Friday, 30 March 2012

Creative Greenhouse Exhibition

I just wanted to share this poster for an exhibition I'm taking part in as part of Creative Greenhouse. It opens on Sunday 1st April at Rufford Country Park, Nottinghamshire, which is gorgeous to explore, walk the dog, get a coffee and admire the sculptures. If you're in the area why not call in and see if there is anything that you like??

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Be more productive - part one

I'm like a human sponge at the moment... I've been listening to lots of inspiring business podcasts recently in my spare time. Well I say spare time, I should rephrase that as 'time when I can't really do anything else' like whilst driving to work on a morning. I've been really inspired and I've picked up loads of tips and I wanted to share some of the really useful ones with you.

I'm always looking for ways to be more productive as I only have limited time each week to spend on my business, due to other commitments such as my other job. So having two days a week plus some evenings I always want to use the time I do have to be as productive as possible.

Once you start thinking about it there are lots of easy, clever ways you can save time and become more productive so I'm going to share one of these with you every week for the next few, or until I run out of things to say!! And I'll only share the things that have worked for me so far in my business so you will know they are 'tried and tested'!

Number one on my list, and something that I find always helps me, is to plan my workload for the next day. If you know me at all, you will know that I like my lists (possibly to the point of obsession, this makes me sound a bit of a control freak, but I'm not, honestly, I AM quite normal!!) My pre-written plan gives me a lot more focus and direction and I find that starting the day with a clear idea of what needs to be achieved is so helpful to me. There have been countless times in the past when I haven't done this and I would go up to the studio, cup of tea in hand, thinking of the day stretching ahead of me and all I could achieve, only to sit down at my desk with not an idea of what I was going to do. I would then spend the rest of the morning procrastinating, starting the get frustrated at my lack of action, which would then end up with me accomplishing nothing! Does this sound familiar?

Your plan could be made in several ways, and there a few things you might want to take into account as you don't want it to become a never ending list that you will never complete, trust me, this can be really demoralising. You need to be realistic and also recognise that sometimes things do take a lot longer than we think they will!

You could make your day plan task orientated, so very much split into things you need to do (go to the post office, bank, print an order, finish a painting etc) or you could split your plan into chunks of time you will spend on 'project work'. This would mean instead of having one long list that you may not even get halfway down you could plan your morning to spend x time on Project A and after that spend allocated time on Project B. If you then break down each project into smaller tasks this makes them seem so much more manageable. You just have to find what's right for you and stick with that.

I know a very lovely lady who works as a Graphic Designer and she has a fantastic system in place where she plans her whole week out in this way. She say that it keeps her focussed and in control of her time. I also know someone else who has planned out a lot of her coming year. I can't say that this is something I would want to try but maybe it could work for me.

Whats' the age old saying... 'Fail to plan, plan to fail'... definitely true and if you plan your time well you will be left over with much needed down time, to spend however you so desire, friends, family, on your own, reading, walking, cooking or just being spontaneous.

I'd love to hear from you and the things you do to make your days more productive and I'm always opne to new usggestions and ideas for ways to be more productive myself. Do you plan ahead or do you do what you feel like at the time?

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Featuring - Ankita Kejariwal from TexturedNK

Ok, I know I am sooo predictable in the things I like, but kitchen and food themes always resonate with me. I don't know why, maybe it's because I like to spend so much time in the kitchen, cooking, eating, listening to the radio... So this week we are featuring the delightful work of Ankita Kejariwal from TexturedNK from Philadelphia, USA. Ankita is a graphic designer by profession, and also, like me, a self-taught illustrator. She says 'I just love the organic, uneven textures of everyday things.....trees, plants, wood, grass, water, brushes, hands, you name it. I love to capture their essence in my work.' It's her kitchen range that does it for me though, although the other work in her shop is equally as lovely.

I just love this colour combo, but if you prefer other colour schemes, then you can choose from lots of others, what a great idea....

