Category Archives: Freelance

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.

Adventures from home: Patterns in Nature

“Has there been a naturalist in the modern sense of the word who did not keep and greatly value a journal? The earliest journals were perhaps just scratch marks on an antler, recording the passing of days or the phases of the moon, to serve as a calendar to predict the seasons, the timing of animal migrations, or other cyclical phenomena.’ (Bernd Heinrich, The Naturalist’s Notebook.)

A Brave New World

When I was little, I remember being introduced to the idea of explorers at school- namely ‘that Walter Raleigh who brought back a potato’, while studying the Tudors. I always wanted to be an artist, but for a couple of weeks I had the raging passion that I could combine this with charging off to new lands to learn from the people, animals and plants who lived there- return and teach everyone at home about what I’d found. Unfortunately there were a couple of problems with this plan – 1) I really don’t like spiders (which my Mum gently reminded me there were quite a lot of in most warm or even temperate countries) , 2) I got terribly homesick even while WITH my family on a weekend to Sidmouth, so the chances of me coping thousands of miles away from home without them were fairly limited. I thought it best to focus on the artist part of my plan and set my sights on some smaller adventures for the time being.

There’s a little part of me that never forgets this feeling, though- this is the same part that encouraged me to try navigating the tube the last time I went to London even though it terrifies me, to stand in a field drawing during the freak March snowstorm of two years ago… The brave and adventurous little piece of my brain which will take hold after the rest has finished panicking about new, sudden changes in life, and say “Now you’ve finished, what’s there to explore!?”

When this pandemic came knocking closer and closer down the streets of the world towards us, after a period of mourning for the loss of what I had always known as normal, I began to realise (rather ironically) that although now I was not permitted to leave my home for “unessential” purposes, all the conditions for an adventure I sought in a new land as a 10 year old were now on my doorstep. I had, according to the news, woken to a new landscape, which looked the same as the world I had left behind but filled with new, potentially dangerous situations, all to be treated with kid gloves- for there might be vicious creatures all around (protect your toilet rolls! Don’t drive to Durham!)

Although I couldn’t see them through the thick foliage of this lockdown, my family were out there somewhere- and they were on this adventure with me. Would they get hurt? Would we all make it “home”? It made my chest tight to even think about.

But, after the tears began to subside and focus began to return, my little adventure brain began to concoct a plan of action to cope with this brave new world.

A journal to mark the days; a project to find my feet!

“Art, like science, leads to the preservation of something that is perhaps thought of as fleeting and capturing it in some tangible form is the only way to stay connected to it. The process of writing, drawing, or painting forces us to pay attention to details. How those details vary and change through time is roughly analogous to the phenology of flowers in a field, which also relates to time and place. We can catch bits and pieces that serve as reminders.” Bernd Heinrich, The Naturalist’s Notebook.

“Even brief notes will help fix observations in your mind. Later, if you can’t recall a detail, your journal will supplement your memory. Most important by displaying events and comparing them over time, you will soon be able to uncover patterns in the natural world that you have never noticed before.” Nathaniel T. Wheelwright, The Naturalist’s Notebook.

Helplessness is a terrible feeling. In varying degrees, we’ve all experienced some of how this feels over the past few months- the prospect of being separated from loved ones for goodness knows how long; being at risk at work, being laid off, or being furloughed. Worries for the future, what it could mean for us, for our families, for our children. To go back to my opening metaphor, in some ways, we have all been lost on our own expeditions- ones which we had unknowingly been picked for, pushed out of the safety of normality into a dark jungle full of pitfalls.

During these first few days, it was hard to switch off – driven by an almost obsessive need to be up to the minute, I’m sure I’m not the only one who became a little saturated in the whole horrible cycle of terrifying news checking. As thick and fast as the bad news flooded in, however, little patches of human kindness began to pepper its all-encompassing doom and gloom as neighbours and communities shared ideas of how to look after each other. Where I live, a whopping number of initiatives provided free services to those in need- food, essentials, companionship and support… You name it, people were finding ways to provide it!

The individuals and businesses in my online and personal community were also completely outdoing themselves. I was alerted to an art/illustration business course that was being offered for free, which I leapt on! A friend of mine (who also happens to be the manager of my favourite workplace in the world!) began creating content to support those around her, and has since been writing a hugely inspiring blog as she begins her journey to becoming a qualified hypnotherapist (click HERE to have a peek- it will absolutely make your day better!!) Feeling inspired by her positivity, I started keeping a mini happiness journal- noting down one thing that had been uniquely lovely about that day that I could focus on before bed for a better night’s sleep, and hopefully ultimately to help me figure out how to help in my own way.

