A.D.D. is a very capable weapon. With an onboard A.I. of .08 Human Analog, the drones can be deployed and then forgotten on the battlefield as they calculate the best way to achieve their orders. Currently the onboard A.I.s have recorded only one psychotic failure [see History of Belt-Mars Conflict: Vol VI: Ch 8.1 Brodsky].


Heavy Compliance Unit.
Built by Hurricane Industries for Law Enforcement, Riot Control, Crowd Suppression and Compliance. Strong and agile, with a high category A.I., the H.C.U. is equipped with both lethal and non-lethal tactical weapons, including: Low Velocity Kinetics, Tasers, Sonic Cannon, Microwave Lasers and standard MKIV mobile Rail Gun.


Martian Eddie.
Eddie was built as a general purpose droid in late ‘78 and was shipped to Mars that same year to work for the Terraforming Committee. After 8 years of hard work, Eddie was sold to the owner of an algae farm in the new northern ocean. The algae farmer didn’t see robot rights as important and didn’t treat Eddie with much care or attention. In early ‘90 tax officials visiting the farm found no trace of its original owner, discovering Eddie in charge of operations. The ensuing legal case saw Eddie evicted and from that point on his antipathy to human kind was fixed. During the next decade Eddie could be found at most of the major flare-ups between humans and robots. The last anyone saw of Eddie was during the Tharsis Rebellion of ‘08 where he was seen at the heart of the robot offensive, brandishing his favoured plasma cannon as the Phobos Space Elevator came crashing down.
Rumours of Eddie’s survival have persisted, even though it’s now nearly 30 years seen he was seen. These rumours have been strenuously denied by the Human government of Mars.

I love the vague, hinted at history of far future conflicts hinted at in these descriptions. I don’t think I’ll ever write all the connecting information, better to allow people to fill in the gaps themselves. I do have a rough framework of a timeline in my head, although I’m scared to write it down in case it ties me down to a particular set of events.

I like to draw the droid, and then just see what suggests itself. That way I can be surprised too.

Mountains, moors and make-believe

There is something magical about creating a place or a world that previously only existed inside your own head. It’s impossible to draw (at least it is for me) an imaginary landscape without wondering about the people who inhabit it, or the history of it, or the flora and fauna that fill it.

Some of my landscapes are very much rooted in the real world, the lake district is never far from the tip of my pen, while some have only the loosest foundations here on earth.

Only one of my landscapes exists as is, Slater’s Bridge in Little Langdale in the Lake District. I really must get back there with a sketchbook. It’s an amazingly beautiful place.

Slater's Bridge

Slater’s Bridge

People are very rare in my drawings, partly because I’m pretty terrible at drawing them, but partly because I want to be the person in the picture. I don’t want to share these places with anyone else. Extreme escapism for me would be stepping into one of my illustrations and exploring what’s beyond the edge of the page.

The Inspirational Art of Ian McQue

I don’t often write blog posts about the work that inspires me, I may occasionally mention an artist, book or film, but rarely more than that. Ian McQue‘s work deserves a post all of its own.

I’ve been drawing again, after that inexplicable 20 year hiatus, for about 18 months now, and my Droid a Day project is now into its eighth month. Throughout all of that time I can safely say that Ian’s work has been the art I keep coming back to.

Ian is a concept designer by trade, working at Rockstar North – home of Grand Theft Auto, but it’s the work he does in his spare time that really gets my attention.

Ian has crafted a world, or worlds of stunning detail and variety, populated by flying ships, floating dockyards, weary looking soldiers and by ramshackle robots. I’ve no idea if all these creations have a place in a single narrative that Ian has conjured up, if they do, he’s keeping that close to his chest, or if they just exist alone. Regardless, they are stunning illustrations, beautifully drawn, intricately detailed, and despite their obvious fantasy or science fiction foundations, they all seem utterly believable.

Have a look at some of Ian’s work below, look at the worker in ‘Lunch Break’, could just be a guy working in a Glasgow ship yard. Look at the tangled mess of cables and rigs on ‘Jetty 15, Port Royal Docks’. Look at the battered heavy machinery of ‘Workhorse’. All utterly fantastic, but completely believable.

I know I’m not alone in wanting to know more about this world of Ian McQue’s, and if you’re reading this Ian – a graphic novel please, or a series of them!

I said at the beginning of this post how Ian’s work inspires me, and I’m sure if you check back through previous posts you’ll find echoes of his creations there, and I’m sure some of the robots at A Droid A Day owe more than a little something to his work.

Huge thanks to Ian for letting me feature some of his work here. If you’d like to see more then follow Ian on Twitter, and check out his site. If you’d like to have a little piece of McQueWorld in your life, I can definitely recommend his sketchbook ‘Robots, Space Dudes, Flying Ships etc.’ – it’s absolutely chock full of fantastic drawings.

Jetty 15

Jetty 15

Lunch Break



All work featured here copyright Ian McQue.

Of Steel and Bone…

One of the many responses I had to my blog post A Crisis of Confidence was a very thoughtful one from Daniel Benneworth-Gray. One of Daniel’s many insightful points was that one way of getting over my frustration would be to invite people to tweet a micro-story for me to illustrate.

Obviously, the first person I asked was Daniel, and he didn’t disappoint…

Daniel's micro-story.

Daniel’s micro-story.

Working to someone else’s idea was liberating, and challenging. Luckily for me Mr Benneworth-Gray’s words are always damn fine and well considered, which made my job of illustrating so much easier.

As soon as I read the tweet I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do. I had the idea of a normal family staring up at a huge giant robot, that was, in turn, staring right back at them. There was a definite ‘The Iron Man’ thing going on here (the book, not the film or the superhero).

The result of Daniel's micro-story

The result of Daniel’s micro-story

The point Daniel made, about the fact that I hadn’t been illustrating – just drawing, was right. Interpreting somebody else’s words and ideas is a completely different challenge to just opening a sketchbook and making something up. It’s easier in some ways, and much harder in others. It is very worthwhile, and even if I don’t take this approach with all my future robots (110 to go), I’ll definitely give it a go from time to time, especially if I’m in a rut.

Huge thanks to Daniel for the idea, advice and encouragement. If you aren’t already following him on Twitter, or Instagram, I suggest you rectify that immediately. His blog is always a joy to read too.

The Tin Woodman…

Or the Tin Man according to the film. In the books, the Tin Woodman was originally a human called Nick Chopper. He was turned to tin by the Wicked Witch of the East to stop him from marrying his true love.

This is my take on the character from the 1939 film, I wanted to keep the face the same as Jack Haley’s, but give the rest a bit of a twist.

The Tin Woodman

The Tin Woodman


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