Painting, Sewing, Work In Progress

Repeating Myself

Blackberry-Underlayer-2

Lately I’veΒ become obsessed with sewing, and textiles, and patterns, and this obsession has meant I’ve finally got around to trying somethingΒ I’ve been meaning to have a go at for a long time: designing repeating patterns. I am constantly inspired by colours and textures and over the years many people have suggested my style would lend itself to creating fabric designs. I don’t quite know why it’s taken me so long to have a stab at it, because it’s so much fun!

I used the blackberries I painted last week, and followed Julia Rothman’s exquisitely simple and easy-to-follow tutorial on Design Sponge (though I worked digitally, rather than cutting up my painting with scissors!)

Blackberry

I began by setting up the repeat, then I tried adding an ink wash background (which I’d painted separately). I like the result, but somehow I find it looks…tableclothy? Is that just me?

Blackberry Repeat

Blackberry-Green

So I got to wondering about what it might be that makes a print look like something you’d dress your dinner table with rather than yourself, and kept experimenting. I tried altering the colour of the background but it didn’t especially help. I started to see some improvement when I added more layers of brambles below the surface. The addition of depth, I think, must be part of the answer to my question.

Blackberry-Underlayer-1 Blackberry-Underlayer-2

Hours later, I’m still siting here twiddling with layers and colours, not to mention imagining one hundred more designs I might try. I’ve heard several designers mention that this process is addictive, and I begin to see what they mean. I definitely want to try more, play more, learn more.

And eventually I will bite the bullet and order a swatch from Spoonflower…

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.

Comics, Drawing, Work In Progress

Collaborating

did it really happen?

Lately most of my working time has been filled with a fabulous collaborative project, The Courage To Be Me, by Nina Burrowes. It’s an illustrated story of self-compassion and hope after rape and sexual abuse, inspired by a research project following five women in group therapy. Each chapter follows one of the (fictional) women through part of her journey towards rebuilding her life, and these stories build upon each other throughout the book. Each chapter is illustrated by a different artist: Jade Sarson, Nina herself, Alex Bertram-Powell and me. The first three chapters are available to read online already, beginning here. Mine is the last and will be available soon (when I’ve finished drawing all the trees…).

tctbm pages

Naturally this project is very close to my heart because I see something of my own experience in each of the characters in the story. But it’s been especially fascinating to see the book evolve through the eyes and skilful pens of a team of artists with different interpretations, guided by Nina’s vision. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but for the women in the story something transformative happens through the work they do as a group. The work Nina, Jade, Alex and I have done as a group has also been transformative for me, and through these fictional women I’ve found so much more compassion for my own experience. This, of course, is what Nina is hoping to achieve, and I feel confident that this story will be helpful to many. I’m excited to see the whole thing complete!

Work In Progress, Zines

Zine Chaos

Green Bean pages

I love the feeling of finishing a new zine for print. My desk is left strewn with papers: not blank ones, or pages of barely decipherable notes as usual, but of finished drawings. It’s very satisfying, especially if it’s been more than six months since I last finished one! Sometimes the theme of a Green Bean is all set before I make the first mark. Sometimes I just have a vague idea and the rest unfolds as I draw. This issue was definitely one of the latter.

Almost six months ago I moved from Bristol, my home for the preceding eleven years, to Devon. I knew I wanted to make a zine about that transition, and one of the reasons the zine took so long is because I don’t feel that transition happened fully until the last month or so. I was so caught up with travelling and promoting Lighter Than My Shadow and The Crystal Mirror, there was hardly any time for drawing, and even less for settling in to my new home.

But as I started to settle, drawings started to happen. Drawings of what I love about my new place, of what I miss about the old one. This new Green Bean has maps, comics and stories, as well as books reviews, a craft project and a recipe for macarons (oh yes). It’s at the printers now, and should be ready in the next week or so…