Illustration Advice: Leaving Things Half Done

advice, illustration

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Do you ever sit down at your desk/table/sofa with a fresh, blank page in front of you, ready to start a new piece, and find it hard to begin? Maybe you don’t even get that far sometimes, but instead have an idea rattling round your head that you can’t quite get started on. This has happened to me lots, particularly after a holiday or break from work, but really it can strike any time. And because I know I have a tendency to get the Fear, I’ve developed a tactic to avoid it as much as possible.

 

 

As often as I can, at the end of the day or work session, or before a holiday, I try to leave something unfinished. It’s really simple, but I find it so much easier to begin next time if I have a work in progress I can resume. And by the time I’ve finished that, I’m warmed up and happy to move on to the next thing without fear or procrastination.

 

 

Of course this won’t be a magic trick for everyone. I’ve heard other artists, particularly those who work from home, say that they need to complete a task before they can happily finish for the day. I understand that, I think that’s my natural inclination too, but over the years I’ve learned that I generally have a more successful day if it doesn’t begin with a blank page.

I hope if you ever find it difficult to begin something new at the start of an art session, you’ll give this a go. Or maybe you have your own technique to avoid the terror of a blank page? Perhaps you don’t have this problem at all, and just love beginning a new day with a fresh project! Either way, do let me know, it’s always great to hear how other people work.

Turner Acryl Gouache Review

art materials, illustration, reviews

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As you might know by now, watercolour is my primary medium. It’s the one I feel most comfortable using, the one I’ve practiced with and developed over the past few years, and the one I’ll probably always go back to. But I think it’s so important to keep playing, and growing, and looking for new ways to keep your art fresh so I like to experiment with different mediums from time to time. I have dabbled in regular gouache, and not particularly taken to it (more practice needed) but until recently I hadn’t heard of acrylic gouache.

As you’d expect, it’s a hybrid between an acrylic paint and a standard gouache, with some of the qualities of both. There’s a big range of colours, and I was particularly drawn to the pastel range (obvs). Mine came from Jacksons Art, and I chose a small selection of lovely colours to play with.

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So how is Turner Acryl Gouache different from regular gouache? Well, although I’m not an expert in gouache, I can say that this is different. It’s thicker, more opaque, and water resistant once dry, making layering easy. It can be watered down, though I enjoyed it undiluted as it’s such a contrast to watercolour. It goes on smooth, and has a slightly satiny finish when dry, and unlike watercolour the colour doesn’t change.

I’d advise using a ceramic palette for easy cleaning, and the colours mix well, but only squeeze out a little at a time, as it dries quickly. You can wash your brush in water though if you’re using the gouache neat, make sure you dry your brush well between colours, as it only takes a drop of water to alter the texture significantly.

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For my experiment I used my little Handbook sketchbook, and one of my normal watercolour brushes, which worked fine. I found that if you want to use pencil on top of the paint, it needs to be a soft one to go over the satiny finish. Here I used my softest Blackwing pencil to add detail to the woman and I really like the texture it gave.

gouache test

I really enjoyed using these paints, and I’m definitely going to dedicate some more time to experimenting. I’m pleased with how although you can still see my style, the Acryl Gouache gives my illustrations a completely different quality that’s going to be exciting to explore further. I shan’t be putting the watercolours away any time soon, but I’m really pleased to have found these and you can expect to see lots more gouache painting from me in the future!

I hope this has inspired you to have a go with acrylic gouache, and I’d love to know if you’ve used these paints, (or another brand), and what you think of them. Or if you use regular gouache, it would be great to know how you think these compare – do let me know!

Blackwing Pencils Review

art materials, reccomendations, reviews

I like pencils. I mean, I really like pencils. A 4B is my favourite, though I often sketch with a mechanical pencil with 2B lead because I’m quite lazy and like to forgo sharpening when possible. I’ve tried all sorts of pencils, often adding a couple of new ones when I make an art supplies order in an effort to find The One. And in my internet wanderings, I’ve heard many times about Blackwing pencils, but up to now have never taken the plunge.

