Sunday, February 27, 2011

Personalised baby card

Today we will look at how to design and paint a personalised baby card.

These are very easy and hugely popular. I know that even though I can produce these myself I would have loved to have been given hand-painted cards when my babies were born, as baby cards always have a very special significance to me. I keep them all in a big shoebox covered in pretty wrapping paper, and I look at them occasionally and feel all soft and melty inside...

Luckily my friend's baby is called Anna, which has four letters, like the word "baby". So it was pretty easy to come up with a design. I decided I would do the baby's name underneath the corresponding letters in the word "baby" above it. However, if the baby has a longer name, just leave out the word "baby" and make the card a bit longer. Besides unusual shapes are always nice, and they stand out from the others.

Here's a card I did for my daughter's birthday two weeks ago:

The more observant among you will notice that I did not alternate the colours in "congratulations" correctly. This is because I lost my concentration for a second, even though I had told myself to be careful. I was in a big hurry as I only had about half an hour to design and paint it, as I had just completed that painting of the ladies on the beach, and I think it was about half past midnight the night before my daughter's birthday when I finally was able to start this card.


My daughter loves ducklings so they have been a bit of a motif in her life. I thought it would be nice to tie in the design on the inside by having a little duckling say the "Happy Birthday" bit. If you can think of anything personal like that for your card, it makes it that bit nicer.

But back to the baby card for the moment.

I will be using the usual technique of drawing onto nice heavy cartridge paper (the Daler Rowney "Ebony" type) that will withstand lots of rubbing out and messing about.

1.Take your 2B or 3B pencil. Lightly and loosely write the letters you want to use in capitals (much better than using lower case letters, as you will have far fewer curves to contend with, and straight lines are always easier).

2. Carefully make the letters "fat" by enlarging them around each of the letters. You will probably make lots of mistakes - I did. Make sure the holes in the middle of each letter are the same as all the others of the same letter - uniformity is really important and the letters will look messy if you disregard it. For example, the little triangles inside the letter A in "Baby" and "Anna" must all be roughly the same size.

3. Next, do some sort of little embellishment on the letters themselves, or, as I did, sitting on the letters. I decided to use little cuddly toys of different species as I thought they could look cute. You could do flowers, building blocks, little trains, rattles...come on, we've all seen baby cards!

4. It's nice to have some of the little objects in the foreground, overlapping the letters behind them. Just draw away and rub out the bits of letter they overlap.

5. Next, do some patterns on the letters. I seem to be obsessed with polka dots and stripes so they always feature largely in my work, but you can do anything you like. You could even copy some cute wallpaper patterns, or find some article or other on interiors in a magazine and pick out a pattern to copy. You will have noticed that I drew guidelines in order for the patterns to be nice and evenly-spaced.

6. When you are happy enough, trace over the design using the good-quality tracing paper I mentioned. You will end up with a clean design that is easy to transfer to watercolour paper.

I haven't been too careful with the patterns as I knew I would be able to do them easily enough onto the watercolour paper, but if you are less confident just trace exactly as you have drawn.

7. Draw over the pattern on the back of the tracing paper with no harder a pencil than a 2B, or it will be hard to transfer the line onto the watercolour paper. To transfer the pattern, scribble over all your lines quite firmly - and, most importantly, don't let the tracing paper move about! You can use a bit of masking tape if you like. You will also find lots of pencil smudges will appear on your beautiful piece of watercolour paper but they are easily removed with a good pencil rubber.
As you can see, the transferred drawing will be extremely faint. This is good, because you want the colour to stand out more than the pencil lines. You may wish to re-do the pencil lines for definition when you have finished - but you may not, and this way you have the choice. You can go over the faint traces in a very light hand if you want.

8. Making up the card: Once I transferred the drawing to the watercolour paper, I cut the card to size. To do this I first scored very lightly across the top of the card, just above the design, with a Stanley knife and a square (the fold is across the top as it would not fit in the other sense on my piece of paper). If you score very lightly, you won't cut through the paper. Be careful - it's easy to cut the paper in two by accident. Then you simply cut off the card at the edge of the design, then fold the card over. The score that you made means it will fold nicely. Don't try to fold heavy watercolour paper without scoring it first - it won't work and will look really amateur-ish.

Next post: Painting the card!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

When your child surprises you

 My kids have entered a national art competition. The closing date is this coming Friday.

