Tag Archives: Design

The power of words- and the vessels to hold them. (The stories behind my top 10 greetings card designs!)

This year has forced an odd paradox. Meaningful human connection, necessary for us to function properly, has only been recommended to occur from a distance. This is a bittersweet contradiction in itself- where words and technology are our normally our tools to enhance our powers of connection, they have had to do as a replacement for many of our day-to-day physical expressions of love. If it weren’t for my lovely partner keeping my hug-o-meter going all by himself, I probably would have struggled even more than I did.

But, perhaps because of this, the act of using words to communicate and to document has felt even more powerful this year. I’ve felt like I’ve got a little more practice at expressing myself honestly- not just in the ways that I feel people want to hear. To paraphrase a really good friend in a heart-to-heart over the phone the other day- when your world becomes contained within four walls, there is no space to hide from the things that scare you anymore- and when this happens, you have to face them in the best way you know how.

I’m just coming to the end of a short writing course, called “The Winter Writing Sanctuary”, taught by the inspirational Beth Kempton. (Any of you word lovers, PLEASE jump in and take this course if you can- it’s so freeing, supportive, and fun!) Over the past two weeks, I’ve really challenged myself- to write every day, to approach each of the prompts openly and fully, to share my work even though its scary. As I’ve begun to realise more than ever before that one of my life’s dreams is not only to illustrate, but WRITE my own children’s books as well, it has been a wonderful way to enjoy writing for fun again – and allow ideas to bubble up without putting too much pressure on them as they’re trying to get out! I’m realising that I really love writing with a gentle undertone of comedy- which makes perfect sense really, as there is nothing I like more than making people laugh! (This will be the focus for my next post, my last before Christmas!)

I treated myself to a new notebook for this course which got me thinking about where we like to keep our words, to keep them safely locked away for ourselves or for others. What vessels do we use to store them? Some feel pretty permanent- like books or letters (which may be why it sometimes feels so daunting to put the first words into them, because we want them to feel like something precious!) – while we know that others may not stick around for ever- they may be more fleeting expressions of our feelings at the time.

I’ve always loved sending physical post to people as a way to remind them that I’m thinking of them. I loved exchanging letters with an old school friend back throughout April and May- she is an awesome writer, I smiled at the pictures she conjured of walks in the sunshine and precious time spent on new hobbies (the alchemy of dehydrating foods and making Himalayan Balsam gin) and imagined a similar sunny day where I could hug her again, and join in with these adventures!

This year (even more than those that have passed, although it’s a ritual I really enjoy) I want to prioritise writing Christmas cards. They are, after all, mini presents made up of well wishes- and I know that the people that I reach out to will appreciate the thought!

In this seasonal special blog post I’m going to be talking a little bit about the stories behind 10 of the Christmas card illustrations I’m most proud of- as well as links to where to buy them, if you so wish!

A couple of notes about these links, and the places that I currently sell my greetings cards, before we begin:

-Thortful is an online greetings card marketplace- artists can upload their designs, Thortful handles the production costs, and royalties come when people buy your cards! (To see my profile, take a look here!

-My shop is a new venture I launched last year- a place to continue the good work that I do at art shows and exhibitions; to sell the work I have developed as products (greetings cards, mugs, coasters, etc.) I order stock, package and post myself! To visit and browse, click “shop” in the menu bar above, or click here!

As the copyright for the designs on Thortful remains with me (they don’t own an exclusive license to any of the work) there is some cross-over with the greetings cards I sell through both of these platforms. Since the pandemic hit I’ve been grateful to have both in existence: I have had the best year on Thortful sales-wise since starting in 2016, and I have been gearing my promotion more towards that platform to reduce the time I spend at the post office over the past months. However, after exploring some more creative ways of getting post out, I’ll be pushing my own shop more next year!

TOP TEN FAVOURITES: CHRISTMAS CARDS TO CELEBRATE WINTER!