As well as the extensive range of prints offered by Ankita, she also personalises some of her work, such as this print above, which I think just makes a really different and unique gift for couples who love to cook. If you would like to see more the work on offer from TexturedNK please feel free to click on this link and it will take you straight to the Etsy Shop.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

collection of holiday sketches - a little peek into my sketchbook

My recent trip to Devon to stay on a small-holding a couple of miles from the coast gave me the chance to be able to leave all of my business 'stuff' at home and just to chill out and enjoy a week off. It took me as couple of days to wind down as I'd had so much to think about with all of the BCTF preparation (watch this space for details coming soon). It was a welcome break and I found a lot of inspiration. I just wanted to share my favourite sketchbook pages from the trip. I'm planning to introduce a range of coastal inspired work as smaller prints which would look great together as a set. I'll post later in the week about my developments and progress...

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sketchbook Peeks - Madeline Norris

Before we start, tell us a little about yourself/how did you get into art/craft/design career and how it all started and where you are now

Hi, I'm Madeline Norris also known as "meeni". I have drawn, painted and made things just about forever. I remember that when I was about six I did a painting and wrote on it "Madeline Norris, artist", very presumptuous! When I was a bit older I helped to organise a bazaar for which I hand made a whole host of items including little felt mice and pin cushions. I also have a love of dance and music as well as visual art and have always found it hard to choose just one art form so have studied all three. However, it is not until more recently that I have found the confidence to pursue my passion for making and creating with a view to making a living from it. I worked in arts education for a number of years and about six years ago went freelance. It was a lull in this freelance work that gave me the impetus to spend more time making and develop "meeni". This April I will exhibiting at the British Craft Trade Fair for the first time - I'm both excited and nervous about this!

How long have you been using sketchbooks?
I started using sketchbooks when I studied for a BTEC in art and design. Why and when I use them has changed and developed over time. Sometimes I use a single sketchbook to explore a particular subject. More recently I have used sketchbooks to log ideas.

How often do you sketch?
Not as much as I would like to, that's one of the reasons I did the "Sketchbook Project"(, this project gave me the opportunity to draw/sketch just for the sake of it. It's my intention to keep up this habit as it proved to be a rich source of new ideas and starting points.

How do you feel about the prospect of starting a new sketchbook?
Quite excited, particularly doing the "Sketchbook Project" and being part of something so big. There is something very special about a new book and all the possibilities it holds.

When/where do you get your inspiration for your sketchbook pages?
This depends, I now tend to use a sketchbook as a log. I have lots of ideas for projects and things I would like to make and if I think I might forget an idea I log and explore it it in my sketchbook. In the past I used to have themed sketchbooks where I would explore a particular subject. For "The Sketchbook Project" you had a choice of themes and I chose the "The Companion Book". I felt that this was quite broad theme that I could interpret in my own way. The book became quite seasonal moving from the Autumn through to Valentine's.

How would you describe your creative process?
Quite busy and layered. I am usually working on several projects at the same time and these will sometimes influence each other.

Have your sketchbooks evolved over the years and if so, how?
They have definitely changed. I used to do more work in a sketch book and produce a few finished pieces. It is the other way round now, I use a sketch book less and produce more finished pieces.

What is your favourite medium to work with? Oh so hard to choose! I explored different mediums in "The Sketchbook Project" including pencil, pen and watercolour. One of the things I liked about "The Sketchbook Project" was the chance it gave me to draw and sketch with pencil, something I rarely do now but want to continue with.

Do you have a favourite sketchbook?
Not really, they all have such different meanings and uses. I did really enjoy "The Sketchbook Project" so this book has significance at the moment. I don't physically have the book any more it is now in the Brooklyn Art Library ( I might get to see it again when it comes to the UK as part of the project tour.

If you had to pick one favourite page which would it be and why?
Again very hard to choose. Perhaps the page in my "Companion Book" where I have explored the text "Quickly my heart beats when I see you". My 7 year old daughter wrote that to me in a letter she gave me. I really want to make a piece, or even several pieces using that text and I suppose it sums up the inspiration and support I get from my family.

Well, I'd just like to say thank you to Maeline for showing us her sketchbooks. If you want to see more of Madeline's work then why not check out her website here

Thursday, 22 March 2012

How I increased my blog readership

Ok, I just wanted to share with you my blog stats and the amazing increase I've seen over the past 3 months. There are 100s of blog posts out there telling you how you can increase your blog traffic but the posts I find most helpful and inspiring are the ones written 'by people' 'for people', with a personal slant. Again, as with other blog posts I have written I don't claim to be an expert, all I am attempting to do is pass on my personal experience and share how I have done things and how it has worked for me.

