Blossom Trees

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There are so many blossom trees in Clapham. I think nearly every street has at least one but most boast an impressive collection. There’s a variety of sizes, shapes and colours and for the next few weeks of Spring we’ll be able to enjoy them all. Soft pinks, vanillas, whites and creams with little specks of green leaves. They contrast against their dark branches and light up when viewed against a bright Spring sky. At night, they loom out of the dark like Christmas decorations that haven’t been taken down yet.

Sometimes I find that painting or drawing things that are naturally very pretty to begin with, such as flowers, can produce results that are a bit twee and boring. I made a quick Google search to see if I could find some blossom inspired artwork that managed to avoid this.

Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Almond Blossom’ (1890, shown below) are beautiful but still have a wildness to them. The branches are crooked and spiky. The flowers are delicate but they belong in nature, not to be put in a vase on a mantelpiece.

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I’m not overly familiar with the work of husband-and-wife illustration team Kozyndan but their bunny themed work is super popular and hard to miss. In Bunny Blossoms (2005, shown below), instead of flowers, tiny pink rabbits bloom from the branches. Apart from the fact that they are HELLA cute, they bring something unexpected and humorous to the piece which references traditional Japanese blossom artwork.

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Hanami, which translates as ‘flower viewing’, is the Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers (thanks Wikipedia!). From March to May the Sakura trees blossom all over Japan and people celebrate with outdoor parties, sometimes decorating the trees with paper lanterns.

‘Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami’ by Toyohara Chikanobu translates as ‘Cherry Blossoms Party at the Chiyoda Palace’ (1894, shown below). I love the elaborate clothes and bright splashes of red. You really get the sense that the people are enjoying playing underneath the blossom.

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I made some experiments myself working from photos I took of the Clapham Hanami. I’m quite pleased with the results. I think it was a useful exercise, choosing to sketch something that I was unsure of and finding ways to tackle it to create drawings I was happy with. Wherever you are, I hope that you get to enjoy some blossom trees this Spring too!

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Bunny Blossoms by Kozyndan used in appreciation without permission
Almond Blossom by Vincent Van Gogh provided by the Van Gogh Museum
Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami by Toyohara Chikanobu via Wikipedia
All other photographs and sketches are my own.

Kraken Rum

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Rum is my favourite party drink and I was very happy to receive a bottle of Kraken as a Christmas present. Apart from being a fantastic companion to chilly nights and bad TV, I’ve been getting so much from just looking at the bottle design.

A ‘Kraken’ is of course a legendary sea beast, a giant squid famous for terrorising pirate ships. Catching them in its tangle of tentacles before pulling them down to the murky depths.


It is captured on my bottle doing just that. The illustration style is reminiscent of Victorian etchings. Inky cross-hatching that sinks into the parchment label. The etched look seems to be consistently popular today, with talented artists like Dan Hillier updating it to create weird and wonderful works (see below). There’s something so pleasing about this style of illustration that seems to instantly fire up the imagination and hint at the curious.

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The shape of the bottle is unusual and according to the Kraken wikipedia page, is styled after traditional Victorian rum bottles. These featured two, hoop handles allowing the bottles to be hung and help prevent breakages.

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The colour palette is simple and bold. The velvety black of the illustration contrasts against the cream of the label and both flatter the rich brown of the spirit. Little accents of silver around the logo mark add shine. A tiny, etched, silver kraken guards the bottle top, sealing the doom of any sailor (or casual drinker) that dares to try a measure.

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Dan Hillier Illustration shown without permission of the artist. All other photographs are my own, Kraken video borrowed from Youtube.

Stylish Beings

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I set myself an exercise to draw every pin on my Pinterest board ‘Stylish Beings’. This is a board where I’ve been pinning people I think are particularly cool, glam or fascinating. So far it has about 200 pins and I thought it would be good drawing practice to have a crack at sketching each and every one.

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I’m forcing myself not to get too precious about it…so far I’ve drawn 39 and it’s safe to say that a good number of those will never see the light of day, but the more I draw the more i’m creating drawings that i’m really happy with and enjoying playing about with media and style. If I do a bad one, I drop it and move on to the next.