The eldest is super-confident. She has just turned 11 and sees herself as a very talented, able artist. My boy is 9 and is also very confident in hs abilities, enjoys drawing and painting, but does not see himself as "an artist". My youngest is 6 and sees herself as a non-artist, or did until today. It took all of my powers of persuasion to get her to sit down and do something for the competition.

I finally managed to persuade her to paint a picture yesterday. She sat her tiny stuffed mouse down on its tiny blanket, leant it against a pot with some grape hyacinths in it and positioned two candlesticks on either side. She started drawing and to my utter amazement produced an exquisitely-observed, confidently-traced still life. Then I gave her a palette with the right colours from the Concentrated Water Color range that I mentioned before. She couldn't believe the results - nor could I. My point is not that all my children are geniuses (which naturally they are!) but that given the correct materials, a bit of guidance and a very clear subject, someone who was very daunted by the idea of painting was able to overcome that fear and come out jubilant.

There's a funny ending, though: I fell in love with her beautiful painting and couldn't bear the thought that there was every possibility that were she not highly placed, I would never see the painting again. After all, how could the judges know that this was Rosie Whiskers, and that the plant was a birthday present for my eldest daughter? So first I scanned it, but that still wasn't enough for me. I wanted to frame the original and put it over my bed. I wondered if I could persuade her to do another exactly the same.

Luckily I had some really nice chocolates in the house, so I bribed her. This time she sat the little mouse on a tiny Sylvanians chair. Again, she produced a beautiful painting, and agreed to send the new one to the competition instead. The evidence was now before her very eyes - in spite of her previously-held belief, she was an artist! I think she might have thought that the first attempt might have been just lucky. Here's the funny bit. After all the effort it took to get her to paint something for me, at bedtime she became overcome with emotion and wept bitterly because she wanted to go on painting, there and then, and also complained that she did not have a little painting set of her own. It took AGES and a cup of hot cocoa to persuade her to let it go - in the end my husband cheered her up so I'm not sure what he said.

It just goes to show that all we need is a very bossy person with a box of chocolates standing over us and we'll produce magic.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Preliminary sketching

Hi everyone,

I was going to show you painting techniques as they were used for that picture of the ladies on the beach. But I have a better idea: rather than tell you about something that is finished, about which I would be speaking after the event, so to speak, I think it would be better to show you something I am working on as I do it.

I am working on a painting this morning, of a mother presenting her little girl with a bowl of hot porridge sprinkled with blueberries.

This will be for my latest kids' book and it's a really great project. The book is about a little girl who insists she does not like fruit. Her mother shows her how delicious it is by tempting her with strawberries, oranges, bananas, green apples, bluberries, grapes and plums....any clever little chickens notice anything? Ten out of ten if you noticed they match the coours of the rainbow. So the book is FULL of colour. I am indulging myself utterly by giving the mum the most gorgeous vintage dresses to tie in with each scene's colour.

As I said, today I am working on the blueberry page. So blues of every shade are the prevailing colour of the page. So what did I give the mum to wear? Something vintage (50's in this book's case), something blue? It HAD to be a sailor dress. As usual, I took to trusty Google and found some photos of beautiful dresses inspired by sailor themes.

I have by now sketched out the mum in her gorgeous dress and I have designed an apron for her to wear (in every picture she wears an apron with a print of that particular day's fruit on it).

Remember I said that I use a really heavy-quality paper for my initial sketches? I pointed out that when it is good and heavy you have the scope for lots of rubbing out, which allows you to be really free with your drawing. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of this. The above image has been rubbed out a million times but the paper remains smooth and the drawing is clear.

The next step will be to trace the image onto heavy grade tracing paper as I described the other day. This will then be transferred onto heavy cartridge paper and painted using gouache and Dr. Ph. Martin's Radiant Concentrated Water Color.

Then I will paint it, and I will post EXACTLY how I go about this - and how easy it is.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Coming up with a design

As promised, here is how I created the image of the ladies on the beach.

Disclaimer bit: this is just how I do it and assumes a level of competence with drawing. The bit where I show you the actual drawing techniques is another day's work.

So, as I said, I had a very short time to do this, so it had to be done in a foolproof, efficient way.

I started with my trusty pad of Daler Rowney "Ebony" artist's sketch book, in A3.

Why this pad?

1. The paper is really heavy and smooth. My drawing can do no wrong on this paper. It does lots of wrong things on other paper.

2. The size was right for the frame I happened to have knocking around. Having said that, you want to be careful not to go too small as this will restrict your ability to swoop your pencil around comfortably. And we're all about swooping.

Before I put pencil to paper, I have to do something really important. I have to close my eyes and find a quiet moment and I have to try to picture the finished result. The middle of the night is an excellent time to do this - no more lying awake fretting about your life. The downside of this is that it is so enjoyable picturing the lovely image that you will be very happy and calm and will fall straight back asleep.

Picturing the image:
That is really your gig, but I find it very helpful to pick a sort of theme - for my lovely ladies I like to get a very rowdy, vintage-y sort of vibe.

When I have pictured my image, the next step is to put pencil to paper. Aaaagghh! Don't worry: we have ways of making this successful and not scary (I have often found that the white paper thing can be very off-putting).

Ways to make the white paper thing less intimidating:

1. Use the back of a drawing you're not bothered about. In this way you are not fretting about wasting a big sheet of paper with a rotten drawing.

2. Banish all distractions - radio off, company asked to leave. If they won't go or you can't make them then you have to go off somewhere with your sketchpad. This initial bit is critical - once you have a strong drawing you can relax a bit, put the radio on, stick in the headphones etc.

3. So, you start with a B or, at a maximum, 2B pencil. Draw rough shapes of what you want. Not too heavy with the lines as you are going to be doing a LOT of rubbing out. (You need a really good rubber too - I use a Staedtler Mars Plastic.) The beauty of this technique is that the paper is heavy enough to withstand lots of messing about, rubbing out etc. so you can really afford to be free with your lines. Nice and loose! Relax! Mistakes are fine!

4. Draw away, think, draw, think, draw. Rub out all lines you don't like - which is why you mustn't lean heavily on your pencil or you will have a hard job getting rid of them.

5.Use your laptop to get your elements right: I googled things like "flowery swimming hat photos" and "vintage swimsuits photos". I think I started with "ladies sunbathing photos" just to get the basic shapes for the ladies.

6. After a while you will have a messy, but hopefully strongly-drawn, picture. You can pick out the best lines with a 3B if you like but a 2B will do the trick.

Next step: Tracing.

I use lovely heavy-quality tracing paper for this bit. If you use a lighter quality paper the whole thing will be very unpleasant - tearing paper etc.

1. Lay the tracing paper on top of your drawing. You must make sure the tracing paper does not move around. You can use masking tape to stick it down. If you don't, your non-drawing hand and arm will ache. I am too lazy to bother with tape and I always have an aching arm.

2. Draw the lines you like with great care and precision. Use a B for this - tracing paper makes your point wear down very fast, and you need to keep it really sharp all the time. I use a craft knife (I like a big heavy DIY knife) for this.

3. When this is done, turn the tracing paper upside down and trace over the lines on the back with a 2B - no harder as you need the lines to transfer easily.

4. Lay the result, right side up, on your nice heavy watercolour paper. I use Daler Rowney "The Langton" in 300g/m. Tape it down lightly at the corners.

5. Lightly go over the lines in a firm scribbly fashion with a B pencil. This will cause the line to transfer onto the watercolour paper. Check it's transferring ok before you do too much.

Next post: Making a nice drawing paint-ready!

Finished painting they are. My daughter asked for them to be on the beach, which gave me all sorts of opportunities to paint gorgeous swimsuits!

In my next post I will tell you how the image was created, from conception to execution.

Drawing and painting my way

Welcome to my new blog.

I am going to show how I come up with paintings. It isn't really rocket science but it is a technique that I have refined over many years and it really works. It is very satisfying and extremely indugent - which is what it's all about, right?

These fine ladies were inspired by a real-life family I know: they are very wonderful ladies (not fat I hasten to add) who always know how to make the most of life. For example, after I started painting these ladies, I found out that one of them has a little book in which she keeps the number of her favourite hotel rooms in her favourite hotels.
The ladies in the paintings are very distinctive. Each has her own sense of style and will dress accordingly.

Last week, my eldest daughter asked me to do one of these paintings for her birthday. With one thing and another I was left with a morning and a half and an evening to design, draw and paint the image. I did it and you will see it (framed, as I did not have the chance to scan it first) in the next post.