Ho, Ho, Ho Holidays with Howath!

It's that time of year again, when designers can embrace the actual season and share their seasonal art in the actual season! Sometimes I wonder what others must think of my seemingly obvious preference to make Christmas art. I think it can best be explained by my childhood. My parents both shared a deep love of the holiday, making it pure magic for their kids, a tradition I happily carried on with my own. My Gramma lived in an old victorian house, right next door to ours, so I spent many hours there. She had a stack of Christmas books, filled with poems and wonderful imagery that I would always ask her to read to me... all year round! So you see, the concept of embracing the holiday all year long was instilled in me at an early age. 

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Whether it's Santa (a personal fav), or a lettering piece, or a wintery scene, I always try to capture some nostalgia and warmth with the hope that it will come through in the piece. 

Whatever you celebrate, I hope this season brings peace and joy with a happy New Year! - Jill

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"I was always a creative kid" - Lauren Lowen

Our own Lauren Lowen answers your questions about creating art for surface design. We asked the artist to select three questions pertaining to her art career. These are her fascinating answers.

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Q. If you hadn’t become a professional artist, what kind of career do you think you would have chosen?

A. Definitely something with a performance element to it. I loved being in plays and musicals in high school, and in another lifetime I would have ended up applying to theatre programs instead. In my art there is a focus on characters and deep love for them. When I’m not creating characters on paper, I’m on stage embodying them!

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Q. How old were you when you knew you wanted to be an artist? Describe your earliest artwork.

A. I was always a creative kid. I remember stumbling upon an old art project where the objective was to draw what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said “artist” with a drawing of me by a framed piece of art in a gallery. It was first grade or so, which puts me at about 6 years old. However, it probably wasn’t until I was about 12 or 13 that I really considered it as a serious path. At the time, I was copying all my brother’s comic books and anime I found online (yup, I was one of those kids). I drew silly comics about my bird character with the genius name of “Bird-O” and even started a comic that was inspired by superhero characters like X-Men. That seems so long ago!

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Q. What advice would you give to a young person who is just beginning an art career?

A. First of all, you don’t have to be everything to everyone out there. Meaning that it’s OK if your work doesn’t fit with every client or market. I have a thing I do and have been fortunate enough to find the people who need and love my particular skills. This means that some companies or clients that I think are really awesome may not ever need me, and I’m at peace with that. (However, I have been pleasantly surprised at times. You never know!) Many artists ask themselves “What artwork do I have to make to get hired?” and although this is an important question, you really should ask yourself “What is the work I want to be making?” You should answer THAT question first, then move on to finding the proper homes and venues for your art. Do you create funky hand-lettering? Cool, try making some fun greeting cards with it and approach stationery companies for licensing. Or create portfolio pieces that show it being used as a magazine cover and approach editorial clients. Think about what you do and how it can be applied in different scenarios.

Rachel Grant Answers Your Questions

Our own Rachel Grant answers your questions about creating art for surface design. We asked the artist to select three questions pertaining to her art career. These are her fascinating answers.

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Q. If you hadn’t become a professional artist, what kind of career do you think you would have chosen?

A. It’s really hard to imagine doing anything that is not within a creative field of some description. When I do it all gets a bit random. If it wasn’t for the night shifts and the overwhelming responsibility I’d say a midwife... or a doula. Then of course I do very much like the idea of having a little antique shop full of old books and ceramics, with a stand outside selling plants... and fresh pies... and freshly baked bread! Perhaps I would have been a farmer... if I wasn’t scared of animals?! I would also have liked a little shop selling Fair Isle jumpers on an island off the Scottish coast... but I don’t think I could handle all that bad weather. Overall it’s probably a good idea I took the path I did. I can take myself off to different worlds in paint every single day, without the commitment to stay there!

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Q. Where do you find inspiration?

