Saturday, 15 November 2014

Precious Flower Feathers

As many of you will know Amelia's Magazine is currently going full pelt to make a magical special edition book laced with gold, centred around the theme of That Which We Do Not Understand.

Forming my submission to her open call out, this image is my take on Xochiquetzel, a goddess in Aztec mythology associated with concepts of fertility, beauty, and female sexual power. Serving as a protector of young mothers and a patroness of pregnancy and childbirth, the name 
Xochiquetzal is a compound of xochiti (“flower”) and quetzalli (“precious feather”) and she is always depicted as a youthful woman, richly attired and symbolically associated with vegetation and in particular flowers. Upon reading about this character I became interested in the parallels she holds with ideals of modern womanhood, and the mystery that continues to surround what it means to be feminine and how beauty & female sexuality is perceived. I love the fact she is engulfed by nature and surrounded by so much wondrous flora, and I see this as a exemplifying the natural beauty of womankind; radiant and sweet-swelling, with an effortless allure and grace.

It's been something very different for me that I've really enjoyed making, retaining a roughness of pencil but working harder to create intense detail and depth of colour alongside looser marks.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


Upon first hearing about Inktober I didn't know if it was for me. I don't own any of the fancy pens listed as Tools, plus my tentative approach to drawing can feel closed in by the permanence and strength of ink, more comfortable with a stubby smudgy 5B.

Yet part of me wanted to become a part of it anyway. Inspired by the inky artists posting drawings made of smooth lines and yummy shading, I dug under my bed for a pot of black ink and an old paintbrush and had a go at using ink in my own way. It was loads of fun to shake up my practice, and make a ruddy mess that no eraser could fix. Any community that encourages creative people to keep on creating and share their work is okay by me, as this creates a momentum that working in isolation simply can't always maintain.

Whilst my own efforts will not be sustained throughout the month, I wish everyone a very happy & productive Inktober indeed. To check out featured ink as part of the project visit

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Spring Greens

I was asked by Birmingham-based chum Meghan Allbright to contribute to her forthcoming zine Dovetail. This illustration was lovingly crafted in the middle of the night, based on an image from an old cookbook, and is to accompany a reworked recipe by a local artist, annotating text about food to comment on art and ideas.

The zesty colours may be more suited to seasons gone and to come, but I'm looking forward to seeing the whole thing come together this Autumn, bringing many players in Birmingham's art crowd together in one printed volume. Watch out for it in midlands-based fun places and spaces where people gather and art happens - and in a future post, naturally.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Let's Talk About Tax.

This week I tuned in for an IdeasTap webinar about the mysterious "Big T", aka the tax man. Listening avidly from the bus on the way home from work, Tax Talk For Freelancers was delivered by Alistair of Bambridge Accountants and was packed with useful nuggets of golden info for independent creative business folk.

All this bookkeeping financial stuff is definitely a topic which makes more sense to me when somebody vocalises it, as letting myself pour over guidelines and terms can create more questions that answers. After just over a year as a sole-trader and having submitted one fairly straightforward initial tax return, things had naturally gone up a notch and I wanted to get more savvy about record keeping and good financial practice; something that can be hard to come by as a free resource and even harder to digest.

The session was incredibly useful, and tied up some loose ends for me in terms of things that may or may not be expenses, how really to calculate the use of your bedroom as an office, and whether some of the more enjoyable parts of the illustration lifestyle can be considered work.

Here are the top 5 things that I learned:

- Postgraduate Study Is Business Training. As a sole trader, training counts as a business expense as long as it is within your existing field, and this includes studying for a masters. For limited companies this goes even further, and you can offset against broadening your company's offering through training ie. a course of study to give you brand new additional skills rather than just furthering ones you already have.

- Eating & Drinking Not Wining & Dining. You can claim for your own train, bus, air and taxi fares; hotel room costs and meals on trips to meet clients, but you cannot claim for "entertaining". I also found making the following distinction useful: expenses can only be claimed if the intention for the visit is to make money from it along the way, and so excludes meeting friends / collaborators for a creative catch-up.

- Bedroom As Business Premises. Discount your bathroom and hallway when counting how many rooms your house has. Divide all costs on your property by the number of rooms, including mortgage or rent, council tax, insurance, utility bills. Then work out what percentage of your time in that room (ie. bedroom) is used for your business, and divide the room total accordingly to give your self-employed working-from-home claim total. For example if you work 8 hours a day from your room divide by 3. Et voilà! You can also divide up personal / business use for things like your mobile phone bill and laptop.

