Saturday 18 January 2014

The 12 Books Of Christmas - Part 3 (The Last Stand!)

Happy Friday!

WOW! - Another week gone...some grotty stuff, some annoying stuff AND some good stuff, so the month's balancing out so far! Now THAT'S a relief!

Very shortly, I'm going to share the last few pages of that Christmas book, but first I'd like to share some thoughts on doing commission work and I'd love to hear your experiences and opinions if you can spare the time.   Over the years - despite being wedged firmly into tedious jobs with LITTLE joy - I have found some small time for art. When people find out that ya draw, they tend to ask ya for pictures ...mostly as favours, and because with me, like with most arty people, confidence doesn't seem to come naturally, I'd do stuff free of charge, thereby avoiding any potential upset from my 'customer'. Let's face it, once cash is involved people tend to get picky and things can get awkward, and when you're not TRYING to be a self-supporting artist, that hassle's better avoided. That being said....there are people wandering through their lives now with my work tattooed somewhere about their bodies! There are cartoons and the occasional pet portrait floating round on walls here and there..... and it brings a [nervous] sense of acievement and, yeah, maybe some pride to know that people like my work enough to have it in their lives. But I've never charged a fee for a private commission.

I've had friends in the art world tell me horror tales of private commissions that never end...the picky client with a million things they want to add or alter for no extra charge. It puts me off completely. But then there are bills to pay.... and a commission opportunity comes up - and the person asking is THE most lovely person possible......  What then? I've been asked to produce a piece of work that is NOTHING like I'd normally do. I would LOVE to be able to help, but the more I look at the plan, the more I know it's so alien to me that I will have to decline. And that sucks. Massively. I've gone through page after page of a sketchbook this week and the more I work, the worse I feel about the project. I know I'm the wrong artist for this commission and I'm going to have to tell a beautiful human being that I can't help. Sucks.

The thing is - I'm not the kind of person to take a deal or a job "just because". That seems dishonest, saying I can do a thing when it's blatantly transparent that it's so far out of my remit that it's a kind of Bizarro world kind of job - my polar opposite, as it were. A challenge, I relish...but this is not for me. I'll give it a few more days in case something 'clicks' never know....  I'd HAPPILY look at a brief that fits my skill set - and I need the work, so I hope some of them are round the corner.

How do YOU feel about private commissions, as opposed to the professional publisher-type gig or the gallery/shop sale? Do you look forward to them, or dread them?  Do you have criteria for accepting or declining a job? Have you ever gone ahead with one against your better judgement - if you did, what happened? I'd love to know.

Ok. That was my dilemma of the week. Kind of. Now to some colourful piccies! We were up to......

Page 9: A Fairy Went A Marketing by Rose Fyleman

"A Fairy went a-marketing, she bought a little fish;
She put it in a crystal bowl upon a silver dish.
An hour she sat in wonderment and watched its silver gleam,
And then she gently took it up and slipped it in a stream."


This is a very special little poem as my grandma used to sing it to me almost every night that I slept at her house when I was a little girl. As I got older she used to add some little mimes and arm-dance actions to make me laugh, and it was charming - truly charming - to hear her sing it when she was very elderly, still with the silly mimes and the a cheeky "Tra-LA, tra-LA, tra-la tra-la tra-la...POM!" at the end of every verse. I can hear her singing it RIGHT NOW and it makes me smile to think of her, rather than feeling sad at missing her.

I used Derwent watercolour pencils, almost exclusively. The colours do exactly what I ask of them, which makes them a joy to use. 

I used fine line and gel pens to add detail, and Winsor & Newton gold ink WHICH, when added over a pewter coloured gilding wax and super-heated with a heat gun, makes a really deep silver/gold reflective finish... who knew? *happy face*

The die-cutting worked really well on this page. At this point I was very happy that I'd chosen to go ahead with that as an idea. I look at all pages with an eagerness to hack at them with a scalpel now!! Mooowahahaha!

Page 10: The Whale by Erasmus Darwin
..lin fact... Whales. In General. Go with me here...

I love whales.... Don't you? They're incredible creatures and I've been FASCINATED with them all my life. This page is kind of representative of whales in every genre - poetry, literature, art, movies, err.... the all-whale production of 'Cats' ...something  else.....

It started with Monstro the whale in Disney's incredible animated adaptation of 'Pinocchio', who I thought was AWESOME! When I grew a little older, I read Moby Dick and that was pretty awesome as well. I then learned about the complexity of whales - you know, ACTUAL ones, not the RAARRGH ones from movies and books... Discovering that they are so intelligent, gentle and graceful just blew my mind. Then they were in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. That sealed the deal... I love whales!

I used the blend of watercolour pencils and Neocolor II soluble wax pastels, and added smooshly lovely gold ink while the paper was nice and wet, heat drying it to achieve a flowing, blended look to the water, and a more blotchy look to the whale. Once dried, I sprayed it with the Chestnut satin acrylic lacquer, then used a black gel pen on top so that the ink would stay wet enough to splodge about, which worked well I think. I like the contrast of the orangey-gold of the fish - they have a shimmer from adding Tattered Angels 'Orange Crush' Glaze, but you can't really tell in the scan...pfff..