I noticed that a lot of the things which were scribbled into my journal in those last sleepy moments were related to nature in some way. Tadpole sightings, the first flowers to bloom in our winter-ravaged garden, a peaceful walk early in the morning or late in the evening peppered with dawn or dusk choruses. An idea began to form in my head… Could I combine a journal about the wildlife I observed as well as the places I couldn’t go and the wildlife I missed (the puffins and seals of Skokholm!) with the unusually essential natural world knowledge I’ve gained from working with young children the last 4 and a bit years (Do worms sleep?) to make something for everyone? This idea began to take shape as a book project, the process of which I could share online for all to see and enjoy- a tool to help reach out far and wide!

Stepping into the wild: Development of Notes from Nature!

All about us nature puts on the most thrilling adventure stories ever created, but we have to use our eyes. I was walking across our compound last month when a queen termite began building her miraculous city. I saw it because I was looking down. One night three giant fruit bats flew over the face of the moon. I saw them because I was looking up. To some men the jungle is a tangled place of heat and danger. But, to the man who can see, its vines and plants form a beautiful and carefully ordered tapestry.” William Beebe- oceanographer.

As the idea for this project first began to form, when I was desperately floundering around trying to think of a way to make a difference in an uncertain situation, I took advantage of this purpose of urgency and began sharing my early thoughts around the web. I hoped that I could connect with people having the same epiphany who might help to spur me on, not just sit on my ideas until I cooled off and had the time to think they weren’t good enough.

The response was overwhelmingly positive- a wonderful, confidence-boosting lesson that sharing unpolished ideas doesn’t actually result in rocks being thrown at you (fellow artists sitting on your sketchbooks at home, squirrelling them away from the outside world- take the leap, it feels great!) I was armed with offers of support, more extra ideas of things I could offer alongside a book project than I could shake a stick at, and most wonderful of all, some offers of paid work!!

I had a message from a lady called Gemma Tilley who runs a variety of activities out in nature. She wasn’t able to run her sessions as normal, and wondered if we might collaborate on a project together to focus on a separate nature-themed topic each week (the facts to come from her, the illustrations from me) that she could use to maintain and build interest in her business online, ready for when her sessions started again. An absolute dream of a project- and a huge inspiration while working on the early stages of my budding non-fiction project! (To find out more about what Gemma does- check out her social media profiles here and here!)

 

Some of my favourite pieces from this collaboration so far- we’ve been well into our minibeasts!

As I scribbled away on collaborations with Gemma, the inspiration kept on coming for Notes from Nature, the name I had chosen for this non-fiction project. I was missing the sea and all its creatures terribly – particularly the puffins and the seals I had so looked forward to visiting on Skokholm again. I revisited a miniature non-fiction project I created last year for North Somerset Arts Week called “Seal Song” to remind myself of some of the facts that had delighted me so about these speckled, plump and charming creatures- so I could feel as though I was once again in their company.

A recap of “Seal Song” – a non-fiction mini leaflet book project about the life’s journey of a seal pup. Written and illustrated by me! 🙂

All the time, I was noticing more little details in the quiet calm that had fallen outside. More than ever I noticed the bumblebees which began to visit the newly emerging spring growth, wiggling their legs and bottoms waist-deep in flowers. An article that I stumbled across here talked a little about how important bumblebees were and are in the evolution of plants and flowers- referring to a book about the many wonders of these gentle little creatures by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s founder, Dave Goulson. I liked the sound of this book and the person who had written it, and ordered it right away! (N.B. – This book would also provide the first sparks of inspiration for my 2020 entry for the Templar (Big Picture Press) Illustration Award Competition, which as of the 29th of June, I’ve just sent off to be judged! More about that in my next post!)

Bee themed sketchbook studies and patterns inspired by “A Sting in the Tale” – Dave Goulson. Did you know that a bumblebee needs to keep a steady body temperature for its flight muscles to work?

After devouring the first few chapters, I began hungrily rummaging through my bookshelves for more natural wonders- things to learn and more things to teach through the medium of this book project. I rediscovered some of my favourite excitingly chunky books which were always a bit too heavy to read in bed without clunking myself in the head, but perfect for inspiration on many occasions. (N.B- I’ve included a long list of my sources at the end, including all the books I mention throughout this post if any of them pique your interest!)

“Explorers’ Sketchbooks- The Art of Discovery and Adventure” – Some of the deep sea discoveries of William Beebe in his bathysphere (essentially a hollow steel ball!) Notes were recorded in the “Bathysphere Log” relayed through telephone wires to the surface while Beebe was deep under the sea. Perhaps not the sort of creatures you might find kicking around the garden (thank goodness!) – but a huge inspiration in terms of artistic field study! Else Bostelmann would work closely with William Beebe’s descriptions when he surfaced to create the first images of deep sea creatures!

