Organising your arse and getting serious about your business!

Being a creative nerd I’ve never had a head for business or even considered anything I do as being a business and I know I’m not alone in that thinking.

Last year I took a deep breath and followed Lady Gaga and “jumped in at the deep end” by opening my first Etsy ShopSophie’s Artisan Arts. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and while I haven’t exactly set the world alight, I have had a solid first year, helped no end by my incredibly awesome and supportive friends – THANK YOU!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

I admit I always thought that creativity and business weren’t harmonious bedfellows. But anyone creative who needs or wants to make a viable career from doing what they love (whether it’s writing, art, design, making crafts, photography etc etc), needs to develop a head for business.

Trust me, nothing makes me squirm more than the thought of dull accountants, business records, paperwork, profit margins, checklists etc etc., to me those are the antithesis of living a spontaneous and creatively fulfilled life. It’s just not how my brain works! 😀

 

But in simple terms, if you love what you do and you want to make a sustainable and consistently reliable living from what you do, then you need to sell what you create/make and that means developing a business brain and a strategy to help you achieve your goals.

Once you’ve realised this, then the next step is working out how the hell you go about doing that, especially when your chosen field is absolutely swamped by thousands of others doing what you do or something very similar (though no doubt to a poorer standard). 😉

Standing out from the crowd is the obvious first step, but to do that not only must the product you create be original and brilliantly created (quality NOT quantity – sadly so often talent only gets you so far and not to the winning post), but you need to market it expertly, get people to take notice of it and you. You need to approach what you do as a business not a hobby.

If people don’t know about the amazing things you create how can you sell any of them and make a successful business?

It’s the difference between being an amateur hobbyist and someone who is a professional in their field and is serious about pursuing their dream of making a career and a whole life based around what they love to do.

Not approaching your creative life seriously is a massive obstacle to your success, so snap out of it!

After a long chat with my fellow arty mate, Linda (and fellow giggly work colleague), where we discussed business plans and what we hoped to achieve this year and in the future, I followed Linda’s advice by getting the Maker’s Yearbook 2019, by Nicola Taylor, a goal setting workbook and planner specifically for artists, makers and handmade business owners.

WOW!!!! MIND BLOWN! 😀

Unfortunately I was too late to get the book which sold out, so I bought the PDF version and printed it off at home on 120gsm quality paper and popped it in a folder. I’d never heard of this Maker’s Yearbook before and even though I didn’t purchase it until halfway through January, I’ve been addicted to it ever since!

For a scatterbrain like me, who has all the business acumen and ICT proficiency of a fish on a bicycle, this has helped me no end!

I cannot recommend this enough. It breaks everything down into small achievable goals, so straight from the beginning you’re achieving something positive and succeeding rather than failing. It helps you to structure your business, your thinking, to get you to work more effectively and efficiently rather than just working harder and chasing your own tail while making no actual forward progress and burning yourself out. It makes you review the previous year (2018) and really identify what worked, what didn’t, what mistakes you made, what expenses and costs you had, what money and actual profits you made and how you divided your time between actually doing the creative thing you love and just flitting around like a headless chicken trying to gain attention in the hope of some sales.

It was a very interesting and reflective exercise. It made me realise how terrible my time keeping is, how unbalanced my life is, how disorganised and chaotic I am, how exhausted I’ve been and ground down, and how little progress I made, despite all my efforts, compared to the previous year (2017).

What a jolt to the senses!

Already, at the end of this first month (after only 2 weeks of having this Maker’s Yearbook), I have already booked an Art/Craft fair for March, have contacted numerous art centres, shops, exhibitions etc,. will be meeting the head of an art centre next week and have a clear plan and strategy about the year ahead – something I’ve NEVER had!

The moment I finish the long term map commission I’ve been working on for far too long, then the rest of my plans will start to kick in. For possibly the first time in my life, I actually feel that my creative life can actually have a viable commercial/business future and I actually will be able to make a career from doing what I love. It’s very early days, but finally… I HAVE A PLAN!!!! 😀

So to all my creative buddies out there trying to live off the thing you create, many of you struggling as I have, some of you on the brink of giving up while others are enjoying successes, DON’T GIVE UP or GIVE IN.

KEEP GOING, get yourself organised, set yourself real weekly and daily goals which all take you one step further to achieving your overall aim and GO FOR IT!

