Tag Archives: Wildlife

Happy New Year- Vive la Vole!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I

CAN

DO

THIS!

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The AutumnHobbit

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

A catchup, and what’s coming up!

Hello jolly sailors!

Yet again, it’s been a little while- hasn’t it been a summer and a half!? Not only have I been busy, probably like you I’ve been battling the sizzlingly un-sportsmanly temperatures that have been beating down from above throughout June and July. With cool breezes arriving just in time for the school holidays, I can finally breathe again- and update you on what I’ve been up to!

Back in May myself and my partner went to Malta to celebrate the wedding of two friends (and to acclimatise ourselves to the 30 degree heat!) It was absolutely gorgeous there and we had so much fun catching up with lots of our friends who live spread out across the globe!

Malta cove - Aug18.jpg
A Malta Cove – at the very beginning of our trek over the clifftops from Xlendi to San Lawrenz (home of the tragically collapsed Azure Window) – I still can’t get over the shade of this water!

On one beach we spotted some funny little fish popping their heads out of the holes in the rocks as the waves broke over them!

Being surrounded by water for most of this trip inspired me to start thinking about the SWLA annual “Natural Eye” exhibition again- it’s something I missed last year, but was at the top of my “to-do” list for this year. I know I can be pretty bad for shying away from big competitions, but since I was long-listed for the Templar Illustration competition in April I thought I’d give it a go!

After exploring three or so separate avenues I could go down for this project, I chose to circle back to seals as my muses (they seem to have crept into most of my other work over the past year or so!) My partner, along with his parents and I were planning a trip to Skomer anyway so I thought I could get some serious research done there (and have a proper go with some most excellent binoculars I was kindly bought for Christmas!)

Sadly, despite our early arrival, (we left the house at 4:30AM!) balmy conditions and fair shipping forecast, an ill wind was set to blow up in the afternoon so the boats were cancelled- it wouldn’t have been safe to get back, so they said. (I’m not upset, honest- even though it was our last chance to see the puffins this year!) We did see some seagulls through the binoculars- not really the same, but they worked very well!

This means I did have to turn to different sources to research seals on this occasion – below are some of my development sketches from working towards the final composition!

^ Exploration of on-shore behaviours of seals- interactions with friends and family! This would form the core inspiration for the final artwork.

Seals progress v2© 2018 Carina Roberts Illustration
Colour test, and playing with composition!
SWLA seals - final design progress v2
Sketching out the final piece… Hello you chaps!
Haul-out (Final) - 72DPI
The final piece- “Haul-out”!

 

You might remember that at the start of the year I set myself the goal of exploring more varied lighting, tone and shapes within my artwork? You also might remember that I’ve been using a personal wordless picture book project (which I’ll eventually enter into the Bologna Silent Book comp!) to practice these principles (click here to read a previous post about this project!)

Well, coupled with the artistic motivation that comes from of a long weekend trip to Dublin I returned from yesterday, this project has come on in leaps and bounds! I’ve been delving into the various environments of the story, as well as using my research from the SWLA competition to explore a seal’s reaction to a human habitat… But more about that next time!

For now, enjoy the autumn breezes, and hope you don’t have too many sneezes!

P.S. I’m involved with a couple of shows over the next couple of months where I’ll be showcasing some of my artwork (dates and details below) – with the slow makeover of this blog I’m hoping to introduce a separate section of the website to show upcoming events in the next couple of weeks, so you don’t have to go trawling through posts to find them.

For now though, here is where you can come and visit me, and maybe buy something too!

Upcoming events 

Cafe Lido exhibition with Portishead Arts – 27th-30th September 2018 

(Cafe Lido, Esplanade Rd, Portishead, BS20 7HD)

Made in North Somerset Showcase – 14th October 2018 (10AM-4PM)

(Court house farm, Church Road South, Portishead BS20 6PU)

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The AutumnHobbit

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

 

 

 

“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.

 

A precious thing!

Dear readers,

Happy July! I hope that wherever you are, you get the chance to have at least one icecream in the sunshine in the coming weeks! (If you’ve already had one… Get another for yourself and a friend so they can enjoy a treat and your overwhelming generosity!)

