This year has forced an odd paradox. Meaningful human connection, necessary for us to function properly, has only been recommended to occur from a distance. This is a bittersweet contradiction in itself- where words and technology are our normally our tools to enhance our powers of connection, they have had to do as a replacement for many of our day-to-day physical expressions of love. If it weren’t for my lovely partner keeping my hug-o-meter going all by himself, I probably would have struggled even more than I did.
But, perhaps because of this, the act of using words to communicate and to document has felt even more powerful this year. I’ve felt like I’ve got a little more practice at expressing myself honestly- not just in the ways that I feel people want to hear. To paraphrase a really good friend in a heart-to-heart over the phone the other day- when your world becomes contained within four walls, there is no space to hide from the things that scare you anymore- and when this happens, you have to face them in the best way you know how.
I’m just coming to the end of a short writing course, called “The Winter Writing Sanctuary”, taught by the inspirational Beth Kempton. (Any of you word lovers, PLEASE jump in and take this course if you can- it’s so freeing, supportive, and fun!) Over the past two weeks, I’ve really challenged myself- to write every day, to approach each of the prompts openly and fully, to share my work even though its scary. As I’ve begun to realise more than ever before that one of my life’s dreams is not only to illustrate, but WRITE my own children’s books as well, it has been a wonderful way to enjoy writing for fun again – and allow ideas to bubble up without putting too much pressure on them as they’re trying to get out! I’m realising that I really love writing with a gentle undertone of comedy- which makes perfect sense really, as there is nothing I like more than making people laugh! (This will be the focus for my next post, my last before Christmas!)
I treated myself to a new notebook for this course which got me thinking about where we like to keep our words, to keep them safely locked away for ourselves or for others. What vessels do we use to store them? Some feel pretty permanent- like books or letters (which may be why it sometimes feels so daunting to put the first words into them, because we want them to feel like something precious!) – while we know that others may not stick around for ever- they may be more fleeting expressions of our feelings at the time.
I’ve always loved sending physical post to people as a way to remind them that I’m thinking of them. I loved exchanging letters with an old school friend back throughout April and May- she is an awesome writer, I smiled at the pictures she conjured of walks in the sunshine and precious time spent on new hobbies (the alchemy of dehydrating foods and making Himalayan Balsam gin) and imagined a similar sunny day where I could hug her again, and join in with these adventures!
This year (even more than those that have passed, although it’s a ritual I really enjoy) I want to prioritise writing Christmas cards. They are, after all, mini presents made up of well wishes- and I know that the people that I reach out to will appreciate the thought!
In this seasonal special blog post I’m going to be talking a little bit about the stories behind 10 of the Christmas card illustrations I’m most proud of- as well as links to where to buy them, if you so wish!
A couple of notes about these links, and the places that I currently sell my greetings cards, before we begin:
-Thortful is an online greetings card marketplace- artists can upload their designs, Thortful handles the production costs, and royalties come when people buy your cards! (To see my profile, take a look here!
-My shop is a new venture I launched last year- a place to continue the good work that I do at art shows and exhibitions; to sell the work I have developed as products (greetings cards, mugs, coasters, etc.) I order stock, package and post myself! To visit and browse, click “shop” in the menu bar above, or click here!
As the copyright for the designs on Thortful remains with me (they don’t own an exclusive license to any of the work) there is some cross-over with the greetings cards I sell through both of these platforms. Since the pandemic hit I’ve been grateful to have both in existence: I have had the best year on Thortful sales-wise since starting in 2016, and I have been gearing my promotion more towards that platform to reduce the time I spend at the post office over the past months. However, after exploring some more creative ways of getting post out, I’ll be pushing my own shop more next year!
TOP TEN FAVOURITES: CHRISTMAS CARDS TO CELEBRATE WINTER!
Believe it or not, winter is one of my favourite seasons. Yes it can be bleak, depressing and sharply poignant at times, but it can also be the most beautiful season, with the sun low in the sky and a hollow, cold quality to the air- particularly when it snows. I love how your breath plumes out in front of you like a dragon’s, the sprinkling of frost on a morning walk, the bluish tint to hillsides on a cold day. When I was planning ideas for “Winter Balloon”, I was inspired by the Gordano Valley where I grew up, the fields that I used to be able to see from some of my school classrooms where I would daydream: imagining striding out to explore like an adventurer.
Where to buy? This design can be bought direct from my shop!
Robins are one of the most loved symbols of winter and Christmas here in the the UK. They’re just irresistible – to admire outside among stark branches while dressed up snugly, or encapsulated within a greetings card- round, bouncy, fluffed out and bright. The story goes that our association with these charming little fellows began in the 1800s with the creation of the postal service, and the red uniforms that were issued for staff: later nicknamed “robins” (could this also be linked to the phrase, “round robin”?)
Our nearby woods and green spaces have been indispensable to me this year as I’ve focused on taking delight at the small pleasures of life. Catching a glimpse of these little birds reminds me of the famous individual we had turn up every Forest School snack time to hoover up the crumbs – looking back at this design which I created in 2016 now feels like a happy memory of simpler times (and maybe even a symbol of hope for the future!)
Last year, I was coming up with some new ideas for a Christmas collection, based on animals. After spending a weekend in early November 2019 with my partner at his parents’ farm and palling around with their chickens again, I knew I had to include them somehow.
