20 April 2014

MATS - week 3 - children's book illustration

Many of the people taking the MATS course have said they've always wanted to illustrate children's books, but not me, 'children's book illustration' was the week I was least looking forward to. I don't like drawing characters and I definitely don't like drawing animals as characters.

The brief was to illustrate a front cover or double page spread for Aesop's The Fox and the Crow. I was a bit meh when we were told to draw foxes because they're everywhere and on everything, so I'm a bit bored of them. I didn't spend time working of a fox character and that was a mistake that came back to bite me on the bum later on in the week.

I had an idea for the composition of the front cover and another for the end of the fable but ended up combining the two into the same scene using the tree as a divider (got the idea from that there Gauguin's Vision After the Sermon). I knew I didn't want it to look obviously digital but wasn't sure what materials to use. I fancied doing collage but I've not had enough experience of working with that in Photoshop, so decided to leave it for another time, and finally settled on a combination of traditional hand drawing and drawings done on the iPad.

The ideas came easily but maintaining my interest was really tough. There were several occasions where I wanted to stop or re-start, or change techniques, but I really forced myself to stay on track and work though the low points with this one to the end. There were more than a couple occasions where I was huffing around like Kevin the Teenager (YT link) because I really didn't want to be doing what I was doing. As it turned out I wished I'd had an extra few hours, as the leaves on the tree were a late addition, so I didn't have time to adjust their colour, and I really wanted to hand write the text so it was less blocky and more organic. .

Overall, it worked ok and I learnt a lot, but my illustration looks more traditional than I had intended it to. I like my poppies and I'd like to develop the tree, but If I were to do something like this again (maybe I'll get a chance in Bootcamp) I'd like to try collage which will hopefully force me away from that traditional illustrative style.

So, that's us over half way through the course now and I feel the most difficult stuff is behind me. Next week is wall art, which is much more my home territory BUT which also comes with all my art school baggage. Hopefully I can just leave it at the door and enjoy myself rather than getting all Drawing and Painting school serious about it.   


13 April 2014

MATS - week 2 - home decor

A quick blog before next week's assignment kicks off.

This week we had to design plates using succulents as a theme.

I love succulents, I have loads of them inside and outside my house, mainly because I like their interesting shapes but also because they're so hard to kill. This assignment should have been no problem but I found geometric-ish plants and plates hard to marry up.

This was pretty much my thought process -  my immediate inclination was to draw succulents from the side in their pots, but I couldn't envisage that on a plate, so I thought drawing them from the top would offer plenty of interesting shapes and patterns to scatter over the plate, but the shapes were all quite similar (rosette and blobby) and there was also a real lack of tall shapes to work with (without going into cactuses which I didn't want to do).

I just stuck at it and eventually got some drawings I liked, but I was still struggling to connect with it, it all still felt a bit novelty picnic-ware-ish, so I decided to add some of my favourite things to draw, moths, and this made feel a bit more engaged with the piece.

I thought there was a good chance it wasn't going to be a successful week, so I decided to use it as an opportunity to experiment with a more painterly technique in Photoshop. TBH I would have been quicker just painting it but .... :/  I also wanted to keep quite a a lot of the white of the plate as I'm not crazy about eating off coloured crockery and I eventually changed the moths to butterflies as people can be funny about moths :D

I'm not sure if my designs are successful. They work as a group and I like them but I'm not sure I'd buy them, maybe I'd buy them if they were on mug or a bowl, but I'm still not sure.

What I did like was the 'pattern' sitting under my stencil. I worked on 4 plates in one document. I created a stencil on the top layer with 4 round windows so I could move elements between the plates (I thought this would help them work as a group). At the end I removed the stencil and this (below) is what I found underneath, which I really like. I think with a little work it would make a nice pattern.

I always look forward to the start to the next assignment but next week is the week I've been been looking forward to least - children's book illustration.  Let's see how THAT goes :/



7 April 2014

MATS - week 1 - bolt fabric

End of the first week of MATS and I'm s-h-a-t-t-e-r-e-d ...... a steep learning curve and too many late night have made this an intense, but strangely exhilarating, week. The assignment took MUCH longer than expected and I'm grateful that I had, at least a little, previous experience from March's assignment in Bootcamp. If I hadn't had that I think I would have cracked under pressure.

The assignment was bolt fabric based around a theme of vintage casserole dishes and exotic fruit. I never have a problem with ideas, and I love the drawing part of a project, and I love composing in Photoshop, but the problems start when it come to adding colour in Photoshop. It's really simple - I can't translate the colours. I have colours in my head that I know how to mix with paint but I find it really difficult to read and 'pick' the colours on the screen. Also I need to learn more about methods of colouring in Photoshop or take the leap and start getting up to speed with Illustrator, as people say it's better for colouring. But that's for another time, it would be too much to add that into the mix just now.

