Category Archives: Blog

2018 – Lots of little experiments.

Looking back 2018 has been about loads of little experiments. Moving in new circles to learn, create opportunities, and push in new directions. This blog is a little bit of a humble-brag, but it’s worth reflecting on the ups and downs of the year past, to help plan the year ahead.

In early 2018 I was involved with Manchester’s Business Growth Hub ‘Spark 2 Scale’ programme – had lots of help with business plans for my workshop using stand up comedy skills for public speaking ‘Present Yourself‘ – based on the book from 2017. I was invited to run it as part of their special events, which in turn led to a few engagements at Manchester’s Google Digital Garage.

John Cooper at Google Digital Garage Manchester
John Cooper at Google Digital Garage Manchester

There’s been a lot more illustration this year than previous years. I finally got on Instagram. Inspired by the ‘Bee in the City‘ project I created a bee for the Manchester Fringe and that led to me being asked to design the mascot for the Fringe. During the fringe I also ran out an experimental show – ‘Confessions of a WordPress Fanatic‘, combining stand up, songs and website development just to ‘talk about what I know’ and see if it would work. Not great numbers in the audience, but very rewarding.

Some great project’s landed on my table including illustrating for a TV advert, re-designing and re-branding Wentworth Music Festival, and working with actor Arthur Bostrom on his new ‘Fronch Phrose Berk’ writing as Officer Crabtree, the character he played in ‘Allo ‘Allo. So much creative freedom with all these projects, too.

In August much fun was had performing at the Edinburgh fringe with ComedySportz, and before that I headed over to Dublin for the first Improv Utopia event, a long weekend of improv workshops with people from all over Europe and the USA.

Personal highlights this year including Running a couple of half marathons and walking up Snowdonia with the Manchester Road Runners crew. Hosting the Pint of Science festival and meeting inventive folk, then hosting a manic Doctor Who convention and finally meeting Peter Davison. There was some sad news closer to home, which makes me even more grateful for the amazing people I have as family and friends.

Inktober was a bit of a revelation. I’d never heard of it until it was already happening. Draw an inked image everyday for a month. Having done so much digital artwork I’d forgotten just how much I love the real thing. That and brush pens. The very fact I didn’t know they existed until this year baffled me and excited me in equal measure. Inktober opened more doors for me, just be doing it.

I’ve loved doing the ‘WordPress Fanatic’ show, as it was quite personal in place, and want to take it to Edinburgh in 2019. I also have a new comics illustration project that’s taking shape and am aware don’t have the time to do both. Right now the comic project is winning out as it something I have more control over. I love the Edinburgh fringe, and performing, but there are so many variable’s and I’ve not taken a solo show up since 2011. I’d like something more solid and tangible to show for 2019. And I’m allowed to change my mind on that.

As I plan out 2019 current thoughts are to double down on what works. Building the good projects for nice people and building new relationships in turn. Take risks and live life. Oh and and have a holiday, I’m so due a holiday.

  • Spark 2 Scale
  • Present Yourself at Google Digital Garage
  • Illustrating for TV with GroundBreak Productions
  • Great Manchester Run Half Marathon
  • Mascot Design for the Great Manchester Fringe Festival
  • Pint of Science Festival
  • Improv Utopia Ireland
  • Comedysportz and Joke Thieves at the Edninburgh Festival
  • VWORP! An independant Doctor Who convention
  • Good Moaning France With Arthur Bostrom
  • Inktober
  • Manchester Half Marathon
  • Liverpool improvathon 2018
  • Comedysportz Panto 2018
  • and all the other lovely comedy gigs I’ve done as Danny Pensive.

An illustration every day for Inktober

This October I took part in Inktober, drawing an inked picture every day for a month that I found out about via an illustrator friend Alex.  I hadn’t heard of it, googled it to the source and found a guy called Jake Parker who set up the challenge back in 2009. The aim is simply get more people drawing everyday for fun and creativity which. It’s a great idea, so got on board and did my first sketch on the 1st October.

I’m writing this post on 2nd November and looking at the picture I did thirty days ago, it’s terrible, really rushed and no line quality. Which is the point of course, to get habitually back into drawing and inking as a means to improve a little each day for fun. I don’t think I can be reminded too often how much I like drawing, and so I love the idea of inktober.

With all my commissioned illustration work, like the book I did for Arthur Bostrom which launched in the middle of the month, getting it right is by nature really time consuming. As an illustrator, stand-up comedian, teacher and all the other professional hats I wear, there’s only so much time in the day. So I allowed myself this month to really focus on inktober, and reminded myself how I love drawing without a deadline.

The whole point is just to drawing with whatever tools you have, you don’t need fancy pens or brushes, straight to ink if possible. There’s a great video by Jake Parker which talks about it being as much about drawing as filling your ‘ideas bank’, and he’s dead right,  because often half the battle when you don’t have a brief is deciding what to draw.

After the first few days I was quite literally drawing a blank, so took a time out to brainstorm a load of ideas. A favourite quote of mine  goes something along the lines of “the world doesn’t need big ideas, it needs lots of little experiments”, so I jotted down a load of quirky things that were funny, or something that happened that day, and filled out a list.

Some of my ideas were odd but the point was bit not to overthink it, just have an idea and draw it. My thinking was if it was a strong enough idea it would explain itself.

There was a prompt list a list for every day he has a word that you can be inspired by to draw something, but I didn’t used that. I think it’s important to have a lot of  ideas and not  get precious about them. I got as much reward from generating good ideas as the drawing.

Watching other peoples work online was great, and seeing my line quality, and pen strokes tighten and refine over the course of days was really rewarding. I’m about to commence a large illustration commission, and it’s great to feel already ‘match fit’ at the sketch stage, having come straight off #inktober.

Here are some highlights;