No-one can climb a mountain in one go, you start by climbing a low foothill first. Get that first achievement under your belt then move on and the same applies here.

Is it easy? Of course not, nothing important ever is. For me personally, one of my biggest challenges is overcoming my social anxieties and crippling self-doubts. This goes WAY beyond ‘imposter syndrome’ for me, this is more like paralysing fears, actually having to winkle myself out of my hermit hole and converse with actual real human beings, having to cold call places, put myself forward, try to exude confidence while my nervous sweats start in.

People that don’t know me well imagine I’m the height of confidence, the big bubbly girl, but I’m collapsing inside. Yes I know I have some measure of artistic talent, I could always draw and paint better than most of my friends even from an early age, but I am NOT a professional at networking, marketing, at selling my products to the actual public. Just doing one Art Fair last year showed me just how out of my depth I was. To me it seemed that everyone knew what they were doing, these were people who had been setting up stalls and selling their goods for years and had it down to a fine art. Their tables were eye catching and professional looking, they had prints of all their work so even if a customer can’t fork out a large amount for something they’ll still buy something small for £4, ie. they still make a sale and the stall exudes success which draws more people in. It was both awe inspiring and utterly terrifying!

Any introvert will know what I’m talking about. You just want to shrink into the background or hide under your tablecloth, but you have to sell yourself and your work and do both justice – so no, it’s definitely NOT easy, but like most things, it is a skill you can learn and improve on with practice. ❤

After all, we learn from failure and success.

 

Wishing you all the very best for 2019, may it make our dreams and goals come true!

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

 

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Frantic Fun at FantasyCon and BristolCon!

The last two weeks have been a manic blur of fun, meeting friends, train frustration, award nominees, artwork, dizzyness and desperately trying to get something to dry! 😀

This year I was humbled and honoured to be shortlisted as Best Artist in the 2018 British Fantasy Awards, held on the last day of FantasyCon in what is always a fun awards ceremony. This year it was held in Chester, a town drenched in Roman history that I’d never been to before. The Queen hotel where the event was taking place was COLOSSAL! You kind of felt that you had dropped into Pan’s Labyrinth itself!

I was staying at the hotel in a beautiful Chinese decorated room with a shower door that didn’t close properly and a Nespresso machine, so despite flooding the bathroom floor twice I at least started every day fully caffeinated!  🙂

FantasyCon itself was a manic blur, but in the nicest way. Meeting up with most of my fellow Grimmies (Sammy, Jo, Roz, Steven P, Steven G, Pete, Kate, Joel, Jason) and seeing other friends (Adele, Chloe, Juliet McKenna, Cheryl, Rosa, Anna Smith-Spark, Anne Stephens, Jen Williams – such cool people!) is always so lovely. The Grimbold Books table looked fab, (we have SO many awesome books!) and the panels I went to were so interesting. There were many highlights, but for me it was probably the panel on artists working in the SFF genre, as an illustrator myself I was keen to hear author and publisher thoughts on artwork in books and the process of using an illustrator.

I was flabbergasted though when Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame) came into the room and sat down as a panellist! She wasn’t on the programme at all so it was a fab surprise and yes, I had to blurt out in a geekish fashion that “I love your books!”. 😀  Ian Whates, head of NewCon Press, was there as the panel moderator and hearing his thoughts on commissioning illustrators and artwork was really interesting. SUCH an incredibly useful talk and at the end of it I actually got to speak to Joanne Harris and give her my business card – it seems she’s on the look out for an illustrator for her next book! Eeeek! Fingers crossed! I also got to chat briefly with Ian Whates and his wife from NewCon who are always looking for new illustrators to use too, so some really useful contacts made there! He he he!

The only irritation, and I know I sound like an old fart here, is that a young 17ish kid decided to gravitate towards me, showed me her (ahem) drawings, which I dutifully smiled, nodded and praised, then continued to draw throughout the panel, not listening to what was being said and actually kept interrupting proceedings to languidly talk about her father writing a poetry book that she did some drawings in!!!!! WTH? If you’re going to be rude enough to interrupt rather than listen, then at least ask a question about what was being said, don’t interrupt in a totally inane and bizarre manner! Ian and Joanne were incredibly sweet and kind natured over the whole thing and probably guessed as did I, that this young girl had some problems. Hey ho.

