Tag Archives: drawing

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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costume chaos and illustration news

frosty-fieldOk, so it’s really late and I’m really tired and I have about thirty seconds to write a post for ‘What I’m Writing’ tomorrow. Not that I have to write a post for my linky I suppose, but tomorrow it’s the one hundredth week of ‘What I’m Writing’ so I don’t want to miss linking up when it’s such a nice, round figure!

So… It’s late because I’ve been really busy this week. I’ve been writing stuff for work, I’ve been doing an illustration commission and, given it’s December and I’ve got three kids, I’ve been running around in a kind of Christmas frenzy trying not to drop the ball on nativity costumes, social events, presents, parties and end of term thingymabobs. This morning I was frantically trying to assemble a snowflake costume for my three-year-old for the dress-rehearsal of his school play. He ended up in a thermal vest and a cellular blanket. “It will do, it will have to do!” I chimed until I got to the classroom and realised the other kids were all adorned in flashing lights, glitter, home-made wings, amazing headwear, baubles, tinsel and perfectly carved ice sculptures. Ok, I made that last one up but blimey, it took all my powers of ‘cool, parent-of-a-third-child zen’ not to rush home and construct an elaborate walk-in ice cave for him to wear for the performance tomorrow (shhh but I’m still thinking there might be time in the morning… )

So, did you notice that bit just up there at the top of the previous paragraph? The bit where I said I was working on an illustration commission? I have been and it’s my first ever! Well, strictly speaking it’s the second I’ve been asked to do, but I’m not due to start the first one till the new year so the one I’ve been working on this week is the first I’ve actually done, if that makes sense? Probably not. It’s even later at night now. Anyway, I’ve just finished the commission and sent it off to the writer this evening. It’s illustrations for her middle grade book which is coming out next year… more info to follow… I’m dead excited, truth be told!

Right, it’s really, REALLY late now so I’m definitely posting this and going to bed!

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art and healing

sheep-at-sunriseSo, phew, how are we all doing then? What’s that you say? Am I still enraged, horrified and saddened? I know, I know, my recent posts have been fairly emotionally-outpoury and heavy haven’t they?

Well…

In answer to your question – yes and no. Yes, because that’s my honest and human reaction to what’s going on in the world at the moment… and no, because if I stayed permanently in that state I’d lose the plot. I’ve actually had some lovely times recently: mornings and afternoons and lunches and dinners and drinks with friends that have fed my soul and given me a huge boost in the happiness stakes. If there’s one big positive to come out of this awful year it’s been those friendships that have grown and strengthened in the face of everything or simply remained resolutely fantastic. They’re better than the cosiest, warmest, fluffiest blanket in front of the crackliest, brightest, toastiest fire with the biggest, crumbliest most delicious plate of mince pies, my friends are. And all the chocolate in the world – they’re better than that too.

So yes, as I write this, I’m feeling calmer than I’ve felt in weeks.

But I have been thinking about those feelings of outrage and horror and the proper place for them. Because I don’t think such feelings can be dismissed – not when they are legitimate and not when people’s rights, freedoms and even lives are at risk (or worse). However, they’re also not something that should be used to further negativity or hate or violence – I think they need to be used to combat those things. Channelled in the right way, I think horror and outrage can be powerful and positive.

I’ve read loads of articles recently about positive actions that can be taken by people feeling shocked or sad or powerless. There are many different options, whether its volunteering or donating or speaking out or up for others or peacefully protesting or being a friend – the list goes on. And I think we each need to pick the course of action that works for us – the action that will heal us and hopefully help others.

For me, I’ve decided that the way forward is art. I read a blog post earlier this year by Chuck Wendig called ‘It is art that will help us survive‘ (read it as long as you don’t mind sweariness). In it he talks about how art – in its many forms – can soothe and heal but also excite and agitate, how it can help us understand ourselves and each other. How art can lift us up and, by sharing it, lift others up too. And how it can bond people across all sorts of personal and political and cultural divides. So, while it might seem a bit, I dunno, ‘fluffy’ in these troubled times, it just isn’t.

