Thursday, 28 June 2012

Pursuing your dreams - It's Worth Asking

What is there to lose?

I spent a large proportion of today sitting in a newspaper office typing an article for the Head of Content, having spent the morning phoning people and getting quotable comments, asking people's names and ages. This was the first day of my new season of Work Experience at the Mid Devon Gazette. How come? Well, I asked if I could, and they said yes. 

What's weirder is that I only thought to make this request because I was already writing a monthly Children's Book Review Column for them. Which only came about because one day I thought, hold the phone, I would LOVE to write a column for a newspaper. How can  I do that? Minutes later I was composing an email to the newspaper asking "please will you let me write a column for you? Here's a sample book review I've written, and by the way I am a total children's book geek."  Or something like that. What blew me away was the fast and positive response. The Content Editor said yes. And not only that, but it was 'just the sort of thing he'd been looking out for.'

I am not writing this post to boast, but to encourage. I want you all to be aware of how easy it is to ask for something. It costs nothing to ask a question, and if no-one ever replies, or they reply with a big fat no, so what? What have you lost? There are so many avenues to explore instead. And if they say yes, well, there you go. Enjoy it.

I have not been fed by a silver spoon, neither am I completely (or even slightly) qualified for anything much. I do not have a degree, I chose to explore art and writing from home. And I haven't got much relevant work experience except for working in bookshops and libraries. I have had enough rejections to know that just because you want something doesn't mean you will automatically get it. But, you just might. What I do know for sure is unless someone reads your mind and tracks you down to find you and fulfill your dreams for you, most things will not happen unless you ask. Explore. Knock on doors, write emails. Hundreds of them. See what happens. See where it leads you.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Things that Kittens do .... and a book review

These days I spend a lot of time looking at one or other of our two very beautiful kittens, Wolfgang and Daphne. 

I have always loved the shape of cats, and the way they move. The way they stretch, sit, curl up, leap, trot, chase. The way they bat at things, the way they pounce, or get caught up in wool. Actually, our kittens have managed not to wrap themselves up in wool but they have succeeded in tying up a great many objects in our house (see picture below as just one example). 

With all this kitten gazing going on I keep thinking, I really want to draw these kittens. And I have, a little bit. But I would love to do so more, and as time is limited right now I am just taking it all in and storing it up. People keep telling me that with all this kitten activity I should be writing a story about them. But as yet, no ideas have blooped into my brain and I am not convinced that just because something is amazing and fun that it automatically leads to a plot in a story. If a story comes I will embrace it and get stuck in, but til then, I leave you with a fine and shining example of someone who can REALLY draw cats. The lady in question is Catherine Rayner, one of my all-time favourite illustrators. She is pretty cool because she also writes most of the stories she has illustrated and her drawings are absurdly true to life.

Her images are so full of character and every pose she captures is brimming with life and believability. She loves animals and spends a lot of time watching them and sketching them. She knows how they move and how their bodies work. She knows where each limb will be in every situation, from any angle. And yet she manages all of this whilst still avoiding too much reality. Her drawings are stylish and unique, bold and expressive. Whether it's Kittens, Tigers, Crocodiles, Polar Bears, Rabbits, Dragons or Little Birds, this lady knows how to put them on the page and make you gaze as delightedly at them as you would at the real animals.

 The particular book I want to show you is called Posy, and is written by Linda Newberry but illustrated by Catherine Rayner. It is a complete feast for anyone who remotely admires cats or kittens. The story is, I suppose, as basic as can be; a list of the things a kitten called Posy spends her time doing. But the language is fun and playful. The sentences are short. The phrases are made up and joined-up to describe the things Posy does, such as scratching sofas (!) or getting tangled in wool.

 And the pictures are just delectable. Completely kittenish. Enjoy this beautiful book, and explore her others too. I can't wait til she brings out her next one. 

Have a browse through her lovely website:

And just in case you are curious about the adventures of Wolfgang and Daphne, here is a list of scampish and cute things we have seen them do so far:

Ripping up knitting patterns
Chewing computer cables
Chewing laptops
Sitting on laptop keypads and Changing settings by walking all over the keys
Climbing curtains
Clawing at sofas
Chewing books
Climbing our legs and clawing us
Climbing our legs and then our chests to snuggle us
Escaping upstairs when we are trying to go out
Climbing behind books on the bookcase
Chasing each other all over the sofas and playing hide and seek
Jumping for keys
Playing ball
Fighting with each other
Fighting with our feet
Eating our buttons
Getting in the bin
Getting in shoes
Pulling shoelaces out of shoes
Getting onto the worktop
Sleeping on a pile of clean tea-towels
Sitting on the toilet seat. Together. 
Pulling metres and metres of toilet roll off the tube, and chewing it to shreds
Climbing on me when I am trying to leave for work
Looking cute when I am trying to leave for work
Generally, being cuddly and purring, 
Licking us and looking deep into our eyes, and
Curling up asleep with us. 


