Four Mountain Challenge


Scafell, England’s highest mountain – photo by me

This year the wife and I decided to set ourselves a bit of a goal.

As most of our friends already know, we enjoy a bit of fell running – i.e. racing up and down hills and mountains. While it can be quite hard at times, it’s also a lot of fun and there is usually loads of cake at the end.

It’s also improved my geography no end. By visiting various wild places in the UK, it’s amazing how you get a feel for how each place differs; the feel of the ground, the rocks, and even the colours and smells of that particular landscape give it it’s own individual character.

Obviously, there are the well known landmarks of the UK – the highest peaks: Ben Nevis, Snowdon, Scafell, and the slightly lesser known Donard in Northern Ireland. They’re each quite amazing places in their own way and draw in thousands of visitors year round.

As you would expect, there are also officially organised mountain races for each peak, where a few hundred competitors of all ages race to the top and back down.

Since we got into this fell running lark, there’s always been an assumption between Rach and I that these were races we’d get round to ‘at some point’. No need to rush. That said… earlier in the year an idea took form and crystallised:

Let’s run them – each of them – this year.

And let’s do the Yorkshire Three Peaks as well.”

Why not? Sounds like a good adventure!


The Mourne Wall running over Slieve Donard – Photo by Philip Milne




Now for the charity bit. Oh god, not another one, I hear you groan. Just bear with me…

Some people are really good at publicising challenges and using them to leverage raising money for great causes. They can talk eloquently and effortlessly in a way that comes across as humble and inspiring rather than conceited and, at worse, patronising.

For me, honestly, I find that side of things tricky. While many of the races I’ve done help to raise money for the needs of the specific communities that host the race, I’ve never actually attempted to raise money for a specific charity. Not once.

I don’t run for charity, I run because I enjoy it. And because I enjoy it, it doesn’t quite seem like an appropriate thing to ask people to dig into their pockets for.

Most of my friends know, I do these daft races all the time. Rach and I are always off away in the hills. Why would I ask for money for something I do most weekends anyway – it would be like asking to be sponsored for going down the pub on a Friday night.

But, I’m a bit of a cynical, curmudgeonly man at times. I know this. And while I might not be able to raise money for chaaaridee with a straight face, I can at least try to do something positive; pass on something from my experiences to others which might ripple on to do some wider good.


Snowdon – photo by Jimmedia



Indulge me while I describe what we’ve done (are doing), and then I’ll finish off with something I hope people will feel like getting involved in.

Tomorrow Rachel and I are running the Scafell Pike fell race – Scafell Pike is up in the Lake District and it’s the highest mountain in England. It’s also the last of the four major UK peaks which we’ll have run.

That’s right, we’ve already done the others. No mucking about. Just to summarise:

  • Slieve Donard (2,785 ft) – Highest mountain in N.I. – Race took place in March.
  • Snowdon (3,560 ft) – Highest in Wales – Race was in July.
  • Ben Nevis (4,409 ft) – Highest in Scotland and whole of UK – Start of September.
  • Scafell Pike (3,209 ft) – Highest in England – race is 20/09/14 (tomorrow!)

Oh and the Yorkshire Three Peaks Race comprised:

  • Pen-y-ghent (2,277 ft), Whernside (2,415 ft), and Ingleborough (2,372 ft) – although the total climb over the 23 mile race route is 5276 ft. This was back in April.

I won’t bore you with the details of each race. They were amazing experiences but obviously still tough in their own ways. Especially Ben Nevis, where I managed to fall over about a mile from the finish line… All the rocks up there are sharp buggers. Along with bruised ribs, I really gave my left thigh muscles a good smashing in. Barely able to walk for a few days and I am still sore now…

So, if I am grimacing when I run up Scafell tomorrow, it’s because part of me is still trying to conquer Ben Nevis…!

Anyway. I said I wouldn’t bore you.


Ben Nevis – Photo by Bart van Dorp




Rach and I have bought a nice bottle of wine to celebrate completing our own challenge, something that we set out to do together, as husband and wife (not to mention along with many of our wonderful running friends). I won’t lie: It has been great fun.

However, to personally mark the end of the challenge I also decided to do something charitable: to represent each of the 4 Highest UK peaks, I have donated a modest amount to four different charities. Not much at all but something.

I liked the idea of it being 4 and it prompted me to want to share an idea. Nominating people for charity challenges was all the rage recently, so here goes:

I nominate you – each of you – to do four good deeds in the near future.

You don’t have to give money to a charity if you can’t afford to do so, you could do something else instead. Everyone’s circumstances are different, so you’ll know best. The only thing is, it has to be something you’d go out of your way to do. On some level, small or large: a challenge.

