The Woods are Dark and Dangerous

owlstation illustration_the woods are dark and dangerous_2020I’ve been making more time to play in my sketchbook lately and draw things just for fun. Little, one off experiments based on references or prompts that I find particularly enticing and exciting. Raiding my Pinterest boards for images that have inspired me and then getting my art materials out to see what feels right.

Whilst not all of these experiments result in images I’m pleased with (aka ready to share on Instagram!) they’ve definitely been helping me develop my illustration skills and learn more about the mediums I work with. I was pleased with how this Crayola and pencil study turned out though…I added the owl separately after finishing the woodland background, sticking him on top collage style. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of typography underneath to encourage the story that was forming in my head!

Prospect Cottage Saved!

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I’m so glad to hear that Prospect Cottage, the former home of British filmmaker, artist and activist Derek Jarman has been saved by an arts crowdfunding campaign! The striking cottage and garden sit nestled in the shingle of Dungeness, a vast beachy headland known for its eerie power station and stark, windswept beauty.

The cottage, which was under threat of private acquisition, will now be preserved and maintained for future visitors, along with its unique pebble garden. The proceeds will help to fund a permanent public programme set to include residencies for artists, academics, writers, filmmakers and gardeners according to this Guardian article.

Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage

We paid a visit back in 2019 and I would highly recommend adding it to your ‘To Visit’ list for when the Pandemic is over and quarantine is lifted. Ghostly fishing boats and seemingly abandoned structures pepper the horizon. Tough, hardy plants grow up through the stones. Climbing the many steps of the light house will reward you with spectacular views of the sci fi-esque power station to one side and the roaring sea to the other. Here’s a couple of my snaps and a little lighthouse sketch from our visit.

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First two images used here without permission, all other images are my own.

 

Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington

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I’ve just finished reading Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington. Aside from having a gorgeously illustrated cover featuring a magical barn owl and a shower of gold foil sparks…it’s also a rich and soothing read!

I’m sometimes put off by nature books that can be a little dry and factual in their descriptions, but Miriam’s writing is full of life. Each chapter focusses on a different species of owl and her journey to viewing it in the wild. As the adventures unfold, she shares her in depth research into the habitats, biology, history and mysteries of each creature. At the start of each chapter we’re also treated to an illustration of the owl in question, including; Snowy, Barn, Tawny, Pygmy, Eagle Owls and more…

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Miriam explores our fascination with owls throughout history. She delves into folklore and literature where the owl is sometimes revered – but often times feared as a portent of death and doom. She perfectly conjures up images of dense forest and icy plains and weaves in her personal encounters with bird lovers and experts that she encounters on her quest.

But throughout, there is a steady respect for the wildness of the owl that I very much appreciated. Miriam reminds us that these magnificent creatures belong to nature. We shouldn’t make the mistake of cute-ifying them or imagining them as cuddly Potter-style pets. Nor does she shy away from climate change and how our actions as humans are endangering these precious birds. But even with its urgent messages and heavier thoughts, I found Owl Sense to be a calming book for the soul. And I loved learning more about some of my favourite animals!

Owl Sense jacket illustrations are by Talya Baldwin (owl) and Peter Fitzpatrick (tree).

 

Drawing Adventure: The Isle of Skye

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Gosh, so it’s been a little while since I posted (okay half a year!)…but rather than bore you with excuses and apologies, i’d like to share photos, sketches and a few tales from my trip to the Isle of Skye last Summer.

My trip to the Shetland Islands a few years back got me hooked on sweeping Scottish landscapes, remote cliffs and ancient, rugged coastline…I wanted more and decided to make Skye the next destination on my Scottish bucket list. So after a spot of planning, my boyfriend and I picked up our hire car in Edinburgh and set off for a week of adventure…

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The Fairy Pools

For the first part of the trip we’d hired a cottage in Elgol on the more southerly part of the Isle. It was a traditional crofter’s house with a thatched roof, thick stone walls and a wood burning stove – not that we needed it…our trip had luckily co-incided with freakishly hot Summer weather! We decided to take advantage of this and seek out the Fairy Pools.

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The pools are located beneath the Black Cuillin Mountain range. The water flows down through the valley forming a variety of pools that make for a nice walk and a good wild dip! They were quite busy when we visited due to the heat, but we were determined to find our own pool to swim in. After a bit of wading and shimmying around boulders, we discovered the perfect spot. A high walled, deep pool, complete with its own waterfall. We enjoyed a magical swim to ourselves. I floated on my back, looking up at the crashing water and dragonflies zipping overhead.