As you can see from the screen shot above I was quite happily pootling along this time last year with about 300-ish blog views a month. I was enjoying blogging but I didn't really have any strategy in place for my blog, I was just sharing what I was up to at the time, using my blog as an online 'diary' telling my readers what I was doing and how things were going with my work. Having listened to a lot of podcasts and reading up on how to increase blog readership over the past six months or so I came to the conclusion that I wanted to give my blog a broader appeal, make it more interesting and not just about 'me-me-me'! Looking back I was even starting to bore myself, so goodness knows what my readers thought!!

So what have I done to gain a 400% increase in my daily/monthly blog views? Well, here are a few tips that I have found to have really worked for me (or it may just be coincidence!), and that you may find useful and be able to easily implement yourself:

Planning ahead: I have started to plan my blog posts ahead of time. I have been dedicating about an hour or so every week to write some blog posts and scheduling them to be posted on certain days of the week. About three to four posts per week seems to be working for me, I think any more and I would soon run out of things to say or risk repeating myself!! Everyone is different, some may not have the time to invest due to other commitments/reasons and if you only blog once a week that's fine, if people enjoy reading they will know to look out for your posts and will keep coming back for more.

Themes: I've made a conscious effort to blog in 'categories' or 'themes', I have been featuring several very talented artists and designers every week peeking into their sketchbooks and also have been scouring Etsy for work I like for a weekly 'featuring' slot. I always email to ask if people mind being featured as I think this is only polite. Everyone I have approached so far has been happy to be included in the blog and they have also let all of their contacts know about features and interviews too, which drives more traffic to your blog. BTW, if anyone would like to take part in sketchbook peeks please get in touch, I'm always on the lookout for creatives to interview. I am also sharing my preparation for an upcoming Trade Fair and the obstacles and challenges I'm facing and how I'm tackling them.

Social Media: I have also been a LOT more active on Twitter and as well as gaining lots more twitter followers, I have also been tweeting my blog posts. You can set this up to happen automatically. I use Twitterfeed which links your new blog posts to automatically post onto twitter and other social media. I also retweet once or twice more throughout the day to capture other time-zones. You can also get this to link to Facebook but I'm finding twitter is working better for me at the moment. I've also been retweeting popular blog posts, such as 'Writing Your Terms of Business'  and 'Writing a Sale or Return Agreement' and these have been picked up by others and retweeted too, again driving readers back to my blog.

Forging links with others: I have done this through Twitter and also directly. Tell people about your blog and if it's got good quality content, is engaging and interactive people will continue to read. I think regular posting also goes hand in hand with this, encouraging readers to return. People connect with people and I do believe in 'blog-karma'. Visiting other blogs, reading, commenting and generally engaging with others is always recommended and you will find over time that you will get traffic coming back to your blog too. Treat people online as you would treat them in person (not rocket-science I know), retweet great content, help people out and you will see the results in your stats!!

Grab opportunities when they arise: If you invest time writing for other blogs, guest-posting, taking part in interviews, taking part in tweet chats, sharing your experience, writing useful constructive comments on other blogs, you will get plenty of links back to your blog/shop/website and see those figures keep on going up! I've found that joining LinkedIn groups, UK Handmade, Folksy Forums all to be great ways to interact with others and also to let them know about you, your blog, what you do etc...

Ok, hope those few points were useful. As I said I'm no expert, I'm just picking things up as I go along, learning from others, and sharing what I've learned along the way. Any comments would be really useful. It should be easier to comment now as I've taken the annoying verification thing off here now so I would love to hear from you and any helpful tips you might have which have helped increase your own blog traffic....

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Featuring - Satchel and Sage

This week in my featuring slot I'm featuring not one but two people behind Satchel and Sage, Gerren and Morgana Lamson, a husband and wife creative team living in Austin, Texas. Thei first item which drew me to their shop was the beautiful feather print which I found throught one of the Etsy taste-tests. The things I am finding this way are right up my street. I don't know why but it just works!! So yes, feathers and trees, just the kind of things I like (ok, as well as chocolate and wine, but that's a story for another day!!)