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Blackwings seem to have taken on a somewhat mythical status, with lots of illustrators claiming they’re the best pencil they’ve tried. I won’t go into their full history because it’s easy to find out for yourself with a quick Google, but basically it’s an old brand dating back to the 1930s that went out of production in the nineties, only to be revived by Palomino recently, hence them now being called Palamino Blackwings.

The sustainable cedar wood of these pencils comes from California, whilst the core is from Japan. They’re slightly longer than most pencils, at nearly 8″ (though they get shorter quickly, since they need sharpening often) and they have a pretty swanky, and effective, eraser, which can be replaced if necessary. It seems like you can get various special editions, but the three most available pencils are the original Blackwing, the 602, and the Pearl so these are the ones I tried.

Blackwings are most often available in boxes of 12, priced at aroundabout £20.00 – £25.00 which isn’t expensive on a per pencil basis, but is a bit of an investment if you’re not sure what you’re getting. The good news is, it is possible to buy them singly. I found them for £2.49 each from Foyles (and tried to resist buying a stack of picture books at the same time). They arrived well packaged in bubblewrap and sturdy cardboard, so well done Foyles (I’ve received pencils with broken lead in the past and it’s SO annoying).

The pencils arrived unsharpened,  but they’re standard width, so any decent sharpener will do the job. First I did some quick scribbles to see how they felt, and what the difference was between the three models.

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Blackwings don’t follow the usual grading of HB, 2B, 3B etc but these three do offer different levels of firmness. I could immediately tell that whilst they differed in hardness, they were all very smooth, and somewhat blacker than some pencils I’ve used. Next I did a little graded scribble with each pencil, starting light, and gradually pressing harder to achieve the darkest shade I could.

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As you can see, the dark part of the 602 scribble is not as black and the other two, whilst the original and the peal have less variation between them.

Finally I did a little sketch with each pencil, just a quick cat, to see how each one behaved. The three tests combined told me that the firmest of the three is definitely the 602, which, though still softer than an HB, is probably the best one if you’re after a smooth, dark pencil to write with.

Blackwing cats

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I’m not sure I have a favourite at this stage, I think I shall have to use them and over time work out which one, or two , meets my needs the best. Maybe there’s a place for all three on my desk. Frankly, they’re all lovely, and I’m very happy to welcome them into my art arsenal, or artsenal, if you will. I think the hype is justified, and I certainly would recommend trying them out if you too are a pencil fan. They’re not going to change your life, but they are a pleasure to use, and to look at, and I shall certainly be investing in a box or two when I’ve worn these guys down to little nubs. In addition to my mechanical pencil, of course.

Midsummer Catch Up

reccomendations, updates

Hi friends,

Once again I fell off the blogging wagon the past few months, but I’ve hopped back on board with the intention of hanging on tighter this time. Being freelance is hard, you know that, and honestly, I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet so sometimes I let things slip. But I think you understand. You’re nice like that.

We’re currently in the middle of a mad summer, with sunshine for weeks with very little rain. I’ve been spending a little too much time gardening, and walking and reading (must absorb that precious sunshine!) which is wonderful, but not great for my productivity.

I’m in an odd position at the moment. I’ve finished the artwork for my first picture book (Pony Poems for Little Pony Lovers, publishing with Beach Lane Books in 2019), and after months of having a clear objective, am back in the land of …….so, what next? I’ll admit this threw me for rather a long time, and I felt really lost for a while there. But I’m back on form now, I hope. I’m working on submitting some new book ideas to my agent, getting this blog up and running again, and hunting for new editorial and licensing opportunities to provide a drip feed of income.

