Tuesday 16 December 2014

Behind The Scenes - Illustrating The Lavender Blue Dress Picture Book

I often get asked about my creative process, especially with regards to illustrating picture books; but it's not always easy to explain everything without sitting down and talking for an hour or two.  So when Cargo Publishing asked if I could give a little insight into my picture book illustration process and talk about the early concept art for The Lavender Blue Dress, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get everything down on paper and share some of my advice.  The article has been up on the Cargo Publishing website for a little while, but wanted to share it here with my other creative tips as well.  This will hopefully prove useful whether you're just breaking into the industry, need a technique refresher or just fancy a little insight into how picture books come to life.

Illustrating a picture book is incredibly fun, as you might imagine. With the author’s text in a folder to your left, a pile of neatly sharpened pencils on your desk and a blank storyboard in your hands: you’re standing at the edge of infinite visual possibility.
That said, just beneath the fun is the knowing simmer that you’re shouldering an awful lot of responsibility. It takes a lot of time to really understand the intricacies involved with designing a picture book. I know that when I was younger I assumed it would be easy, but it’s one of those things where the more you learn about it, the more you realise there is so much left to learn.

When I started work on The Lavender Blue Dress with Aidan Moffat and Cargo Publishing, I was lucky in that I knew I was working with a team who would grant me creative freedom, and trust in my skills as an illustrator. Aidan had great initial ideas for some of the scenes and for Mabel’s character design, and we always felt comfortable in discussing each element; working together to make the book as amazing as it should be. I think ultimately that’s been one of the reasons the book has ended up being so special: each of us had so much faith in the project, and the trust that we would all be working together to make something we’re truly proud of.

I usually start a book illustration project by sketching out each and every idea that sparks when I first read the text. It’s surprising how often these very rough early ideas can ignite and become some of the most pivotal visuals in the book! After a few basic storyboards (which, if I’m honest, wouldn’t really be legible to anyone but me) I arrange a rough storyboard to send to the client, along with notes and a number of preliminary character designs.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re storyboarding a picture book. The visuals you use can drastically alter the pace and flow of the book: pages with small, multiple vignette illustrations tend to pick up the pace; whilst full bleed, highly detailed landscapes will slow the reader down. Same goes for use of colour, composition and shape to reflect the emotion in the story. Soft rounded shapes and warm, tonal colours will suggest a cosy, safe, slowed environment; whilst angular shapes and more hectic composition will make the reader feel more alert, emphasising dramatic situations.
You can see in this Lavender Blue Dress double page spread that I’ve used a faster-paced visual style on the left, with small illustrations showing a sort of flashback of Mabel’s family working excitedly on a surprise before she gets home; alongside a single page of warm colours and a rounded background, to really make the reader emphasise with the love and thankfulness that Mabel has for her family at this point in the story. Contrastingly, in the spread below you can see I’ve taken the time to slow the reader down with a sparse, horizontal landscape and cooler colours to suggest time and the solemn thoughts of Mabel’s melancholy walk home.
Thinking about the ‘camera angle’ (if you consider each page like a film shot) is really important too. Close-up shots of the character suggest a really personal connection between the character and reader, as if they’re talking just to you (you’ll be able to see this in action at the end of the book, I won’t spoil it for you!). Straight horizontal shots often give the reader a sense of the movement of time, or with a bit of an angle work very well in setting the scene and showing some of the story’s environment to the reader.
It’s exciting to work with such a vast intangible toolkit to be able to speak the volumes of a story that the words don’t say. What good is it to just illustrate exactly what each line says? There’s so much space for innovation and the suggestion of story-within-a-story, which for me is the absolute joy of being an illustrator.
The Lavender Blue Dress has been one of my very favourite projects to work on in my career. Everything came together so easily and ran so smoothly that you’d think something would go hideously wrong – but it didn’t at all, and we couldn’t be prouder of the picture book we’ve created.

You can see the full article and grab a copy of The Lavender Blue Dress on the Cargo Publishing website here.  You can also find this, and many more of my creative articles on Medium.  If you want to ask me anything, or receive some tailored advice drop me a comment on this post!

