Tuesday, 2 December 2014

First Collector's Edition Children's Book: The Power of Friendship, Determination and Fear of a Looming Deadline!

It's a very rare and special thing so meet someone by chance and instantly 'click', knowing that you are going to become great friends. I've been lucky enough to make two such friends over the last year.

One of those friends is Alice. We met by chance at 'A Celebration of Nature' in May this year and hit it off straight away. I was so pleased when Alice 'made the first move' and invited me to meet up for cake as I'd been wishing I had suggested the same thing. We have since bonded over a mutual love of art, books and good food. Alice secured her place in my heart as one of my favourite people in the world when she bought some gluten free cookbooks especially for cooking me supper (hands down the best pudding I've eaten this year).

During September, Alice invited me over to her house to ask me something important. She asked if I would like to make a children's book together. We got chatting about possible stories and I had the mad idea that we could make a limited edition fine art print book in time for the Christmas h.Art Weekend (5th-7th December), giving us just a few months to write and illustrate it. 'A Yuletide Tale' was born.

I'm a perfectionist and if I have a year to do something, it would take me a year, so working to a strict deadline has been very good for me. I definitely wouldn't have stuck to such a short time frame without Alice's encouragement or wanting to live up to her beautiful writing. It's been a very, very hectic few weeks but we did it!

We wanted our book to be a special Christmas gift and didn't want to cut on any corners and I'm so proud of what we achieved. 'A Yuletide Tale' is inspired by 'The Holly and the Ivy' Christmas Carol. It features my dip pen and ink illustrations as well as archival quality colour fine art prints. Every book is bound by hand and is a signed and numbered limited edition of 50.

Extra special thanks go to our parents for chipping in with our mammoth production lines, Iris Print for producing such beautiful miniature colour prints and The King's School Worcester reprographics department for such a fantastic printing job.

'A Yuletide Tale' will be available at our Christmas h.Art Open Weekend this week (5th-7th December). For details and directions, please see the flyer below. We will have plenty of mulled wine, mince pies and sausage rolls for visitors too. Just follow the pink signs for Venue 10!

We've already had pre-pre-orders so if you would like to reserve a copy to avoid disappointment please email me at katebsmith89@mac.com. Each book is £45.75 and will be available for collection during the h.Art weekend or can be posted if this is not possible.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Recommended Read: Autumn Story

It's been a very busy few weeks recently, with a very successful first h.Art open studio in September and preparations for Christmas products and events well underway now.

Autumn Story

As the season is now well and truly upon us, I thought I would share an autumnal recommended read.

'Autumn Story' written and illustrated by Jill Barklem is part of the Brambly Hedge series of books. The illustrations remind me a little of Beatrix Potter and the stories are just gorgeous. I thoroughly recommend them for children of all ages.

Surprisingly, 'Autumn Story' is the only book from the collection that I actually own, although I have fond memories of reading them at school and watching the charming TV series when it was released. I have a sneaking suspicion that Father Christmas may be rectifying this situation for me this Christmas though!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Kate Bush: Before the Dawn in Drawings and Words

On Wednesday I was lucky enough to go and see Kate Bush's magnificent comeback, Before the Dawn. She is one of my all time favourite singer-songwriters thanks to my parents playing her albums, especially 'The Red Shoes', as I was growing up. Dad was only able to get hold of two tickets and very kindly let me go in his place.

I love Kate Bush. She is well-read and not afraid to show it, and has an incredible imagination (who else can write songs about a foetus, Cathy Earnshaw and a rain making machine?). Whether or not you are a Kate Bush fan, I don't think anyone can deny that writing this song, amongst 100 others in your early teens is anything short of phenomenal talent.

On top of all of that she is stunningly beautiful, but relies on her talent rather than her body to sell her work. You'll never find her twerking, bumping and grinding à la Miley Cyrus, or so many other female singers today. If she wants to unleash the wild eyed stare, flail her arms and don roller blades then that's exactly what she's going to do.

It was a very special evening for Mum too, as she had been to the 1979 tour at the tender age of 17. When I asked her what she thought would happen during the show, Mum confidently said, "This will be the best thing you will EVER see." So I was expecting great things!

