100 Years, 100 Days

I'm very happy to be able to reveal a really exciting project I have coming up in beautiful Wiltshire. The commission has several parts to it and I'm creating very different work for two separate churches, St Laurence's in Hilmarton and Christ Church in Broad Town. The Broad Town project is a whole other kettle of fish, so I'll save that for a later blog and begin with Hilmarton.

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This year, Remembrance Day will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War. All over the country, communities will be marking the centenary of Armistice on the 11th November, but at St Laurence's Church in Hilmarton, they're starting early - 100 days early.

I was really inspired by their decision to hold an Act of Remembrance in the church, every day for 100 days until Remembrance Day: 100 Years, 100 Days. So inspired, in fact, that I enthusiastically decided to join in and begin my commission by creating 100 ink illustrations. Which is why I now find myself beginning the massive challenge of painting or drawing something, every day from today until 11th November, to tell the stories of some of the local men who died in the war.

You can follow the project on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, support me on Patreon (coming soon!) and watch the work unfold over the course of the next few months!

I'm going to base the work on just four men whose names appear on the war memorial in the church and really want to make this project about their lives and experiences. There's an amazing local historian in Hilmarton, Richard Broadhead, who has done so much research into all the men who went to fight from Wiltshire, it's phenomenal - I definitely won't be short of material.

However, it doesn't end with the initial illustrations. What I'm really hoping to do is to use the work created over the 100 days as a starting point to make three or four installations inside the church. I’d like to commemorate the soldiers lives in a more personal way than names carved in stone, read out once a year. This part of the project all depends on whether or not we can secure more funding, but I really hope it will be possible!

In the meantime, today marks the very first day of the project, and here is the first painting-in-progress!

All the paintings will be exhibited in the church and are also for sale here (although this first one has already been claimed!) so please do follow me on social media and sign up to my mailing list if you're interested in staying up to date!


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The Narnia Tree

One happy September afternoon, while book-shopping with Sarah in Auxerre, I came across this beaut of a book, ARBRE, by Amandine Laprun, which got me thinking.

I'd already been working on some illustrations for the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe for my portfolio, and the fold-out-tree-cum-book format seemed perfect for Lucy and Mr Tumnus. It's been a horribly long time since I got my act together and sent out anything vaguely self-promotional, so I vowed that, this Christmas, I would send something no less than SPECTACULAR. The Eiffel Tower of self promotion, a thing so exquisite that art directors all over the world would weep tears of joy. You know the sort of thing. Instead, I did this:

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I've been working on these illustrations for a couple of months and finally, last week, I had a whole forest of paper trees, ready to spread their roots! Well, nineteen to be precise, and one with a bit of avocado on it.

I'm quite pleased with how these turned out, but mostly very chuffed that I actually got them in the post the right side of Christmas! Here's to a 2018 full of doing some actual, proper work.

But before then, I plan to eat, drink, be merry, and attempt to bring some sort of order to the hovel that is my studio. And to draw some nice animals. And make a good sort of list. And go for a run, because it's been a while. And finish all those ink paintings I started before I remembered that I don't have time to do self-initiated projects in December. And finish making my crackers. And wrapping presents. And...

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Ink After Ink

I can't even remember quite why I decided to try Inktober. I hadn't used ink at all since about 2006 (to which my lumpy jar of Windsor and Newton will attest) and wondered if it was a good idea to invest so much time in something that certainly wouldn't lead to any more work.

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But sometimes having to stick to a 'style' feels like such a trap. Sometimes I even feel there's this huge gap between the kind of work I make and the work I see that makes my heart sing; I'm just not brave enough to try it. I think, I want to draw and I cannot draw, I want to paint and I cannot paint. I want to write another picture book. Create another window display. I want to make giant sculptures as big as a house and tiny, tiny books with beetle-wing covers. To hang a big tangle of ten-thousand paper stars glued to gold wires from a vaulted ceiling. I want to write poems and make costumes and design sets for theatres. I can picture, exactly, the wallpaper I want in my bedroom. I want to sit in my favourite tree and document everything I find there. I want to paint faces on eggs. I want to fill every second of every day doing things that matter, because otherwise, really, what is the point?

There are so many things. I sit at my desk, paralysed by endless possibility and the thought that I would do every single one of them if I was quite a lot braver and a bit less rubbish. And I think about what my decade-younger self would have thought of that (I can half-remember her having a lot more self-belief, at least in terms of work) and I want to go back in time and sweep her up.

