Ella at work: Exhibiting

Forgive the use of an old picture (above) but I wanted to convey a bit of Ella at work action. This is one of me in our old London flat preparing for an exhibition. It’s the same story for every exhibition I’ve done – lots of cutting, trimming, framing and packaging!

I was reminded of this when I prepared my work for the autumn/winter Naze Tower show.

If you haven’t been to the Naze Tower and you are remotely local (it’s one and a half hours from London, half an hour from me in Wivenhoe) then I recommend a visit. Residing on an attractive stretch of coastline at Walton-on-the-Naze, the Naze Tower is an historic 86ft landmark and unique visitor attraction. Over eight floors it houses an art gallery with three exhibitions a year, a museum on the Tower and Naze, tea rooms and a roof viewing platform with spectacular panoramic views.

It’s a charming place and from now until the end of October you can see a selection of my original watercolour and fine line bird drawings on show and get your hands on some of my limited edition prints…



Cover illustration: Black Headed Gull

Black headed gull illustration (c) Ella Johnston

I recently illustrated the cover for an upcoming book Freedom Poems, published by Poetry Wivenhoe.

The drawing had to illustrate a sense of freedom while also illustrating the location of Poetry Wivenhoe. The black headed gull is very common in Wivenhoe so I chose a flying black headed gull as the motif.

Freedom Poems Cover Illustration (c) Ella Johnston

The illustration was created in watercolour and then overlaid with uni-pin pen.

The book will be released on September 28th.

September drawing of the month: Strutting godwit

Godwit watercolour and fine line illustration (c) Ella Johnston
So pleased to be kicking off my regular illustration posts with my strutting godwit as September’s drawing of the month.

I think godwits are my favourite bird (at least today they are – it’s a bit like picking a favourite song or album for me, it depends on the day, the mood, how I’m feeling etc). You can expect to see godwit bird illustrations coming up quite a few times on my drawing of the month posts.

Work in Progress: Godwit watercolour and fine line illustration (c) Ella Johnston
Work in Progress: Godwit watercolour in the process of adding my fine line

This godwit is sporting his spring/summer mating plumage. I remember seeing an omniscience of godwits (Isn’t that a lovely collective noun? I could have also used “a prayer of godwits” or “a pantheon of godwits”) with their gorgeous russet breasts and soft golden feathers on Iken cliffs and I was practically moved to tears by the birds’ stunning colours and graceful countenance. By the way, if you haven’t been to Iken cliffs it is well worth a visit, it’s one of my favourite places on earth. So atmospheric and serene in any weather.

I created this drawing using Winsor and Newton watercolours on hot-pressed watercolour paper. I then added detail using the Uniball uni-pin pen. These pens have different nib sizes which offer fantastic versatility when working on something like feathers. You can see me start to overlay this pen detail in the video below.

Monthly Moodboard: September, Simplicity

Monthly moodboard, September Simplicity

Although my art is quite intricate I actually strive for simplicity. The bravery and beauty of making a few gestural lines to shapes to convey a subject for me is an incredible achievement. It’s building up to becoming an obsession of mine, as this September moodboard illustrates.

While my desire for simplicity is a long held one, it was compounded this summer by Dr James Fox’s documentary series The Art of Japanese Life where Fox featured Sesshu’s ‘splashed-ink’ landscape (see below), dating back, unbelievably, to 1495.  Let me say that again, 1495!

I think this is a glorious painting. I see so much energy in it and I find it exquisite in composition and atmosphere. I’m also drawn to the simple black and white colour scheme (I would be though wouldn’t I?).

Sesshu's 'splashed-ink' landscape
Sesshu’s ‘splashed-ink’ landscape

It’s also coincided with me getting some brush pens (which I used to create my new header btw), so I’ve been playing around with them try to make simple, gestural images. I find minimalism and knowing when to stop more difficult than adding clever little details and additional descriptive strokes – it’s a real challenge for me. I’m using the work of Toko Shinoda as further inspiration as well as ancient Japanese brush painting of bamboo, birds and butterflies.

What do you think of this style of painting? Do you like those simple strokes? The black and white? Or do you need a little more colour and detail? I’d love to know.

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.

Monday Moodboard: Birds

Monday Moodboard Birds

Well it was only a matter of time before I treated you a Monday Moodboard of birds.

As you know an awful lot of my drawing practice centres around birds. So much of my time is spent trawling and taking images of birds to study and illustrate. This is absolutely no hardship for me. I could honestly spend all my time looking at my feathered friends.

Recently I have been  focussing on heads and shoulders to create bird portraits for my show at the Over The Sofa Gallery at Wivenhoe Bookshop. It’s a small space and I wanted to do it as a site specific piece, the show is called Family Portraits so it has a kind of homely feel. It consists of nine A6 watercolour and ink drawings and four A6 pieces.