Capturing the likenesses is something I want to work on too, but hopefully by the time I get to pin #200 that will start to improve! Here’s a little selection of some of my faves so far:

 

Paul Nash, Monster Field

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‘There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed.’ —Paul Nash, Outline, 1949

I went to see the Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate Britain. It was an overwhelming show. A huge collection of his works including watercolours, engravings, large oil paintings, collages, illustrations and poetry from his varied career. I wasn’t overly familiar with his work before attending, though I’d perhaps seen a few of his more famous surrealist paintings.

I didn’t know that he was a war artist in both World Wars. That he began his career as an illustrator. That he took a major role in organising the International Surrealist Exhibition in London 1936. I’m very keen to get my hands on his autobiography and learn more about him, but for now I wanted to share a couple of the pieces from the show that chimed with me.

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Nash felt a strong connection to certain places. In 1938 he discovered ‘Monster Field’ a place where large fallen trees seemed to him to resemble beast-like creatures. He enjoyed returning there, though in a letter from the time he wrote that he had trouble remembering exactly how to find it. It seems to me he enjoyed the atmosphere of this field and those tree-creatures. They inspired him and he documented them in photos and a series of paintings. The branches reach out like tentacles and jagged shards of bark look like teeth.

I can relate to Nash’s Monster Field, some places have something very evocative about them. I have my own spots that can make me feel blissfully happy and serene, others that creep me up or that I feel strangely tied to though I can’t always explain why.

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The other piece I particularly enjoyed ‘Swanage’ (1936) is a collage composed of photographs from Nash’s collection of found objects. Along with his fellow artist and friend Eileen Agar, they would place unusual objects together to create new and surreal encounters between them. Which they would then photograph, draw and paint. I love the muted colours in this piece. The shapes and forms, shadows and details that create an alien landscape.

Swanage c.1936 by Paul Nash 1889-1946
The Paul Nash exhibition is running at the Tate Britain from 26th October – 5th March
Tickets approx £15

Colour Studies

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Here are a couple of little colour studies I’ve made as part of my research kick off for my next project with The Drawn Chorus. Super excited to be collaborating with them again! I call these colour studies…though I’m not sure if that is the technical term for them. The idea was to quickly and freely get down a range of colours and compositions to help me loosen up and get inspired around their exhibition theme. The first is a still from a Tomb Raider game, the second a campfire on a snowy mountain. More on that in the coming months!

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Lettering

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I’ve started reading ‘Pen Lettering’ by calligrapher Ann Camp with a view to improving my understanding of letter forms and (hopefully) upping my skills when it comes to wielding them.

Through my various stints of creative education and now working as a freelance designer, I’ve picked up basic knowledge and skills for lettering and typography. I can comfortably choose typefaces and lay out text in a pleasing way, but often when I attempt to hand-draw letters, I can come unstuck. So I decide it was time for a booster.

The first few pages of Ann Camp’s 1958 introduction to lettering were illuminating. She explains concepts such as the spacing between letters, teaching that this should not be worked out mechanically because of their varying shapes. For example, letters made of upright strokes should have more spacing between them than letters made of curved strokes, which should sit closer together. The aim being to keep the white spacing between letters optically proportionate at all times.  Whilst I have always aimed for good spacing in my designs, I have never really learned about the theory or logic behind it.

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…After the first few pages, she introduces some exercises, and that’s when things got HARD! I had to re-read her task explanation at least 5 times and apply a tonne of brainpower before I could properly get to work. In steps reminiscent of the ‘How to Draw an Owl’ meme (see below), she asks you to essentially rule out lines and copy the skeleton alphabet.

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I’ve persevered. So far just practicing the lower case, the next step is upper case and then using both cases to form some words. The skeleton alphabet helps beginners to understand the basic form and characteristics of letters, before moving on to more complex stuff.

A sneaky peak ahead has shown me that the next exercise involves double bound pencils and what looks like first steps of calligraphy, so i’m keen to get there. I find it can be difficult to keep up self initiated challenges such as this one, where the results aren’t always instantaneous or glamorous. But I’ll stick with it for now and see where it takes me!