Tag Archives: illustration

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!

Writing Bubble


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.

Writing Bubble

on sticking to decisions (mostly, kind of)

Last week I made some big decisions to do with blogging (and writing, drawing, parenting and life in general, really), one of which was to only blog once a week. My plan for my post this week was to finally get round to summarising what I learned from the London Book Fair back in April. But now I’m tired and my notes from the day are in disarray (and if I’m honest I can’t really be arsed) so that’s going to have to wait a week or two. I think, instead, I’ll just write about what sort of week I’ve had trying to stick to last week’s decisions. So grab some tea/chocolate/beer/toast (depending on time and taste) and I’ll treat (!) you to another mind splurge. Ready?

flying pig

Sticking to my decisions – pigs might fly?

Right, one thing I can say is that my ‘one post a week’ plan, along with the ‘no linkies’ move, has made a huge difference. I only spent one evening last week on blog commenting (with a few other comments here and there) rather than four, leaving me with SO MUCH extra time for doing other stuff – what a relief!

Also, knowing I’m only going to write one post has removed all the superfluous, ‘oh I could write about this… and that and, ooh THIS’ thoughts from my mind so I’ve felt less overloaded. I do feel slightly removed from the blogging community without the linkies but all my blogging friends have been so lovely and supportive (you guys totally rock) and I know it’s the right move so I can’t really regret it.

I’m also pleased with my decision to not pressure myself to write for a while. Funnily enough, having more breathing space has given me more thinking space and thus new ideas, and I’m brewing a new idea for a novel… so maybe I’ll write something this month after all. But, in general, not constantly thinking ‘I SHOULD be writing! What am I doing?!’ is another relief.

Instead of blogging and writing, my aim this month was to focus on my illustration course, and I made a plan to draw every day – and I have! I set myself a new creative challenge (another one!) called #GuessTheFilm where I’m working my way through the alphabet, drawing a picture a day to represent a different film starting with that letter. I’m really loving doing it. I’ve been posting the results on Twitter and Instagram which, as I’ve said before, I find a really useful way of defeating the self-doubt. Here are my first few drawings:


I have to admit, I’ve not got much further forward with my actual illustration coursework (I’m trying to do an assignment at the moment) but I figure all and any drawing is taking me in the right direction so I’m not sweating over that particular detail at the moment.

The other intended use for my free time was reading – I decided I would read one book a fortnight for the rest of the year (which shouldn’t be a stretch really). This week I’ve read most of the soon-to-be-published Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith, which I’m thoroughly enjoying and will be reviewing shortly. I’m also champing at the bit to read Claire North’s latest book (I had ALL the love for her first novel, and enjoyed her second too), and Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet’ (about introverts) so things are chugging along nicely there.

And I’ve been pretty sociable this last week! That’s another excellent side effect of feeling less pressured to blog – extra time for the lovely people in my life. My friends are really important to me so they’re always a big priority anyway, but today I had a bit of child-free time and spent it on a huge ramble through the fields with a friend rather than hunched over my computer banging out a blog post as I would have done previously. Much better for the soul.

drawing in a pub

Another bit of friend time – drawing in the pub with my best mate while putting the world to rights.

So that’s all good.

Where I am utterly failing though is with my social media goal. Half an hour a day in the evening, I said. Hahahahhahahhahaha. I mean, just hahahhahahahha! Spectacular fail there. One problem is that I’ve rediscovered my social media apps on my phone. “Oh, but I thought you said you deleted them” I hear you say. Well yes, so did I, but apparently I didn’t (think it’s some kind of app witchery – they don’t want to be deleted) and now I’ve found them. They’re not quite so easy to access but still, with a few simple swipes I can check FB and Twitter again. Bollocks. Actually, it’s not really FB that’s got my attention it’s Twitter and Instagram because I’ve been putting my #GuessTheFilm pics there so it’s totally justified…

Oh, except it’s not because I keep catching myself looking at my flipping phone when I should be interacting with my kids. Since that was the first and most important decision I made last week I’m going to have to give myself a hearty telling off for that one.

But I’m not losing faith in myself yet – I’m just going to have to try again, and not post any drawings (or photos) till the evening this week. It must be doable. I mean it’s only social media – what’s so great about that?! I don’t really need the constant input and affirmation. *twitches and dribbles at thought of life without constant input and affirmation*. I can but try.