- International Clients. If you have received payments in different currencies, you can retroactively find out the conversion rate on the day it was paid and accurately convert it to £ using a cheeky little site called Oanda.

- Research Is Fun. Subscription to trade journals or relevant magazines are an allowable expense. This also applies to researching your industry and keeping up to date in other ways i.e. film-makers can claim for visits to the cinema and even netflicks.

For more info on expenses and allowances check out the fact sheet from HMRC, and to register for future IdeasTap spa events visit:

Friday, 18 July 2014

We Are The Loft.

The lovely Loft Bham, hosts of my previous life drawing post, are having a wee party to celebrate everything they have started, stimulated, and orchestrated over the last 6 month as Birmingham's pop-up creative haven. Bringing together visual artists, performers and all manner of creative party people, they are leaving their current space at Priory Walk for pastures new. The future for them may not be certain, but one thing's for sure, their final event We Are The Loft is not to be missed. I drew up some jazzy typography for them as a fond farewell. You've gotta pick your pencils up to get down.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Life Lessons

Life drawing at The Loft this week was just the excuse I needed to get my pencils out. My first trip to the fledgling space tucked in Birmingham's city centre, it was a very creative, welcoming environment from the moment I entered. Already full of lovely people on my arrival (some studio holders and others newbies like myself) I was offered fruit juice and sweets and took a seat ready to get set up.

Well-organised and fast-paced, the session flew by, with the experienced life model's seemingly endless plait capturing my interest in every drawing. Unlike sessions I have attended elsewhere, there was a supportive and open sensibility amongst attending artists, everybody bravely bringing their favourite drawings together to share before the session came to a close.

Yinka and The Loft team have created something really special here; a simple but important vessel by which to bring together local artists to work - and potentially exhibit - together who may otherwise work alone. In-so-doing this creates a safe zone for creative people to do what they do best whilst contributing to the working of the city; a self-led creative nucleus. It's always nice to feel a part of something, and I can guarantee that to make contact with The Loft is to be part of something good.

Friday, 30 May 2014

High Five for My5

This month saw the launch of my5, a project I've been working on with Youthspace to promote dialogue surrounding mental wellbeing. Driven by Youthspace Youth Board - a amazing group of young people passionate about raising awareness of youth mental health and wellbeing issues - the operative word here is definitely with rather than for as they were keen to discuss their project, the 5 key steps they had come up with, and how we were going to turn them into something to share with others. Postcards for people to keep close and refer back to; colour was important, something that would make young people want to pick them up in the first place; symbols for ease of use and to make the steps memorable; clear communication of the message held within each step.

I loved the concept right away and found the campaign incredibly well laid out. Discover - Recognise - Energise - Socialise - Share. Simple. My visual ideas centred around different parts of the body, considering the attention we tend to give their physical health in order to convey the importance of doing the same with our minds. The descriptions of each step were also incredibly sensory, take time to listen, look around you, share a smile; all of these things are at our fingertips each day and don't require anything more from us than what we already have. It was this idea of connections between thinking and doing that fed into the illustration process, seeking to prompt action as well as self-reflection.

It was not only rewarding to work with the youthboard to realise their creative aspirations for the campaign, but also very inspiring personally to be around young people with such a clear vision and a universally empowering message. This is just the beginning for my5 but you can keep up to date with the project, including reading about the launch party in full, over on the Youthspace blog.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Agenda Bender.

I've been working with mac birmingham's Cannon Hill Collective since October and it's almost time to showcase what they've been up to! Investigating when art becomes a political act and united by a desire to impart positive social change, this wonderful bunch have put together What's The Agenda; an eclectic festival of creative activity which asks the audience to engage as well as committing to some form of pledge for change; big or small; private or public.

Lord knows I'm already planning my launch party outfit, but for now check out the flyer I created for 'em. After much shredder fun what I've created seems suspiciously like Girls HBO combined with Klimt's The Kiss...

No? Just me then.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Something Fishy Going On.