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Ebb & Flo Bookshop Event

I'm a big supporter of independent bookshops, so I was over the moon to be invited to Ebb & Flo Bookshop in Chorley to host a Lavender Blue Dress picture book event on Small Business Saturday.

I perched on a little chair and read The Lavender Blue Dress in a cosy room above the bookshop - crammed with parents and excited kids; answered questions about my processes, career and illustrations, and signed a few secret copies for Christmas presents!

I thought it would be a great idea to get the children involved in the creativity and hold a little character design workshop after the book reading.  So I pitched the challenge for everyone to draw a friend for the book's main character Mabel, and then that friend's family and pet - roughly following my own process for creating characters and storytelling.  

Some of the children were a little shy with their confidence in drawing people; so I took to a flipchart and covered it in bold, simple shapes and used those as a starting point for creating characters.  They were really inspired by that challenge, and it was great to see some of the shyer kids coming up and really sparking their imaginations with what sort of character each of the shapes suggested (well, we do have one tree as well!).  I found this to be a really good method of breaking down the creative process to its simplest form, giving a bit of an insight into the professional side of things, whilst being fun and accessible for everyone!

It was so nice to see all the drawings at the end of the workshop, I wish I had some of them to show you (if anyone who was there is reading this and wants to send one in, please do!), and it was particularly humbling to hear that some of the children were hoping to be artists and authors when they're older!

You can find out more about The Lavender Blue Dress book events across the country on the Cargo Publishing website here.

Friday 5 December 2014

Arms & Legs

Sometimes I find it best to just strip everything back in an illustration, and focus on simple linework.  These were great fun to draw, in the style of a study (though they weren't from reference) and arrange some lovely intersecting shapes with the two contrasting line colours.  

I often spend hours on illustrations, and they can become overworked - it's good to shake that feeling off with a few loose sketches and to have something finished within a few minutes! Highly recommended little exercise!

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Fentimans Mixer Launch (& Illustration Inspiration!)

Since my 'Best Arts & Culture' blog award I've been lucky enough to be invited to a number of exhibitions and events.  Living near Manchester (and having a bit of a sweet tooth) I thought this launch, for heritage soft drink brand Fentimans' new range, would be an evening well spent (and a welcome break from the studio!).

The launch was at the lovely Great John Street hotel in Manchester, and we had some of the world's best mixologists on hand to whip up some tasty treats.  

The Fentimans range sells itself on being botanically brewed (and established way back in 1905), so it was really interesting to grab the chance to learn about the unconventionally traditional brewing methods for their soft drinks.  It felt a bit like a real life episode of 'How It's Made', but honestly I love to learn about things I've never considered thinking about.

The room was littered with Victorian-curio style pots with various ingredients Fentimans use. I won't deny giving them all a sniff, but I have to say some of them taste far better in a drink than they smell in storage!

There's something that sparks the imagination about cocktails (with or without alcohol!); I think it's the inventive names, odd combinations of flavours and rainbow of colours - something about them suggests personality.  I thought it would be fun to draw up some characters inspired by a few of the soft drinks and cocktails available on the night.  The two that really caught my eye were Rosebud Fizz (a pretty pink Rose Lemonade fizzer, garnished with rose petals!) and CC Sweet & Sour (think Cola with lime and oranges!).

I'm often inspired by colour, and strong limited colour palettes are an obvious focus here.  I set myself a little time to create simple, quick character illustrations which honed in on the ingredients of the drink, the colours, the 'personality' and the slightest hint of Victorian style. 

It's definitely great practice to pull inspiration from odd sources, to be honest I think almost anything has the potential to inspire a character or illustration (no guarantee they'll be amazing if you choose a bin or something though...but prove me wrong!).  

It's worth the challenge to grab the tiniest hints of inspiration you can, and run with them - sketch strange characters, draw odd worlds - you never know what ideas they might spark later.

[P.S Big thanks to Neil Denham for use of his event photos. I had a bit of a disaster and lost all mine, Neil saved the day!]

