About: Written/compiled by American illustrator Mary Kate McDevitt, this appealing book guides you into the world of illustration. From the very first page you’re encouraged to get creative (literally – your first activity is to write your name and draw yourself) offering practical information on the industry, materials illustrators use, small warm-up activities and whole guided projects.
The layout – it’s fair to say this book is very aesthetically pleasing; with bright colours, illustrations throughout and interesting typography. The book itself is a piece of illustration work! It also breaks things down into sections making it easy to follow.
The writing style – The language and tone of the book appeals to ‘everyday’ people which makes it accessible to even beginners in the field of illustration. Everything is explained well without any hint of pretentiousness.
The activities range from small to large projects meaning if you have just 5 minutes to fill there’s something for you, if you have 5 hours to fill, there’s also something for you.
Projects are guided and go through a process. You follow each section of the project so you’re never left wondering where to go next. If your imagination seems to be having a day off, there are activities within each project to get your creative juices flowing, such as questions (‘who is your target audience?’) and a section for a spider diagram.
In addition to the mini activities within each project there’s also some visual inspiration, which is great for those of us who think more visually.
The book can be picked up very reasonably online
It’s a fun way of developing your illustration skills
The maybe not so good
If you’re from UK you’ll be aware that the book is American. There’ll be minor spelling/terminology differences
The information provided about working as an illustrator is limited. It’s a good introduction but this book isn’t for in-depth explanation
So is it worth it?
In my opinion I love this book! It was affordable, pleasing to look at (I’m a very visual person) and gave my need to practice my illustration skills/develop my style a direction. It can be hard to pull a project idea out of the air, which is why this book is so useful. I like the honesty with which McDermitt writes and the personal edge she gives it. The projects are engaging and the small warm-ups very unique! I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to develop their illustration skills, especially if they feel they need more direction.
Ok, so it’s only September but anyone who’s involved in any craft/art work will know that Christmas preparation starts way in advance. You’ve probably already seen the Christmas craft magazines creeping on to the shelves and with good reason! If you’re planning on including handmade gifts or handmade elements this year you’ll need time to actually make them! I’ve already started some rough designs for Christmas cards, which I’m doing alongside a competition entry. I was keen to see what other creatives were offering this year, so I’ve got together a list of some of my favourite card designs so far. Head on over to their online shops to see more!
It’s not just Heidi’s Christmas cards I love, she also has some gorgeous birthday/everyday cards. One of my favourites is her Blue tit card (link) Heidi’s work is that little bit ‘different’ which gives her cards a real edge. Below are two of her cards that would be perfect for Christmas, especially for a dog lover! Click the image for a direct link to the item in her Folksy shop.
Brittany’s Etsy shop is full of gorgeous illustrations available as prints or cards and I’m really admiring her Christmas offerings. Below are two of my favourites. Click the images to be taken directly to the listing.
I think what I love most about Kerry’s illustrations is their quirkiness, there’s something a bit different about Kerry’s illustrations and I love that a lot of her work is nature-themed. Take a look at her Autumn/pumpkin items (perfect for Halloween!) I’m in love with the Pumpkin Spice Badge Set. The selection of mini cards below are great for celebrating the winter season.
You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world: finding some paper to start your art project. But when you’re just starting out in the world of art (such as GCSE students etc) it can be perplexing to navigate your way around the vast options available. Don’t be tempted to reach for the cheapest option just to save some money! I’m sure plenty of you have been in a situation where you begin full of enthusiasm only to find that your paper is wrinkling or your ink bleeding. This is because it really is important to be using the right kind of paper for your piece, it really can make or break a piece. I’m going to take you through the basics of choosing a sketchbook when you’re just starting out, or are just getting serious about pursuing your artistic interest. I’ll be putting key points/tips in bold/colour.
All sketch books will generally be suitable for what it says in the title: sketching. Just getting some ideas down in pencil. Where problems usually arise is when you begin using other mediums, especially ‘wet’ mediums such as paints and ink. The very basic sketchbooks you can find almost anywhere (such as budget shops) are usually not suitable for anything more than just getting down some ideas in pencil.
Over the years I’ve learnt to feel my paper before choosing in addition to looking at the description/symbols on the front of the book/pad (more on this later). Generally, cheap papers are quite rough to the touch and will feel thin. Slightly higher quality paper will feel thicker, but may also have a rough texture. But BEWARE! If you do choose a cheap sketchbook for just doodling it’s good to know that cheaper kinds of paper won’t usually stand very much erasing. Ever seen higher quality paper advertised as being ‘acid free’? This is beneficial because it means your work is less likely to fade and the paper less likely to break down.
Let’s talk about cartridge paper…this type of paper is widely available and a lot of illustrators and artists are happy to use it. If you do decide to go for basic cartridge paper for paints such as watercolour bear in mind it must first be prepared. Painting directly on to lower GSM* cartridge paper will cause buckling and you’ll end up with a wibbly painting! The process of preparing paper for watercolours/gouache is known as ‘stretching’. It’ll take a little effort to do, so if you’re desperate to get stuck in to some work straight away using wet mediums it’s best to avoid low GSM cartridge, or make sure you have a stash of pre-prepared sheets. I learnt how to stretch paper on an ‘introduction to art’ summer school at a local college when I was 15 and found the course a real stepping stone into GCSE art, which then progressed to A level, which then progressed to a degree. By the time you reach university it’ll just be assumed that you know these basics. It’s good to look out for taster courses or holiday schools at local colleges/uni’s as you could pick up some skills that prove useful for the rest of your artistic journey. You can find so many videos on Youtube showing you how to stretch paper: link
Now we’ve covered the cheaper ‘everyday’ papers let’s look into specifics. The good news is that a lot of the sketchbooks they stock in art and hobby stores usually have guides on the front, it’s just a matter of reading the symbols and understanding what certain things mean. Something I found confusing for a while was ‘hot pressed’ and ‘cold pressed’. It’s actually as simple as this: hot-pressed paper has a smoother, finer surface, whilst cold-pressed has a more textured surface. Some pads don’t even mention these terms though and keep it more straight-forward by saying ‘smooth’ or ‘grained’. It’s really a matter of personal reference, I use both depending on the finish I want. As I usually work with a lot of detail I generally avoid heavily grained papers as lines can be less ‘crisp’. Thanks to the information on a lot of sketchbooks it’s actually now easier than ever to select your book. Some pads will say ‘mixed media’, meaning that generally any medium is ‘safe’ to use, others will say ‘watercolour’ or ‘drawing’ (Daler Rowney label their sketchbooks really well making it easier to select one). As for symbols, they’re easy to work out; a paintbrush head means it’s suitable for paint, a fountain pen means fountain pens can be used, a fineliner/pen means drawing pens may be used and what looks like a conte stick means pastels can be used. But there’s one area that I know confuses a lot of people…GSM*. This stands for ‘grams per square metre’. Basically, the higher the GSM the heavier the paper, meaning it can handle more. GSM is sometimes written as ‘G/M2’. Papers with high GSM are usually labelled as ‘heavyweight’.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand what paper you’re using before you begin an important project, mainly to avoid frustration over things like buckling, bleeding, eroding etc. I think the most important thing you can do is read the specs of the paper (even individual sheets in art/craft stores will usually have a little label telling you hot/cold pressed and GSM) and if you’re not sure then ask!
Time for some recommendations! For general doodling and really rough work I carry around a small ‘Graduate‘ sketchbook. These are Daler Rowney’s reasonable, lower GSM books that come in various sizes. Hobbycraft also offer their own version of these, with a similar GSM and a very modest price tag. For work that I plan to use (for exhibitions, card designs etc) I rarely stray far from Daler Rowney finegrain heavyweight paper as I find it can hold all mediums really well. I’ve used pastels, oils, gouache, pens, pencil and I’m always happy with the results (though be careful if working on small areas in oils especially oils that have been thinned as sometimes you can get a ‘halo’). I also recommend Daler Rowney’s smooth heavyweight when I want less of a textured surface. If I’m solely using gouache or watercolour I may also opt for their Aquafine smooth pad.
So that’s it, your guide to choosing the perfect sketchbook. Happy creating!
It’s been around a month since I moved in to my new place and whilst things are almost sorted there’s still a bit to do. Yes, I have a half painted hallway and no bedroom door (it’s currently living in the bathroom waiting to be re-attached) but at least my all important home studio is in working order.
I’d been hoping that I could start getting stuck in to some art work pretty much as soon as I moved in but my time has been taken up with all the little things you don’t think about when moving. Finally though I can get on with some work. Creativity feels like such a huge part of who I am that when I’m not dedicating a bit of time to it each day I feel a little lost and like something is missing.
Whilst it’s been difficult to get any artwork done I have put some time aside to do some craft. The end of August is the anniversary of the death of my best friend and each year I like to do something with a more personal touch. This year I decided to decorate a plant with handmade bead garlands and make some wire beaded flowers to put in the ground. What made them even more special was the fact that the wire used was left over from the display I made for a close family member’s funeral earlier this year.
Creativity runs in my family, something which has become more apparent as we empty my relative’s house. Sorting through boxes of half-finished projects (quilting, cross-stitch, embroidery) made me appreciate just how talented she was and after coming across a beautiful coastal scene cross-stitch I’ve decided to put it on my bathroom wall. Not just because it’s beautiful but because the people I’ve lost are still so alive in my heart that they’re part of my ‘everyday’.
It’s been a crazy month of sorting things but hopefully now I can get back to what I love and begin sharing my work with my watchers/followers again. I’m already thinking about Christmas and planning some designs!
Moving day has finally arrived and whilst I thought I’d still have the evening to do some artwork after spending the past week moving boxes it turns out I’ve been too knackered to do anything! I’m excited to have a freshly painted home studio to go to though and the lighting is a million times better than my old one, in which I had to have the light on constantly even on sunny days! I’m keen to get my desk and materials set up asap to begin work again as I’ve been missing being engrossed in my work. Unfortunately I won’t have internet for a few weeks so my blog will be a little quiet until September but I’ll still be updating on my facebook and twitter when I get a chance when I’m in the library. If you aren’t already following me, click the icons below to be directed to my accounts (opens in new tab).
In the chaos of sorting through all my belongings I also realised that last month I posted two reviews. Whilst I’m away, here’s a list of past reviews to take a look at. Click the link to open a new page:
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
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.
To see some of my past gouache work, click the icons:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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