Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Reddit Secret Santa 2013

This is the first year that I've taken part in Reddit Secret Santa, and I have really enjoyed it!
If you haven't heard about it, it's the world's biggest secret santa gift exchange. There are over 100,000 people taking part this year which will be a world record!

You sign up on and on the 2nd of December they match you with another Reddit user. You then get sent a little bit of information about your giftee, depending on how much of their profile they have filled in. You can also use this information to do a little non-creepy online stalking to find out more about your giftee (I have been trained by my Reddit-pro brother!).

At the same time, your name is given to another person from anywhere in the world. So I have no idea who my Santa is, but am ridiculously excited to find out. There are even celebrities like Bill Gates, Bear Grylls and Arnold Schwarzenegger taking part!

When I first received my giftee's information I was a little nervous because they are very sporty and I am definitely not. They are interested in horses (I'm allergic), football (I'm a rugby girl) and cycling (I haven't been on a bike since I knackered my knee a few years ago!). So I didn't really have a clue where to start, but really enjoyed the challenge.

Luckily, I have sporty friends and family members. My giftee (who will have to remain a mystery so I don't give the game away) is training for a cycling event so my first gift to them is a Buff. These are really good for outdoorsy people because they are a great way of staying warm without risking a scarf getting caught in whatever you're doing. I chose a horsey pattern to match my giftee's interests.

I then bought some energy jelly beans that my dad used to train for his 10k run this year. He said that they were useful, so I hope that they enjoy them. I also got a personalised cycling chocolate bar for them as a Christmassy treat. I love chocolate so that's sharing something I like too!

The main reason I'm writing this blog post though, is the final two gifts in my present. I wanted to share a few of my interests with my giftee. I love reading, and obviously art, so I tried to think of a book and illustration I could draw for them that would reflect their interests and well. Last month I went to see 'War Horse' at the theatre which was absolutely amazing, and as my giftee is interested in horses it seemed like the perfect book to include in their present.

I decided to draw Joey, the horse from the story, for them. I'm posting the gifts today and have written on the tag of my illustration that my giftee can find out how it's made here.

As usual, I worked in dip pen with ink and watercolour to produce this illustration. 

My very messy art materials!

I began by mapping out the main shapes in pencil, and then added detail in dip pen and ink. 

Next I added washes of ink to add shading and depth to the picture.

After that, I began to add washes of watercolour. I waited for each layer to dry before adding more.

Then I added more detail and texture with watercolour crayon. Finally, I added little splashes of colour to give the illustration movement and make it more atmospheric. This is a one-off illustration just for them.

Once it was finished, I mounted it with blue board and packaged it ready to ship!

I've now got all of my gifts wrapped and am heading to the post office. I'm so excited and nervous about sending the gifts. To my giftee, I really hope you like them and have a very merry Christmas!

Presents pre-wrapped. I included the candle in the photo to make it look a bit more festive and managed to
burn my finger on it- oops!

Wrapped and ready to go!

*UPDATE* I'm absolutely thrilled that my giftee loved their present and sent me the nicest thank you message :)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Yuletide Tunes

To be honest, my Christmas preparations started quite a while ago, but now that it's officially allowed, I thought I'd share some wintery music that inspires me.

My favourite Christmas album is Annie Lennox's 'A Christmas Cornucopia'. This is great because it's a bit of a twist on some very well-loved carols, including my favourite; 'The Holly and the Ivy'. I love the pagan influences and muted colours in 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' which help create a dream-like fairy tale feel.

Although I've enjoyed Kate Rusby's music for a while now, I only recently started listening to her Christmas albums. I started listening to them because I'm going to see her at Malvern Theatres later this month. These are traditional folk versions of well known carols so sound slightly different but are very catchy after a few listens.

From Kate Rusby's sing-along songs to something a bit quieter. I've had a soft spot for Enya ever since the wonderful 'May it Be' for 'The Fellowship of the Ring'. Plug in your earphones, take yourself on a solitary winter walk through a forest and let your imagination take you to a land of castles and magic.


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Monday, 25 November 2013

Pitt Rivers Museum

Over the weekend we had a Smith family outing to one of my very favourite places- The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. 

Pitt Rivers is absolutely crammed full of different collections from around the world, ranging from witchcraft artefacts to shrunken heads. I am a natural hoarder, particularly of shiny things, so everything about the museum appeals to me. This was my third visit, but I think it's one of those places where you could visit for the rest of your life and always discover something new.

Here are some pictures from the day. 

Just to warn you, there are pictures of skulls and shrunken heads below, so if you don't want to see them, please don't scroll down!

Three floors of treasure to explore

My favourite discovery: healing sea-horses!

I love all of the hand-written labels 

Wooden masks

I really liked this fabric design

Treatment of Dead Enemies section

A rather grizzly shrunken head.
For some reason this one reminds me of the uncle
 in 'The Magician's Nephew'

Another shrunken head. These are eerily small.

Mum and Harv are happy- they've found the skulls!

