Hanna-Mae Illustration

Illustrator & eco clothing designer


July 2018

Monthly review:affordable gouache

I started using gouache in 2004 when my artistic ability (and obsession!) was just developing. I had just started a college summer course and had never heard of it before but it soon became my go-to paint for the next 5 years until i went to university and branched out a little. I loved the versatility of it, the fact that you could use it as you would watercolour (very dilute) or more thickly. Though unlike watercolour it’s opaque. For this reason I find it preferential for pieces where I want vibrant colours. However, this type of paint does dry fast so you’ll need to work fairly quickly, which is why when I’m doing more involved pieces I like to use water-mixable oils (a faster dry time than traditional oils, but not as fast as paints such as gouache and watercolour).

Gouache can be expensive with individual professional tubes costing as much as much as £10. However, there are budget options available. These sets are great for experimenting with and I own both professional and cheaper brands and use them together. A more purse-friendly brand that I’ve found to be quite good is Reeves, not as cheap as paints you’d find in bargain stores, but not as expensive as professional brands, this set is a good in-between, so that’s the brand I’ll be reviewing today.


Name: Reeves Gouache Artist Colour Tube Set – 24

Price: £9.99-£27

Where to buy:  Hobbycraft, The Range (cheapest so far), Amazon, ebay, many other craft stores/online

Having tried various brands, including professional more expensive ones, I’ve never felt disappointed with Reeves gouache. In fact, I trusted it enough  to use during my time at university alongside these more expensive brands and still use it today. It retains its quality well and doesn’t dry out after months of storage, unlike a much more expensive brand I also regularly use. It still remains smooth, whereas the more expensive brand had become thick and unusable. For students on a tight budget and beginners wanting to just experiment before shelving out for premium brands this is a great option.

These paints can be used on their own, but I find them useful as ‘base colours’ underneath soft pastels. I do this to achieve a ‘softer’ look, but the good thing about gouache is it can also be used for pieces where you want vibrancy. Reeves gouache delivers this and they mix easily with water. The more liquid texture (in comparison to more expensive brands) can be thanked for this. However, the fact that it’s more liquid may suggest that to save costs there are more ingredients such as water and binding agent and less pigment, which is what gives you vibrancy. Gouache is made of pigment, water, and a binding agent such as gum arabic or dextrin. In higher quality paints you’d expect there to be more quality pigment. However, these paints are very workable and once you get the hang of them you can control the intensity of your colour by adding more/less water.

One issue with the Reeves set is actually not specific to this brand, but shared by all gouache paints; the fact that you must be careful when using the paint undiluted/thickly or you risk cracking. One thing lacking with this specific set though is any assurance of permanence, which is something you do get when selecting professional/more expensive paint. Winsor & Newton for example use the system: AA, A, B, C with AA being extremely permanent and C being most likely to fade. If you’re creating a piece of artwork for exhibition it would be best to opt for a brand that gives you an idea of the permanence of your paint and opt for the highest possible. For everyday experiments and general practice though I feel the Reeves set serves a purpose and the quality is good for a mid-range product.

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‘Moving’ Gouache base under soft pastels


To see some of my past gouache work, click the icons:






Out with the old

I’ve been dying to get stuck in to some artwork lately, especially as my Sakura Pigma Micron pens arrived yesterday but my time has been taken up mostly with packing things up to move. I’ve been having a good sort out of my art and craft materials and going through old pieces. My collection of past work has been piling up over the years, so I’m considering being ruthless and finally parting with some!















As I’ve known my current neighbour for over a decade now I wanted to make her a special card to say goodbye rather than just buy one. Since I’ve been experimenting with children’s book illustration lately I decided to go with a cute design which would be good practice in this area.

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I’m already thinking of my next project and the deadlines I have. For the past couple of years I’ve been involved in the Y Galeri Caerffili Winter Exhibition and as soon as I get myself settled I’ll be starting work on this year’s entry. I have so many ideas in my mind and at the moment am doing a bit of reading on my subject choice (which is top secret for now!). As it’s going to be quite an involved piece I think it’ll be my main project for the rest of this year. Next year the charity Viva! are holding an artwork auction and I’ve been asked, as part of ‘Art for Animals’ to contribute a piece. It feels wonderful to feel excitement again over projects after a very difficult beginning to the year.

Monthly tutorial: Using Body-Chan model for artists

Last week I reviewed Body-Kun models for artists and as promised this week I’ll be showing you how to use them. As I’ve been experimenting with children’s book illustration lately I’ll be creating a character in this style.

The instructions that come with some Body-Kun sets show one way to use the sets but I like to use them just as direct references. You can take a photo using your phone then upload it to Photoshop and go from there (there are plenty of videos on youtube showing this) but I’ll be showing you how to develop a character in a more traditional way.

Start off by getting your model in to your desired pose. Body-Kun dolls are just the right size to be used with dolls house furniture, so you can use props. You can use the stand if you’re using a flying or standing pose, but as mine was able to balance on its own I didn’t use it.

NB: Apologies in advance for the not so great lighting!


Once you have a pose you’re happy with, place the doll at the right height depending on what perspective you want. I wanted mine straight-on, so placed it at eye level.


This is your reference, so now you just start drawing! Don’t worry about clothing etc at this stage, just draw what you see. Below I’ll show you the steps I went through.














Once you’ve finished drawing out the basic shape, make your lines more fluid. I think that when it comes to children’s illustration the lines are much more soft, less angular. I’ve just drawn some guidelines on the face, though with children’s illustration characters don’t have to adhere to any real measurement rules.



Once you’ve smoothed off your silhouette, rub out the inner lines and begin drawing in your clothes. I’ve decided my character will be a gardener.








Keep adjusting as you go along until you’re happy with the shape and how the clothes sit.



Once you’re happy with your body/clothes you can add your face and hair. Don’t forget to rub out the inner lines.




Once you’re finished with the drawing stage you can begin to add colour. I decided to outline mine with fine liner first.

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Monthly review: Body-Kun models for artists

Name: Body-Kun models for artists

Price: Varying depending on doll/set

Brief Description: PVC posable male/female/baby jointed dolls for use as reference by artists and illustrators. Available in various colours.

I was so excited to find these dolls! I’ve recently been working on my illustration style and creating characters (see my previous post for more! link) so decided to dig out my old school wooden artists mannequin. Whilst it was fun trying out some poses, it just wasn’t cutting it. The shoulders were square, the hips too narrow, and the proportions, at least in my opinion, were just so ‘off’! I started searching online for an alternative and discovered the world of Body-Kun. At first I was thrilled when my first doll (Chibi Body-Kun) arrived and after some success using it as a reference I was keen to see the potential of the others. However, my enthusiasm was premature and I’m sorry to say that it was all down hill from there! That’s not to say there aren’t good points about these dolls (which I’ll get to soon!) but one refund and one replacement later and I think it’s fair to say my enthusiasm has waned somewhat.


SH Figuarts Chibi Body-Kun


Because I was impressed with Chibi Body-Kun’s flexibility, I allowed myself to disregard the fact that the spare hands that came with it didn’t fit (the hole was too small to attach them) thinking it was just a one-off. Wanting to see if the other dolls would work as well as this one had, I ordered, from the same ebay store, what I thought was the same line but was actually different. The dolls I will be reviewing are mainly SH Figuarts, often listed alongside, and confused with Figma Archetype. The second doll (female) that I ordered was Figma Archetype and the difference in quality was notable. On opening the package I was disappointed with the strange anatomy of the character (pointy calves, unnaturally long neck, sticking out shoulders) and the flimsier material used on the pelvis area got jammed in the hip joints. There was also something peculiar about the arms, the way in which the joints, particularly on one arm, stuck out. I went back online and realised I’d ordered a doll from a different line, but asked for a refund as I felt the quality was a huge let down.


Figma Archetype – pelvis/hip joints


Figma Archetype – detached shoulder joints


Figma Archetype – elbow joint



As I’d ordered from the same company and had to message them anyway, I decided to mention the hands that didn’t fit on the Chibi Body-Kun and they offered to send me a replacement. When this arrived, one arm wouldn’t attach properly at the elbow and was too loose to use, however the hands did fit, although I was given one set of two left hands. I now had two Chibi Body-Kun dolls, both with different problems. My solution? To use elements from each to create one working doll! I found the head was too big for the type of character I wanted to create too, so decided to take it off! (NB to be fair this was listed as ‘Chibi’ which in manga/anime art usually involves a small body with an out of proportion head).



Chibi Body-Kun & replacement

After receiving a refund for the Figma Archetype ‘she’ doll I decided to order an SH Figuarts Body-Chan, the female equivalent of Body-Kun. When it arrived I was much happier with the quality, though it did cost me a bit more. It was worth paying the extra as I feel this doll is usable, whilst I will probably never use the previous one. You can get dolls on their own, or in a set with accessories. I opted to get Body-Chan with accessories, which were great fun to play around with, and gave a good base/starting point for ideas. I feel that quality control is an issue with these dolls though – the arm joint of Body-Chan was sticking out, and she definitely wasn’t as flexible as Chibi Body-Kun. However, I was impressed that even her feet were jointed. This set (unlike Chibi Body-Kun and Body-Kun) came with an instruction leaflet. The leaflet is in Japanese, but the pictures are easy to follow.

Body-Chan leaflet



SH Figuarts Body-Chan


SH Figuarts Body-Chan jointed feet


SH Figuarts Body-Chan protruding elbow joint (left)

Fairly happy with my Body-Chan purchase I next decided to try out Body-Kun. I expected this model to come with a stand, which it didn’t, but as I had a stand for Body-Chan I thought I could use this one. However, the hole at the back was too large and the doll was loose on the stand (though SH Figuarts stands do come with the option of attaching a sort of ‘claw’, which holds any Body-Kun/Chan doll. Again, I felt quality control was an issue. Within minutes I had issues. I tried to change one of the hands but a piece of plastic broke off meaning I couldn’t attach any hands. The dolls, especially because they’re so small, are very delicate, and as it requires some pressure to get the hands on/off it’s a breakage waiting to happen. My only option was to reach for the superglue. By this time I was a bit fed up with messaging about faults, so decided to just accept that my Body-Kun would have the same hands forever (leaving the replacement hands useless). One of the foot joints was also jammed and no matter how much I tried to free it, it just wouldn’t move. Again, quality control seems to be a big issue here.

Body-Kun broken hand joint


Body-Kun pose
Body-Kun pose

In terms of using Body-Kun as a reference I really feel like it would be more suited to artists who like to draw action, rather than illustrators looking to create more friendly, ‘picture-book’ characters. It’s very muscular, though compared to Figma Archetype ‘he’, it’s less extreme.

Would I recommend these dolls to fellow illustrators and art enthusiasts? Probably not. Mainly due to quality and questionable anatomy. However, I do see how they could be useful to those who find it difficult to use their imagination when envisioning characters. They can be helpful in reminding you what a certain pose looks like, but only vaguely. I just feel they’re too inaccurate to rely on for precise reference so a bit if imagination is required (which is always exciting in my mind!). I do prefer these dolls to wooden mannequins, though wooden mannequins are much more sturdy.

Next week: Monthly tutorial: using Body-Kun to create characters

Overcoming obstacles

After an impromptu break I’m finally back and feeling like my old creative self again. After two losses of two wonderful, strong women I found myself in a bit of a daze, neglecting the part of my personality that used to bring me so much joy and a sense of identity: creativity. A few weeks ago though I felt as though a veil of apathy had been lifted suddenly off my body, and the ideas and excitement came flooding back. I’d really missed this important part of my life and it feels so wonderful to welcome it back.

Although my degree is in illustration I’ve always been most at home with a more fine art style, sticking to this because I know it’s my strength and I know how to get the results I want, but inside my heart I’ve always held a love of children’s book illustration, and I’ve been having so much fun lately playing around with this style. Until now I’ve always wanted my work to be ‘right’ from the time I start until the time I finish, not really allowing myself much time to play around and experiment, but I’m turning over a new leaf! I’m reminding myself that it’s ok to make mistakes sometimes, and that experimenting is part of the joy of creating. On a long train journey recently I listened to an interview with Judith Kerr, the inspirational 95 year old who wrote and illustrated children’s books such as ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ and ‘Mog’. It was so refreshing and reassuring to hear her admit that even after decades of illustrating she still finds certain things difficult and said ‘ I do a lot of rubbish, you have to work through the rubbish’. I’m allowing myself to be more experimental and reminding myself it’s ok to explore an idea, then decide it’s not going in quite the right direction. ( You can listen to the interview with Judith Kerr here: Link)

I’ve been spending a lot of time imagining up characters that belong in the pages of a children’s book and feel like I’ve finally found a style that works for me and that I’m happy with (excuse the dimness, i took these early morning)

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Artists and illustrators, particularly students, often talk of ‘style’, something which I’ve been reading about lately. It’s interesting to hear different people’s views and I’ve been a bit on the fence with my own opinion. I’ve just signed up to a 5 day email course on ‘finding your style’ as I’m curious to see what this could bring up. After years of creating art work almost daily I feel like when it comes to fine art I’ve developed a way of working that works for me, that I ‘know’, and use again and again, but when it comes to illustration I feel like I’m more transient. When it comes to character design I’ve found a way that works for me, but on the other hand there are so many ways of drawing and creating that a part of me feels I shouldn’t confine myself to a certain way of working. I read an interesting blog post that left me feeling reassured, that said some illustrators just don’t stick to a specific way of working, they work more to their brief, something I feel I can accept. However, I’ve also read other opinions saying that style is important as it’s almost like your calling card, it helps identify you as an illustrator. After reading some good reviews I’m currently working my way through ‘Illustration Workshop’ by Mary Kate McDevitt, which has been helpful in giving myself some focus. It claims to help you ‘find your style, practice drawing skills, and build a stellar portfolio’. Although the book is American, it’s still relevant to the UK, and I’m enjoying working on the projects, as well as reading the useful tips that are scattered throughout. You can find it on Amazon for around £10-£13 (LINK)

I’m really enjoying engaging my brain again and have been looking into possibilities for the near future. As someone with ASD and fibromyalgia getting about can be a bit difficult, but after some research I’ve been opened up to a world of possibilities. I want to reassure anyone with physical or social difficulties reading this that there are options out there for you, you just have to find them, and find a way of working/living that works for you and your particular lifestyle. For quite some time now I’ve been interested in using art as therapy and although I looked into doing my masters in Art Psychotherapy and went to an open day I knew it would be very full-on, especially for someone with limited physical and social energy. Although disheartened I decided to look in to alternatives and found an online course. Although this won’t qualify you as an art therapist you’ll receive a diploma and learn what art therapy entails. I’m hoping to use this when I begin volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Society as a ‘side by side’ volunteer (one to one visits to individuals with Alzheimer’s) to engage who I’m paired with. The Open University is also a good option for those who have disabilities or work/family commitments. I’m currently studying ‘Improving Health & Wellbeing’, which I felt could also help with my volunteering. It may surprise some people to know that even some mainstream universities offer ‘distance learning’.  For example, the University of London offers an MA in Art History. I’m keen in the near future to apply to study for my Masters in Illustration (distance learning) at the University of Hertfordshire. I was also excited to see that the London Art College offer an ‘Illustrating Children’s Books’ year-long online course. So whilst living with a disability can often feel frustrating and feel like your possibilities are limited, there are ways around it.

Last week I visited for a second time the awe-inspiring Peterborough Cathedral. My best friend lives not too far away and first took me to this treasure a few months ago. The architecture is unbelievable and sitting in the grounds sketching on a sunny day under a tree is a lovely way to spend an hour. Last time I visited we popped in to the visitor centre and discovered a little exhibition. It was so nice to meet the artists behind the work. It was all fantastic but two women’s work really spoke to me. I loved the way Stacey-Ann Cole (LINK) used watercolour, it translated really well into postcards, and was definitely something I’d love to frame and put on my wall. I also met mosaic artist Mahemuda Arsalani whose work was so beautiful. I loved her mosaic hearts so much I got one for my Mum’s birthday (she also loved it!). You can visit her website here: LINK

Mosaic by Mahemuda Arsalani (Muni’s Mosaics)

As for my sewing (as you know I love nothing more than upcycling material into something new!) for a while now I’ve been interested in getting involved with a charity called ‘Days For Girls’, who in their own words:  ‘increases access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers, and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls’.  There are sewing groups and individuals (known as ‘super sewists’) all over the world, creating the ‘DFG Kit’, which is then sent to young women across the globe. What a great way to use up my leftover material…as well as a good excuse to pick up some more! If you’re a keen sewer with a little time to spare, or have been interested in joining a sewing group, visit their volunteering page to find out more: Link

Leftover & new material

So I’m happy to say that I’m back and will be starting my monthly reviews again, kicking off with Body Kun/Chan artist model dolls (gone are the days of the clunky wooden mannequin!) and in coming months I’ll be reviewing materials, books, and hopefully exhibitions.

Have a creative July!




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