Category Archives: Picture books

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!)

 

Eire, Seaspray and Seal Girls – A Silent Book Project Update!

Hello again! Here’s hoping your February has been a lovely one!

Following on from my excitable first post of the year (all about meeting and drawing a vole!) there’s a lot I want to share with you!

Firstly, a proper recap on the final months of last year:

-Back in September I joined my Portishead Arts buddies for another exhibition- definitely the best yet! The highlight had to be the sale of one of my absolute favourite artworks to date- “Hook”!

SAMSUNG CSC
“Hook”, Gouache and coloured pencil. (I had such fun experimenting with movement and colour on this one!) © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration

The lovely customers in question bought “Hook” for their new child-to-be, to hang in the nursery.  It’s an indescribable feeling to see something you created make someone so happy!

-I participated in my first outdoor event in October, Made in North Somerset – aside from torrential downpours throughout half of the day it was really pretty lovely- with a surprisingly determined turnout of visitors!

-The highlight of the last months of 2018, though, has to be a round trip to Dublin and Anglesey that my partner and I took. We crossed from Dublin Port to Holyhead on the penultimate morning of our adventure – my first time on a ferry since I was around 5 years old! The journey started very early in the morning, and we watched dawn break over the skyline of Dublin out in a bracing wind. It was lovely and warm inside the ferry but I was having a whale of a time out on the deck, being buffeted about and staving off my impending queasiness!

 

 

Sadly I didn’t get round to that much drawing while we were away (as per usual, we were marching about all over the place too much!) but I took a lot of reference photos!

The whole time we were away, I was thinking about “Cara” – my silent book project about the seal girl.  During the past year it’s been one of those projects I’ve constantly had on my mind, but haven’t really gotten round to writing a proper update on. Well, this is that update! Since I wrote about “Capturing animal behaviours in human form”, I’ve been working on fleshing out the world of the story, as well as breathing more life into the characters themselves. Let me fill you in!

 

Building a world, exploring the land

 

 

Howth, Anglesey and Dublin- ink studies of coastal views!

Selkie legends are told in the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) and in communities all the way down the UK’s rugged coastline to Ireland. That is to say, although each society  would claim the idea of a seal who can shed its skin and walk on land as a human as its own, it’s really more of a widespread folk tale along our shores. I wasn’t, therefore, looking to recreate one particular area in which to set the story – the West Coast of Ireland, for example- but I was building a world based on all the settlements whose cultures have been shaped by their connection to the sea. To speak through the environment of this story, I have to make it recognisable, even nostalgic for those who have grown up among these surroundings, and capture part of the culture to explain them to those who haven’t.

A bit of a meaty aim, really.

In terms of research, though, this couldn’t have been more fun! I’ve carried my camera and my sketchbook around the UK and beyond wherever I go, and take as many notes and drawings as possible! (This ties in neatly with one of my main drawing goals from the past couple of years- GET BETTER AT DRAWING BUILDINGS!)

Those who are avid readers of this blog might remember my “Kernow” project– drawings of Cornwall from a surprise trip we took for my Mum’s birthday- completed for this purpose exactly!

 

 

In the same way that drawing from my experiences of Marazion, Penzance and St. Ives helped me to remember all the little nooks we’d discovered along the way, I realised that it was going to take lots and LOTS of drawings to build up a gradual picture of a coastal location, to create a convincing setting for the story.

Also around this time was when I rediscovered the work of one of my absolute favourite illustrators, Raymond Briggs, and began to take notes about his storytelling. (Incidentally, I watched an amazing documentary called “Raymond Briggs: Snowmen, Bogeymen and Milkmen” – if you have even the slightest interest in Mr. Briggs or his work, I urge you to take a look!) A couple of his books feature very few, if any words – the narrative is unfurled through animation-like sequences of smaller images.

The Snowman - Raymond Briggs

I started having a go at some sequential narrative inspired by how Briggs tells his stories.

Jowder's Hallway (Final) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“The Hallway” – a short sequential narrative exploring a character’s movement through their home. (Reference- cottage in Marazion, Cornwall) © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration

With his processes in mind, and in order to make use of all those reference photos I’d taken in Dublin, Anglesey and elsewhere too, I challenged myself during Inktober this year to draw a short journey that could somehow inspire, or fit into, the story of Cara.

 

“The Bike Ride” – Quink ink, white pencil, calligraphy ink.

The resulting month’s drawings (above) introduced a typical weatherbeaten, salt-sprayed village recovering from a coastal storm. Only one figure really features throughout the whole sequence- unintentional when I begun the drawings, but useful to realise partway through the challenge, as I started to think of the project as a 31 “frame” glimpse through the eyes of someone who travels through it every day. This sequence became a way to introduce both of my main characters- like in a photo album, each image represents some memory to the little lad Ronan of the day he found an injured seal. As I worked on his physical appearance in tandem with this sequence, I thought about how I could symbolise elements of his personality in these little thumbnails.

