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Isabelle Arsenault Textured pencil characters in children’s books

April 16, 2014

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photo: Martine Boisvert

Isabelle Arsenault is an illustrator who studied Graphic Design at the Université du Québec à Montréal (2001).

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After her studies, she quickly contributed to several magazines in Canada and the United-States. In 2004, Isabelle illustrated her first children’s book, for which she received the prestigious Governor General’s Award for children’s litterature in French (illustration).

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Her passion for illustrated books has led her more and more to continue pursuing this path. Since then, she was a finalist on two other occasions for the GG’s (“My Letter to the World”, “Migrant”), finalist for the Marilyn Baillie Award in 2011 (“Spork”) and her book “Migrant” is among the 10 best illustrated books of 2011 according to The New York Times. In 2012, she received her second Governor General’s Award for the illustrations of “Virginia Wolf” in addition to winning Le Prix jeunesse des libraires du Québec for “Fourchon” (French version of “Spork”).

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Isabelle, who enjoys working intuitively, adopts an approach to her work that is inspired by the projects she is given. Her style is infused with sensitivity and finesse. It attracts the attention of the young as much as that of older people, who can sometimes have a more in-depth understanding of it.

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Today Isabelle still lives and works in Montreal.

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You can find out more about Isabelle from this Q and A session in 2012 on the Perogies And Gyoza site, or through her Blog or treat yourself to a beautiful print from Sur Ton Mur. Captivating work.

Gordy Wright A Howling hoard of arising talent

April 14, 2014

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I recently came across the work of Gordy Wright, a young illustrator who’s just finishing at university this year. I was impressed at how professional and inspirational his work was and already ‘carved’ with his own personal style. I got in touch to find out more.

How did you first get involved with Illustration and what are your first memories of drawing, painting and being an artist ?

I first got involved in illustration on my art foundation,  I had deluded myself I wanted to be a graphic designer (??) however luckily I came to the realisation that all my art work was illustrative and so applied to study illustration at uni. I was raised by two very creative parents so art has always been a big thing for me, I can remember drawing a whole new set of pokemon characters, which unfortunately never made the big time and later on, when I first started painting, I did quite a few pet portraits for people of their beloved (but now deceased) dogs.

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You’re presently at Uni studying Illustration (studio space above). How is that going and what processes and new techniques are capturing your attention at the moment ? 

I am at Bristol UWE studying illustration (which is going great thanks for asking),  I’ve got a couple of months left so I’m starting to feel like a small bird about to be kicked out of the nest ! Collagraphy is becoming a highly influential process for my way of working as its so quick and gets so many nice textures.

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” The stone giant project was a kind of self reflection image of myself that I had imagined in my head for quite a while. You may well have guessed that I love drawing animals and I’m a keen lover of all of the natural world, so I just wanted to visualise that for my own pleasure.”

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Who are your influences in the art world ? 

In terms of influences I think working in a studio full of other like minded creative people has a big impact on my work. But from the top of my head some illustrators that I really love include Jon Klassen, Shaun Tan, Brian WIldsmith, Anne Herbauts and Robert Hunter just to name a small few.

Here’s a few more figure inspired images, one of Icarus, a Coral man and wire printed figure.

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I love these amazing watercoloury /scratchy images and think how well they portray your subject matter.

Can you explain a little about your wolf  and prehistoric projects. How did they come about and where did you source your inspiration from ?

My wolf is part of a narrative called ‘Amaruq’ in which I explored the culture of wolves through printmaking. I watched a lot of documentaries about wolves and was also interested in man’s relationship with them. The name Amaruq (sometimes called Amarok or Amaroq) comes from Inuit mythology about a gigantic wolf who would hunt down anyone foolish to hunt at night….

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I love this idea of the wolf being a kind of aboriginal art form, perhaps with it’s killings portrayed inside it’s stomach. Great sense of movement and colouration too.

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” … The prehistoric influences came from looking through as many books as I could get out of the library on cave painting and primitive art as there’s so many amazing drawings and compositions that I really wanted to channel into my own projects.”

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What medium do you most like to work with ?

I love working through print to get shapes and textures and combining that with inks and watercolours and then juggling it all together digitally on photoshop. I use sketchbooks often, everyday in fact.

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What would be your most prized art possession ?

I’ve got a really sweet collection of books going some of which are signed by some amazing illustrators (like Rob Hunter, Isabel Greenberg and Jon Klassen) but I think my most prized piece of art is a print I swapped with my friend R Rowland ( of a guy with tribal tattoos with a great bum.