I had been incredibly excited, but had resolutely avoided all news and social media relating to the opening night (Tuesday) so that everything would be a complete surprise on the night. We didn't even look at the programme until after the show and were so glad we were spoiler-free. As a consequence, our faces looked like this for most of the evening.

The atmosphere was amazing when we arrived. Everyone at the Hammersmith was clearly very excited to be there and there was a real sense of occasion. We all knew we were about to see something truly brilliant. Mum uses a wheelchair so we were sat at the front of a balcony with a fantastic view of the stage. We were quite surprised because the band's instruments seemed to be taking up a lot of room on stage, so we assumed a screen might come down at some point for a video.

Bang on time Kate Bush arrived to 'Lily' barefoot, dressed in black and looking beautiful as ever. I lost count of the number of standing ovations the audience gave her during the evening and it was difficult to hear the beginning of the song because of the applause and cheering. Everyone had waited a long time for this and wanted to show their appreciation. As in her more recent albums, her voice has become lower and richer with age and was incredibly powerful as she belted out 'Hounds of Love', 'Joanni', 'Top of the City', 'Running up That Hill' and 'King of the Mountain'. It seemed to be more of a traditional set-up than we were expecting, but we were loving it.

At the end of 'King of the Mountain' to the lyric, 'The wind is whistling', the real show kicked off. The drummer, aptly described by one reviewer as looking like an extra from 'Pirates of the Caribbean', then leapt to the front of the stage and started flinging something over his head in circles and the Hammersmith was plunged into darkness with lightning illuminating him to stormy sound effects. Wind canons blasted slips of paper with a quotation from Tennyson's 'The Coming of Arthur' into the audience. 

The stage was covered by a large screen and we watched a short film in which an amateur astronomer had picked up a distress signal from a boat at sea with a woman overboard. The much anticipated Ninth Wave had begun. If you didn't already know, this is the second side of 'Hounds of Love' and is a series of songs about a woman alone at sea. The screen lifted to unveil the huge bones of a shipwreck and spooky fish skeleton men wafting huge stretches of fabric to create a sea effect. On a smaller oval screen at the back of the stage area, Kate Bush appeared in water wearing the life jacket from the promotional photo singing 'And Dream of Sheep'. She had spent days recording the film in the suspension tank and had caught hypothermia in the process. Her vocal was recorded whilst she was in the tank and really made you feel cold for her.

From my sketchbook: One of the fish skeleton men.

She then sang 'Under the Ice'. Her backing singers by this point had become life jacket-clad rescuers. Kate Bush then realised she was the face she could see beneath the ice and fell through the stage. Some large black wings poked through the stage after she had disappeared (a clue for the second part of the evening). 'Waking the Witch' was just as scary as it should have been and her own son Bertie played the part of the son in a swaying living room where Bush imagines her husband and son living life without her in 'Watching You Without Me'. It was especially sad when she tried to hug Bertie and realised she was only a ghost before disappearing to leave the room as it slowly became engulfed by water (very clever lighting). I can't remember exactly which point it happened (there was so much to take in!) but at one point the whole stage went black and a helicopter search light appeared from the ceiling and moved across the audience, with one of Bush's brothers voicing the pilot searching for her. She decided she was ready to live to a rousing 'Jig of Life' with the fish people creating waves around her. A huge buoy appeared on stage next, with backing singers/supporting cast searching for her and pulling her out of the waves before six fish people then carried her away into the audience. The magical first part of the evening then finished with the band returning to the forefront for 'The Morning Fog'.

From my sketchbook: Kate Bush being rescued at sea.

She then announced that they were off for "a little break". There was then a mass love-in for Kate Bush in the queue for the ladies loos. I felt a lot less embarrassed for getting a little teary when she first appeared on stage because one of the ladies I met was still crying and apparently had been throughout! More gushiness followed with the lovely couple we were sitting next to before it was time for the second part and we had no idea what to expect!

