Why I am fascinated by feathers

A3 Feather print, Ella Johnston
A3 Feather print

This Saturday I’m doing another feather drawing workshop . As I was prepping for it this weekend I wondered why I am so fascinated by feathers.

A5 Yellow Feather print, Ella Johnston
A5 Yellow Feather print, Ella Johnston

I suppose, for me, feathers represent duality. To me that are symbols of fragility and strength; the frailty of existence and yet the wonder of creation.

Feathers, work in progress
Feathers, work in progress

Hold a feather in your hand and it feels so light, almost weightless and soft. It’s so delicate that my instinct is to treat a feather with reverence and gentleness. However just look at even the tiniest of feathers’ structure and you see so much good structural design there. And strength, so much strength.

Watercolour feathers, work in progress
Watercolour feathers, work in progress

The process of observation and examination is fundamental to my art and illustration practice. The purpose of a feather – warmth, flight, waterproofing, camouflage, display etc – is so evident once you examine one close up. For me this one object symbolises so many of the things we need in life to survive both physically and emotionally; resilience,  protection, comfort.

Blue watercolour feathers, work in progress
Blue watercolour feathers, work in progress

As a species I feel we treat animal life so cheaply. We treat birds terribly. I also want the feathers to be a symbol of this. While they represent so much life, in reality they also are symbols of death.

I like to represent them in my work as celebrations of life, proud and at times even totemic. But as objects they are solitary, plucked, indeed, plucked or removed from a body. A stark reminder of the elemental, fragile line we walk between life and death.

Blue wild feather print Ella Johnston
Blue wild feather print

I must admit I’m conflicted when I have to source my feathers to draw. I’ve gathered a lot of them from the muddy floor of near-by woodland. I have been known to buy them from vintage markets (like when I use to buy leather jackets, I had to know the cow would have been long dead before I could benefit from it – a strange logic I know). But mostly I get given them by friends who find them on their travels.

Most of my feather pieces are created with watercolour and pigment ink pen.  I teach this technique at my workshop and I went through it in a step by step for uni-ball. You can read it here

Ink feather drawing Ella Johnston
Ink feather drawing

I’m also playing around with pen and loose Indian ink as you can see.

Ink feathers
Ink feathers

Take a closer look at my feather prints on my Folksy shop.

New work: new ink prints

Ella Johnston Ink Equipment I’m very excited to share some new work with you. My new ink prints point to an interesting new direction for my art practice and business.

Flowing grass fine art print, Ella Johnston

I have recently rediscovered my love for working with ink. In the past I’ve achieved brilliant results drawing with ink pens and Japanese calligraphy brushes, I wanted to see if I could do it again. Flowing grass original pen and ink, Ella Johnston My last post talked about my first forays into reconnecting with pen, ink and brush work. It explored my need for finding my style within such an expressive and beautiful way of mark-making.
Flowing grass fine art print, Ella Johnston As always when looking for inspiration with my practice I meditated on my own passions and interests. It was my walks by the Colne Estuary in Wivenhoe that sparked off these series of prints. Eucalyptus sprig fine art print, Ella Johnston Naturally, I made bird sketches but it was the salt marsh and reeds that attracted me. After going home and doing lots and lots of reed drawings I decided to make simple, botanical sprigs as my subjects.
Eucalyptus sprig original pen and ink, Ella Johnston I then set about gathering all kinds of wild grasses, palms and plants. I made lots of botanical ink studies and selected my favourite ones for print. I’ve made three very simple fine art prints which are now available on Folksy.

Floating leaves fine art print, Ella Johnston

I work on hot pressed fine quality watercolour paper. As well as using inks I also work with washes of water too to create depth and variation of tone.

I intend to continue to explore drawing with pen, ink and brushes throughout the year. Again, if I’m pleased with the results you’ll see more prints and fabric designs coming soon.

Floating leaves original pen and ink, Ella Johnston

New book illustration: The Orphaned Spaces

The Orphaned Spaces front cover, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces front cover, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

Last month, Dunlin Press launched its new book, The Orphaned Spaces; a collaboration with featuring illustration from myself and words from poet MW Bewick

The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

The Orphaned Spaces is a rumination on life and loss through the prism of liminal spaces – derelict land, brownfield sites, edgelands – caught between moments of dilapidation and regeneration.

