Tag Archives: art

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!)

 

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.

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!
Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.53.17
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shape and colour – rediscovering the palette knife!

Hello again, radiant readers!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Geometric Waves
Painting the sea! © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration

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

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

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

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

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

SAMPLES OF EARTH

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

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

Earth sample 1 (smaller file)

Earth sample v2 (Smaller file)

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

The AutumnHobbit

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

 

 

 

Disruption and peace- A snow adventure!

Good evening, lovely ones!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow Diary p1 (Low Res) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Hedge and hill and snowy tracks
Snow Diary p2 (Low Res) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Blasting snow flurries (top, middle) ; the old barn (bottom)
Snow Diary p3 (Low Res) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Brave figures venturing out in the midst of the cold!
Snow Diary 4 (Low Res) © 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Determined parent with some very excited children!

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

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

The AutumnHobbit

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

 

 

 

“Cara”- Capturing animal behaviours in human form

Cara sleeping © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

Hello my lovelies!

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

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

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

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

Poor seals!

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

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

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

The Seal Study

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

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

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

We were not disappointed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

The AutumnHobbit

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step One – Feeling the music out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The AutumnHobbit

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

 

Vår: The coming of Spring!

Hello kind readers, and the happiest of Easters to you all!

It’s the warmest day of the year so far today, and aren’t we glad to have the warmth of the sun back after what feels like an age! On my walk this morning I closed my eyes for just a second to take a deep breath, and the scent of green freshness, spring flowers and sunshine is well and truly in the air! (Just try it, even if you’re on your way to work at a job you don’t like much, I guarantee it will make you smile!) It’s amazing how much difference a little warmth can make to everyone’s mood: every single person I walked past today beamed at me and wished me a “Good Morning”- it’s days like this that we live for!

I thought I’d start this post with a little follow-up on the topics I covered in March’s blog: when I get excited about new projects that are starting I sometimes forget to tie up the ones that came before!

First, a quick, but very positive note about the Twitter Art Exhibit some of you might remember me mentioning a couple of times since Christmas. This is an exhibition of postcard-sized artwork, held in a different location each year, to raise money for different charities. This year it was held in Moss, Norway, to raise money for Home-Start Moss, a charity which offers support to the young families residing in Norway that need it most. The exhibition had lots of coverage all over, but particularly in Norway, where it even had a short five minute slot on the national news! The latest update I read stated that they had raised 35.050NOK (Norwegian Krone) , translating to a whopping $4368!!

As well as this obvious success for the exhibition itself, I celebrated a personal victory, as my postcard, titled “North Star”, sold! In fact, I included a screenshot of the original tweet below from the founder of the exhibition informing me that my card sold to a “lovely family in Moss with small children”. I actually had a little cry when I first read this. The first year after uni is always the toughest, I was warned, and while lots of good things have been happening since I graduated, I’ve always had that little niggle at the back of my mind saying the “What Ifs?” – the what if I sink as an illustrator? What if no-one actually will want my work? What if I can’t support myself by doing the thing I love (and not be able to prove everyone who said it’d be too hard, or not a viable career, wrong?)

It was a small step, but a huge thing for me to receive this message. It proved that I really do have a potential audience, and people really do want my work… and, most importantly, a piece of my artwork has brought happiness to a family, who now have a postcard-sized artwork of a little polar bear in their house somewhere. The main reason I wanted to become an illustrator was to bring a touch of magic and happiness to children and parents alike, and I’m doing it! Slowly, granted… but I can do it! 🙂

David Sandum tweet

A quick update on Portishead’s North Somerset Arts exhibition, too:

I mentioned last time that the North Somerset Arts Week strives to highlight creatives in the region, a celebration of all their hard work and the beautiful things they make, and that our dates would be the 1st to the 10th of May.

I can happily confirm after our last meeting that the brochures for the event have now been printed!! The cover looks like this (particularly helpful if you’re local and were hoping to grab one and check out some of the things that are happening, this is what it looks like) :

NSA brochure cover 2015

(You can pick one up in most shops in the North Somerset area- just ask for a North Somerset Arts catalogue!)

We also have a page just for our Portishead group, “St. Peter’s” (named after the church we’re holding our exhibition in) – we’ll have a bit of everything in our show, as we all practice different mediums: everything from photography to ceramics, jewellery to painting and illustration, so it should be really interesting! (Avid readers might notice a certain Skogkatt three images along!)

NSA brochure Portishead cluster

This show is approaching fast, and we’re all getting really excited! We have a facebook page for our little group too: https://www.facebook.com/NSAWPortishead2015 – please take a little look, perhaps give us a like, and watch out for beautiful artistic updates! From me: here’s a little snippet of one of the new paintings I’m working on for this show, based on the character of Curlyshanks, a huge Newfoundland dog!

Newfoundland sketches for NSA signed for blog

Sketches for NSA signed
Final painting sketched out, accompanied by some preparatory sketches!

Previous readers might remember me mentioning a local gallery I’ve got some work in at the moment, called the Blue Room. I’ve been beavering away on some new things to take in there (mainly prints next time- I’ll update you next month on my progress with cutting window mounts, hopefully I’ll have mastered it!)