Henry Walter Bates- Amazon insects crop!

“Explorers’ Sketchbooks- The Art of Discovery and Adventure” – some of the butterflies recorded in the Amazon rainforest by Henry Walter Bates during the middle of the 19th Century. Again- new, exciting, exotic creatures!

Extracts from “The Naturalist’s Notebook” – observations from Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich. This is a wonderful book that makes recording little observations in nature easy, and contains a 5 year calendar for the observer to compare their notes!

These books made it a lot easier for me to embrace and enjoy the limited choice of places I could go- while the back garden or the field next to your house seems a lot less interesting than the Amazon Rainforest or deep under the sea, they’re also places that are really easy to never fully appreciate or look at properly. Being cut off from the world was forcing me to study my immediate environment in much greater detail- everywhere I looked there was a creature waiting to be drawn!

Left: A page from my “Naturalist’s Notebook” 5 year calendar, where I take a couple of minutes at the end of the day to note down what I’ve noticed- it’s a useful tool to keep track of when certain things appear! Right: Some of the colourful characters I’ve been lucky enough to meet and draw from life! During one research session, I pulled every book I had that featured frogs out of the bookcase to go and work in the garden- and lo and behold, a real frog leapt out in front of me and disappeared into our tomato planter! As he sheltered from the heat and the prying eyes of next-door’s rich and diverse garden bird life, I drew to my heart’s content!

All in all, I can safely say that “Notes from Nature” and the opportunities that it helped bring about have saved me during this dark and unsure time. At the moment, NfM remains a work in progress, but I’d love to share what I’ve got so far!! 

 

Out of the Jungle – Plans for the future!

As I make progress with “Notes from Nature”, I’ve been thinking a lot about its future. Now lockdown measures are beginning to ease, how can I use this project and the experience it’s given me to push on forwards? In the current climate, it would be so easy for me to fall into the black hole of “you’re not able to support yourself financially right now on the money you get from this work, so what’s the point?”

I’ve had a very key tool during the last few months to help combat these feelings and keep pressing on- the art/illustration business course I mentioned at the beginning of this post. (I’ll again include a link at the end.) As well as housing an incredible library of resources, it’s served up some encouraging, practical tips of how to approach more of the clients I want to work for as well as stellar advice on ways to support myself financially doing what I love (and of course, making a difference to others is an added bonus!)

During the course so far, I’ve realised that one of my top priorities in creating artwork is to inspire the love that I have for nature in others, particularly in future generations, so they can help protect it for the future!

So, this is what I’m trying to focus on in everything that I make!

Over the next few months, I’m hoping to:

-Continue exploring the world of non-fiction illustration through “Notes from Nature”. I’ve already used some of the animals I’ve looked at in new greetings card ideas, and I’m already beginning to plan the possibilities of making packs for education providers- schools, EYFS settings, Outdoor Learning/Forest School settings, etc. I’ve started planning a simple “skeleton” of a few key relatable nature topics which I’ve already touched on during NfN – for example, garden birds. In the current uncertain situations across the UK I’ve been considering making a start by creating some downloadable content for my website- flashcards and simple fact sheets which educators can easily access and print themselves to use in their settings.

Early drafts of commonly seen garden birds- a starting point for some flashcard artworks!

The next stage- some early flashcard mockups of the aforementioned birds’ favourite foods!

I’m realising more each day that drawing is my gateway to access all the things in life I’m interested in, all the things I want to learn about. Working with young children, my background in illustration makes me passionate about teaching other people how to use creativity to explore the world around them- it’s always been the most effective way for me of understanding even the things I can’t get my head around. When I can’t explain myself in words, I can draw a picture to illustrate what I mean- for example, in my nursery setting when we had finished reading a book about castles and a child asked me how a drawbridge worked, I drew it for him. He and his friends then proceeded to make one for a cardboard castle they had decided to work on. With nature, drawing helps me to remember animals and plants I’ve come across – and recreate a little of that moment for someone else to share in. As the world continues to change, and the impenetrable thickets of the jungle give way to a new dawn, there must always be a future in something that can make life more clear, and more enjoyable for others. As the naturalist Bernd Heinrich says:

“Any attempt to leave a sketch connects some portion of reality and personality… any little sketch, no matter how small and how simple, will enrich what you have seen.” Bernd Heinrich, The Naturalist’s Notebook.

© 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.

 

Sources/Further Bits and Bobs

Books: All the titles I’ve written about in this post which have helped me in creating “Notes from Nature”. All the links below will take you to Hive.co.uk, a website which sells a myriad of wonderful books; better than that, they give a percentage of every sale to an independent bookshop of your choosing! (The one I chose I’m already making plans to visit when I’m allowed to!) 

“A Sting in the Tale” by Dave Goulson.