Whilst browsing through the Satchel and Sage shop I also found some other items that grabbed my attention. I am rather partial to wordy artwork, due to the sentiment and feelings they can convey, and I found these clever Venn diagrams which illustrate the quirky overlaps in certain areas of our lives (just like the good old Venn diagrams we all learned about at school). Innovative and clever, they clearly show this pairs shared passion of  illustration and graphic design....
You can ahve a good look through the rest of Gerren and Morgana's work in their Etsy shop here, and also they each have their own website where you can take a peek into their lives and see what they are working on at the moment. Morgana's is here and Gerren's is here.... You can see how they both have their own styles which seem to complement each other and work really well together.... perfect combination!!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Atelier Gallery, Barnstaple, Devon


Yes, as you probably know I've been away exploring down in the southwest of our lovely country, visiting an area we have never been to before. During our trip to Devon I got the chance to finally go and meet Tracey, the owner of Atelier Gallery in Barnstaple. It was great to see the gallery and also I was able to drop off more new stock for the discerning customers of Barnstaple.

Now Tracey was one of my first stockists from way back when... She contacted me having seen my work on Folksy and asked if I would like to work with her. I was taken aback as this was the first time someone had  contacted me to ask to stock my work so as you can imagine it was all very exciting! Tracey was just starting the gallery and there are pictures on the blog of the very beginnings, lots of hard work went into the inital preparation of the space, and how she has transformed it. It is full of utter gorgeous-ness, and I was pleased to say that I recognised and admire a lot of the names of artists and designers whose work is stocked at Atelier. There is also a work-shop area to the left hand side of the shop with a huge table and seating, where Tracey has started running workshops, making mugs, knitting, customising clothes and other sewing and crafting activities. Classes run for both adults and children and if I lived a wee bit closer I'd love to partake!!

So if you are in the area, I should definitely recommend you take a look. There is a fab selection of prints, original framed artwork, craftydermy, stitch, ceramics, jewellery and prices are great too. Tracey really has done a great job and long may it continue.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Sketchbook Peeks - Amy McCarthy

Before we start, tell us a little about yourself/how did you get into art/craft/design career and how it all started and where you are now.....

An old school friend told me that even when we were very small she knew I would end up being an artist! After school I studied textiles and art first at college; then Leeds University. I took a long break from art after my degree and worked as a mental health worker. In 2003 I started a stained glass course at the local college as a hobby, and I have never looked back really! After a couple of years so many friends and acquaintances were getting me to make them windows and gifts that I decided to take the plunge and make it my ‘proper job’. Being an artist is excellent for working around my children (they are playing in the next room whilst I write this) and through glass I have found a way of expressing myself I have not experienced in other mediums; the freedom to really revel in colour and light is fabulous. As well as traditional stained glass, I experiment with fused glass and recycled glass and I also make public sculptures from recycled materials. In 2010 I won the South West Artist Award for one such sculpture and last year I was awarded an Emerging Artist Bursary by Devon Artist Network. I have shops on Folksy, Etsy and my own website and I exhibit in galleries across the UK from Devon to the Scotland!

How long have you been using sketchbooks?
I honestly can’t remember a time of not having special books to draw things in, something I seem to have passed onto my daughter whose eyes light up at the sight of a notebook!

How often do you sketch?
I would love to say I sketch every day, but my skills would be much better if I did! It tends to come in fits and bursts. A new commission will always get me furiously scribbling and a trip to the moors or coast usually ends up with me scribbling something down somewhere. However, increasingly I take photographs and then make sketches at home in the evenings as I usually have my small children with me in the day, who aren’t always sympathetic to me sitting down drawing!

How do you feel about the prospect of starting a new sketchbook?
Full of good intentions and a little thrill of excitement, like getting into a bed made up with crisp, fresh, white sheets! I always intend to date the start point and ONLY use that sketch book until it is full before moving onto the next. I usually do date the start point but then I will draw on ANYTHING when the mood is on me, so my sketch books have turned into a huge explosion of any old bit of paper!

When/where do you get your inspiration for your sketchbook pages?
Details from nature and fabric patterns are a really rich seam of inspiration for me as is the landscape of the South West, where I live. I love the history and legends of the ancient rock formations of the Moors and I often pencil in text explaining the stories behind the Tors to help me keep hold of the atmosphere I am trying to keep hold of

How would you describe your creative process?
Impulsive and a bit explosive! This is why my sketch books are such a big pile of a mess. When an idea strikes I don’t care where I get it down as long as I get it down on paper. I often start with a photo I have taken and then I keep drawing and simplifying until I get an outline suitable to be translated into glass. This process of simplification is central to how I work and I can spend a long time striping back lines and forms until I have something I can translate into glass.

