Monday, 30 April 2012

Festive Flags and Flowers for Graduation Congratulations

Last week’s ‘bunting’ design turned into a ‘Festive Flags’ Graduation Congratulations card – something a bit different and maybe a bit more celebratory than the usual mortar boards and scrolls!

And I think the effect of the blue background I created for it on the Zazzle site is quite interesting – the blue shows through some of the lighter colours, making them look like very old, well-worn bunting!

I usually paint or make collages on Saturday afternoons, having sketched some ideas in the evenings during the week. But this week, I hadn’t had time to prepare anything as I was so busy getting all my Mother’s Day cards uploaded to the four print-on-demand sites I use, Greeting Card Universe, Zazzle, CardGnome and the Netherlands-based site you may not have come across, SendaSmile.

So, when an urgent customer request came from Greeting Card Universe, very late on Friday evening, just as I was backing up my day’s work before closing down my laptop,  I was able to carry out the customisation the following afternoon, resulting in one very satisfied customer!

This customer has asked me to change the names on my flowery graduation cards in previous years so I wasn’t too surprised that she wanted a different name again this time around.

Unlike the 'bunting' collage, which was made of painted layout paper, this one is made of tissue paper that I have painted with gouache. It’s a lot more fragile and seems to become very easy to fray and tear once it has been painted so care is needed with the cutting. I cut out the petals and leaves with small scissors but the name has to be cut with a very sharp craft knife. So I craftily chose a font that has lots of lumps and bumps at the edges so that any inaccuracies in the cutting aren’t too obvious!

I was surprised to spot two young blackbirds pecking for worms on my lawn this week and it made me realise how little I know about birds and their habits! Things like: where do young birds sleep when they grow too big for their nests? And: how soon after the young ones have flown the nest, will a Mother Blackbird start to build a new one?

So I consulted the expert, Jean Pell (here's her blog and some excellent photos!) and from her replies, I now firmly believe that the first nesting attempt didn’t fail at all and that the young birds I keep surprising in my garden recently are the ones who started their lives in the nest on top of my little greenhouse!

Difficult to see against the gravel path but a lot 'rounder' than the adults

They are quite big now but easily startled when I inadvertently go near a bush where they are hiding. And they keep flying into my windows! It’s happened at least three times this week. They don’t seem to be any the worse for it and maybe it’s because I cleaned the windows so thoroughly recently that they can’t see that they're there? 

A good excuse to do more painting and less window-cleaning!!!!!!

PS CardGnome are beginning an exciting 12-day Mother's Day promotion on Wednesday (May 2nd) with prizes including a grand prize vacation. So keep an eye on the CardGnome facebook page for details and you might be a lucky winner!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Topsy Turvy Seasons and Christmas in April!

No, I haven’t got the seasons mixed up, though our recent weather might well have caused some confusion, with very low night temperatures and forecasts of snow in May!

My new poinsettia design for the December birthday cards did, though, get me into the Christmas spirit, even though it's April, as it was easy to adapt the birthday design to make it Christmassy! From the search engine point of view, it’s a good thing to upload Christmas cards some months in advance so it’s nice to know that I have my new collage design for Christmas 2012 ready and more than 50 cards waiting to be uploaded!

I’ve never actually been very fond of poinsettias but I think collage was a good medium to choose and I ended up more enthusiastic about these designs than I expected to be!

Back to April and CardGnome have announced a promotion for Mother’s Day.

In the UK, Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday, has a slightly different provenance from that of the US 'holiday' and it's on the 4th Sunday in Lent, so it invariably occurs some time in March. That makes it feel very odd for me to be preparing Mother’s Day greeting cards in April! But CardGnome have asked for greeting cards for their Mother's Day promotion to be uploaded by the end of this week and that has been keeping me very busy.

I sold a lot of cards as a result of CardGnome’s Easter promotion so I decided it was worth ‘burning the midnight oil’ to get the Mother's Day cards I’ve made from my recent floral designs uploaded in time.

Here they all are, together with some I made earlier!

As a result, I haven’t got very far with this weekend’s new design!

Can you guess what sort of card this design will turn into?


Monday, 16 April 2012

A Lesson in Persistence!

The Morning Glory design turned into quite a lot of greeting cards:

It wasn’t quite the right shape, though, to make into a repeating pattern easily. And as a one-off, it was too tall and thin for some of the products I would have liked to create on Zazzle.

But I think it does look quite pretty on this tea pot 

 - and on this Ladies T-shirt:

I was decidely premature last month in thinking that Spring had sprung. We’ve had a fair amount of sunshine in April, but biting cold winds and showers of rain, sleet and hail, with snow on the mountain tops!

Sadly, I think the pair of blackbirds who built their nest just outside my dining room were also caught out by the changeable weather. On Wednesday I had seen the two ‘chubbies’ sitting outside the nest and on Thursday morning one of them was on my back lawn with Father Blackbird.

But that was the last I saw of them and the nest remained empty all day.

Father Blackbird spent practically the whole of Friday, perched up high on my garage roof, giving out his warning song and by the time I closed my curtains in the evening, he was looking quite forlorn and bedraggled! Meanwhile, Mother Blackbird banged into my kitchen window whilst attempting to land in my window box where she often comes to peck out my seeds!

She seemed fine though the following morning, when I spotted her building a new nest, high up under the eaves of the house next door, where I can see it more clearly than the one under my honeysuckle bush. It’s a much bigger nest and it was finished by lunchtime, so she’s obviously learning from her experience. And Father Blackbird has been treating us to his usual beautiful song ever since!

What a lesson in persistence for all of us, when we are tempted to give up because of setbacks!

Somewhat inspired by her persistence, I made up my mind to tackle the December birth month flower, Poinsettia. I'd been putting it off because it didn’t feel like the right time of the year to be working on something so Christmassy.

I was also wondering how I could differentiate it from a Christmas card and I hope the solution I came up with – using a non-Christmassy colour for the pot and the lettering – will work.

Here it is, my Poinsettia painted paper collage, and it completes my set of birth month flower greeting card designs.

I’m sure I’ll also be using the image as a Christmas Card design and maybe a Christmas T-shirt or Apron? In fact, it’s not too soon to be uploading Christmas designs for next year from the search engine point of view . . .

Monday, 9 April 2012

More Birth Month Flowers and Baby Birds!

I’ve had a couple of distractions this week!

First I was surprised to find that I had been (randomly) selected to take part in a face-to-face survey – one of 15 people in my area – to give the First Minister feedback on how, in my opinion, things are going in Wales!

Lots of questions to answer, some of them quite silly, eg 'how happy were you yesterday on a scale of 1 – 10?'  But I went from thinking I didn’t have any comments to make on how our local council and the Welsh Assembly are performing to finding a several things to voice my opinions (aka rant) about, ranging from the slipshod way the potholes in our road are mended to the teaching of reading in Welsh Primary Schools.

In spite of this unexpected interruption - the letter about it didn't arrive until 10 minutes before the lady whose job was to ask me the questions! -  I did manage to finish the Water Lily Birthday Card design, though I’ve only, so far, uploaded it on phone, iPod and iPad cases.

The second, much bigger, distraction was the hatching of the blackbird’s eggs in the nest just outside my dining room window!

I can only just see the nest now that the honeysuckle has grown so much, and that prevents me taking any photos. But on Thursday, I noticed one of the parents bobbing up and down while sitting on the nest, which I thought was very odd . . . until I saw a huge open beak appear from under the parent, and realised it was a baby bird struggling to get out from under!

There only appeared to be one chick for a couple of days and it seemed quite large. Could a cuckoo have laid its egg in the blackbird’s nest, I wondered! But thankfully, no; yesterday there were at least two heads visible from my window, looking very much smaller when they're sleeping than they do at feeding time!

Every so often I am distracted by a great clattering sound as one of the parents lands on or takes off from my plastic greenhouse, where they are nesting; this can result in some very wobbly drawing if I happen to be doing something delicate with my graphics tablet! And I’m just hoping that this isn’t attracting the attention of the crows that gather on my roof! I’ve had nests in my garden in previous years but they’ve never survived beyond the egg stage because of these predatory crows. So I’m very excited that ‘we’ve’ got this far!

But in spite of this excitement, I’ve made a good start on my Morning Glories.

I searched Google Images for some detail of the way they grow, as the photos I took last autumn were of just the flowers. I'm wishing now that I'd made some detailed drawings, though mine are never intended to be Botanical Drawings, which I always think somehow manage to suck the life out of flowers.

I found that there seems to be a variety of flower colours and leaf shapes all going by the name of ‘Morning Glory’ but I always think of them as brilliant blue. And I wanted to create a design in fresh, cool colours this time, after my recent pinks and purples and yellows and oranges. I made the leaves heart-shaped as that seems to be the most common shape.

However, in the meantime, the seeds I sowed indoors have germinated and reminded me that the variety that I grow has these strange shaped seed leaves:

I’m hoping that this design can be used as a Birthday Card for September and as a repeating pattern as well.

Working out the best way to position the repeats will be on my ToDo list for this week . . . as well as keeping my eye on those crows!

There are now at least three baby blackbirds in the nest and one of them is big enough to get out of the nest and sit on the side of it. It seems really big so I wondered about cuckoos again but read that the young cuckoo will kill any other nestlings, which this one hasn't. I also read that 9 out of 10 attempts by blackbirds to nest in the open end in failure because of cats, crows or bad weather. The weather has been pretty foul the past few days, with heavy rain and wind, and there are crows on my roof but none of the neighbourhood cats has been in that part of my garden recently as far as I know. So here's hoping!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Designs that look forward to summer!

This is how last week's repeating pattern turned out and although it was a lot of work, I’m really quite pleased with it!

Once again, I had to spend a lot of time digitally ‘tidying up’ so that the repeats matched up perfectly. I just wish I could work out why, however meticulous I am in my measuring and in spite of taking a lot of care with the painting, I can’t seem to get the pattern repeats to line up exactly with one another first time around.

I think, though, that all the work was worth it and for the first time I succeeded in making a large enough image to cover the whole area of a Messenger Bag in one piece, in spite of warning notices about running low on memory popping up frequently at the bottom of my screen!

I seem to have turned very ‘flowery’ recently but that’s mainly because I’ve set out to design Birthday cards with at least one  for each month’s Birth Flower. 

This weekend I’ve made a start on a Water Lily design, one of the designated Birth Month Flowers for July.

The alternative for July is Larkspur, a lovely cottage-garden flower, that, sadly, refuses to grow in my garden! For years I’ve sown the seeds in the spring but they never even germinate. So this year I’ve given up – though I did think about trying them in a large tub until I realised that the less time I spend in my garden, the better, especially now that my pear tree is in bloom.

This photo was taken a couple of springs ago, before I had so much trouble with the pollen

I still have a lot of work to do on these lilies – the leaves and centres need some detail and then there's the text to add. Sometimes, choosing the font can take me as long as painting the design!

Until I searched for some reference photos, I didn’t realise how complicated and irregular their pattern of petals was!  I would have much preferred to have done one of my rather impressionistic pastel paintings of water lilies, avoiding too much detail. But unfortunately, Monet got there first and I wouldn’t want to appear to be plagiarising!

Once these water lilies are finished, I’m left with just two more Birth Month Flower designs to work on – Poinsettias for December (can’t quite get in the mood yet!) and Morning Glories for September. 

That’s one I’m very much looking forward to! I particularly like bright blue flowers and I succeeded in growing some in a pot last summer by placing the pot on my garden table out of reach of the slugs and snails, who seem to head straight for them at ground level. They didn’t bloom until well into the autumn but by then they made a very welcome, cheerful splash of colour as other flowers faded - and they remained 'glorious' all day, not just in the mornings!

I think the way that Morning Glories grow, twining themselves around anything they can reach, could make for a lovely repeating pattern. But will I be able to come up with a design that can equally well serve as a Birthday Card?

Hmmm. I’ll have to give that one some thought . .