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Colour Collecting

It's been a gorgeous Autumn, and I have more snapshots to share than anyone would have the patience for - but I thought these colour-grabs, from an afternoon adventure to Sizergh Castle in the Lake District, might give a little insight into the simple things I find inspiration in.

Most of these are from a small vegetable garden in the castle grounds, overwhelmingly bursting with colour.  It's great to take inspiration from nature, and these small capsules of fine leafy curls and dusty textures will probably make their way into my work at some point.

So make sure your harddrives aren't completely full of selfies, and take the time to snap anything you think might inspire you in the future.  It's so great to have a collection of forgotten moments and objects that can spark ideas years down the line!

Friday 28 November 2014

Creative Review's Best New Picture Books

I've been feeling particularly chuffed about this, and I'm happy to say that Creative Review has featured The Lavender Blue Dress as one of their top picks for Christmas books this year! Definitely an honour considering some of the other books are by my very favourite picture book makers, and they're ALL absolutely stunning!

Such a lovely review! You can see the Lavender Blue Dress book teaser here, or if you're already keen: grab a copy of the book here. I'd also definitely recommend taking a look at the full post on Creative Review's website, and drool over the other gorgeous illustrations. Picture books for everyone this Christmas!

Tuesday 25 November 2014

IPSE's 15 for 15 Awards, National Freelancers Day 2014 and a bucketful of inspiration.

Last week was one of those hectic, exciting and all-round-overwhelming whirlwinds you certainly don't forget in a hurry.  All in all, I spent less than 36 hours in London for IPSE's 15 for 15 awards, but really, it felt like a week!

I trundled down to London bright and early on National Freelancers Day (Wednesday), ready for the awards event at the stunning LSO St. Luke's in the evening.

It was brilliant to see the 15 for 15 finalists again; they're such a fantastic, talented, bunch of people and there was the overarching feeling that, win or lose, we were all in it together.  It's no mean feat to be selected as the "UK's Top 15 Freelancers", the finalists were whittled down from hundreds of entries, and that really showed in the calibre and professionalism of the finalists; they really represent the diversity and determination that's become a staple of the self-employed sector.

The awards event itself was incredible: gorgeous venue, great company, stacks of food (and yes, lots of wine too!).  We ran through a few rehearsals with host Sue Lawley, networked with a canapĂ© reception and then kicked off the evening with the awards.

The whole night was being broadcast, with thousands watching online, and linked events in Manchester and Edinburgh - so I won't deny the butterflies onstage.  Whilst I didn't scoop the very top prize, I came away from the awards with so much inspiration, confidence and new knowledge I couldn't be happier to have taken part.  

The night continued with a National Freelancers Day panel talk with Sue Lawley, Declan Curry, Emma Jones MBE, Nick Ferrari, Nick Boles MP and Toby Perkins MP.  There were some really illuminating insights into the political and economic aspects of freelancing, as well as some strong (and incredibly encouraging words) about what should be done to support and develop freelance practice over the coming months.

As you know I'm so passionate about making sure we, as self-employed people, have the best support, encouragement and knowledge behind us as we venture through the freelance jungle.  It was great to hear that tides are shifting in our favour, and that the time has come when the government can't overlook us, or neglect to acknowledge that we're such a strong and rapidly-growing workforce. Founded by creative, ideas-driven people; we deserve to be listened to.

A guest of honour at the awards was the newly government-appointed Tsar of Freelancing David Morris MP. I had the opportunity to speak to him after the ceremony, and discussed some of the ideas that I thought really had merit for freelancers: ensuring space for small businesses to co-work and thrive in every community, and tougher laws on late payment from clients.

I've encountered and suffered from both of these issues in my freelance work, and I know that many others are in the same position.  I'm so glad to see the shift in focus towards these sort of problems, and I have personally been in touch with my local council to encourage the use of unused space to support freelancers, small businesses and graduates as a co-working environment.  

Telling people "I spoke with the Tsar, appealing for the rights of freelancers across the land!" sort of makes it sound like a fairytale (bit of a shame I didn't get granted three wishes, eh?). But the conversation was indeed very hopeful, and having discussed some of the issues I've personally faced, and talking strategy with the Tsar, it's great to feel I have the British Government backing me up!

