Me-er than me
Having slagged off motivational Pinterest aphorisms in my last post, hey, what better than to feature one in this post?

But at least it’s from a children’s book illustrator – some might say the children’s book illustrator, Dr Seuss.

And it’s very nicely done, isn’t it? It’s by Emily Ruth on Etsy and I know nothing more about it than that it popped up on my Pinterest stream, a rather gorgeous presentation of a quote that is much bandied about over there:

You are you, this is truer than true. There is no-one alive who is youer than you.

And – let’s get to the point here – this was my main learning from (as the tutor likes to style it at the beginning of each class):

*swoosh* *swoosh* *swoosh*  (cinematic voice ahoy:) “Children’s Book Illustration…. week TWO“.

See now, last week, we were talking about style a bit. This week, I happened to mention that I never know if it is good for me to see so much excellent illustration.

Again I referred to Pinterest. I follow some fine illustrators on there, not to mention some fine connoisseurs of illustration, and the net result is that every morning when I bring up my browser, if I wish to, I can gorge myself on a smörgåsbord of amazing work. That other people have done.

And if you’re not feeling that resolute, it’s all too easy to think one of three things:

First (if you’re me):

I’ll never be that good.

And second:

Ooh, maybe I need to be looser/use more ink/channel my inner child more/**insert other trends here ad infinitum**

Then lastly: (I haven’t got there quite yet, but I can see the beguiling path of logic that leads there):

Well why bother, when there’s already so much good stuff out there?

The tutor gave me an excellent new spin on this, and one which I will be endeavouring to live by. “Admire the work. Be glad that it exists. Because now, you don’t have to do that.”

You know what, the course might be worth the money for that little insight alone.

Some more learnings from the children’s book illustration course


Looking back on Tuesday night, I’m amazed at how many insights were packed in to the 2.5 hours – AND there was still time for tea and Tunnock’s cakes.

Here are some more points the tutor made that really gave me food for thought.

1. What age group is your book for?

This isn’t just a nebulous question that you can answer lightly.

It’s not just about the vocabulary you use in the text, and whether kids of a certain age would understand certain words or concepts*.

It’s not just about how it would be marketed, and what age-group publishers are selling most to at the moment**.

The thing is that kids go through certain stages of development at certain ages, and you can key right into that. If you write a book about a kid that only says ‘NO’, it’s ideal for children who have just discovered wilfulness – they’ll see themselves and their own concerns in that character.

The reason so many picture books start with the protagonist losing both their parents is that – bam – you’ve tapped right into the deepest fears of the under-fives. They’ll be riveted to see how that character resolves the situation. They’ll empathise with them too.

2. The best children’s books (and the best art in any form) speak a truth. Not a blithe motivational truth that you read on Pinterest. One that is your truth, and yours alone. Your view of the world. You explaining that in pictures and words that a kid can understand.

3. Relatedly, we talked about style, something that has continued to confound me through my whole adult life. What *is* style? Can we change it?

The tutor said this: the pictures you are drawing today will have something in common with the first picture you ever drew, when you were a kid, and every picture since. That might be the subject matter, the colours, or the line.

If you draw in a way that is true to yourself, your work will cohere, and will always be recognisable as your own, even as you develop and change.

I’ll have to think about this, but here’s the bit I know that I do totally agree with: you find your style and your subject matter by concentrating really hard on who you are, what catches your eye, what interests you. Heighten those thoughts that are constantly playing at the back of your mind. Deliberately notice colour combinations, pleasing arrangements of objects, and make a sketch of them. But these will be the things YOU appreciate, not the things you have been told you should.

4. Would a child want to read this book?

Throwaway question directed at me when I was talking through a few ideas I have for a book. My god, what a fundamental question. You may be surprised to know that it knocked me for six.

Time to put myself in the very small shoes of my potential reader.

*And actually, thinking about this point, as a mum I know that in a really good book, you will often come across a word or a concept that you know your child won’t understand. And then you explain it. And there you are, the book has taught them something.

**Although, you might find it harder to pitch a picture book for 15 year olds. Sadly. Because actually, wouldn’t that be great?


Exquisite corpse2

Last night, I left the house, walked over the big hill, and didn’t come back until after bedtime. AND I had charcoal under my fingernails.

It was week one of an evening class on Children’s Book illustration, taught by the self-styled Baron Gilvan.

When we were asked to draw enormous body segments, as part of a giant game of ‘Picture Consequences’ (also known as ‘Exquisite Corpse‘), the first one I drew was this yawning girl. She’s symbolic of the tiredness I was already feeling, at being out of the house when I’m normally winding down ready for bed. Yes, I am a lightweight.

