Category Archives: Animals

The power of words- and the vessels to hold them. (The stories behind my top 10 greetings card designs!)

This year has forced an odd paradox. Meaningful human connection, necessary for us to function properly, has only been recommended to occur from a distance. This is a bittersweet contradiction in itself- where words and technology are our normally our tools to enhance our powers of connection, they have had to do as a replacement for many of our day-to-day physical expressions of love. If it weren’t for my lovely partner keeping my hug-o-meter going all by himself, I probably would have struggled even more than I did.

But, perhaps because of this, the act of using words to communicate and to document has felt even more powerful this year. I’ve felt like I’ve got a little more practice at expressing myself honestly- not just in the ways that I feel people want to hear. To paraphrase a really good friend in a heart-to-heart over the phone the other day- when your world becomes contained within four walls, there is no space to hide from the things that scare you anymore- and when this happens, you have to face them in the best way you know how.

I’m just coming to the end of a short writing course, called “The Winter Writing Sanctuary”, taught by the inspirational Beth Kempton. (Any of you word lovers, PLEASE jump in and take this course if you can- it’s so freeing, supportive, and fun!) Over the past two weeks, I’ve really challenged myself- to write every day, to approach each of the prompts openly and fully, to share my work even though its scary. As I’ve begun to realise more than ever before that one of my life’s dreams is not only to illustrate, but WRITE my own children’s books as well, it has been a wonderful way to enjoy writing for fun again – and allow ideas to bubble up without putting too much pressure on them as they’re trying to get out! I’m realising that I really love writing with a gentle undertone of comedy- which makes perfect sense really, as there is nothing I like more than making people laugh! (This will be the focus for my next post, my last before Christmas!)

I treated myself to a new notebook for this course which got me thinking about where we like to keep our words, to keep them safely locked away for ourselves or for others. What vessels do we use to store them? Some feel pretty permanent- like books or letters (which may be why it sometimes feels so daunting to put the first words into them, because we want them to feel like something precious!) – while we know that others may not stick around for ever- they may be more fleeting expressions of our feelings at the time.

I’ve always loved sending physical post to people as a way to remind them that I’m thinking of them. I loved exchanging letters with an old school friend back throughout April and May- she is an awesome writer, I smiled at the pictures she conjured of walks in the sunshine and precious time spent on new hobbies (the alchemy of dehydrating foods and making Himalayan Balsam gin) and imagined a similar sunny day where I could hug her again, and join in with these adventures!

This year (even more than those that have passed, although it’s a ritual I really enjoy) I want to prioritise writing Christmas cards. They are, after all, mini presents made up of well wishes- and I know that the people that I reach out to will appreciate the thought!

In this seasonal special blog post I’m going to be talking a little bit about the stories behind 10 of the Christmas card illustrations I’m most proud of- as well as links to where to buy them, if you so wish!

A couple of notes about these links, and the places that I currently sell my greetings cards, before we begin:

-Thortful is an online greetings card marketplace- artists can upload their designs, Thortful handles the production costs, and royalties come when people buy your cards! (To see my profile, take a look here!

-My shop is a new venture I launched last year- a place to continue the good work that I do at art shows and exhibitions; to sell the work I have developed as products (greetings cards, mugs, coasters, etc.) I order stock, package and post myself! To visit and browse, click “shop” in the menu bar above, or click here!

As the copyright for the designs on Thortful remains with me (they don’t own an exclusive license to any of the work) there is some cross-over with the greetings cards I sell through both of these platforms. Since the pandemic hit I’ve been grateful to have both in existence: I have had the best year on Thortful sales-wise since starting in 2016, and I have been gearing my promotion more towards that platform to reduce the time I spend at the post office over the past months. However, after exploring some more creative ways of getting post out, I’ll be pushing my own shop more next year!

TOP TEN FAVOURITES: CHRISTMAS CARDS TO CELEBRATE WINTER!

“Winter Balloon” – © Carina Roberts Illustration

Believe it or not, winter is one of my favourite seasons. Yes it can be bleak, depressing and sharply poignant at times, but it can also be the most beautiful season, with the sun low in the sky and a hollow, cold quality to the air- particularly when it snows. I love how your breath plumes out in front of you like a dragon’s, the sprinkling of frost on a morning walk, the bluish tint to hillsides on a cold day. When I was planning ideas for “Winter Balloon”, I was inspired by the Gordano Valley where I grew up, the fields that I used to be able to see from some of my school classrooms where I would daydream: imagining striding out to explore like an adventurer.

Where to buy? This design can be bought direct from my shop!

“Winter Woollies”- © Carina Roberts Illustration

Robins are one of the most loved symbols of winter and Christmas here in the the UK. They’re just irresistible – to admire outside among stark branches while dressed up snugly, or encapsulated within a greetings card- round, bouncy, fluffed out and bright. The story goes that our association with these charming little fellows began in the 1800s with the creation of the postal service, and the red uniforms that were issued for staff: later nicknamed “robins” (could this also be linked to the phrase, “round robin”?)

Our nearby woods and green spaces have been indispensable to me this year as I’ve focused on taking delight at the small pleasures of life. Catching a glimpse of these little birds reminds me of the famous individual we had turn up every Forest School snack time to hoover up the crumbs – looking back at this design which I created in 2016 now feels like a happy memory of simpler times (and maybe even a symbol of hope for the future!)

Where to buy? This design can found for sale on my Thortful site, or direct from me at my shop.

“BOK-ing around the Christmas Tree” © 2020 Carina Roberts Illustration

Last year, I was coming up with some new ideas for a Christmas collection, based on animals. After spending a weekend in early November 2019 with my partner at his parents’ farm and palling around with their chickens again, I knew I had to include them somehow.

I love helping with the daily care of these feathered members of the extended family! Opening their coop in the morning, mischief at dusk when one decides it’s not bedtime when tucking them in – it’s a joy to watch their jerky, dinosaur-like movements whatever they’re up to, especially when they dash madly after whoever they think may be the keeper of food. This was around the time that I first started considering intentionally including more of my sense of humour in the artwork I make, as I started exploring ways that a greedy hen might get to their Christmas feast quicker.

Where to buy? This design can be found for sale on my Thortful site until the 31st of December 2020. After that, it’ll only be available direct from me. (I’ll talk more about why a little later on!)

“Prince of Snow”
“Inuit Bear”
“Polar Bear Closeup”

Seeing the work of Raymond Briggs in a whole new light after studying “When the Wind Blows” for my university dissertation (and buying “The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman” for my Dad the Christmas before last) I have plunged into as many of his books as I have been able to over the past few years- revisiting old favourites and discovering new ones.

“The Bear” is definitely one of these new favourites- after reading the book (and watching the film adaptation) I produced a flurry of work inspired by polar bears, choosing to focus on their soft and gentle side (their proud features, the smooth slopes of their snowy heads) in the three designs above.

Where to buy? “Prince of Snow”: This design can found for sale on my Thortful site, or direct from me at my shop.

“Inuit Bear”: This design can be bought direct from my shop!

“Polar Bear Close-up”: This design can also be bought direct from my shop!

“Hibernation”
“Cosy and Warm”

Another huge plus for winter in my book is the COSINESS! I love a pair of fluffy socks, a woolly jumper, a warm blanket- I love snuggling up in the one my Mum knitted me a couple of years ago on a cold winter’s night.

It feels like something really innate, this desire to snuggle up during the coldest, darkest months. Lots of animals hibernate, gathering up all the cosiest materials they can find to get ready for a long sleep- and looking incredibly cute to our human eyes when they do. It can be difficult to get a good glimpse at this when they’re out in the wild- but I’ve been lucky enough to make some drawings of similar mice from life on a couple of occasions. For both of these designs, I really tried to imagine how these tiny creatures were feeling, ensconced in their carefully crafted nests after a winter feast.

Where to buy? “Hibernation” – This design can found for sale on my Thortful site, or direct from me at my shop (while stocks last- it is one of my most popular cards!)

“Cosy and Warm” – This design can found for sale on my Thortful site.