After a bit of an undesirable creative hiatus, waving goodbye to January felt ruddy marvelous and has brought with it a startling wave of productivity. Much has happened in the last few weeks leading to the launch of a new collaborative venture with artist chum SJI. That venture is Illustrated Brum; a platform for us to document the creative, cultural and social goings on we encounter to create an illustrated guide to Birmingham life. It's all very exciting, and if you want to find out the significance of this fish then have a root around:

Monday, 27 January 2014

#1 HOW TO: Begin

One of my biggest creative hang-ups is an inability to begin.

Starting a new drawing, a new article, a new relationship or even just picking up the goddamn telephone; taking the first step on any endeavour can fill me with so much excitement and dread simultaneously that absolutely nothing happens. In fact the very irony of struggling throughout January to begin a blog post about How to Begin is not lost on me, but rather validates the quandary we face so often; how to get past the starting blocks with an idea we believe in.

Now that I'm here, I'd like to introduce the first installment of a new project; a monthly creative HOW TO driven by things I've learned about the things I'm trying to get better at. Through a post-graduate roller-coaster year with my own illustration practice at the proverbial helm, I have over-thought, overworked and overslept on my way to solving some tough truths about the creative capacity, fascinated by my own shortcomings and how to begin to accept or overcome them. Moments of enlightenment have begun to appear; when working collaboratively with others; at exhibitions; on the bus; in the shower; absolutely anywhere at 3am; and these fragments of motivational clarity are precisely what I want to pass along and build upon in this series.

With regards to the challenge of beginning, I think the difficulty stems from a designation of importance or ceremony - The Big Bang, a baby's first steps, the first mark in a new sketchbook - these are big deals, people. But such narrow focus leaves the beginning isolated in time, and I think we can actually feel a little bit lonely in these moments, and very vulnerable to our own hopes and fears. If we shift our thinking and broaden the perception of the beginning it becomes a lot less scary as we see things have preceded and will naturally follow it. It is a node within a network, not an island surrounded by sharks.

Embarking should be celebrated and the fear we experience should not be allowed to paralyze our action, but rather reassure us that it matters. When placed in context this first step is the moment we act on something or decide to release it from our clutches, which is pretty flipping exciting. Like the breaking of a bottle on the side of a ship, our maiden voyages should feel celebratory; like the beginning of a great adventure. After all, uncharted territory is what pushes us to grow and level up, and there is a whole world of promise out there if we just let go.

Nobody said it was easy, but here are a few tips to get you started:

In order to begin with moxy and might you must first establish your strengths. When things feel difficult it's easy to forget our abilities, so make a list of what makes you great for this project and refer back to it when you need reminding. This not only builds up some armour to protect you from blows further down the line, but also allows you to identify areas you may need to work on to make the project the best it can be; gaps that can either be filled by learning a new skill (such as developing an understanding of web design, becoming a better public speaker, or how to write a budget) but equally valid is inviting someone to help you out in that area. Seal your intention with not only a firm belief but valid proof that it can be a success.

Research and planning are invaluable but don't let this stage weigh you down. It can be tempting to limit damage by trying to solve all potential problems before you begin, but there comes a point when taking the leap and addressing any issues as they arise is the only way to make it happen. You can keep feeding into the project once it starts so, sure, R&D your little socks off, but use this preparation as a springboard not an anchor.

Give your endeavour structural support by telling other people. Putting an idea out into the universe is a great way of validating it, and will strengthen your commitment to making it happen. Get advice from someone who inspires you and surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Simply discussing things aloud can often make them clearer, sweeter and even jovial. Don't keep it to yourself.

The biggest villains that can overthrow your ballsy beginning are excuses and procrastination. It can often feel like x, y and z need to be in place before you can make a start but this means there is a danger you never will. A shiny new thing may feel like it needs lots of people or money or stuff, but start by planting the seed. If you have dreams of a big exhibition, start small; find a local space or put up work in your bedroom. If you need equipment, swap skills for resources and utilise tools from those around you for mutual gain. Identified your dream job? seek experience and meaningful encounters through whatever you're passionate about. Work up; don't cease before you've begun.

And finally the most important thing to possess when beginning is determination. This does not need to be conviction towards a fixed end product, but rather the commitment to a process and a reason to keep trying. Ideas naturally evolve and sometimes mutate completely, but set out your intentions clearly and allow yourself to be led by your values and instincts. Continually define the next step you need in order to reach your goal - keep going and you'll find yourself there.