Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Something Borrowed, Something (Monaco) Blue . . .

Pantone’s ‘Monaco Blue’ is already available at BMW. 

I don’t really have a favourite colour but if I was pushed to select just one, it would probably be blue. 

My house in Norwich reflected that preference – maybe a bit too much so, people often commented that they could see that I liked blue! Since then, I’ve been a bit more adventurous with the colour schemes in my home but I still love the many pieces of blue and white china and ornaments that seem to give a fresh ‘lift’ to warmer colour palettes.

My precious plates from Delft, commemorating the births of each of my children - courtesy of  saving the labels from Heinz Baby Foods!
Blue is a colour that most people can wear easily. And, although, blue has always required a chemical reaction of some sort to reveal the colour, with indigo and woad, as well as with cobalt and copper, indigo grows all over the world. It is so plentiful that it has given rise to the ubiquitous Denims – and maybe, ‘blue collar workers’. The worldwide demand for Indigo even made it an endangered species in the late 1940s!

You may not have noticed that blue is also a colour that doesn’t show the dirt as easily as most others. I hadn’t - but I had noticed that blue paint of almost any kind, even the pigment in soft pastels, is the hardest to remove completely from fingers, brushes, palettes etc!

Lapis Lazuli
Ultramarine (meaning ‘from across the sea’) was originally processed from Lapis Lazuli and at the time when it was used in mediaeval manuscripts, it was as expensive as gold! So in paintings and statues, it was reserved for the Virgin Mary. Until the internet encouraged globalisation of businesses, French baby girls were dressed in blue, rather than pink, to associate them with royalty, or the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Heavens.

Because blue is associated with royalty – ‘blue blood’ apparently originating in Spain where the (blue) veins of aristocrats with no Moorish blood showed up more clearly than those with mixed ancestry. 

The blue of the sky gives it an association with infinity and spirituality; the search for the elusive ‘blaue Blume’ (blue flower) in the Romantic poets such as Novalis, represents the striving for infinity  It is also a fact that many of the flowers found high up on mountains are blue; so maybe that was why a 'blue flower' was chosen to represent the goal of their arduous journey!

The slugs usually polish off my Morning Glories well before they get to the flowering stage, but the year before last I was lucky and enjoyed bloom after bloom in late October!
Blue generally has a calming effect and even lowers the blood pressure. But too much calm can lead to depression and this is why the dark blues can signify feeling ‘low’ (Singing the Blues, ‘feeling blue’, Picasso’s Blue Period). 

The lighter, sky blue, however, can lift the spirits; so it is known as a ‘self-righting’ hue. 

Blue can often denote top quality, such as ‘blue chip’, ‘the blue ribbon’, ‘true blue’ and maybe even a ‘blue-eyed boy’ and a ‘blue-print’! 

But in contrast, we have ‘blue movies’ and ‘blue humour’, arising from the fact that these have escaped the censor’s ‘blue pencil’ And the name ‘blue-stocking’ is hardly complimentary, arising as it does from mediaeval Venetian society distinguishing its members by the colour of their hose!

Chrysants - screenprint
In my patterns and greeting card designs, I frequently use blue as a background colour, especially for flowers, ranging from a deep, rich blue to a brighter, sky blue - and in the case of this screenprint I made in the 1980s, varying from light to dark within one image.

But here are some gifts and other products I’ve created on Zazzle with Monaco blue as the main colour -

A selection from the 'Something Blue' range in my Zazzle store.

So once again, we have a hue with both negative and positive connotations. Blue can lift our spirits or make us depressed.

How does blue affect you?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Welsh Nursery Rhyme Book Illustration

Cover image by Robert Karr

Oes gafr eto? Oes heb ei godro
Ar y creigiau geirwon
Mae’r hen afr yn crwydro,
Gafr wen, wen, wen,
Ie finwen, finwen, finwen,
Foel gynffonwen, foel gynffonwen,
Ystlys wen a chynffon wen, wen, wen . . .