“Have a Quacking Christmas”

When I first moved into my current house last September, I wanted to get to know my surroundings properly: not just as somewhere to see in passing, (as I had been doing every time I came to visit my partner) but as a home.

There’s a community farm very close by that I visited a couple of times during this period, in order to get some inspiration and ideas for a new Christmas collection (“A Christmas Farmyard”, the same group of greetings cards “BOK-ing Around the Christmas Tree” was designed for.) I had taken an interest in geese after playing the “Untitled Goose Game” through Steam (it’s hilarious, if any of you like video games and a bit of bird-related humour I’d definitely recommend it!) I was delighted to find a variety of honking as well as quacking species waddling around their site- based on my observations of their movements and beautiful markings, I began the development work for the raucous party of ducks you see above. (I look forward to when we can party this hard again!)

Where to buy? This design is currently available on my Thortful site, and after the 31st of December, (ie. ready for next Christmas) direct from me at my shop. I am still working on adding to the “Christmas farmyard” collection- who knows who else might be joining them next year!

“Horatio’s Hindrance”

Decorating for Christmas has always been one of my favourite parts of winter- twinkling lights that make your everyday living space feel magical; a tree dotted with memories of years past, captured fleeting moments. Both me and my brother have looked on in disbelief at some of the things my Mum and Dad have continued to put out on the tree year after year- some as prehistoric as our wonky school cross-stitch attempts. There is a clear message that flows out of these choices, warming the house from the inside out: “We choose to have these Christmas Crafts on show- because you were proud of them. They were presents, your most precious treasures gifted to us- love is in each and every one, and that is worth something.”

I’ve really missed working with children face to face this year, and have thought a lot about my wonderful nursery friends over the past months. I was lucky enough to work with the most supportive, lovely groups of adult and children, in the most caring environment – and in a similar vein, the run up to our Christmas was celebrated with makes, as well as decorating the building. There was always a buzz of excitement, and the same glow of pride in our work as there had been at home when I was small – a world of exploration, without the fear of mess. (After all, a bit of mess just shows you’ve been learning and having fun!)

Designing “Horatio’s Hindrance”, I wanted to capture a little spark of this feeling- that some of life’s beauty lies in the imperfections- the beautiful chaos of Christmas craft.

Where to buy? This design can be bought direct from me at my shop. It has also become my third best seller EVER this year on my Thortful site, and will be available in its current format until the 31st of December 2020.

I say in “its current format” – as I touched on briefly earlier, there are some changes coming to Thortful on the 31st of December. After this date, they will only be accepting portrait orientation card designs on their website- any landscape cards will be deleted from artist profiles. “Horatio’s Hindrance” will be returning, but rejigged to fit this new specification, while I have plans brewing of how to build on “Bok-ing Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Quacking Christmas” and put up two new designs, still part of my “Christmas Farmyard” collection. I will still be ordering new physical stock of the cards no longer on Thortful though, for sale direct through my shop (and at face-to-face events, when I can celebrate doing those again!)

x x x

I hope there’s some inspiration here to capture those words bouncing around your head and funnel them out into or onto something- private or to be read by someone you know will love them! Fill your home with wonderful words!

As I previously mentioned, next time I’ll be talking a bit about humour and how I use it in my work. My delight at the simple things in life is something that has become apparent to me while completing the aforementioned writing course. The work I have the most fun making always has an element of gentle humour – it’s something I’d love to focus on more next year.

So, in the hope of inviting a better 2021, this will be my focus for the last blog post of the year! See you soon!

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Skokholm- A week in paradise!

“We must leave this province of the laboratory and theology to resume our study in the field.” Ronald Lockley, “The Island”. 

Third time’s a charm, or so they say. After two failed attempts to leave Martin’s Haven jetty since 2017, I held my breath, and crossed every part of my body that could be crossed in hope that this little superstition might hold firm this time.

Fair winds and a spot of good fortune later, and I can joyfully proclaim that WE MADE IT TO SKOKHOLM!!

While we (my partner, his parents and I) were there, I kept a journal- a diary and study of every wonderful thing I learnt during a week on the island, as I made friends with as many of the inhabitants as I could! This sketchbook accompanied me in all weathers and crossed a small portion of the Celtic Sea twice- it’s far from polished, but I think that adds to its charm- a bit like an old fashioned explorer’s log!

In honour of the wildly wonderful island community of Skokholm, let me tell you the story of a week spent among puffins, seals and stiff salt breezes with the help of my little battered book!

(All photos and sketches: © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration, unless credited otherwise.)

IMG_20190603_140653392_BURST000_COVER_TOP (LR FOR BLOG) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Day One – Arrival

From home to Pembrokeshire, through Marloes and on to Martin’s Haven, 03/06/19. Passing luggage onto the boat through a chain of all the people you’re going to be sharing your home with for the next week is a great way to get to know them! (Wonderfully reminiscent of my summers spent camping with Guides, too!)  Departed around 1:30PM on a slight swell, around 20 of us altogether- not choppy, but a little touch and go for the seasick among us (for once, not me!) It didn’t take long to spot the first locals- we were joined for most of the crossing by a gull gliding over our heads, and the tiniest flash of bright red, yellow and brown-black whizzing over the water would be my very first puffin sighting! And who would be waiting in the South Haven harbour for us but a speckled group of seals, wiggling about in the afternoon sunshine- with others popping their noses out of the water to see who had arrived today. What a welcome!

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Continuing the warm greeting, we all joined Richard the warden for a cup of tea and an introduction. Skokholm is home to thousands and thousands of seabirds every spring and summer, (including over 9,000 puffins!) as well as the aforementioned seals, butterflies, moths, and lots of other types of birds. As a Special Protection Area, a hugely important National Nature Reserve and a Bird Observatory, humans are very much in the minority- the island belongs to the feathered and furred inhabitants. Pathways are set up with white stones to show visitors where they’re allowed to walk around the island- keeping a respectful distance away from the residents (although you sometimes have to be careful not to tread on any burrows!)

Exploring on this first day, we visited Howard’s Bay and Crab Bay, the latter being the best place on the island to see puffins- not only are there a lot of burrows, this is where the puffins are tamest and the most inquisitive! As Richard told us later on at the Bird Log that night (where the two wardens, volunteers and guests can gather to give their wildlife sightings of the day) if you keep still enough they will come up to investigate, and perhaps even sit on you!

(Here I include a link to the official map for the island, the same one I stuck in the front of my journal. You’ll be able to see where all of the places that I mention are located!  visitor-map-Skok (1)

Settling into our room that night, blankets up my neck, I was surrounded by an ornithological racket- idyllic when mixed with the sounds of the lapping sea and whistling wind, but not exactly quiet! I stayed up pretty late just listening to the wild world outside… What a wonderful place!

Day Two: The drawing begins!

Day Two (04/06/19) was wet, so after a little more exploring we visited the hide (and the puffins!) at The Neck, overlooking North Bay. This became my workplace for the day, as I watched the puffins congregating, chattering, and generally being busy. I stayed until my fingers were too cold to draw anymore – click on the sketchpages below to enlarge today’s findings!

 

(Click on any of the images to see larger! © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration)

A bit of expansion for the little notes made here:

  • The puffin’s folded wings seem to cross over when viewed from the back, with a beautiful arrow pattern picked out in white across the dark brown-black.
  • As in the colour gouache studies, rain droplets beaded on the feathers of the landed birds- I know it’s not surprising as they spend so much time in and around water that they would have impressive waterproof jackets, but it was amazing to watch it happening in slow motion!
  • There were some pretty fabulous “boy band” power stances going on there!

IMG_20190604_141351752 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

  • Puffins (or other seabirds for that matter) “raft” – float on the sea in large groups, particularly early in the season, so I’m told.
  • I discovered two new plants that day- rock sea spurrey (sperularia rupicola), and sea campion- a halophyte, a plant tolerant to salty soil.

Day Three- An Introduction, The Jetty and the Seal Chorus!

