this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Inktober so far…

Here’s a peek at the first three days of my Inktober challenge. I’ll probably post an update in a week or so. Even just a few days in I think the practice is making a difference. The brush pen is pretty tough to control, so it really does pay to use it a lot.

If you don’t know what Inktober is, have a look at my last blog post.

1. The Inkblot.

1. The Inkblot.

2. Space Dog.

2. Space Dog.

3. The Island

3. The Island




Throughout October I’ll be participating in the InkTober drawing challenge created by Jake Parker.
The aim is to do one ink drawing a day for the whole month. I’ll be trying to complete all my drawings using my Pentel Pocket Brush, a tool I love but I’m pretty rubbish at using

If you’d like to participate head over to and check out the rules.

Have a look at Jake’s video below to get inspired and find out a little more about Inktober. You should really check out all of Jake’s videos – fantastic stuff from an amazingly talented artist.

Relics of the Race for Space.

Yesterday I had a little free time so I travelled into Kensington in west London to visit the Science Museum. Until March next year they have a fantastic exhibition on display – Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age. In the words of the Science Museum –

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age will reveal the most significant collection of Russian spacecraft and artefacts ever to be shown in the UK, including:

  • Vostok 6: the capsule flown by Valentina Tereshkova, the first ever woman in space
  • Voskhod 1: the capsule used on the first mission to carry more than one crew member
  • LK-3 Lunar Lander: a single cosmonaut craft built to compete with Apollo
  • a collection of gadgets that cosmonauts – and pioneering space dogs – need to live in space, including a shower, toilet, medical instruments and survival kits for crash landings. 

Explore the historical, cultural and spiritual context of Russian space travel, shaped especially by the turbulent early decades of the twentieth century. See poignant testimonies and memorabilia belonging to some of the biggest names in spaceflight and discover the deeply personal stories of the pioneers who kick-started the space age.

It’s a marvellous exhibition, my only gripe being that photography isn’t allowed (oops). The chance to see real spacecraft, that have journeyed to, and from, space is a real thrill. Looking at Valentina Tereshkova’s Vostok 6 capsule sent shivers down my spine, it’s a tiny, primitive spacecraft, and looks so battered and scorched from its re-entry. I think my favourite exhibit was the unused LK-3 Lunar Lander, the Soviet counterpart to the Apollo program. It’s a beautiful, intricate, beast of a machine, like a huge steel cyclops. 13 days before the launch of Apollo 11, the N1 Rocket (designed to carry the LK-3 and Cosmonauts to the moon) suffered a catastrophic failure, destroying both the rocket, and the launch facilities. The program never recovered and was finally cancelled in 1974. It’s a shame the LK-3 never made it to the moon, it’s what it was born to do.

I did manage to sneak a few pictures, and I grabbed a few souvenirs from the shop. I think my drawings might take on a distinctly Soviet and utilitarian appearance for a while now.

Off colour

Recently I’ve found myself in a bit of a creative rut. I’ve been short of ideas and lacking the energy to get stuff done. It happens, and it passes, but when you’re in the middle of it, it can be such a pain.

Sometimes, all it takes to get out of a creative block is to change things up a little. So this week, struggling for inspiration I picked up some really cheap coloured pencils (£1.99 at the supermarket) and started scribbling.

Almost immediately the change of medium had a really positive effect. I’ve no idea why, but my sketching seemed looser, easier, and just flowed that bit better. Has anyone else had a similar experience?

Below are a few of the drawings that came out of this – I’m really happy with the feel of these, using something other than my usual pens certainly changed the results.

After getting some decent results with my super cheap pencils, I’ve now ordered some nicer ones – Faber Castell Polychromos. Looking forward to trying them out.

New Commissions

I’m now happy to accept a new round of illustration commissions. Over the past few months I’ve completed over 40 commissions, so if you’d like some original, affordable art to hang on your wall, here’s how it works…


If you would like to buy an original drawing, email me at rob [at] thisnorthernboy [dot] co [dot] uk , you can request one of the following:

A robot
A Spaceship
An imagined place

If there’s something in particular you’d like, that isn’t one of the above, just let me know – it might be something I’d be interested in drawing for you.