IPSE definitely looked after their finalists, and we were lucky enough to stay in the gorgeous Citizen M hotel near London Bridge. I won't ever say no to a wall-to-wall window or a lamp-lit reading lounge, no siree. I probably spent far too long adjusting the colour changing lights in the room!

We also got taken out for a tour around tech-city (really interesting!) and a pizza-fueled lunch (hurray pizza!).  
But to be honest, my favourite part of the experience was just the chance to really get to know the other finalists. I've got a whole notepage full of ideas and connections to follow-up on from chats with the others; there's always that spark of inspiration from meeting people with the same drive and passion as you, but in completely different fields! It's always worth grabbing every opportunity you can get to learn from other people, share insights and step away from the ol' desk!

I'm definitely going to be a busy girl this coming year. 2015's going to be a good one, I can tell!

The Lavender Blue Dress at Ebb & Flo

I'm pleased to announce another Lavender Blue Dress event! This time it's closer to home and I'll be taking the reins, at the gorgeous Ebb and Flo bookshop in Chorley.  

I'll be reading the book, signing copies and afterwards I'll be running a character design workshop with the kids (informal, fun and will hopefully inspire a whole new generation of designers!), so pop along if you're in the area.  

The event starts at 11am on Saturday 6th December. For more information head to Ebb & Flo's website.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

A Darker Shade Of Freelancing

As some of you know, I've been chosen as a finalist in the 15 for 15 awards celebrating "the UK's top freelancers".  It's a great honour, and I'm so glad that the industry is recognising self-employed people as, unfortunately, we're so often overlooked.

The awards evening is this Wednesday, tying in with National Freelancers Day. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to share one of my freelance advice articles I've written for IPSE's blog with my readers here.  This article touches on one of those things that I know a lot of us face when we're self-employed, but not that many people speak candidly about - the stress, isolation and tendency to overwork that starting up and running your own business brings.  From my experience, here's some of the things I've been working on to keep that all at bay, and to stay a happy freelancer -

There's something so bold about taking the leap into freelancing. It's a brave career choice whatever business you're in, but there's something we all have in common – that passion to do what we love for a living.

I'm a freelance illustrator, working and living in the North West. I'm thankful to have been very successful in my industry, but I still often struggle with the challenges that freelancing can, and will, throw at you.

Whether you're just starting out, or you're a seasoned lone-wolf business master there will always be certain aspects of freelancing which can slow your productivity and motivation. There are the obvious solutions - just push through, keep working, hang in there - but here are my personal insights into staying happy, stress free and productive in your freelance work.

So, the first hurdle you'll face is that aforementioned leap into freelancing. It's a big move and if you've already made that decision, you've obviously got the drive and spirit for the long haul challenges.  Starting out is tricky. You have a lot of organising on your plate, but the key things to focus on are knowing what you're selling (your service, product, business strategy), how to market yourself (and who to), and your business goals.  They're all obvious things, but physically writing down those headers and making notes will be a great anchor to refer back to as your career develops. For me, as an illustrator, I've spent a long time developing my portfolio and building my presence online.  In this modern tech-frenzy world, that's one of the essentials - making connections through social media and speaking with potential clients, to enable the promotion of your business as a by-product of those connections and friendships.

Social media has been so important to my career, and I've actually had a lot of work through promotion on the likes of Twitter and Facebook. In fact, for my latest book The Lavender Blue Dress, the author and publishers first saw my work on Twitter and commissioned me! I wholeheartedly recommend throwing yourself into building a strong online presence, but always head at it with the knowledge that everyone (no matter how big a company they're head of) is just a person, and focus on the aspect of human connection.  Friendship can lead to contacts, and contacts can lead to projects.