The second part was a completely different mood. Set to 'Aerial: A Sea of Honey', snow was softly falling amongst silver birch trees when a small artist's model puppet appeared through some huge wooden doors and interacted with Kate Bush and her band throughout. Bertie played the role of the artist and was painting a huge framed canvas while various birds appeared in slow motion flight across the large screen at the back of the stage. There were still darker elements though, with a half-bird, half-human creature jerkily dancing in the painting and the seemingly sweet puppet killing a seagull he found on the ground. Bertie had his own solo to 'Tawny Moon' and the songs built in drama until the stunning 'Aerial'. There were silver birch trees on stage, a band clad in bird skull masks, dancers dressed as birds and a truly unearthly Kate Bush dancing whilst wearing a black wing. At the end of the song she then disappeared behind the painting which moved away to reveal her wearing a pair of jet black wings and flying towards the audience. Magnificent.

From my sketchbook: There was a single black feather painted on red silk
as our clue for the second part of the show.

Needless to say the applause could not have been warmer, and she returned to the stage alone at her piano to play a beautiful 'Among Angels', finishing with a rousing 'Cloudbusting' before disappearing from the stage again.

When will we see her again? Who knows. I think her choosing to perform her newer material, rather than performing a greatest hits tour, is a good sign that we haven't seen the last of Kate Bush. We'll be waiting.

Mum was absolutely right; it really was the best thing I've ever seen.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Gluten Free Cupcake Recipe

I always get excited when the Bake Off starts. It's my sign that autumn and winter are on the way (my favourite times of year). I also get to nurture my obsession with Mary Berry a little more- what's not to love?!

To celebrate the arrival of the GBBO I thought I would share my favourite cake recipe. 

Food is the way to my heart and my very good friend Lizzie, who is an excellent cook, secured her place there when she passed this gem on to me. I cannot eat gluten, so I've changed it slightly from the original. If you are a relative, friend, or former pupil of mine you will have eaten these before. They have become my go-to cakes that never let me down (alongside Mary Berry's lemon drizzle tray bake). This recipe is for vanilla flavoured cakes, but you can add whatever you wish. My favourite ones so far have been lemon and marzipan!

Tip: I use Dove's Farm gluten free flour- this is a blend of different flours and includes xantham gum which will help hold your gluten-less cakes together. 
*I got a little carried away with my calligraphy here and meant to write 550, rather than 500g of flour- sorry!

Decorate your cakes however you like them. I like using Lizzie's buttercream recipe (500g butter and 500g icing sugar).

If you're feeling a little lazy, you will have enough mix to make a couple of traybakes rather than spooning into cupcake/muffin cases.

On your marks, get set, BAKE!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Sketching in Scotland: Day 6

Today was another fantastic day. We spent the morning on a wildlife 4x4 tour around Ardnamurchan and saw some incredible sights. It was a very inspiring day- much more to come on this in the next week or so as there are so many things I want to draw from the day!

Tonight is our final evening in Ardnamurchan. It's very sad to be leaving but I'm looking forward to seeing all of our lovely animals again, and we already have plans for the next visit!

To celebrate in style, we lit the fire bowl and toasted marshmallows, and our drinks, to a wonderful holiday.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Sketching in Scotland: Day 5

Today we visited a beautiful beach called Ardtoe. Here are some sketches from on the beach before I was too distracted by climbing on the rocks!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Sketching in Scotland: Day 4

Today has been my favourite day of the holiday by far. 

We paid a visit to the Ardshealach Smokehouse and stocked up on all sorts of delicious treats for tonight's supper. If you are a foodie, I definitely recommend checking out their website.

We then pottered on the beach whilst munching on some whiskey fudge from the smokehouse. I took the opportunity for some very speedy sketching here.

After that I had an amazing lunch at Glenuig Inn- an enormous plate of local prawns followed by homemade ice cream. Hours later, I'm still so full that I'm struggling to move!

When we visited Ardnamurchan two years ago, we came across a venison shop selling deer skulls complete with their magnificent antlers. We bought two but I've always regretted not getting one of my own. The venison shop was our first stop but nobody was there. We had a phone call from a man named Fergie later in the day who told us he would be at the shop for us to stop by on our way back from lunch.