What you’ll receive will be a black and white pen drawing, on an A4 sheet of good quality, 200gsm cartridge paper. The artwork will be approximately 240mm x 160mm in size, centred on the paper so you can frame it easily if you’d like to.

You can also request for the illustration to be landscape or portrait in orientation.

Any other requests – type of landscape, style of robot etc. can be made, but there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to take this into account. I know this sounds a little strict, but I only want to accept commissions that I’ll enjoy drawing right now, and in return you get a lovely surprise when you open your finished illustration.

What will this cost?

I charge a flat rate of £60 including post and packaging for the UK, and £60 + post and packaging for the rest of the world.

When you email me to request a commission, if you can include the address you’d like it shipped to, I’ll work out the cost of postage and let you know. If you’re happy with the overall cost I can accept payment by PayPal.

When will you get your drawing?

I’ll aim to complete and post all illustrations within two weeks of receiving payment.

What might your commission look like?

Well, it could look a little like these…

Two years today…

Two years ago today, I posted my first robot drawing and started my Droid A Day project. The beginning of this year-long mission also marks the moment I made a conscious effort to get back in to drawing seriously after a gap of nearly twenty years. I’d started blogging here on WordPress a few months earlier, but my goal to draw and post regularly had fallen by the wayside pretty quickly. The Droid project, and the fact that I posted about beginning it on Facebook and Twitter, gave me a more tangible and focussed reason to draw. Very quickly after starting my daily robots and droids, I realised that even if I got bored, or tired, there was no way I would be able to give up – I didn’t want to fail, and even more I didn’t want to be seen to fail. Sometimes, telling everyone you are going to do something is the best way to make sure you do it.

My first robot of the project was a pretty basic affair, drawn in just a few minutes. As the days, weeks, and months passed by, my drawings got more detailed and involved (when time allowed), and I definitely upped my skill levels.

Since the project finished I’ve still managed to draw almost everyday, although I haven’t drawn too many robots, and my drawing is still progressing. One of my aims for the project, or at least what I wanted to get out of it was to get in to the habit of drawing daily, because if I want to be a professional illustrator I have to be able to draw when the projects demand, not just when I feel like it. While I can’t say I can draw brilliantly every time I pick up a pen or pencil, I’m definitely getting to the point where I can usually produce something that’s half-way decent, and I’m learning how to get around those artistic blocks and days when you aren’t at your best. I’m still very much a work in progress, and I suppose that’s how it should be – always learning, never satisfied with where I’m at.

Am I an illustrator now? I don’t necessarily feel like one, but I have completed the illustrations for a children’s book (out in late September), and completed some illustration commissions. If one measure of being an illustrator is “are you earning money from it?” then yes I am most definitely an illustrator.

Two years ago, as I drew that silly little robot with a laser gun, I’d never have thought I’d be at this point by now. I’m making progress. Maybe not as quickly as I’d like, but I’m making progress.

Robot with laser gun - the first of 365 robots.

Robot with laser gun – the first of 365 robots.

Robot 365 - The final droid of my year-long project.

Robot 365 – The final droid of my year-long project.

Steampunk Spaceship

My most recent commission was for a spaceship, with some steampunk influences. I wanted to keep it very much like one of my spaceships though, so it’s kind of an amalgam of my asteroid belt clippers, and some weird alt-history Victorian airship.

I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out, it was one of those rare illustrations that just flows nicely all the way from initial doodles right through to the final ink.

Finished Steampunk Spaceship.

Finished Steampunk Spaceship.

Work in progress.

Work in progress.

Initial sketch.

Initial sketch.

Imagined Places

I’ve drawn a fair few cityscapes and imaginary places over the last few months, some of them purely personal, some have been commissions, some have been posted here before, some haven’t, so here they are collected in one place.

The first, City on the Edge of Nowhere, is one of my favourites.

City on the edge of nowhere.

City on the edge of nowhere.

Sporty Spaceship

A little one-man speedster, based on 1930s aerobatic planes. Had to have a nice bright orange paint-job obviously.

Sporty Flyer

Sporty Flyer


I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut, and even now at 42 years old, I haven’t quite given up hope, so when Jeremy Marshall commissioned an illustration and said “… is there any chance of an astronaut featuring?” I jumped at the chance.

The astronaut.

The astronaut.




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