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 :)

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!