The show is on until April 30.

Birds at Wivenhoe Books

Wanna know what each bird is? Well here they are…
Top row from left: Puffin, Long Eared Owl, Starling
Middle row from left: Lapwing, Peacock, Pigeon
Bottom row from left: Cormorant, Robin, Crested Grebe
On shelf: Black Redstart, Budgie, Goldfinch, Dartford Warbler.

Drawing of the week: Peacock

Peacock illustration (c) Ella Johnston

Here’s my drawing of the week – a rather glorious peacock.

I have been outrageously busy of late. There has been some fantastic collaborations with Uni-ball pens already this year, an amazing commission for Guardian Labs/Brittany Ferries, a new book from Dunlin Press and an up-coming exhibition. Which leads me on to this week’s drawing.

This is essentially a sneak peek into some of the bird portraits I’ll be exhibiting in my local book indie bookshop, Wivenhoe Books. It’s an intimate little space and is perfect for giving some of my smaller illustrations a gentle showcase. The size of this piece is A5 so it will work well in a more compact hanging area.

Peacocks are becoming my new favourite thing to draw. I’ve been doing lots of sketches of peacock feathers but I thought for the show I’d give a ‘head and shoulders’ watercolour and ink portrait a go. I’m rather pleased with the result and am particularly taken with the plumage.

To state the blindingly obvious, the peacock is the male bird; the female is known as a peahen and she doesn’t have the snazzy tail. The reason I say this is that I once (this is a while back mind) searched for hours for female peacock and obviously came up with zilch.

New Illustrated Wedding Collections

Flamingos Wedding Invitation (c) Ella JohnstonI’m very excited to announce the launch of my new personalised wedding stationery collections on Not On The High Street. Inspired by botanical and avian vintage illustration, I hope my collections offer something special for every couple wanting to make their celebration sing.

The intricately drawn illustrations in these collections are created with vibrant washes of watercolour and ink. All are printed in the UK on high-quality FSC-certificated textured gesso card. Every piece of stationery can be personalised to the client’s specification.

Pink Flamingo Collection
Bold, bright and beautiful, this pair of cheeky, loved-up pink flamingos are sure to put a smile on people’s faces. The Flamingo range is perfect for fun loving couples and those who are aiming to bring a tropical flavour to their day.

Flamingos Wedding Invitation (c) Ella Johnston

Eucalyptus Collection
Elegant and soft, my graceful watercolour eucalyptus motif gives this range a timeless, tasteful quality. It is the ideal collection for those looking to create a gentle, relaxed feel to their nuptials.

Eucalyptus Wedding Invitation (c) Ella Johnston

Eucalyptus Wedding Invitation (c) Ella Johnston

Fern Collection
Fresh and delicate, the Fern collection hopes to recall the style of vintage botanical illustrations while still giving the stationery a contemporary twist. Great for the pair who want a strong, yet simple theme for their big event.

Fern Wedding Invitation (c) Ella Johnston

Fern Wedding Invitation (c) Ella Johnston

Swan Collection
For those who want something really romantic and trad, here’s my Swan range. Swans mate for life so this is ideal…

Swan Wedding Collection (c) Ella Johnston

Swan Wedding Collection (c) Ella Johnston

Drawing of the week: American Cocker Spaniel

American Cocker Spaniel Illustration (c) Ella Johnston

In honour of this week’s Crufts 2017, my drawing of the week is of an American Cocker Spaniel.

This quick little doggie sketch was created in watercolour and brown ink. It didn’t take very long to do but I am quite pleased with the illustration. I think this animal has a certain stoic, noble quality.

I will not lie to you, I love a Cocker Spaniel – they could be my favourite breed. I love the character of a spaniel – so friendly, energetic and full of life.

I am a massive fan of all shaggy haired dogs generally. This my friends is because I was/am an indie kid of the early nineties variety and have a great affection for long-haired, scruffy herberts.

Just look my dog’s refined face. It takes me back to 1993 when Richard Ashcroft was not Richard Ashcroft as he is now but was instead known as “Mad Richard” and The Verve was known as just Verve. Ah those heady days of youth… long haired boys in terrible jeans – it was a tremendous amount of fun.

Verve 1993

New Products!

Unicorn Card (c) Ella JohnstonI have new products on my Not On The High Street shop; a unicorn card, a hare greeting and a beautiful eucalyptus art print. All are taken from my original watercolour and ink drawings.
Hare Card (c) Ella JohnstonMy hare and unicorn prints have been incredibly popular at various art fairs with many people asking if I was going to produce co-ordinated greetings – well nobody can say I don’t listen! The new Eucalyptus botanical print is a bit of an indulgence to be honest – I simply wanted one for myself. Botanical print (c) Ella Johnston