Devon Apple Tree

I want to be honest, because I think it’s important to give an accurate account of the life of a freelance illustrator in the early stages of her career. I mostly hear from illustrators further down the line than me, who merrily move on from one project to the next and it can leave me feeling insecure and full of doubt. I sometimes forget to recognise the wonderful progress I’ve made in the past couple of years in favour of worrying about the future, but I think getting back to blogging regularly will really help with that.

For today, I just wanted to pop by to say hello, but I will be here more often now to update you on what I’ve been up to, offer some (hopefully) helpful advice for other illustrators making their way through freelance life, discuss some important topics that affect the freelance creative community, and generally just show up. That’s the main thing I’ll be doing, just showing up.

I want to leave you with some podcast episodes I enjoyed listening to yesterday, as they’re particularly apt for this post. It’s the Being Freelance podcast with Steve Folland  which is a series of conversations with freelancers from all sorts of realms. Yesterday I listened to this one with Emma Block, this one with Emmeline Pidgen, and this one with Sarah McIntrye but I’m going to go back and listen to the lot. If you are, or are thinking of going freelance, I think there’ll be something useful for you in there too.

Until next time, later potater!

Inside my Studio: equipment I use for illustration

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Over the past few years since I started illustrating, I’ve tried loads of different tools and materials. Some of them were rubbish, some good, and whilst I’m definitely still open to exploring new things, I’m fairly happy with my current set up. It does the job. So I thought I’d share with you what my studio space looks like right now, and the equipment I have around me every day.

*My studio is no glamorous film set – as you can see from the photos, it’s a very normal box room in my house. It’s messy, tiny, and doesn’t have the best light. It’s not easy to take fancy photos in there. I wanted to show you the truth, because it can be easy to envy artists on the internet with their spacious, bright, photogenic studios. But your workspace doesn’t have to be pristine to be functional, and I feel extremely grateful to have a dedicated room to work in at all. That said, I really do need to keep it tidier…

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This is my old, leather-topped desk. I’m standing in the doorway to take this photo, the door just about opens fully if I don’t pull my chair out too far.

On my desk I have two lamps, one is an old anglepoise with a 20W daylight bulb fitted, the other is a my latest purchase, an led Duolamp from the Daylight Company. Both of these cast neutral light that allows me to paint at night and on dull days – pretty essential in England! You can also see my light pad, an A3 MiniSun which I use most days to trace over sketches.

materials

I thought you might be interested in the materials I use most frequently for my illustration. In this photo you can see:

  • Paints – I mostly use Windsor & Newton Cotman watercolours in pans and tubes. They’re technically the student range. I find they’re perfectly good for me, though I would like to experiment with some fancier ones at some point. I also use a bit of gouache, again I use Windsor & Newton.
  • Ceramic palettes – I love how these stack neatly, and are easy to clean
  • Brushes – I have a small selection, but I mostly use this Cotman brush, a 00 Ken Bromley brush and a couple of old fat unbranded ones. I could do with upgrading soon.
  • Coloured Pencils: I have a few, but these are my current favourite, Caran D’ache Luminescence pencils. I don’t have many as they’re expensive, but I’m building my collection slowly.
  • Pencils – I get through so many pencils! 4B is my absolute favourite, though I also use 2B and sometimes use a mechanical pencil with 2B lead for sketching.
  • Watercolour Paper – For my book illustrations I use Hot Pressed paper, which I usually stretch before using. I like experimenting with different brands, some of my favourites are Arches, Fabriano and Bockingford (which is the cheapest good paper I’ve found).

I hope this post has been useful, I find that artists don’t often explain what materials they use and I remember being a bit clueless when I started out! It’s taken a few years of experimenting to find the tools I’m comfortable with, and I still think that’s the best way, but if you’re feeling a bit lost, I hope this gives you somewhere to start.

 

 

My Favourite Podcasts, Part One

advice, illustration

I mostly listen to words while I work. I love music, but music is for dancing and driving, whilst words are for working and walking. I’ve heard other illustrators say the same – that they especially like to listen to the radio, podcasts or audiobooks in their studio. I think it’s partly to do with working alone, because even though I’m good at it, it can get lonely, and having podcast playing is like having a studio buddy….sort of.

