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!

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 :)

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!