Drawing, Painting, Thoughts

Portfolio Pride

PORTFOLIO PRIDE

It’s taken me this long in my illustration career to realise that a portfolio is – needs to be – a constantly dynamic thing. Thankfully, we illustrators very rarely need to carry around neat black folders of printed work any more: everything is online, and this is a much easier format for change.

That said, I resist it. I was upset a few weeks ago when I deleted my website’s portfolio section by accident. I still have copies of all the work, but making the selections of what to include is always a challenge. I was gifted the opportunity to start over, which I might never have done, and it turns out my portfolio needed a massive clear out.

Hardraw ForceBowerbird 3Lost Mitten

So how did I pick what went in? I asked myself three questions:

Is it current?

I began by only looking at work from 2014 and 2015. Despite feeling like I’ve been ‘taking a break’ these last couple of years, I discovered I had created more than a portfolio’s worth of pieces that are strong, and reflect my current approaches (note the considerable delegation from team scratch board!). In the end, I did also choose one piece that was older to complemented my choices, but that’s all.

DoodlesAlasdair Roberts PosterThe Courage To Be Me

Am I proud of it?

Some people might advise against being so subjective, but I think it’s vital. It looked better as soon as I took out all of the piece I thought I should include, or that other people had like but I’d never felt so strongly about. I know sometimes feeling pride is challenging; we all have days when we feel nothing we’ve done lives up to our hopes (maybe try not to pick a portfolio on one of those days?). But I think we all also know what it feels like to be really chuffed with something. It felt good to pick only pieces like that.

More Than YarnWell WishesOh the potential!

Is it the kind of work I want to do?

There were some pieces that satisfied both of the above clauses, but that just didn’t quite fit. On analysis, these were all pieces created in coloured inks, and they were all very personal. I love this medium when working at my own pace, without pressure, when it doesn’t really matter if things don’t go to plan. But I feel nauseous at the thought of working in this medium for a client, therefore it does not belong my portfolio. What a relief!

A Comic for Jason MolinaGeorge

Finally, I think the best thing I can do for my portfolio is keep it dynamic. In the end I have chosen 12 pieces, which you can see here, and 3 comics, which you can see here. But my plan is that this selection will continue to change to reflect my most current work, both by adding and by taking away.

Crafting, Drawing, Knitting, Thoughts, Work In Progress

My Maker’s Year

Penguin in Progress

Knitting

In thinking about what to prioritise creatively for the year ahead, I’ve been particularly inspired by Kate of A Playful Day . Her project for 2016, The Maker’s Year, first caught my attention on instagram. Her goals include time to reflect on all aspects of daily making, and what I connected with especially was her phrase, “in a way the nourishes, not weighs down.”

This really strikes a chord with what I’ve really been grappling with personally for the last year or so. I chose my particular direction in life because I delight in making things, and yet so often I feel pressures and burdens that make it anything but fun. Most often, those pressures and burdens are self-induced.

One example of this is the idea I’ve held that I need to ‘be professional’, since my book Lighter Than My Shadow was published. You have no idea how much this nonsense has held me back. Another aspect of Kate’s Maker’s Year, which you can read about on her blog, is that it’s “not about driving further divisions between the words making, crafting or art but instead allowing a simple act of creativity the room to grow without hangup or uncertainty.” For me, that means not about sidelining certain aspects of my creativity because I’m worried they don’t fit. I’m seeking a sustainable way forward that feels more whole and honest, for my work’s sake and especially for my mental health.

Recovery is...

What does this mean in practical terms? Well let’s take knitting. I have knitted since I was about seven years old, but I really took to it about two years ago. In the aftermath of Lighter Than My Shadow’s publication, I relocated from Bristol, left my therapist of eight years and was not in a good place mental health wise. Knitting became a powerful resource in those months, and has remained so, but something else has also happened: I have become obsessed. I knit every day, I think about it almost constantly. When I visit a new city, it’s to the yarn shop I gravitate first, before the comic shop. I can no longer deny what an important part of my creative life this craft is becoming. Until now, I’ve held back on blogging about it because I’ve worried that it doesn’t ‘fit’ with my identity as an illustrator. But is that creative identity even appropriate any more?

Things I made in 2015

The more I think about the Maker’s Year, the more I relish the opportunity to acknowledge and respect these other aspects of creativity. Last year I learned to sew garments, a craft I’m really excited to explore more. I made toys, something that I featured often in early issues of The Green Bean but have not revisited since. I also learned how to tat lace, and how to weave. And what about the daily, small acts of creativity that are so easily taken for granted? The food I prepare, the decoration and care of our home? Why shouldn’t my blog also honour these things?

