Little Notions in Uppercase Magazine

This was a submission I did for the current issue of the beautiful

Uppercase Magazine

on the theme of "Little Notions" - a term I didn't know  - for small sewing accessories. I liked how the words "little notions" also sounded to me like "little ideas" or "ideas of little children". Sometimes not having as wide a vocabulary as I'd like, can be useful as the misinterpretations can spark ideas!

Moo Business Cards

I ordered some new business cards recently from Before they existed, with the option of getting many images printed at once, my cards were always homemade as I could never choose just one image to represent me on a professionally printed business card. I remember from my postcard produced on leaving art college that by the time I'd given out a handful of the 200 my style have changed! (Although I still have some of that fox card from 1990 and I think my style has sort of looped back around in the twenty three years. If only I could have reassured my brother then that Photoshop was on its way and I wouldn't always have to draw directly on top of our grandfather's notebooks!)

My 1990 Promotional Postcard 

When I was laying out the Moo cards to photograph it reminded me of rainy days as a nanny spent on the floor playing Pairs with the children....thinking it might be fun to make some sets of the game.

Wall Art Project

Two finished pieces

buttons and lamb that worked there way into finals
work in progress - background for top image

Back in June I took Part A of an e-course run by my agent Lilla Rogers called "Make Art that Sells". It was aimed at helping artists, illustrators and designers "up" their work to the next level and create work focused on five key commercial areas - Wall Art, Bolt Fabric, Children's Book Illustration, and artwork for Gifts and Homeware. There were around 500 participants from all over the world - many, many of them were already highly successful and talented artists and it was an initially nerve wracking, then challenging, followed by inspiring and completely invigorating experience to be thrown into such a school of high achievers! Lilla motivated and nurtured us all with such enthusiasm yet tenderness that I'm certain everyone will have come out of the experience feeling both creatively and emotionally stronger. 

Though I've been represented by Lilla Rogers Studio since 2007 and have had some success with licensing of artwork and crossing over into surface design - for cards, wrap, bags, rugs, swimwear - I still see myself very much coming from an editorial illustration background and training and it's in that area that the great majority of my work both in the UK and USA comes from. The course was a wonderful way to make me see the possibilities and applications for my work in a fresh way.

This project for the Wall Art week was definitely the one I most loved working on and helped break down old attitudes and assumptions. Several of Lilla's other artists have had lots of success with Wall Art including the beautiful work produced by Mati Rose, Lisa Congdon and Lisa De John. Initially I was concerned I somehow wouldn't fit this area as I don't come from a gallery/artist background - I see my work as being between paper, something that lasts the length of a magazine or the turning of a page not hanging on a wall. (Surely a throw back to my time studying Illustration at Maidstone College of Art where the courses were clearly delineated between Fine Art and Illustration....and my joyful cross overs into the Printmaking department felt like going behind enemy lines!) I'm also so used to responding to a brief that the opportunity to spend a day doing what ever I wanted with no final image in mind was amazingly liberating. I think I so love my job and the way I spend my days I hadn't considered until that day spent painting these backgrounds in the kitchen that it could be even more fun!

It was an amazing five weeks and Part B of the course starts next month...I'm already excited and ring fenced my autumn weekends for working on it!

Work for Illustrated Ape Magazine

In the autumn I was asked to contribute a double page illustration for a special issue of Illustrated Ape  - and my fourteen year younger self was super excited - I can still remember the thrill of seeing the first issue of the magazine in 1998 and feeling like it was a sign of a new emerging illustration "scene". The fact they asked me to contribute to a comic themed issue, printed in red and black and to illustrate a section of a really dark torch song seemed like a slip up - don't they know I mostly draw dogs in clothes and flowers?! However I loved the challenge as so often having a colour palette that isn't a natural choice to me or subject matter I wouldn't normally be asked to tackle are the types of things that move my work on.

Themerson Day and Wonderful Papers

Back at the beginning of the summer I was lucky enough to be able to attended a one day conference on the artists, film makers, writers. philosopher, poet...all round creative couple Franciszka and Stefan Themerson. Not only was the event, held at Queen Mary's University, London, free but we were each given an envelope full of duplicate documents from the Themerson Archive and this lovely book full of Franciszka's drawings.

I can still remember the afternoon in the early 90s and not long out of art college when working as a part time nanny (whilst starting out in illustration) I took the three children to the Imperial War Museum and I discovered Franciszka's drawings for the first time. I remember the thrill and that connection I felt with her simple sketchy, quirky drawings - that strange powerful , sort of emotionally overwhelming feeling you get when something resonates with you. I'm fascinated by that feeling, what  instigates it and why do we respond to somethings and not others? Any one know anything about this?!

The Fundamentals of Illustration

"The Fundamentals of Illustration"by Lawrence Zeegen has been revised by Louise Fenton and my website is featured in it. Isn't that mustard and pink cover by Mia Nilsson gorgeous! 
I think it would make a great book for an illustration student or recent graduate - though I too plan to read it. Thinking back to when I graduated in 1990 there just wasn't any printed information on starting out in illustration  - just three pages of handouts from the last term. 
In February next year my US agent Lilla Rogers has a book coming out "I Just Like to Make Things: Learn the Secrets to Making Money While Staying Passionate About Your Art and Craft" which I'm looking forward to reading.

Paper Archives

Last week I listened to an interesting programme on the radio about digital archives and the way people can now keep track and record so much of their lives. I liked the view of an interviewed psychologist who said "there is a good reason we forget things". I think this is so true - how much more messy would our lives be if we could instantly access images, text, video and sound of things long past that our minds and hearts would rather have edited out. 

Sometimes we need so little to recapture a memory or sense of time. Yesterday afternoon I looked through some of my old "visuals files" from the late 80s and 90s. 

I remember when I used to file these every few months I'd sometimes wish I was being more methodical. I remember seeing other illustrators who were filing saved images by category. Mine are random other than chronological (within a year or so) and compiled by what I thought looked good together. Now years later when I can use Google if I need to know how a certain animal looks or search images on a certain theme, what I most appreciate about these books are the randomness of them. I remember being intrigue by the Surrealists' use of Lautreamont's famous phrase, 'as beautiful as the chance encounter on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella'.

I have a huge box full of similar papers from the last ten years that I've never got around to filing. I also seem to gather less now....whether this is because less catches my eye or there is less printed material generally or whether I just don't look for it so much I'm not sure. I'd love to hear about other people's experiences of collecting printed ephemera.

Illustration for Selvedge Magazine and Memories of Little Grey Rabbit

Above is an illustration for Selvedge Magazine. I think it was for the issue before last  - to inform readers of all the different opportunities there are to connect with the magazine.

Lately I've been trying to have a clear out of old magazines but my few Selvedge ones I've bought over the years definitely won't be going in recycling! It's such an inspiring magazine, and I love the size and paper, I know that I'll want to refer to them in the future.

And below a buttercup repeat using the hive idea.

I've always been intrigued by hives since seeing this picture in "Little Grey Rabbit's Birthday". One of my most loved books from childhood and probably the book that made me decide at six years old that I wanted to be an illustrator. Margaret Tempest was the first illustrator I could name and I still adore her work. I particularly loved looking at the endpapers and still dream about living in this house in a forest!

Now I need to clean the blue ink off the glass on my scanner!

Illustrations as Diagrams

Nobody told me when I was a student that illustration could involve drawing simple diagram type information - I knew botanical, technical and medical illustrators did this....but on my course it was all about illustrating Iris Murdoch, Angela Carter or stories we wrote our selves.

I think out of the twelve on our course (only twelve!) I would have been far down the list of those likely to end up drawing "information illustrations" - actually we probably all would have been - we were all encouraged to tap into our imaginations and be explorative with different media. Which I think is fantastic and two of the main purposes of an illustration degree.

But as a working illustrator a lot of my work involves doing step by step type illustrations - often for craft books or exercises/yoga positions for magazines  - and I love doing this. There is a real satisfaction in getting it right but also aiming to make it look attractive. I think my nineteen year old self would not have believed I'd ever end up doing and more so enjoying such work!