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Dealing With Galleries

I cannot pretend to be a total expert on dealing with galleries but thought it might be handy to share what I've discovered so far in my explorations, for any of you looking at ways to get your precious creations out in the world doing their thing. 

There are 3 main points that I'm going to expand upon:

1) How to approach galleries and get your work in stock.
2) The gallery commission
3) Pricing your work appropriately.

When Andy took a recent trip into Tiverton, a local town where I now have some greetings cards for sale in a cute little gallery, he reported back to me that there were only a few of my cards left there. This is an exciting yet awkward predicament. I am so chuffed that I have sold nearly all the stock I had delivered. Real people that I have never met have gone and paid money for something I have produced. Not favours from a friend, or support from family; complete strangers. They chose my cards. And sent it to someone in the post, where it will serve it's purpose of conveying a handwritten message, and be put somewhere to look pretty.  

Yet, I am aware that I only have a dwindling few cards left at home with which to replenish the gallery. I don't want the shop to run out and me to miss out on selling time, but I also don't want to rush in to getting more cards printed until I'm sure what is the best company to go for.

This is the tricky thing about investing in something you have produced. Reproducing it to sell can be a major outlay. Printing companies nearly always reduce their prices if you order a large amount rather than a few. If you only order 10-50 it means the price per unit is high so the profit will either be low or non-existent. But the risk is minimal and you can watch and wait to see how people respond and use the results as a guide to whether it's worth further investment. Then you go ahead and spend a hefty wallop on obtaining stock that promises to be profitable. 

I am at that exact stage at the moment. I used an online company to get 10 each of 7 different designs. They are glossy and cute and the impact on our bank balance was barely noticable. As the cards have continued to sell at craft fairs and in the one gallery I've approached so far, I've been encouraged to find that people like them. Now I need to find a more economical way to print more, to keep the momentum going. Using the same company online is not really giving me as much profit as I want per card, yet finding anything better is challenging. 

The slightly uncomfortable thing about working with galleries is the fact that they share in your profits, and take a commission. The most common figure is 40% of the selling price. To me, this has always seemed a bit unfair as its almost half! Being close to the image I have created, using my time, my imagination and thoughts and my materials, I find it hard to accept the share that galleries take, just for putting something in their shop and doing the transaction. Especially when I can have all the profits when I sell at craft fairs. But then I have to realise that I can't be at craft fairs every week and I have no way of selling my cards on my own, consistently and reliably. I am so glad that when I am at work, or playing with my kittens or getting on with drawing, my cards are out there earning me money. It's either give the gallery their dues or not sell any at all. With this acceptance comes even more emphasis on the necessity to get your costs right in the first place.

Don't sell yourself out by committing to expensive costs but low selling prices. Equally, don't put your sale price too high just because you feel you had to pay a lot to make it happen. The aim is to sell, regularly. It can be useful to work backwards. Find galleries that you like visiting, that you would buy from, who you think have fair prices. Decide what you think is a realistic price, work out what your 60 per cent portion would be and see how that sits alongside the research you've done regarding printing prices and see what you'd be left with. Don't forget to check whether prices include VAT, and postage, as prices can be misleading until you see all the figures.  In the end, only you can have the final say about what is an acceptable profit but usually it is healthy to aim to double what your costs are. So, for example, if you spend 75p on each card, and your 60 %, once the gallery has had its slice, is roughly £1.50, half of that will be pure profit. And that's fine. The more you sell, the more 75ps come rolling in. Obviously a handful of card sales each month is not going to pay the mortgage, but the more galleries you can get your stock into the more you increase these little selling opportunities. Get in the car and explore on foot. Have a good look round. Talk to people. Try stuff out. See how it goes. Don't worry if it doesn't all happen at first. Go back to your desk. Keep creating. Keep going. Your successes, no matter how big or small, will mean all the more for having worked hard for them. That is something I do know.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Website Up!

My website is now up and running, so you can click the following link to view it:

|t's so good to finally have a general website sorted that will cover everything I do. 

I hope you enjoy looking!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Newspaper Column - The Queen's Knickers

This morning as I stood at the front desk at the Hayridge I was greeted by a lovely library customer who told me she had enjoyed reading my Children's Book Review Column in today's Culm Valley Gazette. It was a very cheering start to my day, especially as I wasn't expecting it to come out til next week, so here it is for you all to read: 

The Queen's Knickers
by Nicholas Allan
published by Red Fox April 2012

This charming and hilarious picture book has just been re-released this Spring in a special edition to celebrate our dear Queen's Diamond Jubilee, so its the perfect time to acquaint yourselves with it.