So thanks, Kate, for the wonderful idea and inspiration. I’m excited to explore what 2016 #themakersyear brings, and to learn from what it brings for others too.

 

 

Drawing

Self Portraiting

You probably haven’t noticed because, like most things I do these days, it is happening verrrrrrrrrrrrrry slowly, but I am in the process of updating my website. I realised that the most recent photo of myself on this site is from 2013, and the self-portrait I used as an avatar on most platforms was older still. I no longer look quite the same (!) and nor does my work. It’s time for a change.

self portrait 2015 progress

I reflected back on some older self-portraits when thinking about ideas. I like them to show not only what I look like, but be created in my favourite medium of the time. This one, from 2009, was painted in gouache and the collage elements added digitally. I really liked the postage stamp composition, and the presence of a cup of tea (true to life), so I decided to bring these into the new portrait (don’t you think I look a bit miserable though?).self portrait 2009

The portrait I’d been using most recently reflected the style of Lighter Than My Shadow, drawn in Micron pen with shading and texture added digitally. I suppose one could argue that Lighter Than My Shadow is itself one long self-portrait, and this one certainly looks like the ‘me’ at the end of the book. It includes glasses, but my hair has grown several inches since then!

self portrait 2013

More importantly, after drawing 500+ pages in this style I’m kind of sick of working this way and it hasn’t been part of my drawing practice for quite a while now. I’ve been playing with lots of different media recently, especially scratch board. So that’s what I chose for the new portrait.

Finally, of course, the new portrait needed to include the newest member of the family, whose presence is as important – if not more so! – than the perpetual cup of tea.

self portrait 2015

 

 

Drawing, Knitting, Thoughts, Work In Progress, Zines

Things Happening Slowly Around Here

Green Bean Progress 1

One of the things I’ve found odd about my work as an illustrator over the last few years is a need to be secret. If I’m working on a book, a comic for a magazine, or some other commission, it’s not always OK to share work in progress.

When I first started blogging, back in 2008 (alas, you won’t find evidence of it – I botched the transition from Blogger to WordPress and lost everything), one of the things that kept me doing it regularly was sharing every stage of every thing I was working on. I was also…how shall we put it? A little on the compulsive side. I blogged a lot. I didn’t sleep much.

Since then, I’ve slowed down for my health and sanity, but for the pleasure in my work as well. I’ve learned that over long periods of time, my creativity actually doesn’t respond well to me cracking the whip. I burn out. I stop having fun. It becomes a treadmill and a chore, and for a career path that’s also financially challenging, that makes no sense. It needs to bring me joy. So these days I’m trying to remember that and embrace a slower process, though it’s not always comfortable.

Green Bean Progress

The pages above are from a Green Bean issue that has been on and off my drawing board since February, weathering losses of confidence and direction and needing to be laid aside often for commissioned work. Sometimes I miss the days when I could confidently churn out a Green Bean every two months (heck, I did it every month in the first year. Madness!), but those days are gone.

Now, I regularly take breaks to sit with my knitting. Working a few rows has become a kind of daily practice that reminds me of the rewards of patience, and that the best part of any creative work is the process itself, not the end result.

Jumper In Progress

It was knitting, in fact, that helped me navigate my way back into drawing after my burn out. It began with drawing comics for Pom Pom Quarterly, the first of which was published in winter 2014. The latest, due in the winter 2015 issue, is what’s been absorbing most of my time for the last two months. I remain obsessed with scratch board, again a significant factor in my exploration of working more slowly. Scratch board is about the most labour intensive medium there is. When I worked on Lighter Than My Shadow, I routinely drew 12 pages a week, at times up to 18. For this latest comic I scratched one. One gloriously absorbing, meditative, financially unsustainable but who-cares-because-I’m-hanging-out-with-the-dog-and-enjoying-making-art-again page a week.

Sadly I can’t show you much as it’s a secret until publication, but I’m chuffed with it. I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever drawn. Here’s a little peek…

Scratchboard for Pom Pom

Now that the Pom Pom comic is finished, that Green Bean, the one that’s been on and off the drawing board, will get some attention. I won’t finish it this week, perhaps not even this month. Who knows. What I do know is that it will be one of the most thoughtful and beautiful of all the Green Beans. And so will the one that follows it. All in good time.

By the way, that “I am doing a new thing” card, pictured at the top, was a design created especially for Green Bean subscribers, to explain what on earth has been going on and why they haven’t received a zine for so long. It was inspired by this embroidery, by talented lady and dear friend, Mollie Johanson.