Since I had neither the skill or time to work with the 8 colours we were allowed, I made things easier by simplifying my palette. I ended up using only 5 colours - my favourites, mustard, teal and dark grey, and added in some grey/pink and light grey to lighten things up a bit. This really made it a lot easier and I think it brings a cohesion to my design.

I really enjoyed the subject matter, although, for me, the fruit was less interesting than the kitchenware. I'm sure I remember reading on someone's blog that when it comes to MATS -  if you think you've drawn enough icons, go away and draw more - and this is pretty much what happened with me. I thought I had enough drawings, I mean I had pages and pages and pages, but I went back, looked at more source material and did more drawings, and I think it paid off. It meant I could be really ruthless, so rather than tolerate a it'll do icon, I would bin it because I was fairly confident I would have something better. 

Still lots to think about and lots to read up on and I need catch up with the FB group, but I'm looking forward to the whirlwind of next week's assignment .... what will it be, I wonder.


29 March 2014

So I did something a bit impulsive...

...  I signed up to do the 5 week intensive MATS A course with Lilla Rogers.

I'm usually a list maker and checker off-er, I think things over and slowly come to a decision ...  this is not the usual way I go about things.


I've been doing Bootcamp, which has been great, and I feel I've gained confidence and progressed a lot just after just 2 assignments. MATS was something that was on the horizon, but probably next year. Then I woke up one morning and, in that hazy unfocused state where your best ideas ping into your brain, I thought 'but I don't want to wait till next year'. The impatience stayed with me over the day and I started to seriously mull it over. There were plenty reasons not to do it; the financial cost, 2 weeks school holidays to cope with, end of financial year stress, time pressures, and so on... but then I thought, these reasons are still going to be there next year so why wait.

So, after running it past the family, I've dipped into my savings and signed up.

I'm kind of in a mild state of hysterical panic now. The first week is bolt fabric, which is what we did last month in Bootcamp, so hopefully that'll ease me in, but week 3 is picture books ..... which means ... characters ... and expressions ... and 'stuff'. I don't think I've done anything like that before, and if I have, I've forgotten about it ... or suppressed it!

I plan/hope to blog as I go along. I'm expecting it might be a bit patchy and brief but I want to try to do it because I think it'll be interesting reading back when I have more time.

Roll on Monday! 

25 March 2014

Bootcamp - March gallery

Not sure if I linked to this last month but there's a gallery for every month of Bootcamp. You can see the March gallery here. It's incredible, you wouldn't believe there were so many different ways to do 'jelly'. 

My hands down favourite is this one by Anisa Makhoul. I'm always a fan of clean lines and the muted colours are right up my street. For me it has a similar feel to the art work in Yellow Submarine; a bit surreal and slightly ambiguous, it could be jelly or it could be a coral bed or a landscape of anemones. It was a very original take on the subject matter.

20 March 2014

March assignment - MATS Bootcamp

This is my submission for my  March MATS assignment .... which turned out to be an unexpectedly difficult assignment. At first it all seemed simple and straightforward - 'jelly' (or Jell-o), elaborate shapes, transparent jewel colours, fruit, moulds, kitchen etc. Collecting source material and doing the drawings was fine but when we were asked to work it into a design for bolt fabric it started to get really difficult. 

It was as much about what to avoid as what to do. The bright colours weren't working for me, they looked too cartoonish with my line work, so I started to work with the more subtle colours of blancmange and flummeries. I had no idea about scale on fabric, so there was a lot of trial and error with that. Then there was the repeat ...

To be fair we weren't asked to do a repeat but I thought I'd have a go at it. I could go on but, short version ...trying to think/design in repeat is a real headache.

The most important thing I learned is to take the pedals off the bike, ie.rather than trying to juggle colour, composition and repeat, concentrate on the pattern first, only when you have that sorted start adding colour. I would say I spent 40% of my time on the drawings and 40% on the composition and and 20% on the colouring.

In the end it all got a bit contrary, I used line, which went against my initial ideas of fluid shapes, and the colours ended up muted and opaque rather than bright and transparent.  
It was great getting back to drawing again, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it. I have ideas about  working on something similar over the break in April, but the kids are off school for 2 weeks, so maybe I'm being a bit adventurous.

I've added the design to my Society6 shop, where you can buy it on a tote bag. I did try to add it to Spoonflower but I couldn't get the repeat to work, so I think I'll leave that for the time being. For now I'm looking forward to next week and seeing everybody's work in the gallery.


I was on the bus looking through the photos on my phone and found this picture from Christmas last year. Reminds me of the palette I used in this piece.


