Little Bit Of Pretty Episode One

A little while ago I took myself out for a stroll to seek out my creative spark. A lot of long days at work had left me feeling lethargic so I strolled along the river and let my mind roam freely.

While I walked, I thought about how looking for a little bit of pretty in the everyday has helped me to overcome many difficult moments in my life. It gives me something to focus on, encourages me to walk mindfully, paying attention to my surroundings. And it reminds me of the beauty in the everyday. And so I filmed a little and ended up making the first in a small series of #littlebitofpretty films. I hope you enjoy it!

I’d love to encourage you to look for your own #littlebitofpretty in your day and to use the hashtag on Instagram if you’d like to share it. You’ll see some of my previous finds if you search for the hashtag too : )

This Week’s Picture Book Progress

I had planned such a lot for this week but as I mentioned in my previous post I’ve been feeling lethargic after my latest day job. So I was pleased that I managed to drag myself to my laptop to make a good start on another page of picture book number three. As it’s Father’s Day this week, I felt inspired to draw this chair from my childhood. My Dad used to spin us around in it so fast that we felt like we were on a rollercoaster. I remember laughing so much as the chair span and insisting on him twirling us again and again. It’s lovely to think it’s found a home in my latest book : )

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Recapturing The Spark

Switching from day job to creating again is sometimes hard and this time I seem to have found it more tricky than usual. It’s mainly lethargy that holds me back. I’m tired from working but frustrated that I don’t have non-stop energy to create when I finally have a little time out. At the same time I’m so aware that I need balance and need to give myself a break. So today, rather than work on any one project, I gave myself permission to potter, to let my mind do what it wanted for a change. I wanted to get some air and to be by the water without having to go too far out of the city. So I jumped on a train and headed to the river.  I took my camera and found myself filming with my phone too. It felt good to lose track of time and to create something spontaneously. Video coming soon : )

If you feel a bit lost creatively, even momentarily, be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to switch off and allow your mind to roam. Take the pressure off. Walk away for a little while. Do something else that feeds your soul, whether that’s spending time with family, going out with your camera or just having a stroll in nature. The muse will return when the time is right.

An Amazing Alphabet of Cake Now Available From Waterstones

I'm really pleased and excited to announce that An Amazing Alphabet of Cake is now available to order from Waterstones. It's been such a learning curve working out how to get the book into shops so this feels like a real milestone. Only a few years ago, there wasn't really a route for independents like me to be seen. And now, thanks to Ingram Spark, I've been able to upload the book to their system and it's now started to become more visible across book stores online. My next step is to approach Waterstones with a copy to see if they will hold stock in their bricks and mortar shops. It's so lovely to see something that was once just a spark in my mind existing out in the wild!

This Week's Picture Book Progress

Progress for my third picture book is slow and steady as I juggle my day job. I find I like to work on it when I know I'll have an hour or two of uninterrupted time and when it's not too late in the day so my mind isn't too tired to concentrate on the screen. So there are often quite bit gaps between drawing sessions. I've learnt to embrace this rather than get frustrated by it as it gives me time to form my ideas. This weekend I found a perfect little window of time and settled down in front of Photoshop.

Firstly I revisited my last drawing, that I posted on here on a couple of weeks ago. I'd been thinking a lot that the character of the little boy didn't look young or cute enough. When I first drew him I knew something was wrong but couldn't quite see what it was. A couple of weeks away let me see the drawing with fresh eyes and I set about making amendments. You can see the two different versions below. On the left my first attempt, on the right my updated one. Giving him bigger eyes is more like my style from An Amazing Alphabet of Cake and is my comfort zone but I feel it works a lot better on him. I also made his hair a bit less styled and changed the shape of his body. I'll revisit him again in a couple of weeks to start drawing him in different poses.

I also drew another image of the little girl in the book, also ready for bed and holding her teddy bear. Her hair needs work as it once again feels a little too styled but I'm quite fond of the colours and her bunny slippers!

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This Week's Video - Sunday Drawing Episode 3

This week's video shows me drawing some little mindful faces using my favourite Faber Castell watercolour pencils. I wanted to show a simple glimpse of how they work when you add water to the pencil marks. I am very much a beginner at the moment and pretty much just slosh it on! I love the messy imperfect effect and the texture that the pencils create.

Once again, I'm learning a lot about editing with each video I make. This week I learnt about adding an adjustment layer to brighten footage, when I realised that everything I had filmed made it look like it was twilight! Premiere Pro is so brilliant, I know I am only scratching the surface at the moment and can't wait to learn so much more.

As an aside, I chose a soft house track from Epidemic Sound to accompany my drawing. I'm not sure it works... But it does reflect how uplifting I find drawing : )

Practice - Brush Lettering (& Video Editing)

I've been really enjoying making my Sunday drawing videos but when I found myself wide awake at 6am the other morning, I thought I'd make a little something different. I love the flow of ink on the page when I'm brush lettering and a short video can capture this so nicely. My editing is very imperfect still but it's so nice learning, choosing music and creating something small to share.

If you want to learn more about brush lettering, have a little look at my brush lettering website.

This Week's Video - Sunday Drawing Episode 2

I've lived in London for many years and had never visited Holland Park so I left the house early when half the city was still asleep and had a lovely wander round. I started by spending some time sharing my breakfast with the squirrels in the Japanese garden and then strolled by the peacocks to get a coffee and to admire the wisteria which was in full bloom. The park looked amazing in the sunshine and I found myself totally absorbed in drawing. Filming footage on my iPhone SE was easy and mini projects like this are really helping me to learn more about editing with Premiere Pro. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse of London in the sun.

This Week's Video - Sunday Drawing

Hello lovelies! So, I really enjoyed making my Drawing Mr Handsome video last week. It made me feel nostalgic for my teenage years when I used to play around filming my sister on a massive old VHS camera as she pretended to be a presenter. I then went on to study media at university mainly so I could run around with a camcorder. I loved it.

I've also been feeling curious about Premiere Pro as two friends of mine who are editors have recommended it. So I downloaded a trial from Adobe and while I was out for the day visiting some friends I filmed some footage on my iPhone. I also signed up for a trial of Skillshare so that I could watch some Premiere tutorials to get started. It took me a bit of trial and error but below is the result of my first attempt. I loved making it and it's really inspired me to think about more video ideas. I'm not sure where this fits into my plan for my illustration / publishing business but it's sparked my curiosity so let's see! I hope you enjoy watching it. Please comment on the video on YouTube if you like it.

Picture Book Progress

I finally found a little time to work on my picture book today. I've sketched all of the drawings out in pencil so I'm slowly transferring them into layered Photoshop illustrations. I'm also trying out smaller eyes and a little more definition to see what feels right for my characters. I know that the style isn't quite right yet but I enjoyed spending a couple of hours drawing this little poppet in pjs. 

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Drawing Mr Handsome - My First Illustration Video

After watching wonderful illustrators such as Holly Exley and Frannerd on YouTube, I love the idea of making videos of drawing. I find illustration videos really relaxing and interesting to watch. I also love the ones where drawing is shown in real time rather than shown in timelapse as I think it allows you to really see the technique used by the creator. So here's my first attempt. I find myself drawing a character I like to call Mr Handsome over and over again so he seemed to be a logical first subject. I used an iPhone SE to film and iMovie to do a little editing. I really am very much a beginner and never underestimate just how much work vloggers do to make their videos so beautiful! I hope you enjoy it : )

Drawing Frida Kahlo

Since I started drawing, I've noticed that so many illustrators are inspired by Frida Kahlo and her iconic appearance. When Mexican Pink was announced as the #colour_collective colour recently, her image was the first thing to come to mind. A lot of people draw Frida with flowers in her hair but for some reason, pink made me think of pompoms so I adapted her headdress a little. The end result was quite different from my usual style but this is what I love about these illustration challenges, they push me out of my comfort zone and make me create new things.

If you like my version of Frida, I've popped it in my Society 6 shop as a print.

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Five Things I Learnt At The London Book Fair

Although I've been to the London Book Fair a few times before, today was my first visit as an illustrator and I have to confess I felt a little nervous! Although I share my illustrations online, I rarely share them face to face when I can actually see an immediate reaction. I spent some time last week printing out a selection of my latest drawings to create an up to date portfolio, packed up some copies of my books and some postcards to give to people and set off.

I started the day by attending some seminar sessions, followed by a good browse around the stands and then spent the afternoon in the Children's Publishing area listening to art directors and having a one to one portfolio review. I thought I'd share a few notes on what I learnt today.

1. A lot of the fair is about the business of books. It's a great opportunity for the industry to get together to have meetings and network in one place, which means being new to it can feel a little intimidating. People are rushing everywhere keeping to their schedules while you wonder round wide-eyed. Most of the big publishers have huge stands with lots of tables where colleagues and visitors are talking intensely. It's helpful to know that approaching stands to speak to editors or art directors on spec may not work as appointments are often pre-planned. However, the majority of publishers I spoke to were very happy for me to leave samples and to chat about their submissions policies.

2. Head for the area that is relevant to you. The fair is split into sections, Authors HQ and the Children's Hub for example. The floor space is huge so wear comfy shoes, allow plenty of time to get from A to B and spend a little time studying the map to ensure you know where you're going. Give yourself breaks and try not to worry too much about what everyone else is doing!

3. The Insight Seminar Programme is brilliant and worth the entry fee alone. As I'm relatively new to publishing I am still learning a lot (!) and the fair runs almost 200 conference sessions about all manner of subjects with a whole host of experts. The timetable is published on the fair website. Today I joined sessions about demystifying book distribution with Ingram Spark and getting started with Kindle Direct Publishing and I also listened to a presentation about book PR & Marketing.  Most sessions are about 45 minutes long and importantly the speakers are always very available for questions both during and after their session.

4. Take opportunities. When I was reading about the fair a few weeks ago, I noticed there was an Illustrator's Afternoon taking place in the Children's Publishing area, which included the chance to have your portfolio reviewed by an art director. After being so absorbed in independently publishing An Amazing Alphabet of Cake I thought it would be really interesting to be brave and to get a professional opinion on my work so I booked a slot. I met with a lovely lady, Strawberrie Donnelly from Scholastic, who gave me some really helpful and encouraging feedback and advice. Although I am really enjoying working independently, I also love collaborating on projects and it was great to investigate a little about whether my style is going in the right direction to make that possible. If you are an illustrator, I would highly recommend making a note to sign up for a portfolio review next year!

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5. As a writer and illustrator I also love the fact there are some wonderful opportunities to see authors being interviewed. I didn't have time to go along to any today but enjoyed an impromptu brief speech by Author Of The Day Joanna Trollope who addressed the crowd of writers who were gathered at Author HQ. Joanna talked about how important failure is and how it is just part of your story. She also spoke about her process and how she loves to note down all sorts of things about people all the time. A turn of phrase, what people choose to wear and what that says about them, small habits people have, even things like what art they like. Joanna mentioned that she feels like, "Fiction is where we learn more about life than anywhere else..."

I hope you get the opportunity to visit the London Book Fair, if not this year, in the future. If you have an interest in books from any angle, it really is a great place to learn and to enjoy the company of people who love stories just as much as you do.

Picture Book Progress

This week I've been really enjoying making progress with picture book number three. My book An Amazing Alphabet of Cake was made up of 26 separate illustrations, one for each letter, with different characters on each page so I was able to approach each image as a new piece. I worked hard to keep my style consistent, making sure that small details like highlights in eyes were shown throughout. However, with this new book I have a family who feature throughout so I am facing the new challenge of ensuring not just my style but my every aspect of my characters are consistent. Their face shape and features need to stay the same, with different expressions and poses. I'm also experimenting with more shading by using darker lines of the same colour on different elements of the drawing. You can see this particularly on the clothing below. I like how this helps to make the characters feel more rounded.

