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.

Confessions of a Collage...er

I'd almost stopped drawing. I mean, I still took my sketchpad out to work on roughs or to plan patterns, but I didn't really draw if it wasn't the beginning of a collage. And the less I drew, the less confidence I had and the worse I felt about it, like I was only pretending to be an illustrator and, sooner or later, someone would find out. Everyone would say, "Well, she might be able to collage a fine gazelle, but did you know all her sketchbooks are actually full of lists?"

Last week I heard Eddie Mair interview artist Claire Parrish, about how she'd begun drawing again after years (it's a great story, you can listen here on PM, about 40 minutes in) and something made me stop worrying about all the other things I should be doing instead and pick up my pencil.

After that tiny beginning (and proving that Gladys is always the answer) I didn't really want to stop. I can't describe just how perfect a weekend I've had, sitting in the sunshine, in the garden or at the top of my studio steps, drawing trees and things. Not brilliantly well, it has to be said, but that is beside the point.

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I think this must be what people are talking about when they enthuse about the benefits of mindfulness; feeling there is nowhere else in the world, and no-one else in the world, you'd rather be. It's quite a revelation, as though my mind is gently rewiring itself and I'm settling back into my skin.

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If I needed another reason to fall back in love with the humble coloured pencil, it would be that they're so portable! Even if I attempt to take all my collage things outside, it takes only the lightest breeze, or a mere wag of Gladys's tail, to send everything floating off into the grass. This whole pencil and paper thing is revolutionary. And Gladys can sit as close as she likes.

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You can see more work in progress photos over on Instagram. And just in case this post is lacking collage, here are the aforementioned gazelles:

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.

 

Cows and Flowers

Growing up on a dairy farm and now working from a studio overlooking the yard, you might imagine drawing cows would be my forte. Unfortunately, my early attempts at capturing our dairying queens on paper usually failed spectacularly and it sort of put me off. Aged 10 I drew a ghoulish calf's head in oil pastels and gave it to my mum for her birthday, I think it was downhill from there! In my first year at uni we had a Christmas drawing project and I chose the farm as my theme. In theory, I'd be able to snuggle up on a straw bale with a mug of mulled wine and fill a sketchbook with my favourite Friesians, but actually it was bitterly cold and I stuck it out only long enough to fill a couple of pages (badly). Lately, I've been trying to remedy this and if you follow me on Instagram you'll have seen the fruits of my labour. Until recently I was ignorant of the benefits of posting half-collaged Herefords, but now I've decided that #wip is the way forward. Instagram, I love you! So, in the spirit of sharing my working process, from my first pencil drawings to the finished pattern, here's the merry herd:

Cow drawings © Kate Slater

Cow heads coloured Cows © Kate Slater Cows pattern © Kate Slater

OK, so I've only done their heads, but I'm happy with how they've turned out for now. I left the Highland out in the end because it wasn't quite right - disproving my theory that the hairier the animal, the easier it is to collage! Most importantly, my dad successfully identified all six different breeds, which has got to be a good thing.

These cows are now destined for mugs and tea towels, and I've just had some new wrapping paper printed too!

New wrapping paper

PS. Here's a cow from a year ago with a body. Just so you know I'm not always that lazy. Strange to see how my style is developing too, even in such a short time.

Cow and Calf © Kate Slater