Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Illustrations for United Arrows Japan | Watercolour Illustrations

I was so pleased when United Arrows got in touch with me again to ask me if I would like to produce some more illustrations for their new catalogue. Of course, I said yes (YES PLEASE!) and above are the fruits of my labour.

I was asked to paint 11 Johnston of Elgin scarves plus the iconic printed label, plus a "handbag grid" (new terminology for me) and a rather mysterious monkey keyring dressed in costume. Lastly I painted a pair of shiny boots, which reminded me very much of a since lost ink painting I produced on my art foundation course.

You can find previous work for United Arrows here.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Post Holiday Resolutions! Number One

It's the customary activity in a new year, to start making resolutions. However, I've always found this a little forced. It's cold outside, and it's hard to feel rejuvenated, plus all that Christmas feasting is clouding my vision. I recently decided that perhaps it's more logical to reflect on life resolutions after some distance from said life.
I've just come back from a two week holiday and it's given me some time to contemplate on the way I was working back home and on the changes I'd like to make - and to my personal life as well. I thought it would be helpful to share them here, one day at a time, for one month. Below is just the start.

1. Take better care of the body you work with. 

I recently learnt the hard way that working long hours without taking the proper precautions to protect yourself from injury leads to a very broken body indeed.

Late last year I was sitting on a hard, plastic chair with no back support and painting for long periods of time - typically 10 to 12 hours a day. I was working on my first proper book project, tasked with producing 80 full colour illustrations & a cover design. I was so focused on the challenge that I didn't think for one second of the implications it would have on my body. Add to this a lack of sleep and an unhealthy diet of cheesy snacks and caffeine, no regular breaks, and minimal exercise - and this heady concoction resulted in a painful lower back injury, which is still with me today. 
If I could go back in time I would do things differently but sometimes lessons really do have to be learnt the hard way, and on a hard surface. Now I know my body must work in order for me to work.

The future of Holly Exley illustration? Regular breaks. Fresh air. Dog walking. Leafy greens. I've also invested in a good chair - it's ugly & bulky & belongs in a corporate office but I'm learning to put my vanity to one side. Feeling like an old lady at 26 is alarming to say the least and it frustrates me that I can't work in the same way I used to. 

However, I am resolved to remember I am not an illustration machine. No career, no matter how dreamy, is worth risking one's health for.

Do you have any tips for working long hours at a desk? How do you look after your body? Any ergonomic advice? Do YOU own an exotic stand-up desk?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

One Month with Quentin | My new Pug Puppy

If you aren't following me on Instagram or Twitter, there might be the slight chance that you've missed the storm of photographic updates about the new love in my life. So he's making his official debut here on my blog.

Blog readers, meet Quentin.

Quentin was born on the 11th of May 2014, into a family of 7 pugs, including his three sweet sisters, his mother Abby and step uncles and aunties. Meeting him for the first time was like a dream - it was probably the most realistic example of love-at-first-sight that's ever been recorded. He was tiny, very wiggly, and had chubby little back rolls. He played for a little bit on my lap, softly mouthing my hand, before falling asleep. My first encounter with a pug snore.

Meeting Quentin
7 weeks old

The following week I got to take him home. The drive home was interesting. I cried a little, feeling a) guilty for taking Abby's only son away from her and b) like this was a dream coming true. (Quentin weed on me twice in the car, but I didn't care one bit.)

I've wanted a dog for the longest time. Some people fantasise about getting married and having kids, all I've ever wanted was to paint, and have a dog for company. The idea of an animal as a companion, one with which such a strong bond can be made, is just my dream. People stress me out, social situations stress me out. With a dog, it's not about your topics of conversation, or your opinions, it's about your ability to love. As cheesy as that sounds...

The first night at home
8 weeks old

Bat dog, 10 weeks.

Having said all that, I have to be honest and say that my first month with Quentin hasn't been quite the dream I envisioned. It's involved setting my alarm for every 2 hours through the night to take him outside. It's involved excrement, on my hands, as I reached into his bed in the middle of the night. It's involved washing the entire contents of his crate at 2 in the morning. I could go on, but I fear this would just be a paragraph about poo, and nobody wants that.

However, since turning 12 weeks this Sunday, things have got easier and I feel I'm finally enjoying having a puppy in the house. Yes, he still chews everything in sight, but he's calmer now he can explore outside, and now that he's used to the other members of the house, including my rabbit Hergé.

12 weeks

The idea of "a Quentin" has existed for about a year. Every time I saw a black pug (a Quentin) in the street, I would squeal behind my hands. He's just the dog for me, and I'm so happy he's finally here.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Martini Illustrations for Stylist Magazine | Watercolour Illustrations

Blue Cheese & Chocolate Martini
Elderflower & Wild Tea Martini

Cocoa Gin Martini

Lemon-grass & Coriander Martini

Marmite Martini

Tzatziki Martini

Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to produce some illustrations for Stylist Magazine. I was really pleased - Stylist are a client I've always wanted to work with. They often showcase illustration over photography (especially for their covers) and their pages are beautifully designed - not to mention they have a huge readership. Also, does anyone remember their fairy tale special? It was packed full of beautiful painterly illustration, unlike anything I'd seen in editorial before. It has to be said, they are a bit of a dream client for me!