Wild flower pressings. The Orphaned Spaces, illustration and design by Ella Johnston

The Orphaned Spaces project was meant to be a small artistic endeavour. Our original idea for The Orphaned Spaces was to have a brown paper bag containing fragments of writing, the odd drawing and some landscape photography, all loosely themed around ‘waste ground’. About a month in however, it had already started to take on a life of its own.  As is the way of things,  it escalated into something bigger, encompassing a 148-page book and  handmade book box set.

The Orphaned Spaces, photography, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press
The Orphaned Spaces, photography, illustration and design by Ella Johnston (c) Dunlin Press

The Orphaned Spaces features exquisite words and visceral landscape imagery from MW Bewick and my quick brush sketches that I spoke about in this previous post. Both the book and the box set also include fine line botanical and insect studies in black and white (see below),  ikebana-inspired still life plant photography plus wild flower pressings, all created by me.

Green Malachite Beetle, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Green Malachite Beetle, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Scarce Emerald Damselfly, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Scarce Emerald Damselfly, black and white fine line insect illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston
Rosebay Willlowherb, black and white fine line botanical illustration. Ella Johnston

The black and white studies were created with fineliner pigment ink pens.

Ikebana-inspired botanical photography, (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin press
Ikebana-inspired botanical photography, (c) Ella Johnston/Dunlin press

I’m really pleased with the botanical photography aspect of the book – you can read more about it here

Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press
Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press

I’m also delighted with the way my wildflower pressings came out. I used to press wild flowers and plants with my mum when I was kid, so I wanted this aspect to be in the book as I felt it needed a child-like, playful aspect to it. Actually as it turned out I think in some ways these illustrative elements are the most plaintive and poignant images of the publication – they are particularly effective as the archival prints featured in the box set but that’s worthy of another post.

Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press
Wild flower pressings, The Orphaned Spaces. Dunlin Press

New work: Bird prints

A3 Limited Edition Wren Giclee Print (c) Ella Johnston

I’ve recently launched a whole new collection of illustrated bird prints now available on my Etsy and Folksy shops.

A3 Limited Edition Wren Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonI really enjoyed drawing this wren – I created it using new uni-pin sepia pigment ink pens on watercolour paper. This delicate avian illustration is then scanned and printed as a fine art print on archival paper ensuring that it will last a lifetime.A3 Limited Edition Peacock Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonI originally created the watercolour and ink Peacock artwork for an exhibition. The artwork showcases vivid blue, pea green and violet watercolour washes combined with shimmery golden POSCA pen washes. I then overlaid the painting with pigment ink pen.
A3 Limited Edition Peacock Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonMy golden plover drawing was originally created for the book The Migrant Waders, published by Dunlin Press. It was one of my favourite illustrations and I love looking at it, so I had to turn it into a print. Again this is printed on high quality archival paper so it will last a lifetime.
A4 Limited Edition Golden Plover Giclee Print (c) Ella Johnston
A4 Limited Edition Golden Plover Giclee Print (c) Ella JohnstonGolden Plover illustration work in progress (c) Ella Johnston

New illustration project: The Waste Ground

Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
Here’s a preview of some sketches I’ve been working on for an up-coming Dunlin Press project to be published next month.

Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston

The Waste Ground Project is the culmination of a multimedia collaboration. The project is centred on a rumination on life through the prism of liminal spaces – derelict land, brownfield sites – caught between moments of dilapidation and regeneration. The project takes the form a paperback book, a highly limited edition box set, featuring hand-stitched booklets, archival prints and a reliquary, as well as art prints and more.

Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
These sketches are for the text element of the piece. They accompany beautiful prose written by MW Bewick.
Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
These black and white wild flower and plant sketches have been created with a brush paint pen. They accompany more detailed fine-liner drawings elsewhere in the piece. I wanted these illustrations to be loose, gestural and quick so they feel like they’ve been captured on the fly.
Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
Watch this space for more updates.
Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston
Black and white wild flower sketches (c) Ella Johnston

Joyous, joyous house plants!

Welcome to my latest obsession; joyous, joyous house plants! I love them. They provide a great eco-friendly home update (they’ve brightened up our battered old piano and bright white sideboard), they look amazing and will lift your soul – I promise. 

They have also brought out my nurturing side – I’m not ashamed to admit that I talk to our growing green housemates and it’s very therapeutic. I’ve bought a leaf mister – an object not on my radar five years ago – and I got a dedicated house plant watering can for my birthday this year.
I love house plants. Photo (c): Ella JohnstonSo what do I like about house plants? As you know I’ve been banging on about the benefits of greenery and nature for years.  I love the organic, wild(ish) element that they give to my home. It swells my heart to watch our plants grow, especially as they are all quite easy to maintain and look after – although I admit I’ve had some neglect/kill with kindness-related fatalities.