My favourite thing to have playing while I work is a good podcast. I listen to so many, I couldn’t list them all, but I thought I’d mention a few I’ve discovered recently that are specific to creatives, and if you’re a freelancer I hope there’s something helpful for you. And as a bonus, they’re all British and run by women!

podcasts

Ctrl Alt Delete

This is apparently pretty well known but I only found it this month. Hosted by Emma Gannon, this is a podcast about the internet with guests discussing their relationship with the online world. Various well-known names such as Lauren Laverne, Greta Gerwig, Lena Dunham, Zoella and Matt Haig join lots of people I’ve never heard of but are interesting to listen to, to chat to Emma about the role the net plays in their lives. There’s some good stuff here for freelancers, with social media and business subjects coming up lots, and I particularly enjoyed an episode with illustrator Alice Tams, which resonated with me a lot.

Hashtag Authentic

This is another British podcast presented by Sara Tasker, a self-proclaimed Instagram expert. And she says that in a non-braggy way, honest. This show is again aimed at creatives and freelancers, specifically those who use social media in the their business, or want to learn how to. She often has guests to share their wisdom, and I enjoy the conversational yet informative style. An episode particularly relevant to me was the show with Helen Stephens who talked openly about her long career in children’s books. She sounds lovely!

One Girl Band

I enjoy listening to new podcasts, and hearing them grow and the the presenter gain confidence with time. One Girl Band is a relatively new podcast by Brighton Entrepreneur Lola Hoad, who uses the platform to share her experience of being a small business owner. There’s some good honest advice here that anyone who freelances or works from home can identify with and benefit from. This podcast isn’t as jazzy as some, but I’ve been enjoying it’s authenticity, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

Get It Off Your Breasts

I’ve only listened to a few of these, but I’ve been enjoying listening to honest women discuss real subjects important to the world. Female issues inevitably pop up, but this isn’t specifically for women, it just happens to be run by them. Which is pretty nice.

What She Said

This isn’t my favourite in terms of production value (because I’m pretty fussy about sound quality) but in this podcast Lucy Lucraft covers some very helpful topics for freelancers and creatives, and talk to some interesting guests. Conversational and very easy to listen to, definitely worth a bash.

Just for fun

The above podcasts are informative and inspiring, but sometimes I like to forget about the freelance world and just listen to something entertaining! Here’s a few of my favourites:

Stuff You Should KnowRussell Brand’s Under the SkinOh No Ross and CarrieThis American LifeThe Adam Buxton PodcastRadiolabJudge John Hodgman, and Can I Pet Your Dog?

Do let me know in a comment, or on Instagram or Twitter if you enjoy any of these or have suggestions of your own. Happy Listening!

New Year, Same Me (but better)

personal

Happy New Year!

I hope 2018 is shaping up nicely for you so far. I had a little belated New Year break with family, so for me this is the first day back at work and I’m trying to fight the gloomy January weather by thinking ahead to ways I can improve my work and life this year. I don’t believe in making arbitrary resolutions, but there definitely some things I need to sort out, and January seems like a good time to do it.

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It mostly comes down to Wellbeing

As I’ve thought about some of the things I want to try in addition to book illustration (more blogging, youtube videos, organising an illustration group, upping my productivity to create more items for my Etsy store and more artwork to license) I’ve realised that in order to achieve any of this, first I have to look after myself better so I have the energy to be as productive as I can. By sharing these thoughts, I hope I might help other freelancers who struggle to have all the energy they need.

Drink more water: we’ve all heard it a million times. And whilst I’m better than I used to be, I’m still pretty bad. To help things along, I’m going to fill a big bottle of water, leave it somewhere prominent in my house (I’m not keen on fridge-cold water) and aim to empty it at least once a day. Along with hot drinks, this should make a big difference to my liquid intake.

