Sunday, 29 January 2012

Early Flowers and Late Flowers - Snowdrops and Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums are one of my favourite flowers.

They go on flowering well into the Autumn and as the afternoons grow shorter towards winter, I've often been cheered by their bright glow in the dusk as I look out from my work. So after the trials and tribulations of piecing together my repeating pattern last week, I was all the more determined to bring that experience to an outcome that I'd be pleased with.

And this is it: the tracing from last week's post with colour added!

And here is the Messenger Bag that this was originally designed for:

You'll see why I needed a large area of repeating pattern, if you go to my:


- where you can see the whole of the back of the Messenger Bag, as well as a range of sleeves and planners that complement it.

Of course, as I love creating pretty tea pots, pitchers, mugs etc, the design also found its way onto some of them as well - not forgetting a few greeting cards -

Pleased as I was, in the end, with my 'Summer Garden' design, I hoped to move on to something less challenging for my daughter's birthday card.

Her birthday is in February, the month that I always associate with snowdrops. Lord Alfred Tennyson called them 'Fair Maids of February' and, delving into my huge old file of screenprinting designs that I've hoarded since the 1980's, I came across this scruffy little tracing -

This was great news as, although I have crocuses flowering in my garden, there's no sign of the snowdrops from previous years and I read somewhere that they don't like heavy clay soil - which is precisely what ours is!

So, on Friday afternoon, I scanned the tracing, enlarged it, printed it out and traced it again, ready for the lightbox. I was undecided about the best way to go about painting the blue background, which I could see would be interminably fiddly with all those stalks and petals to paint round - especially as I'm not a person who enjoys working meticulously, especially in paint!

One option would be to make a collage, but again, those stems would mean a lot of tricky cutting! Another way would be to use masking fluid, but I only use that when nothing else will do because it ruins brushes and is sometime difficult to get accurate enough. Then I happened upon a solution in Alison Kolesar's blog:  Jumping in Puddles, where she suggests painting the whole background wash in transparent watercolours and then using gouache to paint the light colours - in my case the flowers.

So that's what I did and I was very happy with my beautiful, sunshiny sky-blue background - until I scanned it and 'Technology' let me down again! As I found with some of my seaside collages, my scanner seems to be unhappy with light blues and greens in close proximity and makes as real mess of them. 

No amount of adjusting helped to put this right:

So I'll leave you to wonder if and how I'll manage to retrieve this dismal attempt at a birthday card for my daughter . . . watch this space!


Monday, 23 January 2012

The Cat and the Nasturtiums - Repeating Patterns

My cat didn’t change as much as my dragon did – and here it is as a birthday card for one of my grandsons, ready to post off to him today:

Moving on, this week’s project has been inspired by Zazzle’s launch of Messenger Bags and various matching sleeves. The bag requires a large, seamless area of pattern as the design begins underneath, goes right the way up the back and over the front to include the flap.

For me this presented a particularly exciting challenge because more than twenty years ago, I very much wanted to enrol on a ‘Surface Pattern’ course at our local Art School in Norwich. But sadly, I discovered that I would have to travel quite a distance each day as that particular course was held out at the coast, at Great Yarmouth. That was out of the question for me at that time because of family commitments and I made do with creating repeating patterns to screenprint on fabric at home instead.

Of course, all this was long before computers and photo-editing programs so I planned my designs using squared paper, tracing paper, a huge old photocopier and, for the screenprinting, vast quantities of black thread!

On Friday afternoon I set out to make a repeating pattern the old-fashioned way, using one of my watercolour flowers designs as my starting point.

Instead of the old photocopier I had previously used, I scanned my tracings and printed them out before cutting them into quarters.

and flipping them over to make a space for the upside down design . . .

But I ran into a problem and soon found myself in a terrible muddle of cut-up pieces of design and masking tape and nothing was fitting together as it was intended!

Eventually I realised that the reason that my pattern 'bits' weren't matching up was because my printer was choosing what size to print out the various parts! The difference wasn’t huge but it was enough to make a nonsense of my carefully thought out plan and there was nothing I could do about it!.

Luckily, after several increasingly frustrating hours of trying this and that, I found a way to do the same thing on my computer, by ‘virtually’ cutting up my design and using ‘layers’ to reposition the elements before printing out the whole thing and tracing it, ready to paint. Must admit, I felt a certain sense of victory over my capricious printer!

This may look like a meaningless jumble of shapes - and it isn’t helped by the fact that I rather hurriedly traced over the pencil lines with my wacom tablet when the tracing paper scan came out rather faint for posting online. 

