Sunday, March 27, 2016

Who? Me?

Last week the Colour Collective colour was Mars Violet, and I needed to come up with something quick, that could preferably also be used for my Mother's birthday card, because it was one of those weeks where the amount to do is in direct inverse proportion to the amount of time.

So. We have a maroon chair, and we have a very pretty dog who likes to sit on said chair.

Myrna is a cavoodle, and I named her after Myrna Loy (she has the same upturned nose and fluffy 'hair') so she's a real drama queen. One of her favourite expressions is 'Who? Me??', usually when she's doing something she knows she's not meant to. She is allowed on chairs, however. But when I started out drawing, I accidentally drew that expression, and it was just so Myrna that I just wasn't satisfied with any other expression. 

Here's a detail:

I used a photo I had posed on Instagram as my inspiration:

As you can see, that chair is much redder in tone. I tweaked it a bit for my mother's birthday card, so that it was truer in colour. And I gave it some text appropriate to the expression on Myrna's face - I didn't feel like just 'Happy Birthday' cut it, somehow...

This picture has broken my twitter fav record, which is very exciting! For the first time ever I've made it into the dizzy fifties! Thanks everyone! It encourages me to experiment more with pushing forms further.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 on a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2. An hour, maybe an hour and a half.

P.S. I hope this post made sense. I'm recovering from a migraine, so I may well be writing complete gibberish. If I am, I apologise! 

First Easter Eggs

Continuing a tradition that has sprung up in the last couple of years, I've been busy making First Easter presents for various sweeties. I did the first one in 2014, for my cousin's daughter Mary, the second in 2015, for another cousin's daughter. And this year, I have made three. There's a bit of a baby boom happening!

Each egg goes with an eggcup. I would have liked to match all the colours but I didn't have suitably coloured wool. Most of my wool is in more natural colours, or darker tones. I had a sampler of suitable pink (slightly less lolly than the pink I used, but not enough for the job) but only an olive green or a dark blue. So the girls get pink eggs and the boy gets an orange one. 

They are felted around polystyrene eggs, as it's quicker (although it still takes a couple of hours per egg). The polystyrene eggs are a bit big, but they do fit in. I've put ribbon loops on the top so they can be hung as ornaments, but I photographed them without, as that looks better in the egg cups.

Each egg has a monogram on the back. We have C for Chloe, A for Alastair and S for Samantha. 

Here is the egg I did last year, and never posted anywhere. This one was E for Ella and is a slightly different design. The bunny was also felted in corriedale wool and so is not quite as smooth.

It remains to be seen how many I will be making next year!

Merino wool over polystyrene bases. About 2 to 2.5 hours each.

The candy-covered eggs used in the photos were swiped from our Easter afternoon tea decorations. As you can see, we did a lot of baking, and for a while it was touch and go if I could finish the felted eggs in time for Easter as well. But I made it!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bath Time

Last week the Colour Collective prompt was 'Serenity' - a pretty blue with quite a low saturation. It made me think of dusk over a river. That theme made it through to my final illustration, but it went through quite a few changes.

Originally I was planning on doing another Bible Story illustration for my portfolio, and was going to go with a small diptych of Moses being hidden in the rushes and the daughter of the Pharaoh discovering him there. Only then I realised that this was the Nile River, crawling with crocodiles that are most active at dusk. Not, perhaps, the best time and place to take a bath. Midday would be more appropriate, but wouldn't fit the Colour Collective colour of the week. Tine for a rethink.

I then happened to see a picture of someone with a waterjug on her head, and thought maybe I would move to India and have some kids going home from a fishing expedition. Crocodiles are still a problem, but it didn't seem to be so important when they were going home anyway. This concept made it almost through the sketch stage:

It was going to have a dog in as well, but I had decided that the whole picture was too boring before I'd got to that point. I quite liked the idea of India, however, so I switched to some characters I've done for Colour Collective before. Mainly because baby elephants are super fun to draw. ^^ It was good practice for water and wet fabric, too.

When I've redone my original illustration of this little bunch (which doesn't match stylistically), and finished off the second, this will be a three-part story - first they paint their elephant, then they go off for a parade, and then they wash the paint off at night. I imagine there is a lot of squealing going on here, and so the 'serenity' is effectually shattered. 

To date this is my most 'liked' Colour Collective. So far I'm up at the dizzy heights of 46! This week I'm going to have to do something small, I think. It's a fabulous colour but I do not have an equally fabulous amount of time.

Here's a progress animation from sketch to final:

Adobe Photoshop CC2015 on a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2. I used Kyle Webster's brushes and it took me about 10 to 13 hours.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beatrix Potter

For Colour Collective's 'Pale Geranium Lake' prompt, I decided to draw a young Beatrix Potter in a field of poppies. It being the 150th anniversary of her birth this year, as well as Women's History Month (and International Women's Day just a couple of days before) it seemed like an apt topic. 

Obviously you can't draw Beatrix Potter without a bunch of bunnies (well, probably you can, but why fight it?) and I added a squirrel into the mix because squirrels are cute. Here's a detail:

I dropped a page of Beatrix Potter's own sketchbook (age 9) into the sketchbook. (You'll have to bear with me, I can not find where I found the double-page spread I used...) The figures are rabbits, all dressed up and doing things, although the original image I used was so small that I'm not entirely clear on what.... Some of them may be iceskating. 

There are quite a lot of photos of the young Beatrix floating around the internet, so I used a lot of them as references. If I go back in and fiddle with this piece, as I probably will (I'm always a bit rushed with my Colour Collective pieces), I think I should make her hair a bit darker. I got a carried away with the sunny summer atmosphere, and somewhere along the line she went a bit honey-coloured. Oops.