Houseplants (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.ukI’m constantly adding to my home jungle. At the moment, I’ve got Monstera deliciosa, Castanospermum Australe (Jack’s Beanstalk), Dracaena marginata (Madagascar Dragon Tree), Chamaedorea (mountain palm), Sword Fern, Sanseveria (Mother-in-law’s tongue), Fittonias, Aloe Vera and some succulents.
I love house plants. Photo (c): Ella Johnston I’ve been very successful with the monsteras (touch wood), had mixed results with the fittonias (I think I transplanted them too early), I have an on-going struggle with succulents but have managed to keep it together with the aloes (so low maintenance it’s unreal).

What are my top house plant tips?  Hmm not sure really,  I’m certainly no expert. I’ve got most of the plants in rooms at the back of the house where they will get the most light. I don’t have a strict timetable when it comes to watering – I’ve had so many over-watering incidents in the past that now I tend to go by feel (using my fingers to assess the dryness/dampness of the soil, checking the leaves and stems). Obviously I’ve found myself giving the monstera, dragon tree and mountain palm more of a drink in the summer months but I don’t have any hard and fast rules.

Have you got bitten by the house plant bug? Can you recommend anywhere to get some good large(ish) pots? Give me a shout and let me know.

October drawing of the month: Flying Dunlin

Flying dunlin watercolour and fine line drawing (c) Ella Johnston
My October drawing of the month is of a flying dunlin.

As the co-founder of Dunlin Press this bird is particularly important to me and Dr B. We are very fond of these birds, very soon they’ll be scuttling around in the mud on Wivenhoe quay.

Work in progress: Flying dunlin watercolour and fine line drawing (c) Ella Johnston

I’ve been drawing dunlins for a little while now, and even have a print of another dunlin drawing available on Folksy, but I’ve never attempted to draw a flying dunlin before. They are quite magical when they fly. I normally spot these wading birds in groups scurrying around on the mud as the tide is coming in during twilight so it’s quite hard to see them at first. You can just about detect them by a little flash of white on their bellies. It’s only when they fly do you see them fully as the white plumage underneath their wings catches and twinkles in the moonlight, it’s lovely.

dunlin print by Ella Johnston

I created this illustration with washes of watercolour and picked out the details with a uni-pin fine line pen, you can see me adding some detail in the video below…

#MondayMotivation Darling Dahlias


It’s mid-September, our house has been battered by East Anglian, River Colne winds and we’re preparing for autumn. Still our dahlia’s thrive – how’s that for a bit of Monday motivation?Dahlia Ella JohnstonDr B has planted loads of different varieties of this fabulous flower in various shades of pink, red and orange so even as we move out of summer, the garden is a real riot of colour.

As well as their impressive, vibrant hues and voluptuous shape, these blooms are so wonderful as you can keep cutting them to display and it just makes the plant even more abundant. Every week we get a fresh homegrown floral display that brightens up our rooms – I hope it’s brightened your Monday.

Drawing of the week: Red Admiral Butterfly

Red Admiral Butterfly Illustration (c) Ella Johnston

This week’s drawing of the week is of a Red Admiral butterfly.

With the snazzy latin name of Venessa Atalanta (I think I may employ this as a pseudonym at some point), this beautiful creature is coming to a garden or woodland near you! (That’s if you live in the British Isles of course).

This beauty will be part of my every growing illustrated butterfly guide, I’ve got quite a collection of watercolour and ink butterflies now, I’m just trying to decide on which illustrations make the final cut. I’ll show you the finished piece soon.

Drawing of the week, Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew illustration (c) Ella Johnston

This stone curlew looks so grumpy I had to make him my drawing of the week.

I became fascinated with Stone Curlews after watching Springwatch a few years back where one was brooding her chicks – I was rooting for the whole family.

They are quite rare in the UK, visiting occasionally in areas such as Norfolk and Wiltshire. They are not related to our long-billed friends the curlew,  but they do have a similar call hence the name. See that big yellow eye? That’s because this fella is mainly active at night and that peeper helps him see in the dark.

As usual I created this illustration using watercolour and ink with a combination of broad and fine tips to capture the variation in texture. I wanted to keep the bird drawing quite scruffy, depicting him as if he’d just been discovered foraging among the rocks and stones.