For example, the sea is pivotal to setting the scene of the story, but having it feature in so many of the images could suggest that this little boy thinks about it a lot – does water calm him when he’s had a bad day? Or could he even see the sea as a threat, something he’s afraid of perhaps? And the aforementioned lack of other characters featuring throughout the panels- does he prefer to be alone, or does he simply live in quite an isolated community? Could he even be lonely?

This explosion of questions revealed a whole new side to the characters I was designing- particularly this little chap. Understanding more about his personality meant that I could now go all-out to design a character to match!

 

Traits embodied- character design progression over the last year

Over the course of the previous few months, Ronan has been emerging slowly, shyly- a thoughtful young fellow, quite the opposite to the exuberant seal-girl he befriends.

(Below- some of my first sketches deciding on Ronan’s appearance!)

Ronan sketch 72DPI © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Ronan” – An early sketch and reference point. Woolly hair, salt-stiffened but carefully kept. © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration
Ronan sketch - Coat 72DPI © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Ronan’s Coat” – Experimenting with a big layer of clothing a shy child can hide behind and inside… © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration
Ronan's Home Final (Low Res) © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“A quick rest” © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration
Ronan and Cara 72DPI © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Meeting the locals” – Ronan’s method of rescuing an injured seal. (Also, a quick impression of how a native might react to a seal in the middle of town!) © 2017/18 Carina Roberts Illustration

Something I’ve really enjoyed planning is how I can portray characters without any of the clues that might come from dialogue- this is a wordless picture book, after all! When developing both Ronan and Cara, this has forced me to concentrate my efforts on their expressions and body language almost exclusively to show their complimentary personalities.

I rediscovered the classic series “Camberwick Green” and its sibling programme “Trumpton” back in October 2018 when I wasn’t feeling well. Interestingly, I observed that throughout both programmes, mouths are really only visible on characters that are speaking loudly or shouting- a lot of the story is told through their gestures and expressions instead!

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.55.04
Captain Snort of Pippin Fort- his mouth is often visible as he shouts at his troops!
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Concentration… Mickey Murphy the baker’s mouth is rarely seen, he’s too busy to be talking!

 

(Left- “Ronan’s jumper” – experimenting with textures and patterns inspired by the Aran wool shops in Dublin. Right- building on sequences of movement, and subtle expression which can still say a lot!)

Ronan expression sheet FV (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
“Early expression sheet” – Planning subtle emotional responses of Ronan. Some expressions are missing- for the boy who feels deeply, but doesn’t always show it…     © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

“Camberwick Green” became an important influence in character development- and not just for Ronan! The energetic, animated gesticulations of some of the busier characters gave me a great deal of inspiration in how to portray Cara’s personality through her movements. As a reminder from my previous post, this was how she began:

“… 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 with, I had worked on aligning Cara’s seal and human counterparts- for example carrying through her colouring as a young seal, replacing her whiskers and mottled fur with hairy eyebrows and freckles. Very quickly though, I realised that something was missing- in a lot of traditional depictions of the selkie which I’d looked at in my early research, the human aspect ended up being willowy, slim; with none of the substance and weight of a seal.

So I’ve been studying heavier, rounder and stronger body shapes, to unite Cara in both of her skins!

Cara simplified sketch (LR) © 2018:19 Carina Roberts Illustration
“Seated” – An early digital sketch to work out simple shapes to include in Cara’s form. © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
Cara character sketches (levels, neatened - FV LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration.jpg
Experimenting with rounder shapes- how might borrowed, loose clothing fall around Cara’s seal-like form?  (Beginning to explore textures) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
Cara lineup (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
How can Cara’s gestures occupy space, in order to demonstrate her exuberant personality? (Continuing exploration of borrowed clothing.) “Cara studies” – 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

 

(Above- (Left) Inquistive exploration of a new environment- how would a seal react to household objects? (Right) “Patchwork Bundle” – Exploring textures, form and bright colours. © 2018/19 Carina Roberts Illustration

What Does A Seal Dream? LR © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration
“What Does a Seal Dream?” © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration       Bright colours reveal Cara’s sunny personality with no explanation needed!

 

My mind has been bursting waiting to share this work with you! I’m so, so happy with how this concept is developing- another update will be along later in the year! In the mean-time, please never forget the importance of your more personal projects- when your heart and soul goes into something, it really shows!

Next time, I’ll be discussing the design process for some new dog-themed Mother’s Day greetings cards I’ve produced this year!