So that’s me at the moment. I think I’m going to grab a beer and draw a picture now. :)

Writing Bubble

furious bird

I’m doing an illustration course at the moment and as part of that I’ve been drawing every day. This has usually taken the form of a #ShapeChallenge where I’ve used a specific shape posted on Twitter to inspire a drawing.

furious bird

Furious Bird. You can see (my badly executed version of ) the shape that inspired it, at the bottom of the picture.

Sometimes I’ve found that inspiration takes me a step further and the drawing then prompts me to write something. In the case of ‘furious bird’ it was a limerick:

There once was a furious bird
Whose anger was easily stirred
From morning ’till night
He would squark, shout and fight
‘Till he dropped dead of stress (so I heard).

I’m normally one for happy endings but frankly, furious bird kinda had it coming. I didn’t like him very much. I get the feeling he was berating people for not being just like him. (Hmm, it’s possible furious bird has a story beyond the scope of this limerick!)

Feel free to supply an alternative ending if you think furious bird deserves rehabilitation. Perhaps he’s just misunderstood? #savefuriousbird ;)

Prose for Thought

dead salmon, iced buns, great films and a car crash

I’m not sure I’ve got much writing news to report for this week’s ‘What I’m Writing’ post so I’ll do a ‘catch up on general life’ post instead. Here are the highlights (or most newsworthy moments… ) of my week:

  • I’ve officially started my illustration course now, and was very happy to find that the first section is all about practicing drawing objects and building up skills which is basically what I’ve been doing for the past month with #ShapeChallenge anyway! I’m still drawing a picture for that every day (which takes up a surprising amount of time – about an hour I think to draw, scan, tweet and look at everyone else’s drawings) and have now started to work specific aspects of the course into my pictures too. I really love it.

geraldine the elephant

  • Paint has been on my mind a lot this week – I’ve been obsessing about colours as I want to redecorate our hall. I keep flinging out suggestions like ‘orange’, ‘bright blue’ or ‘lime green’ while my husband says “Why not just paint it ‘wall coloured’?” (i.e beige). Luckily he’s happy to let me make the decision, but I still can’t make up my mind. We have spent a lot of time laughing at Farrow & Ball paint colour names – ‘Dead Salmon’ (sounds smelly), ‘Churlish Green’ (presumably sneers insults at you as you pass) and Mole’s Breath (an earthy, whiskery shade perhaps, with a hint of pink paw?). Never underestimate the amount of time you can spend gazing at a wall and painting lining paper with different sample colours. And texting and tweeting your friends with pictures of paint samples. And saying “Blue or green… or pink? WHAT DO YOU THINK?!” to anyone who enters your home. Sigh. No wonder I’ve not got more done.
  • Half term started with a teacher training day last Friday so I’ve been spending a lot of time with the kids. Their new favourite thing is baking. At 8.30 in the morning last Friday they announced “Let’s have a bake off!” and set about baking buns and chocolate biscuits – I wasn’t even allowed to help!

    boys baking

    Yes, I let them loose with the electric whisk!

  • I saw Deadpool at the cinema on Friday – go and see it, it’s fantastic! An unconventional superhero film. Very funny indeed. I went with a friend who booked us huge sofa-type ‘free nacho and chocolate’ seats, so that was awesome too!
  • I also went to see ‘Room’ (I know, two cinema trips in one week!) which was also very good. Put me through the emotional wringer though. Take tissues – I had tears pouring down my cheeks and into my popcorn.
  • I crashed our car into a wall on Saturday – erk. We’re all fine (as you might have guessed by how far down it comes in the list) but it was very scary. Basically, icy conditions on the hill we live on meant the brakes had no effect at all and we hurtled towards a hairpin bend! I managed to get mostly round the bend but only by scraping a large chunk off the bottom of our car on a tumbled-down wall. My eight year old said “Argh! We flew through the air!”, my six year old, “I know a new swear word now, Mummy!” (I thought I was very restrained – I only said ‘shit’!) while my youngest (nearly three) was very pragmatic and announced: “Let’s tell Daddy we had a car crash!”

