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.

Toyohara Chikanobu_Chiyoda Ooku Ohanami

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.

Drawlutions

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January always feels like a good time of year to think about where you are now and where you’re headed. To dust off the cobwebs, consider lessons learned in the previous year and psych oneself up for some self improvement. I’ve been thinking about how this applies to my illustration for 2016 and what my ‘Drawlutions’ should be (yeah I went there). So here’s the list. I could have gone way beyond eight but for now these feel the most important to me to carry through the year.

1. Get Conceptual
I’d like to create more conceptual pieces. Really consider how I could fulfil a brief and look for unusual and interesting ways to do so.

2. Use Colour
I’d like to be more experimental with colour in my work. I often shy away from it, feeling scared of getting it wrong. The time has come to experiment!

3. Skill Up
There are so many online courses out there, I want to get involved and increase my skill set. There are typography lessons to be learned, use of composition and light to name a few. I’m always attracted to the Skillshare site…

4. Create Portfolio Pieces
My personal projects can get benched and neglected when client work takes priority. Meaning lots of illustration ideas I have aren’t seen through to their final conclusion. I want to add more to my portfolio this year with both client and personal work.

5. Set Up Shop
I see so many lovely prints and products sold by illustrators who have organised, sexy shops. I want to join the online shop gang! Or at least explore the idea of selling work, cool items to share with the world, things I’d actually want to buy myself. I feel like i’ve got a LOT to learn here.

6. Keep Drawing
I’ve been pretty on it lately with sketching which I’m chuffed about and definitely feel like my drawing is improving. I want to keep that up this year and get along to more life classes.

7. Artist Studies
I found this really helpful last year. Looking at artists I admire, examining their style, having a go myself to see what I learn. Mixed results but definitely useful.

8. Texture Play
Layering up marks, messing about in photoshop, this is something I’ve started to do. I’d like to keep it going and try to find my style.

I’ve kicked off experiments here with a young kayaker paddling away from 2015, more experiments soon! If you have any Drawlutions of your own I’d love to hear about them and how you plan to carry them out. Happy New Year!

Artist Study, Kilian Eng

Kilian Eng_line drawing study

I decided to take a pause from my personal projects to study the work of an artist I admire and see what I could learn. I started with Swedish sci fi artist Kilian Eng who creates stunning, futuristic worlds. Dark robots, intimidating structures, tapestries of wires fusing together with more organic shapes and nature. His use of detail and composition is incredible. Looking at his blog, it is hard to believe how much work he has made and even harder for me to imagine how long it takes him to make it!

I wondered how he went about creating his complex illustrations and decided to take a magnifying glass to a particular piece and see if I could unpick it and create a copy. I am wary of even writing this because as an artist I know that copying is a very touchy subject. But I don’t mean to copy in the sense of ripping off and stealing, rather to study the work of a master, as many artists in history have done, with a hope to picking up new techniques and skills that might enrich my own work! I won’t share the completed copy I created here (though you can see a section of my attempted line work above and Eng’s original illustration below), as I feel that would give the wrong impression, but I want to share what I learned along the way.

illustration_by kilian eng

Line Work
Whilst it is not too difficult for me to mimic shapes and create the same line work as another artist, I could not easily create a similar work from scratch at this time. There is a huge amount of skill and thought that goes into creating an original composition. Which shapes are pleasing to the eye? How do you draw people in? Give a world depth and make it feel real?

Detail
You can’t rush the sort of detail that Kilian draws into his pieces. My patience needs improving! Drawing such tiny, beautiful creatures and worlds takes time and patience. When I found myself rushing to finish a piece of the picture I was studying, it was like breaking a spell. When you lose that interest and desire to render everything as perfectly and beautifully as you can, the image suffers for it!

Colour
He is a master of colour, something that I still struggle with and am learning about. Once I completed a copy of his line work, the next step was colouring in. It was time consuming, therapeutic in many ways and to some degree easy, using the colour picker tool in Photoshop to directly copy his colours. HOWEVER knowing which colours will work in harmony is another skill and his use of light and dark is very effective. Copying is one thing, again, creating from scratch quite another!

