Saturday, 21 July 2018

Rebranding Myself on my 10 Year Anniversary

Those who have been following me for a long time, will have watched the unfolding of quite a few changes in my work. When I first started this blog, almost exactly 10 years ago, I was working as a full-time picture book illustrator. I had just finished the artwork for Dragon's Dinner. I was at the peak of my time in children's publishing, winning awards and performing at major festivals like Hay and Edinburgh. I had no plans for things to change and could not have imagined what the coming years would bring.

It was during that year, I was invited to join Urban Sketchers and become a correspondent. Again, I could not have known how important that invitation would be for my future adventures. It almost immediately took me to Lisbon, for my first Urban Sketchers Symposium then, the following year, I was invited to run a workshop in Santa Domingo

I had always found the isolation of studio work frustrating - I am a people person - so the international travels which urban sketching brought, really opened out my life. I got extraordinary opportunities to work alongside artists from all around the globe. Who would have thought I could wind up sketching on the Sugarloaf mountain in Brazil!

10 years on, I find myself in an entirely new place. Okay, I am still based in my lovely attic studio in Sheffield, but I no longer illustrate picture books. My new creative life has two very different facets. The urban sketching has evolved into my research-sketching work, which still occasionally takes me off on adventures overseas. Anyone who has been looking in lately will know all about my research work in Australia.

One of the key things which I absolutely love about this work is the fact that it is not studio-based. Every day is different, because I am working with different people in different places, learning new things. I have just begun work on a couple of new projects with York University and it gives me a huge buzz to be around such clever and interesting people, sucking up knowledge as I paint.

The other new development has been my textiles work, which came absolutely out of the blue. Actually, the seed was planted by a chat with researchers at York University a couple of years ago. We were putting in a bid for a sketching project and they asked me to think about how I might create a single piece of artwork, which could illustrate key elements from my research sketchbooks. I didn't like the idea of re-drawing my sketches as illustrations (even though that would seem the obvious thing to do, given my illustration background). I got the idea that changing medium, stitching the artwork rather than drawing, would be more fun and a more creative experience for me. 

Unfortunately, we didn't get the funding for that project, but that little seed had already grown roots and I couldn't shift it. I decided to explore the idea anyway and, my goodness, what an exciting plant it is developing into! The early textiles pieces were based on specific sketches, with me trying out the new language of stitch and exploring different ways of using it. When I was funded for a 2-month residency at Orchard Square, I felt for the first time that this was more than just play, that it was a legitimate path of work for me.

It is ironic that I began my artistic journey with a degree in Printed Textiles at Middlesex University, way back in the 1980s. I never worked as a textile designer then: the textiles industry in Britain was on its knees when I graduated and my path was already bending towards illustration. It's funny how things work out. 

The textiles work has now evolved away from the sketches and, on my 10-year blog anniversary, I am enjoying two thoroughly rewarding, but very different avenues of work. It might seem odd to be following two such disparate paths at once, but it feels good, and the shift back and forth keeps both things fresh. I suppose it's similar to the way I used to shift back and forth between my book illustrations and my sketchbooks. They were very different too and I needed the contrast to keep my creativity from going stale. Does that make sense?

The more observant amongst you might have noticed a subtle difference in the blog today. Ten years on, I have realised that the label 'illustrator' is no longer the best way to describe myself. So I have re-named the blog An Artist's Life for Me! I feel that better encompasses the new and exciting things I am doing. 

What a journey. Thank you so much for coming along on the ride. I hope it has been interesting for you, Gentle Reader, and continues to be so. I wonder what the next 10 years hold in store? 

Monday, 16 July 2018

A New (Sort-of) Website for my Textiles

Hello! I am so sorry that I have been a wee bit 'off-air' of late. There has been so much going on that I have been a bit preoccupied. 

One thing which has been happening, is that I have been applying for funding for projects to do with my textiles work. Doing this is a bit boring - there's lots of sitting at a computer filling in forms - but it does help focus your mind on what you are doing and want to do. Anyway, I immediately realised that I needed a website which showcased the work, and my existing websites, for the children's books and the research-sketching, just confuse matters, when it comes to promoting my textiles.

But, I simply don't have the time to create another full-blown website right now, so I thought the easiest way to get it together quickly and without having to fork out cash, was to create myself a new Facebook pageFor the very first time, there is now a body of my textiles work available for people to look at, all together. 

I have uploaded all the lovely new photos I had taken (thanks Matthew), as well as several zoomed-in details from the work, like these, to help you see the stitching more clearly. There's a bit of background info with each piece too, so you can get more of an idea what I was going for. 