Nicholas Allan's fresh, fun watercolour illustrations blend perfectly with his relaxed and engaging story as we discover all about the Queen's collection of underwear. Obviously, the Queen must be prepared for every occasion; grand or adventurous, smart or casual, with pants from the pretty to the ridiculous, and this book lets us sneak a peek at a huge variety of her knickers.

Everyone will have their own favourite pair, mine would have to be the Balmoral tartan ones, though the Queen finds those a bit scratchy. One pair even turns into a parachute when the Queen has to jump out of a crashing aeroplane.

As the Queen enlists the help of her maids in selecting a suitable pair of knickers for a School Visit, we see her indecisive and fretful. As she dismisses frilly ones, jewelled ones, ones with corgis printed on them, she finally settles on a pair of good old, plain, comfy, big pants. And as one little schoolgirl points out to her - who can see them anyway!

It's a fabulous story that will appeal to both girls and boys, with its perfect blend of adventure, humour and sweetness. The general reaction of children to the words 'pants', 'knickers' or even better; 'bottom,' is predictable yet priceless and the picture book market contains a growing number of pants related books, one of the best being Nick Sharratt's “Pants” which is a brilliantly silly, rhyming exploration of underwear, followed by “More Pants” which is just as much fun. Others to try are ''Don't Put Your Pants on Your
Head, Fred,' 'Bottoms Up,' and 'Aliens Love Underpants.'

'The Queen's Knickers' is a gem and I honestly don't think the Queen would be ruffled by the subject matter at all! Grown-ups will love it just as much as kids will, perhaps even more!

Copies available for loan or to reserve from your local library.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Book Review - It's a Book by Lane Smith.

I love the internet and how much it enables me to do stuff. I really like websites and blogs, and emails are very useful. I also appreciate how much information I can find out quickly from search engines. And I like computers in general. 

But e-readers. I struggle with them. As an appreciator of printed things all my life, I have much preferred holding a real book, turning real pages, looking with my own eyes at a real piece of paper in front of me. That's my preference, and a choice I am free to make, while books are still printed as well as downloaded. But I thought that my precious picture books would escape modern technology, as they rely on colour and are usually a much wider format than most novels. Hence, I remained unthreatened by e-books til I looked up a picture book on Amazon the other day and found that as well as being listed as a Hardback and a Paperback, to my dismay, a Kindle edition is also available. 

It's not that e-books are evil. On the contrary, their many plus points have actually encouraged my husband to read and finish scores of books every year, where he used to struggle to focus on them. I just worry about what children of the future will miss out on. Not a life or death situation. But a lack of tactile textures, a lack of beatiful bindings and almost edible covers, with lustred, matt or glossy finishes. The sound of a page turning late at night when all else is quiet, the sound of paper. The sound of a book firmly, satisfyingly, closing when you reach its end.

I email people a lot. It's easy, it's quick, and it's free. Oh and it's instant. But I also love post. I love waiting, and tearing things open. I love stamps, and envelopes and postal marks. I love handwriting.  There is a place for both. I hope this will always be true, and I hope there will always be a place in the world for a book to hold. 

I discovered this particular book at the library (my favourite part of my job is opening the delivery crates, which among the returned books and the books that have come from other libraries by request, contain a few treasures - new and unread books yet to be opened, yet to be covered in jam or chewed by a toddler.) It's a Book by Lane Smith is just brilliant. It is completely just on its own with no other books like it. There is one simple and repeated message within it; the nature of a printed text compared with technological alternatives. The joys of a real book, explained by an increasingly frustrated gorilla to a donkey who only comprehends things with a screen and buttons. 

How do I scroll down? I don't, I turn the page. It's a book

The text is short and understated yet witty and engaging. Lane Smith's drawings leave a lot to the imagination, with no extraneous details but oodles of personality and expression in each of the characters she's drawn so expertly. The muted colours give a backdrop that echoes the softness and timelessness of books in contrast to the saturated colours and bright lights of modern multimedia devices. It's hilarious, smart, and beautiful; a brilliant representative of books, championing the more traditinal reading method without any negativity towards technology. If you can find a copy in your local library, borrow it or order it in. But every bookshelf really deserves its own copy, to delight anyone that picks it up and turns the first page. You'll be hooked 'til the last.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

New Website Coming Soon..

 Andy (my favourite man in the whole world) is currently working jolly hard to finish my illustration website. However, his progress is being hampered by Wolfgang.

As soon as it's completed, and up, I'll post a link so you can see it for yourselves. Do pass on the link to anyone you know who likes to draw, or who likes looking at pictures. Thanks!