Becoming a better designer and illustrator with my side project The Dandy Dons



As an illustrator, graphic designer and web designer I use my side project The Dandy Dons’ website and Facebook page as an online sketch book.

On the page I develop styles, gain new skills, experiment, turn ideas around quickly, and test social media marketing practises. I then receive instant feedback and the opportunity to evaluate my work in a way that does not work for me with portfolio work.

This makes me a better designer and illustrator, which in turn helps me deliver better solutions for my clients. It also connects me to an online community where we share our passion for Aberdeen Football Club.

The website has vague aspirations of becoming a conceptual art project, but is ultimately just a blog about a football team. COYR as we say.




Re-launching my side project The Dandy Dons


Some people think football is a matter of life and death…

My side project the Dandy Dons got it’s website re-designed over the last couple of weeks.

Although living in Copenhagen I am from Aberdeen, and support the football team Aberdeen F.C who play in the Scottish Premiership in Scotland. The side project allows me the freedom to experiment and develop my design and illustration skills. The freedom of total control of the design process and the chance to learn about social media communication (the Facebook page has around 4000 likes) as well as an opportunity to bask in the love of my football club and home city.

A Facebook community to connect with

The immediacy of reaction from social media is stimulating, revealing, occasionally humbling. There is also the immediacy of being able to react to events, and a removal of the preciousness or over thinking or over working that can come about if developing or experimenting with work with a view to a portfolio piece.

The sense of total control of the website design for The Dandy Dons is important for me as with my other side projects and the forthcoming A weakness I have when dealing with clients is sometimes caring a little too much about the design of my client’s sites, and not allowing the client enough creative control. I can be a bit of a control freak, and I do not wish this to be the case. So the side projects, amongst other things, is a chance for me to play ‘design dictator’, without upsetting anyone….



McInnes and Sir Alex, with thanks to Michelangelo – free download

The Renaissance of Aberdeen F.C.


To be fair to McInnes it is pretty cold at the moment

Aberdeen F.Cs manager Derek McInnes is fingered by Sir Alex Ferguson. This bit of Photoshopping was done for at the beginning of season 2013 – 2014- Sir Alex Ferguson had just retired from Manchester United, and things were starting to go well with Derek McInnes at Aberdeen F.C. Eighteen months later and Aberdeen F.C are top of the league.

Some have said this image is a little bit homoerotic. I don’t see it myself…

Click the link below to download an A4 print ready PDF.
Download an A4 pdf here


Derek McInnes, Yes he can! Free download

Aberdeen F.C. manager Derek McInnes given the Obama treatment. Below the image is a free download for an A3 print ready PDF (297 mm x 420 mm). A chance to waste a lot of ink on your work photocopier, or take it to a printers. Not to be used or re-used for any financial gain. No you can’t. Unless your name is Derek McInnes or you are Aberdeen Football Club.

Vistaprint poster template

There is also a version for a 42.6 cm by 60.1 cm poster, that has been added on a Vistaprint template, so you could get it printed online. I have no affiliation with Vistaprint, and gain nothing from you using this. If you go to this link here you can see where to upload It should take you to their poster page. You then choose ‘Medium’ as the size, and then ‘Upload’. And it should work, costs about 10 quid. Enjoy.

Future updates on free artwork will appear here.

Derek McInness yes he can



Patronising advice for students – The art of selling for designers and illustrators


In another in my series “patronising advice for students” I explain what I know about selling. For some the art of selling is natural and easy, and for others the concept is a complete mystery. Here is what I know and how I came to learn it.

Avoid wannabe childrens’ book authors

A few years ago I met someone who was an aspiring childrens’ book author. Would I be interested in illustrating his book with a view to sending it to a publisher to try and get a deal.

I read the book, it seemed alright, so I went for it. After quite a few weeks of work he sent the book off, with my illustrations. Then I got on with other work, knowing well how hard the children’s book market is to get into.

Around a year later I met the aspiring author again. He told me what happened. He got a reply from the publishing house rejecting the book.

I was furious. As I told him, JK Rowling was turned down at least half a dozen times for Harry Potter. I asked him if he was sure anyone from the publishers had even read his manuscript. Was there anything specific in the reply that showed it was read. This was a concept beyond this person’s realm of thought.

Selling myself door to door – the cold sell

I was working in bars and hotels in London. Living-in gave a nice disposable income, and it was fun for a bit. Until I just couldn’t fill the ice bucket up any more or empty the glass machine. I had been doing the artwork on the blackboards for the various places I’d worked, and was aware a few others did it for a living. So to save me from ever having to pour another pint, I started up as a full time blackboard artist.

This would involve me going into pubs, asking if they were interested in having their blackboards painted… I had an A4 portfolio with examples of boards I’d done, and a business card to leave behind. As a shy person that was a living hell. The first day I did this, I was almost physically sick. It was a horrific experience. I probably did it two days in a row, and didn’t get any work. Two weeks went by then my ‘mobile phone like a house brick’ rang. First customer. Ten minutes later I got my second customer. I was off and running.

I did this job for about two years. What I came to learn was for every twenty pubs I went into, I always got a minimum of one new customer. On being ‘rejected’ by a pub I then saw this as positive. I was one closer to twenty, which would always get me a customer, and therefor I was positively motivated to keep trying more pubs or restaurants.

The big lesson – don’t sell

What I also learned was I wasn’t selling, or persuading people to use my skills. They needed their blackboards painting or they didn’t, end of. As the business became more successful, the pubs, restaurants and hotels came to me.

When I first arrived at a pub, the manager  would  ask where I wanted to work in the pub. This shy awkward young man wanted to be as far away as possible from the public. Even working in a refrigerated cellar on occasion, rather than be in the public gaze. One day I had to work on a large outside board that was fixed to a wall. Had to do it there on the street. While working I picked up about three new customers. From then on I worked in public, always! It became like a street art performance, and I would amuse myself counting the number of times people said ‘you spelt that wrong mate…’.

Don’t meet your heroes – or work for children or animals

I am from Aberdeen. I support Aberdeen Football Club. When I lived in the city I was a season ticket holder. I’d contributed cartoons to the AFC fanzine The Northern Light and the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper. But what I really wanted to do was work for the club.

So I got together some illustrations of the stadium, and the players. This is pre-digital. I worked for months on it. Sent it away. And waited.

I don’t think they even replied. Between other work, a couple of years later I tried again. Nothing. I think I tried one more time, and gave up.

A good few years later, my work now digital, a friend asked for one of the illustrations of a player to be turned into a birthday card for his 11 year old nephew. A career high! Reluctantly I did it. I also decided to print off another copy of the illustration, and send it to Aberdeen F.C.

I sent it in such a relaxed, disinterested way, when the club’s marketing manager phoned me up a couple of days later, and requested more like that, I genuinely couldn’t remember what I’d sent him… I went on to work for them for some time.

Learning from experience

Why had they rejected me previously? Why did they then decide to use my work? They accepted my work because my work landed on the correct person’s desk on the correct day. The times I was rejected, it didn’t.

So how do you get your work to land on the correct person’s desk, on the correct day? You send out a lot of work, regularly to increase the chances of this happening, and ignore any rejections. Exactly what the author in the first story did not do.

Selling as a freelance designer

When I go to a client’s for an initial meeting, I am not selling, I never sell. They will have got in touch with me as they are interested in my services. All I need to do is listen to their needs, explain the concept, explain how it could work, give any advice on any specifics they are interested in, irrespective of whether they have agreed to work with me or not. And most importantly of all, be honest. If I don’t know the answer to something, I tell them I don’t know, and also say if I can find out for them I will.

Generally all my client meetings have a positive result.


Press and Journal

Working as a cartoonist for the Press and Journal newspaper

Willie Miller Aberdeen F.C.

Cartoon for The Press and Journal. A wee hint of Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) in the brush work.

In the early nineties I worked for Aberdeen Journals’ Press and Journal newspaper as a layouter at their Lang Stracht headquarters in Aberdeen.

I was contributing cartoons to the Aberdeen f.c. fanzine The Northern Light at the same time. I eventually plucked up the courage to submit a couple of cartoons to The Press and Journal. It was a paper that sold 110,000 copies per day, six days a week back then. Covering the area from the Shetlands down to Dundee, and over to the Western Isles. The highest selling newspaper in the area, with an estimated readership of 220,000. The subs, the chief sub, the Assistant Editors, were nice but intimidating people – you wouldn’t want to mess with them.

Four hours after nervously offering two cartoons to the Chief Sub, I was holding a still warm from the presses copy of the P&J in my hand with one of my cartoons on the front page, and another on the all important back page (the football page).

The cartoons were topical and needed to fit in with that day’s news. A sharp learning curve in, coming up with material under pressure, drawing quickly, and accepting the random nature of what others considered funny (editors and sub-editors).

The Press and Journal doesn’t sell as many copies now as when my cartoons appeared. This may or may not be a coincidence.

Portfolio Items