Bonus birdies

by Myfanwy Tristram

marimekko birds by Myfanwy Tristram

There’s a fab shop in Brighton called Blackout, which sells all manner of brightly-coloured stuff from around the world. Don’t visit if you’re a minimalist!

They’ve been running workshops over Easter and my daughter and I popped in with a friend to do their Marimekko-inspired bird collage session (possibly a string of words you would only hear uttered in Brighton). You can see mine, above, on the right, and my daughter’s on the left.

Here’s the workshop in progress (image credit Blackout): you can just see my right eye peeking out from behind the instructor, Caroline — best view of me, probably. It was very nice to have the kids and the adults all mucking in together on the same project.

I knew I liked Marimekko, but this was also a good reminder that I enjoy collage and I really must get back to doing some more — and not least because I have tins of nice scraps of paper saved for such a purpose.

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What happens when your New Year’s resolution is “Draw More”?

Santiago sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

My new year’s resolution for 2014 was a fairly complex one, but in essence it boiled down to two words:

draw more.

…and it has felt like I’ve drawn a lot this year. Not as much as someone who doesn’t have a day-job and a child, of course, but a steady stream of stuff nonetheless.

Some of it I was pleased with. Some of it I was not – and I’ve learned to call that stuff part of the learning process, rather than a failure.

January

It was my husband’s birthday and I made him this card:

Dude birthday by Myfanwy Tristram

February

February first is Hourly Comics Day! I entered into the spirit of things, and tried not to care about putting out unpolished work – after all, that’s what it’s all about.

MyfanwyTristram_Hour3_2014

I’m quite looking forward to the next one already – and let’s face it, February is not usually a month to look forward to.

March

I made another collage in my series of birds’ eye views, this time featuring lots of very small roofs made of stamps:

Birds island by Myfanwy Tristram

April

In April, I really enjoyed doing some life drawing.

Life drawing by Myfanwy TristramThis was also the month that we went to Bath for our family holiday, and I made a holiday sketch diary. Of course, sketch diaries are another form where, if you share them, you have to put out the pages you’re pleased with as well as the ones that didn’t work out quite so well.

Tree by Myfanwy Tristram

May

Straight after we got back from Bath, work sent me to Santiago in Chile! I was working, so keeping up a sketch diary was a bit more of a challenge, and I finished a good bit of it after I got home.

Myfanwy Tristram Santiago sketch diary

July

It looks like I had a month off from drawing in June! In fact, I was starting work on my 4-page graphic short story for the Cape/Comica/Observer competition: you have to start early if your time is limited.

In July, though, I started a series of pictures of the plants that grow alongside Brighton beach, where I go running and also spend a lot of time with my daughter:

Seaplants by Myfanwy Tristram

There are more plant drawings here and here.

August

Those sunny days seem far away now – hard to believe I was sitting drawing on the Level (our local playground) while my daughter mucked about in the fountains.

Sketches by Myfanwy Tristram

The weather turned, naturally, right before our week in Jersey – fortunately there was plenty to do there anyway. Not least,  drawing another sketch diary:

Toop and the telescope by Myfanwy Tristram

September

I shared my graphic short story competition entry:

Giddy_Heights by MyfanwyTristram_page3I’d entered it, all the while knowing it wasn’t quite the right thing to get placed – not polished enough (but I was very pleased, later on, to discover that my friend Beth had been awarded runner-up prize).

October

Never mind, I waded straight into another comic strip, this time based on recent experiences with a community archaeological dig:

GreenLadyHill_by Myfanwy Tristram – and, at very short notice indeed, I threw together a collage for the Association of Illustrators competition:

Fly Across London by Myfanwy TristramThat was also the month I created the Hashtag Underdog strip. October must have been the peak of my productivity! I should scrutinise what the prevailing conditions were, and try to bottle them.

Underdog by Myfanwy TristramNovember

I didn’t do Clovember but I did paint my daughter in her lovely bright clothes – right at the prescient moment, it turns out, as she’s recently announced a desire to wear only black:

Tabs watercolour by Myfanwy Tristram

I also made a short comic strip about working from home:

Working from Home by Myfanwy TristramDecember

Close friends and family had one of my linocuts bestowed upon them:

IMG_0757

– and I moaned a bit about how long they had taken to make. I must say though, that everyone has been very nice about them, which is what every homemade card creator really wants – so it was all worth it. :D

Clearly, the effort of all that lino-printing has taken it out of me because, other than a couple of sketches of my daughter and husband, I have not drawn since.