A. I spend a lot of time looking back for inspiration. I am obsessed with history, nostalgia, time-worn surfaces, patterns and ephemera. I love the way that the aesthetics of the past influence trends; and the way that those trends resurge in cycles is also fascinating. These kinds of interests lead me to antique shops, second-hand book stores, museums and anywhere where history comes alive. So here in the UK we have lots of stately homes, castles and other places of interest, like factories and mills that are open to the public and are full of inspiration. I also love to relax in front of films and TV dramas that mix historical reference with fiction, or even science fiction and fantasy. I love to see the way a director plays with colour and style to create exciting visual interplays between past/present/future. Wes Anderson’s colour palettes for example are absolutely divine and I spent the whole of the film “Brooklyn” geeking out about the way that John Crowley and his team had beautifully coordinated the knitwear with the wallpaper in each scene!

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Q. Thinking back to art school, what’s something you learned in a classroom that you still use to this day?

A. I followed a very clear path into the arts from high school to a BTEC Art and Design foundation course at college, and then on to a Textile Design and Surface Pattern degree course at University. The most prominent and transferrable skill I learnt during those years was about layering and manipulating surfaces to create texture and depth. Since graduating I have worked on all kinds of different projects, from original art, site specific installations, collaborations with performing arts groups and architects, through to the illustration and licensing work that I do now. In one way or another all of the work I create has been underpinned by those first years of experimentation in mark-making and surface manipulation.

Where would artists be without inspiration?

Where would artists be without inspiration? Whether it’s a spring flower, a sunny day, or a cat napping near a window, artists draw inspiration every day from their experiences and the things they see.

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If you’re really lucky, like our own Jennifer Orkin Lewis, you can draw inspiration from an amazing trip to India! The sights she is seeing are awe-inspiring and we’re sure that they will inspire Jennifer to create some wonderful new images of her own. Just take a look at the some the amazing photographs from her journey. Enjoy! – (the other) Jennifer

Inspiration from The Potteries

Hello, Rachel Grant here writing from a rather damp, cold North Staffordshire in the UK.
 
I wanted to share with you a little bit about this area I live in and the way in which it inspires some of my artwork. 

Books and catalogues full of manufactured designs

If you have had a peek at my portfolio you will notice that I have a bit of a passion for painting images that include a piece of pottery or two! 

Burleigh ware in the museum with the original office windows
Burleigh transfer prints

North Staffordshire is known affectionately as "The Potteries" because historically this area has been an important centre for ceramics since the industrial revolution. Wedgwood, Doulton, Spode, Minton and many more all built their legacies here. The iconic bottle kiln is a familiar sight for me and although a lot of the local factories have been lost, there has been significant investment in regenerating some of our historical sites into heritage centres that have become wonderful places to visit, explore and be inspired by!

Iconic Potteries Bottle Kiln

One of the closest factories to me, only a twenty-minute walk away, is Middleport Pottery where the wonderful Burleighware is still manufactured today. The factory’s historical character has been preserved and recently a visitor centre has been created around it, including museum areas, displays and a lovely café with a cosy wood burner - and of course all Burleigh tea sets! It has become one of my favourite places to visit, mooch around, photograph and sketch at. 

In the heart of the old factory

When I was younger and learning about our local history I would often imagine myself as one of the paintresses or even one of our famous designers like Clarice Cliff or Susie Cooper. When I am busy at my desk now, I still channel a little bit of this dream as I paint the pottery pieces in my illustrations. I am particularly drawn to blue and white pottery which we have produced plenty of in the Potteries but also of course the beautiful Delftware from the Netherlands offers boundless inspiration. 

Cafe Table at the Heritage Centre

In my most recent series of artworks I decided to give this inspiration centre stage and created a little collection of paintings with a piece of blue and white pottery in each one. All of these original works on handmade paper sold and flew off to new homes before the New Year, but they are now available to license. 

My blue and white collection
My blue and white collection continued

While I paint these pots into my illustrations my mind often wanders to the (unfeasibly dark) wood clad designer’s room at Middleport Pottery Factory and I dream of continuing the Potteries legacy in my own small way by designing patterns for a range of ceramics. That really would be a dream come true. So you see these little still life pieces hold more than just those flowers and the foliage, for me they hold a little piece of my heritage.

On my desk - pattern work in progress

Thank you so much for allowing me to share this with you. Until next time, Rachel

Peter Pan, illustrated by Miriam Bos

I received a great little package in my mailbox today!

