Tag Archives: illustrating

Helena Handcart

I’d like to introduce you to a new friend of mine – her name’s Helena:Helena Logo square

Ok, she’s not strictly speaking a friend, she’s a business, but she’s an idea I dreamt up with one of my oldest friends last year and, as the months have gone by and we’ve plotted and planned to make her a reality, we’ve become rather fond of her. You see, Helena is a positive and determined sort of a character. Feisty and no-nonsense but with a heart as soft as melted butter. She’s focussed too, she knows what’s important to her – creativity and compassion – and she wants to use art to make a difference.

I’m still talking about her like she’s a person, aren’t I?  Ok, let’s rewind…

I made no secret of how I felt about the world last year – the EU referendum with its climate of hate and the racism that the result seemed to legitimise, the horrendous terrorist attacks, Trump, the political and social situations in countries around the globe, even the celebrity death toll… it started to feel like we were all going to, well, hell in a handcart…

All this was the focus of many discussions with my best mate, Sus, on our monthly dinner dates in the Scottish borders. We live over a hundred miles apart (in Scotland and Northumberland) and there’s a little pub we go to – half way between our homes – that has, for the last six and a half years, been our retreat from all the other demands on our time. There we go to eat, chat, and put the world to rights. And, being illustrators, we often draw too. Not for work purposes, we just find that, in a funny kind of way, drawing makes us feel better about things.

The two of us outside the Bucchleugh Arms

The two of us outside the Bucchleugh Arms

Anyway, on one of those occasions while drawing and having a good old rant, we decided enough was enough. We were sick of feeling helpless amidst everything that was going on. We wanted to do something – even if it was only a very small thing – to make a positive difference. And we decided art could help us achieve that… and so the idea for Helena was born.

miniature cards range

The small change range. These use my miniature drawings which are reproduced actual size on the cards. I love drawing things small!

So, to get back to introductions:  Helena Handcart is a greetings card business that’s committed to doing some good. To that end, 50p of each and every card we sell is donated to grassroots charities devoted to causes close to our hearts. Sus and I design the cards, and they’re printed by a lovely company called Six Print who support the Woodland Trust project and use only carbon captured papers for the production of their greetings cards.

Alll together now range

Some of our ‘All together now’ range of cards by Sus, pictured in front of the forth bridge where Sus lives!

We have two partner charities at the moment who are the fabulous Starcatchers who focus on improving the lives of the under fives through creative experiences, and Crisis Classroom who believe in empowerment through education of all refugees. Because they’re grassroots organisations, even tiny donations can make a difference to people’s lives and we’re thrilled that every time anyone buys one of our cards, we’re able to do just that.

I’d love you to visit our Etsy shop and take a look at all our cards. We’re working on more designs right now so the range will soon be expanded. In the future, I even hope to illustrate some of my limericks for cards – that should be fun!

Right, that’s the introductions over I think! You can find Helena Handcart on FacebookInstagram and Twitter – do pop over and say hi if you can. Or, as Helena would say:

“Buy a card. Send love. Make good things happen.”

xxx

 

 

book launch!

It’s funny the twists and turns life takes. When I began this blog a few years ago it was with the dream of becoming a published author, yet this weekend when I finally found myself holding a novel bearing my name, it was as an illustrator!inside cover

As you can see in the photo, the book is The Mystery of The Disappearing Underpants by Nikki Young. It’s aimed at 8 – 11 year olds and centres on Harry, his best friend James and neighbour Stacey who form a spy club and spend their summer holidays solving mysteries. The premise immediately appealed to me because my brothers and I often pretended we were spies when we were kids and I loved the way the story started off light-hearted but ended up with a real mystery that’s genuinely exciting.