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Future aims /projects and places or companies you would like to work with ?

My future aims would be to finish one of my picture book narratives and get it published, that would be really good I think. I think I’d enjoy smelling my own book.

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These wonderful illustrations of the humpback reminded me of the first kate bush song I heard from her first LP (as it was back then) simply called ‘Moving’.

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You can hear it here.

Tremendous work Gordy, I wish you all the very best with your graduation this year and hope the decent from the nest won’t feel as much like falling, but more like gliding. Enjoy the onward flight : )

Fishink at The Hepworth, Wakefield. Sculpture, Paintings and More.

April 11, 2014

Welcome to the end of the week.. are you glad to get here ? I have two friday findings that I’d like to initially mention.

Firstly a HUGE vote of thanks to the lovely Claire Ireland, whom I blogged about three weeks ago. Claire makes the wildest range of ceramic creatures that I’ve seen for ages, and as a thank you to me for writing about her, she very kindly sent me a Saggar Beast of my very own !! How excited was I to open the box yesterday and see him wrapped up in his bubble wrap nest : )

I’ve called him ‘Humphrey’ as I think it kind of fits the bill and he’s already taking pride of place on my studio fireplace. He hasn’t said anything yet but perhaps the journey has rendered him speechless… time will tell ! Many, many thanks Claire for your thoughtfulness, he will be loved.

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Secondly I’d like to ask all artists who read my blog, to consider contributing an hour of their time, in creating a postcard piece of artwork for a worthy cause.

The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum are looking for artists to create and donate a postcard, (artwork size 14 x 10.5 cms) to support a gala fundraising night for the gallery. The sale night will be held on the 1st of May, 6.15 – 9pm. There will also be a pre-sale viewing on April the 30th, 10 – 5pm. The deadline for submissions is the 22nd of April, the decorated postcard should be left anonymous on the front with just the reverse signed and completed, with your email address and the title and medium used.

Please send your postcards to;

The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum,

Slatey Road, Birkenhead, CH43, 5UE. Great Britain.

For event details Email; Laura Weston, and Jacqui Chapman,

This place was one of the great little treasures that I would visit in my youth and like many places today, it’s struggling to keep open. The fundraising event will hopefully help them ‘stay afloat’ so please send them something. Don’t forget the deadline is only 12 days away, please pass this onto as many friends who might also contribute too. Tweet Too !  Many thanks.

The Williamson


I know that the talented Christopher Brown has already made some great contributions to this worthy fundraising event.

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Ok onto the main blog story for today….

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Two Sundays ago we travelled over to Wakefield to The Hepworth, the northern tribute to Sculptor Barbara Hepworth. This musem opened on 21 May 2011 in the city where Hepworth was born and grew up. It had over 500,000 visitors in its first year of opening and, on 5 December 2013, celebrated its millionth visitor. I did find the tinted grey concrete exterior a little austere, but also dramatic in it’s approach.

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Initially you’re treated to work by fellow sculptor Henry Moore. I loved seeing this little girl drawing one of the pieces.

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The next room was a collection of mother and child or two figures sculptures. How wonderfully the pieces fit together.

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There was a fascinating room with a whole host of other artists work. Some lovely Paolozzi, like this collage which really caught my eye.

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The gallery then covers more about Barbara’s work. Her tools, how she formed her work, the mediums she used etc.

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Lovely to see images of Barbara working on pieces and the different stages of the forms taking shape.

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I loved the light in the gallery and seeing her sculptures grouped together.

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I also enjoyed looking through them to capture other shapes and aspects too.

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Don’t forget that it’s not only the sculptures that make for an interesting gallery trip : )

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Finally there was another sculpture exhibition by Erika Vogt (which to be honest didn’t do very much for me), but the walls of the building were amazing… (sorry).. and Erika’s prints/ textiles and film show was also worth a look.

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There is also the St Ives, Barbara Hepworth Museum which was opened in 1976 by Hepworth’s family, following the wishes expressed in her will. The Museum has been owned and run by the Tate since 1980. It contains the largest group of Hepworth’s works, permanently on display at Trewyn Studio and garden where she lived and worked from 1949 until her death in 1975.

More detailed info about Barbara Hepworth over on this website here.  All in all a grand day out, (Gromit !)

Chris Haughton Illustrator Shh! We Have A Plan

April 9, 2014

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Illustrator Chris Haughton, who I was lucky to do an Illustration Masterclass with last year, has a brand new Children’s book called Shh! We Have A Plan. The author and illustrator of  ‘A Bit Lost’ and ‘Oh No George !’ has crafted another wonderfully simplistic book.