IMG_20190605_125159951 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

The third day brought a strong breeze and brilliant sunshine, so we were led out on our postponed introductory walk by Richard the warden. We got acquainted with the main flora and fauna to be found on the island, as well some of the key locations around the perimeter- including a quick tour around the lighthouse.

Looking out from the disused lantern room over Grassholm and the wild ocean, we were told a famous ghost story. Just visible on the horizon through the telescope was the Small’s, another lighthouse which used to work together with others along the Pembrokeshire coastline to protect ships.

The tale goes that two lighthouse keepers were put in charge of the Small’s who didn’t get on, and would constantly quarrel. When one of them died, the other was terrified that he would be accused of murder, so he made a coffin and hung it from the lighthouse, hoping to be exonerated. Records show that passing sailors noticed the coffin, but no-one came to question it – or take the body away…

The coffin broke open during a bad storm, and the sound of the body slapping against the window of the hut eventually sent the remaining keeper mad. The poor man lived out the rest of his days in an asylum.

Some more (slightly more jolly!) things I learned:

  • A lot of the plants around the island are typically found in woodland (wood sage, sorrel, red campion) – apparently it should be covered in trees, so the Norse word “Skokholm” (“wooded island”)  would suggest. I wonder why it isn’t? Perhaps these days it’s more exposed to strong winds, as a lot of the plants and shrubs which grow are fairly squat to the ground?
  • Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) flowers were particularly interesting to Darwin- apparently when cross-bred with the blue variety would produce a purple hybrid!
  • The Quarry houses the “Petrel Station” nestled in amongst the towering cliffs – a man-made wall with boxed burrows in the back which the volunteers and wardens use to monitor the Storm Petrels. (More about that on Day Four!)
  • Manx Shearwaters dig their own burrows, and the chicks are beautiful bundles of brown fluff which are weighed every week or so to monitor their progress. The burrows are marked with numbered boards so they aren’t stepped on, and the birds themselves are fairly used to being handled by the wardens and volunteers. Richard scooped one out to show us, they were a lot smaller than I expected! (Sadly they are a favourite food of the great black-backed gulls, so it’s very common to see their carcasses dropped around.)

Still fair weather in the afternoon, so at low tide I wandered down to South Haven jetty where we had seen the welcoming party of seals two days ago with my partner and his mum, in the hope of seeing some more.

We managed to spot twenty-one of them around the bay! Some were snoozing stretched out on rocks, others cruising about and “bottling” in the warm shallows- resting vertically in the water, huffing through flared nostrils. A couple in particular came so close to the jetty where we sat, curiously winking at us with those huge, liquid eyes of theirs. They definitely seemed to be interested in E’s mum’s concertina practice! The closest one slowly dozed off upright, a content grin seeming to spread from ear to ear.

(Click the images below to see my seal observations from life!)

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Day Four- Moths, Singing Seals and Storm Petrels by Night

This morning we were treated to the opening of a moth trap! Ishbel (one of the long-term volunteers) gently introduced us to each new beastie, sharing her extensive knowledge – we were all particularly excited to meet the Spectacle moth, as it has a really cute little face! (It’s also the only moth I’ve ever seen with a mini mohican! See sketch below)

After exploring Spy Rock and a couple of the bird hides in the morning, I went back down to the jetty in South Haven to draw my sealy friends again. I was joined by three other ladies who were staying on the island at the same time, and we had lots more willing models!

This afternoon was particularly exciting because the seals were chorusing together, wailing and howling a beautiful song that echoed all around the cliffs. I’ve never heard anything like it- now I understand where a lot of the folk tales about sirens must have come from!

Click on the image below to see more ‘morlo’ drawings- seal in Welsh!

 

(Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration)

(A note here about a small sketch in the bottom-right corner of the page entitled “Figurehead of the Alice Williams” – in South Haven this figurehead replica watches over the harbour since the original was moved inside. The wreck of the same name was found and bought by R.M. Lockley in 1928, the timbers of which were used to help build the Wheelhouse- where the original figurehead now watches over the guests’ mealtimes.)

We were accosted by puffins for a short time at Crab Bay before dinner:

 

When it was dark, we all trooped along to the Petrel Station to see some of the Storm Petrels using Richard’s infrared camera. Even without the light, you could feel them flitting past your shoulders like bats!

A bit about these funny little birds:

  • Storm Petrels are Britain’s smallest sea-bird, they’re only about the size of a sparrow!
  • They used to be known as “Mother Carey’s chickens” to seafarers as harbingers of rough, stormy weather- Mother Carey being an ancient witch and the wife of Davey Jones- and were meant to embody the souls of drowned sailors.
  • They only lay one egg, which once hatched is the father’s responsibility- he will float out to sea with the chick as soon as is possible!
  • “Petrel” apparently came from the story of St. Peter, who could walk on water- they’re very light, and wouldn’t come inland unless they had to!

To conclude a birdy evening, we stopped on the walk back to our rooms after hearing a scuffling in the bracken just off the path- and spotted a Manx Shearwater hauling itself along on its belly through the undergrowth. (They’re pretty useless on land down to how far back their legs are on their bodies, so they’re nocturnal to reduce the chances of being eaten by gulls.) Soon, the air was full of them flying about on their nightly business, whizzing about and trying not to crash into each other- their banshee-like screeches much more eerie up close than from the comfort of bed!

Day Five- Lashing rain and howling winds

We were hit by a storm on the Friday, which meant a little sketching from life during the breaks in the rain but ultimately a day to explore the library and congregate in the cottage with the other guests to keep warm. (It was too cold even for the bird hides, really!) We did attempt a walk to the hide at North Bay, but spent most of it horizontal!

It was lovely to spend some time with the other people who were staying and get to know them, as well as the volunteers who popped in during the worst of it.

Our fifth Bird Log was a really good one- I learned that melanin, the same substance that colours our skin and freckles, is also what makes bird feathers healthy. The darker the feathers, the more attractive the male bird is to the female in the mating season- apparently a Coal Tit with his “bib” extended with marker pen was shown to get more females! Periods of feeding stress will result in “fault bars”- lighter lines in the feathers which are weaker and more likely to snap.

Click on the images below to see today’s puffin observations and studies!

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Day Six- An eely good one!

We went for a walk around the cliffs and past North Pond this morning- sadly the Shelduck parents have lost three of their chicks to gulls attacks. One of the other guests saw one actually get taken, which was a bit upsetting…

We ended up at Crab Bay where I spent the majority of the morning observing puffins bringing in the morning’s catch.

Click on images below to see the busy little birds hard at work!

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Our penultimate day, and I wanted to soak up as much time with the seals at South Haven as I could. At low tide I wandered back down to the jetty, and found plenty out sunning their speckles. As well as sketching, I experimented with taking some photos through my trusty binoculars this time- lining up my phone camera with one of the holes at the right zoom level so as not to be blurry took a bit of practice, but I did manage to get a few decent ones! All in the name of reference material!

 

Click below sketchpages to see seal observations larger.

 

© 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

After dinner, E, his parents and I all wandered back down to Crab Bay to visit the puffins once more. They were very inquisitive this particular evening, one came up to investigate and peck at my bag straps, another came within two feet of me and gazed at me curiously for a few seconds, “And who are you, then?”

Then it happened- probably the crowning moment of the entire trip. A PUFFIN SIDLED UP AND SAT ON MY LEG! It wandered around me for a little while, and without warning hopped up and settled on my calf! I was surprised for such a little bird how heavy it was perching there (and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to be used as a toilet… luckily not!)

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Credit- photo © by Mike Turtle 2019

From this distance I could see every feather, every line, and every speckle on the red lid of the puffin’s eye (part of the “summer coat” which blooms with colour during the mating season and fades during the winter’s travels.) Being that close to a wild animal was indescribable… to practically be able to hear its heartbeat next to your own makes everything else slow down, and as you look the creature in the eye it’s like you give each other the little nod- “This great big rock that we’re sharing is pretty incredible, isn’t it?”

