21 June 2018

From There to Here - a question of style.

Whats your style?
How did you find your style?
Shall I change my style?

Over the years some people have asked me questions like these and some I have asked of myself.
When I've visited students some of them have talked about their work in a slightly worried voice and said "I'm trying to find my style" or at a random social event someone has asked "What style of illustration do you do?"
I get the angst. I always question myself. As a student before the internet properly arrived, I would spend hours pouring over large tomes of old contact Illustration books in the library. They were beautiful and seemingly unobtainable to me. Should I just choose a style? Shall I try and copy one? This never quite worked for me. So I thought I'd carry on drawing in my own way before I found my style.

Decades later, I recently had a funny confessional online with an illustration group I belong to. We went back through our old portfolios, dusty bookshelves and secret locked drawers to find old published work that we no longer thought was much good and shared them with each other for laughs. I found this really interesting. My work had changed a lot over 24 years, but I saw that I was trying to find a way of drawing that came naturally and comfortably. My tastes, interests and tools have changed, but I could see that all the badly drawn faces and bad colour choices had taught me something along the way. I was also amazed that I still liked some very old drawings. Some of the first I ever got paid for.

Sometimes it feels that lots of immensly talented people seem to explode fully formed into book world with beautiful work from the off. Maybe thats just the way it looks? It really wasn't like this for me.
To show you how things change, I'd like to share some of my old, slightly dodgey published and unpublished work with you here along with some watershed images that really sent me on my way. no sniggering please.....

The dark ages  

The Gossip Monger 
 Back in 1994 in my final year at college I produced a story for my degree show called 'Puddle the Skyscraper' about a sky cleaner (like a window cleaner) who had broken the sky by mistake and the people of the village had woken up to darkness. I really got into my stride with this look. I loved the dark colours and the gloominess of it. I thought it was cool and edgy! These were never published.
The Fishwives

Who's Afraid of the Bwgan Wood?
1995 and this was my very first job. Pen, ink and watercolour. As you can see perhaps I'm taking the DARK thing a little too far?
This was written by a friend of mine and published by a Welsh publisher. They mainly just left me to get on with it. I haven't looked properly at the line drawings in many years but I'm still fond of many of them. Some great characters in there. I'd love another stab at the cover though!

My first biog - Gothic Eyebrows.

The Ok, the Bad and the Ugly

So begins my paid work. Thanks heavens for the Educational Publishers out there. They were the first people to give me a chance so I could begin learning. What a learning curve it was! I illustrated anything from story books for reading schemes, sulky teenagers, black and white drawings of pencil cases to short history books. Looking back on them now, I realise just how unappealing the people I drew were. Quite ratty and scary looking. I still hadn't sorted my drawing skills out....or my colour palette.

The Fun of the Fair - by Terry Deary

Let there be light!

Reaching the late 90's and early 2000's, I felt something had to shift somewhere. I was getting better at drawing but I really needed to re-look at things. Maybe change my style? I felt I needed something a bit warmer, not only in colour but in illustration style.

The Shadow Man.
Purely in an attempt to play with light, I produced this portfolio piece. It was never published but was recieved well by many. I started to work with slightly different people and spent many hours trying to recreate the atmosphere of this piece - with varying degrees of success. 

Isabelle and the bear

This was a very important piece for me. Inspired by the poem 'The Adventures of Isabelle' by Ogden Nash, I produced a new portfolio piece. Perhaps it's still edging towards the dark side but I felt that it was a shift in style for me and I'd found some of the warmth in characters that I was searching for. It was also one of the last pieces I did using watercolour and ink for a long time.

The Red Shoes

Circa 2003, my first attempts at Photoshop. All the years of watercolour and layering up of colours seemed to have trained me well for this. I used it in the same way as watercolour as I had no other knowledge of how to use it. I had great fun with it and found a new interest in a having a strong sketch as it would underpin everything. The Red Shoes is one of my watershed pieces. It brought me a new way of working and I also gained a marvellous new agent!

The Rumblewick Letters
The Rumblewick Letters (My Unwilling Witch) was my first big Picture book in 2006. It was a great story and a huge challenge. I really enjoyed getting to mix the dark with the light!

With Barndance, I have literally bathed it in light! I'm so fond of this image as it brought me to the attention of some very important clients. Also, it shows the confidence I'd found in getting a 'glow' into the work. 
Sometimes Barndance is used as shorthand when discussing colour. I instantly know the kind of atmosphere that's wanted. 

I have to watch my work doesn't get too 'brown' though. This is a common problem for me that I often slip into if I'm not concentrating. Sometimes everything I do can have a tinge of brown! Not a good look.

And Onwards.....

Since then I've been lucky enough to work with some amazing authors and publishers on some wonderful books. Even now, when I approach a new book I have a little moment of questioning myself about how I'm going to do it? Sometimes characters come very quickly like they can't wait and others need a lot of coaxing.