I painted a series of unusual and mostly delicious sounding martini's for a full page spread in the magazine, which you can see below. Did any of you spot this?

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Illustrations for The Metro | Watercolour Illustrations

Banana, Sliced

Banana Skin

Coffee Cup & Beans

Daffodil in a Jar


Popcorn Bucket

Here are some recent illustrations created for a Metro Newspaper advertising campaign, to promote their new scented printing services. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get my hands on the illustrations actually being used in print so I'm not entirely sure how it all turned out, which is always a shame.

I've included both banana illustrations, although the banana skin wasn't used in the end as it was perceived to have litter connotations, which I tend to agree with. I think it's useful to record the progression of a brief, perhaps next time I will think a little more on the possible associations of the images I choose to work from!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A Tesco World Cup Twitter Campaign | Watercolour Illustrations

Last week I worked with Tesco on a trial twitter campaign for the World Cup, producing illustrations to be tweeted pre match, for the Spain v Holland match, and the Italy v England match. Hopefully, I will be producing a few more of these, as there are few things I love more than painting food (contrastingly, there are few things I hate more than football!). But we shall see.

Hope you like them!

My Cover Illustration for Lionheart Magazine

I'm excited to unveil my very first cover illustration, for the fifth issue of the lovely Lionheart Magazine!

The blurb:

"This is the Home issue. Writing, art, books, nature, family, travel, illustration and photography are all used to explore the meaning of the word home, resulting in a deeply thoughtful and truly beautiful issue. Issue five features the home tour and interview with The Pippa and Ike Show’s, Lianne, a Dutch native who has transformed her Victorian Bristol home with her husband and children to a bright, open space, full of imagination, play and folk/European chic!

We also meet House of Habit, a family of six who embrace summer and discovery in California, together with their beloved RV. The photography is by Denise Bovee, and it’s very special. There is an interview with NYC based five-piece band, Lucius a melodic, 60s-inspired indie pop band you can hear, here.

Faye West explores sketching and life drawing as a real human connection. Hannah Bullivant has moved from London to the country with her family, how has this changed her vision of home? Jess Furseth recommends some inspiring books and interviews the artist, Alicia Eggert. Olivia talks home style, Lara Watson finds home is travelling, Lou Archell finds it outdoors and Lottie Storey builds a map around home.

There’s also so much more… not to forget the absolutely incredible cover by Holly Exley, which alone deserves a frame. Hope you love this issue as much as we have loved putting it together. Home and heart, you know, they go together pretty well."

Please go buy a copy - support a creative and independant magazine, and read a little something different.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Vintage Teacup Tin for Marks & Spencer | Watercolour Illustrations

Last summer, I was approached by Marks & Spencers to work on a new design for a biscuit tin. This was a bit of a career moment for me. I remember when Emily Robertson did those amazing large scale paintings for the foodhalls, and thinking for the first time how much I'd like to work with M&S. They always seem to commission fantastic illustrations for their food and homeware products. To be asked to add to this repertoire was such a compliment!

And finally, after nearly a year of waiting, the tins have reached the shops. Naturally myself and most of the people I know are stockpiling them whenever and wherever we can, so apologies if you can't find them in store (!) , but I recommend you buy one because I'm kind of in love with them.

The teacups have a 3D element to them (I wonder what the technical term is?) which I am very taken with, and the cream background just adds to that vintage feel. Sadly, I didn't paint the typography, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I should also mention the biscuits inside are the perfect tea time biscuits. Chocolately, coconuty, buttery.

Let me know what you think - have you spotted these in the shops yet??

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Tropical Colours! | Watercolour Illustrations

I'm working on a new project, and thought I'd share some "rejected" illustrations - even though I haven't rejected them personally! It's been nice to have a bit more time on a project (this one has a rather relaxed deadline), so I've been enjoying experimenting, with colours and making my paintings a little more 'stylised'.

Hope you like these! Let me know what you think. I'd love to do some more lobster paintings!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Six Tips for Illustration Graduates PART ONE

It's been over a year since I quit my day job and became a full time illustrator, and I have to say it's been one of the happiest years of my life so far! The projects that I've been able to work on and the sheer amount of work I've produced have been more than I ever could have hoped for. When I first quit my job as a waitress last April, I was fully prepared to live on tinned soup and face weeks without work, but it hasn't panned out that way and the work seems to keep on coming. I'm extremely grateful for that.

If you'd like to understand just how grateful I truly am, I suggest reading this blog post I wrote in 2011 (cringe, maybe not). As you can see, I really really REALLY wanted to be an illustrator, and I wasn't really sure it would ever happen. Oh, I remember the pain and struggle.

Occasionally people contact me for advice, usually art students who want to know how to get work in the industry, and I try to answer them as best I can. I sympathise with them, because I remember not really knowing how or whether I would ever make it, and needing all the advice I could get my hands on. 