Now, all this talk of social media might have you thinking, “but I like to talk to people in real life!” Don't worry, that's such an important part of freelancing too.  If you work from home (like I do), you'll often hit the challenge of isolation.  Impatient deadlines and heavy inboxes might make you feel like you have to be a hermit. But always remember to grab the chance for engaging in some real networking, workshop hosting, freelancer gatherings and client meets, not only for the contacts, but for the social experience.  If it's available in your area, I'd also recommend looking into hot-desking or renting a co-working space. It might cost you a few more pennies, but being in a work environment and having the ability to bounce ideas around can be invaluable.

If you don't have access to an office or studio, make sure you have a dedicated work space (preferably with a door you can close), no matter how small.  One of the hardest pit-falls I've felt with freelancing is the ability to switch off from work.  That feeling of needing to check your emails on holiday or having to work those late, late nights to make the deadline. They're the weights that make 9-5ing seem like paradise.  I know first-hand how tricky it can be to schedule normal working hours, it just doesn't happen when you have clients all over the world and an armful of deadlines.  But - and this is something I'm working on too - try your best to allow yourself time off.  You're allowed time off.  Having financial responsibility for yourself can make it feel like you have to work all the time to make up for the quiet months, but you'll most likely suffer emotionally for it.  It's a fine balance: we have to work hard to keep our business going, but we need that time to not think about work and to recharge or we won't be productive in the long term.

So, go out now and reward your hard work with a half-hour walk. Think about how far you've come, acknowledge your achievements and set yourself some attainable goals for the coming months.  To be a happy freelancer, you have to always remember the reason you chose to go it alone – you're doing what you love and you know you can succeed.

It's been a few weeks since I wrote this, and I will admit at times I do struggle to follow my own advice; it can be so hard to give yourself the headspace to not think about that project you're working on, that email you might have waiting or that post-it note to-do list stuck to your computer.  I've been working with some seriously hefty deadlines recently and it's taken it's toll, so for the last couple of weeks I've been consciously training myself to relax.  Just spending ten minutes a day winding down, having set working/notworking times and telling myself that yes, I am allowed that time off.  I have been making sure I get out everyday, absorb some sunlight and even had a fleeting adventure to the Lake District for a day off (I really needed it and it was gorgeous!).  

This really is one shade of the dark underbelly of freelancing, it's not glamorous or healthy to overwork yourself, and it can be hard to avoid feeling guilty for the time you do take off; but as I said in the article: You are allowed time off. You will work better for it. You will feel better for it.  You're not just pure creativity output, you need something other than work-thoughts to feed the input.  Work hard in your work time, whatever hours they are (yeah, probably ban yourself from Twitter, Facebook and Reddit huh?) and seize those after-work hours.  

If anyone wants to rally together in some sort of over-work detox grab me (or leave a comment or message, y'know).  There's far too many over worked lone-wolves out there, let's band together under the metaphorical crescent moon of freelancing, and howl "WE ARE ALLOWED TONIGHT OFF".

(p.s. I was feeling a bit inspired by the animation project I'm working on with Chog Zoo, so I whipped up my second ever gif to illustrate this piece, hurray!).

Thursday 13 November 2014

Little (but still exciting) Christmas card giveaway!

It's been a while since my last giveaway, so with the launch of my new Christmas card range I thought it was high time to run one, even if it is a mini 'un.

The compeititon's being run through my Twitter profile this time, so if you'd like to enter just head over to the giveaway tweet here and RT to be up to win this Naughty Animals Christmas card set! 

Easy as pie. Mince pie? Yup.

Update! Sorry guys, this has closed now and the winner's been announced. Never fear though, the cards are available to buy in my shop here and I'll keep you up to date with any more giveaways!

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Christmas is (nearly) here!

Big announcement! I've just stocked my first ever batch of Christmas cards!

They're available individually or in sets (Naughty Animals, Winter Walks and Christmas Castles!) in my online shop - www.emmelineillustration.mysupadupa.com

I intend to design Christmas cards almost every Autumn, but until this year I've always ended up missing the timing.  It is a struggle to get in the festive mood months before Christmas, and for some reason these months are always busy for me with commissions. But this year I was determined and whole-heartedly embraced that chilly, crispy weather and those snuggly family get-togethers.