Here’s a little example of one of my greetings card artworks that are now stocked at the Blue Room, a little sparrow fellow:

Little Sparrow bird for blog signed

They’re mostly all like this, a very small original painting, dried thoroughly then framed in the window of a card which folds three times. (The window is cut in the middle ‘panel’ of the card, and the panel on the left is folded in and stuck down to protect the painting inside, while the right panel is left swinging free, to let the buyer write their personalised message inside!)

Bird cards image 1

Eagle-eyed spotters might have seen the new greetings card artwork portfolio link in the tab at the top- keep an eye on this, it’s filling up! I’m hoping to send some of these designs off to some companies in due course to see if there’s any interest from them too. Organising them for you readers first will put me in a much easier position when it comes to choosing which pieces to send them!

As for the next month, most of my time will be taken up by these three ventures. However, as I may have mentioned before in brief, I’ll be attending the book fair at Olympia next week, and will be taking an Erik-related portfolio along with me… Here’s hoping I can put myself one step closer to achieving one of my dreams, to illustrate children’s books!

Thankyou, as always, to everyone who reads and looks at my progress- I couldn’t do it without your support!! Keep your eyes peeled on the blog over the next few months, as in my “spare time” (haha!) I’m planning to open an online shop where you’ll be able to buy artwork, prints, cards, and other handmade delights: I’ll post up details as soon as it’s finalised!

– 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.

On a soggy summer morning…

A very good, though slightly soggy summer morning to all!

There are exciting changes going on all around at the moment, in real life and in digi-world: some of you more avid readers may notice the blog is under maintainence, or becoming more organised, with lots more interesting things to look at! I’m in the process of uploading a digital version of my portfolio that’s accompanying me to the New Designers Fair in London in the first week of July, along with a feature I’ve called “My Recent Sketchbook”- a monthly update on some highlights from my personal sketchbooks and recent ideas. This is really just an excuse for me to share more new, exciting stuff with you each month- and hopefully leave you inspired!

As promised, this post contains some wonderfully crisp photos (courtesy of one wonderful Matthew Otten- who can be found at http://matthewotten.co.uk/) of my exhibition space from the degree show (signed to increase security!)

Carina Roberts Graduate Show full space
Detail of shelf- left to right, children’s book concept, leather sleeve to protect and decorate book, snowglobe containing 3D realisation of Erik character (making of which was detailed in last month’s post!)
Detail of original framed artwork- “Welcome home Erik” – Carina Roberts

Finishing my degree has brought a set of new challenges- namely, how on earth will I be spending the rest of my days? Going from having a very strict programme of working around the clock to get everything finished to not necessarily HAVING to do much has brought on a definite feeling of flux and indecision. But this hasn’t been all bad- I’ve had time to try out a few new things- characters and processes, which I’ll touch upon more later on.

I’ve had some time to mull it over now, and I’ve decided: It’s going to be a hard and competitive road, but I ultimately want to stay on the Illustration route: working towards something based in children’s publishing. And as the wise ones say, the successful road is not always the easiest option, but it will be worth it in the end. So, as a promise to myself and to all you lovely readers, I will not give up: as long as you all promise to do the same. If something is important to you, fight for it!

Also as anticipated, I have (whenever I have a spare evening) been participating in a virtual plein air painting group with some friends- which above anything else, has provided me with a bit of structure in this greyish time. Without sounding patronising, for those of you who haven’t heard of plein air before, it’s basically just painting outside- on location, great for studying colours and the ambience of a place. Virtual plein air is pretty much the same principle, except it’s fantastic for soggy weather: you don’t have to worry about your paper getting wet or catching a cold, and you study locations on Google maps or views rather than face to face. If this sounds great to you (which it is!) you can find the group we’re part of on Facebook, by searching “Virtual Plein Air.”

About 99% of the entries in this group are digital paintings, which I am sadly awful at. So while my friends sit there flicking away at their tablets, I’m surrounded by paints, inks and water- and try to keep away from the electrics! Anyway, here’s some of the highlights so far from these sessions:

Norway- Snowy Scene
Mousehole in Cornwall
Þvera, Iceland
Scottish lake/rapids

In other news, I’ve had a request from some of my Facebook fans for my method of microwave pressing flowers- something I’m experimenting with for a small competition piece. It’s a great alternative to traditional pressing simply with the timings involved- the flowers I experimented with were fairly small, with the stem and leaves still attached, and it took only around 2 minutes for them to completely dry!

Basically, imagine this process as a sandwich construction- you will use two sheets of fairly thick cardboard as the ‘bread’, with several sheets of kitchen or blotting paper in the middle to soak up the moisture, like the ‘fillings’- the flowers go right in the middle of these sheets. So, in order, it goes- cardboard, sheet sheet sheet, flowers, sheet sheet sheet, cardboard. That’s exactly how I constructed it. Then secure the cardboard together using elastic bands round the outside to fix it all together (number depending on how big your cardboard is- my sheets were around a5 size and I used 6 rubber bands.)

I was paranoid about my flowers bursting into flames, so I put the microwave on with the sandwiched press inside for around 20 seconds at a time, on it’s highest heat. Just keep having a peek and a poke to check that they’re completely dry.

Have fun!

Once again, a big thankyou to all readers- we’re now nearing the 900 views readership, and I am very chuffed! Keep checking in each once in a while- each month now there will be new additions!!

Have a great month, and enjoy some sunshine!

– 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.