Friday, 30 December 2011

New Years Resolutions | Watercolour Illustrations

I have a few resolutions I hope to be maintaining throughout 2012, and thought I'd share them with you. I'm feeling quite determined about these, and as a result have put no further pressure on myself, aside from my plans for my art. This many mean those pesky post-Christmas pounds remain, and that my nails will forever be a bitten mess, but at least I'll be one step closer to my dream!

  • Think less, do more.
I want to escape the huge trap I fall into when I feel the desire to do some work, but not really knowing what to do. I end up dithering on the internet, trawling blogs for inspiration and writing pages upon pages of notes. Before I know it, it's two in the morning and I haven't achieved anything. I hope to be putting brush to paper much more next year.

  • Practice, practice, practice.
This will be my solution for the above problem. When I find myself dithering (also known as feeling uninspired) I shall practice my skills, drawing from life, producing some studies, working on my painting technique.

  • Take time out to be inspired/get some fresh air.
I am a huge sufferer of hermit syndrome. I find it very easy to get wrapped up in work and enjoy working hard - but next year I must leave the house every once in a while, for my own health and sanity if nothing else. 

  • Set goals, and reach them.
As my blog is my word, I WILL be achieving this. 

  • Plan a project throughly - stop being so impatient!
In the same way I rarely use pencil before paint, I have the annoying habit of diving head first into a painting, without knowing what it'll be, what its purpose is or why I'm doing it. Needless to say, I waste a whole lot of paper. In 2012, I shall be writing my own briefs, before any painting gets underway.

  • Make work an unshakeable habit, make it part of the routine.
As soon as I start working hard, as soon as I get in the habit of painting every evening, I feel driven. I know it's the right thing for me, to make painting an inevitable part of my day just like eating and sleeping. 

  • Take inspiration from others, but stop comparing myself to them.

What are YOUR New Years Resolutions? Do you have any big plans for work in 2012?

Watercolour Illustrations | Work from 2011

My Year in Paintings

First up, I've included some 'handmade type I painted for Dazed Digital. Technically, this was painted in 2010, but it was published for the new year, so I'm including it anyway! Was wonderful to work with such an influential publication.
Dazed Digital New Year Illustration

I've included my on-going obsession with collections, that I've painted throughout the year. I made a small body of work for the Yellowstone Art Boutique in Stoke-on-Trent, and below are a few of my favourites (available to buy as prints- sadly the originals are no longer in my possession!). It was a real highlight from my year to be involved with the gallery, and I really pushed myself to get the work done. I'd definitely like to do something similar in 2012.

Vintage Cutlery Collection

Salt & Pepper Shakers Through the Ages

Vintage Teacup Collection

Personal commissions. I completed a fair few personal commissions, mainly to be used as gifts for family, such as the below image, which was a painting for a mum's birthday. I really enjoy smaller projects, as you know you're creating something meaningful for your client, that they will keep with them. Never be afraid to approach me for  commission - I'd consider my prices to be rather reasonable, even if I say so myself!
'The Girls' Watercolour Chicken Piece

I also worked with a few small businesses this year. The only project to go to term is the below image (don't know if that says more about me or small business commissions!) This project was to produce an illustrated map of a luxury camping business's site, plus a bird's eye view of the layout of their canvas luxury tents. Was a really fun project - more illustrated map commissions please 2012!

The Dandelion Hideaway

I was featured on Form Fifty Five, Things Organized Neatly and Creative Journal, among others, this year. It's always so great when people find you of their own accord and blog your work. I was more than a little bit proud.

My work is featured in the AOI Images 35 Annual, and exhibited in the Images Exhibition in London.

Images 35 Exhibition

I produced two illustrations for Russian Good Food magazine....

I painted plenty of pet portraits - especially as Christmas crept up. I've had a great response from them, some lovely thank you emails and even thank you letters - which have made me so grateful I can paint and in turn make someone happy.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Leaving London | Holly Exley Illustration

I can quite honestly say, and with every intention of sounding clichéd, this year has been an absolute roller-coaster. Fundamentally a ride of downward motions, all lurching stomachs and white, gripping knuckles.

I've been a waitress, living at home, I've been an intern, living out of boxes. I've been another intern (and another and another), living off benefits. I've been an unhappy house-mate, and then a new house-mate, in a happier place. I've been unemployed, firing CV's at HR departments. And, briefly, I was employed, working in social media.