A wonderful book all about bumblebees- their social lives, their history and uncertain future, 

The Naturalist’s Notebook”Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich.

A must for nature fanatics!! A 5-year journal, with plenty of guidance to opening your senses even on a 5 minutes stroll – easy to compare observations year on year about the natural world around you!

“Explorers’ Sketchbooks- The Art of Discovery and Adventure”– Huw Lewis-Jones.

The most inspiring collection of explorer’s notebooks I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a heavy, exciting treat for any book lover- I picked up my copy a few years ago on a short trip, and lugged it around for the whole day. My arms were very sore, but it was worth it!!

Websites:

https://makeartthatsells.com/online-courses/ – The website to find the aforementioned art business course. I’m not sure that it’s still being offered for free now, but it is probably still reduced- they have lots of other wonderful courses too!

https://www.skillshare.com/home (Has a wonderful array of courses to spark your imagination! I believe they’re still offering 2 months free… I’ve been learning lots about pattern design during lockdown to open up a new market for my work!)

 

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.

 

 

 

Disruption and peace- A snow adventure!

Good evening, lovely ones!

As amber snow and ice warnings sweep the country for the second time this month, I thought it was time for an “emergency broadcast”, as it were, that interrupts my normal posting schedule.

Instead of this being a panicky message of impending doom, however, this is an excited short post about some serious inspiration that is going to open up a whole new way of keeping sketchbooks and conducting research for me which I wanted to share!

I was recently in one of my favourite places in the world to be- in a large bookshop, in a comfy seat, browsing through lots and lots of different books. I found a particularly special one which I couldn’t just leave behind…

It’s called “Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery & Adventure” and features the notes, sketches and paintings of a great number of explorers, detailing the essence of what made their trips into the unknown so brilliant. There are drawings from explorers who sat dangerously close to volcanoes, sketching and painting their lava patterns; journals exploring whole civilisations previously undocumented, and flora and fauna from the first voyages to new lands (including some of the first ever drawings made on a deep sea dive!)

For a person like me, whose young self was frightened of so many things, this book would’ve been amazing when I was young- to transport me to places I never felt I could reach. Now, as I grow older, I love it even more; it reminds me how far I’ve come since then, how now I feel more confidence to seek out things which frighten me to conquer, as well as a colossal burst of inspiration for projects to seek out in the future.

It got me thinking; the whole concept of a explorer’s journal is a fantastic lesson for any illustrator or artist- drawing on location, especially in challenging conditions, reveals so much more than drawing retrospectively through photographs. It not only teaches you to be less precious about things that you put in your sketchbook, but forces you to make notes in a different way to how you normally might.

Taking inspiration from some of the explorers I’ve been reading about, I ventured out into the freezing conditions today for a short ‘expedition’, to draw in the blizzard-like conditions which have been storming about. The bitter chill of the wind forced me to keep my very thick gloves on, which made it a lot harder to get the range of movement in my hands which I’m used to. The cold acted as a great pressure not to care too much about getting things perfect, and just concentrate more on gesture and movement.

Snow Diary p1 (Low Res) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Hedge and hill and snowy tracks

Snow Diary p2 (Low Res) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Blasting snow flurries (top, middle) ; the old barn (bottom)

Snow Diary p3 (Low Res) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Brave figures venturing out in the midst of the cold!

Snow Diary 4 (Low Res) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Determined parent with some very excited children!

I’m not yet ready to settle on one subject to study for the rest of my life yet (like one particular animal or place), but the whole concept of exploring shown through the accounts of these incredible men and women opens up a world of new possibilities. As I near a deadline particularly important to me it was good for a moment just to step back for a few hours, look at things from a slightly new angle, and think dreamily about the great many things I’ve yet to study and understand in my artwork.

After all, even if it’s true that I now won’t be the first person up Everest, or under the sea- nobody will, or ever again see those things through my eyes. And that’s a little bit exciting.

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.

 

 

Winter Fairs, First Frosts and The Grey People

Hello, and a Merry December to you all!

I’d like to start this post with a little story and observation that is particularly relevant at this time of year, I feel. When I was on the train a couple of weeks ago, returning from a trip to Hull during the wild weather, I was gratefully munching down my ham sandwich and peering out of the window at the ever-darkening landscapes flashing past. At every station, a handful of people would get on, wedging themselves into seats and cuddling in tight into their layers of clothing to try and thaw from the chill wind. Evidently, they were cold, and tired, and just wanted to get home- I understand. But a couple of them seemed to be saturated in this grey cloud, staring through my smiles and nods of acknowledgement and away again.

I’ve experienced this before, a few times, with a few characters really standing out in my memory as totally “grey” – one man I encountered on the bus a few months ago being the example that my memory will always jump to. He was the sort of character you just wanted to go and hug, and tell him that everything was going to be okay- life seemed to have sucked all the colour and joy from his bones, leaving his eyes dull and his mouth downturned. At this time of year, I always think of one of my very favourite stories of all time, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, and its main character, Ebenezer Scrooge. I always couldn’t help but feel sorry for the greedy old miser described in the tale. I remember a feeling of curiosity rather than despair or hatred the first time I heard the story: he was cold and unfeeling, yes, but why? I would wager that through the given descriptions of his youth, loneliness would be one of the largest reasons for Scrooge intially finding solace in his money and business, which would later cut him off from his peers, and also his heart.

Now, by no means will I, or can I, ever pass judgement on strangers I meet in the street- every soul has a thousand unspoken problems and worries that may glaze their eyes and leave them lost and unsure, and a little grey around the edges. We will all experience a period of this greyness, where life seems dull, repetitive and not heading in the direction we’d hoped. Money will be a worry for all of us at some point too, unless you’re incredibly lucky. But, I have realised, my greatest fear is that this will creep slowly, irreversibly into a heart and strip a person of all their character, all their passion and loves in life, until they lose all their colour permanently. People remember Scrooge for his tightfistedness, but I remember him for his indifference- his withered soul devoid of love for anything or anyone.

This Christmas, please help me in my main life’s aim- to prevent the onset of “total greyness” in everybody you encounter, including strangers. Please smile, be kind and generous in spirit- and you can help keep hearts warm, and the world more loved.

On that note, I’m overjoyed to announce that I’m currently still adding to a catalogue of greetings cards for “Thortful”, a new web-based “marketplace” which will officially launch in the New Year, which centres around a philosophy of making people happy- both creators and customers!

My cards will finally be available online!! They’re all animal-based, as with a great proportion of my work this year! The site is now live before its official launch, if you’d like a sneaky peek please follow this link to view my current collection!

In my last post, I mentioned a Christmas Fair I was participating in on the 5th of December. I’m pleased to say that it was a success- a step up from last year, and I received lots of lovely comments and compliments as well as making a fair few sales! Here’s some of the highlights in pictures:

5-12-15 Greetings cards photoPrince of Snow at craft fair5:12:15 Christmas Fair Stall Photo

As you can see from some of these images, bears have kept cropping up throughout my practice for a good while now. Any of you that look at my Facebook site as well as this blog will have seen a specific album dedicated to this study, which contains a few snippets of a personal project I’m working on (and one I am determined will be published!) My next post in January will contain a few little teasers of artwork that have been developing my ideas, as well as a short writeup of my influences so far.

I think all that remains is for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas (and a God Jul to all of my Norwegian friends celebrating today!) – spend these special days with all your dearest ones, laughing and making merry. Presence will always trump presents, after all.

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.

Winter Preparations: The adventures of William the mouse!

Hello, hej, hallo and bonjour to all you wonderful readers!

It’s that time again- there’s a change coming in the air, a chill at night that’s heralding the end of summer… Time to stock up on fluffy jumpers and hot chocolate! (And a pair of new wellies. Or a canoe. With today’s rain I’m thinking of the latter.)

I’ve had a busy couple of months, no change there: and a busy week so far, designing and deciding on work for promotional packs to send out into the big wide world, to some carefully selected corporate greetings card and book publishing companies- fingers crossed that with a lot of patience (and only a hint of bloody mindedness!) I can land myself a beast of a contract!

As my desk looks like a wintry north wind has blown through it with all the furious drawing, reworking and painting, this month’s blog post will be about my process from beginning to end of one particular favourite design, a vignette artwork entitled “Fall.” As with a lot of my artwork that I end up using for greetings cards ranges, it sparked into life as a little poem, which I’ve included in “Story Corner” for you all to enjoy- concerning the particular problems of a chubby little harvest mouse named William.

Step one: Research and initial sketches.

Ye can’t create a good artwork without sturdy foundations.

I like to try and complete my research and initial sketches in tandem: that is to say, when I see something particularly interesting during the research process, it will spark a little light on in my brain which I’ll quickly scribble down. This is why you may have heard the stories about a lot of writers keeping a notebook by their bed: it’s the same for illustrators, you have to grab that fluttery little chaffinch of an idea before it flits back into the thickets of your subconscious. I suppose the most important thing to remember is to never switch off, and to always be armed with a sketchbook and a sharp pencil. You never know when something is going to inspire you- so keep your eyes peeled at all times!

Since a lot of my artwork is inspired by nature and animals, I find that taking a walk with my sketchbook is the best research I can do for new material. It can also help if you have creative friends who are similarly inspired: making a promise to meet someone for a drawing session on a specific day will help you to keep to your schedule, and be less likely to fall victim to the “Oh, but it’s raining!” / “Just 5 more minutes in bed…” demons. Just last week I went scurrying about Margam Park with an old illustrator friend to draw some of the animals and scenery, we were out for a good few hours and it was very fruitful!

Goats

Sparrows at Margam Park

I was actually reading an article about Harvest Mice when I started scribbling down my first initial sketches for “Fall”- a photo showed a particularly small mouse frozen in between two plant heads, camouflaged and attempting not to catch a predator’s prying eyes. I surrounded this sketch with small notes about what was working and what could be better- trying to understand how the little creature must be feeling. (This is when the first little spark popped into my head for his little poem mentioned at the beginning of this post.)

 %22Fall%22 initial sketch

I always try to keep separate sketchbooks for research and designs- as well as making things easier to find later on, (it’s easier, for example, to find a harvest mouse sketch in a book of animal drawings than it is to find it in a sketchbook labelled “Research Book 1”) it’s quite difficult to draw something out again when it’s on a previous page in one sketchbook. Drawing out an initial sketch into a new book surrounded by blank space gives me a lot more room to make notes and circle specific elements of a starting point, and psychologically I feel better knowing that I have the rest of a double page, blank, to begin working up the idea. Try it- you’ll notice a big difference!

Initial sketches and development

Now, this is the fun part- the development stage is a lovely time during the design process where you’re never too precious over making your work look clean or finished: the freedom of which usually results in more natural and interesting linework and squiggles!

Once I’d drawn out my initial sketch and made some notes, I started working the design up in pencil sketches (and photocopying my initial sketch to work over the top in a different colour, to make the mouse fatter!)

This is how your design will evolve- by drawing it out several times, you will try adding or taking away or changing elements that your brain will throw out- for example, I added some extra grass fronds, and then took them away as they served to be more of a distraction for the eye; I tried bending the wheat stalks underneath the fatter mouse’s weight; and changing the placement of his feet to suggest weight and desperation- a real sense that he was clutching on with all of his might, in a split second to begin falling off.

 Initial sketches 2

This stage usually takes the longest for me to feel happy with- the final form of the design can sometimes take a fair while to materialise with trying out all the possibilities, but I can feel when it’s ready.

Introducing colour

When I’m happy with the black and white form of my design, it’s time to start exploring colour! Similarly to developing the sketch in black and white, the colouring process can take a little while to get right, but it’s definitely worth the wait!

You will probably have had thoughts about colour palettes for your design during the process already: but if not, have a think about all the things you want to convey with your image. Is the subject happy, peaceful or commiserating? Is it depicting a warm or a cold location?

As I work mainly from nature, I will usually work with seasonal colour palettes. (You wouldn’t believe the difference the weather and temperature make on my choice of colours!) For “Fall”, I was working from the glorious weather we were having last week: warm sunshine, with a hint of briskness in the cold nights beginning to creep in; a lot of warm oranges, golds and browns. If I was to use these colours undiluted in the final design, though, it would be very difficult for the eye to process: too much of any one colour can be a bit swamping!

I slowly introduced little touches of blues and greens in the wheat to help make the oranges look warmer and even more pleasing to the eye, and suggest a lot of things that we associate with autumn: the last of the warm weather, lots of good food from a harvest which makes us feel happily fat and sleepy, and a glow of happiness spreading from our toes to our noses.

William the mouse first colour test

Final design finished

Right up to the final design, I am still making little notes about how to improve, or reminders of particular processes to remember during the creation of the final artwork. I’ll always draw out my composition sketchy in the final artwork first- to retain some of the freedom of the development stage to trick myself into not feeling daunted by the task of completing the final image. I’ll begin to mark in fur, dark areas and details with a hard pencil that won’t smudge underneath the washes of watercolour and ink (my favourite is a now very stubby Mars Lumograph ‘H’ pencil) and begin to work up the colour, from light to dark: here beginning with a rich orange-yellow, and moving onto the browns, greens and blues in the shadows.

SAMSUNG CSC

The last thing I’ll ever do in an artwork (ceremonial, perhaps- like breathing life into a new creation!) will be to paint the darkest layer onto the eyes. From there I can scan the artwork once dry, have prints and cards manufactured, and fix the original into a frame too, if I want to sell it.

From one starting point can stem many possible artworks, remember:

Mouse nest

This design idea came from William the chubster’s initial sketches too- his partner Teasel, who may have encouraged him to stockpile his food instead of eating it all in one go, squished happily into her newly woven nest. I’m currently working on the colour scheme to shift this nest scene from warm autumn to frosty cold winter for an upcoming craft fair. (Keep an eye out for the finished design under “Greetings Cards” in the bar above, and on my Facebook page!)

As it’ll be in October, I want my stand to show a progression into the colder months, using warmer colours and leaves at one end, and leafless twigs with lots of blue hues and Christmassy items at the other. My preparations and designs for this will be included in next month’s update!

Until then: never stop thinking, drawing and painting, my friends: it’s what keeps you alive!

– 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.

Summer, Inspiration, and the balance of things.

Helloooo my fine readers! It’s been a while since I wrote a main post for the blog- I’ve been updating other sections here in the meantime, particularly “Story Corner”, which is totally new and very exciting! If you haven’t had a peek yet, please go ahead- I attempt to update at least every month with a poem or story of my own creation, illustrated of course! They’re all child friendly, and the whole idea behind it is that I want people to share stories with each other more- storytelling is supposed to be an activity that brings people together, after all! (There’s more info on the section itself, take a click in the bar above!)

How is summer going for you? Summer days seem to last forever, so I hope you’re taking some time to enjoy the sunshine!

I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day who had her graduation this week- her hard work was rewarded with her BA in Surface Pattern Design! A huge congratulations to anyone and everyone who won the battle against their degrees this summer, I hope you all had an equally brilliant time surrounded by friends and family- and managed not to throw your hats directly back down into your faces!

She was a little worried, though, as I’m sure a lot of you might be, about that lingering something that’s at the back of your mind throughout your final few weeks at university…

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?!

As it’s exactly a year now since my own graduation, I wanted to write this post for everyone who’s taking that leap of faith from uni into the big, bad world of the creative industries- and hopefully offer you some support with figuring out what you want to do next, with my own experiences since leaving… Mainly focusing on that chicken and egg question, ahem:

DO I LOOK FOR A STABLE JOB? OR DO I FOLLOW MY DREAMS? 

(Nb, of course, the choice is often not this black and white. But if you want to go freelance, you might understand what I mean here.)

When I graduated all sparkly-eyed last year, I was worried. Everyone was. For a lot of us, education was the main thing we had known since we were five years old, more if we had attended pre-school. As many of us decided not to continue with the Masters course, it would be the first memorable year in our lives that we wouldn’t have an institution to return to come September; the first year when we would have to create our own routine from scratch.

I can guarantee that no matter how cool and collected your friends may have seemed on the surface, we were all terrified of this. Absolutely knee-knockingly terrified.

Over the next couple of months, a lot of my friends got jobs to fund their artwork. Some had decided after three years of university that illustration was not the direction they wanted to take with their life- they would obviously keep their art as a hobby, but not as a business- and have found great happiness in a completely different direction. Some began part-time work, so they would have enough time to run a small art business as well.

But this began to scare me even more. A lot of the part-time hours went up gradually- the people whose contracts they were often didn’t mind, as they were earning more, and could save lots more for nice things… But after speaking to a few of them, I heard similar answers that amounted to the same thing: “I don’t really draw any more. I don’t have time.”

Art and Illustration was all I wanted to do. Ever since I could draw and knew the words for it. And the idea that another job could take over to the point where I couldn’t draw or paint anymore really shook me up. I looked for creative jobs that might include what I wanted to do (children’s illustration) but most of the jobs I found were a lot more admin or computer-based, and were looking for candidates with a lot more experience than me. I wanted to be right in the thick of it, illustrating picture-books and fiction, so I knew I was probably going to have to freelance it. So I followed my heart on that one, and for almost a whole year, I’ve dedicated all my time to illustrating- improving my skills, and selling work, paintings mainly. (Of course, I’m quite lucky in the fact that I don’t have as many expenses as some of my peers, so the pressure was off a little there.)

It’s been really good, in the main! Anyone who reads this blog often will know that I display my work in a lovely community interest gallery and shop a couple of towns over: they’ve given me some great opportunities that extend beyond my exhibitors fee as well, such as helping to paint a Shaun the Sheep that was donated to a local school as part of the trail that’s just opened in Bristol (thanks Aardman!) using a design from the 8-year-old winner of their design competition. I’ve had great fun doing a Christmas Market and being part of this year’s North Somerset Arts Week show in Portishead- from which I received two commissions from a truly lovely lady- the final paintings were delivered this week and she was very chuffed!

But something that people might not mention about freelancing is that it can sometimes get a little lonely. When you have projects on that you love, and are truly inspired by, you will never feel it. You’re transported, often into the worlds you’re creating- and unless the inspiration runs out, or you’re really hungry, you love working alone because you can hear yourself think so clearly. A huge proportion of my year has been like this.

But it’s when the doubts start that it can become a problem. The day that you feel pressure because you’re not selling as much as you hoped this month, even though next month it’s fine. The day that even after 10 attempts, your drawing just doesn’t look right. The day that you wake up dreading going downstairs to work because your drawing went wrong 10 times yesterday, and why are you even doing this anymore? In most jobs, you will have other people around you as a support network, but unless you have a critique group that you’re a part of, as a freelance illustrator you might be tempted to go it totally alone (sometimes out of pride!)