 

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We enjoyed our picnic (port salut cheese sandwiches, salt & vinegar crisps, apples, oat cakes and ginger biscuits) and warmed up in the sun before heading back downstream to do some sketching. I drew a nearby peak, using watercolours to capture the rich rusty colour of the banks and my sharpie pen to pick out the details of wild flowers.

 

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Elgol Beach

The good weather continued the next day and we decided to explore Elgol beach. The sea was turquoise blue and distant peaks were visible across the water. Crumbling cliffs encircled the stony beach and pretty little cottages dotted the hillside. We clambered up the small cliff near the harbour arm for a better view and set up to draw on the spongy, rabbit nibbled grass.

 

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As the day grew hotter, we were desperate for a dip, but it took some time to find a suitable spot. The water’s edge was covered in slippery seaweed and ghostly jellyfish were waiting at every possible entry point! After seeking some local advice, we discovered this particular variety were the non-stinging kind.

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For the rest of the golden afternoon and in to the evening we sunbathed, dipped, painted and slept on the large flat rocks at the end of the beach. The sun got lower and sparkled off the water, fishing boats became silhouetted, bobbing in the distance.

 

Ruined Church & Portree

For the second part of our trip we were based on the North of the Isle at Monkstadt. It would take us a couple of hours to make the drive there, so we decided to break up the journey with a few stops. First, we were keen to explore a ruined church we had spotted on our day trips. Sheep grazed in the abandoned graveyard. The church roof had crumbled away, plants and branches were taking over its walls and growing a new, natural roof.

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Portree, the capital of Skye, is recognisable for its row of pretty, pastel houses on the harbour wall. After refuelling in a cafe, we spent some time absorbing and interpreting the view in our sketchbooks. Another dip in the harbour waters was much icier than expected.

 

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The Old Man of Storr

Over half way through the trip, our luck with the weather changed. So on a bright but windy day we decided to visit the famous landmark; a tall pinnacle of rock that towers up and is easily visible when driving around much of the Northern part of the Isle. The jagged ridge and surrounding slopes wouldn’t look out of place in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (we actually watched all 3 films during our stay as Adam hadn’t seen them!).

 

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We made our way up on the slippy, precarious path. The black prongs of rock and the Old Man looked spectacular as we drew near. Spying tiny people who had scrambled all the way up to his foot gave us a sense of scale. Deciding that route was a little too precarious for us, we set up in the stunning, boulder strewn valley below. As I sketched and Adam painted we realised we were being stalked by a curious weasel, the only other being near us at the time. Such a vast and remote space, it felt unnerving and exciting to be there.

 

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Boat trip from Uig

Having spent time on the land and beaches, we were keen to get a different perspective and see the Isle from the water. In Uig harbour we joined a boat tour that took us around the Trotternish Peninsula on a vintage, 1940’s fishing vessel. The friendly, knowledgeable guides told us about the history and wildlife of the area. We saw a variety of seabirds, including the irresistible puffins and a group of languid seals. The weather was changeable but we were warmed up with a hot flask of tea and shortbread provided by our hosts.

 

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Magical Skye

It really was a magical trip. The Isle is wild, a fantasy realm. Driving on the narrow, craggy roads, we passed lunar-esque landscapes, steep valleys, dark mountains and lochs. After our sunny start we got the whole range of weather, torrential rain, high winds that chase the clouds and incredibly dense fog! At the end of each day’s explorations we’d relax with a hearty meal in the cosy cottages and review our reportage; illustrations, paintings, photos and even drone footage for a totally different view of our surroundings.

 

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With two Scottish forays under my belt, I can’t wait for another trip…I just have to decide which gem to explore next.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out my @Owlstation Instagram account where you can discover more videos, sketches and photos from this Drawing Adventure! Landscape photographs taken by Adam Clague.

 

Kelogsloops Watercolour Tutorials

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I’ve been using watercolours in my work for some time now. I don’t remember ever being formally taught how to paint with them but have always enjoyed experimenting and using them in my own way to capture what I see. However, a recent project called for lots of watercolour work and I realised I was keen to learn more about the medium and how to use it ‘properly’.