12 March 2014

March Bootcamp - Jellies

I've been so focused on Bootcamp, I feel like I haven't posted for ages.

This month's assignment is jelly, which I already had on my 'to do' list, so I thought I'd be off to a running start, but I stalled. My head went off in so many different directions I couldn't decide what to do.

I was determined to use more original drawings this time round, so I just sat down and and drew everything I could, and it was brilliant. I'd forgotten how enjoyable drawing can be when you just go with it. Using loose sheets of paper rather than sketchbooks has also helped.

Now we've to work our design into a pattern for bolt fabric. I know the principles of pattern repeats (kind of) but it's something I've been wanting to learn about for a while so this seemed like a good opportunity. I didn't even look at colour for the first few days, I just worked with my icons, getting them to work in a pattern the way I wanted them to. I learnt a lot in the process but my brain did ache at times trying to make sense of it all.

I'm still playing with colours. I'm still not that clued up on using colour in Photoshop, so I just placed some basic shapes of colour in to see how they would work together (above). They sort of work, so I might just do a little bit of refining and leave it. Then I'd like to try another version with brighter colours. For some reason I'm being drawn to muted tones, which isn't very jelly-ish really. Right at the beginning I was thinking bright transparent jewel tones, I even took the photo below for colour inspiration, but I keep heading for the retro colours.


28 February 2014

Final thoughts on February's Bootcamp assignment.

This is the last week of the first assignment in Bootcamp, so think of this post like Dumbledore's Pensieve; I need to get this down and clear my head before I start on next month's assignment.

The gallery went live on Tuesday and I spent a good part of Wednesday looking through it. This was time well spent, as looking at other people's work, especially people who've been working on the same project as yourself, is a really important part of the learning process. It was also great to see my work in the gallery context. It was much easier to see what was and wasn't working, information I'll use in the next assignment.

The other thing that the gallery highlighted was just how much very good work is being done. A bit daunting in some respects, but it only emphasises the importance of pursuing your own ideas and vision. The Helsinki Bus Station Theory on creativity explains it better (Guardian link -  short, funny, and not as dry as it sounds :D)     

Keeping all this in mind, I've got some ideas on how I might approach the next assignments. I'd like to do more hand drawing and I'm itching to get the paints out, and also, as ever, I need to be braver, take some risks make some mistakes  ... story of my life really!

25 February 2014

Society 6

Just a very quick post to let you know that I've finally opened my Society 6 shop here. I continued working on my Little Cuckoos piece and this is the final white background version, which I've just listed on Society 6.

16 February 2014

MATS Bootcamp - February week 2

I'm at the end of my first 2 weeks of MATS Bootcamp and it's been a busy 2 weeks. This is pretty much where I am now. It needs a couple of tweeks but it's pretty much there.        

The theme we were given to work with was cuckoo clocks. If I'm honest, I have to say my heart sank. I like to draw unusual things, things that are a bit ugly, this wasn't firing for me, I couldn't see an obvious way into the subject. But as I looked closer and worked on my sketches I started to find elements, angles and patterns that interested me and helped me find a way in.

Then we were asked to work our ideas into a design for an phone cover. Again, my heart sank, such difficult proportions to work with. A single clock seemed like it would sit quite nicely in the long rectangle shape, but after I printed off some templates and did some sketches the idea of a pattern seemed to be working better for me.

TBH I've never really looked at phone covers, I'm the sort of person who has a white cover on a white iPhone, so I had to really think about what sort of cover I might like. iPhones are small beautifully proportioned objects, whatever I did had to work with that rather than fight against it. I decided I wanted the design to have clean lines, with fewer icons which were well placed within the template. Edit and refine seemed to be my main mantra when working on this piece. Everything had to earn its place.

I wasted time in the early stages. My daughter was off school sick for the first week so I spent too long looking at and gathering source material which I then spent far too long drawing up. As time goes on I'm sure I'll get better and quicker at recognising what will and won't work, which will then free me up to concentrate more on drawing. One good thing I did was take the time at the beginning to organise my palette. Normally, I use colours instinctively but it always ends up confused and messy and I need to take time at the end to tidy it up. It was much easier working with fewer colours right from the beginning. 

I'd like to try a final version with a paler background (like in the 3rd sketch) and I have an idea for a larger version but the schools are on holiday all next week, so time will be short. For now I'm going to put this design away for a couple of days so I get the opportunity to see it with fresh eyes which will hopefully highlight anything that needs changing.

Here's some snaps I took which show the evolution of the design after I started working in Photoshop. I had this idea that I wanted to include a building from Edinburgh (if you know Edinburgh, a sort of cross of Ramsay Gardens and Gladstone's Land) but that eventually went, along with the brolly and the cogs.

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