New map drawing workshop!

 

This is a short post to let you know that I’m running a short hand drawn map workshop at ONCA Gallery in Brighton alongside the exhibition ‘The Long View’ by somewhere-nowhere.

8th June, 10am – noon

£15 – tickets via Eventbrite

For adults of all levels of artistic experience.
By the end of this 2 hour workshop you will have all the skills to make a basic hand drawn map!

Participants will learn how to:
Walk the turf and make observations
Grid up and draw out
Create basic but elegant hand lettering
Draw decorative compass roses to complete your map

Please bring a notepad (or equivalent), a pencil, a ruler and clothing appropriate for taking a short walk outside.

Then stay and enjoy The Long View exhibition in the gallery.

Address:

ONCA Gallery
14 St George’s Place
Brighton
E Sussex
BN1 4GB

Telephone: 01273 607101

See you there!

 

 

 

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Book now for a place on my Hand Drawn Mapping workshop.

A very quick post to let you know that Wednesday is the last day you can book a place on my hand drawn mapping workshop at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft on 10th March 2018. The workshop runs from 10.30 to 4 pm and includes refreshments and lunch. All materials will be provided.

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Hand drawn maps are a beautiful alchemy of form, function and artistry which express a view of a particular place at a particular time by a particular person. At the workshop you’ll learn :

– how to research your territory with notes and sketches
– simple gridding up techniques
– how to use negative space effectively with pattern, illustration or stories
– how to create decorative compass roses and cartouches
– how to design personalised feature icons and keys
– easy to draw but simply elegant hand lettering

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Date: 10th March
Time: 10.30-4 pm
Address: Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Lodge Hill Lane, Ditchling, E Sussex, BN6 8SP
Telephone: 01273 844744
Email: enquiries@ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk
Cost; £70.00 plus £2.58 booking fee. £70.00 if booking by phone.

Tickets: here.

 

 

 

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.

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:

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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.

British Science Festival – Babies and Art.

I was recently asked by the University of Sussex to take part in some research by the Sussex Baby Lab there.  The Baby Lab does research in what babies can see.  This project, as part of the British Science Festival  (5th-9th September 2017 in Brighton) involved tracking babies’ eye movements while they looked at a 13 different artworks from illustration to fine art – some of which were mine.  For each baby, the average amount of time looking at the image and the average number of eye fixations were measured.  As they are unable to articulate their preferences, heat tracks were made of their eye movements and from this, it was possible to see which work was most attractive or stimulating to them.

I was worried that none of the work I presented had been made specifically for babies. I was told it didn’t matter.  It was just important that each piece could be used to test the differences between adult eyes and those of babies. I chose an illustration from a book for much older readers and two fine art works, not made with children in mind at all.

In general, it’s known that babies see the world slightly differently to adults.  Babies’ colour vision isn’t developed in the first year.  Red and green differences can be picked up in the first 2 months, blue and yellow after 4 months.  They need saturated intense colour to discriminate between colours – the more distinct and contrasted, the better.  Apparently babies do prefer some colours over others, for example blues, reds and purples rather than dark yellows, greens and browns.

‘Imposter’. Painting in varnished acrylic mounted on hardboard. Lots of hard clean edges and red paint.

Babies between 1-4 months are able to see the difference between some shapes (eg: a cross and a circle) and after 5 months have been shown to prefer curved shapes to angular ones and straight lines.  Babies over 12 months prefer to look at vertically symmetrical patterns over patterns with horizontal symmetry or asymmetrical patterns.  Babies of all ages also love looking at faces or things that look like faces.

‘Aerialist’ – a painting in acrylic on card. A face, but will it be recognised as one side on….?

They aren’t able to see fine details and lots of small patterns blur into a single mass.  In the first few months of life, controlling eye movements is tough and they can get ‘stuck’ fixating on one thing, although this improves with time and practice.  I expected that my last illustration would fall into this category and not be particularly successful in holding the babies’ attention.

However, it actually did pretty well.  The heatmap below shows how babies were fascinated with the eyes in the peacock’s tail (8.9 fixations on average). The average looking time was 4.14 seconds from a maximum of 5 seconds (4th out of the 13 works tested in this area).

Heat map of the peacock illustration.

One of the most successful images was this digital artwork from my good friends at Cornish collective, Granite and Glitter. This frog print was top in achieving babies’ eye fixations –  approximately 11 times per baby.  It’s a complex image with multiple colours and the heat map below shows how the babies look at the bold patterns on the frog’s back and then move to the right as they look at the repeat patterns.

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The artwork that was used in the research will become an exhibition , ‘Seeing the World through a Baby’s Eyes’ at the Jubilee Library in Brighton from 4th-17th September 2017 to showcase the features that babies like to look at.  Research scientists will be on hand on the 7th September to explain the results and techniques used to visitors.

It should be a really fascinating show; I’ve learnt so much already from being involved and I’d like to head over to check out the other artwork and talk to some scientists. If I ever illustrate a book for babies, hopefully I’ll be able to use some of the research in how I design each picture…

Jubilee Library
Jubilee Street,  Brighton BN1 1GE
01273 290800

4th-17th September

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.

 

 

What I get up to in my studio…

Studios are forever fascinating to the general public.  For some reason, friends and acquaintances of mine love to visit me in my place of work and I’m sure this wouldn’t be the case if it was an office.  The arcane and unusual happens in studios.  They are filled with mysterious objects far from the mundane and peopled with bohemians and artists dancing on the edge of craziness…. They are Romantic-with-a-capital-R and are almost always in garrets.

My studio (on a tidy day)

My studio (on a tidy day)

Don’t be slightly disappointed if you make your way up the scruffy staircase above the milkshake shop and enter into a bright, white and very workmanlike workspace.  Definitely not even the hint of a garret.

Yes, it is filled with the art equipment of my trade – the paint boxes, coloured pencils, acrylics, inks and a huge collection of collage papers – collected over the years from around the world; paper bags, origami papers, wrapping paper and wallpaper semi-overflowing from colour coded boxes.  But there are also the printers, computers, staplers, tape-dispensers and paper clips necessary for the most everyday of businesses.

Studio art paraphanalia

Studio art paraphanalia

The studio chill out zone. Just switch on and enjoy...

The studio chill out zone. Just switch on and space out…

The studio drink cellar. For those late night deadlines...

The studio drink cellar. To get you through those late night deadlines…

I share my space with two others – currently with Clive, who is another artist and Alistair (creative but non-professionally creative) who works for a charity spreading positive policies around the world.  None of them are outwardly bohemian or even remotely crazy.  We share biscuits and coffee and go out for an annual Christmas drink.
Mostly it’s me who makes the coffee….

Can't go wrong with a High School Musical mug and some coffee.

Can’t go wrong with a High School Musical mug.

It’s been a space that has allowed me to get as messy as I like and pursue projects outside of my illustration commissions.  Occasionally I have been employed by my local arthouse cinemas (The Duke of Yorks and Dukes@Komedia) to make props publicising upcoming films.

A pop-up book to promote the horror film 'The Babadook' commissioned by Dukes@Komedia.

A pop-up book to promote the horror film ‘The Babadook’.

A pop up cinema (made from a cheap gazebo) which showed black and white films for the Kid's Club at Dukes@Komedia cinema.

A pop up cinema within a cinema which I made from a cheap gazebo to show black and white films for the cinema Kid’s Club.

A huge papier mache head promoting the film 'Frank Sidebottom'.

A huge papier mache head promoting the film ‘Frank Sidebottom’.

You definitely have to try it for size...

Apparently it was very difficult to breathe in.

When I have time, I work on my fine art practice – painting or making artist maps.  Although my illustration is very established, I am slowly building up my fine art career strongly supported by Onca Gallery, where I have exhibited regularly.  You can find out more about my fine art by visiting here.

We Dream of Blue Whales

We Dream of Blue Whales (a mapping project first shown at the exhibition ‘The Whale Road’.)

Chinese emperor mid painting.

Chinese emperor mid painting. Originally commissioned by The King’s Head pub in Dalston, London.

But most importantly, the studio keeps me sane.  I like people so solitude doesn’t suit me. Being able to talk to my colleagues about the night before or the burning issues of the day, hear the buzz of the street, knock back an occasional milkshake or complain about the relentless busking outside the window gives me a tremendous feeling of contentment and belonging. Regardless of whether my studio truly is a Romantic-with-a-capital-R place to work, this is what makes it most valuable to me…

cheeky Helen