But the ride has now spun a different loop, and I've been left with part time social media work, no boyfriend and the prospect of putting this year behind me. This sounds like the beginning of a film doesn't it? Staring Jennifer Aniston, pictured packing her life into boxes, dressed in denim dungarees (I imagine) and making huge life choices whilst maintaining her glorious hair.

Well, as corny as it sounds, I am going to have to do that (minus the hair - which is a bleached mess). I've reached a point where the only thing driving me forward is the desire to be happy. But choosing to do this can be scary can't it? 

I had a phone call with my mum before Christmas. It was strange, but I was really nervous of admitting what I really wanted, which is of course to be an illustrator/artist. I felt that she would sigh and say, "but Holly, haven't you given it your best shot? Don't you think you should knuckle down and get a stable job?" I think this country is on my side here, because there are very few 'normal' jobs that a graduate can get. It's not enough to have good Maths and English skills, and know your way around a computer, you need years of experience, or to be recommended or work for free. I've done my fair share of interning, and I've had enough.

With no "normal" jobs at my disposal, my dream shines brighter. Can I really do this?

Of course my mum was very supportive, and with her advice on board I've decided to leave London (it was doing me no favours) and go back to Bristol, to live with my mum in her garden flat. I will still be a social media executive part time, and pick up other part time work when I need it, but my focus now is on my work, and how I can make a living from it.

As it has been in the past, I feel this blog will be my saviour. Every time I write out my frustrations and my worries, the response is always so wonderful, from other young artists and people that I admire, that it's almost like being given a little nudge back on course. Feeling a part of this on-line network of artists is so important for me, and I assume it will become more so, as I make my leap of faith.

Will you be with me?!

Prepare for many more ups and downs, many more industry related moans, lots of progression and new work and - hopefully - some good news thrown in. Here goes!

Supporting Independent Shops This Christmas

Vintage heart decoration
My artwork in an Ikea frame (my one cheat!)
'Mother Exley's Bath Oil' & Christmas Scented Oil.
Silver & pottery hedgehog necklace. 
Vintage glass baubles & pottery bowls from Columbia Road.
Vintage tomato crate from ebay.
For me this Christmas was more about giving than receiving - maybe that means I'm getting old! - and I was really excited to give these gifts to my mum and sister. I shopped mainly online this year, as well as a successful trip to Columbia Road market in London. I was thrilled by the choice to be found on Etsy in particular, and got the lovely hedgehog necklace from here, the aromatherapy oils were from here, and I bought my sister some lovely bird nail transfers (not pictured) from here.

I think its lovely to support smaller and independent shop owners, especially during the busy shopping period, and there are many benefits to be had besides supporting small businesses, such as unique, handmade and extra special products, from trustworthy and creative people.

Where did you shop this Christmas? Has anyone found any shopping gems?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Bunny Bath Time | Giving A Rabbit A Bath

These are some pictures I took giving Hergé her pre-Christmas-guests bath. She's always such a good girl when the time comes and stays very still, gripping my hand with her front paws - it's quite adorable really.

"I hate you mum."

Pointers for bathing a rabbit:

  • Never submerge a rabbit in water - they may go into shock, and this could prove fatal.
  • Test the water before adding rabbit - it should be luke-warm.
  • Hold the rabbit confidently and firmly - if you freak out she freaks out.
  • Introduce the rabbit to water slowly.
  • Keep a hold of the rabbit to avoid her slipping and causing herself injury.
  • Keep one half out of the water, perhaps holding the front legs and supporting her back.
  • Watch for signs your rabbit is over stressed.
  • Use minimum soap, and preferably sensitive or natural. Rinse throughly.
  • Run a few shallow baths, instead of a deep one.

To dry her, I use a towel or, if it's cold weather, I use a hairdryer on a low low heat about an arms length from her. It's important she's about 80% dry before I can let her be as she tends to sit around a lot, and could catch a chill.

