Tag Archives | illustration

Cyberpunk Cairo

I had the good fortune to do a lot of traveling during the past three years. A favourite destination is Cairo. By some weird twist of fate I’ve been to Cairo five times. My last visit there had to be cut short due to the Corona virus outbreak. For a while now I’ve been thinking about capturing my experiences in these amazing cities in illustrations and story ideas.

Matthew Kalil’s The Three Wells of Screenwriting provides a great framework for grappling with writing (and creativity) even if you are not a screenwriter. In the book he describes three distinct sources or ‘wells’ that you can access when facing a blank page to create story ideas. The Three Wells are: The External Sources Well, The Imagination Well, and The Memory Well. For a start I’m exploring The Memory Well and The External Sources Well, combining memories of Cairo with Cyberpunk imagery. A great way to open up and explore a new world. I’m sharing some of the early results here.

Concept cover. English translation: Black Fringe and the Cyberpunk Girl from Cairo.

Concept character. Cyberpunk Anubis.

Getting to grips with The Three Wells.

Winter Wonders 2016 Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

At Winter Wonders on 30 June I read from my books Mister King’s Incredible Journey and Mister Sengi’s Very Big Friend. It was a combination of a book reading and a drawing workshop.

Running workshops with adults can be hard, especially if you give them paper and ask them to draw something. Running workshops with kids can be even harder if the group has a spread of age groups. Four year olds are very different to six year olds. Older children can seem sceptical and disinterested, but at the same time come up with sharp questions and observations.

But when you give them pencils and paper it usually evens out – creativity is a leveller if you are as comfortable with it as kids are. Putting pencils and paper in front of adults is another story.

I ran a design thinking workshop with adults recently where they ignored the pencils and paper. Drawing is a form of thinking that is equally as powerful as writing and talking, for some people even more so. I’d encourage more people to pick up pencils and to start drawing!

Thinking with your hands

Mister King’s Incredible Journey – Activity Book

Those with young children get up early. It is most painful on weekends, especially if you live in climes where winter lasts six months or more.

What follows is a number of realisations and strategies devised at 6 am.

The same things are going to be repeated many times

Blackboard paint is amazing. It is tough and can take almost anything thrown at it: wet, dry, sharp, blunt or unreasonably heavy. Invest in an inexpensive piece of plywood, or hardboard, and paint it black.

Sketch whatever comes into your head

The results of random sketching make great conversation topics. It is an effective way to develop vocabulary and understanding. It is thinking in action. It is similar to the conversations I have with colleagues in my work as a designer. But even these conversations are not as free flowing as perhaps they should be.

This started me thinking about the sketching process, deconstructing line making and realising (again) that letters and numbers are nothing but lines, and that a sketch is nothing but a combination of different line types.

Draw short lines

Draw lines that follow a clown riding a unicycle

With a child you experience the stripped down mechanics of creative thinking. They have no past experiences to craft clichéd responses out of. ‘Child’s play’ made me realise how conditioned I’ve become as an adult and not realising it.

Penguin Beach

Scanning complex images

Make things you don’t mind throwing in the recycling bin

In addition to sketching, I started making objects from cardboard; a plane, a boat, a robot … on to paper toys. Toys are great, but the associated packaging waste is not. Some of the packaging I’ll keep as raw material for making. I find it easier on the conscience to throw packaging away once I’ve given it a second life.

King Penguin Paper Toys

Making paper toys

I like paper toys because making them is pure prototyping – thinking with your hands. And I know it is valuable to spend time doing this. I had forgotten the value of playfulness, experimentation and serendipity. Being a parent took me back to that place.

King Penguin Paper Toy

Paper toy template

“What happens if a car drives over a puffer fish,” a perfectly reasonable thing to ponder at 6 am.

On screen or on paper?

I’m interested to know whether performing similar actions on a screen and on paper involve the same areas of the brain. My uneducated guess would be that, to a degree, different areas of the brain are involved – mastering something on a computer is just that, a computer skill.

But maybe computer skills are what we now need. In a future where computers make most things for us, why bother making things with our hands. I’d argue that transferring repetitive making to computers liberates time for better thinking and planning. Thinking with our hands then becomes a most valuable skill.

These ideas started me on the road to creating activity books and revisiting the basics.

Mister King’s Incredible Journey

Mister King's Incredible Journey

I’ve been asked more than once whether the events in the book, when Mister King arrives on the beach and thereafter, really happened. The story combines elements of experience, fact and fiction.

My grandfather passed away in 2009, he was the last remaining link I had to Cape St Francis, a small village on South Africa’s east coast. A flood of memories followed, the most vivid being of my grandmother and her love for the sea.

She told me that, early one morning, she came upon an albatross sitting on the beach, it wasn’t afraid of her, she recalled that it had the most beautiful eyes. The phone would then start ringing at the Port Elizabeth aquarium and she passed the information on. She believed such events were significant.

Cape St Francis lighthouse

The lighthouse at Cape St Francis.

As a child our family spent summer holidays at Cape St Francis. The lighthouse fascinated me and I’d roam about the rocks at its foot for hours. Cape St Francis is renowned for rough seas and storms regularly carry debris from boats and the deep onto the rocks, including exhausted penguins clinging on to life. Frequent visitors were African Penguins from Cape Town, but one day I came upon a tall penguin with distinctive orange markings at the side of its head.

I told my grandmother about this and she in turn spoke to the other locals, a number of theories developed in an attempt to explain how the stranger arrived at the lighthouse. The one I liked best ran like this: fishermen capture penguins on remote islands and take them onto their boats, and when they grow tired of them the penguins are thrown overboard (that is if they don’t end up as lunch).

Penguin sanctuary

The Penguin Sanctuary at Cape St Francis in 2007. A King Penguin (far left) standing in the shade with his back towards a fan.

On my last visit to Cape St Francis in 2007 I walked out to the lighthouse where a penguin sanctuary had recently been built. In the shadows, at the side of the pool, a lone King Penguin stood motionless under a fan to keep cool. My grandmother had already passed away at that time which is probably the reason why the memories surfaced with such poignancy years later when I was living in London.

King Penguins are still arriving at Cape St Francis, the story continues …

Blue Sky