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The commission that changed everything

My work now is bright and positive, it is optimistic, it’s cooooolourful. It makes me happy. I’m creating what I want to create, what brings me joy, and I answer to no one. But I have not always felt or created in this way.

At the beginning of last year I was in a real rut with my biz and my artwork. I have always been a dabbler in styles and materials and I worried my work was too disparate and didn’t make sense all together. I felt that the only way my biz would become successful is if I focused on just one aspect of it, one type of artwork, this would attract customers and I would be ‘successful’. I chose to focus on what sold the best of my work at that time, sea creatures, and announced the change in February. It felt great. Until this commission came along. This is the actual piece of work that saw me ditch the watercolours for the stylus, and fork off people’s expectations, as well as my own.

Jen from The Crafty Traveller and I met through the Indie Roller Facebook group, where she was looking for an illustrator to help her bring her vision of a brightly illustrated children’s map to reality. I submitted my work and was pleasantly stunned to be chosen. I was thrilled and also TERRIFIED as I always am when creating work for someone else. We were also both on mat leave with our first babs, so between working out the details of this piece there was a lot of chat about breastfeeding and sleeping habits!

I created watercolour textures for the land and sea, which were then jigsaw puzzles together in photoshop. Alongside this I was taking part in the 100 Day project on Instagram (the same one that the year before had been pivotal in helping me create my 100 Things print) and I had chosen to illustrate 100 whales and their calves. 100 WHALES. I’m not even sure I could find 100 different species of whales but it didn’t matter, because I got SO into working on the map that I just wasn’t interested in whales. And as I was getting some BAD comparisonitis because

the accounts I followed that were doing similar work to me, looked the same. Because there are only so many ways you can draw an orca whale from the same stock photos on google everyone else is using. 

Initially it was my intention to do all of the map illustration by hand, using inks and watercolour. But when it came to adding animals and text I just couldn’t get it to work. It looked so laboured. I also wasn’t getting the time to paint like I used to, looking after a 6 month old, and I was finding the stress of having to get it right first time really overwhelming. Instead, I started playing with digital drawing to create the little animals and something just clicked. I found myself completely abandoning my whale project, and just working on the map because I was having FUN. I taught myself how to use procreate, and way upped my photoshop game.

The finished map is a combo of my old style and new, and I think is just a perfect representation and a record of this turning point in my creativity and methods. The more I played with procreate the more liberated I felt. The more fun I had. The more possibilities I saw.

Digital artwork has freed me creatively. When I’d sit down with a blank sheet, all my paints and brushes laid out, it felt I had to make Art, whereas with my iPad and Apple Pencil it’s just like whatevs, and I have FUN. And that’s magical. This map was a joyous and uplifting thing to make (as well as a proper meaty challenge) and the feeling of liberation, curiosity and uncertainty is still there, every time I sit down to digitally doodle and has meant that I’ve rarely felt the need to pick up a brush, although I do enjoy a proper sketchbook sesh when I get the chance.

I’m so proud of this piece of work, and I’m just chuffed to bits that I could work with another small biz on something so special.