Oh - and I had fun with the white gel pen, and the scalpel again ....heh heh heh....

Page 11: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Yes, ALL of them. This is an incredible series of books. Of course, academics will tear them apart, word by word, sentence by sentence, and try to cover up the sense of magic and beauty with the frankly BLATANTLY obvious layers of spirituality and social commentary (evident to even the dummest of thickies), yet still, it's that magic and spellbinding narrative of Narnia that captivates children with each new generation. It's a beautiful escape and it STAYS with the reader, even after the trauma of 'The Last Battle'.  Narnia and Aslan will forever be in my heart and I care not who titters or sneers - I'm richer for reading these books, for loving the characters, for closing my eyes even now and seeing the rolling green hills of Narnia and the shining spires of Cair Paravel.

This page took me the longest to do.... I imagined all my favourite scenes from all the books, but when all is said and done, it HAD to be Aslan. Again - you can't really tell from the scans, but I added gold to his eyes so that they'd catch the light, which they do in the original page.

Like most of the previous pages, I used a combination of the Derwent pencils and the Neocolor IIs, but I added them in several layers. Both can still be reactivated if you re-wet them after drying, but combining them slightly retards the process, allowing for greater freedom and opportunity for manipulation. I used Uni Pin fine liners (0.3, 0.1) to add detail, and white gel pens for highlights.

The beauty of this technique, combined with the (hoo-hoo-haaaaa-haaa!) scalpel-frenzy die-cutting is that it's not essential to add every last hair to achieve the look of a mane. I do appreciate hyper-realism as an art-form as the attention to detail is immense and impressive, but I PREFER a more illustrative approach.

Page 12: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

This is a beautiful story about a little velveteen rabbit who longs to be real. It's a classic for good reason - an incredibly gentle, poignant and moving little book which should be read by everyone! Because I want you to enjoy the wonder of this book, here's a digital copy for you - just click the image right below .....

Did you click it? Why not? Go and click it and read it right now - it won't take you long and your life will be better for it! Go on!
I'm assuming you've done that then? *sniffle*....another weepie! Oh I cry every time, but I love this book so much. It's responsible for everything I own having a name, though, including my computer, my printer, pots, pans, heater and even shoes! Dammit.

I used the Neocolor II soluble pastels quite copiously on this page because I wanted the colours to be vivid. I chose this as the last page because the story begins on Christmas Day.... and that's when my book was being given to mum! AHA! Also - and I only remembered this after I'd finished the page, because I'm an idiot - I did four illustrations for this book as part of my A level art exam when I was 18. Weird huh? I also went MENTAL with the Winsor & Newton gold ink again! Shiiiiiny!!!

In order to just add another layer to this page, and finish the book, I painted one last page -

*  *  *

That's it then! That's the last of the book. I really hope you've enjoyed that. If you have any questions please just ask - I'm happy to help and look forward to your comments. I'm going to look forward to Sunday, when I've planned in a couple of hours to drink my coffee and look through your wonderful, gorgeous and inspiring blogs, which I've not had time to do at all this week. I can't wait to see the amazing work you've produced so far this year! Sending love and hugs out to the Universe and you too. See you soon - Shroo :) xxx


  1. Hello Rachel:) I just love your latest pages. Especially the lovely fairy and the whale. Wow. Whales are gorgeous creatures. Have you seen the movie "Whalerider"?. It takes Place in New Zealand. Amazing film one of my favorites.. Strombo is one of the greatest animatiion whales ever. About the comissions. My firm belief is that no-one should give their works away for free. You've learned to paint and draw and use colors. You are good at what you do and if someone likes YOUR painting and drawing style they shouldn't mind paying for it. For example I have one comission Im working right now. Customer knows I paint fairies. She has seen my cards and portfolio and she likes my painting style. So no problemo. I'll paint her a fairy and she pays me and is happy owner of the painting. Of course there are some people who might not be "ideal customers" but yet again those kinds of people you find everywhere else outside artworld also. I don't think you should give up on comissions. You are very talented and you've worked hard to develope your own way of working. I think it's important that the customer knows what kind of artist you are. You can send them a link to your blog or show your works and if they like your style and all goes well you get payment and customer gets a lovely artwork. Customer will share the word and soon you might have another customer. You yourself know your limits so if the comission feels something that you're not cabable to do you can always say no. I think in comissions most important thing is to have open communication with the customer. I hope this was helpful for you. -Niina

    1. FIrstly - thank you SO SO MUCH, Niina, for taking the time to give your valuable advice. It really is the most useful thing in the world to have feedback from experienced artists such as yourself. Secondly - thank you HUGELY for your support. I am still pretty new to the world of SELLING my artwork, and I know that means I'm not very confident. I'm still AMAZED that anyone would want it! It's easier to just complete a piece and list in on ebay or hang it in a gallery - I think there's a lot more pressure with commissions.... It's hard enough sometimes to figure out what my OWN head wants to do, let alone climb into someone else's and divine what they want.