Image from Birnam Arts
Adobe Photoshop CC2015 with a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2. About 10 hours.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses

In January, Ian Andrew contacted me, looking for illustrations for his poetry book, The Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses. He didn't want polished illustrations, he wanted sketches that weren't too refined (in his words, 'crude') - a departure for me, but I always do my best to deliver on what a client wants! I sent him links to a few of my sketchbook pieces to check that that was what he was after, and he was happy with the level of detail.

As well as the interior illustrations, I also did the cover and the typesetting. I also did work on the Kindle version, but due to technical difficulties Ian did most of it himself. (Amazon's Kindle plugin for inDesign doesn't work with Creative Cloud, stopping at CS6, the Kindle Previewer doesn't work on my iMac. I did a lot of fiddling on an ancient macbook that still has CS4 on and can just about handle it, but the Kindle plugin also doesn't allow images behind text and insisted on showing them as incredibly tiny thumbnails. In the end I sent the stuff to Ian and he put it together in Amazon's Kid's Book Creator (which I could use, but the preview didn't work. I'm inclined to think Amazon could provide better software!)

I did 18 sketch illustrations for the book overall, plus the cover. Ian was great to work with. I initially worked out each image digitally and sent him a pdf of the book with the drafts in place. He didn't want any substantial changes other than the addition of one more drawing. I then used my lightbox to sketch directly over my drafts on fresh layout paper, keeping things as loose as I could. This was a little tricky for me, as usually I refine everything (probably a little too much) so I worked hard at not obsessing over details. 

Here is a small sample:

This Chihuahua is based on a real one. I was sent photos to use as reference, and it was the grumpiest chihuahua I have ever seen. I adjusted the elf costume a bit, as the original would have looked a bit weird in a rough pencil sketch. 

One of the poems was about the Irish town of Larne. The artist is Larne watercolourist Sam McLarnon who is mentioned in the poem and was loosely referenced from an image by Bernie McAllister - a relative of Ian, which was handy! Ian asked that I use that image for the cover as well. 

When I'd painted the cover and filled the gaps left in the original sketch for the text, I decided that the front was really too bare. It needed something more. I toyed with the idea of various boats, but eventually settled on a few seagulls, just to fill up the space and add a touch more interest. Many of the poems are quite reflective, so I didn't want anything too wacky - wheeling gulls seemed to fit the bill. 

The cover is set in Trajan Pro and Melany Lane (apart from the S in 'silly', I dropped in an S from Recherche and altered it by hand to fit with the other letters. Ian felt, quite reasonably, that the original S was difficult to read.)

Here's a look at the back of the printed book:

Ian was very happy with the final product, which pleased me a lot. I love a happy client! Yay! He was also kind enough to leave me the following lovely testimonial:

Alison’s skill in producing perfectly tailored imagery that matched my words, was a revelation. With a minimal brief she delivered illustrations that were so much better than any I could have imagined. Her work is the true testament to her vision and creativity.

You can buy The Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses in paperback or Kindle. Ian's poems are very good, I can recommend it for anyone who likes poetry anthologies. (I receive no royalties from the sale of this book)

Ian has also written several thrillers that are well-regarded. You can find them on Amazon also. 

Baby Quokka

I completed this needle-felted baby quokka in October, and quite forgot to blog about it. Oops. So I'm remedying that now.




He's about life-size for a baby quokka and sits comfortably into my hands. Adult quokkas are considerably larger, of course. 

For quite a while he sat unfinished, with no fur (I was busy with other work), and no one had a kind word to say about him. 

(Apologies for the poor quality of these progress photos. They were taken with my ipad, at night. Not the best for clarity.)



And it wasn't the end of the indignity - once I started rooting in his fur, poor quokka went through a terrible stage of having an entirely bald bum:


I rooted in all his fur individually, using hand-cut and hand-mixed lengths of roving in various shades of brown.  This resulted in a fluff-ball quokka for a while, until I trimmed and combed the fur. I did some rough trimming as I went, simply because that makes it easier to see where I'm going, but when all the fur was in I did a proper trim all over him.

Yes, that's a pet slicker-brush you see there. Myrna won't stand for that going anywhere near her, so I have repurposed it. It works well for combing felted in fur, providing you don't brush too hard (and pull it all out =P)

He's got a dacron filling (dacron felts very nicely, and is cheaper than wool) with corridale wool over the top. His fur is a mix of corridale and merino wools - the lighter brown on his tummy is superfine merino, which (as well as being the very devil to felt) tends to mat up a bit and so isn't as good for fur as standard merino. But I didn't have the right colour in any other wool. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Daniel in the Lions' Den

I decided I needed a bible story or two in my portfolio (which is always in a constant state of evolution) so when Colour Collective posted their 'Dandelion Yellow' prompt, I discussed with a friend which story I could use, because it's a long time since RE at school and I was drawing a blank. She suggested Daniel in the Lions' Den, which was an excellent suggestion. I'm not posting the story here, because it is long, but it's Daniel 6:1 - 28 if you want to look it up.

The story says that God sent an angel that 'shut the lion's mouths' and I decided that could well mean happy kitten-like lions, rather than still-angry lions that cannot bite but still have the use of their claws. And if I was shut up all night with happy lions that were not going to eat me, I would definitely be scratching their tummies.
I looked at a lot of photos of lions while I was doing this, of course, but I didn't use any direct references. I'm still playing around with Kyle Webster's Photoshop brushes, and am having fun with them. I quite like the strong lighting I was able to get using the dandelion colour against dark browns. Not, perhaps, strictly 'moonlight' but effective, I think! 

Adobe Photoshop CC2015 with a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2. About 6-8 hours.


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