Until then, all the very best of wishes,

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.

 

Quietly confident: Powers of Silent Picture Books

Hello lovely readers!

It’s been a busy couple of months; I attended the Bologna Bookfair with a friend at the start of April so a lot of my time went into getting work ready to take there! It was a fantastic experience, and also the first time I’ve been since I was a student- second year me would have been very proud (possibly even disbelieving!) to see me march up and speak to lots of different people about my work… It’s still scary, but I get such a buzz from it now! I’ve sent off one selection of samples already, here’s hoping for some exciting new opportunities and projects to work on!

As my friend and I made some time to poke about in Bologna while we were staying this time, we managed to see a lot more ordinary Italian life passing by when we were eating and not running for trains… We discovered, much to our delight, that the pet of choice in Bologna most definitely seems to be of the canine variety. If you’ve ever seen the introduction sequence of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians with all the dogs that match their owners, you’ll get an idea of what it was like wandering about in Bologna’s streets!

Of course, we took lots of photos, and took some time to draw… On the way to the Bookfair one morning, we paused at one particular shop (an odd mix of a wine bar, deli and newsagents) to have a sandwich, when an elderly man with two of the fattest, wobbliest bassett hounds I’ve ever seen came trundling around the corner. The man walked in to get a lunchtime glass of wine, leaving the dogs outside to almost immediately fall asleep, their folds and wrinkles spreading out across the pavements like melting icecream.

Fat Bassett signed.jpg
Bologna Bassetts!

 

Capturing these many glorious pooches in particular moments of their day to day life resonated with one of my favourite parts of the Bologna Bookfair- The IBBY Silent Book Exhibition. This is the place where this year’s shortlisted silent book concepts are gathered together and displayed! (To view a full list of the finalists, you can visit this link! You’ll see what I mean by “Silent”- these picture book concepts contain no text whatsoever, their stories are told entirely in their illustrations.)

Some of you loyal readers might remember that I work part of my week as a nursery assistant, and a huge part of my time there is spent reading books to the children. (It’s great, because I can get a lot more primary research into what imagery they are drawn to!) I wanted to learn more about silent books: not only for my illustration work, but for inspiration about how I could introduce silent books to the children I see every week, and how I could better aid their developing literacy skills.

Here are just some of the positive and sometimes surprising outcomes I read about when silent books are included as part of learning programmes:

  • Nursery practitioners found that both themselves and their children could use the images in silent books as talking points, to promote and develop vocabulary, creative language and storytelling skills. Silent picture books also helped younger children to grasp the natural sequencing we take for granted in books: beginnings, middles and ends, left to right pagination, and what might happen next.
  • Teachers and nursery practitioners found that since silent or wordless picture books had no “page-turning cues” from the text, they would spend longer talking about each page with children. This gave themselves and the children they worked with longer to pore over the images, and find much, much more detail in them than they might have done had the stories been accompanied by words. (Of course, these principles can work on worded picture books too! Words or none, young children will always alert you to interesting parts of the imagery which you can use as further discussion cues! This may also be helpful for less confident adult readers as the story then becomes less of a performance and more of an informal chat.)
  • Teachers and nursery practitioners also found that children enjoyed silent picture books when still on the cusp of being able to read to themselves: being able to read the books from cover to cover on their own without missing any information helped them to grow into more confident, enthusiastic story-devourers!
  • Silent books are being used as tools to aid refugee children during the current crisis to adjust to a new life abroad. Lampedusa, one of the Italian Pelagie islands in the Mediterranean, has a large collection of silent books in its central (and first!) library with local and immigrant children in mind, courtesy of IBBY’s 2012-13 project, “Final Destination Lampedusa”.   (Take a look at the full report here)
  • In terms of higher level learning, for example at Foundation Diploma or degree level Illustration courses, the creation of silent narratives is a process teaching staff often like to include in the programme to help to build storytelling and narrative skills in young artists.

 

It’s been an idea I’ve been toying with for some time now, but after all this wonderful inspiration, I’ve decided to enter the silent book contest next year! I’m still narrowing down concepts: one possibility is to use my title little chap from”A Bear’s Winter” in a visual tale of his journey…

Bear narrative for blog.jpg
“A Bear’s Winter” storyboard-style layout, featured in my Bologna portfolio this year!

 

Rest assured, whichever I develop, it will involve a featured animal character- bear, dog or seal!

That’s it for this post- next time will be an update about how my silent book project is progressing, with a little feature on painted textures and patterns, with reference to “The Song of the Sea” film by Cartoon Saloon! Keep your eyes peeled over the coming weeks for big changes to my portfolios too… There’s a lot of new work to be added!

As always, thankyou for taking the time to visit my blog, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do writing 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.

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

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