I’m Hip

Experimental illustrated 'poster' for jazz artist Blossom Dearie - by Holly Stroud of Witchcrafty Illustration

Every Saturday night
With my suit buttoned tight and my suedes on
I’m gettin’ my kicks
Watchin’ arty French flicks with my shades on

Last year I posted an ink sketch from a Skillshare project I was working on, to design a ‘band poster’. I chose to represent jazz artist Blossom Dearie. This is as far as I got with it – it was fun to play around with manipulating my ink sketches and marks in Photoshop. The piano keys were ink smeared on with a coffee stirring stick.

The class was ‘Posters with Le Doux‘, and is a good one for learning about how to create images suitable for screen printing.

To my knowledge, Blossom never had pink hair; which seems rather a missed opportunity. But she did sing this delightfully wry song.

They say it’s spring…

Ink sketch of a woman with glasses


I’m working on a post about my time on the Book Illustration course in Chelsea, but for now, here’s something I drew today for another Skillshare project.

It doesn’t need such a large copyright notice on it but I wanted to play with some of my scanned-in ink blobs!

Picture books are made in Chelsea: Book Illustration short course, part 2

Chelsea College of Arts

Chelsea College of Arts campus at John Islip Street, next door to the Tate Britain

Now I’ve had a bit of time to process my time in London, I thought I’d try to do some justice to the experience by writing a couple of more in-depth blog posts. Alina Kasparyants, a fellow student on the course, took lots of photos and has kindly allowed me to use some in this post. Thanks, Alina!

To recap: in April, I went on a week-long Book Illustration course at Chelsea College of Art in London. This mostly involved drawing cats with the wrong end of a paintbrush, and spending lunchtimes wandering around the Tate Britain, looking at Proper Art. But it also meant meeting a lot of really talented people (and eating a lot of deceptively unhealthy snack bars).


Sharing work (and apples!) at the end of the course.

On the first day, I met the other artists in the class. We shared examples of our work. Each person came from a different background and had brought something unique – from whimsical decorated paper plates to photos of complex, dream-like automata; from colourful, professionally printed books to intricate hand-drawn black and white artwork.

I think all of us were a bit self-conscious as the course is advertised as ‘Intermediate/Advanced’, but there’s no assessment or test of this before you book it – so how do you know if you’re ‘advanced’? Well, nobody got sent home early for not meeting the criteria! And I hope that by the end of the week, we all had a good idea of what our strengths were as illustrators, and a better idea of where to go next. That seems important.

Me, working diligently away on my 'book illustrations'. Photos by Alina Kasparyants: kasparyants.com

SERIOUS ART FACE. Me, working away on my ‘book illustrations’. Photos by Alina Kasparyants: kasparyants.com

Our tutor, Mary Kuper, talked with us about the variety of illustrated books being produced today – not just those aimed at children, but complex and beautiful stories for adults, too. Some of the most creative examples can be hard to track down. France, for example, has a more sophisticated culture of graphic novels than we have in the UK; because a market exists for the work, artists there are empowered to create it.

The impact of the market on picture book creators was something I learned a lot about during the week.

On the second day we met Carolyn Dinan, the other tutor on the course. Carolyn and Mary have taught together for many years, and both have a lot of experience in the industry as successful illustrators. They were able to offer different perspectives on our work, insightful advice and suggestions for other artists whose work we might find inspirational.

For the rest of the week, each person worked on a project drawing on their own interests and influences (mine currently include cats, and Filofaxes). Carolyn suggested I try working with ink and a dip pen, so I toddled off to the lovely on-campus art supplies shop and acquired some new tools…

bookillustration-showingworkHere are some of my doodles with the ink, using both the pen nib and a brush. They allow for a much more expressive line, which makes everything look a bit more dynamic on the page.

In the next post I’ll explain a bit more about my project, and how cats and Filofaxes can usefully be combined for dramatic effect. I also want to shout out to some of the great people I met – but this blog post has been in my Drafts folder for over a month now, so I’m just going to post it and save that for the next instalment!

ink sketch of Other Cats

Process post: Inking a Halloween illustration, with help from Skillshare


Ink illustration of a witch carving a pumpkin, shown half-finished on a desk

As promised, here’s a little more detail about my Skillshare: Mastering Inking coursework, including the tools I used, my process and the final image. I’ve written a bit about the inspiration for this work already on my Project page for the course:

My project is an homage to one of my favourite childhood books, ‘The Witch’s Handbook’ by Malcolm Bird. It’s October, so Halloween has been on my mind recently and I decided to do my own take on one of the illustrations in the book, in which some witches are carving pumpkins.