My copy of "First Stories – Peter Pan" arrived, and I am so exited to share it with you. The book has little mechanisms hidden inside which make it especially fun for toddlers.

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Peter Pan was really a lovely topic to illustrate for a younger audience. And I’d LOVE to illustrate it for an older audience as well some day.

When I was a child I enjoyed the story of Peter Pan and Wendy and the adventures with the Lost Boys. While working on the illustrations I listened to the audio book and had quite a chuckle at the typical British humour and way of storytelling. I loved the character of Wendy’s dad too. He usually doesn’t get much attention in the stories. For the little ones, this book is a great introduction to a boy named Peter Pan, who didn’t want to grow up. It was a fun challenge to try and capture the characters and part of the storyline in four spreads only. My favourite illustration to work on was the children’s bedroom with all the old-fashioned toys and furniture.

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The book is available at Amazon and possibly in your local book store too! Please enjoy the little movie below.

Wishing you a great and magical day! “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.” - Miriam

 

Jennifer's Inspirational Retreat

My whole life I have wanted to live somewhere other than New York and Rhode Island. But it hasn't happened... yet. This summer I decided to just pack up my supplies, rent an Airbnb, get on a plane, stay for 3 weeks, and see what happens. It was a wonderful change of pace.

I spent my time on Vashon Island which is a ferry ride from Seattle. This was my view from the deck of my house and from the work table I set up in front of a big glass window. Different, yes!

The first day I was nervous. I had a stomach ache because of it, but as I adjusted to the situation I felt myself relaxing. It just so happened that a few jobs got delayed which meant I really had time to explore the island, see new things and play around with painting. I've been wandering the roads and the beach, collecting wildflowers and rocks and seeds... so many little bits that inspire me. My eyes are open wider.

There are really nice houses there, cute cottages, gardens that are out of this world, and amazing views. I took lots of pictures so I can refer to them later for reference. I also have done a lot of plein air painting which I don't get to do very often.

I  painted many loose, slightly abstracted watercolors in a cheap sketchbook just to get going. For me, if I work in a very quick way, without regard for the final outcome, I can find new ideas and directions. Even here I still have times where I have no idea what I want to paint, what is inspiring me. But I took a walk along the beach, or a hike in the woods. Or go to a cute cafe and sit for tea. These small mindful things are so necessary to the creative process and sometimes in the business of everyday life I forget to take time for myself.

Also, I've met the most wonderful, warm, kind people here! And been invited over to so many incredible homes. With all the stuff going on in the world right now it's such a pleasure to turn off the news and just enjoy simple, beautiful, generous humanity. Best, Jennifer

Lauren Lowen’s Tokyo Adventure

Hello everyone! I just got back from Tokyo and had an AMAZING time. This was my third time visiting Japan and my husband’s second.  Read on to see some of my favorite photos and hear what we did!

First of all, Japan has all sorts of fun packaging, products and graphics. Here’s just a sampling of some of the uber cute things we saw.

 

One of the places I really wanted to visit was the Ghibli Museum, a wonderful space dedicated to the studio famous for their films by Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro , Spirited Away) . You have to get tickets way in advance, so acquiring them was extremely stressful. Just imagine me stalking my computer for the very second the next batch of tickets were available online! They have a pretty strict “no photo” policy, but you are able to get a picture of yourself and Totoro at the museum entrance.

Another adventure was visiting an onsen (traditional hot spring bathhouse). It was pure coincidence that we went to the same onsen I visited about ten years ago on my last trip. There is a communal area where you can get food, buy souvenirs, and even play games.  After a quick bite to eat and some browsing, Keith and I said bye for a while and went to relax in our designated bathing areas. By then we were very tired after a few days of intense walking, so we really needed it!

The wackiest destination was probably The Robot Restaurant. Keith was very excited to do this, and I can only describe it as part live theatre, part crazy parade, and all the insane stuff you imagine in Japanese pop culture.

One of the things I had never done during my previous visits was explore a department store. They are known for having large food halls below (delicious!) and I was lucky enough to stumble upon some beautiful house goods, stationery, and other products. Check out these photos of the kimono section in one store. (You are looking at a $15,000 garment; the obis on display range from $3000-$5000 if you’re wondering! Absolutely beautiful.)

