Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Countdown Begins

Not long now until I can start the fun process of contacting publishers about Animania and agents about my illustration work. I have put this off for quite a while now as it's hard work going through this process and I didn’t want to try again until I felt 100% ready. I now feel ready, I believe I have a strong enough portfolio to show people and am much more confident about the publishing industry. The past month I have been working on getting a new website up purely for my illustration work which should be launched in a couple of weeks. As soon as this is up and running it is time to give it all another crack. Not wanting to sound like I am giving up, but this will be my last attempt at contacting agents and publishers, if this doesn’t get me anywhere I am officially doing everything off my own back and will just have fun with it all and leave everything in the hands of fate.
I have decided to call the site Neans Dream (Nean Bean is my family nick name), my family have this thing of rhyming our names so there is me…Nean Bean, Anna (Annie Ban), Gina, (Genie Bean) and Keith (Keithy Beef), original eh lol. I tend to not take things too seriously and try to have as much fun and laughter as I can in whatever I do so I wanted this to come across in the new website. By using my nickname I felt that would give it a more personal touch and would show a little side to my personality.  That’s my thinking behind it, it might well backfire and people will see it as being completely unprofessional. I am taking a risk with the concept and hoping people will get where I am coming from.

So the past few weeks has been a mix of re-tweaking Animania, getting  a black and white portfolio together and adding everything to the website. It should be launched within the next fortnight and then it’s time to keep everything crossed!
I have also been mucking about with my new toy the Wacom tablet and pen to try and get to grips with digital artwork. It’s a fantastic tool but I have only just scratched the surface with it. There is so much more I need to learn. The first banner concept I did for Neans Dream was all done  by digitally colouring in a pen sketch I did. I like it and it was great practice, but it didn’t feel right. So I landed up redoing it but with animals as the main subject and going back to hand painting with a bit of digital touching up. This effort I feel is much more me and shows more about what my work is about.  I have nowhere near mastered digital art and feel like I have a lot to learn but my gut feeling is saying that I will still be more traditional based when it comes to my work. I have always had a soft spot for hand painted artwork and as much as I marvel at the effects of digital artwork (you can’t deny it is very professional looking), but there is just something magical about a hand painted piece in my opinion. Its taken me a long, long time to venture over to the dark side but I am dipping my toes in….. you watch give me a year and maybe my paintbrushes will be gathering cobwebs somewhere and I will be eating my words he he

So that’s what I have been doing the past few weeks. Hopefully there won’t be too much ranting in the next blog about the whole publishing process. I did have some lovely feedback from a publisher recently about Animania and a lot of information about the picture book industry which was a real eye opener. I will share that with everyone in the next blog. Lets just say it's not an easy market to crack, in fact it’s probably the most difficult door to open in the publishing industry but I do like a challenge mwahahahah

Monday, 20 October 2014

Onwards and Upwards

Well after the little blip at the beginning of the month things have taken a turn for the better. The therapy exercises of writing all my thoughts down in the last blog and throwing paint about sorted me right out and I have resumed my illustrating. I have thrown myself into a mix of things and am currently working on black and white portfolio studies for my new website purely for my illustration work and a bit of digital work with my new toy (Wacom tablet and pen).

Last Monday was the start of a great week. Mr postie delivered two signed copies of books that I had won off twitter. The first being the The Fearsome Beastie by Giles Paley-Phillips which I read to my 7 year old daughter Felicity aka Flic last night. Thumbs up from both of us and Flic seems to have kidnapped the book now, reading it over and over again. The next book is Els Oot and the Lost City by the lovely Nelson Suit from Inkspokes which I will read to the kids this week. On top of this I have had a couple more exciting things pop up….

Inkspokes Virtual Artist in Residence

The first being Inkspokes virtual Artist in Resident of the month. Inkspokes is an online literary magazine that publishes articles on indie book trends, book reviews of independently published and small press works and author interviews. They also showcase some of the incredible work being produced by book illustrators, especially those working independently, and provide resources for indie authors and publishers to assist them in their writing, book craft and the publishing of their works.