Next year

I’m hoping that a similar resolution for 2015 will result in just as much artwork – but I need to do some careful thinking as well, about just what I want out of all this endeavour.

This year brought a couple of commissions. I find these quite stressful, and it made me wonder whether to refuse all commissions from now on (on the other hand, that means relying only on my own inspirations to drive me forward, a situation which, of course, many artists would be envious of, but which may well narrow my horizons).

This was also the first year that I’ve sold my prints online, as well as in Brighton’s Open Houses. While this was not stressful, it did bring home to me how narrow the margins are – at the scale I was operating, and with the time I have to dedicate, you can’t earn much. It can only really be done as an exercise in spreading your name about a bit.

And as for that – spreading my name about – well, I haven’t done as much as I hoped. Reader numbers on this blog are pretty low (though boosted greatly every time someone tweets or shares the link on Pinterest or Facebook, so thank you very much to everyone who did that).

In 2015, I think I will have an additional resolution to get some strips published in existing comics: that means that someone else is doing the distribution and the marketing, and probably doing so far better than I would have time to do myself.

Sounds like a plan…

Fly Across London

by Myfanwy Tristram

Fly Across London by Myfanwy Tristram

I’m not normally the type to squeak deadlines – you might have noticed that I had my Cape/Comica/Observer entry in weeks before the closing date. And then what happened? I started talking to friends about how little chance I felt I had of winning, and one of them suggested hedging my bets a bit by entering a strip into the Thought Bubble Comic Art Competition.

Well, that deadline was only a few weeks away (it’s still open! Enter!), but it only involved submitting a single page, and I managed that. And THEN the same pesky friend said that since I had turned that around so quickly, maybe I should submit something to the AOI Prize for Illustration*. The deadline was something like 10 days away at that point – 10 days which included a weekend we had booked away for a family reunion.

Anyone sane would probably have shrugged and said, oh well, maybe next year then, but it appears that  a) I’m very suggestible, and b) I find it hard to turn down a competition.

It’s not even as if I sprang into action right away, either. No, I spent a while casting round for inspiration. The competition has the theme “London Places and Spaces”, and goes into some detail about the requirements, which include the fact that you must at least nod to a form of London transport. Eventually I landed on the idea of all the backs of houses and gardens you see from the Overground train windows, which always grasp my attention as the train trundles through the suburbs. You get just enough of a glimpse to imagine yourself down there, bouncing on a trampoline or picking flowers from the pristine beds, lying on a garden bench or picking up toddlers’ toys.

Once I’d played around a bit with composition I suddenly thought, of course! The theme lends itself very well to the collage form I’ve used before… but would I have time to do something quite so intricate? Well, now I know the answer.

As a rough estimate, it took about twenty hours’ work, mostly crammed into the time between finishing the day job, and going to bed when I reached exhaustion (which actually isn’t that late for me! I wake early for the school run, so by 11 or 12pm I’m bushwhacked). The knock-on effect of the late hours was that I was too tired to do my normal exercise at lunch time – something I’m usually very strict about – and that my husband started giving me the side-eye over the share of housework I was(n’t) doing.

Hopefully it was all worth it: I’m pleased with the end result. If I’d had more time, though, there are things I would have done differently. My stocks of maps and stamps – my favoured materials – were very low.

A friend has been promising me some old maps for months, and I’ve been too lazy to go and collect them, so that’ll teach me. I had to use my very last scraps, which didn’t give me a full tonal range of materials to choose from. Also, because of the London theme, it would have been just great if it could have used London maps and tickets – but I had no such thing in my stash.

Never mind, though. It is, as they say, what it is.

 

* Warning, this website flashes in a very disconcerting and headache-inducing way.

Crows flying over the island. In vibrant technicolour.

All things colour are killing me at the moment. This looks much more muted in real life, but on my monitor right now, it’s looking almost garish.