“Winter Balloon” – © Carina Roberts Illustration

Believe it or not, winter is one of my favourite seasons. Yes it can be bleak, depressing and sharply poignant at times, but it can also be the most beautiful season, with the sun low in the sky and a hollow, cold quality to the air- particularly when it snows. I love how your breath plumes out in front of you like a dragon’s, the sprinkling of frost on a morning walk, the bluish tint to hillsides on a cold day. When I was planning ideas for “Winter Balloon”, I was inspired by the Gordano Valley where I grew up, the fields that I used to be able to see from some of my school classrooms where I would daydream: imagining striding out to explore like an adventurer.

Where to buy? This design can be bought direct from my shop!

“Winter Woollies”- © Carina Roberts Illustration

Robins are one of the most loved symbols of winter and Christmas here in the the UK. They’re just irresistible – to admire outside among stark branches while dressed up snugly, or encapsulated within a greetings card- round, bouncy, fluffed out and bright. The story goes that our association with these charming little fellows began in the 1800s with the creation of the postal service, and the red uniforms that were issued for staff: later nicknamed “robins” (could this also be linked to the phrase, “round robin”?)

Our nearby woods and green spaces have been indispensable to me this year as I’ve focused on taking delight at the small pleasures of life. Catching a glimpse of these little birds reminds me of the famous individual we had turn up every Forest School snack time to hoover up the crumbs – looking back at this design which I created in 2016 now feels like a happy memory of simpler times (and maybe even a symbol of hope for the future!)

Where to buy? This design can found for sale on my Thortful site, or direct from me at my shop.

“BOK-ing around the Christmas Tree” © 2020 Carina Roberts Illustration

Last year, I was coming up with some new ideas for a Christmas collection, based on animals. After spending a weekend in early November 2019 with my partner at his parents’ farm and palling around with their chickens again, I knew I had to include them somehow.

I love helping with the daily care of these feathered members of the extended family! Opening their coop in the morning, mischief at dusk when one decides it’s not bedtime when tucking them in – it’s a joy to watch their jerky, dinosaur-like movements whatever they’re up to, especially when they dash madly after whoever they think may be the keeper of food. This was around the time that I first started considering intentionally including more of my sense of humour in the artwork I make, as I started exploring ways that a greedy hen might get to their Christmas feast quicker.

Where to buy? This design can be found for sale on my Thortful site until the 31st of December 2020. After that, it’ll only be available direct from me. (I’ll talk more about why a little later on!)

“Prince of Snow”
“Inuit Bear”
“Polar Bear Closeup”

Seeing the work of Raymond Briggs in a whole new light after studying “When the Wind Blows” for my university dissertation (and buying “The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman” for my Dad the Christmas before last) I have plunged into as many of his books as I have been able to over the past few years- revisiting old favourites and discovering new ones.

“The Bear” is definitely one of these new favourites- after reading the book (and watching the film adaptation) I produced a flurry of work inspired by polar bears, choosing to focus on their soft and gentle side (their proud features, the smooth slopes of their snowy heads) in the three designs above.

Where to buy? “Prince of Snow”: This design can found for sale on my Thortful site, or direct from me at my shop.

“Inuit Bear”: This design can be bought direct from my shop!

“Polar Bear Close-up”: This design can also be bought direct from my shop!

“Hibernation”
“Cosy and Warm”

Another huge plus for winter in my book is the COSINESS! I love a pair of fluffy socks, a woolly jumper, a warm blanket- I love snuggling up in the one my Mum knitted me a couple of years ago on a cold winter’s night.

It feels like something really innate, this desire to snuggle up during the coldest, darkest months. Lots of animals hibernate, gathering up all the cosiest materials they can find to get ready for a long sleep- and looking incredibly cute to our human eyes when they do. It can be difficult to get a good glimpse at this when they’re out in the wild- but I’ve been lucky enough to make some drawings of similar mice from life on a couple of occasions. For both of these designs, I really tried to imagine how these tiny creatures were feeling, ensconced in their carefully crafted nests after a winter feast.

Where to buy? “Hibernation” – This design can found for sale on my Thortful site, or direct from me at my shop (while stocks last- it is one of my most popular cards!)