These keys really appeal to my inner magpie

Many of the drawers beneath the cabinets are unlocked so that you can
find even more curiosities

Tarot and playing cards

Bottles and jars

A testosterone-fueled walk through the weapons section

Unfortunately the Natural History Museum in the same building was closed for
restoration work.
 A perfect excuse to re-visit when it's finished in February!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Barn Owl Inspiration and Inking Process

Over the weekend we had fairly windy and rainy weather so I decided to have a 'Hibernation Day' indoors and re-watch my favourite film: Labyrinth. As I've previously mentioned, I love everything about this film.

If you've never seen it (Why?!), David Bowie's Goblin King is able to turn into a barn owl. As you do.  According to IMDB, this was actually the first attempt at including a CGI creature in a film.

Re-watching the film reminded me of how much I love barn owls. In English folklore they have been seen as quite menacing creatures and have even been linked to death. I think they were just misunderstood because they look so beautifully other-worldly. If you want to read more about them, I found a really interesting website here.

So, inspired by my favourite film, I decided to create my own barn owl illustration today. 

I often get asked what I use in my illustrations, as well as how long each one takes me. The short answer to this is that it varies from piece to piece, and I'm often enjoying myself so much that I don't actually know how much time I've spent on something by the time I've finished. A large scale piece, like the one I started today, usually takes at least 3 days of actual painting and drawing time.

I thought I would share the first few stages of a piece with you today. 

All of my work begins with mapping out a very rough sketch in pencil. I try to do this very quickly and not over-think it, but just try to capture a bit of life in what I'm drawing. I then do my main sketching with an old fashioned dip pen and Chinese black ink.

Dip pen and ink sketch detail

The next stage is my favourite. It's really important to me that I capture the feel of something rather than perfect details, so I like to make a mess here. I work over my dip pen and ink sketch with washes of water and different sized paint brushes to begin adding shading and some details. I usually chuck a bit of water on the paper and let it run down (I work on an easel). You can see this in the picture below, as well as where I've flicked the paintbrush on the wing. By this point I have permanent ink all over my clothes and face!

Adding wash details

I keep working over what I've done using water, ink and brushes until I'm happy with the first layer. It was getting quite dark by the time I'd reached this stage (below), so my spotlight was adding a touch of spooky lighting, which I actually really like!

Current stage. First layer of ink complete.

It'll be another 6 or 7 layers of different colours and materials before I add the final details to the illustration.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

It's Live!

I'm very excited today because I've been hanging on to an Etsy username since 2010, with every intention of opening my own shop, but I've never quite got round to it. Today, after a very long time, my shop is finally live!

My first products are these Christmas cards:

Full body stag Christmas card

Stag head Christmas card

Set of 6 Stag Christmas cards

I will be popping some extra goodies into my first few orders to celebrate the launch of the shop!

You can find me at

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Warner Brothers Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter

Last weekend I went to visit my brother, Harvey, in Amersham. Harv was an excellent brother and took me to the Harry Potter Studio Tour

We had an absolutely amazing time. I'm really gullible when it comes to films so my mind was blown by all of the behind the scenes magic. I was also very excited the whole way round, as can be seen from the cheesy grin in most of the photos!

The Great Hall!

No. 4 Privet Drive

Harv actually works in special effects himself, and did a few days work experience on the final film, so had seen a lot of it as it was still being used. We also enjoyed looking for his work friends in the wand room.

Wand shopping

I loved every part of the tour, but a few of the highlights for me were The Great Hall, the Creature Effects section, Diagon Alley and the stunning model of Hogwarts.



Hagrid's motorbike

Thanks for an amazing day Harv!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Canadian Adventure: Victoria and Whistler

During the last two days of our trip we visited Victoria for some whale watching, and drove Route 99 to Whistler.

Unfortunately, the weather had turned by then, so we had a rather soggy sea plane ride from Vancouver to Victoria. If you know me, you will know that I am a terrible traveller (I'm a fainter and get travel sick) so I'm not really the top of anyone's travelling companion list. I must admit, I've never felt so travel sick in my life and don't have any desire to go on a sea plane again. Judging by the look on Dad's face as he was sitting next to me, I don't think he wants to take me on one either!

But we made it and had a cooked breakfast before our whale watching boat trip. The weather was very wet by this point so most people stayed under cover in the boat, but all of the Brits decided to be very stubborn and stick it out on the top of the boat until the bitter end! We saw two humpback whales, which were very impressive, but then the sea became very rough so we had to head back early. Whiter shade of pale is an understatement!

After a little respite on land, it was back to the dreaded sea plane for our return journey to Vancouver (made it!). We then drove in a hire car to Whistler in the evening.

The following morning we visited The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre. This one was a bit more of a living history museum and we had an amazing tour guide who was a real character, telling us all about how the First Nations people are continuing their traditions today. We even had a go at making cedar bark rope!

It was then time for us to drive to the airport, so we drove back along Route 99, this time in daylight so that we could take in all of the breathtaking views. A great way to end an amazing trip!