Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Beginning of a New Year. Beginning of a new adventure. 
A tale of career choices. A vet? An Illustrator? and Snowy the hamster....

Since I was a child I have dream't of being a children's book illustrator; well,....that ....and a vet. I spent most of my childhood drawing in my bedroom or painting at the dining room table or making sculptures out of sticks or what ever I could find in the garden. 

I was also lucky enough to have a very tolerant mother, who allowed our house to be taken over by a menagerie of animals ....two dogs, 3 cats, two tortoises, six fish, 3 syrian hamsters, 16 Russian hamsters - 14 of those fall into the miraculous birth category (initially we had two and  the man at the pet shop swore they were both females!!), two spiny stick insects, lots of fish, and a rat. As you can see,  art and animals made up a large percentage of my childhood. It was small wonder then, that they became my dream careers. Sadly, the vet dream never materialised - I chose my subjects at school from the heart  and although I loved all my pets dearly, the truth is, my heart was always much closer to the arts than the sciences. 

At the tender age of eight however, the vet dream was at it's strongest - my pet hamster "Snowy" was on his last legs and I  wanted to make a difference to all the eight year old girls who were about to lose their hamsters!! I remember confiding my future career plans to my mother. She did not hold my enthusiasm and was quick to throw a bucket of reality over my dreams of being the new Joy Adamson (only for hamsters and not lions).  "You'd never make a vet Denise!" she remarked in her Northern lilt "Your too soft! You'd never be able to put anything down!" 

And, of course she was right and I knew it. I still wonder if it could have been - but I think the welfare of hamsters belonging to eight year old girls is probably in safer hands without my veterinary skills.

So, why have I shared that with you? Well just to give you some idea about where this compulsion to draw comes from. 

At the moment I am trying to get a portfolio of work together which I think is good enough/original enough to show a children's book publisher. It's something I've wanted to do for....well...... - let's just say - too long! I am trying to find my style of drawing so that I can get work illustrating children's fiction. That's the plan anyway. With this in mind,  I am filling sketchbook after sketchbook with my scribbles. Fast gestural drawings, based on a character I invent in my head. Finding your style, it's an inherently difficult thing to do. I think I've spent many years trying to cultivate it - to no avail. It has recently occurred to me that I am trying too hard to capture this ever elusive style. Turns out, what I should have been doing is just drawing, and drawing and not thinking too hard. Analysing is paralysing.

I find the best way to do this is to draw a mindmap about them - giving me some background on the character. Then I set to work and draw...and draw and draw. I don't want a finished article - just a gesture or movement to store and use at a later date in something more finished. I draw with mad flourishes, pen rushing across the paper... Loosely, quickly, keeping that mindmap to hand. 

A year ago I would have been embarrassed to show you these sketches. I have found new confidence in sharing work recently after taking Stephanie Levy's course Creative Courage. I liked it so much I've signed up again! But I see now that even though the sketches are roughs its all art in process. So I'm taking a big leap and putting some on here for you to see.   I think it's getting me somewhere, although there's a long way to go before this  transforms into a  portfolio  - but for now the hamsters are safe!


  1. Yeah Denise! Good for you for having the courage to share your sketches. I've enjoyed reading about your career dream and what you're doing to help you get there, and it's been fun to peek into your sketchbook. Looking forward to seeing more of your sketches. :)

  2. Great sketches! Thanks for sharing! They immediately made think of Quentin Blake! I find it a compliment, but would a publisher say that you have to be more precise on your own style? Courage, everything will come out beautifully at the end!

  3. Yes, I think your probably right Mary. I'm hoping it will develop. I have produced a final piece of work today and although it is still reminiscent of Q.B. I think it is pointing me in the right direction. Only time and lots of drawing will tell.x

  4. It's the one with the little girl and wine that I love x

  5. Great sketches - so expressive! Thanks for sharing :)

  6. Your 'scribbles' are wonderful Denise! They have so much character and humour and look terrifically well done to me. Good luck with the book illustration!

  7. Denise, you're awesome!! I love these sketches, I love your courage to share them (I know that little voice, although there is nothing not share-worthy here!), and I love how you got to the point where drawing, drawing, drawing is the answer :) It's THE best answer to almost anything - I just came to a similar conclusion myself today ;)

    Analysing is paralysing - oh yes, amen to that! This post makes me very very happy, and I can't even tell you exactly why :) Go on, keep rocking it - then draw it all :D That's SO the way to get somewhere - anywhere! xx

  8. What fun illustrations! I love the humor and lively lines that give them life. Thank you for showing them here.