The book was released last week and on Saturday I went to the launch party! The journey down to Kent from up here in Northumberland was a bit of a trek – especially with a  two and a half hour train delay which led to me arriving rather more than fashionably late – but it was worth every moment. The launch was brilliant with pink fizz, book signing, cupcakes with my illustrations on them and conversations with some really lovely people. I’m so impressed with Nikki for all the hard work she’s put into the book and really happy to have been able to work with her to add that little extra something.

book launch

I left the launch full of optimism, cupcakes and bubbles and, as if that wasn’t enough, then went immediately to London and met my oldest friend for a meal. A night away by myself is a rare treat indeed – with no kids tea or bedtime to have to think about, I was so giddy I could barely find my way to the restaurant, but I got there in the end and we had a wonderful evening. I then went to check-in to my hotel, was told I’d had a free room upgrade and found myself with this view:

kings cross at night

Wow. It was a little louder and brighter than the moonlit fields of home but for the one night it was totally perfect! The next morning I had a leisurely breakfast (avocado and scrambled eggs on toast, freshly squeezed orange juice and not a child in sight – not my usual experience!) and then strolled off to meet my writing friends for lunch. And when I say ‘lunch’ I mean a six hour long food and drink fest where we utterly put the world to rights. Ah, bliss.

What I'm Writing meet up May 17

Finally, on the train home I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for years and had a really good catch up. It was the perfect end to my weekend way. I arrived home and was able to give my sons a copy of Nikki’s book each. My middle son was so excited he’s now cleared a shelf of his bookcase for “Books illustrated by Maddy Bennett (my mum)”. If that’s not a reason to keep on drawing in every spare moment, then I don’t know what is. I fully intend to make sure he ends up with some books written by me on that shelf too. One day.

You can find out more about The Mystery of the Disappearing underpants (and buy it!) here.

books illustrated by Maddy Bennett

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! :)

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.

Writing Bubble

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!

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. :)

Writing Bubble

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

Writing Bubble

 

*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!

 

how I illustrated my poem

I’ve got an illustrated limerick to share with you today which I created for yesterday’s #ShapeChallenge and today’s Prose for Thought. Instead of just pasting it in right now though, I thought I’d take you – visually as well as descriptively – through my creative process first. I find it helpful seeing how other people got from A to B when writing or drawing something so hopefully it will be interesting to at least some of you!

Ok, so I started with this:
mugshape This was yesterday’s #ShapeChallenge on Twitter and the idea is, you use the shape as inspiration for an illustration of some kind. Well, this just shouted ‘mug’ at me and I decided to go with that.

Then I remembered it was Prose for Thought today and that it would be nice to have a piece of poetry to share for that. I’ll write a limerick! I thought (no surprise there for regular readers!).

Hmmm… mug… mug of tea… right, what rhymes with tea? Bee, knee, see… three! Ooh, I’ve got three kids… right mother of three, cup of tea, ok I can work with that.

rough copy
This is the sheet of paper I figured out my design on. I wrote the limerick in my head and you can see it scribbled down the bottom. I then tried to work out how I wanted to illustrate it. As you can see, I thought about having the cup of tea centre stage (the red spot in the shape would become a cherry on the bun in that instance), with my face behind or next to it. I also toyed with the idea of just having a hand reaching for the tea with a speech bubble. Then I had a go at a little scene where I could be seen relaxing with my tea with my three boys (creating mayhem) around me.

Ultimately, I decided to go for the last idea (though I decided against having a son swinging from the light fitting! In fact, looking at the sketch now, I appear to have five sons…).

mug of teaThis is what I posted on Twitter for #ShapeChallenge yesterday (the idea is you share what you draw).

This morning I went back and tweaked it a bit – my youngest son (playing with trains) was too big, there was something badly wrong with this arms in the picture and he kind of looked like he was rolling off the coffee table.  I also tried to make my eldest son (doing the handstand) look like he had a slightly less broken neck, and I faffed around with my middle son’s face and arms. That lead to:

mug of tea2small
At this point I thought, I wonder what it would look like in colour? And got out my pencil crayons:

mug of tea colour Oh, um, that looks a bit rubbish. Definitely better in pencil…

But how about if I tried felt tips? (I’ve recently bought some posh Faber-Castell ones which I love using.)

So I grabbed them, outlined the whole picture with fine black marker and then coloured  it in. I also used white pen for a few highlights. Here’s the final picture:

 

mug of tea colour pens I think I might prefer the pencil version actually, but it was fun to try adding colour and thankfully, because I scanned it in first, I still have the earlier version even though the ‘hard copy’ now has ink on it.

There you have it. I’d love to know your thoughts!

Prose for Thought