Tag Archives: Animals

Skokholm- A week in paradise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20190603_140653392_BURST000_COVER_TOP (LR FOR BLOG) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Day One – Arrival

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

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

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

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

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

Day Two: The drawing begins!

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

 

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

A bit of expansion for the little notes made here:

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

IMG_20190604_141351752 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

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

IMG_20190605_125159951 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration)

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

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

 

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

A bit about these funny little birds:

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

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

Day Five- Lashing rain and howling winds

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

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

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

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

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

Day Six- An eely good one!

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

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

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

 

Sketches © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

 

Click below sketchpages to see seal observations larger.

 

© 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

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

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Credit- photo © by Mike Turtle 2019

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

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

IMG_20190609_204511901 ( LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

Day Seven- The last sunrise on Spy Rock

IMG_20190609_051500010 (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

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

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

IMG_20190609_152635839_HDR (LR) © 2019 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

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

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

 

 

Fair winds homeward-bound

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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The AutumnHobbit

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

Happy New Year- Vive la Vole!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I

CAN

DO

THIS!

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The AutumnHobbit

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

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.

 

 

A New Years Bears’ Bearing

I remember the relief I felt one day at university when our tutor told us that even the best artists cannot work without reference. It’s tempting sometimes, particularly if you’ve drawn something before, to look at it with a foppish wave of your hand and exclaim, “I can illustrate that, I know how it works.”

This can be a bit of a trap your mind sets for you: because you’ve seen a bird fly over your head thousands of times, you might think, “I know how to draw that, I don’t need any reference images to help.” But as soon as you try to replicate it, to draw or paint it yourself without something to refer to as a decent final artwork, you find the solid idea of that bird falls apart like a wet cake into different bits you remember, but may struggle to fit together as a whole. This can be incredibly frustrating to a person at any point in their artistic career, and can cause the throwing of pencils and other drawing materials across the room.

Those who read my blog regularly will remember in my last post my mentioning of a personal project I’ve been dedicating time to each week involving bears. I used to find drawing bears quite difficult- they are heavy, but since a lot of the weight that is visible is topped off with fur, it’s sometimes hard to tell where movement comes from, particularly from a static image. (I’ll confess, part of the reason I chose the characters for this project was down to the fact that I found bears a challenge.)

Of course, the best way to study movement is in real life, but unless I were to visit a zoo (where movement could easily be restricted due to lack of space) or go somewhere where bears exist naturally, it may be a little tricky. Certain places in Sweden have “hides” where photographers/artists can go to study bears without disturbing them- something I’d love to do, but it wouldn’t be that easy for me to just pop over there of an afternoon.

I’ve found that a fantastic resource for this project so far has been studying animated bear characters.

For an animator to create a moving sequence they have to know everything about how that person or creature will move and express itself. An animator will have had to pick apart their subject to understand how it works, which is perfect when it comes to our research, as it presents us with a comprehensive cross-section of all the parts that make up this or that.

Vimeo had some brilliant examples of this- Guillaume Arantes, a Gobelins 3D animation student, produced a fantastic cycle that showed a bear’s walk from four different angles. Below is a screenshot of his animation with the site address for those who might want to find it!

(All rights for the original sequence below belong to Guillaume Arantes.)

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 15.43.28.png
(All rights for the original sequence above belong to Guillaume Arantes.)

 

Pixar’s Brave also offered a large amount of inspiration in terms of creating two very different bear characters just by using different line weights and textures:

Brave-12.jpg
(All rights Pixar 2012)

My character development is still in progress, but here is an early drawn sequence of what the little lad might look like:

Bear cub falling asleep © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration .jpg
Sleep cycle – © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration

Lots of round shapes with short and soft features and fluffy fur achieved with a soft 3B pencil definitely helps to establish his youngness.

Bear Balloon Play.jpg
Bear and Balloon – © 2016 Carina Roberts Illustration

Putting other objects in with the bear can help them come to life, as they appear to play before your eyes. Here Mama bear gently paws a balloon in the same way she might handle her cub.

I’ve approached their habitat in the same way, in terms of slowly picking it apart. A very good friend of mine lives in Norway and has been kind enough to keep me stocked with forest photos to study. Rocks, hideyholes, trees and paths have come under even more scrutiny than usual…

It’s a long process, but I love 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.

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.

The month of new sprouts: Spring is on its way!

Hello again lovely readers!

Spring is most definitely on its way! It may only be February, but I’ve already  seen a good many snowdrops, and indeed daffodil shoots, forcing their way through these heavy frosts we’ve been having… There’s a lot to be said for their fierce determination to show the world a bit of cheerful colour! (We aren’t all that different in that sentiment!)

Apologies for a late post, but this New Year has been extremely busy so far! As I mentioned in my previous post, plans are still underway to journey to London with the boys (Erik and Siggi) in April … more about that as it unfolds!

Tomorrow shall be the first meeting for North Somerset Arts Week for our little group too, the first where the whole company will meet together to discuss our little exhibition we’ll be holding in Portishead, which will be rather exciting too! (This isn’t until May, but of course, that gives me more of a chance to drum up some support and excitement on your parts!)