Each week I will post a few samples on what I have been working on that week along with a little blurb and my blog link. So this week I will be posting a few of the black and white studies I have been working on for #inktober. I am killing 2 birds with one stone with this as I have been wanting to put together a little sample of black & white work for a while now so it was like fate that #inktober popped up. For those that don't know what Inktober is about, it is an event anyone can participate in during October, all you do is create a piece of artwork purely in ink and then when you post it on any of your social media sites include the hashtag #inktober I strongly recommend searching for this and checking out some of the work displayed, there is some amazing ink work out there. I have to say I am thoroughly enjoying playing about with this medium. These are my first three for the new website. I am going to do a few more based on the Hedgerow gang with a Halloween theme.

I am so pleased to be part of this new feature for Inkspokes. Please do take a look at their website and follow them on Twitter

KLAs featured artist of the month

The second exciting bit of news is that I am the joint artist in the spotlight with the talented illustrator Calum Jones on the Kid Literature Authors website. The kidliterature group is a fantastic community set up for all fans of children's literacy. Whether you are an author, illustrator or avid reader this community is a must to be part of. They are extremely supportive towards all authors and illustrators and I was honored to be one of the first artists to be in the spotlight. I will be helping them find talented peeps for the artist spotlight each month and I'm really looking forward to helping out in this monthly feature. If you are an author or illustrator I strongly recommend you joining this community, they have a Facebook page that gets updated regularly with useful tips and inspiration to promote your published books and advice on how to get your work noticed. Or you can follow them on Twitter

KLA Artist Spotlight

So what am I going to do for the rest of the month? The main priority is getting my new website launched. I am currently working on the banner which I am digitally colouring up, it’s taking forever!!! But I have got to admit…. I am loving the effect! I am excited to see what everyone thinks of my attempt, especially the digital pros I know out there. So the big question…….am I now eating my words and ready to throw away the brushes?? Hmmmmm that might well have to be covered in the next blog he he

Monday, 6 October 2014

With The Highs Come The Lows

Well the start of the month hasn't been great. I am usually upbeat about things and even though I have little blips now and again overall I am quite positive about how things are progressing. However I do have the odd spell where I get so frustrated with all of this, everything winds me up and it gets to the point it all bubbles to the surface and I have to vent out. It didn't help that I was struck down with the cold from hell at the beginning of the month so was feeling very sorry for myself anyway. A mix of things got to me and I had one of my spells of wanting time out and throwing something onto a canvas.
 So why do I get like this? Ready for the rant he he……. Well I used to get frustrated about how I don’t have as much time as I would like to dedicate to my artwork and how I am stuck in a rut with the day job. However I have learned to accept that now, and as much as it would be nice to have more time I am grateful for having a secure steady income and I wouldn't change not having the kids about for the world. So that frustration has eased off now but it used to niggle at me.

The latest cause of my grey spell is the paranoia you get from these social media sites. It absolutely does my head in! I get so tired of constantly doubting myself  with either a) how I come across to others or b) how good my work is. I was never part of the cool gang at school, I was more part of that little group of misfits, each with their own unique quirky way. I feel  a bit like I have gone back to school on some sites, not quite fitting in but meeting some wonderful people along the way. I can’t stress enough how grateful I am for the support I do have but I really do get left scratching my head a lot with other incidents. I have to learn to accept that not everyone will get you and to really not dwell on any negative vibes that come my way. I need to stop focusing on the “what’s wrong with me” and start focusing on my work and the people that really matter.
Then there’s the constant rejections you get, anyone who has tried approaching publishers /agents will vouch for this. It can be utterly soul destroying let alone so intimidating. The talent out there is absolutely ridiculous so you are constantly unsure whether you are good enough. It’s one thing having self belief but when all you get is rejection letter after rejection letter it can really get to you. It takes a lot of hard work contacting them, you have to be so careful with how you word your covering  letter. You have to try and sell yourself, appear a little different to the norm but not in a bad way, giving enough info to intrigue them but yet not boring them to death. Just writing the cover letter itself takes a lot of planning and tweeking and each publisher / agent has to have a bespoke one. Then you have to really research who you approach, making sure that they are perfect for you, sifting through all their published titles, the current illustrators they work with etc. It is not an easy I task I assure you! so you do all this, follow their strict guidelines, and for what….. a brief thanks but no thanks. No advice on why you are rejected just a “we really enjoyed reading / looking at your work but no, not suitable” or “our books are full”. I know they have hundreds of these letters to go through and can’t advise as to why you were not successful, but my god it’s depressing!! I have officially given up with the agent route for my book but I will be trying to contact them again for my illustration work later this year once my new site is up and running.