All the experiences were so incredible. In the end I picked up a few items for myself, with lots more being purchased for friends and family.  Keith and I had a great time, but have to admit we were ready to go home by the last day…only because our feet couldn’t take it anymore!

The trip was relaxing and inspiring. After taking all those beautiful photographs I can't wait to create some images with my paints! - Lauren

Hello! My name is Anisa.

WEEK ONE: Flow Magazine has asked me to blog for them on Wednesdays all month.  We thought it would be fun to share these posts over here too! 

I was born in Lansing, Michigan, and I was a very creative child.  I was always interested in sewing or painting, or anything that involved colors. I studied printmaking at Minneapolis College of Art & Design.  

After college I just wanted to travel the U.S.  so I funded my trip by sewing hand made dresses, and selling them at music concerts, It was a great way to see my country.  It also started me into a business printing, sewing and later manufacturing my own clothing. 

I made clothes and sold under the label Makool for many years.  When I gave birth to my son 5 years ago, my love for travel and adventure won again and we decided to move from Portland, Oregon to Amsterdam, NL.  

Anisa at work.

Anisa at work.

While living in Amsterdam I fell in love with the canal houses and the bicycles and I began painting and drawing. I started taking classes in illustration, and before I knew it I had a new career.  

Last year we moved back from Amsterdam, to Portland.  Portland is on the West Coast of the U.S. right above California.  It's in a temperate rain forest.  It rains a lot here, but the rain makes it very green.  

The city is covered in moss, ferns, fog and old growth trees.  It feels good to live here, the city seems to glow green, it’s very healing.  I missed this living in Amsterdam. 

I’m excited to share my creative process as well as some of my inspiration over the next few weeks.  I hope you’ll visit my website and follow me on Instagram.

Enjoy! - Anisa

WEEK TWO: I thought today it would be nice if I gave you a tour of my new studio. Part of the incentive for me to move to Portland from Amsterdam was that I would have a new house. Our house was finished last June and we were able to move in after a long wait. My favorite room is my studio, it’s open with concrete floors and floor to ceiling windows facing the south. It’s a L shape so it’s hard to photograph, also on the day I took these picture we had some unexpected sunshine in Portland, it’s very rare.

You can see my cat “Happy Kids T.V.”, showing you the butterflies I did for this month’s issue of Flow. She’s a Devon Rex cat and she likes to come to my studio and find things she can attack. 

This is where I spend the majority of my time. I like to draw with pencils or calligraphy pens, and paint with gouache, ink, or acrylic. I mostly don’t keep sketch books unless I’m traveling. I prefer to make a bunch of drawings, and tape them to the wall. I work with my drawings in photoshop and I find that having them taped to the wall, lets me see everything I have without toggling through folders. 

Thanks for stopping by my studio. Next week I’m going to introduce you to some of my friends. - Anisa

WEEK THREE: 

This week I wanted to show you how I stay creative and social.  Having creative social outlets helps me to stay inspired, by thinking about making art in different ways. 

Portland is a very creative city, I feel fortunate to be a part of the art community.  Last year a group of women artists started an event called “Ladies Drawing Night”, it a private group,  when I was asked to join I was very excited.  The group meets once a month, we get together to sit around a table, drink wine, share snacks, and make art.  This has connected me with some amazingly talented local women, whom I admire, and it’s been a great resource.  Last month I brought my camera along to share a picture with you. 

(pictured here, from the right around the table is  Lena Podesta, Adrienne Vita, Vera Brosgol, Peg Serena, Tara Lilly, Kinoko Evans, and the little blue person on pink paper is by Rilla Alexander) 

(pictured here, from the right around the table is  Lena Podesta, Adrienne Vita, Vera Brosgol, Peg Serena, Tara Lilly, Kinoko Evans, and the little blue person on pink paper is by Rilla Alexander) 

Another project I do with friends is “Stamp Art Club”, once a month we each make a postage stamp based on a theme.  There are four of us, and we make these images to share on  Instagram.  We have a hashtag #stampartclub if you’d like to view the whole project. 

