All Posts · Animal tales · Guinea fowl · Making and crafting · My Company Projects · Thistle Cottage Studio · Writing and Illustrating

From sketch to tea mug

A few posts back I mentioned my dream of drawing and designing fabrics, characters and products. As an accountant, very embedded in my toils of tax and statutory accounts, I still scribbled in sketch books and jotted stories on ever growing bundles of lined and plain paper. Over the years I had completed half a degree in interior design and architecture, a course of draughtsmanship and read copious books on drawing, product design, printing, sewing and creativity. But life jogged on and bills had to be paid. Tax was a comfort blanket and easy.

Ouch…but an 💡moment!

In 2016 we headed to France. A curve ball of debt and family issues made England untenable and as I sat on the ferry, the white cliffs of Dover diminishing rapidly, I opened my sketchbook and began to formulate a character. Pig, as he was simply known as back then, slowly grew into a fully formed character. After many hours of driving to reach Creuse in the centre of France, a small collection of short stories emerged, and although very rough round the edges, with unfinished plots, I was enjoying myself. By the time we arrived and a few days if hard work cleaning up our little home to make it habitable, I realized that this change of country was a change of life too. Over the next three years I downsized my tax work and increased my time sketching and writing. I still floundered about with insecurities like what to draw, what medium to use, am I kidding myself as there are so many fantastic artists out there and I hadn’t actually completed a painting for over 25 years!

Naughty Goose.

Fast forward to 2021. The winters lockdown had pushed me to think more about a home based career. My tax had been just this, but I did contract on site alot and visited clients all week. I decided that whatever governments might plan, the reality was this Covid-29 wasn’t going anywhere too soon, and I was also heading for middle age with a bad back and less energy. Illustration ticked all the boxes, home based, small scale, inspiration from around or from my collection of books, promotion via Internet, networking via Internet and above all scalable as I did have the room to expand if I needed to print, frame or bookbind; and what’s more my sketching was improving. My grumpy goose Bumble seemed the perfect subject for a foray into children’s illustration and my stories, now accumulated to over fifty, needed just that. Naughty Goose was born.

Naughty Goose developed into a fabric design. I learnt Photoshop, the mysteries of layers, and suddenly I could take an illustration and manoeuvre it into a design for another material, fabric and something I had never thought if, ceramics, mug and cup designs. I know the world is saturated by mugs from print to order companies, but I looked at Emma Bridgewaters designs, Cath Kidson and Orla Kiely and then at a huge array on Instagram by artisans and crafters. I knew that designs had to be original, but commercial. I also knew I couldn’t be restricted to one style. I have a very roving mind and like challenges, so I explored what I could feasibly do on my own but expand if I had too.

Series of designs seemed the way forward, like the fashion houses produce seasonal collections, inspired by a trend, or an object or colour. I had recently adopted eight guinea fowl, actually foisted on me by a deceitful grain merchant. The little guys couldn’t be returned as they probably would have ended up on a plate, so I kept them. I had chickens and geese…but what were guinea fowl? They turned out to be a noisy, irrational, somersalting, gang of highly strung, high decibel ear bursting, round bodied stick legged birds that I instantly fell in love with!

Pipi who started it all.

So Pipi Pintade was born. Pintade is French for Guinea Fowl and the antics of this screaming crew supplied hours of entertainment. I joined a huge Guinea Fowl forum and entered a world where these birds are cherished, sort after, collected and appear to give endless joy to their owners. It was different world. March was cold and I doodled a pintade in a thick wooly jumper in my sketchpad. She was sort of cute. I then drew another with a dandelion and another with a spotted, pocket handkerchief on her head.


My husband had bought a mug sublimation unit, so why not try that first. I decided to complete ten pintade illustrations and test the market. I posted to the forum and in just 24 hours I hit over 380 likes with comments from every one of those. That doesn’t seem alot, but it confirmed my sketches brought smiles and happiness. I felt a little like I had put the cart before the horse. Asked if I sold these, all I could say was that they were in progress.

Over the next three weeks I worked feverishly to complete the designs to wrap a large stoneware mug. Sublimation was new to me. Big learning curve. I will write a post just on that. Suffice to say I completed the set. Below are the wraps I designed.

Hippi Pipi.
The Gang.

They came out better than I expected and after a few trial prints on the large stoneware mug, I shared on Facebook. That wasn’t easy given Facebook hates sellers, but luckily my simple post drove enough interest and I ended up selling about 45 mugs in just two weeks. I also put my designs on needlepoint canvas and Belgian Linen, and sold a few sets of those too. It was a great start and hugely encouraging. Now I need to market more, but I am happy to work for a while on new designs and fabrics too. I am learning about fabric printing and how the weave affects the detail and honestly I am after a slow growth and having time to produce a really good set of collections which I can then, with earnest, promote.

The sketches below are the new designs and this is the part I love, where the idea is on paper, after slot if research, brain juice and doodles, but now comes the careful, intricate time illustrating and getting the collection to work together. Once complete I can move these into sublimation wraps, fabric design or craft projects. I am enjoying this new career immensely.

Add one large guinea……

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