Create a stricter bed/wake up time during the working week: Sometimes I keep working/watching/staring at a screen well into the night for no good reason and all it does is make it harder the next day. Stop! And it can be hard to get up early when you work from home, but for the sake of routine I’m going to be sticking to a more defined schedule from now on, to see how it effects me.

Marvin

Developing a schedule for the working day to include do regular food breaks: I’m not saying I didn’t have any schedule at all, but it wasn’t very defined. I think it will help my energy, productivity and mental health to be more strict with this. And as I often forget to eat, this should sort that out too!

Speaking of which….eat better and more regularly!  I actually eat quite well, but I don’t do it often enough, and sometimes ignore hunger pangs because I want to keep working. It’s silly, and something I need to address. I’m considering bulk making salads that I can dip into for quick meals. Maybe I’ll start sharing recipes!

Building in free time where I stop work and don’t feel guilty: Like many freelancers, I struggle to switch off, and spend a lot of time working inefficiently because I’m tired, or not giving my best self to friends and family because I’m thinking about work. Since I’m particularly bad at this, it’s really important to define time off.

Make time for hobbies: Similar to above, I find myself tempted to use all my time for illustration. But much as I love it,  illustration is my job, not my only interest. I’m considering choosing one day, or a couple of mornings/afternoons a week to dedicate to other activities like baking, gardening, and sewing.

Exercise: I’ve partially got this covered already because rain or shine, I have to take my dog for a walk at least twice a day. When I’m busy, it can be hard to fit this into the day but I’m aiming to think about dog walks as breaks to look forward to, rather than frustrating time away from my desk. I’d like to try another form of exercise too though, probably yoga.

Meditation/mindfulness: I keep slipping off the wagon with this one and it’s not good. I know that a few minutes meditation each day has positive effects on my general wellbeing and ability to deal with life’s stresses. I’ve probably tried all the mindfulness apps going. My favourite so far is Simple Habit, and I’ve just downloaded Calm. I’m going to build this in to my day in the morning, when I first get up and have some quiet time on the sofa with my dog.

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So those are the most important things I need to work on but I’ll probably find more along the way. And if I manage to achieve a good routine, maybe I’ll share it with you, because I know it’s something a lot of freelancers struggle with. If you have any tips or ideas on this subject, I’d love to hear them!

 

Gratitude List for 2017

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As 2017 draws to an end, and I’m thinking of all sorts of ways to progress and move forward next year, I thought it would be a good idea to first look back and acknowledge some of the positive things that have happened for me over the last twelve months.

*I’ve called this a gratitude list because I hear that’s the fashionable thing… but really it’s just a bunch of stuff that makes me feel happy and warm when I think of it*

Signing with Writer’s House Literary Agency

Writers House child

I promise promise I will write properly about my journey from bedroom scribbler to agented illustrator soon, but for now I just want to acknowledge how wonderful it was the finally get that contract and see myself added to the Writer’s House website early this year.

My First Book Contract

Again, I’ll cover this in more detail in a future post, but starting work on my first professional children’s book project – Pony Poems for the Very Young with Beach Lane Books was the beginning of an exciting journey that I’m still engaged in!

Gertie S. Shmertie

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Back in March, we welcomed Gertie into our lives. She arrived the size of a guinea pig, and now at almost a year old, is a small fluffy whirlwind of joy and destruction filling each day with love (and often frustration….puppies are hard work!)

Holidays

I’ve been very lucky this year to go on several holidays with family and friends. From sunny Lanzarote and the quaint lanes of Jersey, to windswept Falmouth in Cornwall and festive Frome in Somerset it’s been wonderful. Next year I’m hoping to slip in a few more short breaks, especially to explore new bits of the UK .

Driving Alone on the Motorway

It might sound silly, but it was a personal challenge, and I’m still proud of myself

Designing Our Kitchen

I don’t mean we spent loads of money on a posh new fitted kitchen, but that we put in lots of hard work to start from scratch to make this room in our home exactly what we want it to be. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s the first time I’ve ever designed a room from the beginning and it’s exciting to see what we’ve achieved so far!

Made New Friends

I’m still quite new in my little Devon town, and definitely on a mission to make more friends and become further involved in the community, but I’m so grateful for the new people I’ve found this year. Oh! One of them is Sue at Yay Retro!, go take a look at her wonderful vintage wares (did anybody say kitchen…?)

Meeting up with Old Friends

I’m grateful to have been able to catch up with dear friends on shared holidays and festivals, and through visits to each other’s homes.

Inktober

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I’m super proud to have finally taken part in – and completed – Inktober this year! Ok, I missed a small handful of days, but I did a jolly good job. It was challenging and enjoyable, and I’m so glad I did it

Beginning to take care of my Mental Health

This final one again might seem silly or insignificant, but for me it’s so important. As someone who lives with anxiety (as do so many) and works largely self-directed and alone, I have struggled with my mental health this year greatly. But I’m glad to say that I’m now able to acknowledge it, and recognise it’s importance. I’ll probably talk about this again as it’s a biggie, but for now I’m just happy to know I’ve started on a significant journey to take better care of myself

Phew, that was a long post, seems I have a lot to be grateful for this year. If you’re feeling at all gloomy about the festive season ending, or apprehensive about the new year, I’d suggest you make your own gratitude list, it really does help.

I wish you all a wonderful 2018 full of many things to be grateful for.

 

Most Popular Instagram Posts of 2017

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It’s a busy old time of year, isn’t it? On top of my usual projects (the childrens poetry book I’m illustrating, the promotional material for events I organise, the other stuff for the events I organise, creating work for my Etsy shop and general portfolio work) I have been renovating my kitchen and making Christmas presents. Phew! I’m actually looking at ways I can streamline things next year to save energy for the most important stuff, and reorganising my schedule, but that’s for another time.

As we approach the end of the year, I noticed an increasing number of Best Nine posts popping up all over my social media. In case you haven’t heard of it, this is a way to generate your nine most liked posts of the year over on Instagram. My account there is still small, but it’s growing, and I was curious to see what my Best Nine would be. Here’s the answer:

best9

Look at Gertie there, with pride of place in the centre! It’s nice to see an Inktober post there too, considering all the effort I went to that month. But it’s also interesting to see several incredibly simple, quick illustrations made it. Little doodles that I made spontaneously after an idea popped into my head. Whilst this collection isn’t necessarily my own favourite selection, I think it’s very interesting, and useful.

Why not grab of cup of tea and spend a few minutes searching for #bestnine or #bestnine2017 over on Instagram and Twitter? It’s a great way to be introduced quickly to a host of new artist accounts!

Making my Very First Gif

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Yesterday after coming home to an enthusiastic greeting from Gertie, I sat down for a cup of tea and decided to do a quick doodle of her.

gertie sketch

Then later on in the evening, I was suddenly struck with inspiration! Maybe this was the opportunity to finally, FINALLY, make a gif! I’ve long admired other illustrator folk’s ability to make little animations but it always seemed baffling to me. Yet last night, I was just in the mood for a challenge, so I thought I’d give it a go. Turns out it’s actually quite simple! First, I scanned in the sketch, and added a bit of colour in photoshop:

happy gertie

Then I had a google for making animated gifs in photoshop, and came across this one which seemed quite straight forward. I thought I would keep things very simple for my first time, so I just made a new image with Gertie’s tail slightly different, and used the tutorial to animate the two images. This was the result:

happygertie

It’s just about as simple as a gif can be, with only two frames, but oh, it makes me so happy! And now I’ve taken the plunge, I’m sure it won’t be long before I have a go at something a bit more challenging. But for now, just look at that Happy Tail!