As someone who feels pressure quite often, this was becoming a problem. I was sticking to my written schedule like glue: if I for some reason hadn’t racked up my 40 hours of work on projects during the week (usually due to other clubs or voluntary things) it would spill into my weekend. I was probably trying to do too much in a day, and then feeling let down that I hadn’t managed it all. I felt pressured because I always like to look ahead- to save for a rainy day, and all my profits were going back into the business.

Around mid-April, when I was handing out leaflets for the North Somerset Arts Week in the local area, it was something that was plaguing my thoughts. Not constantly, of course- there were still lots of days which would fly past and I’d feel happy and accomplished at the end of them- but it was a recurring dilemma when I was feeling bad. Do I get another job to ease my finances and allow me to save a lot more, but risk not having time to draw? Or do I continue being completely freelance, and sometimes being subject to intense worry that this might not work out? I saw a colourful leaflet in one cafe I delivered to that was advertising for “bank staff” at a nearby nursery. I picked it up, initially thinking, “that sounds fun, and could be great inspiration too. I won’t get it, but I can have a look, at least.”

I got in touch. The lady was really lovely, even though their recruitment day had passed she said they were still looking for new bank staff, and that if I’d like an interview, she could set me up with one. I thought of this in the same way I do commissions or projects that don’t work out in the end: “it would be great to try, and great experience, even if it doesn’t work out.” The interview went well. The second part came around, where I had to design an activity to do with some of the children whilst being observed. I had spoken to the interview panel about my other job being an illustrator, which went down brilliantly- so I wrote them a short story about a magic tree, and illustrated it- and encouraged the children to draw their own magic trees at the end (see Story Corner for the full story and image!)

I was offered the job. The manager was lovely: she said she was aware I had another job and that I could say no to them at any time, she asked if I had any preference on days, and she was very happy for me to come in two-three days a week, depending on who needs cover, and keep the other two for my illustrating. I’ve done my first two weeks, and all three of the managers have told me what a fantastic job I’m doing. They had a BBQ yesterday for the staff, and raised a toast to everyone for their help so far this year, and they even invited me. When I asked if they were sure as I had only just started, they said that I was one of the family already.

And this, my friends, is the moment I had been waiting for. It was one of the greatest times since leaving university that I’ve felt respected as an illustrator: they gave me flexibility and pressure-free kindness to flourish. I probably was feeling pressured because I was putting pressure on MYSELF- to draw this, to draw that, to do my accounts because they need doing, to finish that submission BECAUSE YOU WANTED TO FINISH IT BY LAST WEEK AND IT’S TAKING FOREVER, it’s never going to be perfect, so just check it once more and send it how it is!

And you know what- contrary to my worries, this job has actually helped my illustration work like you wouldn’t believe. The children (those hilarious, amazing, lovely children!) are giving me me bucketfuls of new inspiration- they always want me to read them stories, (they have some of the most fantastically written/illustrated books out there in their bookcase, so it also acts as more market research as to what they like!) and I could start a book with the fantastic things they ask or tell me. I’ve junk modelled boats and motorbikes, eaten four pretend icecreams on the trot, sang songs about monkeys and frogs, and had lots of cuddles.

And by observing my kind, lovely and efficient bosses, I’m learning how to be a better boss to myself. I am becoming even more decisive about what I need from my illustration hours each week: I’m almost finished organising my sample folder for Andersen Press full of new work!

In fact- this post has been rather text heavy: so here’s a little sneak peek from my Animal A-Z which will feature a couple of characters in this sample folder! Here is Bertie MacMannon, the Highland Cow- or rather, H is for Highland Cow! (Take a look at my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/CarinaRobertsIllustration for the other animals!)

Bertie

So, finally, my advice to all you new graduates who are worriers like me:

Think hard, and follow whatever it is you want to do (and don’t worry, it might well change!) Don’t just take a job because it’s a job. Take a job that will nurture the rest of your life- if you want to illustrate too, like me, make sure it pulls you in the same direction as your artwork, so you don’t feel torn all the time. RESPECT YOURSELF. Don’t accept a job from anyone who is going to milk you for all you’re worth; take illustration work and part/fulltime work that is going to push you, accept you for who you are, and help you succeed. If they don’t respect you, they shouldn’t have you. The same goes for fulltime freelancers- be the boss to yourself that you would want in another person!

And above all- don’t feel like you have to choose between your heart and your head. Sometimes you can follow both, and come to the same endpoint!

Keep going with what brings you joy, I’m rooting for you all!

– 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.