I was on a real downer with it all but chatting to an old school bud and some new ones really helped me and I decided to take a step back from social media for a  few days and do something just for me. This was the result. I did no prelim sketching with this as I didn't want it to be planned, I just wanted to get stuck in and get lost in something. I got my brushes out and dived straight in, not caring how it would turn out or if anything wasn't placed correctly, my theory was just add more paint if it looked iffy and if it was really terrible, who cares! I had this image floating about for a while which I thought was beautiful and I don’t know… it just seemed fitting. I haven’t attempted one of these in 3 years so the initial blank board was somewhat intimidating , but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t say I am  happy with her, it needs a lot of work but it was a good therapeutic exercise.
The last time I had a bad spell like this was the last time I painted anything of this size. This was the result… says it all eh lol I admit it’s not great , some of the faces are well dodge, but I do like the concept and it did the trick, haven’t felt that pent up with my work for 3 years. Hopefully the angel will keep me going now for a while. I thoroughly enjoyed doing this and really feel like a massive weight has been lifted. I know some people won’t get any of this and might even think I need therapy he he  but I am sure all the artists out there, professional or non professional will have felt like this at some point. Talking with other people gets me through it plus doing pieces like this. Art can be very therapeutic, you can forget this at times. Sometimes it’s good just to have  a break from the norm and just do something completely different with no planning whatsoever, just go for it and literally throw paint or your medium of choice to paper.

These two were also done at the beginning of my 5 year rebirth, I was very frustrated back then but that was mainly because I wasn't at the level I wanted to be and just didn't get where I was going with it all, hence the anger and feeling lost vibe with it. I sound like a right weirdo here lol, I am really quite sane… well sort of he he. I just thought it was important to show this side to what I do as it does unfortunately rear it’s ugly head now and again.
So I would like to end  this blog on “good riddance!” grey spell and “welcome back colour”!!

Monday, 29 September 2014

September Highlights

Well where do I begin!! What a fun month September has been, a tad chaotic hence no blog entries, but muchos funos!! So many lovely things have happened so I thought I would dedicate this blog to my September highlights. It’s been a whirlwind of celebrations, catching up with family, meeting new friends and off course lots of painting! So where to begin….
Completion of Animal Stories For The Young Bk 3

I guess it would have to be the completion of Animal Stories for the Young Volume 3…. Woohoo!! After three and a half months or painting pretty much every day the book was completed. This time around I submitted all the illustrations digitally, a different approach to what I have done before. Usually I let the publishers scan everything their end but this time I wanted to edit the images myself. I was a little wary about sending the memory stick off, waiting for the email saying “it’s no good, you need to redo it all”. Thankfully a few days later I had an email saying that they were delighted with the illustrations and that it should be published next month! Happy days.
The plan was to take a break from the pencils and brushes but it doesn’t seem to have happened, I have since worked on landrovers, squirrel balloons, fallen angels and very fluffy critters. October’s plans are to carry on with my own picture book Animania plus a few other bits and pieces I want to squeeze in. No doubt it will be a random mix of subjects again. Plus I want to build a website purely for my illustrations.

Mum visiting from Oz

It has been a year now since I saw my little munckin. She came over from Australia for 4 weeks at the beginning of September so there has been a lot of fambo time this month. We had a lovely day trip to London where we saw the London poppies and then the London dungeons after. If you haven't done it yet you have to see the poppies, such a moving piece of art, you can't help but be moved, I am so pleased we went to see it. It's going to be sad saying goodbye again but it will just be another 5 months before I get see her again so will keep telling myself that, plus skype makes things much easier.
Meeting Karen Emma Hall, founder of Kid Literature

The biggest highlight has been meeting some really lovely peeps off twitter. I was lucky enough to have a cuppa with the lovely Karen founder of Kid Literature Authors while she was visiting family. It was so nice to meet up with her and I will be popping in a date on the calendar next year to go and visit. She has done some remarkable work with the kid lit group and its growing from strength to strength. I feel very blessed to have been a part of the group when it first started out and really respect and admire Karen for what she has achieved. The group is a resource for all kid lit enthusiasts, whether you are an author, illustrator or avid reader, the group is a must to join and be a part of. It will be an invaluable tool for me when I come to promote my own book when I am ready. I have learned so much from them already and built some lovely friendships. Do check out the links below to learn more about them, they are always on the lookout for new admins to help run the site.  Facebook  Twitter  Website
Interview with Success Skunks