So that's what Inktober was about, in the end; being braver. Speeding forth in on my inky-stained steed, throwing caution to the wind, rescuing self-belief and possibly blobbing on some ancient masking fluid for good measure. Somehow, just making time to do one small painting per day and actually doing it (albeit not always on the day), for a whole month feels like it might be the beginning of something. Although so many things have felt like new beginnings this year, I've almost lost track.

This isn't quite the blog I thought I was going to write - I thought I'd write about how difficult it is to know when to stop painting; the frustration I felt when I knew I'd ruined something at the last minute, or the relief when, after a couple of hours, that day's effort seemed much better than I originally thought. How with collage anything is fixable with pritt-stick and scissors, but with ink you're sort of stuck. How possible it is to lose yourself in painting trees.


Here are all the paintings, in order (plus a bonus bear).


I'd already begun using some pencil line in my more recent work, so I'm going to try painting a bit more of it too - beginning with this month's RSPB commission!

I'm also planning to auction these off, probably on Facebook, to kick-start my London Marathon fundraising for Refuge (yep, I'm doing it again!), so please keep your eyes peeled if you'd like to buy one and support a fantastic charity at the same time! You could also stay in the loop by signing up to my mailing list.

Portrait of the Artist as a Grizzly Bear

This started off as a quick scribble I posted on Instagram. I've had way more rejection than I've ever had actual work and somehow I'm still here, sitting at my desk with gluey hands and bits of paper stuck to my slippers. So hip-hip-hooray for a giddy optimism, I think it's probably the main ingredient in being a freelance illustrator.

Shrew Love

I posted bits of my latest RSPB illustrations on social media as I worked and had such a lovely response I thought I'd blog about the whole process. The RSPB are my longest running clients and there's nothing I love better than a Wild Times commission popping up in my inbox! Even better, the latest tale starred a shrew! Shrews are absolutely my new favourite, which frankly means I'm going to have to work really hard to resist the urge to create a new range of shrew homeware. Sadly, I don't think Not on the High Street will ever include any rodents in their trend forecasts and, unlike with the orangutans, I probably shouldn't risk it...

Anyway, I've started experimenting a bit lately, and for this story I tried a slightly more mixed-media approach, using paint and charcoal to create some of the background before assembling it all in Photoshop.

Not so long ago I was such a collage-purist that even using a pen to dot the eyes of my characters felt like cheating! But slowly, over the last couple of years, I've been straying from my roots as a scissors-and-glue evangelist to branch out ever so slightly.

The great thing about illustrating the RSPB stories is that I can adapt my technique to suit the tale. I don't usually decide exactly what kind of collage I'll make until the roughs have been approved. This is how one of the shrew illustrations turned out (you can see the following page, along with more of my RSPB work, here), and below are two previous commissions in different styles. For the harvest mouse I created both illustrations as whole, flat collages, only scanning them in when they were completely assembled. For the other story, about a boy's bedtime adventure with his toy animals, I worked in a really three-dimensional way to create a series of spot illustrations, quite similar to the way made the sets for The Birthday Crown book.

I'm really lucky to have a client who allows me to experiment a bit, and I'd definitely like to carry on down the mixed media route for other projects.

Going for Geese

This is my new philosophy for life.

I had grand plans to design myself a really nice thirtieth birthday party invitation which I could adapt and sell online (I know, I have quite a startling aptitude for business). I thought I'd create something which said, Kate is a person of style and elegance, her collage simply oozes sophistication, but I couldn't get it right. I spent a huge chunk of the day trying to make various flowery things work, and still, the sophistication wasn't oozing at all. I had the same disheartened feeling I get when I read trend forecasts all about pineapples or concrete, or whatever.

In desperation, I turned to Peter Scott's Observations of Wildlife, because a good bird book has never let me down, and I found this:

Swans! I drew them, decided the looked more like geese and, hey presto...

So this is it. I'm going for geese.

I think it's kind of how I always work; I had no idea people would buy tea towels with orangutans on, but it turns out there is a niche market out there for jungle themed kitchen textiles. Whoever would have guessed? I'm not entirely sure if this is the best way to run a business, but I expect I will find out.

And there are always concrete pineapples to fall back on, if all else fails.