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 -

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! 

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.