Another friendship has been formed with Paul Cody, the founder of Success Skunks. At the beginning of the month I was interviewed by Success Skunks and am doing a couple of illustrations for their new website. They are a charity who’s aim is to inspire children to pursue their passions by interviewing all manner of professionals, from sportsmen, musicians to authors, artists and much much more. Do take a look at their site to learn more about their charity. They are also currently running a donate a book scheme for the charity If you would like to be a part of this community or donate a book or colouring pages then please contact them via these links: Facebook  Twitter  Website

Squirrel Balloons!!!

I have also been having some fun and giggles with fellow tweeting buds and have to give a special shout out to two of them for putting a massive smile on my face in September. First up is Jon, who specialises in humorous comic style cartoons. If you fancy a giggle is well worth a nosey. After one of our random conversations one afternoon we some how side tracked into a conversation about squirrel balloons. I can’t even remember how or why but I hold Jon entirely responsible, he has an overactive imagination! Anyway after discussing what a ridiculous concept it was we then agreed that once I finished my book and once Jon had finished all of his comic strips we would celebrate by drawing each other some squirrel balloons. I was chuckling away the entire time I drew mine and from what Jon has said, he enjoyed doing his part too ;) We both agree to post our drawings on twitter the same day. What tickled me was how without discussing what we were doing (other than inflatable animals), between the two of us we came up with a little story board. Here is what happened….
 Follow Jon on Twitter

My very own flamenco dancer by artist Sean Ashton
Another dear friend and someone I find a true inspiration is Sean. When I first met Sean I was really taken with his figurative studies. His work bought back memories of how I used to enjoy working in the fine art area. I do have a soft spot for fine art and seeing all the work Sean is doing lately is really making me want to have  another crack at it. I asked him if he had ever painted a flamenco dancer as it is something I have always wanted to paint but never attempted it. The next thing I know he sent me a few photos of flamenco dancers and said he was going to give it a go. The photo I chose was in black and white but I asked for the dress to be in red against a very dark background. Passionate, intense and striking was my brief. Well I thought he might not speak to me anymore at one point as I had picked a very hard subject and coverting black and white to colour is no easy task but he did it and I absolutely fell in love with it. The most touching thing though was that a few days later it was popped in the post and I am now the luckiest girl in the world with my very own flamenco dancer. 
He has inspired me to try another fallen angel painting again. I haven’t painted a canvas for over 3 years now, can you believe it! The books have kinda taken over, not that I am complaining, I love working on children’s illustrations but there is always an itch to paint a canvas.
Do follow his work on Facebook and Twitter To be at the level he is after just 2 years of painting is quite remarkable….. watch this space, this one is gonna go places!!
Ok I will stop rambling for now. All I can say is September has been a fun one! Oooo just remembered another thing. I bought a WACOM tablet so I am venturing into something I have been petrified of trying…. Digital hokery pokery! I shall dedicate my next blog to this new toy of mine.  It’s certainly opening my mind to new possibilities. On that note I shall be on my merry way.
Over and out for now

Friday, 5 September 2014

Blogging From The Heart Tour

I was recently asked if I would like to take part in this blogging from the heart tour and not one to say no to new experiences I readily agreed. I am still a newbie to this blogging malarky but figured it would be a great way to get my feet wet in the blogging world. It seemed like an ideal way to network with others and to hopefully learn a thing or two along the way, so why not eh!

So what exactly is involved in this blogging from the heart tour? 

Well the jist of it is...
  • Meet Blogging from the Heart sponsor, children’s book author Cat Michaels.
  • Meet fellow creatives s on the next tour stop, who will post their Blogging from the Heart Tour on 19th September.  
  • Then I answer four questions from the heart about my work and why I put myself through this he he.

So first bit, everyone please meet my lovely sponsor Cat Michaels

Blog Sponsor Cat Michaels

I have met Cat on good old twitter through the Kid Literature group where a bunch of us creative types support / inspire each other and have a little chin wag along the way. I thoroughly enjoy reading Cat’s blog posts and am usually nodding in agreement with her experiences she has with the fun world of social networking. 

