Photo Review: Ian Kennedy’s Mekon Art Masterclass

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016
To put it quite simply, Ian Kennedy is the most experienced British comics artist working today.

Beginning his career as a staff artist at DC Thomson in Dundee in 1949, he went self-employed in 1954 for the simple expediency of it paid better, and since then he has never looked back. Ian has illustrated weekly comic strips, monthly comic strips, picture library comic strips, from black and white to painted colour, as well as being a cover artist for the same range of titles both on the regular issues and their summer specials and annuals, working for Hultons, Amalgamated Press, IPC, and Marvel UK as well Thomsons. Working as he did for both boys and girls adventure titles you are as likely to find his painted covers on Judy annuals as you are on Warlord annuals such is his versatility.

Yet his own favourite subjects are aircraft and so it is perhaps appropriate then that his last new comic strip to be published in a British comic, “Bombs On Target” in Commando issue 3072 published in 1996, featured Lancaster bombers. Since then, and despite being “semi-retired”, he has maintained a run of new covers for Commando and has recently supplied covers for Rebellion’s 2000AD Christmas 2015 issue and Dan Dare: The 2000AD Years Volume 2 plus his aviation artwork has appeared as variant covers on Titan Comics’ new Johnny Red series.

Ian has close links with the comics courses that are run by the University Of Dundee and as part of the university’s Dundee Literary Festival he was persuaded to give two live demonstrations of his art skills. He chose to show off his unusual colouring technique in which he builds up his colours using watered down acrylic paints.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Mekon Pencils
The first of these masterclasses took place at the Dundee Comics Creative Space on Thursday 20 October 2016 moderated by Philip Vaughan, Artistic Director of the DCCS and Course Director for the university’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design ’s MSc Animation & VFX programme and the creator and coordinator of the Level 3 Comic Art & Graphic Novels module. Ian, who was the definitive artist on the Eagle’s Dan Dare series in the 1980s, chose to paint a familiar character to many of the students, professionals and others in the audience, Dan Dare’s greatest villain, The Mekon.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Ian Kennedy
Seated in front of the audience with an overhead camera projecting his work onto the large screen beside him, Ian started with a pre-prepared pencil and ink Mekon sketch that he spent the next hour and a half or so painting as he talked to Phil about his technique and answered questions from the audience.

(Note that the following photos are mainly taken from of the images being presented on the screen and are not directly from the original artwork being worked on and as such their colours do not have the same vibrancy as the actual paints being used.)

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Blue Layer Work
Ian began with the background layering blue at the top and red at the bottom.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Blue Layer Work
He then used a hairdryer to dry of the artwork before continuing to layer more levels of colour on. At this point Phil Vaughan was keen to point out that of all the various professional artists that had visited and advised the university’s students none had ever asked for the loan of a hairdryer before.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Bring on the hairdryer!
The initially watercolour-like colours soon grew in depth as Ian left a sun-like effect behind the character.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Red Background
He then moved on to the figure painting the normally green Mekon in a light yellow.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Yellows
However the green was soon added over the yellow allowing the original colour to effectively become the highlights on the figure.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Greens


Next came the shading colour on the Mekon’s metallic hover-chair…

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Shading
… followed by an orangey red to highlight the side of the figure and his clothing.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Highlighting

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Highlighting 2
Ian then used a yellow tone to even out the different levels in the rear sun disc…

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Yellow Tone
… before moving on to add extra highlights in white.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - White Highlights
The white was also used to add a selection of stars and a moon in the background.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Adding the Background
This was the first time that Ian had painted in front of an audience and, while a little quiet and hesitant to talk at the beginning, he soon relaxed into what he was doing as the audience asked a selection of questions, both technical and more general.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Ian Relaxes as he paints
The white was finally used to paint on Ian’s distinct “Kennedy/.” signature and the masterclass came to an end.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - Adding the Signature
Speaking afterwards Ian was keen to point out that due to the time constraints he felt that the final work was a little on the rough side but it didn’t stop the appreciative looks of the audience as they all got the chance to examine it close-up afterwards.

Ian Kennedy Masterclass 2016 - The Final Art
This excellent masterclass proved to be a learning experience for all involved and was recorded by the university for later use. Should it be made publicly available in the future we will add a link here.

• Ian Kennedy will be appearing as a guest at both days of Thought Bubble in Leeds over the weekend of 5/6th November 2016 where he will be at Table 22 in the ComiXology Marquee

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2 replies

  1. One very minor, but on less important correction to this excellent and valuable blog: Ian Kennedy is not a master of his craft. He is THE master of his craft. Having studied his work for five and a half decades with undiminished admiration and wonder, I believe I am, in a position to judge of his unparalleled genius. And I have seen much of the work of others in the field, many of whom are rated as being ‘masters’. That he is also a gentleman of the very finest type is a bonus. That he has never been honoured by England’s monarch is a national disgrace.

  2. The nomination form for the United Kingdom honours system, and advice on how to fill it in, is available here –

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