It’s been a pretty busy week now I come to think of it which explains why I haven’t got much writing done. Still, this blog post is writing isn’t it? Of a sort. More soon. :)

Writing Bubble

a teeny-tiny tale

It’s Valentine’s day this Sunday so I thought I’d share this miniature love story:

penguin valentine story

This was inspired by #ShapeChallenge on Twitter (you can see the original shape in the bottom corner of the picture). I’ve been doing a drawing every day for the last three weeks and I’m definitely finding the daily creative practice is doing me good. (I may be a little obsessed!)

Prose for Thought
Post Comment Love

when Twitter is awesome

I’ve mentioned #ShapeChallenge in a few recent posts – it’s a creative challenge on Twitter that my boys and I have all been taking part in. Author Sarah McIntyre posts a shape (a black outline with a red dot in it) every week day and lots of people (adults, kids, professional artists, people ‘just giving it a whirl’… ) draw something based on it and then tweet their work. Sarah doesn’t post a shape at the weekends though, instead she asks someone else to draw and post a shape for everyone to use. Very excitingly, this weekend my older two boys (8 and 6) were invited to do it!

alexander's shape

Shape designed by my 6yo

JB shape

Shape designed by my 8yo








It was fantastic! I let them both have (supervised) access to my Twitter account and when people began to post pictures based on their shapes my boys replied to them. It was so lovely to see them engaging with a creative community in this way, and people were so responsive and kind. Some even drew pictures with the boys in mind, like Dark Derek who turned my eight-year-old’s shape into a Star Wars B1 battle droid!

The boys did tweet some responses that made me giggle a bit, like ‘you have pro skills!’ from my eight-year-old to a professional illustrator, or ‘keep up the good work!’ from my six-year-old to an artist six times his age, but everyone took them in the way they were intended. People were so warm and thanked my sons for the shapes and complimented them on their own drawings.

bowtie mandoodlesaurgoblin man

It’s been such a positive experience for them – my eight-year-old in particular has been bouncing off the walls most of the weekend saying “It’s amazing what people are doing with our shapes!” He says he feels really proud of himself and that he thought he wasn’t any good at art but now he thinks he must be because ‘proper artists’ have said nice things about his work. It’s given him a real confidence boost. My six-year-old’s class at school is also going to be using his shape in their next art class too! I’m so thrilled that both boys have been able to have an experience like this – I feel like it’s benefitted them in all sorts of ways.

Hooray for creativity – may it weave its magic through your lives too. :)

racing cars

By my eight-year-old. The original shape was that of the green car.

Writing Bubble

Little Hearts, Big Love

Gerald the octopus

In my last post I wrote about how much I’ve loved taking part in #ShapeChallenge on Twitter. I’ve also been wondering about how to make sure I continue to find time for writing when time itself is thin on the ground. Then, inspired by a comment on my last post, I had an idea – I’d take one of my drawings and write a story to go with it! So, here is the story of Gerald the Octopus. geraldGerald was a young octopus with lovely orange skin and a rather large nose. He knew he had a large nose because all the other octopuses would tell him so:

“Big, nose, big nose!” The girls would call, swimming past him in the school yard.

“Ha ha Gerald, you’ll never get a girlfriend with that great honk!” The boys taunted.

Gerald was sad. He wished he had a small, smooth nose like the other octopuses. He tried poking his nose inwards into the soft flesh of his face… but it just boinged out again. He tried covering it with selection of seaweed scarves… but the others teased him even more. He tried hiding behind his tentacles… but, “Gerald! Get your suckers away from your face and get on with your work!” his teacher would cry.

It was no use:

“Big nose, Big nose”

“You’ll never get a girlfriend!”

The taunts continued.

As a teenager things only got worse for poor Gerald. His peers grew larger and leaner but Gerald didn’t seem to grow at all. Except for his nose!

“Big nose, Big nose!”

“…never get a girlfriend!”

Gerald just never fitted in.

Finally, he left school and swam off into the big, wide ocean. There Gerald thrived. He explored, he made new friends and he grew and grew.
His tentacles grew…
his body grew…
and he grew the most beautiful, long floaty moustache.

Everyone loved Gerald’s moustache. It was exceedingly fine and perfectly complemented his face.

No one ever called Gerald “Big nose!” any more.

No one ever taunted, “You’ll never get a girlfriend.”