A little more about this, to begin with: North Somerset Arts Week (or NSA) will run from the 1st to the 10th of May 2015. It is an event designed to showcase and celebrate art and artists across the county. Many people participate: alone to invite people into their places of work for “open studio” insights into their methods, or in groups, to organise exhibitions and small shows (sometimes with events woven into them, like live painting.) We’ll be organising a small exhibition with artwork available to buy direct on the day, (and since we should all be having a go at invidulating,  offering a chance to chat with all the artists who created the beautiful articles too!)  – If you’re in the Southwest of England during that time, be sure to come and have a look around, it’s going to be great! Come March, there will be a catalogue available to give more of an idea of what will be on offer and where- I will keep you posted!

But first, to the here and now: what have I been up to that’s made me so busy?

Firstly, I followed up just after Christmas with a gallery/shop in Nailsea called the Blue Room to enquire about space in the New Year. Following the excellent news that a bit of room was available, and a successful meeting with the owner, I will now be exhibiting there for a minimum of four months. I took in my first two paintings on Thursday of last week, one of which was sold on Saturday morning! I’m working on some new bits and bobs to take in over the next week or two (more originals, mounted prints and cards) – let’s just hope they all continue to sell like hot cakes!

Dawn Bear for blog watermarked
“Dawn Bear”- My original watercolour, currently displayed in Nailsea’s Blue Room gallery.
Freedom for blog watermarked
“Freedom” – The original watercolour Hare who skedaddled off to his new home after less than 48 hours! A huge thankyou to the delighted customer!

There’s loads more beautiful work talked about on the gallery’s Facebook page- take a look at: https://www.facebook.com/TheBlueRoomNailsea (you might even spot some of my new offerings on there!)

I also posted off my entry for the Twitter Art Exhibit today. It’s an exhibition of postcard-sized artwork held in Norway to raise money for Home-Start Moss, a charity which helps families with young children in need of support:

North Star for blog watermarked
“North Star”- Postcard-sized original watercolour, with silver embellishing powder round the edges for a little icy sparkle!

If you’re intrigued, just search TwitterArtExhibit on Facebook or Twitter to see some of the beautiful examples of artwork that have already been sent off and recieved (over 600 are expected!)

Last, but most certainly not least, is something that’s taking up a whole lot of time, but is still in its very early stages. It is picturebook related, but I’m trying not to get too excited about it as I’ll only be submitting a proposal at the beginning of March… but it’s a wonderful project, and could be INCREDIBLY exciting. More about that soon too (in the mean-time, much nose-tapping, and furious scribbling on my part!)

Thankyou once more for reading, and supporting me in my solo flights into illustration! I hope all of your new years are proving to be bright and sunny, in weather and in attitude! Perhaps, as I do, next time you see a daffodil, you might think about its cheerful, bouncy outlook on life… It’s not as showy as say, a rose: but it seems all the more beautiful for heralding the first big cheer of springtime, for being unabashedly HAPPY.

After all, if we were all able to devote a little more time to smiling in our own little patch of sunshine, couldn’t the world be like the first day of spring 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.

 

 

 

The end, and the beginning

Hello again, lovely readers!

A lot has happened in the last month- some lovely weather, (which means fires on the beach and camping!) the vacating of the house I and my three housemates have called home for the past two years, and, in a week’s time, I graduate!

Also in this very busy time, I had the privilege of being chosen to represent my university at this year’s New Designer’s show with my final year work- meaning Erik also got to witness the bustling hub of London! (If you’re not a regular reader, please refer to my portfolio to find out a little more about my Viking friend!)

It was a fantastically exciting and yet rather intense few days- organising the space and helping to construct it, polishing everything to a gleaming shine, and invigilating as people walked slowly and scruntinisingly around.  Presenting work in the same building as household names like John Lewis and the mind-scrambling array of wonderful talent (design and visual communication) was almost enough to put you off trying- once you’ve glimpsed all of that competition, it’s sometimes a little difficult to steady yourself!

BUT.

I realised something very important while I was at this show. Yes, there is competition- but in what career is there none? Surely all the things that are really good, and which we really want in life require some gritted teeth at some stage, because they are worth the fight. I felt a fierce determination during that week which I will endeavour to keep blazing-  I am determined to find that chink in the industry’s armour which will allow me in.

If you click on the “Shows and Exhibitions” button above, you’ll see my little corner in the metropolis of New Designers. Also updated, as promised, is “My Recent Sketchbook”- with a new selection of sketches I’ve been scribbling away at: New Designers also had a variety of great competitions to enter, which have kept me inspired, and in practice of working to a brief. While currently working from home, I’ve tried to keep to strict working hours as I would in an office on these ideas and pieces, as well as developing a database of potential clients I can ask for advice and portfolio reviews over the coming months … In short, I am arming myself for battle!

One piece I was particularly proud of was part of a “design a day” competition I’ve entered. As I’m trying to keep to a tight schedule, I try to give myself only around 2 hours to complete these pieces- 1 hour to formulate ideas and undergo any visual research I might need (with this piece, studying bears in their form and movement) and 1 hour to execute the final artwork. Here’s the fruits of this particular design: under the theme of “Big and Small”:

Big and Small for blog

 

Also, very excitingly, I’ve won an award!! But more on that next time.

Another huge thankyou to all you wonderful readers- we’ve reached over 1000 viewers now! Let’s keep up the good work, if you like what you see, don’t give up on me!

One parting note- no-one knows how their life will pan out. I won’t pretend that I know where I’ll end up- but I’m trying, same as everyone else.

Never, ever give up trying, and if you have a dream, don’t let it flicker out. Keep it alight, however dark the night gets!!

– 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.