As the sun began to set, as if by magic, the puffins all seemed to shuffle rapidly away from us with the same urgency as if they were late for a meeting. They gathered in small groups, rubbing their beaks together (billing), head-bobbing and making little grunting sounds not unlike hiccups! One turned half towards me away from his little gathering, giving me a sideways glance which gave me the distinct impression I was being talked about!

IMG_20190609_204511901 ( LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

I wonder if the animals of Skokholm hold their own “Human Log” to discuss the people they’ve seen that day?

Day Seven- The last sunrise on Spy Rock

IMG_20190609_051500010 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

We wanted to make the most of our last day, so we hauled ourselves out of bed at 4:30AM to climb Spy Rock! From this point we could see the sun rise over the whole island, lighting up each tiny flower with a fiery glow all the way out to sea.

After watching another moth trap being opened (another spectacle moth was hiding inside!) we explored some of the nooks and crannies we hadn’t covered in our daily walks around the cliffs. After bothering the slow worms under the corrugated iron sheeting outside the red shed (we found eleven!) we popped into some of the remaining hides we hadn’t visited yet.

We watched a scrap unfold from the hide at South Haven as two seals had a slapping match over a particularly comfortable rock… The first and more aggressive of the seals wouldn’t share the space, and was very angry when a wave knocked him into the water! The second seal who had been trying to sneak on when the first wasn’t looking quickly jumped aboard, giving his rival a taste of his own medicine as they batted at each other with their flippers.

IMG_20190609_152635839_HDR (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

A scramble up and down the “hairy” walk around Frank’s point revealed the great black-backed gull food waste disposal – we found a pile of Shearwater carcasses all hidden behind a boulder, wings still intact. Definitely deserving of their nickname, “The lions of Skokholm” – I’m just glad I’m too big to carry off and eat!

As evening approached, I made two last visits to Crab Bay and South Haven to begin saying goodbye to all my new friends, with varying reactions. The puffins inspected my clothes, one hopping up onto my leg, another pecked my bum! I loudly proclaimed my love for the seals down at South Haven which was met by a resounding “WoOooOOO!” call from one…

Click below to see observations from Crab Bay and South Haven hides larger!

 

 

Fair winds homeward-bound

It was difficult to say goodbye on the last morning. As we waited in the harbour for the boat to take us back to mainland, the seals gathered as if to see us off- and as a little drizzle came down we all looked a little speckly!

We were lucky to have a particularly smooth crossing, but I couldn’t help shedding a few tears as I watched the island fade away into the distance. The opportunity to be outside from sunrise til sundown, with a wonderful little community made me increasingly sad as we returned to ‘civilisation’.  So much feels like it’s missing from modern life in our quest for improvement and perfection- we isolate ourselves from the world, each other and even ourselves, and what even for?

As I begun this diary as a way to learn more about life on a very special island, so it continues- I’m in the process of using my first-hand experience to begin a new project about puffins, to add to my portfolio along with the short poem-story I produced for North Somerset Arts Week called “Seal Song” (more on that next time!)

So this week in Skokholm continues to remind me, as Tolkien said-

“It is brought home to me; it is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.”

 

From my own reference drawings and photos- some preliminary gouache and pencil studies ready for this impending puffin project! Click to see larger. 

(If any of you come across this- a huge thank you to the wardens Richard and Giselle, the volunteers Jenni and Ishbel, and all of my fellow guests for such a wonderful, special week!)

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The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Disastrous Dogs (and where to find them!)

We love our dogs. Wonderfully, adoringly, unconditionally, they love us too!

For all the “dog people” out there, I’m sure you can’t resist ruffling a pair of fluffy ears, a scratch under a soft, warm chin. Me neither!

For this reason, in preparation for this Mother’s Day, (31st of March here in the UK) I’ve been working from an aim to unite all the dog lovers out there, for a collective “Ahhhh!!!” among all the mum figures, a little smile for everyone on this special day!

A project made for greetings card marketplace Thortful (who sell some of my favourite designs!) with a little narrative twist- each of the cards is based on a dog I’ve known in life!

Hooked? Let me tell you the story of some mischievous pooches…

Act I- The tiniest of sausages

Around the time I started researching for this project, my parents were looking after a beautiful little sausage dog for a friend. She comes to stay from time to time, a charming soul to have around with bundles of energy (don’t be deceived by little legs- she can run like the wind!) and an inquisitive nose! I noticed that being so close to the floor, she always seemed to enjoy investigating low down nooks and crannies- underneath furniture, boxes on the floor, and especially squat flowerpots in the garden!)

 

This was a great place to start- and several sketchpages later some ideas had begun to form. Dogs are usually pretty interested in what we’re up to, often want to be with us when we’re doing things, and will usually want to help, too! (Even though, quite often, “helping” means standing or sleeping where you want to be, or “gardening” by digging holes or ripping bits off plants when you’re not looking!)

Inspired by little Lily’s love of low-down places, I started to sketch out the latter situation so familiar to many dog lovers- the canine gardener! A few experiments with hand-drawn lettering later (along with colour matching with the flowerpot and lavender!) I had my first design!

Sausage dog gardener FV (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Sausage dog Gardener” – the most relaxed helper of all!! © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Act II- The curly golden bear of mischief

I couldn’t even begin to plan this project without a thought of our old family dog, Sunny- the kindest, gentlest, cleverest golden retriever that ever there was… and a firm believer in the phrase “rules are made to be broken”, particularly when it came to food. Her greatest hits included cramming almost an entire bag of discarded rolls into her mouth before she could be wrenched away, eating a “bird cake” (lard and nuts) I had made with my Rainbow Guide group before she could be held accountable… the list goes on.

One of my particular favourite stories came from a family friend who had looked after her over a weekend we were away, where he had left a slice of toast on a coffee table that was a little lower than ours at home. He apparently had looked her in the eye, saying something to the effect of, “Don’t eat that.” She had looked straight back at him, innocent and blameless, and without breaking her gaze, gave the toast one long, purposeful lick. “There, I didn’t eat it!”

 

A forever loving pooch, and a loyal helper – particularly if the task in hand relates to tidying up crumbs!

World's best tidier (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
Final design – “Your best tidier” © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Act III- The Fastest Boy in the North

For my third design, I wondered who to use as my muse. Time was running out before my deadline, so I set myself a little challenge- to include more movement in a single image. Therefore, an agile, energetic dog- nimble and quick.

I suddenly thought of my good friend in Norway, who has sent me photos and videos of her border collie Charlie since he was a pup. They live near woods and lakes- and in winter Charlie bolts through the snow so fast he could melt it! If there was any dog out there that could inspire movement in a pencil it would be him, I thought.

 

Quick, or he’ll be gone!

Woolliest Jumper Final (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
Final design- a dog is the greatest personal trainer! “Your woolliest jumper” © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

 

All three of these final designs – sausage dog, golden retriever, border collie-  are for sale on my profile here. Let’s give some mums a smile, they deserve it! 🙂

The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Happy New Year- Vive la Vole!

Happy New Year to each and all! If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you gave and received some lovely things!

I know this isn’t the post I had planned to release next, (a silent book project update is almost ready!) but during the past few days a fire that has long been dwindling in me has roared up in the grate- I feel more well, and feel as though I have more energy than I have in months- so I had to make the most of it! (And this is one of those short, sweet posts that’s just bursting to get out!)

One small part of why I’ve been feeling so fantastic is because I have a new hero- a wildlife artist called John Busby. I received a book of his called “Lines from Nature” as a present – please, please seek it out if you have any even slight interest in animals, nature or drawing!

Not only are the artworks in this book technically brilliant and full to the brim of character, they are also observed completely from life- this dedicated man braved all weathers and environments to make drawings again and again, in order to truly understand his subjects.

Shortly after getting sucked completely into this gift, I was lucky enough to meet a vole close up – my partner’s Dad sometimes finds the little tykes in the kitchen, and he’ll keep them for an extra day or two if he knows we’re visiting so I can draw them. (And a five star treatment they get too, sometimes with added Radio 4 if he’s working nearby!)