Fergie was one of those amazing one-off characters you know you'll never forget. He had a really good long chat with us and told us that his son (who runs the hotel and shop) is about to shoot in The Commonwealth Games and wanted to know all about where the Scottish side of our family were from. He was really pleased that we already owned some of the stag skulls from our previous visit, and even more so that we will be displaying them as they are and not cutting them up (apparently lots of people turn them into walking stick handles which I think is a crime!).

Fergie then told us that he is an accordion player and will be featured on BBC Alba on Thursday at 9.00pm. We asked for his full name so we could look up his music, at which point he stopped us leaving and whipped out a CD from his car boot which he very kindly gave to us.

Little did we know we'd been talking to Fergie 'The Ceilidh King' MacDonald!

PS. Have eaten the smokehouse supper since writing this and the Smoked Scottish Dunlop is to die for!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sketching in Scotland: Day 3

Today consisted of a visit to the local wildlife hide followed by another relaxed afternoon during which I completed my online photography course.

I quickly sketched one of the small islands visible from the hide. A boat came past just as I was finishing so I added it at the last minute.

There were about twenty seals on the rocks in front of us. My favourite was a young one who decided it was much more fun to swim and jump than nap with the others! I could only see them clearly with the help of binoculars and a camera lens, so this was a very speedy sketch.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Sketching in Scotland: Day 2

Today has been a bit of a showery day, so I decided to get the watercolours out and paint the sunset from one of yesterday's photos. 

The saying that if you wait five minutes the weather will change in Scotland is very appropriate for Ardnamurchan! By this afternoon the weather was much sunnier again, so I was back outside sketching. Our cottage is right on the edge of a sea loch so we have our own private rocky beach with benches and a fire bowl. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sketching in Scotland: Day 1

I'm currently on holiday in Ardnamurchan, which is the most westerly point of the British Mainland. It's stunningly beautiful and the perfect place for some sketching.

Today was a relaxed day of shopping, eating and pottering by the rocky beach.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Back to Blogging!

It's been an embarrassingly long time since my last blog post because it has been such a busy few months.

As you may remember from previous posts, Mum and I had our first joint exhibition together during April/May. 'A Celebration of Nature' at Worcester Cathedral was a fantastic success and neither of us could have predicted how wonderful it was going to be. We had over 200 friends, family and supporters joining us for the private view evening and many more visitors during the course of the exhibition.

I made a time-lapse video of the exhibition set-up and Harvey kindly filmed the private view evening for us. Take a look below:

We had a fantastic team of volunteers supporting us during the exhibition and Mum and I also manned the exhibition for some of the time that it was open. On the Bank Holiday Monday I set up my easel and worked on a new painting of a raven.

Thank you once again to everyone who helped us make the exhibition possible and to all of our friends and family who supported us!

Once the exhibition had finished we then had a mad rush to pack orders, tidy the workshop and house ready for our open weekend. Lots of visitors came to collect their artwork and see where we work. We had homemade lemonade and lots of cakes on standby and I'm pleased to say there was nothing left by the Sunday evening!

My poor sketchbook hasn't been getting as much attention as it deserves because of all this, but I have included some sketches made during quiet moments in the Chapter House. I was practising my insects from the Reader's Digest 'Field Guide to the Butterflies & other Insects of Britain'. This is a fantastic resources book, and if you can get your hands on an older edition it has a much nicer cover.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Craft Business Inspiration Day

Mum and I really are becoming quite the double act this year. Yesterday we went to a fantastic Craft Business Inspiration Day at Beechenhill Farm, Derbyshire. It was quite a way for us to go but so worth visiting this beautiful location (plus we packed a huge picnic to keep us going!).

This was the first inspiration day run by photographer Lyndsey James, web expert Daniel Phillips and pricing and pitching pro Suzy Rai. I thoroughly recommend going to one if you get the chance. 

Greeted with tea, biscuits and goodie bags. What more can a girl ask for?!

The day consisted of different workshops and group activities designed to encourage us to think about treating our creative ventures as businesses, rather than constantly apologising and putting ourselves down for what we do (I think this must be a common thing among creatives as there was a lot of chuckling over this point!). We also learnt about the importance of building a network of fellow creatives as making can be quite isolating at times. 

Group tasks in the beautiful venue. You can't go wrong with fairy lights.