Technical Skills
I had a few photoshop issues that it took me a while to figure out. The main problem I came across was matching the colours in his pallet, I couldn’t work out why for a long time, my colours weren’t picking correctly, until I realised a curves layer I had forgotten about was darkening everything and the multiply layer style I’d added to the line work was having an effect too.

Having successfully completed a study of one of his works, I now want to try and create my own fantasy scape using his style. Part of me wonders if that is fair, and whether I should share the outcome, because I would never want to rip off the work of another artist. As it is my scribbly sketches are very different from Eng’s finished, polished work. So I don’t think there is any danger of my work sitting too near his style on the spectrum. I have found this study really useful and it has taught me new respect for composition, colour and patience. Also that I am not the same sort of artist… and that is ok too! My style is quicker to create for me and that suits me. But I will think about spending longer on future pieces and be stricter with myself about cheating and taking the quick route!

Magnificent Collections

ole worms cabinet

I went to see the ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ exhibition at the Barbican. This is a series of rooms filled with the collections of 14 artists living and dead. On the quest as ever for something unusual to draw, I was pleased to find plenty of curious and odd objects to satisfy that need, but perusing the collections of each artist in turn got me thinking about the act of ‘collecting’ itself.

What does it mean to collect something? Is it the grouping together of near identical objects? Or It might be the differences of objects which allows you to bring them together; you like the way this jug looks when placed next to these silver handcuffs and this cactus. Or maybe you’re more categorical, bringing together stuffed animals like Damien Hirst, or grouping flora and fauna in a more general way.

The Victorians were big on collecting, and having a Cabinet of Curiosities (also known as a Kunstkammer, or Wonder Room) was quite a big status symbol, something to show your power and worldliness. Apparently even earlier in 1587, Christian the 1st of Saxony was advised that one needed 3 types of item in order to have a proper Kunstkammer:

1. Sculptures and paintings
2. Curious items from home and abroad

3. Antlers, horns, claws, feathers and other things belonging to strange and curious animals

For Andy Warhol and his collection of gaudy cookie jars the satisfaction may have come from the act of obtaining the jars rather than displaying or admiring them. It is said that after purchasing a jar, it could end up sitting unwrapped and unobserved in his studio. Not put out on display or organised in any pleasing fashion as they have been at the Barbican. It’s more about the buzz, the thrill of suddenly spotting that unusual object you crave, almost obscured beneath a pile of junk in a dingy back room at a flea market. Knowing that you had to have it and make it yours.

Not all collections have to be beautiful and pleasing. You might choose to collect something that disgusts or provokes. Peter Blake’s collection of creepy dolls and outlandish masks definitely give a different vibe than that of the beautiful intricate ‘Netsuke’ collected by British ceramic artist Edmuund De Waal. Netsuke being carved, button like toggles worn on Japanese Kimonos. He has tiny carved mice, hares and turtles sometimes made from ivory (eek) and sometimes bamboo amongst other outlandish materials.
 
deer netsuke
 
The line between ‘STUFF’ and ‘A Collection’ is quite thin I feel. In one of the larger rooms at The Barbican’s exhib, German artist Hanne Darboven’s objects are on show.

A life size plastic horse, a miniature theatre, a lamp in the shape of a cobra, to me this definitely falls more into the STUFF pile. If you collect stuff, is it a collection? Or just a group of things that you like? Are you just a hoarder rather than an intrepid devoted collector? Not that it matters.

I wondered if my higgledy piggeldy ‘house decorations’ qualify as a collection? These are things that I like to have around me, usually on a shelf in whichever place i’m renting, because they are pleasing and inspiring to my eye. I have dried roses from a friend’s funeral, vintage teacups, kitsch shiny angels, half a barbie that has been painted as a Mexican day of the dead Katrina (A small selection pictured below). I suppose the common element here is that I have lots of owls, ceramic owls, wooden owls, metal owls, big ones, small ones, cute ones, serious ones. Some are ugly, but that no longer matters when they are brought into the parliament with the others because their oddness makes them interesting.
 
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Are creative people more likely to cultivate a collection? As it is something which may feed back into their work and inspire it or even become an extension of their work. Barbican featured American artist Pae White describes her collection of textiles as a visual library that she can refer to when working. My visual library is now largely online thanks to the internet and apps like pinterest which allow you to have a HUGE collection, without any of the financial commitment or risk of alienating loved ones by filling every available space and surface with seashells.

I suppose it really comes down to an individual’s personality and what sparks their interest as to whether or not they will have a collection. If they do have a collection, what do you think it says about them?

‘Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as a Collector’
Is at The Barbican until the 25th of May, £12

Be Brave, Make your Mark

I gave my first ever talk  this March at an event called Be Brave, Make your Mark run by the Brighton She Says group. With events every few months, She Says aims to bring together like minded ladies from the Digital and Creative industries to chat, share experiences and get inspired.

It really is a nice format, very friendly and laid back. I’ve met several people through these events who have become good friends and even clients! So I was really chuffed when Rifa, the organiser, asked me to design a flyer for the evening and to speak about my career so far. From my experiences as a Games Designer at Littleloud through to my current Freelancing adventures. Plus the big bit before that where I had no idea what I wanted to do or whether or not to go to university and the numerous ups and downs along the way!

The first speaker, Artist Rachel Mortimer, spoke of a trip to a Dementia care home that changed her outlook on everything. She was inspired to set up Engage and Create, a social enterprise that helps people with dementia rediscover forgotten aspects of their lives by using art as a tool to help them open up and reminisce.

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Beth Granter, a passionate activist from the age of 7 told us about her experiences championing causes of great importance to her. Standing up and volunteering when no-one else would and using her understanding of data and marketing to successfully organise protests and make people pay attention.

I’m really impressed by people who find ways to use their skills and passions to help others. I would love to do this with my illustration and definitely feel empowered after the event to find ways to do this. See you at the next She Says!

P.S. Here’s my ‘advice’ slide from the evening. Stuff I try to remember myself but often forget!

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Albert and his Flying Machines

We’re off to the opera tonight, better start up dragonfly mobile and dig out our finest furs, the Parisian skyline really is chilly at this time of year…

AlbertRobida_operaFrench Illustrator Albert Robida was a pioneer of science fiction. His beautifully illustrated novels predicted inventions such as Television, Skype and Youtube as part of daily life at the turn of the 20th century.

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I think he must have taken a special pleasure in creating these scenes high above Paris, as they feature in his work quite often. Skies buzzing with airships, twinkling buildings and moody fog. Fancy folk heading off to towering restaurants and call girls visiting clientele from their air taxis.

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I love his use of soft pastel colours in ‘Going to the Opera in the year 2000’ (top). Also the balance of light and dark in ‘Paris la Nuit’ (above) with its little fish planes illuminating the city below.

The Inner Life of Objects

‘You should always use your wildest Imagination’

Sound advice from the surrealist Czech animator Jan Svankmajer whose exhibition ‘The Inner Life of Objects’ is open to the public (and completely free) in Brighton this November. Amongst grungy props from his peculiar films, taxidermy sculptures, stacked aardvarks and fantastical anatomical etchings are clips from his wonderful animations such as Historia Naturae.

Photo by Cine-City, reblogged here without permission.

Photo by Cine-City, reblogged without permission.

In Historia, Jan works his way through the different groups of nature, creating patterns with his editing. Quick cuts between birds eyes, stop motion animated skeletons, the leering faces of monkeys depicted in Victorian illustrations. The exhibition runs until the 2nd of December at the University of Brighton in the Steine. I’ve been 3 times already! Field sketch of aardvarks below.

svankmajer ardvarks owlstation