Glimpses of a Vole 29-12-18 (Web) © 2018:19 Carina Roberts Illustration

 

The vole was very timid the first time I went in- I gently put a small handful of peanuts into the vivarium and sat waiting, as still as I could be. He darted to and fro collecting, giving me a suspicious eye as he ran between the food and his nest made from moss and woodland detritus. I had to be very quick to get him down on paper, but not move so violently as to startle him. When there were no more peanuts, he dived back inside and that was that.

Glimpses of a Vole 1-1-19 (Web) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

The second time, three days later, I tried sprinkling some sunflower hearts out for him instead of peanuts- a bit of variety, and a little experiment to see if he behaved any differently. Now, maybe I caught him at a different “cycle” in his day, or maybe he felt like he knew me a little better (I’d like to think that the latter is true, but it’s very unlikely!) – whatever it was, this snack really brought him out of his shell. Instead of hoarding them away like the peanuts, he came out to nibble them in full view! (In fact, at points, it was almost as though he was posing!)

And what a little character he was, gazing over one shoulder at me! You know when a dog scratches its head with back leg? It may surprise you to hear that voles do it too! After solving the itch his head had a very sweet little ruffled patch right in the centre of his forehead (see above drawing!)

Two fairly short (no more than 30 minutes each) drawing sessions later, I had really started to break the ice with this little fellow. It was such a fresh flash of excitement to draw completely in the moment like that- something I hadn’t done for a while, or at least not properly. In day-to-day life there are always time constraints, your mind wanders and feels guilty for things you should be doing, that a bit of live scribbling somehow isn’t as important. But it is, it REALLY is.

There is a lot, a LOT to learn here for me. Yes, I can think, I can plan (that’s part of who I am) but I also have to embrace the moment- not all is perfect in life, or in artwork. Sometimes the unplanned scrambles up steep hills and through driving rain will be more fun, and teach you more than the interactions and parties you spend your life rehearsing.

Equally, I can spend hours upon hours at my desk, perfecting my next artwork or deliberating for hours over the phrasing of a message to this or that particular client, but most valuable can be the quick observations I can make just because I took a sketchbook somewhere to draw from life. Instinctive, honest sketches- which can speak in less words than I can,

I

CAN

DO

THIS!

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The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A catchup, and what’s coming up!

Hello jolly sailors!

Yet again, it’s been a little while- hasn’t it been a summer and a half!? Not only have I been busy, probably like you I’ve been battling the sizzlingly un-sportsmanly temperatures that have been beating down from above throughout June and July. With cool breezes arriving just in time for the school holidays, I can finally breathe again- and update you on what I’ve been up to!

Back in May myself and my partner went to Malta to celebrate the wedding of two friends (and to acclimatise ourselves to the 30 degree heat!) It was absolutely gorgeous there and we had so much fun catching up with lots of our friends who live spread out across the globe!

Malta cove - Aug18.jpg
A Malta Cove – at the very beginning of our trek over the clifftops from Xlendi to San Lawrenz (home of the tragically collapsed Azure Window) – I still can’t get over the shade of this water!

On one beach we spotted some funny little fish popping their heads out of the holes in the rocks as the waves broke over them!

Being surrounded by water for most of this trip inspired me to start thinking about the SWLA annual “Natural Eye” exhibition again- it’s something I missed last year, but was at the top of my “to-do” list for this year. I know I can be pretty bad for shying away from big competitions, but since I was long-listed for the Templar Illustration competition in April I thought I’d give it a go!

After exploring three or so separate avenues I could go down for this project, I chose to circle back to seals as my muses (they seem to have crept into most of my other work over the past year or so!) My partner, along with his parents and I were planning a trip to Skomer anyway so I thought I could get some serious research done there (and have a proper go with some most excellent binoculars I was kindly bought for Christmas!)

Sadly, despite our early arrival, (we left the house at 4:30AM!) balmy conditions and fair shipping forecast, an ill wind was set to blow up in the afternoon so the boats were cancelled- it wouldn’t have been safe to get back, so they said. (I’m not upset, honest- even though it was our last chance to see the puffins this year!) We did see some seagulls through the binoculars- not really the same, but they worked very well!

This means I did have to turn to different sources to research seals on this occasion – below are some of my development sketches from working towards the final composition!

^ Exploration of on-shore behaviours of seals- interactions with friends and family! This would form the core inspiration for the final artwork.

Seals progress v2© 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Colour test, and playing with composition!

SWLA seals - final design progress v2
Sketching out the final piece… Hello you chaps!

Haul-out (Final) - 72DPI
The final piece- “Haul-out”!

 

You might remember that at the start of the year I set myself the goal of exploring more varied lighting, tone and shapes within my artwork? You also might remember that I’ve been using a personal wordless picture book project (which I’ll eventually enter into the Bologna Silent Book comp!) to practice these principles (click here to read a previous post about this project!)

Well, coupled with the artistic motivation that comes from of a long weekend trip to Dublin I returned from yesterday, this project has come on in leaps and bounds! I’ve been delving into the various environments of the story, as well as using my research from the SWLA competition to explore a seal’s reaction to a human habitat… But more about that next time!

For now, enjoy the autumn breezes, and hope you don’t have too many sneezes!

P.S. I’m involved with a couple of shows over the next couple of months where I’ll be showcasing some of my artwork (dates and details below) – with the slow makeover of this blog I’m hoping to introduce a separate section of the website to show upcoming events in the next couple of weeks, so you don’t have to go trawling through posts to find them.

For now though, here is where you can come and visit me, and maybe buy something too!

Upcoming events 

Cafe Lido exhibition with Portishead Arts – 27th-30th September 2018 

(Cafe Lido, Esplanade Rd, Portishead, BS20 7HD)

Made in North Somerset Showcase – 14th October 2018 (10AM-4PM)

(Court house farm, Church Road South, Portishead BS20 6PU)

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The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

Shape and colour – rediscovering the palette knife!

Hello again, radiant readers!

It’s been a busy few months since my last post, and I have lots to share with you!

I’m so excited to announce that I was longlisted for the Templar Illustration Prize a few weeks ago… My name was officially listed within the top ten entries, which was such an incredible surprise! I unfortunately wasn’t selected in the final three shortlist, but I got so much further than I thought I would- it’s an amazing step for me as an illustrator!

A short snippet about that to begin with- it was a really interesting project to complete, we had to submit a cover design, storyboard to explore the book’s narrative and layout, and a completed artwork spread for a book about dragons aimed within the age bracket of 0-12 years. I learnt a lot during this project, and visited some pretty interesting places for research (one, a birthday trip to St. Fagan’s in Wales – to study and draw old buildings!)

"Cover" FINAL ( + text) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
The final draft cover of my dragon themed project for Templar’s 40 Year Illustration Competition- “The Island”. © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

 

Alongside what is becoming my signature painting style of gouache and coloured pencil (with a teeny bit of ink thrown in!) I explored (and revisited) lots of different mediums and techniques to decide how to create the final artworks for this project. Bleach and lemon juice into ink to produce botanical patterns, scraping and “rock rubbing” to create texture…

At the core of this exploration was the underlying principle to simplify all elements of the final artwork which weren’t the direct focus. For example, in the cover artwork depicted above, I spent days painting sea and waves to come up with a way to make them noticeable, but not so detailed that they would distract away from the dragon floating in the middle. I needed a way to produce flowing, swirling water which could look different every time I painted it, a technique with a little bit of a mind of its own…

Then I rediscovered my Grandma’s trusty old palette knife.

I haven’t used a palette knife since the second year of university during a life-drawing lesson with oils, but I thought I’d give it a go for this project.

Painting stripes of pure colour onto the palette knife and dragging it across the page produced some really interesting sketchbook studies, as well as scuffing back across dried blocks of colour to create waves. (Scuffing a little paint across a very finely-textured sketchbook page can give some really interesting textures too – as I’ll explore a little later on!)

Geometric Waves
Painting the sea! © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

Something I’ve always shied away from when painting flowing or floaty objects without clear lines is using geometrical shapes to help build the final outcome. As the palette knife I was using has one long, tapered point, I thought I might break down some walls and attempt a rough sea constructed from triangles.

Triangular Waves
A close-up… © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

While it seemed a little alien to be be painting something which moves about so much in such a static way at first, the exercise of using triangles to create this ocean really helped me to build a sense of background and foreground, as well as liveliness in the waves. Blocking simple colour in like this allowed for more complicated processes over the top:

Little Red Boat - Top to Toe
Sample oceans to hold a little tugboat. © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

Little Red Boat
© 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

Little Red Boat v2
Stripes of colour applied to the palette knife, (darkest at the bottom, lightest at the top) placed on the page and dragged in a single diagonal movement from top left to bottom right really worked as a technique to create larger, more dramatic waves for the little boat to perch atop! © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

After this project was finished and sent off, I turned my head back to getting some Spring/Summer animal themed greetings cards designs ready for 2018. In a similar train of thought as when I was working on “The Island”, I wondered how I could use the palette knife to help bring new depth into my artwork.

SAMPLES OF EARTH

Again, the decision in using the palette knife to work out a backdrop in these greetings cards was to lend more sharpness to the foreground focus- be it animal, mineral or vegetable- equally adding some context to the main attention of the artwork, in this case a mole burrowing.

In the development stage of this particular design I used similar dragging techniques as I had when exploring the water in “The Island”, as well as loading up the palette knife with mixed colours to dab and scrape over pre-dried layers, to create bobbles, lumps and lines, as you would find in real earth.

Earth sample 1 (smaller file)

Earth sample v2 (Smaller file)

Earth Sample 4 (Smaller file)
Scraping the first layer of dark colour across the clean page at the bottom seemed to help accentuate the dandelion roots!! © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

Next, came the moles, happy burrowing in Spring through the damp earth for the juiciest earthworms!

Mole selection
Using a paintbrush for the foremost element of the design, the main character, helped to keep the outlines clean- as well as brighter colours, cementing him the focus of the whole shebang.     © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

Little mole spring blank v2 Mole sketch v3Little mole spring blank v1 Little mole spring blank v1.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above are some snippets from next stage of the development for this design; some of the thumbnails from working on the final layout. The palette knife scrapes began to suggest the flinging of dirt as the mole speedily dug away his tunnel, placing him firmly in his own little story. If the mole had no backdrop here, he might look a little as though he was swimming or floating through space, but having that extra layer lets him reveal to the viewer a little piece of his life. (As my skill lies mainly in narrative illustration, you can see how it seeps into all of my other projects too!)

One thing I really want to attempt next is rust- as a side-note for my silent book project I’ve begun a small sketchbook on boats as research to support a couple of the spreads, so whenever I’m in a port or seaside town I’ll be a-scribbling, with particular interest in the older behemoths which are busy oxidising and gathering sealife!

My next post will be based around an AMAZING trip to Malta, (I arrived back yesterday!) – it’s given me some really interesting ideas for my SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) competition entry – another little something I’ve been meaning to do in the past, which I’m really knuckling down to enter this year!

Thanks for reading- hope you’re having a great time wherever you are, and continue to find a little inspiration in every day!

The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

“Cara”- Capturing animal behaviours in human form

Cara sleeping © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Hello my lovelies!

It’s been a while again, hasn’t it? This particular post has been a long time coming, but as it concerns a very special project I couldn’t rush it!

As I mentioned back in August, this time I’ll be discussing the development of a human character with all the grace of a seal, in a story I’m devloping which draws upon one of my favourite Irish legends. This project will eventually be put forward as an entry for a competition, so I’m not going to share much of the finished work until it’s all submitted. I can, however, share with you my process thus far of how this character has developed!

A little to begin with for those who haven’t yet understood the Irish legend I’m referring to.

The Selkie was a mythical creature who lived as a seal in the water, who by shedding its blubbery skin on land, would become human. Most of the stories I had read about Selkies had been sad, mostly where female Selkies had come ashore to have their skins hidden by possessive men who wanted to marry them for their beauty. If the skins were not found, the Selkie would remain trapped on land and could never return to the ocean.

Poor seals!

One thing I always found a little strange about the classic depiction of all the lady Selkies was their grace and poise on land. Of course, they may have been journeying out of the water every week to practice walking on land for all I know, but it got me thinking; how might a Selkie be who had never been out of the water before? Would they know how to walk down a flight of stairs, or sleep in a bed?

I wanted to create a human character with all of the heart, soul and playfulness of a seal. Clumsy, comical on land, unbelievably graceful in water. Cheeky, intelligent, sometimes greedy; inquisitive, sometimes shy and others very aggressive!

To begin this journey, I had to plunge headfirst into the realm of the seal.

The Seal Study

Seal behaviour sketches (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration .jpg
Seals drawn from BBC’s “Wild Ireland”.

Despite being one of my most favourite animals, I had never seen a seal in real life before setting out on this project. I’d seen sea lions at the zoo when I was younger, but they just weren’t the same (and also not native to UK or Irish waters.) In this case, the study of a seal’s behaviour was my first step in creating this very special character.

I did some research, discovering that one of the best times to see seals on land was during their breeding season, beginning round about September. One of the best places in the UK to track them down was apparently in West Pembrokeshire, on and around Skomer island. So, my partner and I made the trek across, to discover that the boat (due to bad weather) was not running that day. The crossing for Skomer is very near a National Trust walk around the Marloes Peninsula which we decided to do instead, to see if we could spot any of the elusive grey seals we were after from the cliff edges.

We were not disappointed.

Marloes Seals 2 (Detail 2) (72DPI) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
Mother seal, making her way into the cold Pembrokeshire ocean. © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Marloes Seals (Detail) (72DPI) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
Waiting for the wave to pass… © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Marloes Seals 1 (72DPI) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Seal sketches- Pembrokeshire (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
Young seal pup still sporting its “lanugo”, (fluffy white baby coat) dragging itself across the sand to visit an older relative.

After this experience, I was looking everywhere for more seal inspiration to draw from. The first sketchbook I started for this project is absolutely bursting with hundreds of seals- from life, books, television, anywhere they could be found.

Seals eating plan
Did you know, a seal commonly has 3-6 pairs of eyebrows? © Artwork 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

I began to look for detail in each seal that I could use to start drafting a closely linked human character. The huge, liquid eyes, dark facial markings, and fluffed out, podgy, strong bodies of the animals I was studying were all things that seemed important to help draw the comparison between the two.

Cara seal expression sheet final (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“Cara” – Exploring her human form. © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Cara detail portrait (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“Cara Portrait” – Dark whiskers on the seal pup’s face become a maze of freckles and thick eyebrows.  © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

After plenty of initial scribbling to begin to understand how Cara, as I named her, would translate into her more human guise, my next step was to explore how her movement might register as comically un-human. The natural starting point was to teach her how to walk.

Cara learns to walk (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“Cara learns to walk” – Sketch page. Trying to keep the low gravity and toddling, unsteady gait of a much younger child was my aim in “teaching” Cara to walk as a person. © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Every action Cara undertakes as a person initially has to look deliberate, determined and a little clumsy, to match the seal inside. Despite being a book concept, I have begun to plan certain spreads in my first dummy version of this story as you might a hand-drawn animation- exploring movement by movement how best to present a particular scene and different ways she might tackle them. As a method of working this hadn’t been planned from the start- but for a character with such unusual movements it’s far becoming my favourite!

Cara meal sketch detail (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“The Meal” – detail from a sketchbook page. “Her freckled face peering inquisitvely over the bowl’s rim.” © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

One sequence I’m planning at the moment involves Cara’s first meal as a human. This would be the first instance where she would encounter crockery, cutlery, sitting down to eat (as well as table manners!) I’ve heard it said by many veteran illustrators that the best images depict the split second before something happens. Drawing close to frame by frame has helped me to determine the moment between intrigue and face-first feasting within this scene!

This is going to be a long journey, but one I feel really excited about. I’m still planning the first dummy draft of the full book, but each page of this is surrounded with notes- notes of research and reference material that will help make this world more real, as well as different, possibly more effective alternative spreads that I can trial alongside the one in this first draft. Like a comedy routine, it takes a lot of work and rehearsal to find the perfect joke- and to find the most effective ways to present the lovable, clumsy, and kind-hearted soul that is Cara.

