The Whimsical Menagerie of Artist Emma Gray

I’m excited to introduce everyone to artist Emma Gray from Brighton, UK! I hope you love her whimsical work as much as I do, please make sure to show her Redbubble and her Folksy shop some love ♡! You can also follow Emma on Instagram (@em_menagerie) to keep up with her latest inspirations.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art? What inspires you as a human and artist? 

I live by the sea in Brighton in the UK and I sell my original paintings on wood and greetings cards in my Folksy shop, Menagerie. Most of my work is animal themed and I’m especially a fan of dogs. I often draw rescue dogs looking for their forever homes, and I take commissions for animal portraits. I also have a shop on Redbubble that sells prints and goodies like cushion covers, mugs and stickers (I’ve never grown out of my love for stickers!).

I grew up around various animals including a donkey, ducks, dogs and tortoises, all of whom I loved and found fascinating. One of my earliest memories was trying to make a dog out of clay I’d found in the garden, so the animal theme started young. I have a favourite photo of me as a toddler in a smock with more paint on me than there was on the paper and I also used to include unsolicited illustrations to accompany school homework!

I studied art history in Edinburgh whilst going to lifedrawing evening classes and selling paintings and mixed media work through shops and cafes. I’d received a subscription of ‘The Great Artists’ magazine as a young teen and art history was a passion, but, I sometimes felt like I was missing out on the creative journeys my friends studying Fine Art were making.

After university, I did a foundation course in art therapy and enjoyed how freeing it was to play and experiment using basic materials – big sheets of cheap paper we could tape together on the floor and crawl across as we made bold, imperfect marks with thick brushes, crayons and charcoal. It felt reminiscent of the joyful, present engagement with art that I had had as a child.

I continued to make for myself and for friends and family, working in various media including mosaic, printmaking and paper sculpture. But low mood had affected my confidence to sell to people I didn’t know and to remain motivated creatively. For several years I focused more on writing, and became involved with the local spoken-word short story scene.

A bout of depression in my thirties led me to a therapeutic art group, where, on the first day I painted pebbles. I managed to anchor myself more calmly in the moment with the activity and left with a intricately painted matryoshka pebble in my pocket. It seemed like a solid prompt to try to return to regular making no matter how I was feeling.

What began as a therapeutic pastime resulted in a growing collection of little painted animal pebbles. Inspired by Victorian cameos, I attached some to pins and ribbons to make brooches and these became my first listings in Menagerie. Wanting more space for detail, I later moved on to paint on wood. I enjoyed its warmth and texture and how the scalloped lasercut shapes I used provided their own frame.

Some milestones since I set up Menagerie have been some lovely galleries selling my cards and paintings, a piece being featured in Frankie magazine and exhibiting in the Artists Open House festival and Lewes Artists and Makers fair.

What past or current projects have been your favorite and why? 

A favourite painting of mine is ‘Gratitude’. It features a crow with wings outstretched, surrounded by precious objects and was inspired by real life stories of crows who have gifted objects to people. I think we are living in an era that is particularly worrying politically. Bonds across species move me as examples of communication and empathy despite differences. I decided to go vegan two years ago and I think this has intensified my awareness of the sentience, instincts and intelligence of animals.

‘Gratitude’ began with an old mahogony frame that I found on the street. I cut a wooden panel to fit it and the shape leant itself well to the composition of the crow. The painting was also larger than the surfaces I’d been working on – it felt like I was stretching my own wings and taking up space. ‘Gratitude’ was the first image I added to my Redbubble shop – perhaps with hopes for a flying start.

Another of my favourite pieces that’s also available on Redbubble is ‘Swim Dog’. Earlier this year I set myself a daily art project with the theme of ‘strange creatures’. An unexpected outcome was a rediscovered love of drawing. ‘Swim Dog’ was inspired by a beautiful whippet called Yoji on Instagram. In one photo of him, he has his ears back and I imagined him in a bathing hat and old-fashioned swimsuit. The drawing includes three of my favourite things – sea-swimming, dogs and bad weather!

How has your experience been selling on Folksy and Redbubble? Any advice for new artists looking to start their own business?  

I joined Folksy in 2012 and was drawn to it as a British company that’s also not so enormous that I might feel like a tiny fish in a big sea. The Folksy team have been great with championing my work on social media and including pieces in their Folksy Favourites and Gift Guides. I was also delighted to be a Featured Maker last year.

To anyone starting the adventure of their own online shop, I’d encourage you to expect and embrace the learning curve. It’s likely that along the way you will adjust your prices, modify your packaging, better identify your market and allow your creations to evolve. However, your customers shouldn’t be guinea pigs for products that are still in a stage of trial and error.