I've illustrated six different scenes, all inspired by those funny, lovely and magical Christmas moments (I especially loved researching Bavarian fairytale castles!).  The quiet Winter walks through the City, to the raucous excitement of young'uns and their please-let-it-be-a-relaxing-Christmas parents.

These have been selling like crazy since I put them up yesterday, so if you know some Winter love-birds, fairytale castle fantatics or animal lovers, grab a couple quickly! www.emmelineillustration.mysupadupa.com 

Monday 3 November 2014


This year I finally joined in with Inktober.  The challenge is to get artists to illustrate in ink and post it online for each day of October.  The initiative started in 2009 with Jake Parker, who planned to use October to hone his ink drawing skills and challenge himself to push his boundaries.

I've seen the #Inktober hashtags pop up each year, but didn't completely know what was going on.  Even for the last few, after I'd read up on the challenge, I always ended up missing the first few weeks.  But not this year!

If you're familiar with my work you'll know that I often illustrate using ink line and take that skeleton into Photoshop for colouring.  I started my career as a painter, working with gouache to create vast painterly scenes and characters; but as the years have rolled by and my commissions (and deadlines) heated up, I've been swept further and further into using digital media.  I've talked about this a lot in the past, and I by no means think it's a bad thing, I love illustrating with my Wacom tablet, but sometimes I do miss the simplicity of brush on paper.

This month has been one of those promotion-heavy months, with the release of my new book 'The Lavender Blue Dress', a ramp up of products and that gasp of air between a few projects finishing, and another few getting started.  So it's been great to dedicate some time to be purely creative.  

One of the main hooks of Inktober is sharing your work with the Inktober hashtag.  I love the sense of connection with that, and it's amazing to find so many other artists through browsing the lists; but there is always that little nag of pressure to create something you'd actually like to share. The process of creating an ink piece each day is definitely challenging, if only for putting aside the time for it.  There were a few days when I was painting right up until the clock struck twelve, and I felt like a pretty rubbish Cinderella. I had weekends away from home, bad drawing-hand injuries and days with rush-work on other projects, so at some points it felt like a chore to think of and execute a shareable drawing, but looking back over it I'm so proud that I stuck with it.

A lot of people have asked me if I struggled finding inspiration every day, but to be honest that element wasn't as hard for me as the time-issue I mentioned before.  Really, the only days I struggled with inspiration were the ones where I had to rush the piece.  Those were mostly a case of "ARGH! I need to go to a meeting in ten minutes! What can I draw?! Cat?! Flower!? Girl Face?!" and I could see myself reverting to 'default' in drawing the things that I find I draw naturally.  

Inktober has been brilliant for me from an introspective point of view.  It's a great way to take a harsh look at the sort of things you draw and any patterns that crop up.  Early on I realised that I do tend to draw a lot of characters on their own, and so for a few of the days I consciously chose to draw characters interacting. Similarly, I realised that I don't often paint loose, inky landscapes so you can see that these pop up later on in the month.  I would definitely recommend taking part in Inktober next year, or even just set yourself a similar personal challenge.  It's important to give yourself that refreshed eye to look over your portfolio and identify what you might need to work on.  We all need to work on something.

You can see my full collection of Inktober drawings on my Pinterest board here (these blog pictures are just a few of my favourites!) and definitely take the time to have a browse on twitter with the #Inktober hashtag, there's so many talented artists who have taken part.  I'll hopefully be using some of my Inktober drawings to spark projects in the future, and I've even started writing a graphic novel based on ideas from one of the drawings, so you'll be seeing more from this work soon!

Today, give yourself those five minutes for unrestrained sketching, you never know how useful it might be. Without action, an idea will always be just an idea.

Monday 27 October 2014

Coming soon!

So this year I was actually organised enough to embrace ridiculously-early-Christmas-Spirit and get some card designs illustrated on time!
I've just sent these (among others) to print, so they should be up for sale next week. There's three vague sets: Slightly Naughty Christmas Animals, Christmas Love and Christmas Castles! They'll all be available to buy individually or in a set.  They're a pretty limited run right now, so drop me a line if you're interested and I'll make sure you know they second they're out.

