Author Archives: Maddy

making miniature art for #The100DayProject

I have a new favourite drawing style – very, very small pencil sketches.

haunted house tiny

In case you’re reading this on a huge computer screen, that’s an averaged-sized pencil not some kind of super-massive thing.

I’ve been drawing tiny pictures for the last two weeks as part of The 100 Day Project – a yearly, free, global art project that runs for 100 days (no surprises there) and which this year started on April 4th. It’s open to everyone and it’s up to each individual to pick their particular creative project then do that each day and post the results on instagram with #The100DayProject hashtag.

Regular readers will know I love a creative challenge – #ShapeChallenge on Twitter really helped me with my drawing last year, as did my #THISislearning cartoons and #GuessTheFilm, all of which I shared on social media. I’ve done Camp NaNoWriMo in the past too and written everyday. There’s something really motivating about a challenge, I think!

This time, having the choice of any creative project I liked nearly froze me in the start gates, but then I thought if I’m going to do it every day (alongside everything else), it needs to be something I can do reasonably quickly. Drawing things very small works well in this way – each of the sketches takes me between 15 and 45 minutes (which for me is really fast!). I decided to draw ‘big’ things small so I could play with scale and also to try and focus me a little.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge even more than I thought I would, and have found it really beneficial. Drawing small is somehow less outfacing than taking on a large scale project, so I’ve felt able to try a range of different things: animals, buildings, people… pylons… Any drawing I do helps improve my skills; I definitely subscribe to the theory that practice is more important than innate ability.

giraffes, jack, pylon and cake

TL – BR giraffes (on an average-sized paperclip), Jack introducing himself to the giant (having climbed the ladder rather than the beanstalk), pylons, and chocolate cake with BIG emotional significance)

Posting my work on social media has been really beneficial too; throwing my work out there helps with the self-doubt, and I can’t deny the positive feedback has been a real boost – who doesn’t like a bit of insta-love?!

elephant, bus, tree and dragon

TL – BR elephant, double decker bus (that perspective was so tricky!), me drawing under a tree (well, fantasy me – real me would have small children crawling on my head) and a dragon.

I’ve also really enjoyed scrolling the #The100DayProject hashtag and seeing what other people are getting up to. It’s inspirational and feels like a lovely community too. All in all, it’s been a massively positive experience.

Can I keep it up for 100 days? Follow me on Instagram and check out my #100DaysOfDrawingBigThingsSmall hashtag and we’ll find out…

illustrating for the Story of Me

cameron's dragons cropYou know the feeling you get when you’re involved in a particularly inspiring project? Something that’s not only fun, interesting and exciting but that bit special too?

I’ve had that feeling recently about an illustration project I’ve been working on. It’s called The Story of Me and is the brainchild of a friend of mine who’s a primary school teacher in Scotland.

Sus – or, as she is generally known by a classroom of children, Mrs Jeffries – is one my oldest friends and someone who never fails to amaze and inspire me. She’s not only a teacher and a mother of two, she also writes for the TES, sits on the boards of creative companies and is studying illustration. I don’t know what powers her (although I suspect creme eggs or party rings might play their part!) but to top it off she’s always full of amazing ideas. The Story of Me is no exception.

The idea is based on a study which found that children were more likely to recall target vocabulary if it was used in sentences where they themselves were the subject of the sentence. In other words, when you’re teaching kids to read, they’re more likely to remember words in stories about them.

Knowing how well children respond to images as well as words, Sus designed a project where the children in her class would work (remotely) alongside illustrators to create stories that they were the subject of. You can read more about the details and expected outcomes here but the basic idea was that the children would provide sentences for the illustrators to work with and by the end of the project, each child would have a short illustrated book about themselves which would help them learn and remember target words. A book that they’d co-created – how cool is that?!