 I’ve never been a huge fan of facebook but it was the means by which I was invited, last Spring, to contribute an illustration to a book of Welsh Nursery Rhymes to be sold to raise funds for the St David’s Day celebrations in Los Angeles.

I've lived in Wales for just over ten years but I didn’t know that there were specifically Welsh Nursery Rhymes. Nor did I know that St David’s Day was celebrated in Los Angeles, although my overseas sales of St David’s Day greeting cards has suggested that March 1st is an important date in Welsh communities worldwide.

I chose a rhyme about goats, partly because of my brief but unforgettable experience of keeping goats when my children were young and partly because I had already been sketching goats for my ‘Chinese Year of the Goat’ greeting cards. But I think what actually decided me was that when I read the English translation, I knew instantly how I would approach the illustration.

“Is there another goat? Yes, not yet milked
On the rough rocks
The old goat is wandering
White goat
Bald white tail, bald white tale,
White side and tail, white, white white.

And the second, third and fourth verses just substitute ‘red’, ‘black’ and ‘blue’ for ‘white’.

I challenged myself to make the coloured goats look reasonably natural by making the most of the lighting in the background landscape – eg one goat looks black because it’s silhouetted against the bright sunlight and another looks blue-ish in the shade of the tree. 

A soft pastel painting I had made previously of the Sugarloaf mountain, provided all that I needed by way of backdrop for my goats.

Which just left me with the question of what to do about the fact that the rhyme implied two people conversing. I decided on two elderly, rather Welsh-looking, country folk, possibly goatherds, although I had never been aware that goats were kept in Wales. I had thought of making their smocks a nice bright colour so that they would stand out from the background, but a google search identified that only creamy white smocks were worn in Wales.

So I was left with the decorative border to provide colour and what better than the bright red berries of the Rowan Tree or Mountain Ash, which grows plentifully in Wales! (Its Celtic name, ‘fid na ndruad’, means Wizard’s Tree.)

I had the drawing finished during the summer but, with the Surface Pattern course beginning at the end of August, it was a rush at the end to get my illustration painted in time for the December 1st deadline!

The launch will take place on Sunday, March 3rd

St David's Day Greeting Cards & Gifts
(many with greetings in Welsh)

Daffodils 'snapped' in my garden in Wales on Feb 17th

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Periwinkle Patch - an Ogee-shaped Repeating Pattern

One evening a couple of weeks ago, I doodled a design that included some periwinkle flowers from an old tracing I had made back in the 1980s when I was doing a lot of screenprinting. 

I had been wanting to make a floral pattern that curved and trailed upwards in a natural-looking way and this seemed to be ideal for the purpose. So I experimented with various lay-outs and decided on a traditional ‘ogee’ shape for the basic unit of my main design. It came together really well at the sketching stage but I had never made an ogee-shaped repeat pattern and was entirely at a loss as to where to start.

I didn't entirely succeed in getting rid of the distracting white lines
I tried – and failed - to find an online tutorial. And members of the Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design  group were unable to advise me how to go about this in Photoshop. After trying to work it out logically – but unsuccessfully – several times, and each time re-painting the pattern from scratch, I was tearing my hair out in exasperation! At one point I almost gave up. 

But then I thought of one more way to try, and while I was half-watching Ireland trounce Wales in the first of the Six Nations Rugby matches, I fiddled with graph paper and tracing paper, transferred my pattern to the computer as soon as the match was over, and realised that I was on my way to succeeding, even though the pattern didn’t entirely match up and I hadn’t quite managed to avoid the white ‘alleyways’ of negative space that are so distracting but not readily apparent until you see the pattern in repeat.

And some of the related patterns that I made to complete the collection didn’t work as well as I’d hoped they would. It all pointed to the fact that my knowledge of Photoshop for making repeating patterns was still very shaky. I had discovered a few very helpful and time-saving tips in my attempts to make the ogee-shape repeat properly. So I thought it was likely that I could learn all that I needed to know if only I could give it some sizable chunks of time and my full attention instead of trying to fit in snatches of designing time around my normal work.

I tried rearranging the flowers more times than I can remember - making a 'tossed' repeat isn't as easy as it looks!
Which is how I came to make the decision to put all my other work on hold for a week and make learning to use Photoshop to make repeating patterns my priority. What a difference it made, not feeling pressured to get on with uploading to Zazzle or Greeting Card Universe!

By the end of the week, I had tried and tested various instructions for making the different kinds of repeats, block repeats, half-drop, brick repeats and I had found a method of making a diamond repeat that could easily be converted to make the ogee repeats easily and accurately - next time!

This motif is from a sketch I made of the periwinkles in my garden 25 years ago!
I scoured the Internet and consulted my three books for ways to avoid having to ‘mend the seams’ in the more complex patterns – and discovered that mending the seams is normal practice. I also searched in vain for advice on how to avoid ‘tracking’ and ‘alleyways’ in a ‘tossed’ repeat and concluded that this is something that can probably only be developed through experience.

This gave me the confidence to use the remaining day of my ‘week off’ to learn other Photoshop techniques such as ‘mapping’ a pattern onto a product and making a watermark in Photoshop. So I have no regrets whatsoever about neglecting my usual work for a week.

And here's the funny thing: when I came to make a ‘presentation board’ of my patterns, I noticed that, without being at all aware of what I was doing, I had created a collection that embodied my newly discovered ‘Country and Eastern’ signature style!


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Interview with 'Brightly-coloured Designer Nerd', Sam Osborne

This month's e-interview is with Sam Osborne from Thame, UK.

Sam describes herself as a 'brightly-coloured graphic and surface pattern designer nerd'.

Sam's website
Sam on facebook
Sam on Twitter
Sam on Pinterest

As usual I started at the beginning by asking Sam, 'When did you first realise that you were an artist?'
I've always been an artist or designer really, right from an early age I was excited by and interested in drawing and painting and I can still remember the first time an Apple Mac appeared at home - a momentous occasion!

Sam, do you come from a family of artists/designers?
Absolutely! My Dad has run his own creative business for as long as I can remember, my sister is also a designer and Mum taught me most of the crafts that I know! Plus some of my favourite childhood memories are of creative & crafting fun with both sets of my Grandparents.

So presumably you enjoyed Art at school and did well in it?
It was by far my favourite subject and I did my absolute best to bring a little bit of creativity into every other subject I studied - although "Can I design a poster instead of writing this essay?" never really worked!

Have you had formal art/design/illustration training?
Yep I took the traditional art route, GCSE in Art, A-level Art then I studied an Art Foundation course (best year ever) and went on to take a BA in Graphic Design at University

What was the most important thing you learnt from it?
To first learn the rules and then to learn how and when to break them. 

Moving on, what is the most important thing you have learnt on your journey as an artist and from whom did you learn it?
To ask questions so you understand the project inside out and then take risks and push ideas as far as you can. Something I learned many times from various teachers, colleagues, creative directors and clients!

Which artists/designers/illustrators inspire you?
Wow, so many! Artists like Degas, Bridget Riley, Duran and Jenny Saville. All kinds of designers from Alan Fletcher to Amy Butler. Plus, of course, my fellow new designer-makers running their own small businesses.

What is your favourite medium?
As a designer I work mainly in pencil and pen and ink or directly in the computer, but during Art School I loved to paint and am working on new designs that incorporate that more.

How long has your business been up and running?
I left my full time graphic design job two years ago and set up my own business pretty soon after that. Since then it's been a total roller coaster working out what I wanted to do and how to make that work!

Where do you sell your work?
I sell directly via Etsy and Folksy and love packing orders up with care, making them feel like something really special. It's great to have such close contact with my customers and I always try to accomodate custom requests or alternations people want.

I also sell via Society6 where my cushion covers and iPhone cases are very popular and Envelop where you can find my designs on a range of fabric goods like aprons, oven gloves and tote bags. I have a small range of fabric and wallpaper designs on spoonflower and I am growing that steadily!

Are there any particular pitfalls that have caused difficulties for your business that you would like to warn others about?
In my experience the only thing that will hold you back is you. If you think you can't do it, then you won't, wanting it enough will overcome nearly all obstacles.

Do you enjoy the business side of things?
Yes and no, I love getting everything organised and knowing what is going on in my business but really I'd much rather be creating so balancing my time is often tricky!

Sam, do you specialise in anything particular?
I do so many things at the moment that I'm not sure I do specialise! My difficultly is that I love too much in the art and design world, from branding and typesetting to painting and most things in between. I'm not sure I could choose just one!

When I started out, a business guru warned me that I would probably spend only about 20% of my time on creating and if anything that was a bit optimistic! Do you find that the business side of things takes up more time than you would like?
At the beginning it really did but I've learned that it can be more cost effective (and certainly more time effective) to get help from experts with things like that. So, for instance, I hired an accountant who takes care of my tax return for me which saves me heaps of time and stress. However having grown up with Dad being self employed I always knew that the balance between doing what you love and making sure you're getting paid for it can be tricky.

Are you working alone or do you have help?
I mostly work alone, although I have a pretty good network of creative buddies and often collaborate with them on projects or take freelance contracts. Also as my family, including my boyfriend, and many of my friends are all pretty creative or marketing minded it's easy to bounce ideas off them.

Do you enjoy working alone?
It's not so much the working alone that I enjoy, it's more the being the captain of my own ship!

Do you paint/draw regularly?
I try to do something everyday. It's not always possible, but even if I haven't picked up and a pen or a pencil my work means that I am designing everyday in some form or another, whether that is pattern collections or brochures - it's all a creative outlet for me and something I do in my spare time as well as 'work time'

Do you ever suffer from artists/creative block? 
All the time - the mind is a crazy, tricksy thing! How do you get around it? Usually I can work through it but if it's really bad it's probably a sign it's time to take some time out, relax and unwind! Or failing that, I put some loud music on and dance around the studio - seems to help!

Are you still doing what you originally set out to do?
Well I've always wanted to be a designer so in the general sense, yes!

However when I started my business I had a list of about 7 or 8 directions I could go in and like a crazy person I did them all. The ones that worked (financially and emotionally) stuck and the others naturally fell by the wayside, plus things have changed and evolved along the way as I've learned more, so by that measure, it's not even close to what I set out to do!!

How many hours per week do you work?
Officially I try to be at my desk by 8.30/9 and work through until about 5/5.30 but my evenings are usually filled with blogging, research and packing up orders, so it can be a pretty long day - good job I love it.

What is your biggest achievement – or the one that pleases you most – so far?
Mostly just that I am doing it, for myself, by myself. And everyday I feel more and more like I'm getting somewhere!

Is there anything you would like to change about your art business – if so, what is it?
I'd love my own amazing studio space; I use a colourful corner of the spare room at the moment but I'd love an amazing architectural garden office, possibly made out of a shipping container!

Do you have a favourite quote, art-related or otherwise?
"It's not just a daydream if you decide to make it your life", it's from one of my favourite songs and it was one of the first quotes I illustrated! That's one I think most of us would do well to remember!

What are your plans or goals for the future?
Licensing, wholesale, tradeshows - generally playing with big boys! And I'm absolutely terrified!

Sam, I'm sure everyone who reads this will feel inspired to follow their dreams; your enthusiasm is infectious! So I'd like to thank you for your detailed replies and wish you and your business the success they deserve in 2013 - and hope that you get to 'play with the big boys'!

Don't forget, if you'd like to see more of Sam's work and track her progress, these are the links to follow: