Character Creation @ Oliver Bonas

This week I had an arty evening at Oliver Bonas, Glasgow, creating animal characters with their London-based designers and a small class of like-minded creatives.

The theme was all about the brand’s autumn/winter ‘story’ of KINSHIP, WOODLAND ADVENTURES and FANTASTICAL FRIENDS.

Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow

Browsing around the store beforehand was a delight, as the colours, patterns and designs they feature on their fashion and homewares are always innovative, clever and VIBRANT.

Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow
Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow

The packaging on products like soap and beauty products and even their tissue paper is just so FUN. Bold/neon abstract prints that are really quite simple but so eye-catching. Even the inserts on their frames are amazing enough to just keep instead!

Here’s some insight into their A/W animal theme and why TIGERS feature so prominently.

Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow

The patterns make you want to buy the product, and this is why I wanted to get into pattern design because it is so versatile, persuasive, exciting and EVERYWHERE. Oh, and I now want to live in a branch of Oliver Bonas!

Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow

Gold handled tea pots and tea sets. Jazzy chartreuse and sage abstract florals. Fabulous!

Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow

I loved the embroidery detail on this sage green scarf (above) which gives it a real hand-finished quality with the level of detail. It also fits nicely into the idea of woodland walks all cosy in autumn layers. I love stitch marks and want to use them a bit more in my own designs. Maybe even in my characters?

The metallic print on this bag (below) also taps into the animal theme, and I can really see myself buying it - if I didn’t already have too many cute bags…

The blankets/throws are really cool too in sorbet shades which seem like they would suit summer best, but work so well in-store; a bright yet cosy contrast to the darker, more opulent shades.

Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow
Bear face character illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas, Glasgow

So after a browse and a few sips of pink lemonade (Prosecco for some but I was driving), it was time to get started.

We had a few rounds of warm-up exercises lasting from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, where we had to interpret a ‘character’ from a random selection of animals, using a colour and a specified ‘decoration’ for that animal, also picked at random and limited to one. Pressure!

Luckily there were a few Oliver Bonas ceramic animal ‘friends’ dotted around for inspiration, which helped me a lot with faces and basic body shapes.

It was quick-fire fun and we initially used felt tip pens. Some of my combinations were:

  • A purple lion + bear with spots

  • A yellow owl with stars

  • A blue dinosaur with flowers

  • A turquoise bear with dots

My drawings - really more like sketches or outlines - are naive and childlike, but I quite like that aspect.

Tiger & Bear Character illustration, Oliver Bonas

Obviously this Tiger & Bear duo are not very polished after only 2 or 3 minutes, but I like how having a time limit and colour restriction can shake up your interpretations into something that you wouldn’t normally create. An interesting dynamic.

Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow
Character Illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas Glasgow

I think my FLORA-SAURUS was pretty ingenious:

'Flora-sauras' character illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas, Glasgow

Once we all agreed we were raring to go on our main animal character of the night, the same rules applied and I my pick got me a GREEN OWL with stripes.

For this more in-depth character we moved on to using watercolours which upped the ante a bit.

We were advised we could sketch outlines in pencil first, but with only 15 minutes in total, I just wanted to dive straight in with my watercolour brush!

Festive owl, character illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas, Glasgow

I really like my owl, and would like to work on him a little more. Or maybe it’s a her?

I know owls have been a bit over-represented in the last decade or more, but they are popular for a reason and I have always loved them - one of my childhood cuddly toys being an owl.

Finally, we had 5-10 minutes left to work freestyle on anything we wanted - any animal in any medium. I really enjoyed working on my FLORA-SAURUS dino so I created a more in-depth version who I named ‘RUPERT’.

'Rupert the Dino', character illustration workshop @ Oliver Bonas, Glasgow

He came out in fire-breathing orange and as there were metallic oil-pastels being passed around, I added those in too - the bronze feels like a nice touch don’t you think? I’d like to experiment with this medium a little more as the pastels resist the paint giving a lovely texture, though precision isn’t easy after a few minutes of use and the warmth of your hand.

A really great evening all round and I made some new friends too. Watch this space for more character creations!

A 'Fairytale Garden' for Lilla Rogers' Global Talent Search 2018

All my art and illustration so far this year has been generated as a result of Lilla Roger's MATS courses, culminating in my entry to the Global Talent Search 2018.

Fairytale Garden Journal Cover Concept for the Global Talent Search 2018, by Rebecca Johnstone

There is so much beautiful art around and particularly in the classrooms of these courses that at times I felt like a fraud even submitting my own work, but you have to start somewhere, right?

The theme for the 2018 Global Talent Search first assignment was a garden journal, which had to feature the following elements:

  • A version of the colour 'greige'

  • Japanese Anemones

  • Stag Fern

  • Hand Lettering

I let the brief sit with me for a few days before I started to respond, pondering which version of my red + yellow + blue = brown + white = greige I would use.

Mischievous Mink? Toadstool Poison? Pandora's Story? Frog Spawn? Chocolate Emporium?

I think in the end it was a cross between Pandora's Story and Chocolate Emporium. Like the remnants of chocolate ice cream on the wooden stick. My colour names were already hinting at fantasy and fairytales...

Playing with Colour

I started experimenting with watercolour flowers - the Japanese Anemones and my version of them in vivid purples and red, and the stag fern with its seaweed-esque structure and sinews hinting at both freedom and entanglement.

Japanese Anemones and Stag Fern, Rebecca Johnstone

One evening a day or so later the full idea for my 'concept' flashed into my mind: a fairytale garden. Yes, that's what I would create, that would be my spin on this creative brief.

I could see flowers with faces swaying in the foreground and the portentous 'greige' swirl of magic clouds in the distance and an image of red riding hood, glancing back towards us from the camouflage of her slinky hood.

Red Riding Hood, by Rebecca Johnstone

I was so excited because a big part of a good (art) assignment is coming up with a winning concept in the first place; something I struggle with getting lost instead in the individual elements.

There was inevitably a gap between the vision in my mind and what came out on paper, but that's all part of the creative process.

Once I had my initial pieces drawn and painted in analogue, I started piecing everything together digitally.

First the watercolour textures of the greige background, and the hand lettering I had created in the style of the stag fern itself. I was quite pleased with that; still am. (I especially love the little apple I used for the dot of the i!)

Fairytale Garden Stag Fern lettering, Rebecca Johnstone

The flowers next with their amused, happy, sultry and animated faces, just how I imagine a magical fairytale meadow.

Flowers with Faces, Rebecca Johnstone
Procreate Flower, Rebecca Johnstone

Red Riding Hood was last, but she really is the star of this show, creating a focal point that draws your eye with the dramatic sweep of red against the pale greige background. She's sophisticated rather than Disney-fied and that helps set the tone for the piece too.

Fairytale Garden illustration by Rebecca Johnstone

I wasn't one of the 50 chosen finalists to go on to receive the next assignment in the competition, but I am still so pleased and proud of the final piece I submitted.

Lilla's advice was to "create a journal cover that you would want to buy yourself" and I know I definitely did that.

View the Global Talent Search 2018 semi-finalists here

The Florida Spy - A Graphic Novel Page

This is where my writing + art life converge: the final assignment for my MATS Bootcamp 2018 was a GRAPHIC NOVEL page. Woah. I would NEVER have thought about attempting something like this, so this course has really stretched and challenged me in such a fun way.

This is the finished page:

The Florida Spy, Graphic Novel page illustration by Rebecca Johnstone/Dainty Dora

Set initially on Miami Beach, then moving swiftly (in 'le taxi'!) to the Everglades, it's a fun tale that I hope will make people smile as well as showing off my illustration skills.

First off, we were given an image of fun, random items to draw as a 'starter for ten', or rather, the 'mini' assignment. These items were:

A red toy camera

A yellow taxi toy

A vintage portrait of a dapper young man

A photograph of a lady with red hair in a green jumper with her dog

A postcard of a sunny beachscape

A toy shop dollar

A little blue table tennis racket

A ticket stub from a meat market

A plastic crocodile

A card with an image of two little dogs

Totally random!

The first image I drew was the dapper young man.

'Claude' illustration, Rebecca Johnstone/Dainty Dora

Already my mind started creating a 'story' for him and he become French. I called him Claude. I drew him in pencil and ended up leaving him like that; quite raw and sketchy. It's the first time I've drawn a moustache!

And of course I had to show him 'sniffing ze moneyz'!

'Claude' with jewels pencil illustration by Rebecca Johnstone

Next I tackled the 'lady with the red hair'. I drew her in watercolour pencil but never did add water. I loved working on her hair and adding texture and building up subtle layers of colour. In the original image her hair was the same as the dog's so I stuck with that. I quite like it?

Lady in Green, illustration, Rebecca Johnstone

Next, I tackled the crocodile who was really only a green plastic toy in the starter image, but already I'd had the idea for basing part of the story in the Floridian Everglades. With that in mind I decided to go for a 'real' crocodile who became: Monsieur Le Croc.

Monsieur Le Croc illustration for MATS Bootcamp 2018, Rebecca Johnstone

After that, the 'big assignment' had been released so I was masterminding the story and wondering where to really, properly....start.

So many ideas but how to draw them? How to contain everything to just one page?

Although the concept of a graphic novel involves a story, I knew that the art was the main focus of this class. Being a writer too however, I knew I really wanted to rock the story as well as the art. And be clever. And fun. And do it all. 

Yes, I'm someone who suffers from 'The Gap' syndrome Ira Glass so eloquently outlines in this video. The fabulousness in my head rarely ends up on the page, but maybe, maybe, I get to convey a little smidge of the excitement I see in my mind to the page. I hope so.

I used a combination of pencil sketching, the Procreate app on the iPad - particularly for the lettering - and then used Photoshop to stitch all the elements together. I particularly love 'BINGO' the dog detective. He looks so cute and harmless, but clearly he has a killer instinct for the truth (and a steady paw for working a camera...)

BINGO Dog Detective, Rebecca Johnstone

It would have been a LOT faster to just draw a page straight-off, but I had so many varying elements to juggle and I do love the tweaking stage. Working out where things should go and shifting things around, and then deciding I need another scene or a different scene or more words or new words.

This assignment taught me a lot.

Taxi illustration, Rebecca Johnstone/Dainty Dora

Le taxi...

A quick sketch done on the iPad using the Procreate app. I was quite resistant to iPad tech at first but since I discovered the possibilities, I haven't looked back. I love this looping image showing the various iterations of the image.

And I feel a lot more confident about my own handwriting which is a happy by-product of taking the MATS Bootcamp, and especially this assignment.

I've always shied away from using my own writing, preferring the crisp clarity of a typed font, but now I'm seeing the value and fun of using my own handwriting and I think it worked particularly well for this graphic novel page. 

Let me know what you think of this first foray into the graphic novel medium. Did you like the story? Does it make you want to see more?

The full class gallery will be live soon, and I'll at the link then :)

Risograph Printing with RISOTTO STUDIO + Corners

Friday was a Big Day for me: I had a free-pass sans bébé AND I was taking part in a Risograph printing workshop at The Lighthouse, run by RISOTTO STUDIO in conjunction with Corners; a cool riso duo from Seoul, South Korea.

It was sunny and I was in town in the early am with an empty portfolio case and my reusable takeaway mug and it felt like I was on holiday. (Glasgow is like that; a city of many facades and Friday proffered a particularly sunny vista.)

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

The workshop area was 'wallpapered' in A3 riso prints with displays of funky risographed zines from all over the world and prints from pro artists + the other workshops hosted by Atelier Bingo (France) and Wobby Club (the Netherlands).

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow
Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow
Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow
Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

Just seeing the shapes and ideas was so inspiring, but also just how much you can achieve with only a 2-colour riso print.

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

For me, it's the colour options that make riso printing so fun and funky; they are bright and light and fluoro - options you just don't get with a normal printer.

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

Risograph printing is basically a cross between screen printing and photocopying. The Risograph is an environmentally friendly and cost effective printer, which uses soy-based inks to produce unique outcomes.

As a surface pattern designer with an interest in textures and mark-making, the outputs from the previous workshops were really fun and inspiring to see. It reminded me how amazing it would be to work in a shared studio space with like-minded creatives on a day-to-day basis. 

"Which design do you prefer?"

"Which colour-way is best?"

"Anyone got a phone charger...?"

Working freelance + solo can be quite isolating, which is why attending a workshop like this is so much fun and so important to generate new ways of working, learn new techniques and just meet other people and gather inspiration like a little hamster; saving it all up for a rainy - or just less inspiring - day.

I love the pineapple print above and just the sheer energy that springs from the quick and fun images there were created.

For the Corners workshop however, the focus was more on the technical side of preparing artwork for riso printing, so we all brought our own (digital) images to work with. Even just going around our small group a real mix of styles and influences came through in each design.

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

Onto the printing...

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

I had really wanted to create a new design for this workshop, which I did ('RAINBOW GIRL', below), but on the day I realised I needed something a little more simple, with less layers and detail while I was still learning the process. (And because there are always limitations on what can be achieved in one day, despite wishful thinking!)

Rainbow Girl illustration, Rebecca Johnstone

The key to riso printing is colour separation, while one of the best things about it is the ability to layer colours to create other colours (yellow + pink = orange, yellow + green = blue, etc).

The only exception to this was the metallic gold which prints opaque, but the others can be adjusted in the initial separation to allow varying degrees of transparency. It's also not good riso practice to print too densely in large areas of the paper anyway, because it becomes too saturated and risks smudging and tearing.

Colours available to us for printing were: Aqua Blue, Medium Blue, Fluorescent Pink, Fluorescent Orange, Bright Red, Yellow, Violet, Metallic Gold, HD Black and Grey. Each colour requires its own drum that slots into the printer.

Handily, you can download the exact colour swatches from the Risotto site (+ other templates) when working on your design, in the best format for the software you're using (usually Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator). All very helpful when trying to make important colour decisions!

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

The printer 'reads' in greyscale, so the colour layers/channels have to be stripped out of the original design to create the layers for print, like a clever digital version of exposing a screen for traditional screen printing.

This was the crux of what I wanted to learn so that in the future, I can fully prep my files myself and get some funky-cool riso prints done, on demand!

I got a little confused at first between 'channels' and 'layers' in terms of the colours, but basically layers give a more clear-cut print and would perhaps lend themselves more to vector-based images, whereas channel separation gives a more blended, softer finish (often using more colours overall) and is more suited to rastor-based images.

So far so good, only that I don't normally use a laptop and I had an image that was created as a vector but that I'd rasterized, duh! Nevermind. It was a learning process.

Under pressure to choose my design and start stripping out the colour, I went with my back-up file of the Glasgow Coat of Arms/Crest, based on the 'Miracles of St Mungo'. So far I've only ever had this traditionally printed in obvious primary colours + green. Can't forget green as in 'the dear GREEN place'!

Glasgow Crest/Coat of Arms illustration, Rebecca Johnstone

Deciding which colours to go with for the riso print was hard, especially when I had to stick to four main colours max. With the two-drum printers we were using, that still meant two passes of the paper through the printer, and each time, 'registration' had to be adjusted (lining up the blocks of colour in the image to ensure a good print).

My first print used pink, yellow, teal and gold, making a fifth shade of orange.

My second print used pink, yellow, federal blue and gold, again making the fifth shade orange.

I took advantage of the coloured paper on offer too, to see how that would affect the overall print. Although these were fun, I prefer the bright white as it gives the best colour vibrancy, particularly with the fluoroscents.

And I'm delighted with the results!

Glasgow Crest Illustration, Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

The image is totally transformed in neon and with the fabulous opaque gold outlines. Notice the 'gold' bell in the first print?

I managed to get a sneaky print of just the gold outlines on white paper too which is ace, and I just wished they'd had black paper available on the day because I know the gold will really pop on a black background. 

I'll definitely be doing more riso printing and was so happy to have the opportunity to attend a workshop like this in my home city. Riso still feels kind of edgy and underground, yet it's so instantly recognisable.

Limited edition prints from this first run will be available to buy soon, with more variations and sizes in the pipeline. 

Thanks so much to Gabriella at RISOTTO Studio and the guys at Corners, plus the print technicians helping out on the day with all the tech Photoshop details. I couldn't have done it all in time without Mari! <3

Portrait of a Suffragette: Carrie Chapman Catt

This month's art assignment for Lilla's Make Art That Sells Bootcamp involved drawing a portrait of a Suffragette. I got Carrie Chapman Catt, who incidentally, I hadn't actually heard of! (I don't feel too bad as she was American and I am not.)

Carrie Chapman Catt, Portrait of a Suffragette, Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

Luckily I've been taking the 'Art Recipes' class 'Drawing Faces' which helped me out with this challenge; in the past I've always shied away from portraiture and drawing faces because...eyes are hard and so are mouths and don't get me started on lips.

Here there was no-where to hide.

Portrait of a Lady, Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

First off I started drawing lots of lady's faces before zoning in on Carrie. I love working in pencil (my default starting pencil being a 2H), and building up the depth of detail in shadow and shading. 

Once I had reached a certain point with Carrie, there was no way I wanted to risk spoiling my drawing with colour, so instead I decided to add it into the border detail.

I chose lilac, green and off-white to represent the colours of women's suffrage and incorporated some art nouveau details too for femininity and framing.

As part of my research (and recommended as part of the class), I watched the film 'Suffragette' which stars one of my favourite actresses: Carey Mulligan. As the film ended I heard the words I would use in the background of my portrait:

"Never surrender; never give up the fight"

I think for me these words sum up the fight for equality and for women to have the vote, but also the current everyday struggles women face in all areas of life and across all facets of society.

They say 'keep going' when times are hard.
They galvanize the spirit in fine fighting talk.
Carrie Chapman Catt, Portrait of a Suffragette
Lady Portrait, Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

I've not used a lot of my own lettering before, preferring the uniformity of choosing a font or typeface instead, but for this piece I felt hand-lettering would add to the 'rebel vibe' of the Suffragette movement.

I wanted to layer it behind the main portrait of Carrie and was so pleased with myself when I managed to create a clipping mask path in Adobe Illustrator - and it worked!

It always feels good to overcome both technical and art challenges in a project, and this piece definitely did both.

As I looked through all the other submissions from the rest of the group I knew there were so many that were much more accomplished than mine, but I'm not going to say the word 'better' because the more I work on assignments such as this, I realise I have my own style and take on things and there is no right or wrong way to do it.

REBECCA_JOHNSTONE_MARCH.jpg

I know I've created a strong portrait of a formidable female activist, leaving the chiaroscuro of my pencil lines exaggerating the almost masculine features of this celebrated Suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt.

I'm proud of my work and grateful to the Suffragettes for their tenacity, strength and determination #VotesforWomen!

See the full class gallery of Suffragettes.

Sign up for the Processions march happening across the UK on 10th June 2018.

Tea & Tasseography

I wrote last time about my experiencing of 'making art' and making time to create as a new mum.

Well this last month the focus has been on TEA. Oh yes, my favourite drink and subject matter. But not just any old tea - tasseography - better known as 'reading tea leaves'. How exciting!

This is my completed artwork submitted for Lilla Rogers February 2018 Bootcamp - the assignment was for a journal cover:

REBECCA JOHNSTONE 'Tea' Journal Cover Concept.jpg

For someone interested in horoscopes and the zodiac and crystals and magic, it feels a bit strange perhaps that I've never explored tasseography before?

I love the idea of having my tea leaves read; a fortune-telling of the essential elixir of my life. I have at least four teapots and even visited Teapot Island last year. 
Sewing Machine Teapot, Teapot Island.jpg

For those reasons I thought it would be an easy topic to generate art for this brief, but in fact it was the opposite. I was brimming over with so many ideas and potential directions I could go in, I couldn't focus on any one of them and felt stunted in my creation because I wanted everything to be so perfect for this so-special topic. 

The whole point of the 'mini' MATS Bootcamp assignment is to free you up for the creative process, not create barriers or limits on that process. I knew I had to break out.

So I made a pot of tea (Rabbit Hole Chai) and then...

Using Pinterest for inspiration, and my existing TEA board, I searched for 'tea leaves' and 'tea reading' and found an amazing tasseography chart which I immediately began to create in my own style. That's when things started to flow for me.

Here is an edited version layered with watercolour:

Tea Chart, Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

I love matcha (it's well documented!) and although there is no 'leafy residue' associated with mixing up matcha, I knew I wanted to use its gorgeous vibrant green in my art to create a kind of 'matcha magic'.

Using a large brush I created a vivid watercolour mix of greens, blue, pink and purple, as well as a matcha-esque circle to layer behind my tasseography chart (above). The chart became my background and I could have made it the whole thing, but I wanted to cram more into my 'tea journal story'.

I didn't use all the elements in the end, which proved one of the hardest parts of this assignment: what to use, what to leave out, what would be just one 'motif' or 'icon' too far...?

I wanted to use these teapots, but they just didn't fit with the matcha theme. 

Japanese teapots watercolour, Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

I was going to use my own handwriting but it wasn't right either so instead I watercoloured the letters for the words I needed. Even deciding on those felt like an agonising decision this time.

I wasn't sure about leaving the background white, but also couldn't find the right colour to use instead. In the end I went for the 'purity' angle and left it white. It felt like there was enough going on.

For some reason I associated tasseography with the night-time - fortune-telling and magic have that dusky vibe about them and so that's where this moon and stars scene stems from:

Night tim tea, Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

In the end I used a mix of lots of different hand-drawn and watercolour elements, including all the special tea-reading symbols. I loved creating those.

I digitised everything and used Photoshop to manipulate and mock-up my journal cover, with a darker, patterned version peeping out from underneath as a coordinate idea.

I'm happy with the palette and I think I'd buy this. In fact I definitely would. Would you?

Check out the MATS February Bootcamp Gallery to see all the great art in the group and the amazing variation in working to this brief.

On Making Art: Rachel Maddow Book Cover

As a *new mum* I've not had much time of late to nourish my creativity, but over the last few weeks I've been working sporadically on fun, creative assignments for Lilla Roger's 'Make Art That Sells' January Bootcamp.

 January Bootcamp assignment, Lilla Rogers Make Art That Sells

January Bootcamp assignment, Lilla Rogers Make Art That Sells

It's been exciting to work to a specific brief, and discover a loose, quirky style that I've never used before. 
It's been rewarding to take 5 -15 minutes for me amidst the whirlwind that is life with a newborn
It's been interesting to see just how much I can achieve in tiny amounts of time
It's been eye-opening to realise my own creative problem-solving abilities 
It's been fun to just 'dive in' because I don't have time to overthink my plan of attack

The first element of the assignment saw me drawing what was in my bag.

This took me 10 mins - max - as I scribbled out sweetie wrappers, pen, pencil, paperclips, fabric purse, hairbrush, lip gloss and coins using a 0.1 mm uniball pen in a brand new sketchbook.

What's in my bag quick illustration, Rebecca Johnstone

With no prescriptive time commitment for the assignments, I knew I didn't need to try and set aside a big chunk like an hour; so I just... started. It was done and I was happy just to feel I'd accomplished something creative.

Having less time removed the barriers of panic, comparison, doubt and procrastination.

I just began creating; reasoning with myself that if I hated what came out on the page, I just wouldn't share it with anyone.

The second stage was to illustrate a cover for a children's book featuring the imagined contents of a famous person's bag. I got Rachel Maddow who'd I'd never even heard of! (sorry Rachel, but I'm not an American...)

I had no idea how to tackle this or whether to create a cover for an existing book or create my own? But again, I just started.

I researched Rachel and found she is an American TV host into politics and casual dressing. Immediately I had the idea of her face inside an old-fashioned TV set, and the rest flowed from there.

Hand-drawn details, Rebecca Johnstone

I drew a dictaphone (for recording interviews), notepad, post-its, microphone, magnifying glass (hopefully not too 'whodunnit' but more hinting at interrogation/investigation?), 'sneakers' and used a limited colour palette which seemed to fit with the impression I got of Rachel as a person: absolutely no-nonsense, no-frills, just what-you-see-is-what-you-get

The simple outline portrait of her face also seemed to suit the overall look and feel I was developing for my book cover:

Rachel Maddow portrait by Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

It took a while playing around with all the elements I'd created to decide on the final layout, and then I spent as much time again tweaking things and adding finishing touches such as the sound waves on the microphone.

I'm really pleased with the final design, and super-proud to have my work on display in the MATS Bootcamp online gallery for the month, alongside all the other amazing illustrators and creatives in the group.

I can't wait for the February assignment now!

Acorns, acorns, everywhere

In responding to a themed call-out last week via Pattern Camp for pattern designs featuring or inspired by 'ACORNS', I've become a little obsessed with them the last few days, like a squirrel scavenging, well...acorns.

ACORN, noun: the fruit of the oak, a smooth oval nut in a rough cup-like base

My first step was to create my motifs, and I chose to use ink for the first time. (If there is anything I've learnt about creativity, it's that experimentation is A GOOD THING.)

I was really pleased with the results of the ink, which allowed a level of precision and intricacy which I hadn't anticipated.

'ACORNS' surface pattern design motif in ink

I enjoyed layering up the colour, starting with a pale grey wash, building up the intensity and adding in finer details with the tip of my brush.

Turns out I love ink!

Next, I used watercolour pencils to draw some similar acorns but this time in colour.

As a final touch, I outlined them in gold pen.

Golden acorns are the best kind aren't they?

'ACORNS' surface pattern design motif in watercolour

Both sets of acorn motifs made pretty patterns and I'm pleased with the results. But I want to make more.

One comment I loved on this black and white version was how 'sophisticated' it made something as simple as acorns look - and I agree, so I'm stealing that (squirreling it?) and calling this pattern 'SOPHISTICATED ACORNS':

' SOPHISTICATED ACORNS' surface pattern design, simple repeat

I also liked these alternate versions: the autumnal colours of SAGE and BRIGHT RED for different backgrounds, the faded look, the shiny MAHOGANY BROWN. It's just a shame the colour bled through the non-enclosed spaces that were white #backtothedrawingboard

These are simple repeats using a 'scatter' technique, which is fine, but...

For the coloured acorns, I thought I'd get a bit fancy and try a half-drop repeat.

A bit more technical, I always get confused half-way through, but you can do so much more with a half-drop, and dare I say it, make even more sophisticated acorns:

'ACORNS' surface pattern design, half-drop repeat

It was OK plain, but then I added this orange background - which I'm calling 'burnt sienna' (great colour, amazing connotations).

I toned down the acorns and feel this combination really makes them 'pop'. It feels the most autumnal, too.

'ACORNS' surface pattern design (burnt sienna), half-drop repeat

I love the way this pattern has a 'rope' effect, like banisters on the stairs.

I can see this working for thanksgiving or Christmas, but especially - and this is particularly sophisticated - in a squirrel's pantry!

What do you think?

'ACORNS' surface pattern design (burnt sienna), half-drop repeat

I could have made the background a bit more detailed, rather than so plain, but that's for another day; I'm not that fancy yet.

I'll leave you with these lyrics from this song, which has a really lovely message

"Be like the squirrel girl, be like the squirrel", Little Acorns, The White Stripes