I was one of the twenty illustrators who were a part of this project and I worked with six-year-old Cameron. He wrote a sentence or two a week for me to illustrate and the project evolved as it went along – I was never sure what Cameron would write or how I might respond and was often surprised… by both of us! There was something so lovely about illustrating for a specific child and feeling I was helping to create a story that meant something to him. I’ve heard from Sus that he loved what I did and that means loads to me.

Anyway, as the project draws to a close, I thought I’d share our little story:

Cameron's dragon's 1cameron's dragons page 2Cameron's dragon's page 3Cameron's dragons 4

I have to admit, when I got the first sentence I wasn’t sure how to illustrate it at all and figured all I could do was draw Cameron (I had a photo to work with). After that it became easier; the dragons came to me the moment I read his ‘dun dun duuuuuuuuun’ – I mean, clearly there was something exciting going on so… dragons!

I absolutely loved the way Cameron took the dragon idea and ran with it. Dragons playing hide and seek was loads of fun to draw (and apparently the whole class of kids enjoyed looking for them in the picture) and the idea of a dragon that would trick him with a drawing of itself was brilliant. He really gave them – and the whole story – personality!

The kids are all going to receive their final pictures and finished books after the Easter holidays. I’m looking forward to finding out what Cameron and his classmates think about them! It’s been a fab thing to be involved in! :)

it’s a spring thing

yellow flowersDo you find your creativity fluctuates with the seasons? We’ve had gorgeous weather here in Northumberland these past few days and, in response, I’ve felt a tug from the creative part of my brain the likes of which I haven’t felt in months. An awakening, a stretching and an unfurling of sorts. A throwing aside of winter wrappings.

Sitting in the garden this weekend, bathed in the sun’s rays, stories suddenly started running through my head. Well, story fragments at least – they need building on before they become fully-fledged ideas but still…stories, poetry and creative words have alluded me for months. It’s good to feel they might be on their way back.

Of course, I haven’t had an entirely creativity-free winter: far from it. I’ve been focussing a lot on my illustration course and on some very exciting commissions… but even those, under the weight of winter, felt a bit of a slog. No, not a slog – I love drawing – but sunshine, bursting buds and birdsong (oooh, right now I can even hear a wood pigeon!) just make things feel lighter don’t they? The fun stuff feels more fun and the hard stuff feels more achievable.

I’m going to go off into the sunshine with my sketch pad now. I’ll blog again soon, though. I thought I might share some of my drawings here. Some work from my course, perhaps, and from another project I’m working on.

In fact, tell you what, I’ll leave you with an illustration that was part of my last assignment. It’s a very old limerick by an unknown author. I originally drew ‘Nan’ as a rather traditional, long-skirted figure running across Nantucket, then I thought, nah – if you’re going to steal a bucket of cash on an island you’d definitely escape on a jet ski!nantucket limerick illustration

Illustration news!

I’ve been quiet online recently for various reasons but, listen up, I’ve got some exciting news to share!

Remember how I said I’d been working on an illustration commission? Well, I can now announce that ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants‘ by Nikki Young will be published on April 28th, complete with illustrations from my very own pen!

Nikki’s book is aimed at 9 – 11 year olds and centres on Harry, his best mate James and neighbour Stacey who form a spy club and spend their summer holidays solving mysteries. Things start off fun and light-hearted but then events take a sinister turn…

You can find out more about the book (and see my own review of it) here but I can certainly recommend it. My nine-year-old son is desperate to read it and I can’t wait to give him a copy!

dog and people final for instagram

 

Nikki has also written a short story introducing the characters from her novel. This is called ‘A Special Day’ and is available as a FREE ebook over on Nikki’s website with cover illustrations by yours truly. Why not pop over for a read?

I’ve loved creating the illustrations for both books, and working with Nikki was a joy. I can’t wait to attend the launch of ‘Underpants’ (as it is affectionately known) next month! It might be worth keeping an eye on my instagram feed as I practice making underpants-themed cupcakes… undercakes? Cup pants? Erm… maybe I’ll just stick to biscuits.

onwards!

track“February! Great to see you! Thank God you’re here – did you not hear me calling you last week?And the week before? I could have done with your intervention really…

See, some bad shit went down last month, I’m afraid. I know, I know, you heard the same about January last year, but seriously, my dear February, seriously, that was nothing compared to what this January threw at us. And me. Yes, personally, nationally and internationally it wasn’t a good month.