Oh well, I’m just trying to concentrate on those birds, and whether they distract too much from the landscape – which I’m still perfectly happy with… IN REAL LIFE. ;)

Birds island by Myfanwy Tristram

 

Birds island by Myfanwy Tristram

[As ever, click to see bigger – including teensy weensy boats made out of tickets and Green Shield stamps]

Commission via Facebook: illustration the virtual way

Portrait commission by Myfanwy Tristram

A couple of months ago, I was asked to make a portrait that a friend could give her husband for their wedding anniversary.

It’s been a secret ever since then, but the anniversary was today and I have been given explicit permission to blog about it. Phew!

photo (47)

photo (50)

Virtual friends

Leo is a little boy. I’ve followed his progress since he was born.

I consider his mum to be a good friend. I know a lot about her; she knows a lot about me.

And yet, I’ve never actually met her, or Leo. Or his dad. Or their two cats.

That’s because I know them in that peculiar modern way, through blogging and social networks.

I’m quite comfortable with that sort of relationship: I have a lot of ‘virtual’ friends. I think lots of us do, these days: it’s certainly not considered as odd as it might have been ten years ago (I was remembering, the other day, how we used to call it “new media” – I suppose it couldn’t stay ‘new’ for long).

Modern tools that help an artist

Leo’s mum asked me if I’d create a portrait of him.

Sourcing a photo was not much of a problem: there were plenty on Google+.

Discussing ideas wasn’t hard, either. We did it through Facebook chat: in bed, in the supermarket, in the car – wherever we might be.

And then, when I wanted to send her various options for how it would look, I was able to take a snap on my phone and send it through to her for instant comments – and it really was instant most of the time.

This really does feel like a luxury of the modern age: imagine Michelangelo or Caravaggio sending a quick snap to a client, via his phone. I wonder whether the access to immediate feedback would have stifled them. Maybe – but in my case, it was all helpful.

Portrait through collage

Leo’s mum liked the collages I’d been putting up on this blog, and she wondered if I could do something similar for this commission. After a little thought I came up with an idea that she liked the sound of: a line drawing with collaged highlights.

Portrait commission by Myfanwy Tristram

When I thought of Leo, I thought of his wild blond curls, so I wanted to make that into the main focus. I decided that the hair would be the collaged part.

I wanted to use something apt for the collage material, so I suggested children’s picture books, which I’d source from charity shops.

Originally I was intending to cut the paper into spirals, but once I started playing with shapes, the circles worked much better graphically; also, Leo had recently had a haircut, so the fact that some circles were floating away like bubbles on the wind seemed particularly appropriate.

Later, a friend who dropped by while I was collaging asked what his name was, and pointed out that there’s also a great leonine look to the mane of hair.

Choices, choices

Once I’d done the image above, I sent a photo through. As well as the hair, there was Leo’s favourite silver Brio train, and I’d added stripes that were the same colour as an actual top of his.

Leo’s mum liked it, but she felt she’d like the colour to be balanced out at the bottom of the picture as well as the top.

This is where collage is great. While I wouldn’t especially like to paint six different options for approval, it’s so easy to cut out some different shapes and arrange them on the page to show what they’d look like.

Here are the variations I suggested:

 

Portrait commission by Myfanwy Tristram

Portrait commission by Myfanwy Tristram

Portrait commission by Myfanwy Tristram

Portrait commission by Myfanwy Tristram

Portrait commission by Myfanwy Tristram

Portrait commission by Myfanwy Tristram

L-R, top – bottom: Stripes at the bottom of the t-shirt; Stripes in the background; Circles to balance out the hair circles; Circles plus foliage; Circles plus stripes; EVERYTHING together!

(Ignore the differing background colours; that’s just the light)

The final version

photo (48)

In the end, we went for a version with foliage and circles, like the 4th version above, but a bit more spread out, as you can see.

It was a really happy collaboration; modern technology made it easy for me  to confer with my client, but there’s something more too: having instant feedback like this made sure that I created something a little bit better, and more balanced, than I would have if left to my own devices.

Happy wedding anniversary, guys. May you have many more joyful years to come.

Work in progress – more aerial views

It’s such a funny thing.

Or perhaps I should call it a highly irritating, baffling thing. You can plug away for weeks on a picture, and not be sure that it’s working at all. Then one day, you can start a new one, and feel absolutely confident that it’s heading in the right direction from about five minutes in.