Four things. One good deed for each of the mountains I dragged my scrawny, tired legs up and down (and which my wife gracefully ran).

There is no page to record your deeds. Nothing to sign up to. You don’t need to share them with anyone, and I don’t want you to tell me about it. There is no hashtag.

Just do them, mentally tick them off, and then have a nice cup of tea or coffee or even a beer to personally celebrate.

You might already do good deeds all the time. In which case this will be really easy for you (and also, sincerely, good on you).

That’s it.

I wish I could write more eloquently – and could succinctly add something inspiring about life being short, the value of challenging yourself, the importance of wild places, some rubbish about getting fit, secrets of peace and harmony, and all that jazz.

But honestly, I just like running about on hills, so that’s all I got.

I would really be chuffed if it was enough to inspire some genuine good.

Four things. Off you go.

Sincere thanks for reading.


Finding the perfect sketchbook…

OK, let’s talk about sketchbooks!

For a long time I would use the basic and functional hardbacked A5 sketchbooks you’d typically find in art shops. I ended up getting a few spiral bound ones, which became annoying when storing my completed sketchbooks as they wouldn’t quite ‘stack’. Lesson learned.

At some point I got taken by the idea that I wanted the ‘tools of my trade’ to be nicer, slightly more deluxe items, since I used them regularly, and so I moved onto the popular Moleskine sketchbooks. Most of the time my sketches are really messy, ugly little scratchy things, just enough to record an idea and some notes to help me decipher it – it’s been a while since I actually illustrated anything nicely in a sketchbook. Because of this, I failed to notice that despite their popularity, Moleskine sketchbooks aren’t all that great for drawing – the paper is certainly heavyweight enough but it’s yellow and has a slightly waxy coating to it which doesn’t always make for the best lines.

Then the great Moleskine Spec Work Scandal of 2011 occurred. I wasn’t really impressed with how they responded and handled the whole thing, and so I knew that I’d bought my last Moleskine.

I was purchased an EcoSystem sketchbook as an xmas gift, which is very similar to a Moleskine but with a refreshingly green ethos – each book is 100% recycled and has it’s own special ID number. Great! The only problem is that the paper isn’t quite heavy enough, and I was getting a lot of bleedthrough into multiple pages, especially when using my Pentel Pocket Brush.

The other issue is the number of pages – I can’t seem to find a page-count, but there are a lot. Easily a couple of hundred I think. Why should that be a problem? Well, for two reasons: firstly, I actually quite like the ‘clean slate’ feeling that comes with starting a brand new sketchbook, and find it a good excuse to set goals, or try and sketch every day (at least for a little while); a sketchbook with a huge page count simply means it’ll be longer before I get that new sketchbook feeling.

The second reason was the amount of work/ideas which would be lost if I misplaced the sketchbook – the more a sketchbook is filled the more valuable it becomes as a personal resource, and I didn’t like the idea of potentially losing easily a couple of years’ worth of content in one fell swoop. On a more practical level, it also makes it more difficult to find and refer back to older sketches and notes. Ah, EcoSystem, you were close but still not the one..

After asking for recommendations on Twitter, I was contacted by John Rainsford of The Bleed Edge, who very kindly sent me a couple of his SKTCHBKS brand books to try out, and the gridded green book quickly became my go-to book for writing notes and lists. I actually found I preferred the ‘slim’ thickness to the typical hardback A5 books I was used to and it also solved the issue of minimising the lost resources if it was misplaced or lost. However, while perfect for notes and writing, the paper just didn’t quite have the weight I needed for sketching and drawing…

Then I came across the really basic A5 sketchbooks made by Seawhite in Brighton. The paper is exactly what I was after, the right weight and thickness, un-coated, and a pleasing amount of tooth to the texture. All my drawing implements take to the paper perfectly, and to top it off they are very afford-ably priced. I promptly bought some in bulk!

These are the sketchbooks I now use and am happy with. I created a cover for my own book and liked the way they looked so created a few more to put up in the AoC Shop. The books are very cheap to purchase from the many Seawhite stockists but if you’re interested in picking up one with a unique and hand printed cover, swing by the shop and have a look.

What’s your favourite sketchbook brand, and do you over-analyse these things as much as I do?!

Copyright Article

I’m currently working on a piece of research & writing to address a growing trend in the design and illustration industry – unofficially created posters, prints and apparel based on existing popular intellectual property.