For simplicity’s sake I’ve gone with just the one witch, plus furry feline associate.

Although I have some good quality watercolour brushes that I use for my illustration work, I didn’t want to risk getting them all crusty with dried ink, so I bought a few cheaper ‘student quality’ brushes for this project. One of the great things about using the less ‘prestigious’ art supplies is that it allows you to be a lot freer in your work, without worrying about doing things ‘wrong’. Artistic types can tend to be a little bit neurotic!

Paintbrushes, Winsor & Newton india ink and dip pens for creating illustrations

The tools I used were (left to right):

  • Two Manuscript pen nibs, one of which is sellotaped to a wooden chopstick!
  • Jackson’s ICON Series 702 flat brush – this is a nice brush that I used to add a watercolour wash to the finished image.
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman (student) brush, size 6
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman (student) round brush, size 1 – for fine detail
  • Langnickel ‘Royal Knight’ brush – came from a discount store; this brush is pretty scrappy-looking and great for adding rough texture!
  • HB Graphite stick, from a set
  • Entré eraser – an old and trusted friend!
  • Kitchen towel
  • Winsor & Newton Black Indian Ink, complete with spiderweb box!
  • Watercolour paper

The basic process, as explained in the Skillshare videos, involves creating an initial pencil sketch and then transferring this to your watercolour paper. I have a light box which my uncle made for me some years ago, which made the tracing a lot easier. Otherwise a good method is to hold your work against a window on a sunny day – it only needs to be traced roughly, enough to get the basic shapes. You then wet your brush in clean water, dip into the ink, blot any excess on kitchen towel and finally start inking. The course videos explain everything very well – from selecting your materials, to how to create different textures. Since inking is such a permanent process, with no easy way to erase mistakes, having Yuko Shimizu’s expert guidance and advice in the videos was a great confidence-booster. The other members of the Skillshare community are also there to help each other out with advice and resources.

Ink illustration of a witch carving a pumpkin, with her cat asleep on the rug

Here’s the finished illustration! If you’re using Skillshare already, it would be great to get some ‘Likes’ on my project.

I’ve taken some fantastic courses through Skillshare and will share my experience of a few more on this blog in the future. There’s also a coloured version of the above picture that I’m currently finishing up, so watch this space!

Witch crafts.

Ink illustration of a witch carving a pumpkin

Late last year I took Yuko Shimizu’s Skillshare class on inking with a brush. Here’s a photo of my project in progress – it was near Halloween so the subject matter isn’t as incongruous as you might think!

I’ll share a little bit more about the process, as well as the finished coloured illustration, in my next post.

The sound of the sea.

Arts By the Sea Festival Opening Weekend – September 2013. An account of a mysterious marriage, rendered in purple prose and pencil by yours truly…

(It’s the sound, it’s the sound of the sea.)

Dressed in white with ceremonial red crowns, a train of women make their way through the town, chanting strange words of the sea and a mysterious sacrifice. They are accompanied by a motley crew of officials – a choirmistress, a souvenir seller, a chimney sweep – and me: a hanger-on; an impromptu wedding guest. Somebody has given me a small paper flag with a silver horseshoe, and I wave it self-consciously.

Passing through the square and towards the lower gardens, crowds line up in the gathering gloom, capturing the spectacle with cameras and mobile phones. People are curious, but not surprised: there’s an arts festival happening, and they’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I walk near a gaggle of brightly-dressed characters in Commedia dell’Arte masks, whose cheerful song and comic capering add an air of exuberance to the solemn parade.

We are now heading for the sea, and at the pier, the procession pauses. There is eerie music and a sense of foreboding. The sky is a deep electric blue, and coming across the water is a small boat lit by strings of yellow bulbs. The brides are illuminated, too, by torches clutched in nervous hands. Their pale, carefully made-up faces glow. They wait and the crowd waits.

A short time later, as the brides recede into the distance aboard the little ferry, I lean on the pier railings and think about what has just happened. A woman I meet tells me she’s heard that the brides are in fact on their way to Poole, where they will go on a post-parade pub crawl. The mental image of 50 or so women in second-hand wedding dresses descending on quay-side drinking establishments is as surreal as anything else I’ve seen tonight. Then I go and take a last look at the giant robot horse parked on the seafront, before going home.

Sketch for a picture inspired by the Marriage of the Sea parade

Sketch for a picture inspired by the event, which I might finish one day.


Note: for some excellent atmospheric photos of the event, see this website. Look carefully, and you might spot the impromptu wedding guest in the red scarf under the word ‘Rapunzel’.