From looking at these images altogether I can see the colour palette has changed beyond all recognition these days.

to small experiments.....

just because.

...to here.

My most recent illustation project, and labour of love will be Peter Pan retold in rhyme by Caryl Hart and published by Nosy Crow in September 2018.
Through many ups and downs it has taken me nearly 2 years to complete this book. I look over it now and I see many of the things I've taught myself over the last 24 years all coming together. 

So whats my style? 
Even now I don't know how to decribe it. I think any 'style' should always be a natural way, your natural way of seeing things and describing it. Trying to force an unatural look never really works out. 
In Peter Pan, I can see my old love of the DARK seeping through, however these days it's contained within richer colours which hopefully add to the magic rather than the gloom! I think I'll always sway towards the darker images.- I think they excite me, but I'm glad I have a balance of the light and airy in my work too. I am glad the ratty faces are gone though. 

I'm always sriving for a different way, or a different feel. I still often feel unsure and anxious. These days I try and tell myself that's a good thing. Nothing should be static or stay the same. Where's the fun in that?

Spread from Peter Pan retold in rhyme by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Sarah Warburton. Published September 2018 by Nosy Crow.

20 January 2015

Solitary Bemusement.

Happy New Year to everyone. Hello to the new year, new work, tax returns, short days
and long nights. Those days when the fluff from your new winter jumper inevitably
ends up in your scanner and your coffee goes cold before you've had a chance to drink it.
We all know how hard it is to get going in the morning and wake our eyes up enough to
start making things happen.

What happens to our sleepy brains however when you work on your own? Or even, when
don't even leave the house to clock on? Many people have told me it sounds great. Some
days it is. Other days not so much.

I pity the poor editor or designer that rings up for a quick chat about a rough or a deadline.
Half an hour later they know all about my week, what I heard on the radio yesterday. My
agent can often put down the phone knowing all about my health, my children and
my current favourite illustrator. You see, I don't get that kind of chat at work, that
coffee in the morning to catch up with peers and colleagues before the computer gets 
cranked up. I recently spoke to a fellow illustrator who said that she had actually 
nearly lost her voice through lack of use. I can empathise. Most illustrators and authors
I know are very chatty and friendly people. After chatting to the nice man from the NHS
blood line for nearly 15 mins about the school run and the scourge of un-picked up dog
poo these days, I think that yes - often I don't talk to enough humans in day.

Yes, this is me, working away through the night.
I often wonder what the badgers think as they sometimes set off my security light.
Feeling alone with tea. Endpapers for forthcoming book 'Daddy Lions tea party' by Mark Sperring. 

This year, I will have been an illustrator for 21 years. During that time I've balanced
my life with a few part time jobs. Retail jobs mainly and I've enjoyed them all. I've
worked full time as an illustrator for just over 10 years and on reflection it's the
day to day 'chatter' of a job that I enjoyed.

Being alone on a good day.

God bless Facebook. Thanks heavens for Brillustration. There we all are, sat behind
our screens often with something to share, chat about or moan about. Brillustrators
have often saved my sanity on 'those days'. When you have a technical problem, a
publishing puzzle or simply feeling grumpy. Our meets ups and big communal draws
are a great way of feeling more human.

The internet can have a flip side though when you're feeling like an island. Speaking
for myself I have a little devil in my ear on occasion that tells me "Hmmmm. What 
you're doing is a bit rubbish isn't it". I slap him down as often as possible but 
sometimes up he pops when I'm viewing images/books/illustrations on the internet.
"Woooo look at THAT!" he says "That's soooo good. That's much better than anything 
you do.What are you doing just sat here on your own colouring in?". Irritating. Very 
tedious. However, I reckon anyone creative has sometimes felt an inner wobble of 
confidence when seeing other creative works that are out there. The internet can 
definitely inspire and motivate, but it can also bring out the worries. I think if I didn't
work on my own I would perhaps hear the devil a bit less.

Solitary gloom?

I tried having a studio out of the house about 10 years ago. It was a great place 
but it didn't work for me. I found myself having to work long hours into the night. Many
other people in the studio space went home at normal hours and was left on my own 
feeling lonely again just in a bigger room. These days, it suits me to work all 
night at the bottom of my garden in my pyjamas where I can drudge 30 seconds to the
house to flop face down into my bed eventually.

The reality is, I like working on my own. Me, my thoughts and my little fire. 
BBCiplayer and Netflix are my friends. My new years resolution is to meet 
more fellow illustrators for daytime coffee and cake, take more exercise and basically 
carry on. I'm really very lucky to work as I do. My head is often in fairylands, 
imaginative cityscapes and woodlands. How great is that? I'm sure the self-doubt devil
will keep me company once or twice this year but I'll be able to nod politely then 
send him on his way so I can get on with the business of spending quality time with
my radio and my own imagination.

I'll put the kettle on.

2 September 2014

The one where we turned off the internet….