One of my favourite things about any project is seeing it grow, step by step, piece by piece. From an idea to something real. I'm finding the need for consistency and a common thread through the drawings is adding to the joy of this particular challenge. And having been through the experience of creating a picture book before, achieving something small each day towards the project is making me excited to see it come together.

#MarchMeetTheMaker

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I had a little time to join in with #MarchMeetTheMaker on Instagram today. The idea of the challenge is that you post one photo a day to introduce yourself to the creative community. It's a great way to connect with people and to get inspired by fellow makers.

There's a different prompt every day, today's was 'Tools & materials'. Although I use Photoshop & a Wacom pad to draw digitally, all of my ideas start with pencil sketching. I often use watercolour and ink when I want to free up my creativity & to relax. I should have also included coffee in this picture as I also consider that a vital tool : )

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Five Ways To Keep Going

I've been thinking about tenacity a lot lately. I absolutely love being creative and I love dedicating myself to my projects and seeing them through. But sometimes, especially when I'm tired or when I'm faced with obstacles, it can be tough to keep going. And because I have a job as a freelance event manager to balance, like a lot of people, I only have limited time to create. So when I do have time, I find myself determined to fill every free moment with drawing and writing. I become obsessed with achieving something creative before I'm back doing my day job... and I completely forget to rest.

So I'm writing this list for me... and for you, as I realise that we all need to look after ourselves and to feel supported. And I also realise I would like to feel as tenacious as I do now in ten years time. And twenty years time. And when drinking gin for lunch when I'm 95, still drawing and still publishing books.

1. Take a break
First things first, you don't have to work all the time. Rest is so important. Those moments of quiet are the moments when your mind processes and restores. Therefore often the time when you come up with some of your best ideas. Also if you work continually, you can get so close to a project that you can't see it any more. Stepping away and taking a break allows you to see things with fresh eyes and this can make what you're creating even better.

2. Achieve small things often
Set small goals rather than just seeing the end goal and you'll feel you're achieving more. Think of all of those little achievements as treats just for you. Be kind to yourself. It takes many bricks to make a home.

3. Visualise
Close your eyes and think about how your book will feel in your hands. Turn the pages in your mind. Study the pictures. Imagine looking with wonder at what you have created. Think about how it will feel when people tell you they have read your story. What will your life be like if you follow your dreams? Visualising your goal will make it real to you and will make it feel more achievable.

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4. Focus
Like a lot of creatives, I often find myself with lots of different ideas at the same time and find it hard to choose between them. An old friend taught me the importance of focusing on one idea at a time and this has helped me to publish my two picture books. Write down all of your ideas and think about which one you are most drawn to. Which one speaks to you most? Which one are you most curious about? Most passionate about? Which one won't leave you alone? And then get started.

5. Make your environment lovely
It's lovely being able to draw or write all day but it also often involves sitting still in one spot for hours on end. So make sure you're comfortable and that you love the space you're in. If you can, create a space at home that is dedicated to creating. I have a desk and chair in the corner of my lounge with artwork that inspires me washi-taped to the walls. I also often have fresh flowers on my desk and drink tea out of a pretty cup that I bought specifically for when I'm working. My chair is comfortable with a pretty cushion and I often work with a hot water bottle on my back. Depending on what I'm doing, I might work in silence or I'll have my Roberts radio tuned to BBC 6 Music to keep me company. Or if I'm drawing I'll set my iPad up so I can listen to podcasts or have Netflix treats such as the Gilmore Girls or Friends on a loop. Make snacks to nibble on and pop out for some fresh air at least once a day. A comfortable environment will make working a treat and will encourage you to keep going.

I hope this list is helpful. Please get in touch with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and let me know what helps you to keep going. Happy creating.

Sweet Treats for Easter

(Fondant) fancy a different kind of sweet treat this Easter? My book An Amazing Alphabet of Cake is available now on Amazon! Cute little cake stickers are available in my Etsy shop. And fondant fancies are available in all good supermarkets - obviously I had to buy a box for the photo and didn't* eat them all.
* did (sideways look to camera)

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Making A Start On Picture Book Number Three

This weekend marked the beginning of picture book number three. I'm not going to reveal the concept and title just yet as I'm still playing with it but I have started sketching. And it feels exciting!

The first thing I do with a book idea is think about how the words and illustrations will fill the book. Is the idea big enough? I use a fresh sketchbook for each idea and first write down the proposed wording and split it into 26 sections that feel right. Bearing in mind good moments for page turns and how illustrations may fill the page or whether they may be across a spread or just a spot picture in the middle. I then start sketching, very roughly, using one page of the sketchbook to represent each page of the book. This gets my creativity flowing, a bit like free writing. Nobody really sees these pages so they are messy and simply to get the idea for each picture started. I then switch to digital drawing in Photoshop when I feel ready.

While doing this I am bearing in mind that most picture books are 32 pages but this needs to include end papers and the title page. The advantage of independently publishing is that you can play with this convention a little bit but you do still need to stick to multiples of four because of the way printers work. I am working on a 'how to' guide which will include everything I have learnt on my journey so far but one of the important things is that print on demand via Createspace or Ingram Spark will always need to include a blank page at the back of your book where they put their barcode and reference code. I think this helps them to match the pages with the cover in their print factories. It isn't too noticeable in a novel but really stands out in a picture book and takes up valuable space. So don't be caught out by this requirement and make sure you include it in your maths!

Below is my first digital sketch for book number three. On the left is the sketch from my sketchbook - it's actually unusually tidy for my first attempt! These little cats will appear somewhere in the middle of the book but they captured my imagination so I started drawing them first. This is unlike me. With An Amazing Alphabet of Cake I worked religiously from A to Z but without the structure of the alphabet I feel I can be a bit more free. I was pleased with the expressions on the cats' faces in my initial sketch and was worried I might lose this in the digital version. It still needs work but is getting there. I really want the cat on the wall to be a tabby so my next challenge is to see if I can make some stripes work on him.

It feels fantastic to be drawing again. Almost like coming home. Having published two picture books already I feel the process is becoming more familiar. I know what I can achieve and it spurs me on to take little steps, even when it feels like a mountain ahead, knowing that one day I will be holding book number three in my hands and starting on book number four.

Back To The Books & Brushes

This week I'm really looking forward to starting work on picture book number three. I've been completely absorbed by my day job lately working on a busy event. I love collaborating with a brilliant team to produce exciting events but I find myself really missing drawing. It's become like a friend to me.

After an event I always need a few days to wind down and for me, this means hiding out at home and getting back to drawing. It's meditative and re-engages my creative brain. I sketch, draw and paint with no plan or purpose. This time, I realised I haven't drawn digitally for over a month and it was really nice to get back to my digital brushes. I found this calm little scene appearing on the page. And today, despite telling myself I would have the weekend off, I couldn't resist starting some pencil sketches for the new book. I'm looking forward to sharing my process and progress. As always, if in doubt, create.

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This Is Why I Create

One of the very best things to have come from publishing An Amazing Alphabet of Cake is the messages I've received telling me about little ones enjoying it. I was absolutely bowled over recently when a lovely friend of mine told me that her little girl had been coming home from school every day and drawing pictures from the book. She had been determined to draw every page and my friend presented me with a collection of pages, tied together with golden ribbon, that her daughter had asked her to show me. Well, what can I say? I was so touched that my drawings had inspired her to create something so wonderful. She had picked up on all the detail and even drawn herself into the pictures. Wow. What an amazing piece of work. THIS is why I create : )