The above illustration was for the US Family Circle Magazine - a simple foot relaxing exercise - it feels amazing!

Vintage Fair and vintage reflections

When I arrived in London in 1991 after art college via Paris and Scotland, my friend Katie and I rented a small, tall terraced house in South East London. No heating and no carpets...just gaps in the floorboards and wonderful coal fires in most rooms. (We'd take a taxi to the coal merchants with polythene sheeting to lie in the taxi driver's boot on the return journey).

In the basement we had a workroom where we'd stay up late listening to the radio and making papier  mache pots, painted boxes and furniture, mono printed and hand bound albums and notebooks. I'd done my thesis at art college on the Bloomsbury group and inspired by the Omega workshop we'd come to London to make and sell!

Over that first cold winter we'd get up early on a Sunday and stagger to the station loaded down with those big cheap checked laundry bags and head for a stall at Camden or Greenwich Markets. The money we'd make mostly went on cosy lunches and hot chocolates with marshmallows to keep us warm. We had business cards printed and that was our promotion done! It's strange now in this land of Etsy, websites, twitter and blogs to think how different things were just not that long ago. I remember whilst still in Scotland writing a letter to a ceramicist in London who I'd read about in a magazine asking politely for some business advice....I never had a reply. I always think of that unanswered letter when contacted by students. Nowadays it seems as if there is much more a culture of sharing and supporting amongst artists/makers - all made easier by the internet. Most of our planning for the move to London and our "business plan" was done over the phone - me in Scotland, Katie in Guernsey. My Dad wouldn't allowed me to chat on the phone so I'd go to the phone box across the road with a bundle of ten pence pieces and a notebook and pen.  Pre mobile phones and pre internet days. I wonder where we found the contact details for the market organisers...and I guess we read printed timetables to know which train to catch!

Anyway after a few winter Sundays Katie got a real job and I got a full time job working in a friend's shop (where mostly I spent my days drawing and writing stories on the back of the shop's fliers, occasionally there would be a customer - often lovely, lonely women who would return, after pouring their hearts out to me, with a box of chocolates or once an amber necklace!) and later I started a Post Grad Art History course. And our dream for the "Worldbackwards" emporium quietly died away.

After a round trip of fifteen years to North London I'm back living in South East London and two weekends ago I found myself up early and trundling along the road to the station with a wheely suitcase and a bundle of bags....helped by my boyfriend...regretting the death of our car in the springtime and on a train to Caterham Vintage and Art Fair. I caught myself thinking here I go again....still doing the same old thing "carrying my wares around" has nothing changed!

Later in the day Katie turned up to keep me company in the beautiful Edwardian Soper Hall and we enjoyed delicious cup cakes from Bake plus more yummy cake and coffee from A Grand Affair served in old china cups. With a sound backdrop of 40s and 50s music we chatted to customers and other stall holders and I ended up spending some of my takings - on vintage children's books and a 60s pale blue Finnish enamel kettle - not a good business model!

By the return journey in the evening I found myself reflecting how lovely it is to meet the people who've bought the things you've made and to be around other people who are selling things that they've made or gathered with love or care.

It didn't feel any longer like a step backward - just looping back around on a beautiful walk!

Suffolk Alumni Magazine and gathering reference


This was for the Alumni Magazine (SAM) of Suffolk University in Boston.

It was a piece about an American woman and her husband who moved to Australia to start a new life and her experiences of her move and starting afresh in a different continent.

The unusual thing about coming up with ideas for this project was that I was working on it before the text was written so it needed to be quite a general image.

I often wonder how I managed to gather reference for commissions pre-internet.....a stock of books and a trip to the library? Now I so often turn to Google - however for this project I got the opportunity to use a book, that has been quietly waiting to be of use for over 30 years. 