Do you think when you’re finished here you could perhaps have a little word in the ear of January 2018? We’d like thirty-one days of loveliness please – world harmony, kittens, that sort of thing.

Impossible? Oh ok, just a few weeks of semi-loveliness…

Too much to ask? Ok, I’d settle for some garden-variety mundanity. Nothing at all showy just the sort of month that doesn’t leave me gazing at the news in horror or at social media with my head in my hands… can you do that?

Yes? Good. We’re all set then.

Ok, I’ve finished talking to February now ;)

It’s been nearly a month since my last post and, yes, it was a bad month but – imaginary conversations aside – the arrival of February has given me pause to reflect and find some good things to focus on. Like the fact that I’ve completed another assignment for my illustration course and am now working on a whole new module. And, even better, I’ve just finished another illustration commission – a book cover this time – which is very exciting! I’m also planning to design a website for my illustration soon which is a project I’m looking forward to. AND there’s this business idea I’ve been working on which both my friend and I are keen to get our teeth into.

And then, while I was eyeball deep in January, an email plopped into my inbox  (I didn’t even spot it until February had arrived) saying I was one of Feedspot’s ‘Top 20 Creative Writing Blogs And Websites on the Web. Chuck Wendig is in the list – Chuck Wendig! I love his blog so much! To be in the same list is… well, a bit baffling if I’m honest but just amazingly fabulous at the same time. I really have loved how – through the #WhatImWriting linky – this blog has become a little hive of writerly connection… or that’s how I like to think of it anyway! Good stuff.

Of course, ‘What I’m Writing’ itself is something that makes me very happy indeed. The community of writers is wonderful and the mutual support has made a difference, I think, to all of us over the past few years. I have realised though that it’s time for some (only some!) changes in this area. Having had time to think since my new year post, I’ve decided to stop running the linky. It’s been going for well over two years and during that time masses of different writers from different countries have linked up hundreds (and hundreds) of posts. I’ve loved it all but I’m finding myself continually more stretched time-wise to the point where it’s not viable to run it any more.

BUT (and here’s the crucial bit) the most important aspect of the linky for me has always been the community – to create and nurture one was the original and vital aim and, on that count, ‘What I’m Writing’ has far exceeded my hopes. And our community is still very much thriving and will continue to do so. We have a Facebook group where we share posts and ponderings and we continue to organise meet ups too for those who fancy it. I’ll be updating the linky page soon to explain things more clearly but basically, if you’re a writer at any stage of your career – published, unpublished, wondering if you dare pursue your dream, or already jumping in with both feet – you’re welcome to join us. Drop me an email and I can add you to the group. It’s a place of friendship and support – just what the doctor ordered at the moment!

So, this was really just me touching base because it felt weird not to blog for so long… and also to let you know things are ok in Writing Bubble land. January may have been awful (and I think this year has more to throw at us yet) but there’s lots to look forward to as well. I’m determined to pour energy into writing and drawing and family and friends in order to squeeze every drop of happiness out of 2017.

Let’s do this.

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art and the broken heart

sunset-skyI just watched Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech. It’s fantastic. The way she exposed the awfulness of the US president-elect’s behaviour without even mentioning his name…

But what struck a chord most was her final sentence where she quoted something the late Carrie Fisher said to her:

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

I love that. It totally sums up where I am at the moment. So much bad stuff happened last year – horrible stuff, sad stuff, stuff that we know is going to cause problems for years to come.  It broke my heart. It broke many people’s hearts.

But it’s made me resolve to throw my passion and my energy more into the people I love and into art – in all its forms. I want to write and draw and illustrate. I want to learn and explore new creative skills. I want to experience art created by other people, to read and watch and see and feel and listen and devour art in all its glorious forms.