I feel good about this one: still work in progress, but I can just see it’s going to come out the way I want it to. Gullholmen aerial view - work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram

[Click to see it nice and big, and count how many versions of the Queen’s head you can see]

Which is a relief, because of course the side-effect of going down a few dead ends is that you start losing all belief in your abilities.

Hmmm. Does this mean I should ditch all work that I *don’t* feel good about right away?

Actually, I already know the answer to that, even though I seem to have trouble acting on it: it’s to experiment more before setting off down the route of a finished piece. I wonder how I can make myself stick to that way of working.

A few details: it’s a collage of stamps and tickets again, with inked additions, like my previous aerial views.

It’s loosely inspired by a real place: Google the name ‘Gullholmen‘ and you can see lots of pictures of it. It’s funny to spend all afternoon drawing somewhere, and only then look at images taken from other sides, or showing you the view from down amongst its little roads.

I think one of the most fun times you can have while drawing is to create little worlds that you’d like to visit yourself: this is something many of us do as kids, but perhaps not so much once we become adults.

I’m really confused now about whether I want to visit the real Gullholmen or my own version, although I suspect the real one would hold up to the weather better.

Stamps don’t really make great roofs in real life.

Over egging the pudding, flogging a dead horse, etc

Sea collage WiP by Myfanwy Tristram

I haven’t shared any collages with you recently. There’s a reason for that, and it isn’t that I haven’t been making any.

No, I’m kind of stuck on one theme that keeps going down dead ends. With my previous collages, the stamp paddyfields, forest and valley, I had an excited feeling almost right away – I just knew they were going to turn out well.

I’m floundering a lot more with this one. Half of me thinks, if you keep on flogging it and you’re still not sure, it’s time to set it aside. The other half thinks there’s a glimmer of something.

While modern technologies such as Photoshop have brought amazing benefits to artists, I have to say that they’re also our worst enemy sometimes. With Photoshop, I know I can take out one blue and substitute it for something darker, or excise whole sections that aren’t working. It gives me hope that there’s still something worth saving in the image, where in simpler times I’d perhaps have screwed it up and put it in the bin.

Of course, the trouble with collage is that it takes forever, as well, so the longer I keep forging on, the more incentive there is to see it to the end. Hmm. Grumble, mumble, snip, glue, snip.

Stamp forest

Stamp forest by Myfanwy Tristram

This is another of my aerial view collages – click the image to see it bigger.

Birds fly over a forest at twilight, taking messages to a loved one. Between the trees are little houses and lakes; on some of the lakes are boats.

This one is almost entirely composed of stamps; the sea and the birds are tracing paper, put through my printer* and superimposed with wavy lines from postcodes. The beach is made from manilla envelopes.

Notice that each bird is now carrying a tiny little letter, too.

It accompanies others in the series: Green Shield stamps paddyfields and Stamp Valley (which I am eventually going to redraw now that my style has developed a bit on this project).

* Yay for the uncomplaining HP 5524 – you might change your IP address far more frequently than anyone would think necessary, but you aren’t afraid of a bit of non-approved paper stock going through your innards.

On the other hand, if Santa is listening and has any extra space in his sleigh, I think an A3 scanner is currently top of my wishlist. Sorry HP 5524, I still love you, I just hate aligning multiple scans of a single picture.

Green Shield stamps paddyfields

Stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

In the last few days, I’ve put the finishing touches to a complex collage of paddy fields. It’s made of tickets and postage stamps (many contributed by kind friends) and maps (including one I used to navigate around Japan, before the advent of smartphones in my life). These elements symbolise travelling over great distances.

I also used Green Shield stamps, which don’t symbolise anything, but which seemed so right for the landscape. Then there’s a bit of ink.

You might remember my first drawing of these steppes, which was a simple version in painted inks, from this post.

Paddyfields by Myfanwy Tristram

Then came this valley, also populated with random stamps.

stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

Now the two ideas come together in a new landscape. I’m really pleased with it: from a distance, I think the details of the stamps and maps make it look like an aerial photograph.

I’ve been fiddling around with placing birds over the top of it*, and then I went away for a while and had the idea of just showing their shadows.

Stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

This is all still work in progress, and I am going to have to get the original collage scanned professionally. As you’ll see if you click and view it larger, this is a composite of several scans. Why don’t they ever match up?!

* These are drop shadows, created from the airmail label bird I showed earlier. That took a bit of thinking through: once I decided I wanted the shadows, but not the birds themselves (because the background is so fussy, it’s really hard to make out any detailed birds, no matter what colour they are), I had to figure out how to do that. Make the bird layer invisible, and the shadow becomes invisible too.

In the end, I expanded the canvas, put the birds outside the main frame, pulled the drop shadows way out from their ‘parent’ shapes, then flattened all the layers and chopped off the margin with the actual birds in it.

I bet there’s a more conventional way to do this. As a self-taught Photoshop user, I am aware I often go all around the houses to do something that a pro would be able to do without thinking.

Airmail bird

Airmail bird by Myfanwy Tristram

Here’s a little collage bird I made while I was at my illustration class last night. Next week is the last session. We’re going to the pub, so I guess my learning  has come to an end.

At least, the kind of learning you do in a class. One of the tutor’s maxims was that we should keep on looking, and learning, and finding stuff out about oneself, and I hope I can carry on in that spirit.

I recommend the tutor: if you’re local to Brighton, you might be interested in his upcoming course. And in fact, the Phoenix always has loads of exciting and inspiring courses going on. A Xmas present for the one you love, perhaps? Even better if you are the one you love…

Trying things out

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram

Here is a small bird I made from some Brighton bus tickets.

We’re all switching to pre-loaded cards and mobile phone tickets these days, so it’s not as easy as it used to be to get hold of paper bus tickets. It’s funny to think that  maybe in a couple of years’ time, this picture will look really dated.

In any case, I need to make more of an effort to collect tickets while they’re still around. Our daughter still requires a 30p one for each journey, at least, so I can nab all the ones she hasn’t folded into paper boats.

bus ticket bird by Myfanwy Tristram

He stands pretty well on his own – I could see this image working for a simple Christmas card. But I have bigger fish to fry. I’m getting towards the point where I want to do some full pages for my children’s picture book.

Now, what follows is all still at the ‘trying things out’ stage; it’s not finished work, but it’s getting nearer to it. And nearer to saying ‘this is the style I’m happy with’. You’ve already seen a phone snap of the below:

Work in progress by Myfanwy TristramI’m enjoying the collage, but it’s flippin’ time-consuming.

Other things I am enjoying include:

– Ink (especially *on top of* the collaged paper – see how it seeps into the tissue, but misses out the gold birds?);

– Deciding the girl’s hair is pink because she’s *just that wild*;

– Loosely basing the dad on a Nick Cave type of figure, for all the mums who might appreciate that as much as I do (though a friend told me he looked more Frank Zappa-esque).

Oh, and although you can’t see it that well here, the girl’s top is collaged from this beautiful old shoebox I found. Triangles – they are very now, you know. I’m trying not to use it too fast, or maybe I just need to scan it so I can always sample from it. Or – here’s an idea – I could just buy more shoes. That’s always a good solution to most problems.

On top of that, lovely friends have been sending me tickets and stamps to cut up and glue and generally muck around with.

I got to the stage where I didn’t feel like I could go much further without having a text to work to, even if it’s not the final one. I’ve mocked up the dummy book, and that did help a lot in knowing where the double page image spreads should go, and where there will just be small vignettes, etc. So the next thing I did was to put together one of those spreads.

Bear in mind that this is very much just trying stuff out. Also forgive the scanner lines – it’s a big picture, my scanner is small, life is short, etc etc.

birds-carry[Click to see bigger]

There’s a lot I like about this picture, but for my money it isn’t doing its job.

To start with the positives:

– I like the window acting as a frame within a frame, and I like the extra 3D-ness the collage gives that effect.

– I rather like the colours, especilly the curtain rail being such an impertinent pink.

– And the curtains, despite being overly gothy (perhaps suitable for our Cave/Zappa dad?) are looking rather lush.

But what’s not working is the scene beyond the window. That little red ticket bird that was so clear in the first picture of this post just gets lost in all the detail behind. Faring even worse are his smaller pals on the telephone wires (which incidentally seem to be emanating from Dad’s mouth – layout fail). The idea is that birds will all be composed of tickets, but at this scale, they just can’t be read clearly. This page is a big reveal – birds! – so they really need to be much more prominent.