But that’s the great thing about Cons, not only are you meeting friends, making new ones, soaking up the creative atmosphere like a sponge, making connections and contacts, expanding your own business reach and hanging out with lovely like-minded folk, but cons are incredibly welcoming and open to everyone, that’s their strength, so you get to meet people who may not ordinarily cross your path which is always very cool! 😉

FantasyCon ended in the awards ceremony and no, I didn’t win Best Artist. That accolade went to a very well established American illustrator from New York, Jeffery Alan Love, who has won several other awards and whose work is great. I was disappointed naturally but really didn’t expect to win so it wasn’t a surprise. I was just genuinely chuffed to bits to be shortlisted amongst such amazing artists! I was also thrilled that Jen Williams won Best Fantasy Novel for Ninth Rain, Well done Jen! 😀 ❤

FantasyCon ended I only had a few days breather before BristolCon, where I was exhibiting my artwork in the Art Room there. I showed a selection of my fantasy maps, silk paintings (many of them SFF themed) and my portraits which I set up on the Friday before the Con. I decided to show my portraits in a Game of Thrones style ‘Wall of Faces’ or ‘Rogue’s Gallery’ again but with new portraits in, including one of fab sci-fi writer, Gareth L Powell who spotted himself! 🙂

To add to the manic art making, I’d been asked by Vice Chair, John Bavistock in August to do a secret portrait of BristolCon’s Guest Of Honour this year, my lovely mate Joanne Hall (who is not only a kick arse uber-talented writer, but actually ran BristolCon for 8 years!). It took me about 4 weeks of full on painting to complete as, to make it extra special, I decided to do an oil painting portrait on canvas rather than my usual pencil portraits. Lol, BUT, that meant I HAD to get it finished before I left for Chester to give it a week and a half to dry in time for BristolCon! Hairdyers were definitely used in the last manic hours! 😀

BristolCon went brilliantly well as did the Silk Painting Workshop I ran there, where my lovely 5 students produced some gloriously wonderful silk paintings, and yes I’m looking at you Roz Clarke & Rosa – your work was sublime!!!!! ❤ It was lovely to see fellow Grimbold Books mate, Pete Sutton launch his awesome new book, Seven Swords, which I can’t wait to read (having been mesmerised by Pete’s short story collection A Tiding of Magpies which I read on the train home from Chester) and it was fab to watch the Q&A panel with Roz grilling Jo on subjects as diverse as writing, running BCon, life on the farm etc.

But I admit my highlight was seeing Jo being honoured as Guest of Honour for all her incredible hard work over the last 8 years as well as her amazing writing achievements…and seeing her reaction to her surprise secret portrait was just comedy gold!!! 😀

A gloriously lovely two weeks all round…now time to REST!!!!! 😀 ❤ xxxxx

❤ ❤ ❤

Shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award! Eeeek!

It’s taken a couple of weeks to sink in, hence the delay, but I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been shortlisted for the 2018 British Fantasy Awards in the Best Artist category!!! Yay!!!!

Can’t quite believe it but seeing my name listed as a shortlist nominee is surreal and a little overwhelming, but in a good way! 🙂 I’ve been nominated in the Best Artist category for the two hand drawn pen & ink maps I created for HarperCollins last year, for Anna Smith-Spark’s brilliant ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ and Anna Stephen’s wonderful ‘Godblind’!

It’s been a lovely surprise especially given that this has been a tough year for me personally, health problems, one of my beloved wolfies (Tolly) has been very unwell, massive financial worries (colossal vet bills!) and the latest gut punch – my wonderful Godmother (who I’ve known and loved my whole life and has been there for us through some pretty traumatic times) is desperately ill with ovarian cancer. It fact she’s having her operation tomorrow to try and cut all the cancer out. We’re all very worried and fighting back tears at the moment, so having something lovely like this happen has definitely been a much needed ray of sunshine in amongst a sea of crap.