An artist friend and I had a big chat about this the other night and we’ve come up with a plan. It’s about creating art and sharing art and hopefully creating opportunities for others to do so too. It’s about being able to respond to events that upset us in ways that create empathy and promote feelings of togetherness and hope. And it’s also (if all goes to plan) about helping causes close to our hearts: making sense of the world while having a genuine positive impact.

It’s only a little idea – it’s not flashy or bold. But I think – we both think – it can make a difference. That it can channel outrage into healing.

And that’s just what we need right now.

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why labels are important

starlight-illustration-sketches

Some of my sketches for a song illustration.

Do you ever find it difficult to call yourself a writer, or an artist or whatever the appropriate label for your creative niche is? I know I do, and conversations with fellow creative types has told me I’m not alone.

These days I do call myself a ‘writer’, although – as ridiculous as it sounds – it originally took considerable effort to do so. I remember the day I put ‘writer’ on my personal Facebook page – I felt really nervous and a bit of a fraud but figured I had to do it because if I couldn’t think of myself as a writer then how could I expect anyone else to? I was starting to submit manuscripts to agents so that felt kind of important. Even now the self doubt demon creeps in and tries to tell me I’m not one – not a ‘real’ writer – but obviously I kick it up the bum and wave my blog and manuscripts and pieces of published writing at it till it goes away.

But recently I’ve faced a new self-labelling question. I’ve been studying illustration since the start of this year – I’ve submitted assignments, drawn most days and, in the process, illustrated both my own writing and other people’s. I’ve studied art in the past too – dare I say it, created art in the past (some of it was once even in an exhibition) – so can I, or should I, call myself an artist? No. Surely not. That’s… just… I don’t know, it seems a step too far. And as for calling myself an ‘illustrator’ Hahahaha. No, that’s just ridiculous.

Isn’t it?

But then I had an experience last week that made me look at things a bit differently. I was on the phone to a work colleague (he works for a different company but we’ve worked alongside each other on various projects for years) and he asked if he could run an idea by me. ‘Of course’ I said. He then went on to say that his company (a human relations one) was looking at a new way of presenting some of their ‘models for ways of working’ (kind of patterns of human behaviour and interaction broken down into stages). They’re in a sort of chart form at the moment which he was thinking was a bit dry and that perhaps an illustrative approach might bring them to life more:

“… and I was thinking ‘what illustrators do I know?'” he said, “And then I thought ‘hey, I know Maddy!'”

He knows I’ve been studying illustration and said he’d seen one of my illustrations (the tea limerick one) and loved it. He then went on to outline the project to me… at least I assume that’s what he did but all I really caught was his “So what do you think?” at the end, at which point I had to admit “I’m sorry but you called me an illustrator and I got so excited that anyone would call me an illustrator that I couldn’t really hear anything much you said after that!”

Not exactly cucumber cool of me, but anyway, I did listen the second time round and the project sounds rather interesting. He’s very open about what might work and how things might pan out so I said yes I’d love to do it! I mean, obviously I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m hanging on to the idea that I know more than I think I know and have skills I don’t know I possess, and can achieve more than I can imagine I could.

I got off the phone with a smile, warm with the knowledge that someone out there in the world, someone who’s not my husband or my best mate or my mum (lovely though they all are) thinks I’m an illustrator.

An actual illustrator.

It’s made me realise we should all seize those illusive creative labels and own them. We should say ‘Yes, I’m a writer/illustrator/photographer/modern cheese artist/whatever’ and then just get on with doing the actual creative work and living up to those titles. Because although it’s about self-belief, it’s also about accountability: after all, if you call yourself a writer, you’d better keep writing.

Speaking of which, this illustrator needs to go illustrate. :)

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writing, submitting and casting spells

sunset

Just a quick one from me as it’s half term and we’re about to head off for a few days to the Harry Potter Studios! My nine-year-old is a huge Harry Potter fan – he and I have both read all the books and watched (most of) the films. We’ve just been watching The Goblet of Fire to get ourselves in the mood. Very exciting – I’ll let you know how it goes! I may well cover Instagram with photos!

Before I go, I do have a teeny bit of news to report on the writing front. I’ve just submitted three picture book manuscripts to an agent! I really meant to send off a batch of five or six (one of the pieces of advice I heard at the Festival of Writing was to submit this way) but researching suitable agents and following the different submission guidelines takes time and I just wasn’t getting round to it. So, since I had an agent in mind who I knew I wanted to submit to, I figured I’d send my manuscripts to her first and go from there.

Submitting also meant I spent lots of time last week polishing my third manuscript (one and two were already good to go) and I’m pretty happy with it now. It’s the only non-rhyming book I’ve written and though I love rhyme, prose translates more easily, making it better in commercial terms (potential for huge international sales, see!) so I figured I should at least give it a go. The book was actually inspired by this picture I drew back in February – I had a hunch Stanley had a story so I’m quite chuffed to be right! Stanley's jumper

Oh, and on the subject of drawing, I had an inspiring conversation with a friend about all the pictures we’ve done this year. Plans are afoot – watch this space!

That’s it for now, I’m off to cast some spells.

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looking back, looking forward

autumn-walkSo, half term approaches!

I’m not sure how I feel about that really, it’s been a funny old six weeks since the kids went back to school. It’s been busy, really busy – one of those times when all the different aspects of my life need attention – and I’ve been floundering a bit trying to keep on top of everything. A feeling of mild bafflement and a low level sense of ‘WTAF is going on?’ have been my stalwart companions.

I was saying to a friend on the school run this morning that I’m only just starting to feel like I’ve got a handle on what our new daily routine is and knowing which books need signing, which homework requires parental comments and who and what needs to be where, when and why. Of course, only seconds after making this announcement I realised my son had left his P.E kit at home… then, when I went back to fetch it, I realised he must in fact have left it at school last week (all damp and muddy and festering… ) because it isn’t anywhere here. So I guess we haven’t *quite* reached a stage where we’re sailing perfectly along. I’m still prone to getting caught off guard by a gust of wind and having the boom crack me round the back of the head.

But progress has definitely been made. I mean, I made it to the school harvest festival on time (despite a dash home for a forgotten swimming kit, and a disgusting dog poo emergency), I’ve finally met my son’s teacher (middle school is so much more ‘hands off’ than first school!), I’ve written copious comments in various reading journals and even spent a very happy couple of hours yesterday helping my eldest create some 3D art for some ‘enrichment homework’ that we thought was optional but turned out not to be quite as optional as we thought!

On this basis I’m sure that after half term we’ll have all our rigging in order* and just sail seraphically along until Christmas. Because I’ve got this school thing nailed now. Oh yes. No more capsizing for me.

So I now have three more days (mornings) to try and do all the things that I can’t do while the boys are around. Then it’s a week off from the school run (yay!) during which we’re off to Harry Potter Studios! But shhhhh don’t tell the boys – it’s a surprise!

My plan is to tidy the entire house (clearing out all the junk that’s been building up for years), complete another module of my illustration course, research agents and send my picture books off to another batch, submit some work (that I haven’t written yet) to a competition that’s caught my eye, return to my novel and write another ten thousand words, write some more limericks and… oh, ok, probably none of that.

I have three mornings. I’m going to have coffee with some friends. I’m going to do some hoovering. I’m going to draw some pictures. It’s enough, I think.

I’ll leave you with a drawing I did last week as part of my course, the next module of which is on illustrating poems. One thing I really struggle with is speed – I’m an over-thinking slow coach – so I decided to have a go at illustrating a poem without any planning at all, just to dive in. This is one of my favourite poems. It’s by Elizabeth Jennings. I (re)read it then drew a picture. This is what appeared on the paper:a-child-in-the-night-poem-illustration

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*I don’t know why I’m sticking with the sailing metaphor… I don’t even know why I’m using it at all, I know NOTHING about boats!

