Over the last year or so I have only written articles, children’s picture books and some (many!) editorials. I do a lot of editing of sentence structure for a variety of reasons. Sometimes to refocus on the main point, sometimes to clarify the point I thought I had already made clear(!), and sometimes to fit the need for brevity.

It occurs to me that this year alone I have got letters published in the Daily Telegraph many times. Not long-winded, knowledgeable, informative ones. I leave that for the experts. Mine have been succinct, salient nuggets destined to cause a grin, a reaction or a very precise point. I claim this openly without pride. The reason is that you don’t get published unless your letter arrives exactly how they like it. It’s a salutary lesson in focus and crafting to editorial need.

Edit and re-edit

What no one knows is just how many iterations I scribe compared to how many I do for an editorial (three routinely) or a short story (a few). The ratio of revisions to word count is astronomical! I cut and move and alter and exchange until the shortness, succinctness and rhythm of the read (sometimes only two sentences) is as perfect as I can make it. And it’s written one day for publication the next, because relevance and fit move on rapidly in the news world.

Here are three of my successes (the first will not make sense without the trigger but that’s how you join in a conversation in Letters. That and starting with SIR!):

SIR: “Somewhat quaintly; not too sentimentally” (Letters, 6 March) is the most likely result, in my experience, if the piece is played on an old harmonium with bellows operated by foot pedals. “Somewhat breathlessly” will certainly apply.

SIR: On reading Shane Watson’s piece on what makes us posh or not (Features, September 6), I vividly recalled being at a small gathering of parents from the local private school. Suddenly a voice boomed: ‘Who cut the stilton like this?’ I glanced at my husband, who raised his eyebrows slightly and shrugged. To this day, I have no idea about stilton etiquette. And don’t care. If that’s classed as not posh, I’d rather be normal.

SIR: Keith Taylor’s simple solution of installing a call blocker (Letters, October 25) is unworkable. The firms involved regularly change their number and I have no wish to stand by the button rejecting each one.

I hope this inspires you to try writing a letter to the editor of your favoured newspaper or magazine. The year has been good to me in my writing world and I’m looking forward to Christmas and a few days’ break🙂

I am delighted to have won a writing competition that I entered in August. I have very little time for fiction writing these days and am perhaps a little fed up that it’s almost impossible to get certain novels published. No, they’re not horrendous; they’re just not the “in” thing.

And although I have self-published really successfully in 2008-9, twice, I’m not sure that the one I have completed would be welcome in secondary schools, which is mostly where I would need to take it to do workshops and sell copies. (Oh for the return of Borders, the book chain that went into administration!) Schools are still very reluctant to deal with any issues of LGBTQ sexuality, even though the plot doesn’t hinge on it, but on the need to find out why a brother has suicided.

So to have written a successful, carefully constructed 1,000 word short story with a theme I know a lot about as a part-time young people’s therapist, and a dollop of emotion in the story, well… I’m pleased! It reminds me of my long-standing love of writing to move people. Currently I write for a very different audience in my editorials or the occasional article.

The new (January) issue of Writing Magazine will be out on December 1st, complete with my winning story. How nice is that! It’s their most popular competition of the year, so it feels extra good to have won it.

It’s a bit of a change from drawing a loo in Promarkers for World Toilet Day last Saturday! I was pretty pleased with this result too, although the reflection is a bit off and should be lighter. Mine is nothing like as posh😦

promarkers-loo

I really love reading articles. I just so wish I still had time to write and submit. I used to really enjoy the challenges and the successes – and learn from the defeats. Now I am bogged down in editing and proofreading. I enjoy that in a different way. It probably appeals to the little bit of OCD in me🙂

Anyway, I’ve read a lot this year about the organisation called Birthrights. They seem to have been featured in may publications, probably because there is always a story about a woman who has been poorly treated in pregnancy. (You do seem to lose a lot of control and a lot of basic human rights when pregnant.) And perhaps also because their CEO, Rebecca Schiller, is a good writer and passionate about the cause.

Anyway, I was inspired to create an image that for me sums up the facts of often being sidelined or even completely shut out of the decision-making process when pregnant.

I sketched my own pregnant lady, stylising her and patterning her in both pink and blue (how trad!) in Illustrator including indicating the baby. I imagined the relevant human rights being showered down – so for this I used one of my own photos of a fountain at a famous garden I had visited.  I then drew a maze in graphite and coloured it digitally, and added some sea for it to float on, from another of my own photos. The chain is one of the brushes in Clip Studio Paint. Add a common or garden padlock and that bit was done. (I passed the image into CSP for the chain, but otherwise worked in Photoshop.) I hope you like it.

human-rights-matter-for-pregnant-women

 

I often try to draw the same character doing different things. Keeping the style, keeping the character recognisable: it’s all grist to the mill in children’s illustration.

