'The place where inspiration hits the page running... A sketchbook to fail and reflect on my work and my process'

Friday, 28 November 2014

Sketching with Life

For me sketching from life means more than just drawing from a real pineapple or life drawing (memories of A-Level and GSCE Art!). It means getting out in situ and drawing, along with working from memory of the life I live, on a daily basis sometimes. As a creative I find beauty in pretty much anything. A dank day outside the studio can offer a window to a beautiful hazy light, with details of Autumn and illuminating weather systems. Along with windy woodland days when walking the dog.

The view from my studio
From memory
Sketching from memory

On the river estuary

I took myself off to sketch by the docks. Looking down on them from the road. I'm not sure I want to commit to getting permission to going right in there just yet, so I'm just getting a feel for different environments and get a range of marks and structures etc into my sketchbook folio. I hope you enjoy them as much as I loved making them. I'm even thinking of making books of them. Maybe make a Falmouth book? when I go to Paris do the same and also a Plymouth book? I love it and think this may be the way forward for me within illustration. Authenticity as it's purest. We are going to Paris with college and I will be hopping over to Italy to the Bologna book fair, to finally see my books in situ there and also to see the exhibitions and other publishers etc. A goal to get a bit of new work together maybe too, I cannot wait! So I will take my gear to sketch with and come back hopefully with a European infused sketchbook or two. 


Newlyn Gallery show.

The show in Newlyn is down. For those who missed the show, I have added a link to the video and have loaded up some photos. The private view was predominantly about the Midas Awards, of course and to be expected and was such a big deal for the Falmouth students and lecturers. The response I got from the people I saw on that evening, and the other times I was in and around, on twitter and from those who saw it in my absence, was incredibly positive and uplifting, some of the best comments I've had about my work, which is just lovely. It did look great and I loved that it was the work speaking for itself in its nice clean space. 

Here is a link to a video of the show, to get an idea of how it was hung. (I hope you don't get motion sickness). The clarity is better on the HD version here, but less close ups.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Last week I was lucky enough to get a message from the lovely John Kilburn. I was asked to join a blog tour by John who was asked by Amber Hsu. Amber is the driving force behind the incredible artzine Tiny Pencil and a multi-talented designer, illustrator, editor and writer.  The idea of the blog tour is for authors/illustrators to answer the same set of four questions, then pass it on to few more people to do the same. So Amber passed it on to John and Alexis Deacon, Amber was nominated by Katriona Chapman who in turn was nominated by Jessica Lopez and also nominated Dan Berry. ..  but here are my answers.

What are you working on right now?
Right at this minute I am designing a book for my next exhibition. I have decided to make a catalogue of every show I do.
 Catalogue front cover
This month I have been working hard on starting and finishing a children's book and getting two more started, so little time to do my own authorial work. I'm also back at Plymouth College of Art, teaching on the Illustration course one day a week. My full-time job is as a commercial children's book illustrator with an authorial / fine art alter ego that comes out after dark. It is the alter ego voice I will be using for this purpose but that also means that the work I am doing for myself is minimal right now due to heavy deadlines and limited time.

So my authorial work currently consists of getting ready for an exhibition in the Picture Room in Newlyn Gallery. The work was born from a weeks residency in Studio no.5 at the Porthmeor studios in St Ives. Home to Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron and other seminal artists, past and present. I will be sharing the gallery with the UCF Fine Art Midas Award winners with a separate show by overall winner Marc Messenger. I have the picture room to myself which is great and very cosy. Although this work lies firmly within fine art, as an illustrator I am constantly working hard on another body of work that brings the two together.

Press release for the show at Newlyn Gallery

You Are My Religion

X Marks the Spot

Swimming Upstream
The 'other body of work' I am creating in the background is my own children's book and a new portfolio. It is taking ages, years in fact, due to lack of time, but it is where my abstract / fine art work meets my love and passion for illustration. They are currently just backgrounds and landscapes while I am getting to grips with working in such a different way to my normal prescribed pencil, paper and paint. This is a more sketchbook style process and in fact came from sketching from life in the woods where I live. My dog walks seem to be where I make sense of the world and give me a huge feeling of freedom. I go out without my phone and just look up, listening to, and experiencing nature and the world around me. So one day I remembered how much I love to sketch from life, took my sketchbook and pencils and loved it. I just don't do it enough. So it starts in my sketchbook, I then scan the pages in and move them around, cut to white and add textures where needed.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work is a story of two parts. My life and my work lies in a world of contrast. I love contrast, but it means that strong contrast in my life means finding a middle ground is really hard. Because of my long background in Illustration and more recently the fine art, my work differs because I have two completely different ways of working and two different genres that I work within. It's an uncomfortable place when I look around. When I'm in each place, it's fine but when I look up and look back I wish I could stick to one thing and do it well, but I don't think that is my way? The paintings for exhibition seem to have a strength of their own, I have simply started the journey by creating them, they now have lives of their own and seem to be gaining their own recognition and pace, which is lovely. The illustration work is harder because I am well known for the commercial, colourful and very accessible work and therefore stuck producing work and books through demand, and with a style made within those constraints. But it pays for copious amounts of Lady Grey tea and art books, and more importantly the mortgage!