 

tackling the self-doubt demon

self-doubt-demonThis time last week I was battling with the self-doubt demon who was determined I shouldn’t submit my illustration assignment. You know the drill: “This is rubbish… you can’t draw at all… call that a picture? Pah, a child or a lamb could do better!” The nasty creature. I couldn’t let it win could I?

Or could I?

No, I couldn’t! I drowned him out with loud music, finished the pieces off and hit the submit button. And yesterday my super-speedy, very lovely tutor, Spencer Hill sent me feedback on my work. And it was really positive!

Admittedly, Spencer is the sort to be very supportive – despite having never met him, I can just tell through the emails he sends all his students and in the way he’s interacted with me online that he is good at encouragement. But still, he clearly knows his onions so I’m going to take his positive remarks to heart. Best of all, the depth of the feedback he sent (nearly 4 A4 sides, typed) was massively useful – it’s given me lots to think about and build on and I’m really keen to get my teeth into the next section of the course now.

Take that self-doubt demon!

Last week I shared a few little snippets of my three assignment pieces. I really appreciated each and every comment I received – they helped me hit that button. Since sharing last time had a positive outcome I’m going to take an additional leap now and share one of the final pieces. The assignment was to illustrate song lyrics – here’s my illustration of a line from “Somewhere over the rainbow”somewhere-over-the-rainbow-blog-picAs you can see, the illustration is very literal, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but my (self-imposed) challenge for my next assignment (illustrating poems) is to think differently and come up with some more surprising interpretations.

And I will get back to some writing soon, honestly. Maybe I’ll even have a go at writing and illustrating something of my own. Who knows – it’s exciting to think of the possibilities!

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not writing but drawing

Nope, It’s just not happening. This post is refusing to write itself. I can’t think of a single thing to say this week, or rather, I can but it’s all way too introspective and lacking in focus.

So I tell you what – I’ll show you a few pieces I’ve been working on for my illustration course. I need to submit an assignment but I’m currently doubting everything I’ve ever drawn. Perhaps sharing a bit here will get me past the hurdle. Worth a try, hey?

The assignment is to illustrate lyrics from three songs. These are just snippets of the illustrations (because I can’t bring myself to share the whole pictures):

sections-of-ilustrationsThe one on the left is for a Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris song. I put loads of work into the picture at the start of the summer and rather liked it, but have basically gone off it in the interim. The middle one is a kind of obvious illustration of a kind of obvious song. Hmmm. And as for the last one – I was going for a bit of romance and softness but, having deliberately chosen to use just pencil, I now feel like it needs colour. My attempts to add some on the computer last night (in an image manipulation program called GIMP which I can’t really get the hang of) didn’t go well.

Yes, the self doubt demon has come calling – he’s sneering in my ear right now (the squelchy git) – and it’s slowing me down. I think I probably just need to put my fingers in my ears, or, even better, play some loud music (my seven-year-old currently loves ‘Walk This Way’ by Run-D.M.C. – that should do the trick) and while the demon is temporarily incapacitated, submit something.

So, here’s a thing – a ‘sticking to my intentions via the medium of blogging’ thing. By this time next week I will have submitted the assignment. No excuses. You can hold me to that.

And once it’s done, I’ll get back to some agent hunting and manuscript submissions.

But that’s a whole other blog post.

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my week in rhyme – #WhatImWriting

storysphere-2

A Story sphere I drew to represent all the different thoughts bouncing around in my head!

It’s Monday night – the time has flown, my weekly post is due,
I’ve not got much to write about…

No, wait, that’s not quite true.

I’ll tell you how I’m feeling now the new school term has started
– in truth I’ve been a mixture of elated and downhearted,
as my eldest son has taken to his new school like a pro
though my middle son has told me that he misses his big bro,
while my youngest took his first four days completely in his stride
but on the fifth day, he said “What? again?!” and clutched my leg and cried.*

What else?