The artists are Tara Lilly from Portland, Oregon, Monika Forsberg from London, and Kate Mason from Australia.

One great thing about stamp art club is that it keeps me in touch with friends who live far away.   We are doing a project together so we can’t fall out of touch, also it insures that I have one playful assignment every month that’s just for myself.  So much of what you do as an illustrator is making work for clients, constantly thinking about what the client wants can get tiresome. 

I hope to encourage other creatives out there to begin some sort of “creative playground”, someplace where there’s no pressure just connecting with other artists in fun ways.  It can help to get you out of your own head, and the connections you'll make are priceless. - Anisa

WEEK 4: I used to think I couldn’t draw, but now I think drawing is like a muscle if you don’t use it’s not very strong and the more you use it the better it works.  

When I was in college, I always got C’s in drawing no matter how much energy I put into the class. This was discouraging for me and I only took the required amount of drawing to graduate art school.  I ended up studying photography and printmaking.  

After college I went on to teach myself how to sew and design patterns for clothing.  I did some screen printing on the clothing, but not very much.  I spent the next 10 years building up a business, selling hand made clothing designs.  Meanwhile I always felt something was missing.  I noticed myself spending time on the internet admiring the work of artists and illustrators. 

It was when I moved from Portland to Amsterdam that I stopped the clothing business it just wasn’t possible to move it.  I had a lot of time to be alone with my creativity which was really nagging me.  I felt lost not having a creative outlet.  One day when I was on Amazon shopping for books a suggestion caught my eye. It was Lilla Rogers “I just like to make things”, the title alone spoke to me and I ordered the book.  Shortly after, I began taking her classes, and things just snowballed from there.  Today I couldn’t imagine not drawing and painting every day, it feels like I’ve been doing this my whole life. 

Here’s a suggestion to get into drawing.  Give yourself an assignment.  I used to tell myself I’m just going to draw an object 50 times.  I discovered if you draw a chicken 50 times it’s not possible to have 50 bad drawings of a chicken a few of them will be interesting and pretty good. It’s a great way to get yourself into drawing and to discover your style. 

Thanks you for spending the month with me, I loved blogging every week.  - Anisa

Jennifer Orkin Lewis is a Smart Creative Woman!

I am so happy to share Jennifer's interview with the multi-talented and infinitely fascinating, Monica Lee this week on her podcast, Smart Creative Women.

Jennifer Orkin Lewis (aka August Wren) at work in her studio.

Jennifer Orkin Lewis (aka August Wren) at work in her studio.

Here is how Monica sums up the interview: 
"Jennifer is a hot new artist that has been around for some time.  After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design as a textile stylist designing prints for children’s clothing and lingerie, she raised her family, designed textiles and worked away. Fast forward several years she started a daily sketch book project that reignited her career in a huge way! I love her story and how she is such a hot ticket after working as an artist for the last 20 years (that’s pretty much the best kind of story).  Tune in and listen to  her journey,  it’s a refreshing one! Her  work is inspired by the everyday small things,  a bird in a tree, a garden, crowds of people, a beautiful table with luscious food and her clients (like Kate Spade home and Abrams Books!)  are eating up her style, her voice and her point of view. Can’t wait to see what she does next!"

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. You can find August Wren at her widely-followed Instagram, 30 minute painting a day. Enjoy! - (the other) Jennifer

JNA artists in FLOW!

Wow, wow, wow! I am SO HAPPY to see the artists featured in FLOW this month! If you don't know, Flow - check them out here. You can subscribe to the magazine, Flow Weekly, find inspiring blogs + articles + great links to illustrators worldwide, and more! Design delights abound!

Both Jennifer and Anisa are featured this month!

Jennifer Orkin Lewis's (August Wren) gorgeous feature!

Jennifer Orkin Lewis's (August Wren) gorgeous feature!

Complete with stunning postcards to mail!

Complete with stunning postcards to mail!

This is one of Anisa's pieces that first caught my eye.

This is one of Anisa's pieces that first caught my eye.