As the kids go back to school, I thought I'd try and get back into the day to day swing of things by writing my own summer holiday notes.

I spent most of August on Anglesey, North Wales. It's where I grew up, where my parents still live and where we all seem to migrate back to in the summer to regroup, drink lots of tea and spend hours on various beaches.

Despite all this beach combing and fresh air, with several adults, teenagers, various aged children, 1 desktop pc, 4 laptops, 4 tablets and 3 smartphones in the house inevitably the internet wireless signal was working it's little heart out most hours. One day I really think The Internet threw a big strop and flounced off. Signals were intermittent and weak. So we did a rare thing and turned it off! After several moments of panicked teenage faces "I've got no signal!" everyone excepted it and looked around for what to do. After several pots of tea and a few laps of the garden on bikes, we turned to the bucket of pebbles that had been collected over weeks that languished by the back door. This is the result! 

The children's array of painted pebbles - Dr Who appears a bit as Peter Capaldi 12th Doctor was about to debut on

Then I got hooked myself and probably took it all a bit too seriously - in the most fun way I could!

Owls for my sister.

After about 4 hours we turned the internet back on and normal service was resumed. However it was great having all these faces and painted pebbles to look at. 

I'm as guilty as anyone at times for just sitting and scanning my phone and social media. Sometimes I think I really need to switch it off more often to actually create something unexpected. It was one of the most enjoyable things I've done in a long time. 

I might just leave a little face on the beach amongst the pebbles……

25 August 2014

Twinkle Twinkle what a STAR! .

I'm so excited to finally show you my new project with picture book legend Katharine Holabird and Hodder. It will be published on September 4th.

Introducing - Twinkle! - A new little fairy with a cheeky twinkle in her eye - always ready to try new things and often getting it badly wrong!

Twinkle is my first fairy, and in all honesty I feel that it took me a while to 'connect' with my own fairy magic. My teenage years were full of writing miserable poetry and concentrating of being a hippy with goth tendencies. This seeped into my illustration. I loved shadows, dark colours, sinister and quirky imagery. Even my first few picture books were a delight for me, revelling in Witches, witches cats, magic and Dragons. 

However, before I went all dark and shadowy I loved fairies as a small child. I once dreamed of getting married wearing beautiful fairy wings. I often devoured the original flower fairy books. My favourite was May (my birthday), the Daisy fairy (all the hours making daisy chains left a lasting impression) and the Bluebell fairy as I lived near to a woodland covered in bluebells and used to spend many hours there in the carefree 1970's. I also remember spending lots of time in my Nains small back yard gazing at the fuchsias after she'd told me they were flower ballet dancers, which they really were. 

And so, around 32 years after I'd gotten over my fairy-flower love - I felt pleasantly surprised when Hodder mentioned to me the possibility of illustrating a new fairy character from the pen of the well-renowned Katharine Holabird. At first, I really believed that I couldn't do it. I felt that I wouldn't be able to make it pretty and magical enough. I suppose I was scared I wouldn't do it justice.  However, after a bit more thought I felt that it would be a new challenge and I set about re-connecting with my inner fairy. 

I needn't have worried. Having my studio in the garden, it seemed all set up for me. All the childhood fun was just waiting in the back of my mind just waiting to come out. I even remembered that when I  did get married I wore a huge sparkly daisy in my hair and had a simple bouquet of white daisies.

After playing around for a while with characters, I concentrated on nature and all its shapes and colours.

 Fairy wings were dragon fly wings, all delicate and vibrant with colour. 

Fairy dresses were flowers. 

Twinkle (Daisy) - I think Twinkle was always going to have a daisy dress in the back of my mind.

Twinkles friend Lou-Lou (Primrose)

Twinkles friend Pippa (fuchsia)

Fairy houses were seed pods and conkers. 

Fungi and toadstools became a fairy school and houses. 

All of this close up of nature culminated for me in my favourite spread of the book - the endpapers. Endpapers are often my favourite part of creating a book (see previous posts in the archive). Endpapers for me are a 'free' to explore things that don't have to necessarily move on the story. However with Twinkle the endpapers seemed to be the key to everything. I wanted to draw a tree in which all the fairy seed pods were hanging. Then it came to me. What if the whole of Twinkles world was set in a huge magical tree? We all decided to go for it. It was the first spread I coloured and I feel that it set the tone, colour and village plan for the whole world. 
SparkleTree Forest (detail)
Maybe the beginnings of Twinkle were laid decades ago amongst the flowers of the back garden and the woods? After all this re-connecting with nature and after using nearly every shade of pink I could conjure up from my colour palette - Twinkle is ready to shine! She's a great little fairy full of feisty fun and a hint of clumsiness. 

with a great array of forest animals who aren't afraid to show their feelings! 

Twinkles world is everywhere. Just a walk in the woods or the garden will show you. Next time you find a conker shell, a seed pod or even a beautifully coloured leaf maybe, just maybe……you've stumbled into Twinkles part of the forest?