I’m excited to tell you about new book illustration project with Dunlin Press: Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher, by Alex Toms. The debut poetry collection launches on Thursday 11th October 2018 and the words inside it are simply stunning.
We already had beautiful photography from MW Bewick for the poetry book but we wanted an illustrative element too. In illustrating this book I really wanted to do the poems justice. I was mindful not to interfere with the reader’s experience of the words by being too literal in my illustration. My work had to convey a mood and atmosphere while allowing the amazing imagery that Alex creates to breathe.
When approaching this illustration commission I do what I always do, go back to my art history books and my old sketchbooks. My studio is packed with sketchbooks and folders stuffed full of experiments and ideas that I’ve parked for later and my ever-growing art book collection is a constant resource. Alongside a scrapbook of cut-out collages I did about 10 years ago when I was hungover in my art studio in Tottenham (never throw away your sketchbooks kids), a book on DADA and a book on Matisse’s cut-outs, the visual concept for “Eels” was born.
I love paper cuts, I could swear I love them so much but I have never found a way to incorporate paper cuts into a project. Seeing my old scrapbooks and work by very different artists using cut-up and collage techniques freed me to create something visceral, with a sense of movement, depth and physicality that is so alive in Alex’s poems.
Originally I had little, delicately trimmed paper shapes on painted backgrounds but everything seemed too polite and restrained. So I went big and got to work drawing with scissors on A2 and A3 black matte paper, creating lots and lots of rough eel, sea kale and old fashioned eel catcher net shapes.
I then arranged the shapes randomly on a large piece of card, set-up my camera and tripod over the card, and made a series of compositions with the cut out paper. The results were exactly what I wanted.
The book launches on Thursday 11th October 2018 and you can pre-order it HERE
In preparation for #inktober I’ve been playing with experiments in ink!
Ages ago I told you about how as an artist and illustrator I strive for simplicity, well this has been a little mantra playing in my head all year so recently I gave into it. I’ve started working on art work and illustrations using simple black Indian ink and various mark-making tools.
Simplicity is hard.
These scratchy ink sketches and gold/silver leaf and book paper collages are my first steps along my journey into the simple mark marking. Taking my cue from various Japanese ink artists I’ve experimented with my mark-making tools. I’ve fashioned ‘pens’ and ‘brushes’ from dried out teasels, found feathers, dried seed-heads and bunches of twigs to produce various line effects.
I thought I would combine these ink strokes with collage to create movement, contrast and texture. I’m also fascinated by palimpsests (where a manuscript or piece of written-on material has been written over but still bears visible traces of its earlier form) so I wanted to create a sense of that.
At the moment, I still need to work on my serenity ( I imagine a few people have remarked on that through the years).
I like combining humble unbleached papers I use for the inner pages of my hand-stitched books (sometimes painted with washes of colour, sometimes not) with gold and silver leaf to create a sense of collision. After these elements are layered up, I naturally want to produce something visceral and energetic over them with the ink marks.
Composition, Indian ink feather and teasel drawing, book paper, gold leaf collage. Ella Johnston
This mark-making method is real fun and, at this stage in my development with getting to know this way of working, I feel a little indulgent. I love the variation in marks the teasel, feather and seed-head tips create – I could go on all day marvelling at all the different line effects they produce.
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.
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 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.
The black and white studies were created with fineliner pigment ink pens.
I’m really pleased with the botanical photography aspect of the book – you can read more about it here
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.
You know last week I told you about the Dunlin Press Waste Ground Project I was working on? Well, here are two short book-making how to films as a sneak peek on what’s to come…
These videos show you how I created our hand-stitched book of photography depicting botanical still lives of plants collected from brownfield sites and a pamphlet of black and white sketches also created by me. This book will form part of a limited edition box set.
The Orphaned Spaces is the culmination of a multimedia collaboration by independent publisher Dunlin Press. 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.
I’ve recently launched a whole new collection of illustrated bird prints now available on my Etsy and Folksy shops.
I 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.I 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. My 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.
Here’s a preview of some sketches I’ve been working on for an up-coming Dunlin Press project to be published next month.
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.
These sketches are for the text element of the piece. They accompany beautiful prose written by MW Bewick.
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.
Watch this space for more updates.
This is my new botanical print, juniper berries illustrated in watercolour and ink. A perfect gift for gin fiends!I’ve been producing a lot of new work recently and I’m going to get into the habit showing some of it to you on a regular basis. This juniper berries drawing was really fun to do – I love its needles (something I’m not too familiar with in terms of illustration) and its juicy berries.
The new art print is available on my Etsy shop.
My work explores the way human connect with the natural world, so it will be not surprise that I am a big fan of 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. So 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.
I’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’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.
Have you noticed how dark it’s got recently? I quite like autumn but this has come as s shock even to me so I’m lighting in my mood with these sea-side themed buys from The Contemporary Home.
These delightful oversized ceramic sea shells and seahorses have not only kept a little bit of summer in my heart but they’ve also saved my bathroom look during its ‘transitional phase’. We’ve getting it decorated in the new year and I wanted something to brighten it up in the short term.
I’ve teamed them with some real items scavenged from the beaches of Great Britain to give the smallest room in the house a bit of life. Who knows where they’ll live when my bathroom is complete – watch this space!
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.
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.
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…