More exciting work to share in future issues and a book! Enjoy! - Jennifer

Victoria's Autumn Project

This past autumn I decided I wanted to do some designs that would work well on fabric. You can't get more autumnal than squirrels so I started by sketching a few. I had a lot of success with my Give Thanks fox and sunflower fabric designs a while ago but didn't want to repeat myself. So I spent a happy evening building myself a mood board inspired by something I love that is quintessentially autumnal - tan leather and heather grey knit. I'd also been quite taken by the grey pumpkins that kept popping up all over Pinterest. They contrast beautifully with the usual orange ones.

Squirrel sketches

Squirrel sketches

Once I had my palette established I created a collection of six designs featuring birds, squirrels and autumnal foliage. I think it came out nice and had a very different (less whimsical, more collegiate) feeling to the Give Thanks fabrics.

'Give Thanks' fabrics still available at Joann's

'Give Thanks' fabrics still available at Joann's

Tan leather, heather grey knit and grey pumpkin inspired moodboard/color palette

Tan leather, heather grey knit and grey pumpkin inspired moodboard/color palette

Apparently my mom was also inspired by my color palette and knitted it into a cushion cover!!! Enjoy! -Victoria

Lauren Lowen's 3 Tips For Better Social Media

Every once in a while, I like to write about a topic I covered with my college students. One of the most relevant subjects for today’s world is social media and how to use it effectively. We discuss this for quite a bit in the classroom, but here are some quick tips for you to enjoy.

1)   Remember that Likes and Followers don’t always translate to dollar signs. This is one of the most important things to understand when it comes to social media. You start a Facebook fan page or Instagram account and suddenly have tons of followers! So why aren’t the contracts and big deals rolling in? Well, that’s because you have to realize that social media isn’t so much about obtaining followers and higher numbers. The point is to nurture contacts and network, in order to create opportunities. So even though you have a thousand people in your audience, if you aren’t taking that next step to really make something out of it, than it doesn’t matter. People are watching, so now what? Do you want to create a dialogue? Put on a group show? Offer to do some special commissions for the first lucky three people who take up the offer? Followers on social media are like tools: you can build something with them, but just letting them sit in the garage isn’t going to result in anything.

The numbers don't count - the relationships do, so socialize with your followers. 

The numbers don't count - the relationships do, so socialize with your followers. 

2)   Your personal pages can be just as important as your “fan page” on Facebook. Imagine that you go to a cocktail party held by a colleague. Lots of people from your industry are there. You spot one important someone and introduce yourself. Great! Good for you. Then you stroll over to the buffet table to get something to nibble on. While there, you start talking to some friends and maybe say a couple of things that could be controversial or maybe even just downright unprofessional (because that important so-and-so is way across the room, so it doesn’t matter, right?). However, other people go to the buffet table to get some food. You don’t even know who they are at the moment, but maybe they had a good lead or connection for you. Well, guess what? Those people left the table with some sort of impression of you that may (even on just a subconscious level) determine if they want to recommend you or work with you in the future.

Lauren's tiger is not one bit shy about Social Media!

Lauren's tiger is not one bit shy about Social Media!

The point is, even with your “professional” or business page on Facebook and such, you can’t ignore the power of interactions that you do every day on your personal accounts. The Internet makes people way too comfortable when it comes to megaphoning every thought and opinion we may have, and whether you like it or not, your personal presence online does affect you professionally. Whether you are in a social online group with others in your industry or taking a continuing education class at your local college, handle yourself in a professional way that makes others remember you in a positive light. For myself, people that have started connecting with me online for personal reasons have flourished into some great professional contacts.

3)   Don’t let Social Media be your only Marketing tool. Social media is like the mayonnaise on your marketing sandwich: it really makes it all come together, but it can’t be the only ingredient. Make sure you aren’t ignoring the rest of your marketing campaign! This may include mailings, press kits, in-person tradeshows, or sending submissions to companies or venues you want to work with in the future. It’s also pertinent to remember that some of the best connections are still made face-to-face. Have coffee with an old instructor. Join a local sketch group. Become a member of local professional chapters if they are in your area. There are probably some great resources where you live, and these things can compliment a strong online social media presence.

When making a "marketing sandwich", use whole wheat bread for more nutrition in your social media diet.