I therefore don't really know what genre my authorial work fits into really? It's a process that is born through my sketchbooks and finished in Photoshop. It hasn't really got an audience yet as it is still in progress. I guess illustrators such as Laura Carlin and Jon Klassen come to mind. I am very much influenced by painters as well as illustrators including Mary Newcombe who is a huge favourite of mine. So maybe my work differs as it straddles between fine art and illustration, still trying to finding it's final resting place? 

Growing Up ii

Growing Up i

How does my illustration process work?
When working to someone else's brief I sketch out pages and thumbnails so they can see exactly what I am planning, meaning the process is fairly formulaic. For my own work it happens more organically from making one mark or working with an idea that changes and morphs into something else. I always, and only, have a vision, a feeling that I want my work to have or achieve. It is only with my own work I can achieve that feeling in physical form. With a clients work my view is clouded by their ideas and ultimately isn't as good or satisfying and takes longer. So this means I often have to switch off my own brain and key into the brain of the brief and its genre.
When I'm in my sketchbooks or on my own time I am compelled to satisfy the thirst for self fulfilment, to quench a thirst for colour, texture, space, composition and a lightness of touch, while attempting to connect with a world that I covet and regard as home, in order to inhabit my true self. 

Why do I illustrate what I illustrate?

It's as simple as a compulsion to create something beautiful. For my own work it's a need and a strong will to reach that feeling of ultimate happiness and fulfilment. It's rarely easy and the long lived feeling of achievement has yet to come, but then that's what makes us strive and never stand still. The search for something new and enlightening is a lifelong journey which I am excited by on a daily basis.  

Even when working to brief as a children's illustrator I feel a passion for the structure and the genre and the fact that I can paint for a living and pay the bills, while educating and bringing colour to children's lives, like it did mine. It's not a bad life : )

I now nominate fellow MA graduate and illustrator Tom Hubmann. Tom is a great and very prolific illustrator who lives and breaths contrast in the work he does, but also has an effortless humour and quirk about his work that makes you want to have his work on your walls.

...and secondly another fellow student from back in the BA days, Andy Potts. An amazing artist who cannot only draw like no one else I know, (I've seen his drawing) his ability on the computer is second to none. Andy's ability to marry stunning colour, content, design and space, to produce a polished piece of art is incredible. 

Over to the boys...

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Pendennis and the Summer Solstice

I saw the sunset last night over the estuary where I live, with wine in hand and the boys by my side. I saw the sun rise this morning over the headland, on the beach with friends. A good start to the mid summer. I went sketching in the day and found a couple of new spots I hadn't seen before. Basked in sunshine I stopped and did these sketches. I loved it and will be doing more while the weather lasts. This is definitely the kind of work that represents me most, so maybe enough of the 'trying to find a style for commercial work' and sticking to what comes very naturally and see what comes of it. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

New bits in progress

This is my Mum as a little girl

Some new bits in progress for a project I am working on in Falmouth. More details to follow when I have a stronger idea of how it's going to end up. At the moment my children's book head is getting in the way, mainly because I am sketching my family when they were younger, so the work is lending itself to a softer gaze. I will go with it and work through it,so watch this space for more soon.

This is me as a little girl. The photo I used was feeding a jackdaw that used to visit us all the time at home.

..and another variation

Monday, 9 June 2014

Work in Progress with some of my favourite things

Sketchbook pages

Sketchbook page

Sketchbook pages

 Although I am very proud of the books I have created and really enjoy the whole process when I am given the time to relax and enjoy painting, but I am constantly thinking, looking and working hard on creating a style for my commercial illustration that I can earn money from, that is not such a huge compromise when under pressure from tight deadlines.

My natural style of working is painterly and quick, with as few brushstrokes as possible, using the right colours, tones and textures first off, rather than building loads of layers, and work with minimal, translucent layers.
From the beginning of my career I have been pushed into styles by time pressures and by my previous portfolio of commercial work. So everything tightening up, painting with my shoulders raised around my ears and my strokes stiff and laboured. This is not enjoyable, and although (after 16 years on the job) I know compromises have to be made, but not at this level, not any more, so I have working hard behind the scenes on a daily basis, where I can, to find somewhere in the middle.

Some of my favourite things around the house

I love my garden
I love lots of space and have realised I like graphic work, where there is contrast between painterly free strokes or a lighter painted touch, with graphic structures and composition.
I wanted to build a library of images of all sorts of different items, objects and things I had in my life that I liked, so this is something along that idea, a feeling of what I want to achieve with my children's books, more development of a new stream of work that could be for prints, retail, cards etc etc..

All in progress but I definitely enjoyed doing them all. I started with my favourite things around the house, something I have a connection with and enjoy. I then thought they looked too real and stiff, so I did them from memory and composed them into the Home Sweet Home image. I'm beginning to love my house and the feeling of satisfaction that I get from 'my things' and that satisfaction in my mind is coming out in the work.

An attempt at putting them in to context

Again just work in progress but it feels nice to lighten the load a little.