Unless you already have a big network, it can take time to get noticed and achieve sales, so it’s important not to be discouraged. Folksy has a lively forum where you can chat with other makers and share your work and tips. This can be a good way to feel part of a community and to up your profile. I’m quite introverted and not a natural self-promoter or networker, so selling under the supportive umbrella of Folksy has been helpful.

I would also say that it can help to put your art-selling eggs in a few baskets (I’m planning to start adding works to my neglected Etsy shop soon). I often hear of makers who, for example, have low or no sales at an art fair and lose confidence in their work when there were likely to be many factors unrelated to what they were selling that might have been at play.

Creativity can come with the gift of a greater sensitivity, but this quality can mean that a resilience needs to be developed when stepping into a selling and marketing role. Honestly, I don’t feel I’ve mastered this resilience myself, but I like the words in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ that describe the lifeskill of being able to ‘meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.’ Praise and perceived success can be motivating, criticism and perceived failure can be discouraging. Both can be fleeting and subjective. So, it’s important to try to hold on to that deeper sense of what drives you to create, and to sustain that passion and journey with regular practice.

I started selling under Redbubble this year and I feel glad and grateful to have just reached 250 sales there. I appreciate having this space for my more diverse work from portraits of comedy heroes to the unicorn-esque ‘Magic Ladyhorse’. The latter, inspired by a gemstone-loving creature from Philippine folklore, is my bestseller and one of my works that’s been featured on Redbubble’s homepage. The featured works have led to many more sales and this has been a good lesson in the value of exposure.

With Folksy, I get the chance to package up original artwork, include little extras like a greetings card and write a personal thank you to my customer. I miss not having this with Redbubble, but I do value the ease of merchandise being produced and shipped by someone else. When I make a sale on Redbubble, the buyer remains anonymous so the process can feel quite impersonal. However, I still enjoy imagining the ‘Someone in Sweden’ wearing their Lord Magpie T-shirt or who the ‘Someone in the UK’ might be who bought the Party Igor greetings cards (and who, apparently, shares my love of the absurd!).

Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process that goes into your painted animal pieces?

My oval paintings on wood are usually inspired by a photo of an animal. I think we are all hardwired in anthropomorphism to a degree from children’s book characters, and particular photos inspire imaginings of names, personalities and outfits. I’m not a fan of real animals wearing unpractical, restrictive clothing, but I hope my paintings are fanciful enough not to be promoting this!

I use lasercut wood that I buy from a Welsh company called Daisymoon Designs, whose profits help support their own menagerie of rescued animals. I tend to draw designs straight on to tracing paper that I can then transfer to the wood to get the composition right first time. I also sometimes use Derwent Inktense pencils to broadly lay down colour first, especially if I want a painting to have stronger hues. I use acrylic paints, small brushes and a paper palette so I can tear off a fresh new sheet for each piece. Sometimes I’ll add extra detail in pencil and fine pen.

Painting the eyes first helps bring a character to life for me. I’m especially drawn to grumpy looking animals in party hats, but I have a tendency to involuntarily mimic the expressions of who I’m painting. My face needs timeout after particularly morose subjects!

Most of my animal characters have names – they seem to name themselves. Sometimes I imagine larger back stories as I’m working, especially for a piece that has more of a folklore feel. Whilst working on my painting ‘Home’ featuring a white stag holding a nest in his antlers, a short story emerged that then informed details of the image. The story can be found in my Instagram feed.

What are you currently listening to? 

I work in silence or listening to anything that feels like gentle, undemanding company. For me, BBC Radio 4 has this quality, as does Cerys Matthew’s weekly show on BBC Radio 6. I appreciate Cerys’ curious and celebratory delight for people, music and poetry and most of the music she plays (and often introduces me to) would be welcome on my own playlist. I also enjoy podcasts and a favourite is ‘The Mental Illness Happy Hour’ presented by comedian Paul Gilmartin. I’ve found this show full of insight, courageous disclosure and just the right amount of humour. What am I listening to right now? Squawking, squabbling seagulls roosting on the roof opposite. This is the soundtrack for most people in Brighton!

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Pastel Paradise: Interview with UK Illustrator & Designer Katherine Tromans

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It’s a glorious Tuesday morning and I’d love to introduce all of you to UK artist Katherine Tromans, who has done some truly amazing work! Check out the interview here as well as her portfolio website and her Facebook.


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Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you begin in the arts and what drew you to illustration?

I’ve always loved drawing, and was influenced from a young age by my mum who was an art teacher. So I’ve pretty much grown up being encouraged to draw. I achieved a BA in Illustration from AUB, Bournemouth four years ago and since then I’ve done a variety of gallery exhibits, commissions, and I work at an advertising agency as an Illustrator & Designer.
Illustration is a great area to work in, it’s so diverse. I really like seeing my work in print, as its nice to be acknowledged for something you are passionate about.
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Who have been some of your favorite clients and what have been some of your favorite projects with them?  
Recently I’d have to say the retailer SimplyBe – I worked on their social media campaign producing illustrations about ‘real women with real stories.’ They were quick turnarounds, and I was working fast maybe 5/6 hours to come up with something – I love a challenge!
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I also love working with bands, I really enjoyed working with the folk band Goodnight Lenin on their branding, they were great to work with and they were really happy with the outcome. But I also really love the personal commissions – portraits, wedding invitations and that sort of thing as its more personal.
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I’m absolutely in love with your “Paradise” pieces! Can you talk a little bit about the concept and inspiration behind these, as well as the process?  
Ah thank you! I’ve exhibited these pieces several times across London, but they’ve been getting increasingly popular as of late, and getting blogged a lot – which is nice to see! 🙂
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I explored the theme of paradise as I thought it would be an opportunity to create something beautiful. I asked a variety of different people to describe the physical representation of their paradise ie. the shape of the land, the features etc. and then I translated this into an otherworldly pastel landscape.
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Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?   
Yes I do! I visited Japan in April, and I’m going to start a painting series based on the places I visited; I documented Kyoto quite well for this reason. I met a wonderful photographer out there who gave me a print of Mt.Fuji – he captured a great pastel landscape of it at dusk, and it’s really inspiring me to start painting.
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Also, I know this is random, but if you could have a super power, what would it be? 
I think mine would definitely be travelling through time, as long as it didn’t have consequences (like messing up the future and all that…).
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 Recommended Reading

 

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, 2nd Edition

 



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Interview with Graphic Artist Jackie Hurd

Work by graphic artist Jackie Hurd

It is my pleasure to introduce graphic artist Jackie Hurd, creator of colorful pattern designs and vector art!

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?

I would draw for hours and hours as a kid, it was both my entertainment and my escape. But my true journey with art started when I joined the U.S. Air Force back in 2003. The job they gave me was graphic design! They sent me to their version of art school where I sat and painted in camouflage and left with a solid foundation in design and military bearing. After a 10 year journey with the military, I decided to go freelance and I’ve been a freelance designer since 2014, the bulk of my clients consist of craft breweries needing beer labels designed…. it’s kind of funny because I’m not really a beer drinker. A few years ago I decided to finish my degree and elected to finish it in Illustration instead of graphic design. While working through my course work, I discovered and fell in love with the world of surface pattern design.

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Where does your inspiration stem from? Do you ever use references for your work?

I am inspired by many things. I have a few kids, a cat, a dog, some chickens… they are always giving me ideas. Lately I’ve been really into landscaping my yard so these days I’m finding a lot of inspiration from being outside. Flowers, trees… And yes, I do use references for my work. Before I start a new pattern collection I make a mood board. I also do a lot of research to learn everything I can about the subject of my collection, I feel like that’s important.

Work by graphic artist Jackie Hurd

What does the process look like to create one of your pattern pieces?

The process of making a pattern for me starts with a page full of doodles, sometimes in pen, sometimes in marker or paint. Most of the time, once I get my work scanned in, I work solely in Adobe Illustrator to color in and create my patterns. I love working in vector! The best way to learn about my process is to check out my Skillshare class.

Work by graphic artist Jackie HurdWork by graphic artist Jacki Hurd

How has selling been going on Redbubble? Do you have any advice for artists interested in showcasing/selling their work on there?

Selling on Redbubble has been such a great experience. I’ve still got plenty of beer projects to do, my own art projects now take up the bulk of my work day. I am finally at a point where I am making an income selling my work. I can actually pay a bill or two every month with my Redbubble earnings! My advice for artists selling or wishing to start selling on Redbubble is that it’s not a competition. Redbubble and success as an artist in general works best when you immerse yourself in the creative community. Get to know the other artists, comment on their work. If your work is good and you’re active on the platform, you’ll have a better chance at getting noticed and making sales.

Work by graphic artist Jackie Hurd

Have you worked on or will you be working on any new and exciting projects?

I am actually working on a very exciting project right now with a fellow surface pattern designer who lives in the U.K. I can’t say much about it at the moment but we’ll be making an announcement in August so more to follow on that 🙂

Work by graphic artist Jackie Hurd

What are some of your artistic and business goals for the near future?

I would love to land a licensing contract and see my work on some boutique shelves! My other goal is to get more classes up on Skillshare, I absolutely love teaching and sharing my approach to design.

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Follow Jackie on Instagram 

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Recommended Reading 

Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines 

Vector Basic Training: A Systematic Creative Process for Building Precision Vector Artwork (2nd Edition) 

Color and Pattern: 50 Playful Exercises for Exploring Pattern Design

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Artists’ Books on Etsy

For those of you who may not know what an artist book is, be my guest in explaining them! Each one is unique, sometimes made in editions like prints, sometimes “printed” by a press, other times not, cataloged in the library like books with a call number, often displayed in museums as art objects behind glass – each one may look, feel, or even sound different from the next (queue Keith Smith’s string book).

A few brave and creative souls have started selling their artists’ books on Etsy. I found these recently and thought I’d share!

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Butterflies from TheMuseumShelves

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Night from SignOfTheLadybug

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Nachtmahr Box from buechertiger

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Miniature Black Artist Book from PegandAwl

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Book of Nonexistent Animals from HandmadeBook

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An Interview With Writer and Illustrator Kevin King

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Can you give me a short background of yourself? 

I don’t want to make myself out to be a special of any sort, but as far as I know, I am the only baby to have been delivered by a Pekin duck at the OB/GYN. It’s a rather remarkable story, considering hospital policies preventing animals from being in hospitals. But this duck was very career minded and a real go-getter.

I distinctly remember my first thought when I was born- “I’m not getting a job.” And I decided at that moment to become an illustrator. But becoming an illustrator right off the bat is not without obstacles; mainly the drooling and the diaper thing for the first few years. I have since overcome the drooling- it’s a problem that can easily be licked.

My childhood was quite unremarkable- I invented the color “Sleem”, which is mostly beige with cat hair. I wore plaid pants and shirts throughout the entire 5thGrade, (and was not beat up). In art class I spilled paint down the back of the pants of a fat girl with a yellow tooth, (and got beat up). And as that I am on the subject of art classes, I was quite fortunate to have a mother that was an extraordinarily talented artist. What she could not teach me, she provided private tutors, Art professors, to school me in the classical arts. Some music virtuosos are sitting at the piano bench at five tinkling out Chopin on the ivories, I was sketching still lifes of bowls of fruit. And by Providence and the talent I honed, I became an editorial cartoonist for a local newspaper when I was fourteen. This opportunity defined and shaped my future.

The next many, many years I did nothing but dedicate myself to dutifully cartooning and illustrating for panoplies of newspapers and advertising agencies. (Of course, I had bathroom breaks during that time.) One of the most important skills you learn in the newspaper and ad agency business is- meeting deadlines! Another, and if not more important skill you learn as a cartoonist is to be able to tell a joke, impart a political comment or tell a story in a single panel that can be understood by the 100,000 or more people a day who will see it.

Eventually, I became rather worn out from the industry and went on a long sabbatical. Somehow, through an odd chance meeting, I found myself in a very niche field of creating art to be sandblasted on glass that was installed in mega-yachts. After some time I grew tired, or bored of that, and decided to begin illustrating- for me; which is where I am at nowadays.

How would you describe your artwork? 

I see myself as an illustrator. And as an illustrator, I tell stories. To describe what I produce is probably best defined as a perfectionist exercise in line and negative space with bits of watercolour.

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Your work is so fantastical and full of narrative, every single piece I look at makes me want to know the story behind it. Where do your ideas and inspirations come from?  

Hypnagogia is certainly the wellspring of many of the images and characters, I am overwhelmed, deluged I reckon, with imageries and creatures that seek to be birthed by my pen the next morning. Many of the ideas are born through doodling. And as they emerge onto the parchment I begin to know their disposition and story and I am deeply compelled to tell their history. No doubt I too was deeply influenced from rich the illustrations and engravings from the scores of old children’s books I profusely read as a youth.

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Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators or artists? 

My advice is very simple- stay away from puerile social commentary. I see so many young artists, (and too many older artists), that want to give an opinion on the “World Condition”. The only condition you should have any concern about is hair conditioner. Avoid drawing celebrities…there is only so many ways you can illustrate Marilyn Monroe or P-Diddy. And somebody has already drawn them better than you. But first, you must really know what it is you want to do with your art…your purpose behind the pen or paintbrush.

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Are you working on any upcoming projects?

I am working on a manuscript, a children’s fairy tale of sorts, which I am in long process of writing and illustrating. It has taken me a while to remember…but my “purpose behind the pen and paintbrush” is to write and illustrate my own works.

You can find Kevin hanging out at his Facebook page and his BlueCanvas portfolio.

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