And so I've decided to spend a little time writing about my experiences in the hopes that it helps some of those bemused people. This will be the first in a series of blog posts about becoming a freelance artist. I've decided that it's sensible to start from the beginning, so this is a post for those who are preparing to leave education. This might be art college, or it might be university.

Please know that these are things I've learnt from my own experiences, and I don't pretend to be all-knowing in my (thus far) short career in illustration!

1. Portfolio Reworking

At this stage, you should have a physical or digital portfolio of some of your best work from your time in education. This is the work that shows the most promise, and that you can see yourself building upon. This should become your obsession, and should be something you come back to again and again to add to, to move things around, and to think "what's lacking?" When I left Uni my portfolio consisted of a lot of portraits, and some weird collages that I've since burned (!). I knew I wanted to illustrate food so I painted some. Which brings me on to...

2. Self Initiated Projects

So you want to illustrate for fashion magazines? That's great. But if you haven't done much fashion illustration, how will clients know you're the person to hire? This stems from tip 1, look at your portfolio, see what's lacking and set yourself a brief. It's challenging to work for yourself, not for grades or money, but I think it's extremely important, it builds will-power and it's good practice. Which leads me onto....

3. Do What You Want to Do, A Lot

Doing what you love for a living is a huge privilege that I hope I never take for granted. You can be certain that the most successful artists and illustrators have worked extremely hard to get where they are. And so you must work hard too. Every moment you can spare, practice your art. Carry a sketchbook with you, go to life drawing classes, set yourself challenges (I set myself the challenge to paint 3 paintings a week back in the day, most of them were awful but it's so important to keep practicing!).

4. Know Where You Want To Go

The creative industry is a baffling place. But it's important to have an understanding of it, and try to get to grips with where you see yourself within it. I love editorial illustration, so I bought a lot of magazines and studied them, noting illustrators I liked and questioning how I would illustrate the article better.
If you understand how a piece of artwork can improve a format, whether that's a magazine article, a website or packaging, then you can learn how to be that improvement. Again, I will reference my own work as an example: I noted that often food photography looked a little tired and dated, whereas food illustration always seemed to bring a page or product to life - so I knew there had to be a market for it, and I could be a part of that.

But this could apply to anything - I would suggest technology as a fantastic area to aim for - look at creatives working in the industry, and see what you could bring to the table.

5. Online Presence - Too Soon?

With social media as inherent as it is in everyday life one can only assume that you are already using it to promote your work. But here is a warning, at this early stage in your career it is important to be selective about the work you are showing, and the impression you create. I am more than a little bit embarrassed about some of my old work that is still floating around the internet, and perhaps in hindsight I wish I hadn't posted it. It's important to get the balance right between getting your work out there, and revealing too much and appearing amateur. My solution to this is to revert back to step 1 as often as you can, followed by steps 2 and 3, until you feel you've reached a level that is worthy of...

6. The Big Reveal

Having a physical portfolio is one thing, but having an online portfolio is quite another. I would say the latter is more important these days, as I very, very rarely show original artwork to prospective clients. But timing is everything, so don't rush into it.

Here is a checklist of things that might suggest you're ready to make (or remake) your website and present it to the world:
  • You've filled in some gaps in your portfolio - and can show you've mastered a few areas in your chosen field.
  • You have a strong, consistent style - your work makes sense as a whole.
  • Your work has a purpose - if you're interested in packaging design for example, you have clear examples of how your style would fit.
  • It's executed to a high standard - drawings are scanned and edited, products are properly photographed, nothing looks sloppy.
  • Your style is yours, not copied from elsewhere.

That's it for the first post in the series - there is a lot more to come! In the next blog post I will discuss ways to build a client base, and approach potential clients. Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions and questions in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Illustrations for Scented Candles & Perfume | Watercolour

I recently added to a project I first worked on about 6 months ago, producing three additional goddess portraits to join the initial ten illustrations I created (you can see some of them here) for The Goddess Line in New York.

I'm pleased to say I can finally reveal how my illustrations were used, in this colourful fragrance range from The Goddess Line, including candles, pulse perfumes, soap and lip-balms!

The company were kind enough to send me some samples, and I can confirm they all smell AMAZING. I am particularly taken with Durga's line, the Hindu Goddess of power, enlightenment and change - with products containing notes of rosemary, vanilla and grapefruit. Delicious!

I can't quite believe I have my work on scented candles in America! Scented candles are a guilty pleasure of mine.

Thank you for reading!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Painted Toys! | Watercolour Illustrations

Last week I had the pleasure of working on a lovely private commission, painting two well-loved toys as a gift for a customer's niece and nephew. I thought this was such a lovely idea - I would have treasured a painting of my favourite childhood toy, immortalised on paper before it got too mucky or sent to a charity shop.

Raff the Giraffe

Rara the Zebra

 I liked the idea so much in fact, that I've added it as a custom listing in my etsy shop. You can now commission me to paint a precious toy as a gift to yourself, or friends and family. Click here for more info! As always, I would so appreciate if you could share this with anyone you think might be interested - I'd love to paint more cherished objects!

Thanks for reading!