How It Works


Yes, it’s all happening this month… Unlike other work that’s surfaced recently the cover art for issue 41 of How It Works magazine was completed less than a month ago. Headlines obscure much of the artwork but the picture is also run full-page inside, something I wasn’t expecting. How It Works has major newsstand distribution so people in the UK may see this on shelves in newsagents and supermarkets throughout December.

The theme is the Industrial Revolution but the brief was for something similar to a couple of my recent steampunk illustrations, with a request for a colour scheme like that used for the Bookman Histories cover. The main visual requirement was the train looming out of the picture. I thought this wouldn’t be a problem, I have the old Dover Publications’ Transportation book which features many copyright-free engravings of trains, in addition to other books and source material downloaded from the Internet Archive. One of these would be sure to have a decent front elevation of a steam locomotive, right? Wrong. When you start looking for pictures of locomotives you quickly find that 99% of them show the machines from the side or from an angle, as on the Bookman cover. I downloaded three entire books of over 500-pages each from the Internet Archive, fantastic volumes in themselves, especially Modern Locomotive Construction (1892) which contains meticulous descriptions of every last part of a steam locomotive, down to the smallest screw. But none of their drawings were usable.


Eventually, and with time ebbing away, I decided to abandon the search for an engraved depiction and create something from scratch using this engineering drawing as the starting point. The picture below is one of the intermediary drafts before the height of the engine was reduced and a lamp added. The cattle-catcher thing at the front—which book research had told me is called “a pilot”—also had its perspective adjusted. Train enthusiasts will complain that the end result doesn’t correspond to any engine ever built but that’s the way things go sometimes in illustration.



Previously on { feuilleton }
The Bookman Histories

3 thoughts on “How It Works”

  1. Well John, another stunning year of work and posts from you! I don’t even have the wherewithal to comment, I just click and read amazed – I don’t know how you have the time to maintain such a lucid and informative site and do all your other work – I barely have time to get out of bed before the day is over! – Thanks for all you create – this is just to let you know that you confirm my long held belief that all good things come from England (and somethimes France). The ‘How it Works’ project should make for a nice stocking stuffer! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…John (Your fan in Atlanta)

  2. Thanks, John. I was pleased to see the magazine in my local supermarket today, a rare occasion when something I do makes it into the mainstream!

    I won’t say the posts here aren’t too much work–sometimes I labour too much over the longer ones–but they’re not too difficult so long as you maintain a discipline. It helps that I spend much of the day sat in front of a computer so idle thoughts and searches can be easily pursued. I also have a couple of rules: try not to spend more than an hour a day on each post, and always think ahead to what you may want to write about next. I can’t help spreading the word about things I like; it’s a habit.

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