 The book I used for reference “Furred Animals of Australia” was given to me by an elderly Australian gentleman, Mr. Marshall, in 1977. He’d emigrated to Australia in about 1912 as a small boy and when he returned to our town in Scotland for the first time sixty five years later, he was put in contact with my grandfather as he was the town Provost and an expert on local history. It turned out they had been next-door neighbours and best friends as children prior to Mr Marshall emigrating! They spent a magical week reminiscing and visiting the local area together. And I as an animal obsessed nine year old when I met him quizzed him about the animals of Australia.
My grandfather died a few months after his visit and Mr Marshall treated me as his “adopted” granddaughter sending me books and presents from Australia and letters that talked sometimes of his childhood memories.

This book has always had a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart and I was delighted to be able to use it for this project - so much more rewarding than clicking on Google!

The Cresswell Horsehead and where does our need to make marks come from?

A week Saturday I'd gone to Chichester without a sketchbook. On the train home I drew these on the back of a brown paper bag.

When I've imagined being imprisoned somewhere - like you do :-) - as well as the obvious fears - one thing that would concern me would be not having access to paper and pens.
I wish I knew more and understood more in an anthropological and psychological way about where this need to make marks comes from and why we as humans have it?

On the BBC documentary the "History of Ancient Britain" a couple of weeks ago they showed a beautiful drawing/engraving done 13,000 years ago of a horse's head scratched into a horse's bone. Here is a clip about the Cresswell Horsehead.

When I'm responding to a commission I'm conscious of and considering an end result. But there is something about the sometimes sudden need to draw that is so immediate and the act of making the marks is the total driving force. I feel a much closer connection to the Cresswell Horsehead artist than to all the more recent art historical periods in between him/her and me.

I see the British Museum are planning an exhibition "Creative Beginnings: European art in the Ice Age" from October 27 – February 2012.

26 things I wish I'd known...about being freelance

Earlier this week I took part in an Employability Event for third year art, design and media students at Portsmouth University. I'd been invited to speak about my route from college to what I do now and my experience of working as a freelancer.

Professional Practice is something I have taught on several Illustration degree courses and that I feel particularly passionate about as when I graduated twenty years ago this just didn't feature on the curriculum.

I'm always wishing there was more discussion (online and in the real world) about the experiences and realities of being an illustrator so I thought I'd post here "26 things I wish I'd known...about being freelance" which were the headings to my powerpoint slides. I'd love to hear your thoughts, experiences and any additions to these...

  1. If you are self employed you need to be able to do a bit of everything

  1. Working from home can at times be very lonely and at other times a delightful and privileged experience

  1. Working in a shared studio space can be an immensely supportive experience. It can also give you a sense of professionalism, give structure to the day and can lead to making contacts.

  1. Networking is not a nasty 80s word but something that occurs naturally

  1. The best way to be able to keep in contact with existing clients is to have new work to show

  1. All commissioning and buying decisions are related to appropriateness and marketability. It can be a balancing act staying in the industry, staying “fashionable” yet staying true to self

  1. Your priorities might change

  1. As an illustrator you may be able to work from anywhere in the world!

  1. The way you might be working in five or ten years may not even be invented yet

  1. Your greatest creative spurt might still be to come

  1. Not everybody is ready at the same time

  1. The most important clients are the ones you already have

  1. It can often seem like good money - but you have to divide it over times you aren’t working or when you are focusing on promotion and business and office management and over holidays, etc

  1. Everything will constantly change so you will need to continue learning and developing new skills

  1. Sometimes work days will go by that don’t involve doing any creative work

  1. Some of the people you are sitting next to might be commissioning you in the future

  1. The grouchy people are just as likely to employ you as the enthusiastic people

  1. Self-promotion is about promoting yourself often as much as about your work

  1. It’s a competitive world but we are all different

  1. How hard you work doesn’t always relate to how well you do so sometimes it feels like Snakes and Ladders

  1. Don’t take things personally and persevere

  1. Be persistent (without being pushy) And follow up opportunities quickly

  1. Don’t hold back because things aren’t quite perfect. Get your work out there - into the world

  1. If offered poor pay or poor terms - consider the long term consequences as well as short term gains - both for you and for the industry

  1. Don’t get overwhelmed by what other people do

  1. Keep tapping into the things you are passionate about