So a little bit about Cat… After earning an M.S. degree in special education from the University of Kansas, she spent two decades helping students from kindergarten to college reach their potential. She also managed communications and staff development programs for an international high-tech company. She then returned to her education roots, serving at a community college as a writing coach for students with Asperger’s syndrome and learning disabilities. She writes illustrated chapter books for young readers and the young at heart. Cat's books can be viewed on this link: Amazon linkTo connect with Cat and learn more about her books, please visit her website and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Step two I would like to introduce you to my nominated peeps who I will pass the blogging torch onto

Blog Sponsor Leigh Shearin

Leigh Shearin and her husband are new farmers; transplanted from a suburban existence in search of a cleaner, more independent lifestyle. Leigh has two blogs that cover their adventures in their new exciting way of life with the aim to encourage others who think that farming and living a sustainable life is beyond their means. Her blog is full of delicious recipes and certainly made me hungry going through it! The other blog gives you an insight into their farm life. You can also follow her on Facebook 

Blog Sponsor Sherri Gaillard

Sherri Gaillard is an introverted optimist, artist and writer of short stories and prose poem ramblings on deep emotions, personal growth, and coping with depression. She belongs to the Holly Springs Writers’ Guild and has 2 published books Scribbles, Grumbles, Rambles & Rants and Break the Surface You can follow Sheri’s work via her website and facebook  

Blog Sponsor Sandra Harvey

Sandra Harvey grew up in a house overlooking the sea, with a Russian fortune-teller for a mother, and a Irish storyteller for a Dad, it is not wonder that Sandra was naturally lead down the path of being an author. She writes stores for children with a Gothic twist and in here exact words " I write because I just can't help it, I seem to have a vein running through all of my stories of loss, loneliness and sadness as key. There is always a happy ending but a wee melancholy" On top of her writing she is also a  fashion designer, designing elegant fitter apparel for women chef and cooks, quite the talented lady I am sure you will agree.

You can connect with Sandra at:

Now the bit where I answer a few questions… 

What am I working on?

I have just completed the 3rd Volume for Animal Stories For the Young, written by Mr Herbert C Burrow. This is a delightful little collection of animal stories for the younger readers. You are introduced to a wide range of different animals and he throws in many fascinating facts about them throughout the book. He has a great love for animals and his aim with these books are to teach children to respect animals and to be kind to them. The remarkable thing about Mr Burrow is that he will be 100 in December, can you believe it! A remarkable man and it has been a very interesting experience working with him. I have dedicated a blog to him if that’s of any interest out there. 

As from next week the plan is to take things a bit easier and to focus on being a mum again. I have been working flat out for the past 4 months and my poor children have had the words “when the book is finished” said a few times now. My son wants me to teach him how to cook and my daughter how to draw so it’s time to give them some mum time back. Off course I will still be drawing, the main focus will be to complete my own book “Animania”. This is an utterly ridiculous animal alphabet book in rhyme. It is very silly, colourful and very me. Not sure if that is a good thing or not he he. There are other projects coming up but this will be the main baby. Here is a sneak preview into what the book is about.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? 

The main thing I have noticed is that I seem to dabble in most areas of art and constantly flitting between different styles. I am always told that my portfolio looks like a bunch of different artists rather than all being painted by the same person. I am not sure if that is a compliment or not. People are always saying find one style and stick to it, I don’t really do that. Experimenting is what keeps the passion alive for me. Saying that my illustrations now do have a style of their own and I don’t think this will change much more but who knows with me. One thing that will never change is my use of colour, I can’t get enough of it! 

Why do I write/create what I do? 

Get ready for the cheese…. I do this because I love it but the main thing is to spread a bit of happiness….pass the bucket lol It’s true though, I think that is why I have naturally been drawn to illustrating childrens books. I remember the joy I got as a child reading books and looking at the illustrations, they were so magical…. I want to be part of that. To know someone is smiling or even better giggling because of something you have created or said is what makes me do this. I also want to make my children proud of me and to inspire them that they can be whatever they want to be in life

How does my writing/creating process work? 

The usual process to my illustrations is that I will read the manuscript given to me and then jot down the scenes that immediately come to my head. The publishers tell me how many pages I have to work with so I come up with an appropriate number of illustrations to fill the book. I will present my list of illustrations to the author and we will discuss what needs changing / adding etc. Once the illustration ideas are agreed I then crack on with doing a pencil draft. Once I have the thumbs up for that then I will proceed with the colour work and do this one by one until all illustrations are complete. A book usually takes me around 4 months to complete. I then send all completed illustrations over to the publisher. I would love to fully design and lay out a picture book one day as the layout of the book is something I haven’t been involved with before. 