      Thank you for your help with this - from me and also from anyone who reads this and finds it useful too. You're a complete star! Hugs from Shroo :) x

    I love love love this lion!

    1. Thank you ! I'm really glad you like him - I do too! Hugs - Shroo:) x

  3. The Velveteen Rabbit <3 One of my favourite childhood stories. Love your artwork, I think the lion is my favourite.

    1. It's SUCH a gorgeous story. I love it just as much now as I did when I was a kid - and still weep buckets at the end...every time! Thank you so much for your support - it's greatly appreciated! Hugs from Shroo:)x

  4. Your work is just out-of-this-world beautiful! I grew up with the stories of CS Lewis, and with the velveteen rabbit, and love them to this day, still have all the books, and from CS Lewis Videos of the films . Those books are not childish, they are just wonderful, and who cares what all those snooty critics say? Great work, great inspiration! Aslan and the wardrobe and the magic of Narnia are still real for me - 'Once a Narnia, always a Narnian! Hugs, Valerie

    1. OH yes - I figure I'll get to Narnia and Aslan's Country one day! Have a sword fight with Reepicheep and bury my face in Aslan's mane! Thank you so much for your kind words - it means a lot - and I'm really glad you liked my illustrations. Big hugs from Shroo:)x

  5. When I was a teacher of elementary school students, I developed a love, indeed a passion for children's books. I collected them with enthusiasm. Since I'm no longer teaching, I've begun giving many of them away. But enough about me. Your art is so breathtakingly beautiful that I envision it being published. I hope you are submitting it to publishers. You are so talented! I always loved sharing beautiful art through children's literature. I would love to see millions of children fall in love with your work. The only thing stopping them is that they don't get to see it.

    1. So many children's books are underrated... People go on about Harry Potter like no other children's literature has ever existed, which annoys me massively as there's WAY more original and wonderful stuff available. Illustration is such a key part of enjoying those books, and when I was a kid, my mum chose books carefully for their beauty as well as their stories, and we spent as much time discussing the pictures as we did reading the tales!

      If I could give some of that back through illustration I would be on cloud nine - permanently! You're right that I should kick myself up the arse to get work out there... I'll start with the 'Grow Your Blog' hop ( and go from there!

      Thank you for being epic. You're amazing! Sending hugs - Shroo:)x

  6. The Velveteen Rabbit is literally sitting in my fruit bowl (don't ask) as I type! Trying to wean my 6yr old off of Charlie & Lola long enough for me to read it to her. Nothing against Charlie & Lola. I love Charlie & Lola . But she is a Charlie & Lola addict and she NEEDS to go cold turkey man! I need to read some of these awesome kids books that I have saved in my secret Amazon wishlist that I want to drool over the pictures of and that I wont look so sad if I say I bought them to read to her (but obvs they have to live on MY bookshelf!)

    Anyway. Just so you know. I officially have quite a big art crush on you now. Just saying.

    Also - the commission thing? The ONLY experience I have had of selling is two things to the same person who has become a friend through my blog. Where I am still quite unsure of myself I felt bad about charging her (Craig said once might have been a pity/friendship buy but not twice. I try to believe that but...) Anyhoo - since then I haven't liked to charge her because even since then I feel I've improved so now feel bad that I charged her then if that makes sense? I would love to sell more because frankly, I can't afford the materials otherwise unless I hint DEEPLY to family for art shop vouchers or materials at Christmas.

    I have been contacted to do a commission that I just had no clue how to even start - it was involving a graffiti style/spray paints that I DO want to try but haven't yet... all I can suggest is what I did and to just explain that you don't think you could do it justice and maybe put the person in contact with someone you think could.

    1. How could there possibly be a BETTER place to keep your books than in a fruit bowl? Perfectly acceptable. Not to diss Charlie & Lola - but The Velveteen Rabbit whups proverbial ass there! You are right to start the weaning! although I foresee some kind of weird mash-up there if you're not careful...!

      Re selling IS a freaky thing. Like I said earlier in reply to Niina's comment, it's hard enough to price stuff for Etsy.... commissions are a nightmare! I think part of my dilemma on this occasion is that the person who's asked me hasn't really understood what it is that I do.... I like to draw (to sound pretentious for a bijou moment) with an organic flow that's often out of my control - the imps that inhabit my hands just take over and DO stuff! When asked to draw machinery and stuff... It's not that I CAN'T do it as such, it's that it makes me want to eat my own face and I almost break out in hives at the idea of drawing stuff that's so..... FIXED. Pfff..... If only everything was easy! Ah but then I'd be bored! Can't win!

      I've pretty much decided to turn the job down. I don't think I'm the right bod for the job at all....but I tell ya, it's good to have feedback on the subject. Can't tell you how grateful I am to you and everyone who's taken the time to help. I am UBER grateful!

      Apologies again for the hassle with blogger contact - I'll try and figure out how to fix it, but in the meantime if you want to email me direct you can send to ok? Have fun in the awesome shedio!! Big hugs from Shroo:)x

  7. P.s What Lou Anne Hazel up there said. Yes. YES! I would buy your book!