Thursday 23 October 2014

A's Assignment

This week, I've had a great time delving into possible futures illustrating this fantastic micro-story by Andrew Jolly on Medium.

The story was written in response to the Writing Prompt "What would you do with your last ten dollars?", and I think it's a great take on it.  I'm a big sci-fi and futurology fan, so it was a lot of fun to dream up super futuristic classrooms and (stylish) teacher get-ups. And yes, that is a telepathy-helmet projecting the class visuals straight to screen - no more Powerpoint in the future, guys.

You can read the story and recommend it here, and it is well worth a read if you have two minutes. I've recently joined Medium myself, and will be posting a lot of my freelance advice articles up there, so jump in!

Thursday 16 October 2014

Glasgow inspiration

As you may have read in my earlier post, last weekend I ventured up to Glasgow for the launch of my new picture book The Lavender Blue Dress.  The launch event in Waterstones with Aidan Moffat was absolutely fantastic, a seriously big moment in my career, and a lot of my weekend was spent at the venue!  I did get a chance to explore the city and wander, it was my first time in Glasgow so there was definitely a lot to see.

Glasgow has such an amazing atmosphere, I honestly couldn't believe how friendly everyone was - I loved how disinhibited people were to start chatting away!  I saw a lot of the gorgeously cultured side of Glasgow, as well as the parts that were a little rough around the edges, and it all combines into such a vibrant place.

The whole weekend was inspiring, and I snapped some of my favourite finds.  I really loved the brushwork on the china vase in Scottish Colourist Francis Cadell's painting in the Kelvingrove gallery, as well as this stunning piece of street art painted on a wall in central. There was so much to look out for, in every corner of the city.

I was staying near the West End so enjoyed the falling Autumn leaves in Kelvingrove park and the museums in the area.  The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was incredible, there was so much to see; whilst the Riverside Transport Museum was full of fun and engaging attractions (I never thought I'd be so interested in transport!).  I can't imagine that I've even seen half of the things I'd like to in Glasgow, so luckily I've realised that it's really not that far away from me (a three hour drive), so I'll definitely be back!

Wednesday 15 October 2014

The Lavender Blue Dress Picture Book Launch!

Photos by Andrew Jolly
Last week saw the launch of The Lavender Blue Dress, my newest picture book with Aidan Moffat and Cargo Publishing.  To celebrate the release on October 10th, I headed up to Glasgow for the big launch event at Waterstones Argyle Street.  Aidan's a brilliant musician (you might recognise him from Arab Strap), and he played a few songs before I joined him onstage with Cargo's Murray Buchanan for a Q&A about the making of The Lavender Blue Dress, and a book signing session.

The crowd was absolutely packed, and I was genuinely shaking with nervousness before the Q&A (I'm not quite used to public speaking!).  According to the audience I pulled it off though, and answered some great questions from Murray on the making of The Lavender Blue Dress and how the project got started.  It surprised a lot of people that Aidan and I had only first met just before the event, it's definitely an odd modern world where you can work with someone on such a big, soulful project and only meet after it's completed! But it's also very refreshing to be able to collaborate with people all over the world so easily.

After the grown-up's event on Friday, we had a kid-friendly (and slightly chaotic!) event on Saturday chaired by the lovely Diane Buchanan. Again, the space was packed, and Aidan read the book to excited youngsters.  We brought back the 'design your own dress for Mabel' sheets, and it was fantastic to see the kids engaged in the story and creating such beautiful dress designs!

It was so humbling to have received such support for the book, and I can honestly say that the launch was the absolute highlight of my career so far.  It was definitely a personal hurdle for me to jump into the public realm with my work, I'm often quite shy, but it was such a joy to meet so many people touched by something I've helped create.

Huge thankyous to Aidan, Murray, Diane, Waterstones and all the amazing people at Cargo Publishing for making the event so great! Thanks as well to Andrew Jolly and Michael Gallacher for the event photos.

Keep your eyes peeled for my post about my other adventures in Glasgow, up later this week!