Do take a look and let me know what you think. Pretty much everything I have created is there, since that very first experimental interpretation of a sketch on a train, back in 2016. 

That piece really started something for me!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Creating Monsters

On Wednesday this week, I spent a lovely day at St. Patrick's Catholic Primary School on the other side of Sheffield. It was my first school visit since getting back from my Australian adventures.

I was meeting just the KS1 children, so it was a day of wall-to-wall storytelling. I started with them all together in the hall, did some drawing at the flipchart, then read Class Two at the Zoo, always a favourite. 

Through the day, I saw three of the classes again in their classrooms, and we read another 5 stories, sang silly songs and did tons of drawing together. When I read Bears on the Stairs, I took the opportunity to do my class-eating poem with them, which I always really enjoy. If you haven't heard it, here is a little film, made by a teacher at a previous school visit. Watch the cute little boy in white:

Another of my favourite activities is the design-a-monster-by-committee game. I ask various kids about different elements of the monster, then do my best to illustrate their ideas, so we build it up a little at a time. The children always get really excited as the monster gets sillier and sillier. The deputy head at St Patrick's loved it too and wanted to share it with the parents, so she got me to recreate their monster after school, while she filmed it appear on the flipchart.

Thanks you SO much to everyone at St. Patrick's for such an easy and fun day, and a special thank you to Miss Hall, their much-loved art teacher, for looking after me so well. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

Photographing my Textiles

Last week, I decided to bite the bullet and get professional photographs taken of my textiles work to date. They are so hard to photograph properly, because the beauty is often in the detail, which never comes out well when you do it yourself. Colours are an issue too. The light is never balanced right and never even across the surface.

I took a dozen pieces out into Derbyshire, to the Little Longstone studio of photographer Matt Swift. Watching him in action was fascinating and really emphasised why my own photos of the work are never very successful.

It took a couple of hours to work out the best way to light them. He tried a few possibilities, each of which brought out different aspects of the textures and materials. The organza in particular was interesting. Lit in one way, you got a lot of sheen on the surface, which was lovely, but it emphasised the top layers, so that the stitches beneath were less visible: a bit like looking at the sea through polarised or non-polarised lenses. 

Another lighting set-up really brought out the stitched texture of the surface: the way the top fabric has a subtly 'quilted' quality, as each stitch pulls the layers tight. This added a pleasing 3-dimensional element, but needed to be reined in to some extent, or it was more pronounced than the stitches themselves.

We played about with different effects, using my Ladybower piece as a tester. Each time he took a shot, a battery-pack the size of a small dog in the centre of the space powered a blinding flash not unlike a lightening strike. A second later, a new image appeared on the huge monitor beside me. They were so incredibly sharp you could zoom in and in and in, until tiny stitches were big as string.

Typically, we decided that the first arrangement he'd tried was the best, so he moved the 8ft reflection screen and the two big, black umbrellas, and re-arranged tripod lights until all was perfect.

Once we got that nailed, the rest was like shelling peas. One piece after another was carefully secured in place and shot through with the lightening. I am delighted with the results and would highly recommend Matt if anyone else in my part of the world needs the same thing doing.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Competition Results are In!

It's official - we have a prize winner! Well, two winners actually, and they are both FANTASTIC sketchers, as you can see!

We had entries for the Sketching Work Design competition from Australia, Canada, UK, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Portugal and the USA, which was so exciting, both for me and the rest of the research team, who got quite giddy when new ones kept coming in  from far and wide for them to open. 

The first prize goes to Deb Mostert from Australia, for her excellent portrayal of the job of the Collections Manager at Queensland Museum. She created her entry on two sketchbooks, both of which are gently but wonderfully detailed and communicate so much, so clearly. We were all bowled over by them.

The second prize goes to Rita Sabler from the USA, for her story of a freight train operator for The Union Pacific Railroad. Through her beautifully captured details and observations, Rita conveys a real sense of the man's personal relationship with the work.

You can see the full concertina sketchbooks of both winners and read more detailed feedback from both myself and Professor Parker on the project's website. All the entries are now being scanned. I will do another blog post as soon as they are done, to show some of the other entries that came close. They were so gorgeous, it was both a terrible and a wonderful task, having to choose.

The sketchbooks will be returned to the artists as soon as possible after scanning. Please bear with us - it takes a while. If there are any concerns about anything, please contact the research centre. Don't contact me, as I am now home in the UK and so won't know anything about what's going on.

A huge congratulations to both Deb Mostert and Rita Sabler, whose prize money should be on its way pretty soon, as well as to all the artists who entered - great job. Well done everyone!