  • Allow for a strop period of about an hour or so, then approach with treats and cuddles.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Watercolour Illustration | Vintage Sugar Shakers

A Christmas commission of a sister's antique glass sugar shakers - they were such beautiful objects, and so enjoyable to paint. Send me an email if you're interested in commissioning me, I'd be happy to answer any questions!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Motivational Tips for Artists | Watercolour Illustrations

Quit your dilly-dallying! How to Push Through Distractions When Doing Self-Initiated Work

Producing self initiated work can be extremely difficult. For one, theres no time limit. There's no client at the end of the phone waiting for roughs, no printers ready to go to print, no reputation on the line. The hardest thing is to make a promise to yourself and stick to it. Hence, I suppose, why so many new year resolutions are broken, and why people can live their whole lives trapped in unhappy situations - because they haven't been able to make that promise to themselves to do the work and make that change.

ProCATinator. Don't do it.

The important thing, when setting yourself some work to do, is to write yourself a brief just as a client would- detailing the process, the purpose and a deadline for your project. If you want to get really serious, you could even email it to yourself, but, you know, thats only if you're really struggling with motivation. Your brief to yourself is important, you should know exactly what the outcome will be (for example, a book cover) and how much time you intend to give yourself to do it. Theres no point floundering, thinking "I really MUST do some work" and half-heartedly reaching for your sketchbook. If you know you need to improve your portfolio - you need a solid plan of action.

Of course, there are other ways to produce self-initated work. Remember that amazingly inspired evening you had churning out perfect portraits for your portfolio? There are moments in every artists life when an idea or a certain way of working will just come to you. Should you feel that moment bubbling, it's best you make your excuses and run - sprint - home to your desk and work.

Sometimes though, thats not how the world works, and you may be unable to capture inspiration or transport it to your desk. Sometimes you only have a certain window of time to challenge yourself.

That brings me onto the second hardest thing about self initiated work: pressure. You've got a day off work, you've got up early, you've fantasised about painting all week, and you slowly approach your desk... Two hours later, you find yourself on the 257th photo on a school friend's Facebook profile, and you haven't touched your paint pad. You may have discovered your friend's boyfriend has the weirdest nose you've ever seen, but you've also lost two hours that you could have been working.


Look at your brief. Take a few deep breaths. And know your plan of action.

Other tips I find useful, when you find your mouse straying to a social networking site:

  • Listen to an audiobook. Both absorbing and entertaining, a good audio book will keep you at your desk for a lot longer before you'll need a break.
  • Time yourself. Give yourself hourly tasks, set your stop watch, and see how much you can achieve. It's important to know how fast you can physically work for this tip to be beneficial, in order to not get discouraged when a task doesn't get completed.
  • Take breaks. Just as it's important to use time efficiently, it's necessary to take a step back and look at what you've doing. Is it on the right track? Good, carry on. 
  • Be reasonable. If you're really pushing yourself, but the work just isn't coming, or you're having a bad day or you're feeling stressed, accept that maybe today isn't your day. It can be discouraging to carry on and feel that you've achieved nothing. It's ok to give yourself a break, afterall, you were the one who set the brief in the first place! You could use the day to collect inspiration, or to work on the promotion side of things.

I hope you find this useful! Admittedly, this was a post to remind myself how to work, as well as all my lovely readers. As always, feedback is warmly received. How do you keep motivated to produce your own work? Do you have a specific work environment in order to create?

Monday, 19 December 2011

A Shy Girl's Survival Kit | Watercolour Illustrations

This thing called shyness; it pretty much rules my life. I blush when more than one pair of eyes is on me, I clam up when in a large group of people, I avoid eye contact at all costs- all of the usual shy girl things. The older I get, and the more I accept that I probably wont "grow out of it", the more I realise how puzzling the whole thing is. What the hell is it? And why can't I shake it?!

I'm beginning to wonder if it comes hand in hand with being creative and I very much suspect that it does. Creating, whether that be drawing, or taking photographs, or designing clothes even, is a very introverted activity, and it's hard to see which came first: creativity, or shyness. Are we creative because we're shy, and it's a way to express ourselves? Or is shyness a bi product of being artistic?

I'm hoping this blog will have all the wall flowers and shrinking violets quietly raising their hands and whispering *I'm shy too* but it would be equally as interesting to see that I'm wrong, it's not a creative trait. It's just a thing, an annoying unwavering condition, betrothed to the unlucky few.

But for now, seeing as this shy thing wont be going anywhere for a while, I thought it would be fun to make a shy girl's (or guys!) survival guide to get us through many an awkward social event and to teach those of you lucky out-going people what it's really like to be constantly... 'sheepish'. (I love that word!)