When making a "marketing sandwich", use whole wheat bread for more nutrition in your social media diet.

Thanks for reading! I hope you got a few things out of these tips for social media and are on your way to reaching your goals. - Lauren

August Wren meets Maira Kalman

Last winter, I went to the Julie Saul Gallery to see some of Maira Kalman's work from her new book and MEET her! For me it was like meeting the most famous movie star ever, I was in heaven!! 

There weren't too many people there so I got a bit over enthusiastic and talked a lot, maybe too much... But whoa, she is really lovely and kind. It made my week! - Jennifer

August Wren (right)  talking with Maira Kalman (left)

August Wren (right)  talking with Maira Kalman (left)

Her observations on life and her painting really speak to me. I found this interview with her on The Great Discontent, it's a fabulous read, she has a great story!

“Hey Lauren, How Do You Make Your Work?”

A long time ago (ok, not THAT long ago) I found myself pondering the same conundrum many artists do at some point (or at many points) in their lives. The question was how should I actually make my art? Hand-done with my trusty gouache or with the magic box known as the computer? And - OH - the stress! You would think I was making the most important decision in my life. Truly, it would drive me bonkers at times. 

Years ago, I was pretty much doing 95% of my work with paint. Sure, I had some Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator savvy; I had even done some client work that was all-digital to test the waters, but I was still definitely not what I would consider a “digital artist” at this point.  Even more frustrating was that my work was so flat and smooth that most people thought my gouache paintings were actually digital! It seemed to make sense that I graduate to the all mighty vector and join the modern age. In addition, my software know-how had expanded tenfold while working as an in-house designer, making me a digital ninja that could execute my work at a new level. So when I had the chance to bust out some vector work for an online class, I thought this would certainly be the turning point. My new era had begun! So I made the new piece and low and behold… I didn’t care for it that much. Sure, I probably was getting used to this new “look,” you say. However, It wasn’t that. I realized that the vector process had completely stripped away the elements that made my work look like me. As much as I tried to make my early gouache paintings super neat and smooth, I realized when comparing it to the vector piece that I actually liked all the little mistakes that happened during the painting process the texture of my brush, the lines that would vary and have funky edges. The vector work was just too perfect for me!

In college, my peers and instructors knew me as someone who was pretty confident in mark-making. My sketchbook overflowed with drawings and doodles that had energy and a wonderful messiness. I loved a good two-minute life drawing pose executed with sumi ink on a large drawing pad. Although my final projects were executed with skill, there was always something in them that was missing when compared to my sketches. Like many artists out there, I would tighten up and the freeness of my original hand would be lost to some degree. If I could just figure out how to keep the original liveliness of these sketches in my final pieces!

Naturally, I believed the solution was to work digitally. There I could preserve my sketches and work on top of them, instead of trying to emulate or duplicate them under pressure. The growing popularity of vector work out there made me believe that Adobe Illustrator and vector surely was the ideal answer, and I believed that once I started this new art chapter of my life, it would just be vector, vector, vector and I would never look back.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Fast forward to that previously mentioned vector piece for my online class. As much as I was disappointed, this process made a light bulb go off. It confirmed that I liked the texture and organic quality of paint; that I should embrace it. So instead of trying to make my future gouache paintings super perfect, I felt more confident to explore the range I could get with the medium. My process became more relaxed and exploratory as I combined loose watercolor techniques with graphic elements. And as I continued to grow my digital knowledge at my designer position, I decided that I didn’t have to choose one method. Instead, I could start to combine techniques I love in order to create a unique vision. Instead of picking one or the other, I started to paint elements and combine them with digital components. Brush strokes were scanned in and then I’d add even more texture with my sturdy Wacom tablet. Gouache paintings were married with digitally colored ink drawings in Photoshop.

I love telling people that the computer made me a better painter, and painting made me a better digital artist.

Both have their unique advantages, and I find that bouncing between the two helps to improve and grow my skills, much like one might exercise their lower body one day and their upper body the next. The notion that artists and designers need to pick one medium or method is slightly absurd when you think about it, as it only serves to limit creativity and expression (which is the complete opposite of what art encourages). Each one serves the other as I discover knew digital things and think “gee, what if I tried that when painting?” Or maybe I draw something that I love and am challenged to continue experimenting with it on the computer without fear of ruining it.

