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Creative Inspiration: A book review

The Joy of Watercolor - Emma Block

Everyone needs a bit of creative inspiration now and then, and I’m no different. I think it’s important to keep learning and stay creative, and books are my favourite way of doing this. Fiction teaches me more about other people by putting me in someone else’s shoes for a while. And non-fiction teaches me more about myself and hopefully helps me to be better at art, in my greeting card business and with life in general.

The Joy of Watercolor by Emma Block

This week I’m reviewing Emma Block’s book, The Joy of Watercolor: 40 Happy Lessons for Painting the World Around You. I’ve been a fan of her work for a while, and have dabbled a bit with watercolours, so decided to treat myself at the beginning of lockdown. I bought it on Amazon and if you click the picture to the right you’ll be taken there to buy the book if you fancy a copy of your own. (The links are affiliate links, so if you do buy I will get a small commission, but it won’t cost you anything extra.)

What I love about Emma’s painting is that she manages to make everything look so fresh and modern. A lot of watercolour paintings are a bit wishy washy and, while still beautiful, all seem to end up looking the same.

What creative inspiration is in the book?

Emma Block starts the book with an introduction and short history of watercolours and how she got started with them. She then goes into a bit of depth regarding the materials you need or can use, including paints, brushes, paper and more. There is also a section on colour theory and some exercises to practise mixing colours and using different techniques.

In terms of creative inspiration, the bulk of the book is made up of the 40 projects she walks you through. Projects are divided up into sections: Flowers, Fruit, Plants, Objects, etc. There is also a section on Painting on Location. The projects are also labelled as Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced, so there’s a range of difficulty levels to suit anyone. Within each project she lets you know what tools or materials you’ll need and the colours she used. She then talks you through the steps of recreating the paintings, with her own drawings and paintings to demonstrate.

The first project I worked on was the Blue Hydrangeas (I love love LOVE hydrangeas). It’s a Beginner project. I think I made the mistake of overdoing it, so mine doesn’t have the same simple appeal as her one. I’m not massively proud of it, as it’s a bit blurry and doesn’t have much contrast, but it was a good lesson to learn! And hopefully I’ll get better with practice. It was also fun to do something different from the cartoon portraits I usually spend my time drawing 😁.

Creative Inspiration: Blue Hydrangea

Would I recommend it?

Yes, I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in watercolour painting. It’s just as lovely to page through and look at Emma’s paintings as it is to work on the projects yourself. Not sure why the American spelling of ‘watercolor’ is used as Emma Block is British and works and teaches classes in London, but this obviously doesn’t affect the book itself or the gorgeous pictures in it.

The book would also make a terrific gift for someone else who is a bit arty. Whether they’re just looking for creative inspiration or want to have a go at watercolour painting themselves, I’m sure they’d love it.

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Designing Greeting Cards Digitally

Designing Greeting Cards - my custom cartoon portrait process

A while ago I described how I create custom cartoon portraits when designing greeting cards to order. My drawing process has changed a bit since then though, so I thought I’d do an update.

I designed the cartoon portrait below for a graduation card using my new process so I’ve used it as an example. There’s another example at the end of this post too, which shows an anniversary cartoon portrait.

The main reason for the change is that I finally invested in an iPad and Apple Pencil for my greeting card business. And I’m so glad I did! Designing greeting cards digitally has made the process much quicker, both for drawing custom cartoon portraits and for creating other new greeting card designs.

I chose to use Procreate, which is an amazing drawing app. It has zillions of different ‘brushes’, including all sorts of pencils, pens, paints, chalks, charcoals and textures. Even aside from drawing designs for greeting cards I’ve had terrific fun experimenting and creating all sorts of weird stuff! And it’s all available instantly, which means I don’t need extra time to be able to unpack my art materials and put them away again afterwards.

Here’s one of the ‘paintings’ I created just to get used to what I could do with my new tools:

bottle with flowers

But back to my drawing process when designing greeting cards…

Creating custom cartoon portraits

I start by creating a canvas of the right size and then use the ‘6B Pencil’ to sketch the drawing in – this part is almost identical to how I started on paper (see here) except that I’m drawing straight onto the iPad with the Apple Pencil, instead of using a real pencil and paper. Next I sketch out the basic outlines and then fill in details until I’m happy with the overall drawing.

Pencil sketch
I then create a new layer above the pencil sketch. On this new layer I draw over the pencil sketch with the ‘Studio Pen’. (I find it gives a very similar look to the brush pens I use on paper). This part is where I save a lot of time, as if I make a mistake I can just erase and redo it. Before I had to leave it then edit it in my Gimp software using a mouse, which wasn’t that easy.

I also love that I can zoom right in (especially useful as my eyesight is awful!) This lets me get smaller details just right and get rid of small marks and mistakes. I keep hiding and reshowing the pencil layer as necessary until the pen completely replaces it.

Ink drawing
Once I’m satisfied with the ‘ink’ drawing I add the colours and then share it to my Mac. This is so much easier than scanning it in then removing any noise and marks from the scanner, adjusting the brightness and colour balance, etc. It’s just a simple AirDrop and I can add the image to a greeting card template I’ve created straight away.

Designing greeting cards - custom cartoon portrait

Designing Greeting Cards Videos

Another terrific feature on Procreate is that it creates a video replay of your creations. Would you like to see the full drawing process from start to finish for the cartoon portrait above? Well, here’s the video replay of it:

And here’s another – this time of a wedding cartoon portrait for an anniversary card.

So all in all I’m thrilled with my new purchases! Doing cartoon portraits is much quicker and easier. And I’ve been able to use it to draw quick images for blog posts or to design greeting cards for my ready to ship range as well.

If you’d like to see my range of greeting cards, including custom cartoon portraits and ready to ship cards, click on the Visit my shop button below or use the Menu.

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Can Anyone Learn to Draw?

Drawing of sketchbook, pencil and mugI often hear people say “Oh I can’t draw” or “I wish I could draw”. While I do believe that a few people have a greater amount of natural talent than is normal, I doubt very much that there is anyone who couldn’t learn to draw to a very competent level.

I think that the main difference between people who ‘can’ draw and those who say they can’t is whether they actually like drawing or not! Like any skill, drawing takes practice and if you don’t enjoy it you won’t spend enough time doing it to get good at it. Continue reading Can Anyone Learn to Draw?