Well that's all folks, hope you enjoyed my attempt at this. I am slowly getting there. Please do stop by again to read Leigh, Sherri & Sandra's blogs.

Monday, 18 August 2014

3rd Picture Book Blog for Simone Da Costa's Emily-Rose's Day at the Farm

AMAZON LINK                                       We are back!! Story time in the Holyoake homestead has resumed. The kids have been pestering when I will be doing another one of these so they were very excited when I came home armed with the next book to read.

This week we have read Simone da Costas Emily-Rose's Day at the Farm. This story is about a little girl called Emily-Rose who has gone on a day trip to her grandmothers farm. She had always wanted to feed the animals but Grammy always did this herself. Well this time Emily-Rose has a go and let’s just say….. Grammy knows best!

The instant thing that hit all of us was the colourful book cover, it certainly did the job of enticing us all in. We were all eager to see what was on the next page. Again I went with the option of reading this out three times as you get more constructive feedback out of the little people then.

So first up we had my 7 year old daughter Felicity aka Flic, Fifi, little miss chatterbox. After being told off yet again for reading too quickly she gave me her thoughts. After reading it slowly and clearly she immediately said that she loved the pictures and said that they showed exactly what was happening in the story. She also liked some of the terminology that isn't so familiar with us Brits, like cracked corn, she mentioned that a lot! She thoroughly enjoy the story and her little face lit up when she saw a word search at the end, a very clever idea I might add. Oh and the mentioning of falling on her bottom raised a few giggles.
Next up my son Dylan aka Dil who is 10. 
I could tell he was enjoying the story as there were no interruptions and he was giggling throughout. He liked the term rambunctious that kept popping up, saying it sounded like an old fashioned word and he was keen himself to find out what it meant .He really enjoyed the pickles the animals were being and each time I turned the page he was keen to see what they did next to poor Emily-Rose, trying to guess what they would do. He thought it was quite silly of Emily-Rose running away with the cracked corn and being chased by ducks. I told him that I did exactly the same thing with a baby elephant, I kid you not! I too went to give a baby elephant a bit of my sandwich only to then decide that I was too scared to do it. Off course I started running and so did the elephant. My mum shouting “drop it, drop it”, I did eventually……never again he he

And our third recruit Phoebe our next door neighbour who is 9. Phoebe's comment made me laugh at the end. Her exact words were " I hate to admit it but the grown up's are always right" She enjoyed the story saying that it was a lovely picture book for the younger reader and that it teaches you not to rush into things and to listen to what your grown ups tell you. She enjoyed the pictures saying that the illustrations were very bright and colourful and matched the story well. The addition of a quiz and a word search was a very clever idea and went down well with all 3 of the children

Last but not least, my thoughts......Well I have to applaud Simone and the illustrator on creating a very visually appealing book. You can see so much thought has been put into the layout of the book and the illustrations really draw you into the story. From an illustrators point of view I have to say that the pictures really compliment the story beautifully. The story itself is a delightful read, keeping you enticed the whole way through. An excellent piece of story telling and a lovely tribute to the relationship between grandmother and grand daughter. It was lovely to read out as well, with lots of different expressions to play with. I think any child would enjoy this and grown ups will love reading it to their children. A great read for the whole family to enjoy together.

You can follow Simone and her work via her blog, facebook and twitter. Links are as follows:

From all at the Holyoake Homestead, it’s over and out for now. Be sure to pop by again for the next installment.

Sweet dreams xx

Friday, 1 August 2014

A tribute to a remarkable man... Herbert C Burrow author of Animal Stories For The Young

I have been a bit behind lately due to a much needed break away to Valencia. It was a fab holiday and given me lots of memories to cherish. I took myself offline and armed myself with Herbert C Burrow’s autobiography to read while I lazed about. I have been meaning to read this for ages but things always get in the way and I am pretty shattered come the evenings. Anyway I did it, I completed the book and am so pleased I did. I have worked with some interesting characters over the years but Mr Burrow is top of the list for leading such an extraordinary life with an alien abductee coming a very close second (that’s a whole blog in itself he he)

I have worked with Mr Burrow now for two years on his Animal Stories For The Young books. What is truly remarkable though is it will be his 100th birthday this December. I am currently working on the 3rd Volume and we are pushing to get this published just in time for the big occasion. He is even half way through writing the 4th Volume! I find it so inspirational that he is still writing and painting to this day. I hope I have as much passion and determination in my later years.