A Shy Girl's Survival Kit Consists of:

1. "I'm really busy" equipment.
This can come in the form of many things, but most likely it'll be a book. An example of it's usage as follows: you're going to a pub to meet your friends, they haven't arrived on time. It's a busy pub, people are looking at the girl on her own, "does she want some company?" "shall I buy her a drink?" QUICK! Whip out the book. You're far too involved in the words of Ian McEwan to talk to anyone.
2. A fringe, scarf or low sitting hat.
Because it is simply TOO MUCH to expect your whole face to be visible to the world. People might actually look at it and that would be embarrassing.

3. Hand occupiers.
This is a strange one, but for me in social situations, as soon as I have something to do with my hands I feel much calmer. Usually this involves a drink (which explains why I get so drunk at house parties!), but I guess for other people it could be smoking (for outdoor social encounters) or maybe some knitting (just kidding).
4. An escape route.
A few years ago, I went through a really stressful time, and it got so bad that my shyness almost became like claustrophobia. I found the school classroom an especially stressful place to be, filled with my peers ready to judge me for being so quiet, and always made sure I had a believable excuse incase it became too much to be there. Now, it's to a much lesser extent, but I still have an excuse (my 'escape route') incase I need a breather. "I've got a commission to finish" "I didn't get much sleep last night" "I have to feed my rabbit." Alternate these to avoid being seen as a bore.

The capital letters say it all. This is very important in order to get by. A few glasses of wine and one can almost feel normal, and suddenly holding a conversation is easy. Just watch yourself, there's nothing more cringey than getting so drunk you end up puking spaghetti carbonara into your pillow (didn't happen..)
6. A happy face.
The face will always be the go-to for judging what sort of person you are, and when you have trouble expressing yourself with words, it's important to have a face that says "I'm a little shy, I'm not being stuck up/ a weirdo."

7. People you can trust.
Sometimes being shy gets a little much. It's hard feeling like you're never quite allowed to be yourself, like theres always a little wall between you and others that stops you connecting. Whenever I see my family, I remember the person I really am, and the person I wish I could show other people.

And there we have it.

Does anyone have anything to add to the survival kit? How do you deal with shyness?

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Things to Remember as an Illustrator

After my previous post, and the slightly overwhelming (in a good way) response I received from my peers, I am cured of my negative attitude, and have decided to focus on the good things once again.

Without further adieu, a short list of happy thoughts to remind myself to keep on trucking:

1. Everything I do is a step forward.

I really feel this, especially when it comes to creating work, because even if I make a mistake, or it's a shitty painting, I've still been practicing, I've still been putting the hours into my craft, and that's whats so important in order to improve. It's not like that for every profession and so I'm grateful. The worst it can ever be is a waste of paper.

2. One day I will be happier.

There's always room for improvement isn't there?!

3. Good things come to those that wait.

Well, not wait exactly. More, persist. I look at what I'm doing now, and it's still with the same determination as I had back at uni, and yet I'd say around 85% of my class have stopped or disappeared. Illustrator Nicky O'Byrne told me something that keeps her going, is thinking how each year you persist, your competitors will start to lag. I hope that if I carry on putting work out, into the world, every now and again they'll be a place for it.

4. I can create work just for me.

Isn't it wonderful that I can take a brush, a paint pallet and some watercolour paper and get lost for a while? This is a very romantic idea, and I will say that sometimes I am bored whilst painting and just want to finish the damn thing, but a lot of the time I feel focused, calm, useful, challenged. It's such a joy.

5. Daydreaming IS a good use of time.

One of the few good things about being a hopeless artist, is my subsequent expertise in daydreaming.
Sometimes it even leads to ideas for new work!

6. There are things on this planet that encompass happiness.

They include, but are not limited to:

Animals - I'm talking rabbits (obviously), sausage dogs, scruffy dogs, silly dogs, whippet dogs, PIGS!, hamsters, cats, otters, lions, tigers and bears.

Food - chocolate, cheese twists, eggs benedict, jam.

Nature - muddy walks, mushrooms, animal burrows, tall trees, rolling hills.

Sleep - early nights.

Dancing - late nights.




When I'm feeling a bit downtrodden, a combination of the above will cheer me up.

Feel free to steal my happy thoughts - I want to steal yours! What keeps you creating new work? What helps you push forward when you're feeling negative?