One day he was visiting his parents back in his old reef: “Your favourite band is playing in the rock pool tonight” said his Dad, “You should go!”

Gerald thought about it. He wanted to see the band but he knew lots of the octopuses from his old school would be there. Could he really face them?

Big nose, big nose…

Never get a girlfriend…

The taunts flitted across his memory.

No – he wasn’t going to let them beat him. He was going to go and see the band. Besides which, he had nothing to be scared of. He was bigger now and had his exceedingly fine moustache.

Gerald swam in just before the band began to play. There was whispering and nudging. All eyes turned to gaze at the handsome octopus with the long moustache floating along in the water behind him. Gerald smiled. His moustache rippled ravishingly.

“Is that…?

“Could it be…?!”

“It’s… Gerald!”

“But he’s… gorgeous!!”

The girls flocked towards him.

Gerald swam straight past them… right up to the handsome pufferfish on the front row. He beamed at his new companion who beamed right back.

What those fools never realised, Gerald thought, slipping a tentacle around Matthew’s welcoming fin, was I never wanted a GIRLfriend anyway.


It sort of came out as a children’s story (there are parts when I could imagine one line to a page with an illustration as I think that’s just how my brain works at the moment) although I think some of the ‘ravishing ripples’ are aimed more at an adult audience. Still, a good moral for all, I think. What do you reckon?

Linking with What I’m Writing, Prose for Thought and also with The Prompt which this week is ‘milestone’. It feels like a milestone to illustrate my own story, even if it’s not an ‘illustration’ so much as a ‘drawing’, but, well, you know what I mean!

Writing Bubble



creativity and inspiration

You know that feeling when you start a new relationship and everything is exciting and fizzes and crackles and you can’t wait to spend time with that other person and you think about them all the time and keep smiling to yourself and feeling a little giddy? That’s how I’ve felt this past week. Only it’s not a new man (phew!) it’s a new creative avenue. I’m mad for drawing.

It all began with Twitter. Well, Twitter, and a chat with a really good friend.  You see, I was nervous about this illustration course I’d signed up to do and I thought I might procrastinate my way out of beginning it even before the course materials had arrived so, with the encouragement of this kick-ass friend of mine, I decided to throw myself in at the deep end and join in with an artistic project on Twitter.

A bit like how I felt about doing an illustration course!

A bit like how I felt about doing an illustration course!

It’s called #ShapeChallenge and is run by author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre (I love her books!). Every week day she tweets a shape and encourages anyone – people of all ages and abilities – to draw/paint/create something based on it. Everyone then tweets their creations and ‘likes’ and comments on each others pictures. It’s FAB.

I’ve joined in every day for the past week and, even better, my sons have joined in too! My older two love doing it and even their little brother sits beside them and earnestly scribbles on a piece of paper. I’ve loved watching how their brains interpret the shape and the different things they’ve come up with. It’s felt like such a positive thing to do together.


Owl – by my six-year-old. The original shape was one of the wings.


‘The diver’ by my eight-year-old. The original shape made me think of a hat but this is much better!

The other people who’ve been taking part in Shape Challenge have all been so lovely and welcoming too. There are lots of ‘proper’ illustrators who do it but also plenty of children and people who just enjoy drawing. After I post our pictures for the day I always go through the feed and look at what everyone else has created – it’s hugely inspiring! Honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit high on it all!

I’ve also found the idea of drawing something and tweeting it immediately, really liberating. I think I could spend ages on a drawing and decide it’s no good but somehow, the process of this challenge – having the shape to work with and then the community to tweet it to – has allowed me to overcome the fear and doubt and just go for it. It’s also inspired me – just looking at a blank piece of paper can be intimidating, but put a little white shape (with a red dot in it) there instead and it’s amazing what your brain comes up with. I’m pretty sure that even in the space of a week, my ability has improved. I mean, ok, I’m not producing great works of art but I’ve surprised myself with how not-totally-shit it is.

howard the monster

The original shape is in the bottom corner. It took my boys a while to spot the shape in the drawing!

Even better, it’s filling me with more ideas for writing too, and making me think about ways of overcoming procrastination and blocks there. I set myself a writing challenge last week where I hoped to harness this same idea of doing something quickly and throwing it out there. Just like with drawing, it took away the stress and was really fun. I’m going to do more.