“Take your broken heart. Make it into art.”

That. Just, that.

New year, new something.

sunset-2016It’s 2017! Happy New year!

I like to start each year with a reflective blog post looking back at the year that was, and thinking about the promise that the new year holds. I spent hours yesterday writing such a post. It was hard to write because it was really honest – a kind of ‘I can’t gloss over 2016′ type exploration. Last year brought us some harsh realties and taught us some difficult lessons and I think it’s important to address that in order to find a way forward. I really don’t think there’s a scenic route – we have to go into difficult territory to really move on with hope.

Then I was all ‘oh no, that’s too intense, I need to write about the good stuff that happened in 2016!’ Because there really was some good stuff, most of which, for me, revolved around creativity and around the people I love… of which there were substantially more at the end of the year than at the start – how lovely is that? :) That post took a while to write too.

So then it was really late at night and I had these two posts, neither of which were even finished, and I realised that all the time I’d meant to spend on my illustration course that day had been used up on blog posts that weren’t even ready to be published. And I thought of all the stuff I needed to do the next day and I felt this jolt of anxiety that I didn’t have time for that either (and some of it is really flipping important too). And I realised that right there was my new year message to myself. Something has to give… and it has to be my blog.

I blogged less in the latter part of last year – cut back massively in fact – but running my linky meant I still wrote two posts a week and did a fair bit of reading and commenting. I’m fond of my blog and I love, love, love my writing community but I do not have enough time to dedicate to blogging and hosting a weekly linky any more.

One message that really came through to me loud and clear amidst all the horrible stuff last year was the importance of art, in all its forms. I wrote here about its ability to build understanding and unite us, to lift the spirit and to help fight the demons. I truly believe it’s more important than we might ever imagine so, in trying to figure out a way forward for myself this year, it’s become obvious to me that art, alongside friends and family are where it’s at. That means my priority is going to be my illustration course and setting up an artistic project with a friend. Hopefully some creative writing too. I don’t want to stop blogging altogether but I can’t keep up the pace I have been.

I haven’t figured out what to do about my linky yet. I’m hoping to find a co-host to remove the weekly pressure, but, quite honestly, I’m not even sure a fortnightly post isn’t too much. Part of the problem is I’m a really slow writer but it’s the headspace that blogging takes up as much as anything. I need to not be thinking about what I might blog about and how many blogs I need to read and how much commenting I have to do. Time is so tight!

So that’s about it. The boys are back at school today and I have a to do list reaching over the hills and far away. Enough blogging for now.

Happy 2017 everyone.

Happy Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve! What a week it’s been since school broke up! We’ve baked and crafted and partied, drawn pictures, done jigsaws and spent days building a big festive lego scene. We’ve been to the cinema (Moana – best disney film in years! – and It’s a Wonderful Life), seen The Snowman with a live orchestra (amazing), been for bracing walks and watched a zillion Christmas films. And incase that makes us sound like the Smug Family from Planet Unbelievable, I can assure you that all of this delightful family harmony has been sprinkled liberally with arguments, tears, shouting and the downing of festive booze. Christmas to a T.

Anyway, I’ve also squeezed a bit of drawing in here and there (most of it’s on Instagram which seems to be the only social media I use at the moment) and I thought I’d share this little piece with you here. An illustrated poem should probably be created words first, but I drew the snowflakes a few nights ago then decided to add a poem (it started life as a haiku) in around it today. It’s how I feel when I wake up to an overnight snowfall – I love that feeling! Am hoping 2017 starts with snow…

sparkly-snowflake-poem

Wishing you all a wonderful, restful Christmas and a joyful new year!

What I’m Writing – Week 101

typewriter butterflies badge new

Welcome to week 101 of What I’m Writing! School term here ends this Friday so this is going to be the last link up of 2016 – let’s make it a good one shall we?