For some reason I’d convinced myself that I wouldn’t be able to find the ‘right’ sort of watercolour tutorial for me, so had almost given up before trying. I wanted something that would show the paints being used in a more illustrative and unusual way. Then, one YouTube search for ‘watercolour illustration tutorial’ later, I discovered Kelogsloops videos


Apart from being a crazily talented Illustrator, Kelogsloops aka Hieu Nguyen is a brilliant teacher. I started by watching his 6 minute introduction to watercolour and picked up several ideas and set-up techniques that had never occurred to me before! I then went on to watch one of his process videos (for his illustration below) and his techniques for ‘Wet on Dry’ painting (shown above). He teaches at a steady pace, carefully explaining what he is doing and why, with lots of useful summaries and tips.

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It’s been humbling to watch these and remember that there is always more to learn and explore with any medium. Taking the time to look around for the right tutorial or ask for help and recommendations when you need them is really worth doing. And finally, that there isn’t really a ‘proper’ way to paint with watercolours – anything goes!

All artwork and videos created by Kelogsloops and used here without the artist’s permission.

3 Illustration Portfolio Tips

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As I’ve had a few emails from new illustrators with questions about my Owlstation portfolio, I thought it might be helpful to write a blogpost to share some tips and advice for creating your first website. Firstly a disclaimer *I am not an illustration portfolio expert!* however I do enjoy a creative and fulfilling freelance career and I’m very happy to share with you what I have learned (and am still learning) as I grow.

I’ll keep these short and stick to 3 portfolio tips for now. If you have any further questions on these or would like me to elaborate, please feel free to leave a comment! Finally to note that this advice assumes you’ve already made some initial steps on your path as an illustrator, perhaps by taking a course or lessons online and want to keep things moving…

1. You Need a Portfolio!

If you’re looking to pursue a career in illustration, you’ll need to get your work out there. Most clients will expect you to have a portfolio website that shows off a selection of your best work. When starting out, and even later on – think quality over quantity.

Select a handful of relevant projects that you’re proud of, for each of these select a few, strong images that best show off the work you did. Make sure they are high resolution, not blurry or pixellated in any way. Nowadays I like to include one or two process images as well – a scan of early sketches or high quality photograph of relevant sketchbook pages can give a client insight into your process. But these should come after the final images, a dessert after the main meal!

Include some information about the project/illustration; perhaps what you did, the goal, how you achieved it. But keep this short and use simple language, no need to be poetic or flowery here. A spelling and grammar check afterwards and you’re ready to publish.

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Carbonmade’s Website Design Tools

2. Choose a Good Template

My very first website looked hideous. I didn’t know much about website tools and picked a very clunky, free service. It was difficult to use and the ugly template made it look like a website for a bank designed when the internet was first born.

Luckily, I followed my instinct that there had to be a better way and moved on. The template I have now is very clean and simple. A white background, a home page with evenly spaced images, my logo at the top and a neat menu button. I have four main pages – a home page showing my projects, about page, contact page and a page link to this very blog. Tapping a project thumbnail on the home page opens a new page where your project images can be viewed. Navigation is simple.

Having poured over many illustrator’s websites, most have a very similar approach. I like to think of it like a gallery in the real world – white walls, space for artwork to breathe, minimal text, no nonsense!

3. Find a Good Service

Unless you’re going to build and code your website yourself, you’ll need to find a portfolio/website service that works well for you and fits into your price range. As this is the shop front to you career as an illustrator, it’s worth investing a little money and time into making your portfolio the best it can be.

I use Carbonmade which has served me very well over the years. It has a selection of cleanly designed, ready to go templates (called themes). It’s very user friendly and quite affordable. I use the ‘Whoo’ option which is approx £9 ($12) a month. I hear very good things about Squarespace and know they offer loads of different templates that also include blog or news pages and shop features, which could be very useful as you expand your practice and start selling work.

I use Behance for my digital freelance portfolio (I keep my digital and hand drawn portfolios separate, but that’s a whole other blogpost right there!). It’s free and pretty easy to use. I understand it’s fairly well respected and is a great platform for sharing work too. Ultimately, you’ll need to do a bit of research and find what works best for you, but hopefully these suggestions will help you get started.

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Behance

There’s lots more I could say about how having a portfolio is a constant task, that it always needs checking, updating, trimming and cultivating…that looking at other illustrators websites is very helpful when creating your own and so on… but I’ll leave it here for now.

Good luck! If you’ve found this helpful do pop back as I’ll be sharing more of my illustration learnings in the future.

Owl Cat

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A rare sighting of an Owl Cat. Part owl – part cat, it dwells in trees, curls up in the sun and stares regally down at lesser species…I’ve been enjoying experimenting with Indian Ink in my sketchbook lately! You can get a variety of shades from mixing the ink with water. Using a range of brushes can create very different textures too.