A map of the stars – an early Christmas present.

Winter is upon us.  There’s frost in the morning, the light is a soft blue in the daytime. In the evening, the moon shines hard and white.  If you are lucky (and live somewhere in the wilds), on a clear night you can see the stars.  One of the highlights of my year so far was to see the Milky Way. I was lying on a sunlounger at midnight in the middle of the Dorset countryside looking up at the constellations and trying to remember their names. It really got me thinking about a map of the stars.

Man has documented the stars since the stone age but the age of the enlightenment saw a boom in astronomy maps.  I love how the traditional constellation forms were described through illustration  – no cold Scientific digital maps here.

 

V0025744 Astronomy: a star map of the night sky in the northern hemis

This historical astronomical map comes from the Wellcome Library.


My most recent map honours the historic tradition of charting the constellations and how they all fit together in the skies using not only notes as usual but images as well.

A Map of the Winter Constellations in the Northern Hemisphere (or Winter Star Map for short) is a circular map on midnight blue mount board.  It’s drawn in white ink and the original has been handfinished with genuine silver leaf to pick out the stars themselves (NB : the prints available are simple blue and white).  The notes tell some of the legends behind the constellations which vary from culture to culture.  What we see as the Great Bear can be understood as a wagon, a skunk, a canoe, a camel, a shark and even a coffin by other peoples for example.  Other notations include folk beliefs associated with the constellations and interesting facts about the history of astronomy and contemporary astronomical thinking.  Belief and the idea of the ‘fact’ is constantly changing as time gallops forward.

Giclee prints can be bought exclusively from ONCA Gallery in Brighton in person or online for £65.00.  They’re printed in archival ink on heavyweight paper and measure 40x40cms unframed, meaning they can fit into a standard off the shelf frame easily.

I’m pretty sure they’d make a great wintery Christmas present for someone forever wondering about the stars and the legends behind them.

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A short post about a film poster

It’s way too early for Christmas (is it??!!) but this is a short post about a poster I did for a little indie film, ‘Home for Christmas’ a few years ago that has now been bought up by Amazon Prime and trending as I speak…

home for christmas poster

The film – a Christmas romcom-  was made by Jump Start films based in Brighton on a very tight budget.  Much of the work was volunteered and it was made often using local actors in Brighton itself – my flat even starred as a location at a couple of points.

Any money was crowd funded through donations, events and raffles:

IMG_3399

Fundraising event poster

There was a premiere at the famous historic Brighton cinema – The Duke of Yorks – one of the oldest working cinemas in the UK.  The cinema plays an important part in the storyline and I happened to have a few shifts tearing tickets there at the time alongside the Director, DoP, and Sound.  It was fun to be involved in the making of a feature film and see behind the curtain of what it takes to pull something like this off.

The illustration for the poster was hand drawn in black ink and shows some characters from the film and elements from the cinema, almost a character in itself. Colour was added digitally at a later date.

It’s taken a few years for this little film to get to this point and I’ll look forward to seeing where it goes next.

Sometimes your work is more visible than you realise…

Wall Street Journal review

A short post this – I am still juggling copy edits after the mammoth task of writing my book on hand drawn maps with painting the illustrations for a new children’s book about the seasons. Time is tight. ..But I thought I’d write briefly about a book review I recently received and also about how sometimes your work is more visible than you realise…

Last week, I received an email from Eerdmans Books for Children with some reviews of ‘Manger’, a book I illustrated for them in 2014 – there’s definitely no guarantee your publisher will send reviews out on time! And what a lovely surprise to find one from The Wall Street Journal, not only with a picture but very complimentary too. Two years delayed and I hadn’t known about it until now.

The same day, I heard news that one of my favourite map illustrators had agreed to feature in my map book. He knew of my work, liked it and had been using it as an example for his students at a prestigious New York art school. I hadn’t known about that until now either and was surprised and honoured.

I suppose my point is that the invisible threads of communication are netted around the world very richly and you can’t always know who is watching or reading about your work. It’s a call to others and a reminder to myself to keep going when times are tough, when you believe no one is listening and you are simply shouting into the darkness. You just might be wrong.

 

‘Manger’ gets reviewed for Christmas!

 

Christmas Eve

So the faint jingle of Christmas can be heard over the hilltops and ‘Manger’ is finally coming into it’s own.  It’s been available to buy now since the crisp days of Autumn  and the reviews are whooshing in!  Some are from readers’ blogs, some from poetry enthusiasts and others from publishing and trade magazines.  I’ve included a few comments here…

From Orangemarmaladebooks:
‘The illustrations by UK artist Helen Cann are stunning, composed of rich, deep colors of cobalt and emerald, wheat and crimson. Handsome animals in starlit settings, these are so splendid, you will want them as prints for your walls. Oh my gosh. Just check out her website for more gorgeousness. Even the endpapers are lovely. Just an all-around beautiful book, new this year.’

From: GoodReads.com:
Glorious illustrations in saturated colors compliment a sweet collection of Christmas poems.

‘Cann’s illustrations are lovely with rich colors and fine details. They show the animals clearly and also the wonder of the nativity on each page whether they are fish, fowl or mammal.’

‘ This beautiful book gathers together 15 poems reflecting the animals that might have been present at the birth of Jesus. These masterful poets convey a sense of wonder, awe, and humility that is echoed in Cann’s rich illustrations.’

From Kirkus Reviews:
‘Intriguing collage illustrations using watercolor and mixed-media elements provide an elegant accompaniment to the short, quiet poems. Unusual perspectives show a cat from behind, a cow arching her neck and an owl in midflight seemingly ready to swoop off the page. All the animals gather around the manger in the final illustration, with the comet again shooting across the sky’

From Publishers Weekly:
‘This joyful collection of new and previously printed poems features creatures great and small heralding the arrival of Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve during the one hour, as legend has it, that God granted them the gift of human speech. Each of the brief entries—from Alma Flor Ada, Marilyn Nelson, Alice Schertle, and others—appears on its own spread, nestled alongside one of Cann’s (Brigid’s Cloak) watercolor and mixed-media paintings, whose detailed feathers, scales, and shaggy fur lend a realistic air.’

From Poetry for Children:
‘Beginning with gorgeous endpapers, we journey through fifteen beautiful double-page spreads each featuring a lyrical poem from an animal’s perspective about the arrival of Jesus as a baby in the manger. Beautiful pictures, beautiful poetry, beautiful moments to savor. And it’s not just an artful, contemplative book, it’s also very child-friendly, perfect for sharing with a little one on your lap or with a group of kids sitting around you on the floor.’

Wishing you a merry Christmas and peaceful New Year!

Crowing about ‘Manger’

Manger cover

It’s a nativity book with a difference – told from the perspective of the animals round the manger! There is a legend that describes how, at midnight on Christmas Eve, all creatures are granted the power of speech and these poems are told in the voices of the cat, the cow, the spider and the llama (?!) amongst others.

I really enjoyed illustrating this book as I was allowed to pretty much design it myself. Given that kind of freedom, I can produce images that totally represent my style – classic but contemporary without any preconceptions of what watercolour illustrations should look like.

Lee Bennett Hopkins has collected together a beautiful and sensitive set of poems for ‘Manger’. He is a renowned poet and anthologist in the US with the honour of being recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as ‘the world’s most prolific anthologist of poetry for children’ ! In fact, I have even heard him described as the ‘Pied Piper of Poetry’. I had several e-mail conversations with him and it has been a pleasure to work with him.

Thanks so much to Eerdmans for asking me to illustrate this project.  You can find out more information about ‘Manger’ and  also buy a copy from their website here.