In addition, there are some nice benefits to this way of working. I now have a range of skills that allow me to make pieces that are custom to my clients’ needs. It also allows me to use all my strengths and not feel limited when I try something new. 

So, dear reader… I encourage you to explore! Get messy! Be fearless! Discover new skills and do so in the name of creative delight! Your artistic flavor is as unique as the way you dress or your sense of humor. It should be rich and complex! Just like each one of us.

Fractured Finds

Hi!...a little something from Bee today...we braved the winds at the weekend, togged up the wellies and went off in search of somewhere to stretch our legs! Not too far from our home is a great arts centre which has a lovely big pond in the park surrounding it. There are super-wide paths for the boys to scoot their scooters, and fun places to play in with little nooks and crannies to hide in!...We were so surprised to also find hiding in a cranny these incredible mosaic people...if only they could have shared with us their tales of how they came to be there, but what a wonderful find? Bee x

Folky Fish

A few weekends ago we visited an exhibition of British folk art at a gallery not too far from where we live, and happened upon some amazing pieces of incredible folk art. I just LOVE folk art. There was so much to see and enjoy. I would have loved to have been able to show you some of the things we saw in more detail but sadly we weren't allowed to take photos. I was really inspired by some 3D wooden carvings of fish that used to hang over shop doors (before proper signage was invented) to let passers by know that particular establishment was the fishmonger's. There were huge boots for the cobblers, an enormous padlock and keys for the locksmiths and a beautiful golden teapot for the tea shop. Here's a quick sketch of some of my fish... watch this space because I'm sure they'll be featured in a pattern pretty soon! Enjoy - Bee

Although the exhibition is closed now, you can still find out more here

Going with my Gut

I started this years sketchbook with the grand plan to use a much bigger sketchbook. 9x11".  I thought it would give me the chance to experiment with new techniques and I would have to loosen up more to fit a painting in more space in 30 minutes. It did do those things.. But I felt stressed and that isn't the point of this project at all. After a month and a half I finally gave myself permission to go back to a smaller book, 5x8". 

I could have increased my time limit, it is my project after all. But I have lots of other work,  paid work, other personal projects, getting ready for Surtex, living my life. It's hard to admit I can't handle what I set out to do but life is about making the compromises that make me happy. I am so much happier painting the sketchbook at this size. I can do larger paintings at other times. My moral is to go with your gut and do what makes you happy! - Jennifer

Stepping away from the computer - for a little while.

I've been using a sketchbook recently.  For many years I've worked straight onto the screen rather than sketching before hand.  And that's great - it's fast, efficient, good for flat, vector designs in Illustrator and also painterly, loose work in PS.  I'm very much looking forward to investing in a huge Cintiq tablet to continue doing just that.  But I've been DYING to get back to painting and drawing in REAL life too. 

So I bought myself a massive pile of sketchbooks and pens and started.  There's something different about the way your brain works when you're drawing on screen versus when you're creating something in the 'real' world.  A different bit is being used.  

I can chat, watch telly, be simultaneously engaged in something else when I'm drawing, painting or sewing.  When I'm at the computer I need to be almost silent.  I think it's a right brain/left brain phenomenon.  I love the fact that I can be present with my children while fiddling around with bits of paper, scissors and pens during the evening.

I started my career before computers were in general use for design and now I'm remembering the problem-solving aspect of not being able to edit everything.  If a blob of paint accidentally landed in the center of something, it became a flower!  And suddenly the picture became something else.  With sketching and doodling this can be particularly interesting because no-one needs to see what goes into a sketchbook and mistakes can lead you down an unexpected path.  

Now that I can design digitally, I'm finding that combining these spontaneous, flawed, 'real' life experiments with the possibility of limitless editing is making exploring particularly exciting!!!  I'm definitely enjoying heading down a new route.  Here's a pic of a very casually-slung-together collage I did - while watching telly (might have been Italian X-factor - very inspiring!!!).  Lots of elements from it (and others) have since found their way into my work!! - Victoria