One of the things that has come out of my research so far is that some people aren’t fully aware of this issue, or are assuming it refers to artists copying the work of other artists. So in an attempt to make it a little clearer, I’ll give an example:

David Pencils just graduated design college and is thrust into the world of freelancing. His favourite design blogs often showcase cool looking movie and gig posters which seem to be popular, so he decides to create similar work for his blog and puts together a series of posters based on his favourite films. These generate a lot of interest so he gets a short run of prints made and sells them online. Since he is creating the work himself and in his own style, he assumes this is absolutely fine.”

Now this kind of scenario seems to be happening more and more, and is something that many designers and illustrators can get more than a little angry about. The issue in the above example is that Dave does not have the rights to create derivative works based on someone else’s property. He is infringing copyright and is most certainly open to being legally challenged by the rights owners.

This is frustrating for some designers who go out of their way to ensure they have permission to create licensed work, and feel that those who do not are acting unprofessionally and often getting away with it. On the other side of the coin, some designers believe this is fine.


So, the purposes of my research and article are as follows:

  • Canvass opinions of people involved in the industry (consumers as well as creators) to get a feel for how much is currently understood about copyright issues. Just what are the grey areas? What is the current consensus?
  • Examine the actual laws around copyright and provide an easier to understand breakdown of how they apply.
  • Provide some quotes from well known artists, designers, and industry types giving their take on how to tread professionally or an insight into their own experiences with licensing and copyright.

I plan to create a free resource which will be held on the UK POSTER ASSOCIATION website, as well as do a more in-depth write-up (along with the results of the survey) on this blog.


You can complete the short survey here: and if you would like to contribute a specific quote or experience then please drop me an email to gdpilling AT gmail DOT com.

This is an ongoing project which is fairly time consuming, so I am fitting it in around other work, but I hope to complete it this month.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to complete the survey or contribute to the project so far, as well as all the kind words of encouragement I’ve received; it is all very much appreciated!

13 Pieces of Advice for Freelance Designers & Illustrators


I recently tutored a small group of students about professional practice and kept a mental note of some of the questions I was asked and some of the subjects we covered. I decided to briefly write down my thoughts on each of these as a resource which I can refer students to and hopefully this will also serve as useful advice for anyone else, whether they are freelancing, looking for a work experience placement, or hoping to land a full time agency job.

I have covered each of the topics very, very briefly and as such there is plenty of advice and info missing from my ramblings. I do not advocate to be the font of all knowledge and  I am not best placed to do your thinking for you! Please feel free to read, research, and develop your own understanding of the various things below, and I’d be delighted to hear readers’ thoughts via the comments.

If you find this useful, please let me know!


Know the direction you want the ball to go, and start pushing. The key is not to wait around for someone to get the ball rolling for you.

I come across many students who seemingly get so into the routine of being assigned work by a tutor, handing it in to receive comments and criticism, and then dutifully receiving the next brief, that when they leave education they innocently wonder where the next task will come from. It’s a competitive industry; it’s unrealistic to assume someone is going to come along  and give you a ‘leg up’

Start thinking about the direction you need to go in before you leave education and start working towards that now.


Know your market. Devote some of your time towards researching about how the industry works. There are lots of blogs and books available about the business skills needed to be a successful designer, illustrator, animator, etc. Don’t be one of those students who I get emails from asking the most short-sighted and banal questions which they could easily answer for themselves. Be proactive! Read up on this stuff! If you plan to freelance and don’t understand tax basics or how to keep accounts, then you are lacking much needed skills.


This is a great question to ask of pieces of work that you see in order to start understanding the commercial application of illustration and design. What is the purpose of the work? Who is the target audience? How will it make money or create value for the client/artist? What does it set out to achieve, and is it successful?

Read blogs and look at the work of established creatives – often they will point out the objective of the work they have produced. Getting your head round the commercial application of design/illustration can give you a huge early advantage in your career. Which leads us nicely on to…


I have no formal qualifications in art or design. When I got my first design job, all the other applicants had design degrees, yet I was successful at getting the job. Why? Because I had a portfolio of client work, and they had portfolios of school work.

Once you are able to better understand the commercial applications of the work you want to do, start working on examples for your portfolio. Make up the client briefs if you have to, just make them realistic with the purpose of being a case study to show you understand the application of the work.

I highly recommend the book “Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills” by David Sherwin for generating ideas and improving your skills.


I, like many professional designers, wholeheartedly discourage involvement in design competitions, crowd sourcing, or spec (speculative work) where the final design is to be used for any sort of commercial purposes.

This basically means any endeavour where you are being asked to submit your creative work, time, and experience for free, but with the promise that you may get some sort of reward if your design is ‘picked’, or that you will gain exposure, or a great piece for your portfolio. Sometimes you are even expected to PAY to submit work.

Fundamentally, what it boils down to is this: if a business is asking you to do free work, how much do they actually value your work? Do you really want to spend time working for someone who considers your work and time to be worth absolutely nothing?

You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and ask 10 chefs to each prepare 10 separate meals with the intention of only paying for the meal you enjoyed the most. Likewise it is just as unreasonable and unethical for clients to employ this method of soliciting work.

This process often results in a poor end result for the client, and also it damages and devalues the work of the industry as a whole. Spec work is a widely debated topic and one which creatives and clients alike sometimes struggle to understand fully, so if you’re still not sure what it is, then read up about it. is a good place to start.

I have seen blogs and other online articles advising young designers/illustrators to initially do work for free in order to get a portfolio together. Don’t do this. It is absolutely terrible advice. Value your work and the time you put into it. If you don’t value your work, you may find yourself stuck with an endless stream of ‘clients’ who don’t value your work either.

Heed the advice of Jessica Hische, author of the wonderful Being asked to give your work away in return for ‘exposure’ or ‘a good portfolio piece’ is “the most toxic line of bullshit anyone will ever feed you.”


Put together an online portfolio where people can see your work. Make it easy for people to contact you. Put your contact details in an email signature as well as on your site. If you decide to work under a ‘studio name’ that isn’t your actual name, avoid unprofessional or offensive names. These are all very simple points but I frequently come across designers/illustrators who can’t even get the basics right.


Learn some basic planning and Project Management skills to enable you to plan out any given project you might be approached with. Not only will this help you organise the work, but it will be vital in providing accurate quotes to your client. Use a Work Breakdown Structure to work out what tasks need to be completed in a given project. If you are working to a deadline, then divide up the time and make sure you have enough time for each task in order to deliver the final work on time. Where appropriate, explain your process to your client and give them an indication of when they can expect certain deliverables.

When you complete a project, take a little time to self-review and look at what worked and what didn’t What can you streamline and improve so you can be more efficient next time?


If you find yourself doing repetitive tasks then explore better/faster ways of doing them. A simple Google search might save you hours of work in the long run! Use methods like Time Boxing to control and focus how you spend your time.


Don’t undertake work without a contract – especially with new clients. I cannot stress this enough.

Your contract, or Work Agreement, doesn’t have to be overly complicated, it just has to be a way to formally acknowledge the project description, the agreed payment terms, time-scales, as well as the appropriate Usage Rights for the client (i.e. if you’re being paid to do a t-shirt design, the client should not get usage rights to create prints or stickers of the artwork).

There are lots of resources online and in books to help you put a contract together. Put a bit of time and effort into researching and writing one. Don’t worry that the contract will scare off clients – the only ones it will scare off were the ones who were planning to shaft you! Professionals use contracts; make it your standard practice.


When you’re still early in your career, don’t worry about trying to develop a style. That will come with time and experience. Experiment and try out different mediums. Broaden out. This may be hard to hear but your early work will suck in ways you may not see until you develop an eye and understanding that comes with experience. Just keep working and improving.


Learn how to REFINE your work and ideas. In many situations a simpler idea or concept will be far more successful than a complicated one. Imagine a gold prospector from the Old West – when he is panning for gold, he is sifting out the crap and looking to leave only the gold behind. Imagine a jeweller polishing a valuable trinket or jewel – he is removing that outer layer of dirt and dust to let the good stuff shine through.

It’s far too easy to ‘overdo’ good design/illustration work by adding too much to it. When it comes to refining and polishing, instead ask yourself what can you remove? Look for ways to discard the superfluous and leave behind the core design, message or concept.


This can be a tough one. It is easy to be discouraged when focusing on the successes of others or the mind-blowing quantity and quality of work out there in Internet Land. Do not give in to doubt and distress! There are lots of opportunities out there so keep working and it will pay off. Focus on improving the delivery and quality of service for your clients – you might not be able to be the greatest in your field, but you can still be the greatest to your clients.

When starting out, everyone has to deal with self-doubt and the sneaky feeling that you are ‘faking it’. This is a natural part of being inexperienced so don’t let it get to you. It means you are learning something new, challenging yourself and making the transition from shaky newbie to stalwart professional!


I firmly believe that your attitude to your work, your clients, and your peers can have a huge impact on your success in all aspects of work and life. While being positive doesn’t guarantee you clients, being negative is certainly a good way to make them avoid you. Strong ethics and professional integrity might not seem like they add obvious value to the service you provide. These aspects are in fact priceless and will strengthen your reputation and gain you word of mouth referral work.

Strive to be honest, reliable and professional and be proud of the quality of service you can provide.




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