I love helping with the daily care of these feathered members of the extended family! Opening their coop in the morning, mischief at dusk when one decides it’s not bedtime when tucking them in – it’s a joy to watch their jerky, dinosaur-like movements whatever they’re up to, especially when they dash madly after whoever they think may be the keeper of food. This was around the time that I first started considering intentionally including more of my sense of humour in the artwork I make, as I started exploring ways that a greedy hen might get to their Christmas feast quicker.
Where to buy? This design can be found for sale on my Thortful site until the 31st of December 2020. After that, it’ll only be available direct from me. (I’ll talk more about why a little later on!)
Seeing the work of Raymond Briggs in a whole new light after studying “When the Wind Blows” for my university dissertation (and buying “The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman” for my Dad the Christmas before last) I have plunged into as many of his books as I have been able to over the past few years- revisiting old favourites and discovering new ones.
“The Bear” is definitely one of these new favourites- after reading the book (and watching the film adaptation) I produced a flurry of work inspired by polar bears, choosing to focus on their soft and gentle side (their proud features, the smooth slopes of their snowy heads) in the three designs above.
“Inuit Bear”: This design can be bought direct from my shop!
“Polar Bear Close-up”: This design can also be bought direct from my shop!
Another huge plus for winter in my book is the COSINESS! I love a pair of fluffy socks, a woolly jumper, a warm blanket- I love snuggling up in the one my Mum knitted me a couple of years ago on a cold winter’s night.
It feels like something really innate, this desire to snuggle up during the coldest, darkest months. Lots of animals hibernate, gathering up all the cosiest materials they can find to get ready for a long sleep- and looking incredibly cute to our human eyes when they do. It can be difficult to get a good glimpse at this when they’re out in the wild- but I’ve been lucky enough to make some drawings of similar mice from life on a couple of occasions. For both of these designs, I really tried to imagine how these tiny creatures were feeling, ensconced in their carefully crafted nests after a winter feast.
“Cosy and Warm” – This design can found for sale on my Thortful site.
When I first moved into my current house last September, I wanted to get to know my surroundings properly: not just as somewhere to see in passing, (as I had been doing every time I came to visit my partner) but as a home.
There’s a community farm very close by that I visited a couple of times during this period, in order to get some inspiration and ideas for a new Christmas collection (“A Christmas Farmyard”, the same group of greetings cards “BOK-ing Around the Christmas Tree” was designed for.) I had taken an interest in geese after playing the “Untitled Goose Game” through Steam (it’s hilarious, if any of you like video games and a bit of bird-related humour I’d definitely recommend it!) I was delighted to find a variety of honking as well as quacking species waddling around their site- based on my observations of their movements and beautiful markings, I began the development work for the raucous party of ducks you see above. (I look forward to when we can party this hard again!)
Where to buy? This design is currently available on my Thortful site, and after the 31st of December, (ie. ready for next Christmas) direct from me at my shop. I am still working on adding to the “Christmas farmyard” collection- who knows who else might be joining them next year!
Decorating for Christmas has always been one of my favourite parts of winter- twinkling lights that make your everyday living space feel magical; a tree dotted with memories of years past, captured fleeting moments. Both me and my brother have looked on in disbelief at some of the things my Mum and Dad have continued to put out on the tree year after year- some as prehistoric as our wonky school cross-stitch attempts. There is a clear message that flows out of these choices, warming the house from the inside out: “We choose to have these Christmas Crafts on show- because you were proud of them. They were presents, your most precious treasures gifted to us- love is in each and every one, and that is worth something.”
I’ve really missed working with children face to face this year, and have thought a lot about my wonderful nursery friends over the past months. I was lucky enough to work with the most supportive, lovely groups of adult and children, in the most caring environment – and in a similar vein, the run up to our Christmas was celebrated with makes, as well as decorating the building. There was always a buzz of excitement, and the same glow of pride in our work as there had been at home when I was small – a world of exploration, without the fear of mess. (After all, a bit of mess just shows you’ve been learning and having fun!)
Designing “Horatio’s Hindrance”, I wanted to capture a little spark of this feeling- that some of life’s beauty lies in the imperfections- the beautiful chaos of Christmas craft.
Where to buy? This design can be bought direct from me at my shop. It has also become my third best seller EVER this year on my Thortful site, and will be available in its current format until the 31st of December 2020.
I say in “its current format” – as I touched on briefly earlier, there are some changes coming to Thortful on the 31st of December. After this date, they will only be accepting portrait orientation card designs on their website- any landscape cards will be deleted from artist profiles. “Horatio’s Hindrance” will be returning, but rejigged to fit this new specification, while I have plans brewing of how to build on “Bok-ing Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Quacking Christmas” and put up two new designs, still part of my “Christmas Farmyard” collection. I will still be ordering new physical stock of the cards no longer on Thortful though, for sale direct through my shop (and at face-to-face events, when I can celebrate doing those again!)
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I hope there’s some inspiration here to capture those words bouncing around your head and funnel them out into or onto something- private or to be read by someone you know will love them! Fill your home with wonderful words!
As I previously mentioned, next time I’ll be talking a bit about humour and how I use it in my work. My delight at the simple things in life is something that has become apparent to me while completing the aforementioned writing course. The work I have the most fun making always has an element of gentle humour – it’s something I’d love to focus on more next year.
So, in the hope of inviting a better 2021, this will be my focus for the last blog post of the year! See you soon!
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