“Cosy and Warm” – This design can found for sale on my Thortful site.

“Have a Quacking Christmas”

When I first moved into my current house last September, I wanted to get to know my surroundings properly: not just as somewhere to see in passing, (as I had been doing every time I came to visit my partner) but as a home.

There’s a community farm very close by that I visited a couple of times during this period, in order to get some inspiration and ideas for a new Christmas collection (“A Christmas Farmyard”, the same group of greetings cards “BOK-ing Around the Christmas Tree” was designed for.) I had taken an interest in geese after playing the “Untitled Goose Game” through Steam (it’s hilarious, if any of you like video games and a bit of bird-related humour I’d definitely recommend it!) I was delighted to find a variety of honking as well as quacking species waddling around their site- based on my observations of their movements and beautiful markings, I began the development work for the raucous party of ducks you see above. (I look forward to when we can party this hard again!)

Where to buy? This design is currently available on my Thortful site, and after the 31st of December, (ie. ready for next Christmas) direct from me at my shop. I am still working on adding to the “Christmas farmyard” collection- who knows who else might be joining them next year!

“Horatio’s Hindrance”

Decorating for Christmas has always been one of my favourite parts of winter- twinkling lights that make your everyday living space feel magical; a tree dotted with memories of years past, captured fleeting moments. Both me and my brother have looked on in disbelief at some of the things my Mum and Dad have continued to put out on the tree year after year- some as prehistoric as our wonky school cross-stitch attempts. There is a clear message that flows out of these choices, warming the house from the inside out: “We choose to have these Christmas Crafts on show- because you were proud of them. They were presents, your most precious treasures gifted to us- love is in each and every one, and that is worth something.”

I’ve really missed working with children face to face this year, and have thought a lot about my wonderful nursery friends over the past months. I was lucky enough to work with the most supportive, lovely groups of adult and children, in the most caring environment – and in a similar vein, the run up to our Christmas was celebrated with makes, as well as decorating the building. There was always a buzz of excitement, and the same glow of pride in our work as there had been at home when I was small – a world of exploration, without the fear of mess. (After all, a bit of mess just shows you’ve been learning and having fun!)

Designing “Horatio’s Hindrance”, I wanted to capture a little spark of this feeling- that some of life’s beauty lies in the imperfections- the beautiful chaos of Christmas craft.

Where to buy? This design can be bought direct from me at my shop. It has also become my third best seller EVER this year on my Thortful site, and will be available in its current format until the 31st of December 2020.

I say in “its current format” – as I touched on briefly earlier, there are some changes coming to Thortful on the 31st of December. After this date, they will only be accepting portrait orientation card designs on their website- any landscape cards will be deleted from artist profiles. “Horatio’s Hindrance” will be returning, but rejigged to fit this new specification, while I have plans brewing of how to build on “Bok-ing Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Quacking Christmas” and put up two new designs, still part of my “Christmas Farmyard” collection. I will still be ordering new physical stock of the cards no longer on Thortful though, for sale direct through my shop (and at face-to-face events, when I can celebrate doing those again!)

x x x

I hope there’s some inspiration here to capture those words bouncing around your head and funnel them out into or onto something- private or to be read by someone you know will love them! Fill your home with wonderful words!

As I previously mentioned, next time I’ll be talking a bit about humour and how I use it in my work. My delight at the simple things in life is something that has become apparent to me while completing the aforementioned writing course. The work I have the most fun making always has an element of gentle humour – it’s something I’d love to focus on more next year.

So, in the hope of inviting a better 2021, this will be my focus for the last blog post of the year! See you soon!

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

Winter Preparations: The adventures of William the mouse!

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

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

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

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

Step one: Research and initial sketches.

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

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

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

Goats

Sparrows at Margam Park

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

 %22Fall%22 initial sketch

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

Initial sketches and development

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

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

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

 Initial sketches 2

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

Introducing colour

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

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

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

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

William the mouse first colour test

Final design finished

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

SAMSUNG CSC

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

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

Mouse nest

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

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

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

– The AutumnHobbit

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