All Posts · Thistle Cottage Studio · Writing and Illustrating

The bee suite

A couple of years ago I begun sketching characters for a book about a pig and a goose. The quandary was that the book would probably take years to write and the illustrations even longer. After a few jaunts to London to see traditional publishing  houses, I knew self- publishing was the new route to take. Now with the Covid virus I think there is a universal understanding that personal projects will last far longer than corporate juggernauts. In the comfort of your hard earned home, at last there are platforms from which you can access the world, no longer party to the stubbornness,  shortsighted and misinformed publishing houses. Yes having an agent helps sometimes, but we have over on. We are savy enough to see what works and what doesn’t, to pick up on trends super fast, embrace technology and not take no for a definitive answer. Let the world decide is my motto!

My cupboard is full of notes waiting to be written up, the story is forming along with others, slowly but surely. Plots will find their way as I progress. Like life the journey will present choices and new routes. I don’t want to limit what could potentially be the main of my story.  Actually Pig started out alone, but goose, as geese do, pushed in, stubbornly refused to share space and left Pig with no alternative but to find like-minded friends to counter this clumsy, honking dumpling.

My poultry manifested into those characters and suddenly the book became a real world, a more challenging place. The old idea of a set 32 page childrens story became a shared child, adult adventure and would likely end up as 32 tales, a book I hope will be filled with full page illustrations, annotated text, pop up sections and mostly be unchallenged by publishing dogma.

I was told back in 2013 by a publishing house that pigs were not in vogue and certain not my pig. His main characteristics was unfeasible and wouldn’t work. I mentioned that vampires, and I should know being married to a Transylvanian, do not exist, nor do rabbits with teacups, or boys flying on broomsticks. I left upset and yet happy that the demise of these limiting thoughts would be the publishing houses end. Tik Tok is a symbol of doing what you want, when and however. It’s removing the stigma of perfection. If one person likes what you do, it’s more than the day you tear that draft copy up and bin because the publisher was having a bad day or knew no better. You liked it, you wrote it. Others will too.

So I started sketching to see how my tiny band of farm characters would look. I spent over a year researching art in many mediums and drawing kn what I had loved as a child, pencils, crayons, printing. I did a post a few months ago about how coloured pencils were liberating. Paint caused a block. Too slow, too long to dry, too many rules of light to dark or dark to light, needing water, needing brushes, stretching paper etc. Pencils were forgiving and with technology as it is today, the makers like Caran D’ache and  Derwent have made pencils as complex as rocket ships with unbreakable cores, blendable levels of light fast wax, strong pigments, smooth, hard, soft, chalky, creamy, if you can think of a texture, they provide it. I adore that I can choose so many papers to work with, some smooth, some with ‘tooth’ to grip the pigment and blenders, your fingers, cotton buds, fabrics, all become a very tactile experience that a brush just lacked for me.

The bees were part of the story and three were almost complete, in that I felt they worked as being recognisable znd friendly, not cartoon, not digital, not botanical specimens.

Now I had found my medium and the writing was a long haul, I decided I could work in the illustrations, use for my designs and bring them into my book as I wanted. Two birds with one stone.  Once happy with the sketch I redraw with just simple linework and resized with Photoshop, that finally I learnt this year. Its great for resizing, tweaking contrast, colour etc and taking out any details or moving elements. But that’s it for me, the rest must be done on paper.

Next I transfer the lines to my paper, a thickish tinted Cansen.  I choose the tint to assist with the shading. The only other decision is how that might affect the print quality if I use for fabric or ceramics as you need strong contrasts of line and colour. The shades mottled the image which us cool for illustrating but will need adjusting for other uses. Sublimation needs very strong saturation. Photoshop deals with this, leaving your original intact as illustrated.

Once graphite rubbed over and the lines redrawn, I carefully retrace a few marks and begin outlining and shading, building up shaddows and contours. The hardest part is the expression, the eyes and angle of site. Often the character doesn’t form till I have almost finished the shading. It’s a little stressful as there is little forgiveness in pencil if wrong. There is no undo button and often the layers of pencil can be hard to lift back out with a rubber.

Finally when I think the illustration is complete, if working on a series like this of six bees, I lay them out, compare and make any tonal adjustments, highlights or add a few extra layers of colour where needed, trying to ensure they work together. That completed, I sleep on them for a few days, revisit and make further changes. The completed illustrations will then be scanned into photoshop for fabric design or onto my sublimation templates. It’s quite a few stages, but I love taking them beyond the paper and into a more three dimensional world.

I hope to make a few fabric designs from these and maybe some hanging ornaments, but a little Mason and Solitary bee need to arrive first…better get those coloured pencils sharpened!

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