But next week, all will be revealed!

PS If you would like to know  how to make a repeating pattern design without resorting to a computer, click here for  a good, clear explanation - it is more or less the method I've always used and the only reason it didn’t work for me this time was that my printer has a mind of its own!

Monday, 16 January 2012

From Dragons to Cats . . .

Anyone who saw last week’s post will notice that my dragon changed quite a bit, thanks largely to Diana’s suggestion about his muzzle!

And here she is on a t-shirt!

It made me notice that the dragon on the Welsh flag is not very dragon-like:

In fact it looks suspiciously like an adaptation of the lion on this Scottish flag!

But with the digital addition of the green background, I’ve made mine into:

Welsh Red Dragon Cards and Products on Zazzle

*     *     *

With one of my grandson’s turning 12 at the end of this month, a difficult age for birthday cards for boys, I find, that’s what this week’s doodling has focused on. Last year I based his and his older brother’s cards on a slightly comical cat theme:


And this is what’s coming up for this year so far:

Any idea what the caption might be?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Doodling a Dragon

Now that I’ve taken down the Christmas decorations – and cleaned up after them! – and the Christmas cake is all eaten, it’s time to get back into ‘work mode’! I’ve made a new work plan and it includes, at some point, opening a new Welsh Language Zazzle store.

The emphasis is on ‘at some point’ as I have plenty of other, more urgent things to do. But my Naughty Pencil couldn’t resist doodling a little dragon for the new store’s banner.

I’m not sure yet whether to give my dragon teeth. And how can I make his face look less like a cow's? Just a couple of my immediate reactions on seeing my doodle on the computer screen. I’m very thankful for my computer because, when I scan in an image and see it on the screen, it often helps me to see things I want to change. So the finished dragon may be quite different in all sorts of small ways.

I hope to take my dragon to the next stage and paint it over the weekend – and it may even form the basis of a new St David’s Day greeting card.

Stay tuned . . . 

Thursday, 5 January 2012

A New Year full of ideas, plans, hopes - and doubts

Dawn at Great Massingham, Norfolk

Towards the end of each year I’m inclined to look back and review the progress of the plans I set out with at the start of the year. 

For the past four years, I always seem to have been disappointed at the way things have gone, mostly as a result of things outside of my control, such as the ‘Economic Downturn’. But I pick myself up and start afresh with enthusiasm, in the hope that the new year will bring better things!

Each year, though, it seems to get that little bit harder and this year is no exception. Having really enjoyed my first year or so of designing cards and selling them through Greeting Card Universe, things began to change about half way through this second year, with the introduction of the 30% tax withholding and then the ‘cull’ of  cards that don’t reach GCU’s rather arbitrary ‘marketability standards’.

My response to this has been to spend my time and efforts over a wider spread of outlets, such as CardGnome and SendaSmile. And I’ve already started putting more time into creating products on Zazzle with some encouraging results.

I’m also looking into the idea of setting up a new Zazzle store for greeting cards in the Welsh Language. All exciting stuff! But I can’t help wondering how it will all have panned out by this time next year and my enthusiasm is tempered with a smidgen of wariness.

But last week, a friend sent me this quote, from T. S. Eliot, we think:

'If that is what you wish
 I can reconcile you to the human condition
 Learn to avoid excessive expectation
 Become tolerant . . .
 There is another way, if you have the courage
 This way is unknown and so requires faith
 The kind of faith that issues from despair
 You will journey blind' . . .

So should I maybe lower my expectations? That might be a solution to avoiding disappointment when it comes to the end of the year.

But actually, I know I’m not that sort of person! So I probably have to take the ‘other way’, the way that is ‘unknown and so requires faith’.

I don’t much like the idea of  having to ‘journey blind’ – I do like to have a plan, a chart of my way forward, a tick-list even, to mark my progress!

But isn’t that ‘journeying blind’, that gathering up of all the faith we can muster, isn’t that often the way that we have to approach any of our creative endeavours? It certainly is the way I produce my best artwork.

So I’ll give it my best shot – and post some of the results here in the weeks and months to come, in the hope that it will give encouragement to anyone else who may be feeling a bit lost in the fog or mired down in the trials and tribulations of trying to make a living from their art in these difficult times!

And in the hope that the very act of committing myself to posting more artwork here will encourage me to get on with it!!!!

Happy New Year, everyone, and I hope that, in spite of the gloomy economic outlook, we’ll end the year with the satisfaction of having been creatively productive, even if our finances remain rather uncertain, as they probably will!