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Next time I’ll be sharing a visual diary from a recent trip to Cornwall- a mini-project I undertook to tackle some of my illustrative worries head on!

Thanks for reading!

The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Movement in Murmurations- Exploring patterns in the natural world through classical music

Good afternoon, lovely ones! Hope your weeks are all going well!

Last time, I told you the tale of a little house martin chick and my once-in-a-lifetime drawing experience with her. (If you didn’t get to read it yet, just have a quick scroll, you’ll find it beneath this post – “A Precious Thing”.) A quick update- she had her first flying lessons indoors, and has since been fully re-released back into the wild! She’s probably off on her own adventures by now, using those new fully-grown wings!

Around a month ago I found out about the SWLA exhibition held through the Mall Galleries in London – Wildlife Artist of the Year. I’m afraid I was a little over-optimistic in planning something to enter for the competition this year, but I’m slowly going to be developing my research over the coming months, ready for next year’s competition.

Completely by chance, and neatly linking into the house martin’s story since last time, I wanted to follow a bird theme for this competition. I so often draw mammals that birds weren’t really getting the recognition they deserved, and as well as wanting to try something a bit different, they were on my mind anyway due to my work earlier this year on the RPSB’s Big Garden Birdwatch at nursery.  Although the final artwork for the SWLA competition is far from fruition, I thought I would share some of my process up until now- as I really believe it could be something special!

The co-ordinator of a drawing event I attended a couple of years ago referred to the way I drew as “lyrical” – that I described not only my reference material but also the music I listened to at the time. I had been listening quite a lot to Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” Overture over a week’s period while working on a separate project, and one evening after reading the brief for the SWLA competition, the song and an earlier memory of some starlings grouped and swirling over a park in Wales (a murmuration) paired up in my mind.  I got thinking about how patterns in some classical music fit so perfectly within nature- and decided to do a little research.

As many things in nature are, I discovered that the pattern of a murmuration occurs through mathematics (more specifically in this case- mathematical chaos; where very small changes have a huge impact within the larger system) as every slight movement by each bird within a murmuration is amplified by all the other birds flying directly around it, creating the waves and rippling effects. The few times in my life I had seen a murmuration, I couldn’t help but conjure up a mental picture of a musical score, with all the birds within the pattern as individual notes within an orchestra, acting individually but also within the larger pattern of the whole. How could I replicate this in a drawing? As an experiment and something outside of my comfort zone a little, I decided to listen to some classical music and try drawing lines to describe what I was hearing. The drawings below are based on the aforementioned Rossini overture- “The Thieving Magpie”, or “La Gazza Ladra”. (You could try listening to it as you look at the following experiments- see if you can spot where the patterns came from!)

Murmuration ink sketches (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg

Step One – Feeling the music out!

The lines and marks that came out of this initial exercise follow the pitch and movement of the music.

After that, I followed the lines I’d drawn with tiny dots, or tiny birds, to bring the “murmuration” to life. The process was a little daunting at first, especially as the pen and ink I was using has a tendency to “blob” a bit! (Although after the first ten minutes, I actually quite liked the imperfection of the ink blobs!)

Murmuration ink sketches 1 (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration .jpg
Adding in the starlings, the beginnings of weaving each line together

As I attempted to follow the music in shape, I also tried to match the volume to the weight of the line I drew. As I begun to add the starlings in, I followed the same pattern- with more birds in the thicker areas, and just a scattering in the wispy lines. (I would like to try removing the lines to see what shapes I’m left with here, but that’s something for later!)

Murmuration ink sketches (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
And now, for the crescendo…!

As the speed and volume of the song built towards its end, so did the patterns… the spiral that begins at the left hand side of this page came from the final minute of the overture. Filling this space with birds was probably the best part of the whole exercise, and although it doesn’t ring completely true to how starlings might fly in real life, I’m sure there’s elements of this wild drawing that I can expand upon for the final artwork! After all, every bird in this spiral is attempting to fly as close as it possibly can to its neighbour: the ripple created at the bottom of the murmuration becomes less tense, and more and more amplified as it moves outwards- the same theory to how a real murmuration works!

I look forward to the next few months developing this idea and sharing updates on my progress along the way- it’s something a bit different to what I usually do, but that’s the most exciting part!

Next time, I’ll be writing a little about my progress on my silent book concept for a different competition (yes, finally! It’s been a while, but as promised, I’m getting round to it!) and how I’ve been developing a human character who has all the grace and appetite of a young seal!

The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Oceans and Woodsmoke- British Coastlines and Baby Steps in Pyrography

Hello wonderful readers!

I’m afraid this post has been a bit of a long time coming, hasn’t it… How is it May already?! I hope your 2017 is off to a cracking start!

By way of a quick catchup, here’s a little about my year so far, and why I’ve been ignoring my blog-writing duties!

I had a little adventure to Edinburgh with my partner back in February, my first time in Scotland! The flight in was really quite amazing- zooming right in over the sea, feeling like you’re almost skimming the various little jutting islands and great hulking boats chugging out of the harbour!

Aerial Approach to Edinburgh planning sketch (75DPI) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
The flight to Edinburgh- a view through the plane’s window!

The city centre itself was really something else- with all the hills and different street levels, it’s possible to get some really spectacular views over the rooftops! The castle is visible from wherever you are sitting proud up on its mountain, watching over and protecting all the smaller buildings that sprawl out and around it.

Edinburgh Castle sketch (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
© 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration –                A quick sketch on a freezing hillside!

A large part of my time since Christmas has been split between working on my Silent Book concept for the yearly competition at Bologna and preparing for another North Somerset Arts Week with some of my local artist chums! This time around, all my work was inspired by the theme of “Wild Coast”, working from a brief I wrote up back in January to create a completely new range of occasion greetings cards, prints and large artworks, to explore some of my favourite journeys from the past couple of years in and around British and Irish coastlines.

Working so hard in my silent book project to tell the narrative through pictures alone I found spilled over into this “Wild Coast” brief- even into the greetings cards! I began the ideas process for these cards by thinking which animals I could use to celebrate each occasion. After plenty of sketching and research into the animals themselves, the designs started to take shape, including dogs, seals, rays, crabs and puffins.  Before I knew it, the puffins had organised themselves into a little family, and through a series of three occasion cards told the story of the birth of a puffin couple’s first chick!

© 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration – (1) “Puffin Love” –        The puffin couple rub beaks as a mark of affection, reinforcing their partnership. (Designed as a “Love” card- for an anniversary, for the birthday of a special someone etc.)

Mother Puffin Final (Low res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
   © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration – “Mother Puffin” –                 A single egg and chick is raised each year by a puffin couple, watched carefully by the parents. (Designed as a Mother’s Day or New Baby card)

Good Luck, Puffling! (Low Res) signed © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
© 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration – “Puffling takes flight” – Despite their devotion to the egg, juvenile puffins are left to their own devices for their first flight- perhaps shaping them into the plucky birds we know them as. Young puffins will not get their distinctive colouring until adulthood. (Designed as a “Good Luck” card!)

Over the next couple of days, I’m working to upload some of these occasion designs to my Thortful profile- here –  ready for sale- keep your eyes peeled for lots of coastal creatures!)

North Somerset Arts Week takes place every two years. It’s easy to forget what can be, and what is achieved in that length of time as you plod through your day-to day life! In my practice alone, I finally listened to various arty friends and set out working with gouache instead of normal watercolour during this time, and it’s brilliant- I feel able to get far more texture and colour into my work than I ever could before. Similarly, after years of admiring pyrography but never trying it myself, I was kindly bought a set of wooden discs and a pyro-pen to play with for my birthday back in February.  I wanted to explore pyrography  within the theme of “Wild Coast” for the exhibition as well, using some of the same creatures from the occasion cards- a perfect medium to illustrate the rugged perseverance of animals existing in harsh coastal climates.

Pyrographed sea creatures (low res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration .jpg
© 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration – First steps in pyrography!

The pen I’ve been using is an Antex Craft pen, which is suitable for pyrography as well as fabric distressing, wax artwork, embellishment and (even!) as a mini iron!  There are many different tips for all these purposes that you can easily attach and detach- quite a few of which are varying nib-sized pen shapes. In the box, along with the tool and nibs, you receive a little stand to protect your work surfaces as the hot metal cools down.

(I’ve only touched upon what this tool can achieve in terms of pyrography so far, and haven’t even begun to explore its other abilities yet!)

To work with, as you might expect, it’s just like a pen- but your drawings are permanently etched into the surface of whatever you’re working on. The small wooden slices I received to practice on (as far as I can tell) are slightly sanded, but their natural grain still runs in rings out towards the edges. This grain looks very pretty and adds a nice extra bit of texture to the finished drawing, but if you’re used to working on smooth paper it’s definitely something to get used to- the pyro-pen likes to try and follow each of the rings, so if your design cuts across them it can be difficult to keep it on track!

I found it easier to try and work WITH the grain than against it- taking a look at any one disc before starting, you might see places where certain lines of your drawing can combine with the natural pattern of the wood. However, I found quite a lot of what I wanted to achieve forced me to cut across this grain, and after experimenting a little I found that:  a) drawing out your design first, with quite a hard pencil, can help form another natural channel for your pen to follow, and b) using dots to make up lines can flow better than trying to draw one continuous line!

I can show you an example of what I mean in point b) with this particular seal design:

Seal pyrography crop (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
© 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration- Pyro-seal!

The shading on his belly, as you might be able to see, was achieved with a sort of dotted, stippled effect of quick dabs with the pyro-pen- which ended up giving him a sort of mottled, freckly look!

I’ve only had positive experiences with this tool so far- it heats up quickly, has two different settings of heat for different depths of shading, and has produced some really lovely results! The next step is to work onto a larger piece of wood, and draw more of a composition than one single design…

Even if it doesn’t feel like it in your day-to-day grind, you’re always developing, evolving and improving… So just go for it, and don’t give up!

(P.S. The little mouse mentioned in the previous post is now running wild back in the fields of Wales, after a winter season of building his strength back up!)

The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Inktober 2016- Personalities of British Wildlife!

Good evening, lovely readers!

I’m delighted to announce that, for the first year since attempting the challenge, I have successfully completed Inktober!

For those of you who have never heard of it, Inktober is a simple concept- one sketch or artwork must be completed for every day of October, in an ink based medium… Whether it be an inky painting or even just a biro sketch, the whole idea is to keep up artistic momentum throughout the month, and to perhaps take the opportunity to dabble in a new medium. Inktober is called a challenge for a reason, though- it’s tricky to do a drawing every day on top of everything else that’s going on in life, particularly one that you’re proud of and happy to share with the world! I’ve struggled in the past but this year I was adamant that I would finish the challenge, with 31 drawings I was really happy with.

After going to an exhibition of Quentin Blake’s work earlier this year in Cardiff Museum, it’s been at the back of my mind to try working with bottled ink and a scratchy pen again. When I was younger I was very interested in calligraphy, receiving a small kit as a birthday present with a fine-nibbed fancy pen, different coloured bottled inks and smooth parchment paper. As I was searching for materials to use in this challenge, I came across them again at the back of my shelf, and decided it was high time for them to shine once more!

I think that part of the reason that I’ve struggled in the past is because I was always trying to think of a separate theme every day- after a couple of weeks, to keep spewing out an entire concept from scratch every day, AND complete all the other work I wanted and needed to get done, AND keep up with everything else always got a little too much for me to handle, so I would abandon the challenge.

This year, I decided on a different approach to make it work- to decide on, and stick to one theme that could run throughout, to transform it into a project I was really immersed in. Those who have followed my work over time will recognise my passion for nature and natural history, (many of my more recent characters and projects centring around animals) and I was very keen for this challenge to follow suit. In the end, I decided to spend this October exploring the characters of our best-loved British wildlife; my favourites can be found below! (The full 31 drawing-long shebang can be found here, in the album of “Inktober 2016”.)

Inktober Day 1 - Fat Robin signed © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Day One- I tried to make sure that this exercise was never just about drawing a robin, instead I would try to truly see a robin for all it is- for its symbolism and significance, its character and personality in the grand scheme of our wonderful wildlife.

Inktober Day 2- Hedgehog signed © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Day Two- The hedgehog’s spikes were by far my favourite thing about this sketch- the scratchy pen I had on hand lent itself well to lots of quick little marks.

Inktober Day 5- Three British Owls signed © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Day Five- A trio of the wisest birds in the land. Their eyes always give the impression that they’ve seen everything.

Inktober Day 7- A Quartet of Edible mushrooms signed © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Day Seven- A little part of me danced for joy sketching this one… I’ve always had a huge interest in plants and fungi, maybe because when I was smaller I wanted to become a witch who made fancy brews from weird and wonderful ingredients. Either that, or a knight. Or a pirate.  I would have been happy with any of the above. Here are a collection of four edible mushrooms.

Day 14- Common Frog signed © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Day Fourteen- I’ve always struggled a little more with smooth-skinned creatures, as the lines you need to create a smooth as opposed to a furry body have to be a lot more clear and decisive. That said, I really enjoyed drawing these Common Frogs, and loved drawing in more fluid lines.

Day 17- Grey Seal Pup signed © 2016 Carina Roberts Ilustration.jpg
Day Seventeen- Grey Seal Pups. Cheeky, playful, stuffed full of charm and character- look at those liquid eyes! I remembered a particular video I once saw while drawing these little chaps which featured a seal in Ireland waiting patiently outside a fish and chip shop for an offering while completely blocking the road up.

Day 20- Badger signed © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Day Twenty- I’ve always loved the shambling way that badgers walk, not to mention their beautiful facial markings. I remember reading a story as a young child about how the badger got his stripes… He was marked as a thief with two blacks stripes after stealing a swan’s white feathers to fix his stained coat. On the contrary, badgers are usually depicted as more shy, kind creatures in most of our folk tales and popular fiction, a character which I preferred to coax out of this drawing.

Day 22- Shrewd signed © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Day Twenty-two. Shrewd. Shrewsbury. Shrewish. How-do-you-shrew. Pleasingly round, comical creatures, deceptively vicious. Solely carnivores too, apparently.

After this challenge had just ended, I had another opportunity to study the character of some Great British wildlife in the flesh, when I had the exciting privilege to meet a young wood mouse. My partner’s father is a talented photographer who also delights in natural subjects, and he had come across this young mouse one rainy, cold evening thinking it was dead… When he noticed it breathing, however, he brought it inside to the vivarium he often photographs caterpillars in to keep it warm and safe while it recovered (and take some pictures, of course!) He was convinced it was fairly young as it was very tame, and more inquisitive than anxious about human presence. A once in a lifetime opportunity for drawing- I was sat only inches away from the little creature as it gazed at me through huge, blackberry pip eyes. After a couple of trips back to its little nest of dry leaves to squiggle around, the mouse sat so still I was able to do a full colour sketch on the spot… In fact, it was so relaxed that it started to fall asleep!

Frankie Mouse © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
First introduction- little mouse comes to say hello! It was fascinating to watch its quick, decisive movements, and see how fast it breathes- it’s easy to forget that a mouse’s life is lived at twice, even three or four times the speed of ours… We must seem so lumbering and slow to them!

Frankie Mouse Sketchbook Page 2 © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
At one point, little mouse returned to its nest of dry leaves to peep out at me, leaving one large ear poking out of the gaps.

Frankie Mouse sketch sheet 3 © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Little mouse stayed still for so long in the end that I managed to draw a full colour sketch in addition to lots of movement studies. A fine life model indeed!

You never know where you’ll find your next little source of inspiration, never shut your eyes or ears to the possibilities!

The AutumnHobbit

© Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carina Roberts and AutumnHobbit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.