I know this is a very image-heavy post but I just want to add one final picture – in celebration of unusual plumage everywhere and because all stories need to be told. :)

Maud's unsual plumage

Be like Maud.

Writing Bubble

my big, new, (not so) secret project

As my regular readers know, I’ve put a lot of time into my writing these past few years. The whole point of this blog was to chart my journey into this brave new world and hopefully meet some lovely people on the way – which I have!
path into a book

When I began, I wasn’t sure which direction my writing was going to take me and, in fact, it’s taken me in all sorts of different ones – I’ve written poetry, short stories and flash fiction all while working on a novel (or two). But what’s gripped me most has been writing my limericks, which I plan on having illustrated and self-publishing, and my picture books, two of which are currently out with agents.  With limited time at my disposal, they (and this blog) have been my focus.

The fact that both of these either need or benefit from illustrations means I’ve spent a lot of time looking into illustrative styles and wondering who I might like to work with. I’ve also thought a lot about what pictures could go with my stories and poems and how images could complement words. And through it all I’ve found myself saying repeatedly ‘I can see pictures in my head but I couldn’t possibly draw them myself’. It almost became a mantra – this admission of one ability alongside a simultaneous dismissal of the possibility of another.

This, despite the fact that I’ve always loved art – it was my favourite subject at school (well, that and creative writing). I took Art GCSE and, although I was guided away from it after that by the school’s careers adviser (bright kids had to study ‘proper’ A levels you see… don’t get me started!), I returned to it in my mid-twenties and did a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design. I can’t think about that year without smiling – I LOVED it! I specialised in textiles and ended up setting up my own business designing and making handbags. Then other things happened, including a recession and having kids and, to cut a long story short, I no longer do anything arty at all. Bar the odd picture on this blog, all my creative energy is poured into my writing.

But then over Christmas an idea popped into my head. Why not return to visual art? Why not study illustration? I mean, imagine if I could learn to illustrate my own work?! A whole life of unbridled bliss rolled itself out in my mind – one where I could spend time gazing out of a window thinking up beautiful stories to spill over a page, and then cosy up in my rustic studio surrounded by paints and pencils to bring those stories to life with pictures. I could eat toast and marmite looking wistful with a smear of turquoise ink across my cheek, do the school run with a notepad tucked in the back of my paint-splattered jeans. My children would be surrounded by stories and art and we would all live a life of unending creativity and imagination… ahhhh…

And then I got real.

And the doubts set in.

What on earth am I thinking? I don’t have the ability, I’m setting myself up to fail, what makes me think I could possibly make a success of being an illustrator? Surely anyone else would be better at illustrating my work than I am? How can I find time to write AND draw when I can hardly find time just to write? Who am I kidding?!

I almost talked myself out of it. But not quite. Because I have this really strong feeling that if I don’t give it a go, I’ll regret it. I feel like I’ve been trying to tell myself something by (accidentally) focusing on writing that goes hand in hand with drawing. It’s like I’ve been leading myself somewhere and I’ve only just taken the blindfold off and seen what’s always been there.

I’m not deluded though – I know that regardless of how things go, my life won’t be just like the one I imagined above. I don’t have a rustic studio for a start, nor do I have much time for window gazing and anyway, any success involves knuckling down to do the hard graft rather than looking wistfully paint-splattered. But it’s good to have a dream!

Who knows if I will be any good? Who knows if I’ll even be able to illustrate anything at all? Perhaps my dream will collapse like a bad soufflé. It scares me (really quite a bit actually).

But I’m willing to give it a go. So I’ve signed up to an illustration course – a distance learning one that I can do at my own pace (within limits) which I think is the most realistic way of juggling it with my other commitments and passions (I have no intention at all of giving up writing!). It feels like the first step on a new path – a twisty, turny path I suspect, for which I haven’t got a map or a compass. But I do have a sturdy backpack with some sandwiches and a flask of hot chocolate. And I’m kind of hoping that, through this blog, some of you will be able to be my companions along the way.


I’m linking this post up with ‘The Prompt’ at Mum Turned Mom. The word this week is ‘paint’ – I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw it and thought it had to be ‘a sign’ (I don’t believe in signs but still, I needed something to make me take action rather than just continue mulling the idea over…)


Writing Bubble