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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TEDx, a Map of Brighton and more about Babies and Colour Science.

When I’m looking for some intellectual stimulation or inspiration, I often listen to TED Talks online, delving into subjects like Creativity or Motivation for example. TED was originally set up as a design and technology conference in 1984 but has now grown into an online media giant, freely flowing with talks on science, culture and any academic subject you can think of under the banner of ‘Ideas worth Spreading’. So it was with great honour to find one of my maps has made it to a TEDx talk.  TEDx helps independent organizers to create a TED-like event in their own community in order to ‘spread the ideas’ too. Smaller in scale but in an age of sharing, size doesn’t matter so much anymore.

This particular TEDx talk was held at the ISM University of Management and Economics in Vilnius, Lithuania this October.  The theme was “Question The Expected” and asked the 500 strong audience to be curious about their choices, beliefs and perceptions of the world.

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You may remember my involvement in September with the Baby Lab at the University of Sussex. In connection with that, the talk was given by Doctoral Researcher, Alice Skelton, who works there. Her research is particularly about colour perception in babies and how humans develop the use of language to talk about colour.
One of the largest projects Alice has taken part in is the Categories project, which looks at how infants below 6 months categorise colour. And by categories, I mean grouping colours into ‘red’, ‘blue’, ‘green’, ‘yellow’, ‘brown’ or ‘pink’ etc. There is a huge difference between a rich dark wine red and a bright perky pillar box red but in our culture we still group them together or categorise them, as ‘red’. In the study, babies were tested to see if they could tell the difference between colours without having the words for them, if they were categorising them and how they did it. The results will ultimately tell us how we talk about colour as adults.

It turns out that pre-language babies in the study could naturally distinguish 5 different colour categories. The suggestion is that distinguishing any further subtleties or disregarding some subtleties must come after language is learnt. Different languages divide up the spectrum differently- so some languages only have 5 main categories they group colours in but others use 6 or 7 or 8… English has 11 and Greek and Russian for example both have 12 categories.  The environment you are born into (and therefore what your community labels as important) teaches you names for colours, in which groups they are categorised and the subtleties in colours you are most able to distinguish.

The ability to see in colour is a skill that humans enjoy very much. It’s what allows us to appreciate great art.  But it’s a practical tool in our box too. We can find things at a distance more easily;  distinguish between objects (are you about to eat a carrot or a parsnip?); or highlight important features in a simple way.  And this is where my map popped up as an example on the TEDx presentation screen…

This map of Brighton (from Hand Drawn Maps) is designed as a sensory map. Instead of focussing on physical features in the town, I have mapped the smells you might encounter using simple coloured icons. Brown for the beer smell wafting heavily outside the many bars, pale yellow-green for the lemongrass smell lingering outside the Thai Restaurants and a dirty lilac for the smell hovering over the rubbish bins in the less brightly lit corners. The intensity of the smell is shown by the intensity of the colour. Sometimes the smells combine, shown by the colours lapping over each other.

Without being able to distinguish the subtleties of the colours I’ve used and categorise them, (as a red or a brown, for example), the map would be much harder to understand. Being able to distinguish those subtleties relies on your language and culture. So although it’s a fairly decorative art-map, leaning more on illustrative aesthetics than pinpoint accurate geography, you can only read it easily if you have the right words and your culture has taught you how to.

And that, my friends, is not art but science.

A BIG talk about illustration (and life).

The following is adapted from a 10 minute talk I gave to Brighton Illustrators Group (BIG) in July alongside 5 other illustrators and designers. I was asked to talk about something inspirational or what inspired me. BIG was established 22 years ago and exists to support and advise illustrators living and working in the Brighton area. It aims to promote the work of member illustrators, share professional advice and create a space to network. It’s a brilliant Brighton institution so it was an honour to be asked to speak. 

I’ve been illustrating for over 10 years now and work almost exclusively by hand in the field of children’s books and map making plus I have a developing hand lettering practice too. I occasionally use photoshop to clean up or remedy mistakes but in general have made a choice not to work digitally as a whole. I just prefer ‘slow illustration’ – the physicality of painting and drawing, getting messy, the jeopardy of making raw marks that might not be easily erased with the click of a button. And the mental discipline of planning and committing to colour before you put it on paper; you certainly need to be confident in your mark and colour choices.  And I like the feeling of having a physical object at the end of a project. Something tactile that changes subtly depending on the angle and lighting of your viewpoint.

This way of working isn’t fashionable, and doesn’t make it easier or faster but I’d prefer to make a living working by hand rather than a lifetime spent in front of a screen.

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A double page spread from ‘Seasons of Wonder’ by Julia Key.

Building draughtsmanship confidence has meant practising regularly. I go to life drawing sessions…

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… and also meet ups, drawing in pubs – observing and documenting the punters and barmen where stillness is no prerequisite and your subject can move at any moment. This has trained me to capture likenesses quickly and without self consciousness in a public place. I chose the next illustration to say how important it is to focus on your strengths and understand how they can be adapted for your business.

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I often post drawings on social media and, supported by my images on Twitter, I was contacted by a designer working for the prop department at the BBC. They needed some life drawings and also someone to act as a hand double for a costume drama. One of the actors played an artist and footage was needed of her hand sketching – which was where I came into it. My ability to draw portraits quickly in crowded places (in pubs or on set) was very useful. Privately, this commission became known as ‘The BBC Hand Job’….
This image was one of the results – a portrait of Anna Chancellor, well known for playing the character of ‘Duckface’ in the film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ starring here in the drama ‘Mapp and Lucia’.

Since then, I have been asked to provide more drawings for the BBC’s adaptation of ‘Howard’s End’ which will be aired later in the year.

Another way to use drawing is lettering. I love typography of all kinds, especially if it’s been done by hand. The personality of the artist can be caught in the tiny imperfections and quirks of each letter, unfiltered by a font package. It really doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect.

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This envelope was made as part of a mail shot campaign sending promotional work to children’s book publishers. I’ve done this a few years running now – every envelope is different, takes some time and there’s not much room for error. But  I learn something new from each one and it allows me to be creative while doing a fairly mundane task. It’s important to keep broadening my skills and working out ways to make my strengths an advantage.  I’ve just finished creating another prop – a map – this time for a high profile Hollywood film. Unfortunately I’m not able to talk about it yet but it screens in the Summer of 2018. Notably, the designer specifically wanted something hand lettered and had looked at the lettering on my website before briefing.

Which leads me to the ultimate in hand lettering – signwriting. As I said, I try to keep adding to my skill set and recently went on a course in traditional signwriting in London. Although not strictly illustration, an understanding of graphic design is necessary. You need a good eye, a steady hand and it’s a very physical job. But it’s the physicality I love – the smell of the paint, the feel of brush on surface, the satisfaction of creating a beautiful straight line or perfect curve by the downward swoop of an arm. And again it provides a hint of risk, in that you can’t just nuke it with Photoshop if it goes wrong.

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These are some circus style letters I painted on mdf as practice.

I recently created a window installation using hand painted and lettered signs for an exhibition. On the strength of the window display, I was contacted by the brand manager of a well known chain of restaurants asking to quote for some similar signs. Nothing came of it in the end but it’s serves as an example of how working to your strengths and thinking outside the box has the potential to lead to multiple diverse streams of work.

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I find challenges inspiring. When I first left university, I got a job in an antique print shop. I was a disaster and lasted about 3 weeks before I got sacked. But I came away totally inspired by early 17th century road maps – beautifully hand drawn and engraved with personality and soul. Fast forward some years later and during the last recession, I had a period of unemployment. I started to make my own maps to fill the time. They were never printed – just a vehicle for self expression which I saw as fine art and started to show in galleries. Each map was filled with notes about the place and sometimes line illustrations. They were all done by hand, sometimes directly onto the surface in ink.

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This map is part of a triptych I made as a result of going on an artist’s residency on a ship. I sailed for the best part of a month as part of the crew 1300 miles across the North Atlantic documenting whale sightings. This was certainly challenging for me because I thought I was going to die. Genuinely.

However, the challenge sparked creative ideas.  I couldn’t draw much due to the motion of the ship so I collected overheard stories and travellers’ tales. They became the basis for the maps alongside notes and drawings on how whales have been seen historically and how they have been mythologised and hunted.

As a result of my fine art mapping practice, I was commissioned to write a book on how to draw hand drawn maps, published in June by Thames and Hudson. The challenge here was whether I could both write and illustrate a 17,000 word book for adults within an super tight timeframe of 4 months. I loved every minute – especially the writing – but it did mean no social life over that time. At all. I had to write 500 words a day, every day, and complete an illustration every day and a half.  So much for ‘slow’ illustration.

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In summing up, I think it’s important to understand and cherish your strongest skills. Even if fashion dictates something else.  I believe in thinking outside the box in how you put those skills to use.  Learning and adding to your skill set, focussing on your strengths, is vital.  Accept challenges too and get out of your comfort zone, realising that they can be truly inspirational. Doing all these things can demonstrably lead to new work.

But most important of all, figure out what it is that gives you joy and is creatively stimulating in your work. Then find as many different ways as possible to keep doing it. It’s as simple as that.

I guess that counts for life in general.

 

 

The Making of an Exhibition Part 2

So my exhibition of Hand Drawn Maps has now come down and I thought I’d add a quick postscript with some pictures of the show and the private view. Over 65 people came on the night, there were a lovely number of sales and I think everyone had a great time!

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The window installation going up.

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The window installation in all its glory…

 

More photos of the window installation.

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The Gallery in the quiet  before the storm.

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Prints from the ‘Hand Drawn Maps’ book and an early visitor.

 

 

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And the private view and launch in full flow…

 

 

 

The Making of an Exhibition.

It’s been a long hard slog of a month but finally the exhibition (my first solo show and book launch) of ‘Hand Drawn Maps’ is coming together…

I started planning the window display in late May. I wanted something to stand out, advertise the exhibition and get visitors in as the show only lasts for a few days….

These were the thumbnail prototypes for the window display:

 

I then chose a design in consultation with the gallery and created a very basic mock up on Photoshop…

A mock up of the window installation for the gallery using Photoshop.

Most of the signs had already been created but I had some hand lettering to do and some tweaking…

Red arrow looking slightly wonky before it got a strong and stable backing…

 

A ‘hand’ sign done by hand…

A sign I gave up on because of it’s illegibility….

That’s better. Something a little cleaner…

Next a few hours moving signs around till I got the best arrangement. It took longer than I expected and taking into account the gallery framing system, I used some easels and a wooden box….

Planning how the window installation will look in the studio…

Paperwork needed to be sent to the Gallery including a price list and my artist’s blurb. All done along with the poster and invite, also designed in late May. The latter were sent out to my mailing list and to free online listing sites locally alongside Facebook, Instagram (@helencannart) and Twitter (@helen_cann) in early June.

From this, I got featured in a lovely preview piece written by Peter James Field for the Brighton Source.

Prints had to be printed and framed images protectd with bubble wrap. Some trusty friends were organised to help me carry my framed pictures, prints and window installation signs to the gallery. They were amazing and on one of the hottest days of the year…

Trusty friends…

So now it’s two days before the exhibition. Advertising – check. Marketing – check. Delivery of artwork to the gallery – check. Paperwork to the Gallery – check. Beer bought for friends – check.

Fingers crossed that the show goes fine and is a fitting launch for ‘Hand Drawn Maps’. And hopefully more beer will be enjoyed in celebration.

Hand Drawn Maps

22nd-25th June

O N C A Gallery, 14 St George’s Place, Brighton, BN1 4GB

www.onca.org.uk

 

Pre-order ‘Hand Drawn Maps’ Now!

 

Back in the days of long hot summers, cold wars and leg warmers, there was a girl who loved to spend her time drawing, painting and making things. She created theatre back drops and put on plays; cut out paper dolls, designing wardrobes for queens and nuns (for some reason…); made tiny illustrated books carefully sewn down the middle with white cotton. She pricked her fingers, splashed paints and drew and drew and drew, absorbed for hours at a time. She used her hands.
She grew up and became an illustrator. The job she had dreamed about when she was little. Painting and drawing and making things for a living. It was the best job in the world and she knew she was lucky, despite the sacrifices made and the poor wages earned.
Time dialled forward. Times changed. Painting and drawing was not what the markets demanded. Do what you do but use a computer. Do it fast. Keep it clean. Vectors and clones and infills and pixels. No longer that rusted tin palette of paints, each colour once perfectly wrapped in silver paper. No more the pleasure of opening that box of coloured pencils and making curls of vermillion or aqua fall floorwards as you sharpen them. Gone, the collecting and prizing of patterned paper from all the edges of the world, cutting them neatly to shape and nudging them perfectly into place on a picture.
The girl stuck her heels in the ground and her chin in the air and said she was having none of it. She continued to make work the slow way – even if that meant she couldn’t turn ’em out quick and stack ’em high. She didn’t need to conquer the world and no use pretending that she would do as good a job on a computer as she could do by hand. Her illustrations were made traditionally, drawn out and painted on paper with an expert eye and using the highest quality materials. She cared about the finish of each one and made sure they were made to last and were beautiful objects in their own right. And she took her time, creating images with individuality and soul that would be hard to replicate in other ways.


And so the story dials right round to now. Finally, I have the advance copies of my latest book ‘Hand Drawn Maps- a guide for creatives’ in my possession. Publishing on June 8th by Thames and Hudson in the U.K. (European and American publishers to be announced…) , it celebrates the art and history of maps and explains the process of drawing a multitude of maps by hand. Each illustration has been made using paint, pencil, ballpoint or ink – materials that can be afforded by everyone and that give pleasure in the playing with. If you manage to get hold of a copy, I hope, like me, you can lose yourself in creating something beautiful by hand. Take your time, add some heart and know that it will last till the time dials round once again.

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Copies can be ordered from Amazon now.

 

Adjust and Deliver. The story of the front cover for ‘Hand Drawn Maps’.

Adjust and deliver was the catch phrase for completing the front cover for ‘Hand Drawn Maps – a guide for creatives’.  Front covers are never easy to nail and this one was no different.

Cover #1 was the cover I had initially drawn out for the first proposal.  It wasn’t clear whether, as it was a book about drawing, the image would be a line drawing or fully coloured in.  The designer liked my idea of reversing the image with Photoshop so that the original pencil rough became white – its negative –  giving it the look of a chalkboard.

By the time the book was finished, views had changed.  Covers are tricky things as they need to encapsulate the contents of the publication with one single image, be aesthetically pleasing, commercially bold, swimming strongly in a competitive sea of other books.  I needed to revamp the original cover idea to take all these points into account. I was asked to create a couple of thumbnail images as proposals for the cover.  The main design team would discuss and feed back.  These were the thumbnails I came up with.

After some deliberation, the response was that actually the design team quite liked the very first cover with the compass rose that I had drawn.  I was asked to create a full scale pencil rough with an indication of colour.  The cover was to be full colour because it needed to stand out in a competitive market.  It was also very important to include my name as author and the subtitle – ‘a guide for creatives’.  The publisher additionally asked for a busy detailed map in the background.  For this, I chose an axonometric urban map which could feature some of the very random symbols from the interior of the book.  Lighthouses, pagodas, building size beer bottles and hipster coffee cups all started popping up in this fantastic city.

Cover two. The original.

Cover two. The original.

I waited for a response. Cover #3. The sales team were involved. They wanted the cover to sum up the wide scoping subject matter of the book which ranges from picture maps, to word maps, underground metro maps to platform game maps, palmistry and phrenology charts, architectural and mind maps. A border with chapter titles was called for. There was also a question about where the logo should sit. Could I provide another rough?

The cover with the chapter titles and logo added.

The cover with the chapter titles positioning and logo added.

Cover #4.  Another meeting had happened and it was suggested that perhaps the compass should be made smaller to give the background map more room to breathe.  It was decided that the logo could actually go on the back of the book but the subtitle didn’t look very prominent.  The subtitle ‘ A guide for creatives’ was very important in reaching out to potential buyers.  Could I come up with a way of making it more eyecatching? The adjustment was made by adding a banner with the subtitle to the image.

The cover with a smaller compass rose and a banner with the subtitle added.

The cover with a smaller compass rose and a banner with the subtitle added.

Finally, I was given approval but was first asked to provide a colour rough.  In my experience this is a fairly unusual practice.  As I work by hand,  providing a colour rough would be time consuming at a moment when the deadline was already well in sight.  I can only imagine that the design team were more used to working with illustrators who generally used digital tools to colour.  A click of the button can infill space in less than a second. For me, painting the colour rough, even at 25% of the full dimensions, took a few hours.

Colour rough

Colour rough

Cover #5.  The design feedback on the colour rough was that the subtitle still wasn’t visible enough.  Apparently, although Westerners read from left to right, the eye lingers on the bottom right corner.  I could go to full colour but was asked to swap the subtitle to the other side (the bottom right corner) with my name which should be made smaller.

Map cover - mid painting.

Map cover – mid painting.

The adjustment was made. Done, dusted and delivered.  I just had to wait for final approval.  It didn’t come.

The design and sales teams were still not happy.  The subtitle still wasn’t prominent enough.  Could I make it cross the entire banner at the bottom and move my name to a smaller banner crossing the compass points at some place aesthetically convenient? The only way to do this, other than repainting entirely was to add using Photoshop, collaging in the repainted wording over the top of the original.  Painting by hand really doesn’t lend itself to making easy and fast adjustments unfortunately and this was becoming increasingly clear.

Cover #6.  With the print deadline acting like some kind of guillotine the final change was made.  Once more, Photoshop was the only thing that made it possible in time without having to repaint.  I was asked to change the central compass rose from the originally agreed red to a blue.  This made the main book title popout against the contrasting oranges of the compass points.  Again, very much a sales decision based on how well the book would stand out visually on a physical book shop shelf and how well it would stand out as a thumbnail image online in virtual stores like Amazon.

The final artwork.

The final artwork.

This entire process took about a month to complete.  I’m not used to artwork being tweaked quite so often and over such a long drawn out period.  In my experience, usually all teams come together after the rough stage and then to discuss and approve on artwork delivery but here it was clear that there were multiple voices involved in the decisions being made, on multiple occasions and with multiple sales and design boxes that needed to be ticked.  I wonder whether the increasingly anachronistic nature of my working practice – working by hand and taking time – is becoming a hindrance in meeting the demands of a fast paced sales driven publishing economy more than ever before.  It was expected that I could adjust artwork easily and deliver changes immediately, probably with the click of a mouse. Ironic if you take the title of the book into account.  However, although the experience felt fairly stressful for me, I did learn a lot about the process of creating a truly commercial cover for a large publisher specialising in design led books.  I hope the thought and hard work that went into it, really does make ‘Hand Drawn maps’ stand out from the crowd and sell many many copies

Buy my prints at the Onca Gallery Christmas Ecoextravaganza!

It’s December, Christmas is jingling fairly insistently now on the far (snow laden?) hills and you have finally got round to thinking you should buy some Christmas presents…. How about one of my prints from the new Onca Gallery print collection, launched at the gallery in Brighton on the 14th at a truly spectacular Christmas Ecoextravaganza?! As it’s the Season, I’m going to sprinkle this with a good ole cliche and say that there’s something to suit all pockets….

A cute present for adults and kids alike, pick out a print from my children’s book illustration portfolio. ‘Birds live in Nests’ is small but perfectly affordably formed and is taken from the work in progress called ‘In My Garden’. The original was painted in watercolour and gouache and includes elements of collage from my vast collection of patterned papers. Like all the prints available at Onca, it’s printed on quality heavyweight paper in archival inks so won’t fade in sunlight.
Birds live in nests
Or before the publication of my book about maps in 2017 (Thames and Hudson) secure a map of the moon print for the astronomical geek in the family?  It’s covered in fascinating lunar fact and fiction notes – for example, did you know that Ting Fang of China first recognised the moon was spherical as early as the first century BC or that English tradition declares that the man in the moon drinks claret (presumably along with the cheese he eats…)? An elegant giclee print of the original drawing in white ink on a slate grey with a black background, it looks great with a black mount and a boxy black frame.

Map of the Moon

Or there’s my best selling map of Brighton print, ideal for someone who lives in or has a connection with the city. Or indeed has a fascination with town planning….  First shown at the ‘Tracks’ show at Onca, like the moon map, it’s covered in handwritten notes. A previous customer recently told me that she has it in her kitchen and still finds new things whenever she looks at it which is lovely to hear. As a suggestion, I framed the original in a white mount and boxy white frame contrasting the classic Victorian inspired cartographical elements with contemporary minimalism.

Framed map of Brighton
There’s also the chance to buy a triptych of prints of ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’ – An unusual present for sailors and lovers of the sea. Dotted with painstakingly detailed illustrations of boats, marine creatures and fabulous sea monsters, the map charts the stories heard on a journey across the North Atlantic searching for whales. It’s an ideal size to fill a feature wall or chimney breast. First shown at Onca in ‘The Whale Road’ show, it definitely would make an eye catching statement piece in any room with a maritime flavour.

We Dream of Blue Whales triptych 72

I’m honoured to be sharing a place in the collection with the work of Peter Driver, Fiver Locker, Kate Walters, Hannah Alice, Kittie Jones, Sarah Gittins, Gary Parselle (The Private Press) and Dopple Press.

It will be launched on Wednesday 14th December 2016 at the Onca Gallery Christmas extravaganza from 5pm. Mulled wine, mince pies and cheesy Christmas music are promised alongside stalls showcasing work by Onca members and supporters such as the very cool Ernest Journal and What You Sow.  The famous Onca Christmas window display is being created by internationally renowned performance artist Clare Whistler and designer Tamsin Currey.  Eco friendly gift wrapping will be available, and if you’re feeling creative there’s a chance to design and make your own – sounds like a good way to have fun and make your gifts properly personal….

Hopefully see you there but if you can’t make it, the work will be available to buy at the gallery till the 23rd December and then as part of a planned online gallery shop at a later date.

Oh – and last but not least, have a very happy Christmas!

 

Christmas extravaganza: 14th December. 5pm onwards.

Email: info@onca.org.uk

Website: www.onca.org.uk

Address: ONCA, 14 St George’s Place, Brighton, BN1 4GB, UK

Telephone: 01273 607101

 

 

 

 

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.

 

I wrote my first book!

I have illustrated many books before but a few weeks ago I delivered the first book I have both written and illustrated to the publishers. Not only was writing it a first, but it was also about maps and for adults – another couple of firsts.  It was a total unknown for me and what a ride/learning curve/marathon it has been… To say I hit the road with only a very basic map to my final destination would be an understatement.

The deadline was an incredibly tight one – so tight that when I planned it out I knew there would be no weekends off or much of a social life for a couple of months.  I would need to write 500 words a day and complete 5 illustrations by hand every week.  Almost one picture every 24 hours. Usually I’d expect a couple of days for an illustration….

I wasn’t totally sure it was doable but the only way to find out was to get pedalling and see.

Marvin the cat did his best to advise...

Marvin the cat helped with quality control…

It turned out that I loved writing although I had never really done any professionally before. I’d wake up and while I was still in bed, over toast and coffee, I’d start. The 500 word per day limit seemed daunting but actually I found I was writing more and having to heavily edit and cut back. My tendency was to go for wordiness and the struggle was to remember this was a fun ‘how to’ book about hand drawn cartography and not a scholarly treatise. I also had to find the balance between writing about me and my personal experience and writing for the reader. A tricky one realising how loud your ego can shout.

The research was heavy because the plan was to include writings about both historical and contemporary maps.   My PC was jammed with a row of open sites and my reading list similarly stuffed with links.  Pinterest became overloaded with a library of images I’d obsessively collected, finally divided into chapter headings after the sprawl got too much. The book will eventually run to a couple of hundred pages but I can’t imagine what it must be like to write a novel or anything academic requiring way more research. I learnt so much though and it felt like a crash course in cartography.

Creating the illustrations was fun and meant I got to be particularly playful in my work. I’d planned out the design of the book initially so that each page looked different from the others with a variety of media. I got to incorporate the methods I used in my fine art practice and hand lettering (drawing in pen and ink) with the more painterly side of watercolour and gouache that you see in my picture book illustrations.

It started to become a very personal book;  Friends and family became inspiration for any representations of people; maps were based on places I had visited like New York, Reykjavik and Tokyo.

My nieces became the inspiration for these two characters....

My nieces were the inspiration for these two characters….

Regularly working 10 hour days, I stopped when the light dimmed or my eyes started complaining. But somehow, because it was so enjoyable, that lovely combination of resentment, boredom and exhaustion never really came knocking.

And now I have delivered the final package to the publishers with a weird selection of envelopes of mock-ups for the photographer, covered drawings, paintings, digital scans and instructions written to an embarrassing level of control freakery.  The say I have over the book may be small and my copious planning is perhaps slightly redundant, but this is all part of the learning curve.  In the end, I am purely creating work (rather than a Nobel-Prize-winning life-time’s worth of research) for a client who has his own remit and understanding of his market. Both my words and images may be changed to fit into this and it’s good, if hard, to be accepting of that.

We will just have to see what comes of it all, won’t we? However the final publication looks, the adrenaline fuelled insomniac scribbling, hours spent painting that just flew by and wonder-filled map discoveries will have been totally worth it. It’s been some adventure.

And next time, if there is a chance to both write and illustrate another book, I’ll be able to take a more detailed map with me for sure. In the meantime, a celebration is definitely in order.

Marvin and fizz.

Marv agrees….