There were fabulous posts on the linky last week with Johanne celebrating her first ever Nano win (Go, Jo!), Cara sharing a poem and a fear overcome, and Tara pondering whether she writes like a reader… do you? Meanwhile Reneé shared a post about being a ‘bleeding heart liberal‘ – powerful stuff! For more great posts take a look at last week’s linky!

If you’re new here (welcome!) you might be wondering what #WhatImWriting is all about. You can find all the details here but the short(er) version is I’m a writer who loves blogging about my writing process and reading about those of others. This linky is for all you fellow writers, poets, bloggers etc. out there to share posts about what you’re writing (and all your hopes and fears, triumphs and tears) with a group of people who understand what you’re going through.

I’ve also set up a private group on Facebook that all linkers are welcome to join. It’s somewhere we can share work and have a chat about all things writerly (and whatever else we fancy really). It’s a ‘secret group’ which means you’ll need an invitation to join so once you’ve linked up just let me know if you want me to send an invite.

If you’d like to join in you’re very welcome! There are just a few suggestions for taking part:

  • Link up any post (old or new) that is to do with writing/blogging etc. 
  • Please either use my badge on the post (copy and paste the HTML code below) or link to my blog. I will share your post on Twitter in return.
  • Read and comment on as many other posts in the linky as you can. What I’m Writing has developed a lovely, supportive community and we’d love you to join in :)
  • If you’d like to tweet your post feel free to use the hashtag #WhatImWriting. If you tweet me a link to your post @writingbubble then I will RT.

Please link up below – just click on the blue button that says ‘add your link’ and follow the instructions. I look forward to reading your posts. :)

Wishing all my lovely linkers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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getting by with a little help

snowflake-baubleSince early this year I’ve been doing an illustration course with the London Art College (this isn’t remotely a sponsored post though, just an honest shout-out). I’ve been really enjoying it and my tutor, Spencer Hill, has been great – really understanding and supportive despite my rather slow progress through the course! His comments on my last assignment were really helpful –a careful balance of confidence-boosting and constructive that left me motivated and with lots of new ideas. All in all, just what you need in a correspondence course tutor.

Over the last few weeks though, Spencer’s gone above and beyond what I would have expected and I just wanted to share that here because, y’know, it’s Christmas and he’s a bit of a shining star really!

In my post last week I mentioned I’d been working on an illustration commission – my first ever, which was very exciting! I was offered the work without much notice though (sometimes that’s just the way things go) and that, combined with my lack of experience, had made me wonder if it was really wise to take it on (yes, the self-doubt demon came a-calling). I contacted Spencer for advice and he got back to me really quickly saying he thought I was totally capable but that only I knew if I could do it in the required timeframe. He gave me lots of suggestions about what to charge and other stuff and said to contact him if I needed anything more.

As you know, I decided to go ahead with the commission. I also took Spencer up on his offer of further advice and over the following week, a fair few emails flew back and forth between us. It made a massive difference to my confidence knowing that he believed in me and that I had someone to turn to with all those issues that you never consider till you’re actually working on a proper commission. I won’t go into them now, but let’s just say it was good to feel someone – a professional illustrator, no less – had my back, and I am extremely grateful.

Another person I turned to for advice was the lovely Teika from Mother’s Milk Books who was also full of useful information and suggestions. I definitely felt lucky to know someone who worked in the publishing industry and was willing to help me out that way.

And the end of the story is that I got the commission done bang on schedule (having learned masses in the process), the author loves the illustrations and I’m so looking forward to seeing my work in a real, actual book in the spring! I’ve had a little look on my kindle (not that the book’s been formatted properly yet) and that was exciting enough!

There’s probably some kind of moral in this little tale somewhere… ‘don’t doubt your own abilities and be willing to ask for help because people are lovely’, perhaps? Anyway, the whole thing has definitely made me feel full of the goodwill of the season.

I’ll finish with a sneak peek at one of my illustrations!kindle-illustration
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