Exquisite corpse

Here are the finished works. There are only four of us – it’s a really small group, which’ll be great in all sorts of ways I think.

Out tutor gave us some questions to think about – what were these people’s names, jobs, favourite foods? It seems like a very good way to generate some totally offbeat characters, if you’re stuck in a rut. Even if I never use this technique for generating book characters, it’ll sure come in useful for children’s parties.

Another useful question: what does your character look like from the top, from behind, and the sides? This might in fact be more interesting than what is apparent from the front.

Talking of consequences, I’m looking forward to seeing what the consequences are of taking an illustration class for the first time in years.

The Perfect Storm

star fishnet tights by Myfanwy Tristram

Blue tights with green tops by Myfanwy Tristram

bright pink tights by Myfanwy Tristram

green tights by Myfanwy Tristram

Remember that film where George Clooney grabs an unexpected eBay bargain, finds a sketchbook with unusual dimensions, and follows an Instagram account that suddenly gives him an idea for an art project? It’s called ‘The Perfect Storm’.

Oh, wait. That wasn’t a film, it was real life. And it wasn’t George Clooney, it was me. However, I’m sticking with the title: a ‘perfect storm’ is when a combination of events create the ideal environment for something to happen.

In George’s case, that saw him looking noble in a slicker, square-jawed and pushing against adversity while sprackled with a light sea spray (I’m guessing; I haven’t seen it). In mine, it sees me happily noodling around with inks and watercolour paper.

To explain, my perfect storm came together like this:

EVENT 1: I’m looking for something on eBay. I can’t remember what now; we’ve just moved house, so there’s been a lot of eBaying for furniture and random stuff.

I come across a job lot of tights in my size – 14 or so pairs of them. Tights in my size are quite rare, as I’m far too tall for a lady, apparently. They’re going for something silly like £2.99. I put in a low bid and forget about them. A few days later, ta-da! I’m now the owner of a ridiculous number of colourful tights, some with fancy designer names and packaging.

EVENT 2: In said move, I’m unpacking my sketchbooks when I find the landscape watercolour sketchbook I bought at the Tate while we were on holiday in St Ives. Coals to Newcastle, incidentally, as it turns out it was made by Seawhite of Brighton.

This sketchbook is 29cm x 15cm. Long and thin. Ideal for landscapes, seascapes and… do you see where I’m going?

EVENT 3: I can’t pretend I wasn’t partly inspired  – even if subliminally – by an Instagram account I’ve been following with fascination: Stace-a-lace photographs women on the streets of New York – but only from the waist downwards. The results are intriguing.

And KABOOM! Perfect storm all up in yo face. New art project: I’m drawing my legs every time I wear a pair of these tights.

Oh, is that all? Why didn’t you say so at the start?

More of these as they happen.

Illustrators in Conversation: Oliver Jeffers and David Mackintosh

Mackintosh and Jeffers2

Last night, I went to see children’s picturebook illustrators Oliver Jeffers and David Mackintosh in conversation, here in Brighton. It was a fun event – there seemed to be real rapport between the two writers and their Editor (whose name I can’t find online, sorry, Editor!).


You could buy all their books, of course. Here’s the bookstall – a good opportunity for me to loosen up my drawing before the main event.

Mackintosh and Jeffers

One reassuring thing that David Mackintosh said was that he draws many many pictures before selecting the ones he uses. So that’s how you get that ‘every one’s a winner’ carefree drawing style…

Mackintosh and Jeffers3

I hope this doesn’t make the Editor look too awful – more of a cariacture than a likeness. She was very attractive, as it goes.

Not to be negative

This was a bit of fun – it’s supposed to be an illustration of all the things that used to go wrong when you took a photo on film – you know, before the digital era.

In those days it cost good money if your shot went awry. Loading the film wrongly, not winding on between shots so you got double exposures, putting your thumb over the lens…these things were all disasters. Nowadays we just take ten shots of the same thing.


SchoolmatesSome kids are completely mesmerised when they see a screen.

At first, I thought they must come from families where they aren’t allowed as much TV time as our daughter is (against my better judgement, I might say).

But apprently not – it’s just that the screen makes them go like rabbits in headlights. Anyway, the good thing is, they sit so still and you can get some real drawing time in.


booner by Myfanwy Tristram

Poor Booner. She’s our oldest cat, and has never got over her own nervousness. She was a rescue cat, and we think she must have been badly treated in her previous life. No amount of love and cuddles (slightly too enthusiastic cuddles sometimes, from our daughter, I’m afraid) have allowed her to relax completely.

This week she’s been diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid. What with £107 worth of blood tests, and medication for the rest of her life, it’s a good job we love her.

November 2012: clothes project

Everything my daughter and I wore in November 2012

In November 2012, I decided to draw the clothes I wore, every day, for a month.

And as if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, I also drew my daughter’s clothes. At the end of the month, a good friend commented that the illustrations would make a great comic.

She said one thing that really struck me: that these clothes may seem pretty ordinary now, but in a few years’ time, the picutres could stand as a historic document.

So I cleaned all the sketches up and started putting them into a printable format. What you see here is me playing about with ideas for the cover.

In my day job, my boss has a penchant for extarordinarily long blog titles – I think that’s influenced my choice of title here.

My summing-up post at the end of the whole project – complete with pie charts! – can be seen here, and clicking here will take you to all the pictures on Flickr.

Everything my daughter and I wore in November 2012

A surprising thing

Gudrun Sjoden tunic by Myfanwy Tristram

All right, so this lovely thing happened.

I’ve had this Gudrun Sjoden dress pinned to my wish I could justify that Pinterest board for.. well, for 25 weeks, according to Pinterest itself.

Something about the pattern and the colours really appealed to me, and the cut is one of the few that actually suits my frame.

It had become a benchmark in my mind – I’d see a cheaper dress that I liked, in a shop, and think, ‘yeah, but if I buy two like that, I might as well buy the Cirkus dress, and the Cirkus dress is definitely twice as nice as that, so..’

As we know, it’s quite easy to justify any purchase with this sort of logic eventually. ‘Ooh, I’m so good, I didn’t buy these fourteen things I briefly liked the look of, so now I can definitely reward myself with the thing I really want’.

And that’s the stage I’d reached last week. The Gudrun sale was on, my resolve had weakened, and I was going to buy the dress.

Until… disaster!

The tweet says it all. The leggings were still available, the tunic was there, but there was no dress to be had. And that’s when the amazing thing happened. Gudrun Sjoden tweeted me to say they’d look out for a dress and send it to me, if I’d draw it here.

Talk about an offer you can’t refuse – why, even if I’d bought it with my own money, you know I’d be sitting down to draw that thing.

Now in the end, they couldn’t actually locate a dress in my size, and they sent me the tunic. I have to say, I wouldn’t have chosen the tunic myself, BUT, now I’ve tried it, I’m sold. It comes with a belt, and you can wear the tunic Robin Hood style, a little bit pulled over the belt, which – rather than emphasise voluminous post-baby tummy, which I suppose was my fear – actually looks rather nice. This tunic is going to be paired with black skinny jeans and boots all autumn long.

It *was* fun to draw – though you’ll note that I didn’t draw the whole pattern. Artistic licence!

Gudrun Sjoden bag by Myfanwy Tristram

To make the whole thing even more special, it came in not only a floral-patterned envelope, but a polka dot tote bag. It’s as if they knew about me and polka dots.

And there you are, my first ever ‘sponsored post’. Almost certainly my last, though, y’know, if Fat Face, Bravissimo, Boden, or *breathes* Marimekko would like me to draw myself in any of these, I am right here, and, evidence shows, fully amenable. :)

St Ives holiday diary

Page from St Ives diary by Myfanwy Tristram

We went on a family holiday to St Ives for a week, and I kept a little sketch diary of everything we did. Not having a scanner handy, I was photographing the pages on my phone every night and uploading those images – but you can see a completely cleaned up and much more readable version here.

It’s always very interesting to see how a period of intensive drawing always begins wobbly, and becomes much more assured as the time goes on.

Moving house announcement

we have moved anon

When are the occasions you really don’t have time to sit down and draw?
– Getting married
– Having a baby
– Moving house.

Unfortunately, these are also the times when it would be really nice to send people a hand-illustrated card with your news. I did manage hand-drawn invitations when we got married. I sure as anything didn’t manage a birth announcement, or any kind of drawing for about 6 years after. But here is a picture which I’ll be sending to my friends about our change of address (I’ve removed the street number and name, you know, in case of crazy people, but on the original, the number is in that yellow circle, and the name runs along the street. The map isn’t particularly accurate or to scale).

I wanted to convey a couple of things about the street that we’ve moved to: that it consists of a terrace of little houses that dips comically in the middle; and that it ends at the foot of a towering hill. As it happens, there’s a TV mast at the top of the hill, so it seemed like a nice idea to have that broadcasting our news.

Amazingly, the scanner has started working after the move. I still can’t get the printer component of the same machine to start working though, so getting these printed out and physically sent to people is more of a challenge than it really ought to be.