Thursday 9 October 2014

Best Arts & Culture Blog Winner

So, last night I went to the Blog North Awards as part of Manchester Literature Festival. Hosted at the Deaf Institute (one of my very favourite gig venues!), the atmosphere was sizzling with excitement for the entertainment, and of course the awards themselves.

There were some great performances from the likes of The Flashtag Writers, Claire Dean and some of the shortlistees from the Best Writing award category.  I particularly loved General Lucifer's Repro-man stories, Kevin Boniface's Huddersfield-postman-tales and Mollie Simpson's teenage diary readings!

The awards category rolled around, and I'd managed to calm my nerves by convincing myself that they must've told the winners beforehand.  Best Arts and Culture Blog flicked up on screen, and I prepped myself to buffer any confidence knocks if I didn't win (hey, even being shortlisted was a bloomin' honour) - but somehow, my name was called! 

This year there were some glitzy crowns and tiaras up for grabs, and I stumbled nervously up the stage towards them.  The judges crowned two winners in our category, so I was lucky enough to share the stage with fellow winner Marc Provins.  I made a warbly little speech about the sheer talent of the shortlisted blogs, how unprepared I was, and apparently got a few "aww's" as my voice tremmored saying thankyou. 

I'm absolutely over the moon to have won Best Arts & Culture Blog.  I've put so much work into this blog over the last few months, and having that recognised in some way is fantastic; a real encouragement.  As General Lucifer so rightly said in his winning speech "Blogging sometimes feels like just shouting into a black hole, to hear something back is brilliant".  

Thank you to everyone who voted for me, the judges and all the lovely people I met last night!

You can see the full list of winners, runners up and shortlistees at www.blognorthawards.com. Definitely check them out, there's some really fantastic blogs there!

Friday 3 October 2014

Portfolios, pitches and microbiology.

In all my busyness over Summer, I've just realised that I completely overlooked this piece.  This illustration stemmed from my research for a pitch to The Eden Project, who were seeking written proposals for an exhibition on the theme of 'The Human Microbiome' and microbiology.

This was really only ever a quick sketch to wrap my head around my writing, but it was one of those defining pieces that has really snapped my work into a new direction.

There was a wealth of information to respond to in the brief, but the thing that caught my eye was the idea that our preoccupation with technology and the digital world could have adverse health effects. 'Is our disconnection from the natural world making us sick?'.  Personally, as a dual digital world explorer and fully fledged nature admirer, I found this idea really interesting.  The brief centred on the concept of us, as humans, being interwoven within a worldwide ecosystem; and the issues that can arise when we remove ourselves physically or consciously from it.  There's obviously the idea that getting outside, going for walks and taking time away from zombie-staring at screens helps improve our sense of wellbeing and connection to the world; but the report also considered the idea that interacting with nature and all it's muddy wildness exposes us to a far greater variety of microbes, which in turn help strengthen our immune systems.

That's what I wanted to focus on in this sketch, and I chose to approach it as if I was responding to the report as an article for an editorial illustration.  This is really where my work has turned.  A lot of my portfolio is centred around narrative illustration, which isn't a bad thing, but I've always wanted to strengthen my conceptual thinking in terms of editorial illustration.  It's those illustrations for magazines and newspapers that have such layered communication - the instant visual summary of the article, and those subtle little details that enhance the writing and fit snugly into place as you read through the text.  

I chose to work in a simple visual style (for me!), with cut-out figures and a limited colour pallete. I've had a great response to this style of illustration, so I'm hoping to keep it up with more editorial work, both personal and client-based.

In the end my exhibition proposal didn't go through with Eden. But, as always, it's something to grow from.  I always enjoy taking the opportunity to write out my ideas, and I'm a sucker for learning new things.  But really, the main thing I've taken away from that proposal is the re-boot in the confidence I have had in my own conceptual visual thinking.  There are always benefits in taking a critical look at your portfolio and knowing where you need improvement, or what you need to work on.  No illustrator is ever perfect at everything (although there are certainly some that seem that way!), but it's always worth a shot at adding another string to your bow.