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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Fantasy Life of Being an Illustrator | Watercolour Dreams

A couple of months back I sat down and tried to put into words my experiences a year after graduating in Illustration. I always hoped the posts were an honest reflection of what I felt at the time, and not just a big moan! - and I'm hoping this post shall be the same.

As a young artist trying to find my way in the world, I stumbled across Twitter and blogging, as a way to get my work seen, but also to connect with others like me. I follow lots of young artists/illustrators I admire, and enjoy catching up online with all the lovely work they produce. I also feel there's a brilliant community online, particularly on twitter, between illustrators and crafty types. We all support each other, and that's so wonderful.

But I have to many of us are really making a living out of this?

I don't know if this is just me, but it almost seems like a taboo subject. We talk on and on about new projects and new prints and collaborations, but is there a little part of us that is, dare I say it, pretending?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not out to criticise anyone. I completely understand how focussing on the positives is always a better use of time, and no one wants to hear about your double shift at the restaurant anyway, do they?

 I'm just wondering if somewhere along the line illustration has become a bit of a fantasy.

All throughout school and on into uni, I had this sparkling dream of becoming an illustrator. I grew up on Beatrix Potter, and will always and forever remember the opening credits of the television series. Beatrix sitting on a hill side painting the landscape, Beatrix drawing at her desk, conveniently scattered with rabbits. My dream! I thought. I love animals, I love painting, I love working alone. That, I decided, was what I was aiming for.

But needless to say, that hasn't happened for me, and I'm 99% sure that it wont be an option for me for a very, very long time. Besides, Beatrix had her family's fortune to live off whilst producing her illustrated books - and, in this day and age, who can freelance AND buy a farm house in the Lake District?! An unrealistic dream Holly.

Despite the times changing, and the recent recession that has gripped the country, us creative bloggers and tweeters still seem determined to create the illusion that this life style, this Beatrix Potter inspired, sit-in-your-studio-all-day-painting, life style still exists and is possible. We create blog posts like 'what I did at the weekend' featuring beautiful personal projects, lovingly painted sketchbooks and baking adventures for example, or photographs of our "studio space" (cough cough bed room cough cough). We love that. I love that. Have a quick flick through my blog and you'll find those sort of posts; I'm as guilty as the next person for romanticising life and avoiding the truth.

Delusional cupcakes anyone?
My point is... that sometimes (like now) I feel like giving in and, at the risk of sounding clichéd, telling it how it is. Sometimes I get a little tired of the positivity. I get tired of twittering on about a painting I did at the weekend and how lovely it was to paint but NOT mentioning the night before- spent weeping at my desk, reading an article about the recession. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I'm sick of this "keep on trucking" attitude.

For one evening, tonight, now, I'm going to be honest:

I don't know if I'll ever be a 'real' illustrator.

I just don't know. I always thought that if you work really hard and you're focused and you want it more than anything, that you're guaranteed success. But then I joined Twitter and met the hundreds of other 23 year olds working really hard, focussing and wanting it the most and I thought: we can't ALL be illustrators can we? Some of us have to fall by the wayside. And maybe I'm one of those people.

I cry a lot!
I get rejected a lot!
I am jealous of others a lot!

But that's ok right, because we're all in this together? I guess that's what I'm really asking.
I know I need to stay strong, I need to keep on dreaming, both in my head and on my blog, but as the recession squeezes, and as I'm being made redundant ( sigh ) I feel it's time to russle the curtains, and reveal a glimpse of how it really feels sometimes, to know exactly what you want to do with your life, but finding it out of reach.

Say it with me now: sometimes, being an artist is not all its cracked up to be.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Home to Bristol | My Weekend in Pictures

My favourite Christmas decoration, given to me by my god mother.
Illustrated tee. 
Coco the sleepy kitten.
Pet portrait I painted this weekend.
Cross-eyed and mischievous Otto. 
Russian stamps.
Look closely to find 3 year old me with my baby sister.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Russian BBC GoodFood Magazine | Watercolour Food Illustration

Earlier this year I was approached by a lovely lady from the Russian version of BBC GoodFood magazine, to do a few editorial illustrations. Naturally I turned her down and got back to watching daytime tv... Just kidding! I jumped at the opportunity and worked through the night to produce the work.

I wish I could take credit for this last image, but sadly it's not one of mine! But what a lovely spread! I wish I could read Russian and find out who painted it!