I won’t find out if I’ve won until the swanky awards ceremony (October 21st). So in a mad dash, despite the fact that I’m totally skint, I booked up the hotel and tickets for FantasyCon 2018 up at Chester (October 19th – 21st) and will be sitting there during the awards ceremony with fingers and toes crossed while practising my ‘I’m not really disappointed’ face when someone else wins it! 😀

A massive THANK YOU to the British Fantasy Society and to everyone who voted for me. Amazing to see the other artists I’m nominated with:

Best Artist
· Ben Baldwin
· Jeffrey Alan Love
· Victo Ngai
· Daniele Sera
· Sophie E Tallis
· Sana Takeda

I also want to shout out my other friends who have been nominated too. Firstly a massive congrats to the lovely Joanne Hall who has been nominated in the Best Short Story category for her story ‘Illumination’ taken from the anthology ‘The Book of Dragons’ by AJ Dalton published by my publishers, Kristell Ink (an imprint of Grimbold Books). Congrats to Joshua Cornah another fellow Grimmie from Kristell Ink, who has been nominated for Best Comic/Graphic Novel for his hilarious Grim & Bold cartoons. Grimbold Books themselves (worthy winner of the Best Independent Press at last year’s BFS awards) are also again nominated this year as well! Woo hoo! xxx

I also want to make a huge shout out to Anna Smith-Spark who has been nominated for Best Fantasy Novel and Best Newcomer for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’! Way to go Anna! 😀 xxx

Yay!!! So stupidly excited and very honoured and humbled by the whole thing.

To check out more of my work, pop by my website: Sophie E Tallis Illustrations or if you want to BUY any artwork, check out my new Etsy shop: Sophie’s Artisan Arts!

Thank you folks! ❤ ❤ ❤ xxxxx

The Art of…Art. Diversify or Die!

The creative arts, particularly writers and artists, are littered with those who have failed to reach their own expectations, potential, dreams and goals. We all want to excel in our chosen path, all want to achieve the aim of making a living from what we love to do.

The harsh truth is that the majority of us will fail. We’ll have our lofty ideas and will fall short after a few exhaustive years of trying everything we can think of to reach that breakthrough point. We’ll cheer at the successes of others and wish with all our hearts that we could emulate just a fraction of it for ourselves.

So, for the majority of us creative types not quite finding the success we dreamt of, what are our options?

  1. Give up chasing dreams that never come true.
  2. Continue pursuing our goals in the hope that elusive breakthrough will happen.
  3. Diversify.

Take a leaf out of current business practice. The businesses that do the best do so because they have learnt to be flexible to changing demands and needs and because they DIVERSIFY!

Businesses that cannot change with the times and cannot diversify are left behind and simply die. There are enough high street shops biting the dust at the moment for precisely this reason. Look at farmers for instance, the most successful are those who also diversify into other avenues, be it artisan cheeses, deluxe ice creams or holiday lets etc.

So…if you’re running out of ideas, head butting into brick walls or are just exhausted by the endless hamster wheel that ends nowhere despite your best efforts and talents with your aims, goals and dreams still unfulfilled…how can you break the pattern and achieve some measure of success?

DIVERSIFY!!!!!

With that in mind, today I used my skillset to run my second silk painting workshop. Although I’ve only been silk painting for the last ten to fifteen years and would not consider myself an expert in the field, I have gained enough skills to share my knowledge with others and get them creating their own original silk painting artwork.

Thankfully the workshop went very well, despite my sweating bullets on a boiling hot day with a large window magnifying the heat and my nerves. 🙂 I really was not a pretty sight! But, regardless of my melting, the event was very successful with many people asking if I did workshops nearer to them (several people had travelled nearly an hour to get there!).

Now although I choose to offer these first workshops as free workshops rather than charging, they have been invaluable in paving the way for me to do paid events like this in the future and in building my reputation as not only a skilled artworker but also as a workshop artist.

Again…diversify or die – I am looking to the future to use my skills to enable me to continue making a living from my art and not be dependent solely on commission work. You gotta think ahead people!

So how do you start to diversify?

As a creative writer you might well start by delving into non-fiction for a while, trying your hand at bid writing, academic writing, writing reviews even if it’s about a brand of supermarket cheese, hell even writing manuals, obituaries, websites, educational aids, essays etc. See what is out there. There are ads for writing in every magazine and newspaper and vast amounts online. Think, how else can you use the talents you have? If your novels/stories/poetry are failing to garner any success or even attention, how else can you diversify and use those skills?

For artists/illustrators the same applies. Even if you are currently inundated with commissions, that may not always be the case and usually it isn’t reliable in the same way that those monthly bills are. So unless you want to live your life either spending lots of money on advertising which may or may not work or waiting for the phone to ring/website email to ping for your next client commission, you need to start thinking about how to diversify and use the talents you have.

 

This is particularly important if you are specialising in a niche art field. For me, I’m best known in art terms for my fantasy maps. But out of all the fiction titles, all the fantasy and epic fantasy novels published every year, how many will actually need a fantasy map? The number is surprisingly low and as there are other artists out there who also specialise in the same field, vying for the same commission, how can you carve out a slice of that action/success for yourself and ensure it’s enough to live off?

Last year was undoubtedly my best in terms of commissions, exposure, and yes, money. I took on two large commissions for HarperCollins for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ by Anna Smith-Spark and ‘Godblind’ by Anna Stephens*. That was swiftly followed by other commissions including one for Penguin Random House for ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Diane Magras and a massive Artist-In-Residence commission for Oxford University for a brilliant new game ‘Mycelium’ created by writer genius Dan Holloway, producing all the artwork for it (50 hand painted images) etc.

*I’ve been sitting on some VERY exciting news on that front, but cannot share it until official announcements are made. 🙂 *

So how exactly do you pay the bills when you’re between commissions?

Use your skillset to create other artworks, think about exhibiting your work in nearby galleries even restaurants – ever been to a pub or café and seen artwork on the walls with prices on? That could be you! Contact local art centres who sell work from local artists. Of course there are ways to showcase your work online, on your website and in places like Etsy where you can sell it direct. I admit I’ve only very recently joined Etsy and am yet to set it up fully and sell any of my artwork on there…but I definitely intend to use this route to supplement my commission work.

Perhaps you too could use your talents to run a local event or workshop like my silk painting workshop? Could you charge customers a one off fee for attending such a workshop?

Diversification is the key not only to success but also to LONGEVITY! You want to be doing what you love and making a living from it for as long as you can.

Good luck everyone and embrace the change! Diversify or die!

❤ xxxx

 

 

When time is the enemy – manically juggling!

Well it’s true to say that I started 2018 on the ground running – it’s been an utterly manic year already and we’re only a few months in!

As with most people, I find myself constantly juggling. For me, working part time in a library, means juggling that with working full time as an illustrator, trying to find some time for writing and personal artwork, as well as home responsibilities, personal goals (particularly for this year – more details later in the year on that one) and having four huge wolfies who require a LOT of time and attention. I’m not called the ‘Mistress of Wolves’ for nothing!

Cover artwork by Antonio Javier Caparo.

But recently even I admit that things have been insane. Basically from November 2016 to now, I haven’t stopped. As the writing has taken a back seat, my illustrating has never been in more demand. After a couple of HarperCollins’s commissions and a hastily short deadline for Penguin Random House (for ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Diane Magras, published March 2018) and a few individual commissions, I happily signed up for a very exciting and MASSIVE commission funded by Oxford University and created by writer, self-publishing guru and Creative Thinking World Champion, Dan Holloway. Basically Dan has invented a brilliant new game, Mycelium’, as an amazing training tool and fun game to promote and expand creative thinking. To say its clever and inventive, like it’s creator, is a colossal understatement.

Dan Holloway is one of those rare people you only meet once in a blue moon, a true inspiration. I first knew of him as a fellow writer on the now defunct HarperCollins online writing site, Authonomy, then met him in the flesh at the second Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival founded by Debbie Young. Think of Elon Musk, Bob Dylan and Basquiat and you get close to how talented this chap is. He’s a huge brain, an amazing performance poet, writer and…well, in my opinion, a bit of a genius!

Mycelium final logo which will be on the back of each card.

Anyway, he liked my artwork and wanted me to create the visuals for this amazing game, starting with producing 50 images for the first playing pack of cards. I can’t reveal the artwork I’ve done for this yet, but will as soon as I’m able. 😉

So this is where the juggling really comes in, with time becoming an enemy that you’re constantly chasing.

The irony is that ‘chasing time’ has become a bit of a metaphor for my life, particularly at the moment.  Time has flown by so quickly and suddenly your life and life decisions are reduced down to a tiny window of opportunity in an alchemist’s grand experiment! Blink, and you’ll miss that window forever.

Although I’ve done allsorts of commissions and projects which usually take a month to complete, due to fitting illustration work in with a job etc., I’ve never done 50 images for one project before. Gulp! Being the idiot optimist I am, the deadline seemed reasonable, 60 days for 50 images and small images too. Easy, eh? Lol, well of course, me being me, I just cannot rush through anything crap so I created 50 folders, one for each image and trawled through countless books and the internet gathering inspirational images for each piece of artwork before drawing them. Once drawn, they then had to be inked up in permanent ink and then hand painted.

It really has been one of the most amazing, inspiring, varied and challenging commissions I’ve ever done and I have loved every second of it BUT…being such a perfectionist I should have known that creating 50 pictures in only 60 days just wasn’t possible. Unfortunately, despite my very best efforts of time pacing, doing the more complicated images first, I only really realised the sheer amount of work involved when I was already halfway through the commission! My juggling skills were put to the test and I’m afraid they failed me entirely.

For the last 60 days my four wolfies have not had much of a mum, my daily walks with them have all but stopped to just a few hours playing and exercising in the garden, my normal home chores have fallen by the wayside, my library job has, if I’m being honest, not had the best of me, I’ve been absent from all social media and friends and I’ve become somewhat of a stranger to sleep. But try as I have, to my own disappointment and for the first time, I missed my deadline. I was gutted, having worked so damn hard. Dan was wonderful of course and I’ve made sure I’ve rewarded that kindness with awesome images, but yes, I was several weeks late in delivering all 50 finished painted images and only finally finished them a few days ago!

So what do you do when time becomes the enemy, when juggling manically still doesn’t work?

Lol, I really wouldn’t recommend what I have done several times now, drawing in bed on a light-box until 4 or 5am when you suddenly realise that it’s getting light outside and you haven’t slept at all!

The only thing I can think of to help pace your time, when you have an insane amount of things to do and no time to do them in, is, to be honest, create a detailed colour coded weekly schedulebreaking your time into 2 hourly chunks, giving yourself time to eat, do chores, do housey things then back to work. As daft as it seems, it really helps to organise you and maximise productivity from each time period. I’ve also started using an alarm clock set in hour or 2 hour slots, trying to finish one section of work in that time frame before the buzzer goes!

I’m seriously not complaining here, I’m very thankful for all the work I get especially as I don’t advertise and do recognise that it’s far better to be incredibly busy than to have time on your hands, but once, just once, I wish I really could stretch the space/time continuum! 😀

On a personal note too, I’ve spent the last year climbing Everest and trying to stretch time to achieve my goals. So yes, as much as we are powerless to stop the march of time, perhaps a healthier more mindful approach to the passing of time would be more beneficial to us all. As clichéd as it is, we only have one life and it flies past so damn quickly that we owe it to ourselves to take stock and really notice what is happening around us.

Mindfulness has been a key word that has entered the zeitgeist in the last few years, but the principles behind it can be applied to every area of our lives. As an M.E sufferer (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) it’s a very important concept that helps us to regulate our condition and pace ourselves and the daily tasks we do.

As someone who has been overweight for most of my adult life and has decided to make a permanent life change at last, having committed myself to losing weight and getting fitter (my Chris Pratt Challenge) – mindfulness plays a key rolebeing aware and present in thought over everything you do. Being mindful of everything you put into your body so there is NO mindless snacking, everything is focused on, thought about.

The same too with life and time. Being mindful of your life, of each passing day, each hour, each minute, making you more aware of the choices you make, of the time you are using, of the time you have left.

Don’t sleep walk through your life. Be mindful of it.

So yes, being mindful and applying that to this commission also helped, particularly latterly, in making sure that the work I did was not only the best it could be but that I was working as productively as possible in each timed slot.

In an age of such mindlessness – Trump bigotry & idiocy, Brexit xenophobia & lies, political cruelty, government corruption and inherent unfairness – being mindful has never been more important!

❤ xxx

 

2017 – A Year of Art and Climbing Everest!!!

2017 has been a strange year and on more than one occasion I’ve heard myself saying “This can’t be reality?”, as if I’d slipped into some dream state without my knowing…I mean come on, apart from the dreadful and embarrassing debacle that is ‘Brexit’, we’re now living in an odd dystopian universe where an unhinged, dangerously narcissistic, orange, sexual offending, racist twat is the American President with his short fat fingers on the nuclear button!

Yeap, 2017 was a weird year. The saddest thing to hit early in the year was the loss of my hero David Bowie. Anyone with any inkling of creativity in them mourned his loss and feels it still.

But despite the sad loss of Bowie and wonderful actors like John Hurt, 2017 did bring up some revelatory surprises too. For me personally, this was undoubtedly the ‘Year of Art’.

I started the year committing myself to the 365 day Artmaniac Challenge (following in the footsteps of Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell), by creating a new piece of art EVERY DAY for a whole year! I started well, in fact for the first 3 months of the year I did create a brand new piece of art every day, firstly rough sketches and then portraits! It was exhilarating, I hadn’t done any portraits in 20 years and was thrilled that I could still do them!

I also began the year finishing a fantasy map art commission for the lovely fantasy author, Anna Smith-Spark, which became a commission for HarperCollins as they approached me to become one of their illustrators! I was amazed and flabbergasted! A second HarperCollins commission quickly followed for the equally lovely Anna Stephens for another fantasy map. The year continued like that, in a blur of deadlines and commissions. I’ve never been busier and considering I don’t advertise and still use a free weebly website for my illustration business, I was astounded at the interest I was getting.

Both fantasy maps for HarperCollins ended up being picked up and bought by other publishers around the world, Dutch, German, US publishers like Orbit and Random House – I was suddenly glimpsing through the keyhole of big league success – it really is a whole different story to the indie world I’ve lived in for so long!

The year flashed by and before I knew it the giddy pleasures of summer had come and gone in a haze of excitement, silk painting, BBQ’s (with my lovely Grimbold posse) and writing.

It is true to say that 2017 was not a great year for my writing, in fact I haven’t written anything now in months following a crisis of confidence a few months back. I will eventually return to writing as I always have, but I don’t have that belief in my abilities anymore the way I used to, I’m hoping given time that I will find my voice again somewhere but for now I’m happy just to follow my art and get my creative fulfilment that way. BUT, 2017 was a great year for other writers, most notably my amazing publishers, Grimbold Books, who were not only nominated for Best Independent Press in the British Fantasy Society Awards (BFS Awards) … but actually WON IT!!!!!

YAY!!! Go Grimbold go!

The end of summer came (and my dreaded birthday) and I was neck deep in prep for October’s BristolCon where I’d be exhibiting my artwork – gulp, my first art exhibition for 20 years! I was nervous to say the least but it went amazingly well, better than I could have dreamed of in fact! 😀

A huge thank you to my Grimbold family and to awesome authors like Gareth L Powell who actually helped me put up some of my pictures (and who also very kindly told me about the V&A Illustrator’s Competition for illustrations published in 2017!) THANK YOU! ❤

After the wonderful BristolCon I was then approached by Penguin Random House for a commission for them! A few weeks later I also started my latest commission for the inspirational Dan Holloway and Oxford University – a massive commission for 50 unique images! I’m manically producing them as I type this last blog entry for the year! 😀

2017 has definitely been a peculiar year, a year of creative highs and depressive lows, of hopes and dreams and major steps forward for the future. Professionally – it’s been the best year of my life as an illustrator and I feel very blessed and lucky! Personally – it’s been more of a rollercoaster ride. I’ve found myself in the grips and depths of depression a couple of times this year, which has been a struggle and heartbreakingly, another friend, the amazing Lisa Scullard suddenly and shockingly died while 38 weeks pregnant. She had so many hopes for this year and next and they were suddenly snatched away. 😦

The only positive I can draw from such a cruel tragedy is that it really put a rocket up my arse – life is fucking short and precious folks, if you haven’t accomplished what you want, DO IT. If you doing something you don’t want to be – STOP and CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

Life goes in a flash. So yes, I am following one dream in particular, a dream I’ve had for the last 14 years and I am doing everything I can to achieve it. Hopefully this time next year my life will be dramatically different…please keep all your fingers, toes and everything else crossed for me, I have an Everest to climb, the odds are against me, but still I’m pursuing this goal – 2018 will be make or break.

So, as the year closes, with only minutes to spare…I want to wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR and a coming year of dreams and hopes.

Hold your heart in your hands and cradle those dreams, whatever they are, and never give up. Love to you all. ❤ xxxxx

BristolCon 2017 – Art, Fantasy & Maps!

Last weekend was BristolCon, the largest sci-fi & fantasy convention in the west country, UK and by far my favourite con. For the last nine years BristolCon has flourished at the Hilton Double Tree hotel in the heart of Bristol, a single day SFF convention that always signifies a glorious mix of panels, events, signings, workshops, art, and of course books! Amongst the flurry of bookish activity, one the things that makes BristolCon so damn special is that feeling of inclusiveness, a welcoming family for old friends and new, with no cliques, no judgements, just a genuinely open, friendly and ultra cool ethos of – “come along folks and have a great time!”

What made BristolCon 2017 extra special for me this year, besides being thrilled that my lovely publisher, Grimbold Books (and our leader the wonderful Sammy HK Smith) has subsequently won the BFS Award for Best Independent Press, is that I wasn’t just there as an author and panellist (moderating an uber cool panel on ‘Mapping in SF & F’)…but that I was there as an artist too! 😀

*gulp*

Yes, after being talked into applying to exhibit in the famous Art Room at BristolCon by the lovely vice chair, John Bav, with extra encouragement from Mark Robinson and the lovely ex-chair, Joanne Hall, I actually plucked up the courage and applied and got in! For me this was a huge thing. Although I’ve been drawing and painting my entire life (before I could even walk apparently), and although I did a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and had won an MA place at the Slade School of Fine Art (which I stupidly didn’t take up), I’ve only actually been illustrating for the last 2 or 3 years. In fact, it’s only since my teaching career ended due to illness that I’ve even had the time to do more art.

So, in the last 2 years, I’ve illustrated about 12 books so far (with a few current ‘in the works’ projects). The highlight undoubtedly had been creating the fantasy maps for Juliet E McKenna and the two HarperCollins commissions for Anna Smith-Spark & Anna Stephens, and now I am busy creating another cool fantasy map for Penguin Random House – Yay! 😀

But actually exhibiting my artwork was an entirely different thing. I haven’t exhibited since my art student days, twenty years ago! Despite starting prep for it months ago, finding and buying the right frames, getting all the ‘s’ hooks needed to hand them etc etc. I’d actually forgotten just how much work is involved! The framing and mounting card alone took ages, the picture prep, sorting out illustration portfolios, transporting the art and putting it up. Thank goodness for Andy Bigwood (Mr Art himself) who runs the Art Room and helped me find my feet and for the vital Friday pre-BristolCon Art Room set up time! I was there at the hotel until 11pm the night before BristolCon, knackered and nervous but I can’t explain how great it felt – being in that atmosphere! A mixture of pure fear, excitement, exhilaration and total imposter syndrome! Lol, when you’re there in the Art Room next to the likes of illustrating greats like Jim Burns and Chris Moore and BFS Award winning Sarah Ann Langton (who did the cool cover for the ‘Fight Like A Girl’ anthology), you suddenly feel very quickly out of your depth!

BUT, despite all those daft fears, the whole thing felt RIGHT. It felt like THIS is what I should be doing, coming full circle, coming home to art – my love of it, my solace, my saviour through mental health problems and depression, my relief, my method of self-expression when I can’t muster the words.

I admit, with only an hour and a half sleep, I was a walking zombie when Saturday actually came. Apologies to a couple of customers as my brain freeze took over a couple of times – so weird that when you’re that exhausted you slip into daft old sayings as your brain stops processing new information. By the end of BristolCon I was so out of it, I honestly can’t remember how I drove home! Oops!

But it was brilliant and I loved every second of it.

I’d decided to show some of my best portraits (30 of them all framed in lovely black box frames) for a cool ‘Game Of Thrones’ idea I had of having them all clustered together for a ‘wall of faces’ (aka GoT season 6) which became an interactive ‘Game Of Faces’ where people had to try to identify as many of the portraits as possible and the winner would win a piece of original artwork of their choice! Cool idea, eh? 😀

Well, it worked beautifully! I had loads of people coming to view my work and participate. I also displayed some of my silk paintings and my maps (all framed in lovely matching black frames) and one of my ‘works in progress’ (the steampunk map I’m working on for the lovely Kate Coe) so people could view my creative process at constructing them. 🙂

In fact, I had so many people coming to visit my art display that I couldn’t finish writing up my art price list! Lol, I eventually finished it after I’d already sold a load of silk paintings and was dragged off by the lovely Robyn Fulton to actually eat something before I dropped.

After a hurried but much needed lunch I went off to my ‘Mapping SF & F’ panel about one fo my favourite subjects – fantasy maps!  I was moderating the panel in the big conference room with the lovely Anna Stephens, Juliet E McKenna, Joel Cornah and Andy Bigwood. It went wonderfully, in fact myself and all the panellists could have talked for three or four hours and only got through half of my questions!

The whole day was a delightful blur of meeting old friends and new – people I’ve been friends with for years on Facebook but who I hadn’t actually met yet (like RB Watkinson, Judith Mortimore and Jessica Rydill) and chatting to the lovely people who bought my art – THANK YOU! ❤