It all comes down to the background. I must say, I was having a lot of fun doing all those rooves and chimneys and smoke (tracing paper collaged on), but this isn’t the place for it. It doesn’t matter – it’s all a learning process, and perhaps I can use those ideas somewhere else.

I thought I’d try Photoshopping in some previous birds, and then cloning my little ticket bird, but I can’t say anything’s perfect just yet. Trying quick fixes like this rarely works – I reckon I’ll be better off taking everything I like about the picture, and using it to inform the next version.

Birds at the window by Myfanwy Tristram

Birds at the window by Myfanwy Tristram

In summary: it’s not perfect, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all good learning. And blinkin’ heck, inks are lovely.

sketch by Myfanwy Tristram

Landscape with stamps

Landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

I am having *SO MUCH FUN* drawing birds’ eye view landscapes and playing about with ideas. Above (click to see larger) is as far as I’ve got with the latest one, actually physically on paper.

The plan is to collage some stamps onto it – the insomniac eBay shopping I mentioned in my last post – but although I’ve done this digitally, I haven’t yet taken the plunge and stuck them on for good, because I really like how it looks now. Eep. I might stick them on a transparent layer and take it from there.

Landscape with stamps by Myfanwy Tristram

Here are a couple of blurry phone shots of the work in progress:

blurryphone-pic2

blurryphone-pic1

EDITED TO ADD: Here’s the ‘final’ piece – as it’s only an exploratory drawing it’s not exactly final as such, but it’s as far as I’ve taken it. I decided not to wimp out with a layer of acetate and stuck the stamps (ie stamp scans) down on the page. I experimented a bit with trying to bring out the perforations on the scanned stamp images: I tried a threadless sewing machine, and in the end settled for a not-very-realistic but symbolic frilled pair of scissors.

I dithered about that final piece of map leading off to the horizon, because I liked the image just as much without it, but in the end I liked the vision it gave of endless worlds to be explored.

I also cut round the various trees and bushes where the stamps overlap; perhaps I should have just painted them over for a neater finish.

I’m quite pleased.

stamps landscapefini

Birds

After the first week of the course, I went away and started thinking and drawing and thinking some more. I’ve had this one idea for a children’s picture book for ages (along with many others), and now seems like a really good time to explore it.

It’s a funny thing: the course itself? It’s just three of us in the room with the tutor (one of the women who was there for the first week didn’t turn up this second week). That’s all.

But I know that I am going to get more done, and with more freedom and a better chance of success than if, say, I’d decided I was going to draw at home for three hours every Tuesday night until I’d made a book.

Plus, there’s something about speaking an idea that shows it up for what it is – naked, shivering against the wall, nowhere to hide. And there’s something about people answering back to your idea that catapults it off into new directions.

The book I want to make is about a bird.

So after that first week, I went home and I drew these:

birds

Well ok, so far so good, but, y’know, I’ve drawn something like this before.

And I doodled a lot – I had to work in London on one day, so on the train up there and back I could draw.

And at the weekend, I sat down and I drew this:

kite

(You can click on all the images in this blog to see them bigger – or, in this case, to see how poorly I have stitched together the various scans it took to get this large image in.)

And, while they were fun to do, I didn’t feel happy, or like I’d discovered anything new, or happened upon a style I wanted to use for the book.

I felt, I dunno, like they were really constrained, and flat. I wanted to scale them up six times bigger and work with a paintbrush the size of my arm.

The night before the next class, I started thinking, well, kites are made of paper, right? And I started piecing together this:

Fevvers by Myfanwy Tristram

And, ooh!

That, that has lit a firecracker under me. A slow-burning one, sure, but put that together with some ill-advised insomniac eBay purchasing, and I have thought of a route that I find really, really exciting. All will be revealed, at some point…

Meanwhile, a couple of us actually cracked open the paints at the class this week. I started drawing without much thought, but I like what came out.

Oddly enough, it is the opposite of the huge, splashy, free painting I thought I wanted to do.

Paddyfields by Myfanwy Tristram

Someone saw it on my Instagram feed and said that at first glance, they’d thought it was a rug. Wouldn’t that be nice?