Close friends will tell you, I am not the most enthusiastic person when it comes to reading non fiction or anything that requires you to concentrate for more than ten minutes, I have a very short attention span! I know that’s a terrible thing to admit to, I am more your easy reading and pretty pictures kinda gal. Saying that I am a sucker for a really good gritty crime or horror story. But I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this and have gained a whole new respect for the man. So much so that I wanted to do a little blog in tribute to him.

His autobiography “It all Began in the Garden of Eden” covers his fascinating career working with the British Council. He was 29 years old when he took over running the B.C. in Iraq, the beginning of a long career of zigzagging across the world to very different countries. With 15 postings in 13 countries - Iraq, Algiers, Morocco, Tunisia, London, Czechoslovakia, Brazil, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Ghana and France. It was fascinating reading about all of the experiences that were had throughout his life as he spread the word, encouraging the use of the English language and establishing cultural relations with other countries. The peaceful nature of this task was often carried out under a state of violence and political upheaval. Faced with unusual and dramatic situations such as being held hostage in the British Embassy in Baghdad for the month of May 1941 when a pro-German group of Iraqi Generals staged a coup He often had to rely on his own initiative to get himself out of some pickles and always managed to retain his good sense of humour. He and his wife of 58 years were quite the team, up heaving themselves with each posting and turning what little they were given into a family home. They both were very respected in the communities and met many well known names as a result. It was fascinating reading about the cultural and political life in these countries during one of the most eventful periods of modern history - the Second World War and its aftermath. 

A fascinating man and someone I have grown very fond of, my only regret is that our paths did not cross earlier on in my life. My Dad would have loved listening to his tales, such a shame we couldn’t of shared that together. I have certainly learned a few things since working with him.

In the meantime I shall carry on working on the 3rd edition of Animal Stories For The Young. He is very fond of animals and these books are a lovely collection of short animal stories with characters you can’t help but fall in love with. What makes them stand out though are all the little tit bits of information he throws in about animals that he has come across over the years. He had many strange pets and has told me some stories you would find hard to believe like how his little pet parrot Perky sat on his finger throughout the whole flight between Rio to Thailand! The purpose of these books are to stimulate affection for animals instead of treating them just as pets. I think he accomplished what he has set out to do.

I will leave you with a little collection of my favourite characters so far from The Animal Stories of The Young collection....

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Book blog - Week Two - A Rabbit’s Tale by Rob Bounds

We were all very excited to see what was in store for us this week with our new picture book assignment. This week we have read A Rabbit's Tale by Rob Bounds. This delightful book is about a young rabbit’s adventure after a few narrow escapes on our busy roads. He takes us on a little journey meeting some lovely characters on a quest to find out how he can avoid these dangers. 
The story has been used by the illustrator Neil Hunt's school to promote the message  "be bright to be seen"

After last weeks teething problems I decided that I would get more sense out of the children by reading it to them all individually as it took a good 15 minutes of mucking about last week before they started settling down. I hold my hands up…  we were not the most professional of book groups! What with the girls giggling and Dylan making faces it turned out to be a rather long affair. We cracked it in the end though.
So we started with my daughter Felicity aka Flic who is seven years old (going on 18). Well the first thing that was pointed out to me was that I needed to work on my expressions! Apparently I need to practice my story telling skills, cheeky moo! After a stern telling off she said that she really enjoyed the book and liked the fact that it was in rhyme.  She liked the story and pictures very much and would like to read it herself (obviously with more expressions lol).  She is a very keen reader and writer and later that evening I had seen she had been writing her own piece of poetry so she was obviously inspired by our little story time session.
Next up is our latest recruit Phoebe, our next door neighbour. Phoebe is nine and is full of constructive criticism and I must say has taken a very keen interest in our weekly story time sessions. She enjoyed the story and said that this would be a great book for schools and to be used as a teaching aid as it teaches you about road safety.  She also commented on how bright and colourful the illustrations were so would appeal to younger children.
Then we have my son Dylan who is ten (going on two).  Now he loved the rhyming, both of my children have a thing for poetry. He said that the rhyming made the story have a nice flow to it and made it nicer to read. I might add, at this point this was my third attempt of reading this out loud so I was quite the story teller by this time he he.  Another point made was that he liked the concept behind the book and how it was not only a good story but had an important message behind it too.
So from the kids we have another thumbs up.  From the grown ups point of view…. Well I too have  a soft spot for stories in rhyme so was very pleased when I started to read this. The illustrations have been done by Neil Hunt and have a very retro feel which instantly took me back to my childhood. Anything that makes you go back to your inner child is always a good thing in my eyes. The illustrations are created using bright bold colours in a sketchy style that I am sure children would enjoy. 