Have your sketchbooks evolved over the years and if so, how?
I have developed my own sketch language which I find very useful for translating things from paper to glass. But this often makes my sketches seem cruder and certainly less beautiful and finished than they used to be. They are very much short hand for inspiration and not nearly as considered and composed as they used to be. I used to work much more with colour than I do now. I think this is a matter of time, now I scribble down a pencil sketch, but in an ideal world not full of small people I would always colour my sketches.

What is your favourite medium to work with?
Gorgeous, amazing, magical glass!

Do you have a favourite sketchbook?
My sketch books from travelling around Italy in my mid 20’s. I had time to draw, all the inspiration of the art and scenery of Italy and lots of nice balconies to work on!

If you had to pick one favourite page which would it be and why?
My sketch of a waterfall in Tivoli near Florence, Italy. Even though it was years ago it instantly takes me back to sitting in the balcony of the ancient converted monastery we were staying in and having a ‘sketch off’ with my friend and drinking wine; he won, he is a much better artsist than me!

If you would like to see more of Amy's work you can check out her Folksy shop here and her website is here, you can see how her colourful and exuberant sketches tranform into stunning work of art in glass. Amy also has a blog too which you can find here where you can follow what she is up to... Thanks for taking part Amy.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Boats, sand castles, light houses and beach huts

In fact all things seaside-y really! This week has just been Fantastic, so good it deserves the capital f!! Just the right mix of exploration, relaxation, reading, cooking, eating out and sketching!! Perfick!! I've filled ten sketchbook pages and even though I've tweeted most of them via instagram I might have to do a roundup next week, or maybe even my own sketchbook peeks interview!

Hope you all have a great weekend, I'll see you next week for another interesting instalment of Sketchbook peeks, featuring a media we haven't explored before.... Glass!!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A head full of ideas....

So this week I'm out and about exploring the Devon coast and what better place to go to get some new ideas for work than the seaside? The sights, smells and sounds all take me back to beach visits with grand parents, childhood holidays and lots of happy memories so the brain has been working overtime thinking and planning new work! As well as spending time by the sea we have also explored the rolling landscape inland as well as visiting one of my stockists, Atelier, in Barnstaple, a gorgeous gallery full of beautiful work and s lot of names I recognised and admire! It was great to finally meet Tracey, the gallery owner, who was one of my first stockists.

It been a welcome break to be away from the computer, away from my day job (which I have not missed one bit!!) and also dare I say it, it has been great to not think about BCTF preparation for a week!!

So far in my head I have a new range of seaside themed bird illustrations as well as some ideas for landscapes and I might even have to depart from black and white and get my paints our for a bit of colour work or even mixed media when I return home!

Featuring - Jessica Durrant


This week I am featuring the beautiful watercolour work of Jessica Durrant, a full time freelance illustrator and art instructor from fabulous Las Vegas who now resides in the beautiful Atlanta area. Jessica studied Illustration at Southern Utah University where she received her Bachelors. I was drawn to Jessica's work as I do like a bright splashy watercolour and I particularly like her travel-inspired images of world cities, and I decided to show you a selection of my faves, along with a good old Union Jack, as we over here in Britain are feeling very patriotic this year with the Olympics and also the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Anything GB?UK orientated seems to be flying off the shelves this year.

As well as her world cities she specialises in fashion illustration. Jessica says her art is inspired by a passion for all things fashion, as well as her obsession with traveling, Japanese illustration, indie music, a zillion magazines, and fellow artisans. Her favorites include the greats like David Downton, Rene Gruau, Sharon Pinsker and Stina Persson (whose work I can remember studying whilst doing my own Foundation course in Art and Design). She goes on to say she has created a few homages to them in her personal work.

Jessica loves to illustrate things that evoke happiness, a bit of fantasy, wanderlust and glamour. I hoped you enjoyed looking at her artwork. You can find out a bit more about Jessica on her lovely new website here. If you are on Facebook you can follow what Jessica gets up to here and also on her blog here 

ooh, yes and before I forget you can also browse her online Etsy shop here for that little fashion/travel treat to brighten up your walls.........


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