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

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.

Christmas wrap ideas part 3: Super simple black and white

bw_wrapping_3 I’ve deliberately kept it simple for part three of my Christmas wrap ideas with these easy black and white designs.
bw_wrapping_2I’ve opted for a lovely iridescent white paper and teamed it with simple black tags and co-ordinating ribbon. The gestural stem designs are based on my laurel stem illustration, see the step by step here. The Christmas tree and garland are really simple; I used a white Posca pen to create tiered jagged shapes for the tree, waited for the paint to dry and overlaid it with gold dots. For the garland I drew some simple thin lines with a silver Posca pen then added white and gold dots.

Christmas gift wrap ideas part 2: Scandi-style black and white

wb_wrapping_3 It’s day two of my week of Christmas wrap ideas. This time I’ve gone for a stylish, yet playful Scandi-style as seen in my Scandi Lodge trend ideas with illustrated mdf bauble shaped tags.
wb_wrapping_2 Using my Scandi-style Christmas moodboard and my pinterest pins as inspiration I painted the shapes with white acrylic paint and used black Posca pens to apply the designs.
wb_wrapping_6wb_wrapping_1 I kept the drawings fairly simple with basic star/snowflake shapes, squiggles, hearts, dots and scallops. Because the illustrated baubles create such an impact I kept the wrap itself very simple using shiny black paper with black or white 5mm and 10mm satin ribbon. wb_wrapping_4 wb_wrapping_5One of the easiest Scandi-style motifs I like to create is my simple laurel stem illustration that you can see above on the heart and the Christmas tree designs. It’s very, very easy to recreate as these step by steps show.
demo_laurel_4 Step 1: Draw a simple line, it can be curved or straight, although I prefer mine to be a little jaunty.demo_laurel_3Step 2: Make little semi-circle shapes along the line as shown.demo_laurel_2Step 3: Join the tops of the semi-circle to the central line to create leaves.demo_laurel_1Step 4: Colour in the leaves. 

Drawing of the week: Zebra


This time for my drawing of the week I’ve done a very earnest little Zebra. Even in the middle of doing loads of Christmassy type stuff I still made time to work on my zoo animals series.

Although I love black and white drawings I can never resist subverting a traditional black and white subject with a bit of colour, so as well as using my black pens on this illustration I’ve adding some purple and yellow watercolour notes.

Monday Moodboard: Black and white

Black and white moodboard, classy and striking, I love black and white designs. In fact I can’t believe I haven’t featured this on my moodboard sooner.

I hardly ever wear anything other than black and white clothes (occasionally navy or grey but it’s mainly black and white). I also am a massive fan of simple black and white sketches, print and design. The purity, harmony and general all-round elegance is, for me, a total short-cut to cool.

At the moment I’m working on the design for a poetry book. The publication is printed in black and white so I wanted to think of effective shapes and marks that would look strong on the pages without distracting from the words (which are the most important thing). I’ve done lots of research and have settled on something that I’m quite excited about. You can’t see it yet but the book is set to be released later this year so, watch this space.


Drawing of the week: Peony

Watercolour peony Ella Johnston
In honour of British Flower Week I thought it was only fitting that I drew a few peonies.
Black and white peony sketch Ella Johnston
Frilly, girly and full of glorious flounce, even a single bloom can make a tremendous impact – no wonder they are often a top choice for summer events and weddings.
Peony line drawing Ella Johnston

The flower is also very popular on the internet too, with Elle Decoration reporting that peonies are overtaking the avocado for the most tagged item on Instagram.
Peony line drawing Ella Johnston
The peony is among the longest-used flowers in Eastern culture. Along with the plum blossom, it is a traditional floral symbol of China and is depicted often in traditional Chinese art. They are also used in tattoos, inspired by artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi‘s illustrations of Suikoden, a classical Chinese novel. Here the peony is associated with a devil-may-care attitude and disregard for consequence.

I kind of understand this, the peonies I’ve got in the vase at the moment are so vibrant, full and abundant with glorious colour it’s hard to imagine that in a couple of days time they’ll be shrivelled up and like crumpled paper. But that’s their beauty. These pink watercolour illustrations and black and white line drawings are a stab at making the blooms immortal.

Peony pattern Ella Johnston

Plant of the fortnight 16/05/16 Sweetpea

Sweetpea black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight
Sweetpeas are the quintessential summer flower for the UK. Their variety of colours and their delicate paper-like petals are a seasonal favourite in people’s gardens.
Sweetpea black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight
It’s not quite sweetpea season yet but once they come I hope to fill little jars and bottles. They look so lovely all grouped together – particularly so when I’m having any outdoor garden gathering.

Not only are they a pleasure to display, they are also a joy to draw. These black and white sketches didn’t take long to do but it’s fun to capture the folds and structure of the individual blooms if you like line drawing (which I do). I can’t wait to go wild with my colour paints when I work up the watercolour versions.
Sweetpea black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight

Bird of the fortnight 9/05/16: Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight
If you’re ever in a churchyard or park and a little silvery grey/brown bird flits past you and you could swear it isn’t a sparrow, chances are you’ve spied a spotted flycatcher.

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight

Spotted flycatchers may look a bit dull but they are charming to watch. But don’t be fooled. These little fellas are trained killers they fly from a high perch and burst into flight to catch a flying insect. They then flit back to the same spot to devour their prey.

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight

They don’t look flashy, in fact they are fairly scruffy which made drawing my black and white sketches all the more fun. Let’s see if my worked up watercolour version will be as fun.

Plant of the Fortnight 2/05/16: Magnolia

Magnolia black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight I bloody loves a magnolia I do. The exquisitely delicate blooms, the shiney dark green leaves, they are simply beautiful. Pink or white I look forward to their arrival, their presence sings spring and they are just so darn pretty.
Magnolia black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight

A couple of weeks ago I was walking through our local streets that were littered with magnolia petals. I was sad that they won’t come around until next year so I wanted to draw them to keep them alive as it were.

Magnolia black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Plant of the Fortnight
These black and white sketches took minutes to create – the shape of these flowers and leaves are so simple and iconic and can be captured in a mere matter of lines. So quick and easy.

I’m really looking forward to creating some delicate watercolour pieces celebrating this plant. Check in this Friday to see the results.