RSS

Category Archives: nature

Rockets and Dancing in Dundee

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

I’ve been working through in Dundee running science events as part of Dundee Women in Science Festival. On Mother’s Day we ran a Can’t-Dance-Cameron event for under sevens (and Mums!) in the morning. In the afternoon we ran ‘Love you to the Moon and Back’ rockets show and workshop for over sevens / families. Photographer Alan Richardson took some fab pictures at both events. My favourite photos were of the dancing:

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

I love the photos that showed the children’s reactions too:

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR  WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

There’s one of me looking highly uncool with head set and safety goggles:

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

And finally the book signing at the end:

WiSF_Can't_Dance_AR

Next up we have the ‘Love you to the Moon and Back’ rockets show and workshop:

WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

Making and testing rockets for the competition:     WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

The competition:

WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

The happy winner:

WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

And our grand finale, launching a water rocket in City Square:

20150315_162045

WiSF_Fly-Me_to_The_Moon_AR

The best way to see the rocket launch is via a video:

Evaluation

The drawing of me launching the rocket (and getting wet) was on the back of one of the evaluation forms. My favourite comment on the forms was from the boy who won the rockets competition. When asked what he liked most about the event his answer was:

Winning flowers for my Mum

Big thanks to everyone at Dundee Women in Science Festival and to everyone who came along to the events.

Video: Ana Ranceva. Images: Alan Richardson

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Education, Events, nature, Science, storytelling

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Drawing Again

Are there things you used to love doing as a child but then for some reason, you stopped?

For me it was drawing. I loved to draw and later to paint. I’d forget to eat, I’d spend hours on one picture, I loved building an idea, one line at a time.

Almost First

When I was seven I came second in an art competition with this:

DSC04178 (1)

The judges said the leaves on the drawing were too good for a child of my age and I’d obviously had help. That’s why I wasn’t getting first place. I did the picture in school so my teacher, Mrs Richardson was furious. She hadn’t helped with the leaves. She said that second and an accusation of cheating was a compliment – I should be proud.

Be Careful What You Draw

When I was nine my picture won the Ambergate carnival programme competition. It was printed on the programme cover and on posters all over the village and I was given a T-shirt with my picture on it. I remember drawing the zebra crossing and a few houses out of my head, quickly so it wasn’t very good – it had wobbly lines and I was a little ashamed when it won but I couldn’t say that because it would sound ungrateful and everyone kept congratulating me.

Bananas on the Wall

When I was 14 my art teacher Mr Young put my work up all over the art room and in the corridor at school. I remember feeling embarrassed – a WHOLE WALL of my stuff. And a corridor too. A sort of Emily exhibition. I didn’t know he was going to do it. The rest of the work was the fifth year’s because their work was really good.

I had a banana thing going on at the time. This is a depressed banana in prison in pastel (imagine a person sitting hugging their folded knees) and it was huge, 80cm across:

bananainprison

And this was Van Gogh’s bedroom with a depressed banana slumped on the chair:

depressed bananas

And bananas in bed:

kiss

So my bananas (there were many more) and four self portraits (we had to do them!) were up all over the school.

A-Level Art

When I was 16, Mr Young tried to find an A-Level to enter my GCSE work into – two years early. He was an A-Level moderator for the county, he said my work was good enough. But all the courses needed an art theory element to A-Level standard. Something I didn’t have. I did do A-Level art the following two years at college. And maths and physics.

Everyone has an Opinion

When I applied for University I had to choose between art and science. People told me science was ‘useful’. That artists are poor. That even the good ones are only appreciated when dead. That art is hugely competitive – it’s unlikely I’d make it. That it’s much easier to do art in your spare time (picture a science shed blowing up in the back garden!). They said science would get me a job. Science was safe.

Nobody said:

The creative industries bring in more money to the UK then any other industry

or

If you’re an artist, you’ll need to create art. Otherwise a part of who you are just won’t exist and you’ll never be fully you or fully happy.

So I chose science. Geophysics – physics for people who like going outside. And I stopped drawing. No I lie, we had to draw rocks in geology and I got told off. The tutor wrote “too artistic’ in red pen on my beautiful diagrams. But apart from that, I didn’t draw.

Fast Forward Fourteen Years:

Last summer I was pitching my second picture book ‘The Grouse and the Mouse’ to my editor. She explained they wouldn’t be working with the illustrator from my last book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story’. And something strange happened. A still small voice in my head whispered:

You should do it

I internally replied by thinking ‘Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not an illustrator. As if I could do it!’ And that was that.

But ‘You should do it’ was still there. Like a gentle knocking on a door I was refusing to open.

My parents had asked in the past “why aren’t you illustrating your own books?” and I had replied “because I’m not an illustrator. I don’t have an illustration degree. It’s not like it’s easy” and so on. I’d never realistically considered it.

Maybe I could learn?

The ‘you should do it’ thought wouldn’t go away so I started to think maybe I should do a course in illustration. It would be fun. No pressure to be good – just a chance to learn. To ‘do it’ as a hobby.

I looked for short courses at Edinburgh College of Art and at Leith School of Art and on the Council adult education programme. There were NO short courses in illustration.

Ask an Illustrator

I went along to the Edinburgh Literary Salon and found an author-illustrator friend of mine, John Fardell. I explained my background in fine art and that I was looking for courses – was he teaching any, did he know of any? He said:

You don’t need to do a course, just draw

But I don’t have a style (I said). He replied with:

You don’t need a style. Just work and your style is there. It’s how you draw. It’s you.

He also told me about a workshop he was running that weekend at the National Library of Scotland. It was for children over 8. I’m over 8 so I decided to sign up.

Make a Commitment

I kept thinking about what John said. The next day I spoke to a good friend and former writing mentor of mine Elspeth Murray. She does lots of sketching so I suggested we have a sketching date. I told her I’d decided I would start drawing… sometime in the next month. She said:

Emily, why not today?

I made some excuses and hung up. The truth was I was scared. Scared I’d be rubbish. Even more scared I’d become the slightly crazy person I was as a teenager – drawing giant bananas and forgetting to eat. Singing with paint in my hair.

Why Not Today?

And then I realised Elspeth was right. No one need know. There’s a draw under my bed full of art stuff, I never use it but it’s all there – water colours, acrylics, gouach, pastels, paper, pencils. I chose a pencil and a rubber and a pack of pastels. I decided to try drawing a character from my new book – The Grouse and the Mouse. I drew Squeaker the wood mouse:

IMG_20140529_171030

It was my first drawing in 14 years and there he was, suddenly alive. I wanted to stroke his little wood mouse head and I felt so happy. I emailed him to friends, to Elspeth and to John and a few others. Like a kid who wants to show everyone their picture. It was a wonderful feeling. And after that I started to draw every day. I drew in bed instead of reading – so I could fit it in.

The course with John Fardell

That weekend I went to the course with John Fardell and the 8 year olds. It was AMAZING. John talked through his process from roughs all the way to finished artwork. He showed us examples at each stage. He talked about how to tell stories through pictures across the page. I learned so much.

Afterwards we all started drawing – the 8 year olds and me. I had a question for John – how do you make a grouse smile when it has a downward beak? I’d tried making the beak turn up instead but it didn’t look right – I mean it didn’t look like a grouse. John explained that Disney bird beaks start the right shape and then turn up at the end – that’s how to give them expression – think Donald Duck. So I tried that and suddenly I had anatomically correct expressive grouse:

photo

One night soon after that I tried three new ways of drawing Squeaker the wood mouse. I was trying to find my character.  I tried realistic, cute and cartoon:

IMG_20140825_223959IMG_20140825_235740IMG_20140825_230408

Something unexpected happened. I got out of bed and did a little dance. I can’t remember when I last did anything like that. A part of me was back. I felt like a child again. A little bit unhinged but I liked it. Maybe that was me?

I emailed my mouse drawings to John and he told me specifically what was working and what wasn’t (e.g. the first one has a rather long monkey like arm – and he’s too stiff). He was brilliant at balancing praise and encouragement with useful constructive feedback.

Use the Mistakes

I read James Campbell’s Guardian article on how to be an illustrator. Tip nine suggests drawing straight in pen and if you make a mistake just keep going – the mistake becomes part of the picture (rather like life). I tried it and these are the mice I drew:

IMG_20140827_181238

IMG_20140827_185129

No pencil, no rubber. I was getting more confident. I emailed them to John, he especially liked the round one above – he said it was my best yet!

Picture Hooks

I’d heard about an Edinburgh based illustration conference and a mentoring scheme called Picture Hooks. I decided to start working on a submission, the prize was an illustration mentor – I really wanted that. I’d told John I was entering and he’d said he would be happy to advise me on my submission.

I also asked my publishers if I could submit my competition entry to them – would they consider me as an illustrator for The Grouse and the Mouse? They said it was highly unlikely but I could have a go. Mainly because I explained how much I was enjoying doing it and that I wanted the best for the book so if my pictures weren’t good enough I’d be totally happy for them not to use them.

I noticed I was improving every time I drew so I decided to do my picture hooks submission work as last minute as possible. That might sound like a bad plan but I wanted to get as good as I could before I did it.

Deadline Weekend

The deadline was Sunday midnight and I spent all of Saturday on a double page spread. Here’s half way through the day, my messy desk, sketch book and page plan!

20140830_163834Here’s the spread almost finished – it’s A3:

20140901_000808-1-1-1

John advised adding more background so I did that next and added some text.

On the Sunday I started a three page character sequence. I decided to try water colours because that’s what John uses. I spent two hours on one mouse and it was a total disaster:

IMG_20140901_114017It looked like a hunchback. At this point I very nearly gave up. I’d wasted so much time and still had three pages to go. What was I thinking trying a totally new technique? More to the point what was I thinking trying to be an illustrator?

But then I thought of John and that he’d taken the time to feedback on my first double page spread, despite being a busy man so I decided I couldn’t just give up because he believed I could be an illustrator, even if I didn’t.

I planned out a new page:

20140901_134758And started to pastel each bit:

20140901_215127 (2)I got it finished but by then it was around 11pm and I needed to submit at midnight. I did my final page as a quick rough A3 pencil sketch, I drew it in ten minutes:

20140901_215524 (2)

I submitted and sent it all to John too. I told him about the disastrous water colour mouse and that I’d considered gin and tonic at that point but that I’d finally got it all done. He said people love to see roughs and that my rough sketch was really good so it had actually strengthened my application. I sent my work to Floris too. Then I waited.

No and No

I got a no from Picture Hooks. It went like this:

Dear Emily

We met recently to consider the entries and it was a tough process as the standard was so high. I am sorry to be writing to inform you that we were unable to include you on the shortlist, even though we enjoyed looking at your work very much.

Emily, we hope that you will understand our thinking. Everyone admired your work and we all felt it had great commercial potential. However, after much discussion, we decided that you didn’t really require the close attention of an illustrator as a mentor for the year. I hope you won’t be disappointed because actually this is an endorsement from us about how good your work already is.You have your own distinctive style and a great track record – have confidence as you are well on your way.

Kind regards

Lucy

I sent it on to John and asked if he thought it was softening the blow? He said he’d had many rejections in his time but this wasn’t one of them. And that I should take it as a compliment.

Soon after I got a No from Floris too. They wanted to use a professional illustrator. I was expecting them to say no so it was okay – I wanted the best for the book and was really happy they were publishing my words for a second time, even if they didn’t want my pictures.

But where did I go now? I was too commercial to need a mentor and not professional enough to get published. I felt stuck.

A Yes and a Yes

But then a lovely thing happened. John said he’d be happy to keep feeding back on my work. So I had a mentor after all. And one who’s already helped me improve so much – someone I respect and love working with.

At the end of last year, I wrote a nonfiction book for Harper Collins and as a result I’m now working with a brilliant literary agent, Lindsey Fraser. She’s one half of Fraser Ross Associates – a children’s specialist literary agents. They work with authors AND illustrators. So now I had an agent too, primarily for my words but if my illustrations get good enough in the future I’d have help to pitch them to publishers.

I took some of my drawings to her for a new book I’ve written about squirrels:

20150109_011228

IMG_20140915_015000

20150116_011050

She gave me some brilliant advice – my writing has humour in it but my illustrations tend to be a picture of the thing – I’m not bringing me or my humour into them. I realised she was right – I was playing it safe by sticking relatively close to a picture of a real animal. Not changing it much. Not daring to use my own imagination. So that’s my next challenge. And I’ve got John and Lindsey to help.

The Future

Just now I’m looking at renting out my flat and moving to the country to help me to reduce living costs. That way I can spend more time writing and drawing. And as for illustration, I’m hoping one day I might get there. One day I might illustrate my own books.

The thing is, even if I don’t, I can still enjoy the process of drawing. I will do little dances of joy because the artist in me has been allowed to come out and play.

My second picture book ‘The Grouse and The Mouse’ comes out later this year, it’s illustrated by the brilliant Kirsteen Harris-Jones.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on February 22, 2015 in illustration, nature

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Kick It Cameron!

Last week, people kept sending me links to a video of this bird:

capercaillie5b

The video was of a dancing capercaillie attacking skiers! It went viral. That same week I got a couple of lovely letters about my much less violent capercaillie children’s book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘. I wanted to share these things with you.

Firstly, I’m sure you’re dying to see the video:

It reminds me of how important it is to observe nature from a distance! Male capericallies dance during the mating season but they also dance in defense. Sometimes they dance so hard they drop down dead. No joke. And there’s only around 1000 of them left in the wild in Scotland. That’s why we humans shouldn’t get too close. If they waste their energy dancing for us it might just be their last dance.

If you do want to see the phenomena that is a dancing capericaillie you could watch one from inside a bird hide. That way you don’t disturb the bird causing any unnecessary dance moves. I’ve been to RSPB Loch Garten Caperwatch the last three years in a row to try to see a dancing capericaillie. I live tweeted my adventures and even made a wee video about it. Did I see a dancing bird? You can find out here.

Alternatively, to dance like a capericallie without harming any capericallies in the comfort of your own home or school, you could follow the dance moves in Can’t-Dance-Cameron!

1

And now, on that lighter and much lovelier note – I’ve received a letter from a Dad and one from a Mum all about just that:

 xxxx had to give a talk in school this week about an object that summed up ‘Scottish identity’. So, he took along his signed copy of ‘Cameron’ and talked for two minutes in front of his P2 class. His teacher said he did really well, and she was delighted to discover the book through him. She read it to the class after his talk and it went down a storm, with all the kids doing the Cameron Boogie at the end. The teacher has ordered a few copies for the school (she said she was struggling to find new books for P2’s with accessible Scottish themes). So, if you are planning a promotional roadshow to local schools any time soon, please include xxxx PS in Musselburgh to the list – you already have an established fan base there!

I just wanted to let you know how much we loved your new book – My daughter was given a signed copy of ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ for Christmas and I will make sure its kept safe so she can treasure it forever . She loves the book and we read it often and do the dances , we both love the beautiful pictures and the story of the book is very apt for my little late bloomer who took her time to find her groove like Cameron. We can’t wait for other stories to follow x

Writing is sometimes a lonely job – you don’t get much feedback sat at a desk by yourself. So getting letters like these is really one of the loveliest things about being a writer. It’s so great to know you’re making a difference – thanks to the parents who took the time to write them – you totally made my day!

 Image Credit: Laurie Campbell

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Merry Christmas

I’ve not really sent cards this year. BUT today I used the cardboard from my Christmas pajamas and a few sparkly pens to say this:

image

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 24, 2014 in illustration, nature

 

Tags: , ,

Book Week Scotland 2014

bws

That’s me arrived back from the Abu Dhabi Science Festival, just in time for Book Week Scotland! Here’s what I’m up to for the rest of the week:

Wednesday 26th 

I’m taking ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘ to Gorebridge. First I’ll be in Gorebridge Library with local primary school children and then I’m visiting St Andrew’s RC Primary School Primary 1, Primary 2 and nursery classes. I’ll be sharing Cameron’s story along with football pine cones, science experiments, smells of the forest and funky dance moves as part of the Gorebridge Forest Families Project.

Thursday 27th (am)

In the morning I’m at the Read-a-Licious Children’s Book Festival in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. I’m working in partnership with the Puppet State Theatre Company. They’re performing their awesome show, The Man Who Planted Trees and I’m sharing Cameron’s story in two interactive woodland workshops.

dog

Workshops all fully booked.

Thursday 27th (pm)

In the evening I’m part of a panel at Dundee Central Library on ‘Writing for Children and Teens‘. This Publishing Scotland event includes Publisher/Chair – Keith Charters, author Kirkland Ciccone and agent – Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates. More info here.

Venue: Dundee Central Library, Wellgate, Dundee, Angus DD1 1DB
Time: 6 to 7.30pm
Tickets: Free. Email literarydundee@gmail.com to book a place.

Friday 28th

I’m taking Cameron to Fife. I’ll be at the beautiful Glen Pavillion in the park in Dunfermline at 10.30am and at Lochgelly Theatre, Lochgelly at 1.30pm. Here’s page 14 of the On Fife programme:

fife2

Schools programme call 01592 583204 or email libraries.museums@onfife.com to book

Saturday 29th

I’m off to Wigtown in Dunfries and Galloway. It’s my first visit to Scotland’s national book town. I’ll be at Wigtown Primary School at 3pm. Book free tickets here.

Sunday 30th

I’m at Looking Glass Books in Edinburgh for their story session from 11am to 12 noon. I’ll be facilitating some Can’t-Dance-Cameron crafts too:

IMG_20141009_175655

They tweeted a lovely poster for the event:

And that’s it. Nine events in six local authorities in five days – phew!

Click ‘schools‘ to find out what to expect from my events, you can watch a video trailer and download a teacher information sheet.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Education, Events, nature, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

Tags: , , , ,

Hazel Nut Wins Award

The lovely staff at Floris Books came to work dressed as their favourite book characters on Friday:

1399761_716261388458094_7207705426116253459_o

From left to right we have

Each character created an individual portrait shot too, find them on facebook here. I was excited to see Leah McDowell dressed as Hazel Nut from my picture book ‘Can’t-Dance-Cameron‘:

10658569_716269538457279_7383901280647389939_o

When Leah is not pretending to be a red squirrel, she’s the design manager at Floris. She worked with Katie Pamment (my illustrator) to get all the images to look just perfect for Can’t-Dance-Cameron. I worked with an editor on my words, you could say Leah is the equivalent of an editor but for images. Thank you Leah!

Twitter Voting

There was a twitter campaign to vote for your favorite character. I tried to get Bob the red squirrel involved too:

The Winner

Hurrah for Hazel and go Leah! Thanks to everyone who voted.

Floris are the biggest children’s publisher in Scotland. They publish a rage of books for different ages as part of the Kelpies rage. Discover Kelpies on Twitter and Facebook

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Events, nature, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Can’t Dance Cameron Second Edition

A big box arrived today, copies of the second edition of my first picture book, Can’t-Dance-Cameron:

IMG_20141031_135149

second

It felt good to hold it. I wanted to say a big thanks to everyone who’s been buying the book since the launch.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 31, 2014 in Education, nature, storytelling, Writing

 

Tags: , , , ,

 
sds

subjects, objects, verbs

Great Big Jar

A great big jar of bloggyness

wildswimmers

on Scotland's West Coast

AUTHOR ALLSORTS

A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Yay! YA+

Scotland's First Festival Dedicated To YA Fiction...And More!

Scotland's Nature

Scottish Natural Heritage

The Accidental Monastic

Reflecting. Relating. Living. Obeying.

Lou Treleaven, writer

Writing for children, submitting manuscripts, reviewing great books and other wordcentric activities

Scran Salon

Edinburgh's monthly food shindig

The Grove Community Garden

Fountainbridge Comes Alive Through Community

Forest Families

Promoting play in nature

Home Is Where The Cake Is

Creating real food recipes and cakes and baking delectable vintage afternoon teas

broadway, brothels & true love

A JOURNEY INTO MARRIAGE

Engaging Communities in Scotland

thinking differently about engagement

walkingwithpoets

'by leaves we live'

Leither Lass

A Leither girl's guide to Edinburgh...

fireflymagazineblog

The blog of Firefly magazine. The seasonal magazine for families who are wild at heart.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 238 other followers

%d bloggers like this: