Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year!

It’s that strange time between Christmas and New Year again when I’m never sure what day of the week it is, let alone what date it is or whether the shops will be open or not! Some strange meals are consumed as I try to clear the fridge of Christmas leftovers and the first twinges of regret about my festive over-indulgence begin to make themselves felt . . .

I always think of this time as a kind of 'No Man’s Land' between all the work of preparing for Christmas and getting stuck back into the normal day-to-day routine in the New Year. I always expect to have time on my hands this week, to do all the little jobs I’d neglected in the run-up to Christmas, though it never seems to work out that way!

But as the Old Year draws to a close, I do find myself jotting down a list of goals for the New Year and that inevitably leads me to a little bit of reflection on what I’ve achieved – or not! – in the past twelve months.

On the face of it, I don’t appear to have made very much progress on the business front in 2012. Sales have improved but the summer months were still very slow. However, seeing it from a different angle, as a year of transition, it’s been quite a momentous year, possibly one of the most significant ever for me! Because, although I've only dipped a toe in the water so far and still have a long way to go, I feel as if I have finally discovered my true passion – designing repeating patterns!

Over Christmas my son has worked on my laptop and my new pc so that they are now both better equipped for working on large images. And armed with some great books on pattern-making that were Christmas gifts from the family, I can’t wait to get stuck in again!

Already my Zazzle sales have shown a slight improvement, which is partly thanks to what I’ve learnt as a result of the ‘Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design’ course. So, even if I don’t get any further than that, I already have something to be pleased about. But I hope to take my pattern-making further in 2013, to explore new avenues for ‘monetising’ my designs as well as learning more about the process of pattern-making itself; so I’m wondering what I’ll be writing about that when it comes to this time next year!

My New Year’s Resolution is the same as ever: to remind myself, as and when appropriate, that we don’t always get what we deserve and, conversely, that what we get is not always what we deserve

The recent tragedy in Connecticut is a reminder that Life is often far from fair.

But it works both ways! There are so many things that I enjoy that I have done absolutely nothing to deserve; so my resolution includes reminding myself to be grateful for them too.

Looking back at my New Year’s post from a year ago, it seems as if the economic outlook hasn’t improved at all. In fact, as I write, the US may be approaching a ‘fiscal cliff’ that would have negative reverberations around the globe. As an artist who has many American customers, this matters! But there’s not a lot that we as individuals can do about it. That being the case, I’ll just carry on as before, enjoying exploring the world of art and design and hoping that my designs will continue to spread a little enjoyment far and wide, just as they have in previous years.

So Happy New Year, everyone! 

May 2013 bring you all 
Joy, Peace and Prosperity!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas -

To all my online friends and blog followers - 

And a big THANK YOU for all your comments during 2012 - they are very much appreciated!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Farewell Tangerine Tango - Welcome Emerald Green!

As the year draws to a close, the 2012 Pantone Colour of the Year, Tangerine Tango, has finally fallen from grace to be replaced in 2013 by Emerald Green.

And I for one am heartily glad to see the back of orange - it’s one of my least favourite colours!

It is known to be an attention-grabbing colour, it's used in Dayglo and advertising, generally at the cheaper end of the market and I was surprised when Sainsbury’s abandoned their nicely restrained blue, green and white carrier bags in favour of orange ones. I’ve also been somewhat aghast that orange has crept into some otherwise quite classy websites recently!

It's not helped by the fact that I also associate orange with some of the worst aspects of the Seventies’ interiors, with their furry nylon orange cushions brightening up their (furry) brown suites of furniture or orange shag-pile rugs on their brown carpets! I never did like that colour combination!

And yet . . .

I love orange Icelandic Poppies, Pot Margigolds and Nasturtiums. I’ve often painted them and used the paintings to create greeting cards and products on Zazzle. And I am happy for the orange Californian Poppies to seed themselves all over my garden, including in the gravel paths!



And the orange colours of the trees in Autumn and orange pumpkins for Halloween - I have no problem at all with them!

I often include bright orange in my pattern designs, such as the one above, usually in conjunction with bright pink; and a glowing orange highlight is often just what I feel is needed to balance a chilly blue/green/white colour palette -


 - and I've even used a soft orange - rather like the colour of the flesh of a delicious ripe mango! - as an accent colour in my predominantly blue/green/white guest bedroom! (maybe difficult to see on the photo but the curtain is dark blue and the wallpaper is green)

So what is going on with me?

I found a clue in one of my books on 'Colour'. It said that orange is a ‘somewhat shallow colour, lacking in character.’ It went on to point out that there are no sayings associated with orange, such as ‘feeling blue’, ‘seeing red’, ‘green with envy’ etc. And I think it’s interesting that we don’t talk about ‘orange’ hair, an 'orange brick wall', an ‘orange’ cat or an ‘orangefish’; we substitute red, ginger and gold for the word ‘orange’.

As a dye, orange arrived relatively late in the day, there being no natural plant pigment for orange dyes. And it is arguably the only colour that can only be a warm colour; for instance, red can be warm or cool, as can yellow, blue, purple and green but not so orange. It’s always immutably warm.

I think what it boils down to for me is that while plain orange looks brash and ‘lacking in character’, Mother Nature rarely uses plain orange. 

The oranges of the trees, the pumpkins and the flowers that I love are a mixture of hues within the orange spectrum, ranging from a glowing, golden orange to the more muted earthy ‘terra cotta’ and ‘brick’ which, although they may be man-made, consist of essentially natural ingredients.

I’ve tried to achieve that more muted version of orange in some of my patterns, such as the dog-tooth check below, rather than use the plain, unadulterated orange of the solid colour.

So maybe I don't dislike orange as much as my first reaction to it suggests. 

But even so, as we say farewell to Tangerine Tango, I’m looking forward to welcoming Emerald Green and exploring its possibilities.

How about you?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Triumph of Persistence over Rejection

Three years ago when I started out designing greeting cards, I read that there were 3 ingredients needed to succeed in the business. 

Firstly, you must be Prolific, secondly you must be Persistent and thirdly you must be able to take Rejection.

‘Prolific’ is something I don’t have a problem with, possibly helped by the fact that I’m not a perfectionist so I don’t labour over my work for hours on end – not often, anyway!

And the subject of rejection seems to have come up several times recently, both in the Surface Pattern Course and elsewhere on the internet. I have written blog posts on the subject here and here  and Carol Anfinsen wrote about it more recently here.

But what about ‘Persistence’?

Partridge in a Pear Tree
In my case, and I suspect in many artists’ experience, the two, Persistence and Rejection are inextricably linked.

To get almost anywhere in our lives, to reach our goals, to live our dream, we often need to show Persistence when we encounter setbacks. Of course sometimes, ‘Adaptability’ is a more appropriate response but today I have a little example of where Persistence paid off!

I began to design Christmas Cards in the Autumn of 2009 and I submitted some of them to a publisher for feedback late in the year. I love colourful borders and I was quite pleased with the cards I made that I hoped had a slightly mediaeval look about them, with their brightly coloured borders and a lot of outlining in gold gouache. Gouache is not my favourite medium and at that point I was having a hard time adjusting to painting so small; so, as I said, I thought the designs had come out pretty well, all things considered.

But the publisher rejected them out of hand!

When I had recovered enough to pick myself up and try another route – this time the online print-on-demand stores, I uploaded the ‘rejects’ along with a few cards in other styles. After all, I still liked them so I believed that someone else might like them too.

 In the 2009 Christmas period not one of those cards was ordered.

And Christmas 2010 was a repeat ‘non-performance’ as far as these cards were concerned.

In the run-up to Christmas 2011, I sold some of these – all told, I’ve sold 99 of them to date!

But the sale that has prompted me to write this post, to urge you to persist in spite of rejection, was this one  -

I saw Three Ships come sailing in . . .

Last week a Zazzle customer ordered 230 of them and this week a Greeting Card Universe customer ordered a further 125!

So – if it sometimes seems as if you aren’t getting anywhere with your sales, but you feel in your heart of hearts that your art is worth buying, don’t give up. It may take a little time but –

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Swinging Sixties in the UK – did they really ‘swing’?

The Stones at their recent 50th Anniversary gig at the o2 in London - tickets sold out in 7 mins in spite of being priced between £95 and £406!)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about why, in spite of the general aura of optimism in the 1950s, it was far from being my favourite decade in terms of design.

And I hinted that I preferred the style of the Sixties and Seventies, though it was more than just the designs in themselves that ushered in a great wave of liberation from the stuffiness of the Fifties.
Left: Jean Shrimpton with the Rolling Stones.
I recently received a photograph of myself and all my college contemporaries, taken when we went up to university in 1962. And with a couple of exceptions, a right frumpy lot we looked, in our unflattering chunky sweaters, tweedy skirts and specs that Dame Edna would be proud of! But during those 3 years in Oxford there was a seismic shift taking place.
Cathy McGowan helped to popularise the mini-skirt
What I loved about that time, even more than the sharp, youthful, geometric cut of the clothes, was what I would call the ‘democratisation of style’.


Whereas previously fashion had been determined by the world of Haute Couture, with the rich and famous of the establishment in mind, now it became possible for everyone, from shop girl to ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’ to dress stylishly and live in well designed surroundings. 

In many ways it felt like a time of rebellion, a time when young people, teenagers even, claimed an identity, a culture, all of their own for the very first time.

It was a time of quite drastic new beginnings. In 1962 –63, the popular TV show, ‘That was the week that was . .  ‘ made fun of previously revered figures of the ‘establishment’ in a way that was at first regarded by many as outrageous!

The UK version of the Interior Design magazine, House Beautiful (1964 –68) together with Terence Conran’s ‘Habitat’ stores made good design, with a strong Scandinavian bias at first, available and affordable to most for the first time.
In the spirit of rebellion that I associate with that decade, it was out with the traditional styles of our parents’ homes and in with colourful, bright clean lines and in particuar, all sorts of exciting accessories, such as outsized pepper mills, terra cotta chicken bricks and colourful enamel cooking utensils. (I still have some of them, chipped and no longer usable in the kitchen but still pretty enough to hang on to!)

With air travel becoming more affordable to the ‘average’ family, and with flights from Manchester airport (1961) and Luton (1962), package holidays started to take off, mostly to European destinations. Together with the intrepid launch of the Sunday Times Colour Supplement in 1962, that featured a new lifestyle, including recipes for foreign dishes by authors such as Elizabeth David, foreign foods started to find their way into our supermarkets and into our kitchens, adding a welcome variety to our rather bland English 'cuisine'.

The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and other young 'pop groups' rose to fame in the Sixties, there was a strong emphasis on youth and young people and this was reflected in the vibrant fashions of the time, many of which would have been difficult for an older person to wear!

 The Pop TV show ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ went on air in 1963 with Cathy McGowan, one of the programme’s presenters, evolving into a fashion icon.

Mary Quant (made an OBE in 1966 and 'Still Swinging at 77' according to the Daily Mail) and her friend, Vidal Sassoon, led the way. Through Carnaby Street and the King’s Road, Chelsea, the UK became the leading light in the world of fashion and in many ways, ‘where it was all at’!

The spectacular success of the Biba boutique in Kensington demonstrates a generation hungry for something new and all their own, something different from what their ‘elders and betters’ expected them to wear! And the top models of the time, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, bore no resemblance at all to the models of the previous decade!

Looking back now, the concrete tower blocks, that seemed to spring up everywhere in the Sixties, were mostly hideous monstrosities. And many of the fashions in clothing and interior design can seem ridiculous – but then, isn’t that always the case when we look back at fashions from not so long ago? 

To me the Sixties seemed like a time of genuine and general optimism, a time of change when style ceased to be the prerogative of the privileged. A lot of factors contributed to this shift but I think the rock and pop musicians had a lot to do with it.

I can remember exactly where I was, who I was with and what I was doing when I first heard about the Beatles. Can you?


Thursday, 29 November 2012

From Greeting Cards to Repeating Patterns . . .

A few days ago, a customer ordered three of the coffee mugs in my Zazzle store. I was over the moon!

I didn’t make a huge amount of money from the sale and it was just one sale among many at this time of year. But it meant an awful lot to me because the three mugs were ones I had created with my repeating floral patterns earlier this year.

So the sale came as a kind of affirmation that I’m on the right track in shifting my main focus away from greeting cards towards pattern making. And as well as that, my own reaction showed me that the bold floral patterns are my first love – which is probably a helpful pointer in determining my ‘signature style’.

Over the course of the past ten years, I’ve gone from Fine Art – my pastel paintings – to greeting cards – to repeating pattern design and I feel I have finally homed in on what I love to create the most.

I do enjoy designing greeting cards but I absolutely love creating patterns! I find it quite addictive – I just wish my technical knowledge could keep up with my enthusiasm!

One of the things I find difficult about creating greeting cards is that I really dislike cards with verse inside, particularly if it is ‘sentimental’. And unfortunately it seems that there are many customers for whom the ‘verse’ is just as important as the artwork.


As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I prefer to let the design do the talking, conveying the sentiments more subtly through the image. And while that suits plenty of people, it also excludes many potential customers for my cards.

To my great relief, there is no ‘verse’ to worry about in Pattern Design! It’s simply a case of putting together shapes, lines and colours in a pleasing way . . .

. . . or is it?

Many years ago, when I first discovered William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement, I read something to the effect that a pattern should always evoke a feeling, recreate an atmosphere, transport the beholder to a place they would like to be. I have searched the internet in vain, trying to find the exact quote. But the gist of it has always stayed with me.

So, in a way, a pattern carries just as much of a message as a greeting card. It just does it in a much more subtle, sometimes almost subliminal, way.

But there’s nothing very subtle about flowers, which I must admit form the basis of most of my designs to date. Most of us love gardens and flowers and in the case of a city flat-dweller, a floral blind or coffee mug may be the nearest they get to a garden on a day-to-day basis. And that provides me with the motivation to keep on working – or, more accurately, playing – with the constantly inspiring ‘source-book’ that Mother Nature provides!

Pretty Spring Primroses Bone China Coffee Mug, Porcelain Mug
Pretty Spring Primroses Bone China Coffee Mug, Porcelain Mug by helikettle

What feelings do floral patterns (not necessarily mine!) evoke in you?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Just how Trendy do we need to be?

TRENDS was the ‘Art & Business of Surface Pattern Design’ topic last week and it’s continuing through the whole of this week too.

So if two weeks out of a fifteen week course are devoted to one topic, the chances are it’s pretty important.

But with the Mid-Century style and Animal Skin prints being the two trends I was already very much aware of, both of which I dislike, I wasn’t much looking forward to this part of the course.

One of the few Mid-Century Modern designs I actually like - but it's not my style!
Just as well then that, right at the beginning, we were sent forth with our cameras to take a closer look at the trends in our local shops.

Yes, I found plenty of the Fifties-type motifs but, much to my relief, it wasn’t too difficult to spot plenty of others as well!

By the time I had compiled these records of the different aspects of what I found, I had decided that there were several elements I could work with.

First, the currently popular motifs, for instance the painterly florals that I saw on both gift and fashion items as well as on homewares, are right up my street!

from Pip Studio
And the butterflies too, that seem to be everywhere once I started noticing . . .

. . . prompted me to attempt a Butterfly 'mini-print', though I'm still unclear as to how to get the butterflies really evenly distributed in a repeating pattern. (I'm very much hoping that's something I'll learn later on in the course!)

This week we were directed to an online Trend Report for the coming season and asked to identify key trends and palettes that we feel able to work with.

There seemed to be so many options that I wonder how they can possibly all succeed in being the 'style of the day'.

This one, using a single watercolour butterfly, worked a bit better!

As well as the outsized florals, checks and polka dots, even patchwork is forecast to play its part in 2013!

So – all is not lost! Even if I don't want to create Mid-Century Modern patterns, I can still design using the ‘trending’ colour palettes-

- and if I get bored with designing florals, polka dots, hearts and checks, it looks as if patchwork will probably still be around for a while to come!

Image from - Jasper Conran