I also really enjoyed Lyndsey's mini workshop of photography tips and tricks. I've actually signed up to one of her online Photocraft courses which is coming up in June. Anyone who can talk for an hour about photography and have me understand everything they said is definitely the person to teach me!! The photos in this blog post are used with kind permission of Lyndsey, but hopefully you'll be seeing some rather snazzy photos on here in a few weeks time thanks to the course!

Lyndsey's tips on lighting.

For me, the most enjoyable part of the day was meeting so many other lovely creative people. I didn't study an art degree which, I think, is where a lot of people meet fellow creatives and support each other so it was so lovely to be part of a group of like-minded people for the day and then find everyone on Twitter afterwards!

Admiring Nicola's candy resin bracelet!

Here are the very talented makers from the day. Click on the names for links to their work.

Allsopps Bookbinders: Beautiful books! As everyone knows, I love books, so it will be no surprise to learn that I've already placed my first order with them!
Elm Tree Studio: Beautiful textiles for gifts and special occasions, although I don't think Kirsty will be too pleased if you order another nappy stacker for her to make!
English Garden Soaps: Seona wins my unofficial prize for best business cards- each one comes with a butterfly shaped sample of one of her gorgeous soaps!
HWR Designs: Wonderful textile creations. Helen brought one of her gorgeous pig bags with her and I fell completely in love with it.
Joy Interiors: Super stylish shabby chic interiors. Nicky also makes lampshades and brought a lovely tractor one with her yesterday.
Little Brown Dog Workshop: My favourite products of Susan's are her gorgeous personalised peg dolls.
Made By Daisy: Wonderfully quirky jewellery. Mum and I are admiring one of Nicola's candy resin bracelets in the photo above!
Popsyclunk: Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to chat to Sally, but she makes hand-painted personalised wooden gifts that would make fantastic christening presents.
Scavenger Annie: Another person I didn't get to talk to! Annie makes great alternative embroidery.
Tenacious Bloom: Wonderfully whimsical porcelain jewellery. The cloud earrings are my favourites!

I know that I haven't managed to include everyone in this list, so please message me if I missed you (sorry!) so I can add you to the list :).

Beautiful products for the 'show and tell'.

A huge thank you to Lyndsey, Daniel and Suzy for such a fantastic day. I have so many notes in my notebook and am really looking forward to putting them into action!

Friday, 11 April 2014

March Sketchbook and Ryan Gosling

March has been all about anatomy in my sketchbook. 

I'm trying to build my collection of artist's reference books this year so that my ever growing library of books can overflow from the shelves some more!

In the evenings I have been flicking through my anatomy books and doing some quick sketches from the examples given.

Here is a list of my anatomy collection so far. I would recommend all of them.

'Strength Training Anatomy' by Frederic Delavier
'How to Draw Animals' by Jack Hamm (brilliant resource for animal anatomy)

In other news, we had some new arrivals at the farm on Tuesday: goslings! We've had a broody goose sitting on some eggs surrounded by a pile of logs in an outdoor shed for a while, but weren't holding out much hope as the only time we've ever had any goslings hatch, their parents decided to take them swimming a little too early which did not end well!

Three little goslings were wandering around happily with their mum and two dads (a very modern family!) on Tuesday morning, but when we checked the shed we found a very newly hatched gosling had been left behind. We're not sure if it's a girl or a boy yet, but we're refering to him as a 'he' because it seems so much nicer than 'it'! The little guy had been trodden on by his mum who then left the shed and didn't come back for him. He hadn't dried off from his egg at this point and was too weak to stand so we made him a little towel nest by the Aga to warm up.

Naturally, we named him Ryan Gosling.

Ryan was very weak for the first day of his life, but my brother Harvey spent all day looking after him and giving him water and chick crumbs with a paintbrush. His head was bent backwards because his muscles haven't strengthened fully yet.

Ryan has imprinted on Harv and now thinks he is his Mummy! I'm very pleased to say that he has been getting stronger every day and happily follows Harv around the garden or house! Here are some pictures from Ryan on Wednesday (his second day since hatching).

Ryan and 'Mummy'

Snuggles under Mummy's wing