I thought of these two kids last week and drew the first image out in ink. I used permanent ink for the characters and soluble ink for the background – I wanted to keep the focus on the characters, who would be coloured, and leave the background as monotone after some moving around of the soluble ink for shading. The digital work was done in Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint – I just love the blending brush in CSP and often choose to colour there too, leaving any initial cleaning up of scanned line work and the post-processing manipulation for PS.

When I had done both images, as an afterthought, I made the background of the first one look cooler as it was outside, and the background of the other look warmer as it was inside. And I double-checked they were dressed in the same clothes here – although in the course of a book this might not be so.

I think probably they go better in reverse order actually – they have a lovely shared natter and then he bids her farewell on the doorstep and goes home! The third image shows the sequence all together: ringing to ask to come round, sharing together in the warmth, and saying goodbye.

friends

friends-sequence

I read the news about the latest plan to fine CEOs if their firms conducted unwarranted cold calling. Immediately an image sprang to mind (well that’s what you would want in the heat of a commission, obviously, if it were one!). So I sketched it out.

cold callers.jpg

I knew straight away the pool of tears was OTT and thought I’d better have a few different ideas. I also knew I’d need some snakes and some telephones to make a more accurate image, even if I stuck to my normal hand-drawn, sketchy feel.

So I came up with the idea of a sledgehammer because these callers ‘bash’ you persistently. Trouble was, snakes don’t use sledgehammers – although I reckoned they were okay weaselling their way down the telephone line.

sledgehammer idea.png

I also thought of depicting a woman (it’s always supposed to be old women who are frightened and scared of cold callers!) with the snakes wrapping themselves round her neck while she listened to their hiss (a silent cold call??). Bit far-fetched, that one. The sketch is too awful to show you!

I would have offered the above choices to an art director and been happy to pursue either of them (never offer what you would be miserable doing ever more of!). But as this was self-originated, I worked on the first idea – sometimes the one I’m passionate about it the best to work on. It ended up like this.

cold calling menace.png

The change to a stick person works so much better emotionally. And as usual, I coloured some of the line work and rendered the main part. You can see others in a similar style in my portfolio. Have a good week, enjoying whatever you love doing.

Lots of illustrators’ sites have a few pieces labelled ‘personal project’ and I suppose everything I have ever done has been that. I mean, we all choose what to write, what to draw, what to paint – until someone commissions us to do it for a price, that is!

Well, while waiting for that lucky break, I decided to do a set of images in the same style. Just because. I suppose I had in mind that I wanted to pitch an article to a particular magazine. I still intend doing so, and they won’t want my images because they’re not in their house style. But it did set me off thinking how I might illustrate such an article if the style choice were mine. And this is the result.

active-kids

I drew in HB on cartridge paper in my sketch book, scanned in the images, locked the unused pixels and painted the lines whichever colour I wanted, and then added some colouring and some photo-image backgrounds blended in. Do they look like a set? I gave them all a light source and something coming out of the frame, plus the frame in a frame as if watching. And the hand-drawn look, of course.

I chose air, water and fire as my topics: taking one’s children out to a dark place to inspect the stars; investigating how quickly a hot drink cools (I decided against adding a graph into the image but you would record the results over time); and cooking dampers on a campfire in the garden (not on a modern barbecue!) for which they had gathered the twigs and wood to do so. These are not things many urban kids do these days.

I read on a website that it was possible to use a gouache and Indian ink technique to  imitate a woodblock printing, complete with stray dots of black on it and rough edges! You can find the post here on Elfwood. You paint thick gouache on watercolour paper, let it dry, cover it with Indian ink (evenly, I discovered), and when dry rinse it thoroughly and the gouche lifts off the ink (mostly, leaving the famous dotty effect), and embeds itself in anything you left plain paper.

Needing a good distraction from cleaning the house or fathoming how to use Instagram on my desktop (have found that using Gramblr is the solution), I spent time over four days making four images – the pre-image (which I won’t show you) was a disaster, as I mistakenly used soluble ink. I then dug out the real stuff and had more success.

assembled-woodblock-images

However, it is time consuming, if fun, and I need to get some editing done this week too. I was disappointed, also, not to get the really bright afterimage that the author of the Elfwood post did. Might be my limited selection of 3 cool and 3 warm of each of the primary colours. Mixing greens and oranges, for instance, led to one or the other ingredient rinsing off faster than the other, thus changing green to yellowy green pretty fast, and orange to a pale shadow of itself. Sad really.

I do like the vignetted edges I introduced, though, and I consider the time well spent🙂

I have now also set myself up at eleanorpatrickillustrator on Instagram.