Cast your mind back to the winter of 2020, when it was lockdown central. The schools and shops were all closed, life was terrifying, and no-one came for christmas. As an entertaining distraction I started mixing some thoughts together to make an idea. Then baked it in the sketchy-oven-of-sketches, until it became a cake of reality!
Here’s the recipe….
EGO BOOSTING ( influences from life )
In Lancaster, the B.I.D. team asked a few artists to decorate shop windows in an attempt to add a bit of festive cheer to the town. I got the job of decorating Bella Pasta, I was given '4 Calling Birds' as the theme, so, using white window pens, drew some scandi style, xmas birds calling out for love and peace.
It was a fun, creative pursuit despite the cold, and so I also agreed to decorate the Hairdressers in Hale, with baubles and fancy foliage, then my own window for our Streets Advent Window thing. People seemed to like them, and that was enough of a boost to oil the idea machine/ego.
ART FIX ( influences from the world of art and where to get your art fix )
So I started sketching other different creatures, and went fishing for ideas on the internet-sea.
When trawling the internet for ideas I do 2 things…
1. Collect images on Pinterest of various things I like, this activity has replaced collecting things in real life. It is much better for the state of my house and the dust that collects there, much cheaper, and the possibilities are almost infinite!
If you have a ‘collecting things’ problem, I would highly recommend it!.
2. Collect beautiful art that I aspire to.
I’ve been known to do this for hours at a time, and sometimes an image appears that shifts the stagnant thoughts in my brain, and causes me to exclaim...
‘Hooray! Oh My! Someone is making a success, out of making art, that's similar to all the things I like as well!!
My ideas are not so ridiculous! I am allowed to do this too!’
Here’s some art that gives me those nice feelings...
MENTAL JOURNEY ( influences from my own brain )
We all love a bit of wellbeing these days…in fact I’ve been thinking about my own shit now for 33 years!! Ever since reading - The Art of Loving in 1990, and so many self help books later, I still have the need for yoga and mindfulness to try and sort my brain out.
If you’re going through the menopause and drinking doesn’t work any more, and you’re looking after an old person ( past tense ) and a teenager all at the same time while staring into the shadowy future of your own mortality, and living through a pandemic and dealing with your own mental and physical state all at the same time … you will maybe understand the interest in yoga and stuff.
Here’s a mindfulness thing I like. Close your eyes and imagine these characters ~ Yourself as a child. Yourself as the parent you always wanted. Yourself as yourself.
Put them somewhere nice, like a desert, where they can have a peaceful therapeutic chat with each other, then your imaginary parent gives you all a hug.
I like hanging out there!
Desire 1: For planet Earth/the Universe to be a kinder/ more thoughtful & peaceful place to live in, for all humans, animals and plants!
Desire 2: To have a strong community connection.
Desire 3: To be liked & useful & good at something!
Desire 4: To always be flexible and ambivalent.
Desire 5: To keep on learning & progressing.
These desired things remind me of religion, and having grown up in a family without religion or a community that we belonged in, over the years, I've had some questions, with possible answers, about it all…
Q: What’s it like to have faith and a belief in something?
A: Oh hold on .. I have a strong belief that there is no god - and I guess my faith is in science - Hooray! I’ve got faith and belief!
Q: What’s it like to have that big community / family thing, and strange looking rituals / traditions / celebrations? Some of my friends have these things.
A: That community looks kind of nice!!
Q: Can someone wise, please tell me what to do?
( But not a strangely robed man, trying to organize me, and to control people! )
A: What’s needed is my own personal religion that makes me happy.
A nice community of friendly guiding spirits based on the good creatures of planet Earth.
So, for that sad xmas of 2020, I drew The Spirit of The Reindeer, ( name idea possibly stolen/influenced by… ‘Spirit of the Rainbow’ from The Mr Gumm books )
METHOD ( How I made the Cute Creature project )
Equipment needed :
Pencil, pen, paper, scanner, Photoshop and some rules , a ruler & a year.
RESEARCH & RULES
The calendar project started with a creature for every month, and then evolved, with some self enforced rules…
(RULE:1) They have to exist in the Northern hemisphere, living around the Atlantic, and the North Sea, and be a bit cute.
Once I have an animal in mind, I look at any symbolic mythology around the animal, and any ways where ancient folklore holds them in high regard, as protective/ helpful guides to gods, bestowed with magic qualies.
I do love symbols & patterns! So added them into the illustration criteria. (RULE: 2)
I want the symbols to enhance the mystical, ancient, all knowingness of the creatures.
They can be based on the creature's homeland or something that it represents.
The symbols and patterns are also useful to decorate them.
For example, In Irish folklore, puffins are reincarnations of Celtic monks, and in the Faroe Islands they're known as prestur - priests. In Iceland it’s thought they can foretell the weather so my puffin illustration got some Icelandic style symbols.
In real life puffins endure cold harsh Northern weather and spend their winters bobbing about on the waves of the North sea. Around March time they go and sit at the edge of windy cliffs and lay their eggs. They are hard! They face the harsh weather full on, but yet they look calm and serene, to me, like nuns from a holy order.
I’m often unable to follow, even my own rules and so the Squid and the Crow stray off course to India and Mexico. And other creatures have less symbols references.
But you know…it adds to the imaginary journey, and these rules are just for me and my art. It’s not like they are rules for the whole of society to help protect them from a pandemic or anything!
After I’ve drawn the creature in pen, I scan it, clean it up, resize and add colour with Photoshop.
I’m a big fan of Screen and Risograph printing, although I haven’t practiced these processes enough yet!
I work with the idea that my finished illustrations are suitable for screen printing.
So I use as few colours as I possibly can, four seems to be the minimum. (RULE: 3)
Illustrations with just two colours is the dream!! Overlaying each colour to make a third and fourth.
Anyway, that’s got more to do with a future Risograph project! ( watch this space )
I choose colours to reflect the month. The icey grays and blues of winter or the yellows and oranges of summer. The colour of the Nordic skies ( that’s actually the name of a tin of Wicks kitchen paint ! ) or spring meadows, or maybe, the colours of costumes worn by the Sami People of the North or The Mexican Day of the Dead festival.
(RULE:4) To produce one a month & ready on the first of each month.
Without a doubt, I need some structure and order, or I am a gibbering mess.
Having this project, and its rules has helped with my drawing practice and with each creature finished, I get a little splurt of joy.
Amazingly for me, it has lasted and now I have a collection of 14 related illustrations!
And still have time to go off on random tangents and work on other projects in between the months. This approach has been a revolution for me and I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’ve now started on my second year.
I get them printed online with The Print Space, who are a carbon neutral company, and produce lovely quality Giclee prints.
If you would like to buy a print they are available from my… Esty Shop
And other stuff about my Illustrations here…charlottedone.com