I’ve got so much to tell you about, I have been writing furiously about projects I’ve been working on over the past couple of months (including an update on the silent book concept I first mentioned at the end of last year!)

At the moment they’re all sat waiting for final edits in my “drafts” folder, but my aim is to release one every two- three weeks now (as I haven’t been very good with keeping up with my blog posts yet this year!)  – I’ve got a few crackers to share!

Something incredible happened this weekend, though, that before I could release any of my previous writing I HAD to share with you; before I burst with excitement, love and gratitude. A once in a lifetime experience, both fascinating and humbling.

For about a month I’ve been pretty down in the dumps after recovering from a particularly nasty flu bug. You know the type: the kind that karate-chops you to your knees and sends you packing to bed, and when you try to get up and make an effort to do something productive (to break the seemingly endless tedium of feeling teary and sore and sorry for yourself) it all goes a bit pear-shaped, your concentration is at 0% and the whole horrid cycle starts again. The sort that you’re sure is just hanging in there until you do one too many things in your week again, and re-releases all your favourite smash hits (like your amazing manly chesty cough that lends your impression of Tom Jones an extra something) and you just know it’s about to claw it’s way back to full strength again.

I went to visit my partner and his parents in order to hopefully throw this bug off once and for all; with fresh air, exercise and to see some animals.

And see some animals I did.

My partner’s father had taken in a house martin chick which was the only survivor from a flooded nest. He hadn’t suspected it to be alive much longer, but after over a week of feeding it with tweezers it had transformed into a plump little creature, with open, clear eyes and adult feathers just beginning to develop. I witnessed her many mealtimes and even had a go at feeding her, which was beautiful in itself- the food preparation “station” was next to her makeshift nest, and as we cut up the food into manageable pieces for her to swallow, she would cheep incredibly loudly and flap her tiny wings in excitement.

I asked one evening if I might be able to draw her. We brought her makeshift nest to the table, and the lamp my partner’s father used to keep her warm at night was used for a bit of extra light. As soon as I opened my sketchbook, she began to cheep, watching my every move with her tiny, beady eyes. She was around a foot away from me, and I could see every little detail on her tiny body; the youngster fluff clinging to the top of her head like large eyebrows, her perfect little wings and tail, with juvenile feathers coming through. I have never seen eyes so small or intense, each one no bigger than an individual blackberry pip, watching me with unbroken concentration, trying to work out if my pencils were food or not.

With music coming from the next room, I recognised an Irish folk song cover, the tune to which I learnt from the “Song of the Sea” film by Cartoon Saloon. I can’t speak Irish, but I know the title is “Dúlamán”, and even if I can’t understand the lyrics at present I know what the words should sound like, so I always have a good crack at singing along. As I drew I instinctively started humming and mumbling along, quietly so as not to frighten the little creature sat inches away from me.

And, in the way that she only ever did before when she was full and sleepy, the chick stopped cheeping. She looked me square in the eye as I sang, almost as though she was listening. I carried on drawing, but I barely looked down at my paper. Those tiny eyes held my gaze so ferociously I didn’t dare. In those precious moments I could almost see her first flights, her migrations, perhaps further than I might ever get in all my years in her first three or four. She sat silently until the song had finished, then almost as though she had been paused, she began cheeping and watching my paper again.

I have never stared for quite so long into the eyes of a wild creature before, but there was something in that sitting that is what every art tutor or teacher in the land tries to convey when they say they prefer you to draw from first-hand experiences, from life. There was energy rumbling through that little chick’s whole being that I never would have understood just from a photograph. Someone told me once that my work can be quite “lyrical”- if I listen to music as I draw, some of it in translated into the lines I use. Singing to that little creature allowed me to record just a tiny ounce of that experience into my favourite sketchbook.

All at once, that one intense, three minute eye-lock has cured me better than any flu medicine ever could.

Housemartin final 72DPI © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration
A beautiful creature. © 2017 Carina Roberts Illustration

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.