The story itself is lovely, and I agree with the kids I do like the message behind it. It is important to know road safety and I like that you learn this as the story goes on. The words flow very well and engage the reader, leaving you wanting to know what happens on the next page. Yes I agree with the little people this is another fine book for our young readers out there and should be a book in every schools library.
So all in all a lovely read.
From all at the Holyoake Homestead, it’s over and out for now. Be sure to pop by again for the next installment.
Sweet dreams xx

Weekly picture book blog for

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Step by step process to my illustrations & some great vids thrown in

I thought I would share the step by step process I take with one of my illustrations. I personally am fascinated watching other artists work and love looking at videos and pictures of their process. I remember taking my poor Mum to one of the art workshops run by the Bognor art club. The first session is spent watching the artists work for 3 hours and then the next session you get to have a go yourself in the workshop. Now I personally loved it but poor mother dearest…. well it’s literally watching paint dry, bless her! She never did come to another session with me he he

Anyways the point to my waffling is that I find it a fascinating process seeing a picture come to life so I thought I would show you the steps I take for my illustrations. These have changed quite a lot over the years but this process is something I seem to be sticking to now, the only change is I am incorporating more digital effects. I do however personally favour traditional art, call me old fashioned but there is something magical about a piece that has been hand painted. So as wonderful as modern technology is I don't want to go over board with it.

AnaBelle Stamps

My medium of choice these days are water based coloured pencils, the inktense range being my absolute fave. In fact it was this video that made me want to try them out. As soon as I saw this I ordered a box of pencils and the brushes and I haven’t looked back since. They are so lovely too blend and the colours really pack a punch. I have never tried pro markers but I would imagine they have a similar effect. I now use a mix of pastels, inktense and watercolour pencils and coloured pencils on Daler & Rowney's 220gsm heavy weight paper.

So the first step is to roughly sketch out my initial draft. I then use carbon graphite paper to redraw the image onto the heavy weight card. I could draw straight onto the card but I find that by redrawing an image I really get a feel for it which makes everything happen much more naturally.

Once I have the final pencil sketch ready to go it’s the fun bit of colouring in. I block in my base colours using unison pastels. I use to do this with all of the background but lately I have been experimenting with mixing this with digital backgrounds.

Then I colour in everything but the grass with my inktense pencils. Then, my fave bit, going over it all with a wet brush. The watercolour pencils never blended as well as these bad boys do. The inktense pencils really do blend very well and you don’t need to add much more to them after.

Then I get the coloured pencils to add all the finer details and extra shading. The grass is made up of layers of little strokes, usually made up of four to five different shades of green. I also go around the characters in black coloured pencil. I did use a pen originally but prefer the black pencil as it just seems a little softer. I want the characters to pop out more than the background so only go around them.

Then I do the final editing on the computer and voila job done.

I am completely self taught with my illustrations so I can’t comment if this is the right way of doing things but it works for me :)

Here are a few of my favourite artists videos that I have watched over the years. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.....

This one has been watched over and over, I just love it and is probably my most fave art video out there. Absolutely love his style. The artist is AlfieAlpha  Follow on facebook

Huge fan of this talented ladies work. Her work is very illustrative and decorative. I have seen a few of her pieces now and you really need to see them in person to appreciate the true beauty of them. I could stare at these pieces for hours, so much to look at. Artist Kerry Darlington 

And another of my faves Leonid Afremov. If you like colour you are going to love his work!! I don't think there is one piece of his I haven't liked.  

Last but not least, the talented artist Karl Andrews. His landscapes are stunning, take a look at his work at or 
Follow on facebookThis video is one I studied when I first attempted to paint my fallen angels on canvas. He makes it looks so effortless here! Great soundtrack too...