Oh yes, my writing… well, last weekend was a blast,
so awesomely inspiring – my ‘to do list’ now is vast!
I’m determined to take action and submit, submit, submit
I know I’ll get rejections, but the key is not to quit.

Apart from that…

My art – I’ve nearly finished my assignment!
two pieces are completed while the third just needs refinement
(that’s really not exciting as I’m rather far behind
though thankfully my understanding tutor doesn’t mind.)

So onwards!

With my mega-plan (I’ve made an epic list)
to knuckle down and focus now on all the things I’ve missed
And that means lots of time for friends and chats and cups of tea
for drawing and for writing, because f**king FINALLY
after nine whole years of parenthood I have some time for me!

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Prose for Thought

*I sat with him and built some blocks. He recovered (probably faster than I did).

the deep breath before the plunge

fell and waterThere’s a scene in LOTR Return Of The King where, on the eve of a huge battle, Gandalf and Pippin stand on a balcony of Minas Tirith looking out across the plains towards Mordor. Mount Doom glowers ominously in the distance and a brooding darkness is engulfing the land. “It’s so quiet” says Pippin, awestruck. “It’s the deep breath before the plunge” Gandalf responds.

I’ve always loved that line – it captures so well that feeling of anticipating something inevitable, particularly if you’re viewing it with some trepidation. There’s nothing you can do to stop the passage of time: the thing – whatever it is – is going to happen. So you take that deep breath, and you wait.

I’m feeling a teeny bit like that now. Only a very teeny bit – thankfully I’m not facing the ‘great battle of our time’ or anything even close. There is no growing shadow, menacing volcano, or hoards of Orks about to descend. But change is coming. Summer has rolled on past and is nearing its its destination. Next week school term begins and with it an end to the lazy days and a lurching jump back into the morning routine.

This September also brings with it two changes for our family – my eldest begins middle school and my youngest is starting school nursery five mornings a week. In actual fact, these changes are good. I’m pretty sure both my boys are ready for them, as is my middle son who’s going to find himself the ‘big brother’ rather than the ‘little brother’ in school for the first time. But still, they’re changes and I’ve never been one for change – it brings the unknown which is well… unknown. Anything could happen! Give me the comforting blanket of familiarity any time.

There’s another reason for my deep breath too though. I’m not looking at encroaching darkness, I’m actually looking at a beautiful sunrise. Because with the new school term comes time to pursue my creative goals – the most time I’ve had in years (and years!). Five mornings of child-free time a week! Ok, some of that will be taken up by work, and yes I’ll also need to get on top of all sorts of household stuff that I’ve let slide, and I’ve promised myself I’ll get fit, but still… all that time. I can’t help but be excited!

Right now my creativity is champing at the bit. I’ve been fitting drawing and writing into little bits of time I’ve had over the summer and am finally close to submitting my first assignment for my illustration course. Woo hoo! It’s taken me ages to get to this point so I’m hoping to be able to up the pace a bit once we get settled into the new school year.

I’ve also signed up to go to the Festival of Writing in early September where I have two one-on-one meetings with agents arranged. Eeek. I’ve been editing picture book manuscripts on and off all summer to submit to them and finally got two sent off yesterday! I’m hoping to get useful feedback from the sessions. It feels like a good time to talk to some professionals, go to some seminars (I went to some great ones at the Festival last year) and generally get my head back into my writing again.

I’m also going to get back to more regular blogging and my weekly #WhatImWriting linky after a summer off. Hopefully my productivity in all areas will improve but, at this point it’s hard to tell quite how things will pan out. Will my mornings pass in a blur of ironing and attempts to get to the bottom of my email pile? Will ‘getting fit’ steal from creativity or encourage it? Will all my boys settle into their new routines without a hitch? Will I?

Yes, change is definitely on the way and with a week of summer holidays to go, I’m standing on the balcony of my citadel (ok, sitting on the sofa in my living room) watching it approach. Chances of an eerie silence falling to herald it? In this house?! Zero. But I’ll be taking that deep breath.

And then… the plunge.

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