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Chris is great at building up the page turning tension in his books. This always goes down well with young readers and listeners alike.

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Chris gives a detailed description of his ideas for the book over on his blog here. I like the way that he shows his workings, sketches and thought progressions there too. Early sketches below.

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Chris says ” For my other two books, I am always asked if I used paper cuts, as they look quite like it, but in fact I did not use paper cuts at all when creating the artwork and it was all pencil and digital. For this one though because it had five characters on each page it needed some sort of drastic simplification for it to be read clearly. Not only that but I was keen for the conversations to read across the page, matching each line with the action of the character. There was so much shifting of compositions around on the pages that it became clear the best way to compose each page was by collage. In fact it made perfect sense to create a mainly silhouette image from paper cut and in fact the design of the birds also benefitted from it too. “

You can see how the image above translated into it’s digital book version by scrolling back up and comparing the two.

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As ever Chris is also helped to establish Kipepeo cards in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where a group of local women hand screen print this great range of Chris’s designs. You can purchase them here. Chris says ” The intention with setting up this screen print facility is to be able to produce many other new designs, if anyone has some saleable designs that they would be willing to volunteer, I am sure they would be very gratefully received.”  Great idea and as ever fab work Chris.

Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton’s York Open Studio.

April 7, 2014

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Next weekend is another chance to not only meet fellow illustrators Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton, in the surrounds of their own home, but also to purchase an original collage or watercolour from the artists themselves. Here is some of the work on show, first from Mark. Beautiful collage work, nature and animals in their natural surroundings.

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The chicken illustrations are some of my favourites here. I like that extra level of detail with Mark’s painted lines.

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This sparrow is fab too. You can see much more of Mark’s work by typing his name into the search function on this site.

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Emily has her usual, wonderful array of antiquities and curiosities captured in watercolour.

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There’s always great attention to detail. Her line work perfectly replicates the feel of the engraved transfer that would have appeared on the plate. Lovely work.

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Her scenes around towns and villages depicting shops and pubs are wonderful too.

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But I must say that he watercolour of the Wards the Florists is my favourite here.

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Beautifully observed illustrations as ever.

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More of Emily’s work to be seen on my site also, just search for her name.

Details of how to get to their home studio can be found here. There are around 70 artists in the York area taking part in the Open Studios weekend so there’s plenty to see once you’re in the area. Have fun and if you do go, say hello from me and send me some photos. : )

Ben Zank . Dreams, schemes and otherworldliness

April 4, 2014

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I recently came across the work of New York photographer Ben Zank. Before I knew anything about him, I was captivated by the images and visual ideas behind his work. I instantly loved the humour and offbeat feel to the imagery.

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I discovered than Ben was 23 and that five years previously had found a Pentax ME Super camera in his grandmother’s attic and from that day forward, he had grasped the challenge to capture and create his own world. I caught up with Ben who lives in the Bronx, NY to discover what makes him tick.

Hi Ben, so it’s five years on from when you first discovered the camera in the attic at the age of 18. Can you tell me a little about what you feel you have learned during that time and how difficult the journey of self teaching has been from then till today?

I’ve learned everything I know about photography in that time. I had no interest in any kind of art or photography before I picked up a camera. Photography really showed me how to appreciate things on a deeper level. I never felt like being self-taught was challenging. I mean it certainly was and still is, but I enjoy doing it so much that I don’t really find it to be an inconvenience.

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I love the sense of ‘otherworldliness’ that you create with your images. Where do your ideas come from ? Many other sources (you mentioned dreams) anywhere else ?

I have a very active imagination. Unfortunately my skills as a photographer are not comparative to my imagination yet. I started keeping a dream journal. I actually had a lucid dream last night for a few minutes. I woke up and looked out my window to see a bunch of men in coats walking around in the courtyard. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed one man was attacking another, and as he did, he started to grow in size. It was at this point that I said to myself, “I’m in a dream!” I was actually able to levitate through my closed window and could feel the cold air outside blowing up against the part of me that was through the window. When I looked at my hands they were distorted mirrors. Then I woke up.

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Who (if anyone) would you say are your main influences, whether they are photographers, artists or just regular folk doing other totally unrelated careers and how do they spark your enthusiasm ? Is there a line of artists or creative peeps that you’re related to ?

Inspiration comes from so many places. It would really be unfair to list a few people when there are probably hundreds who have inspired me. and more than just people. I find the most inspiring things to be locations. Nothing gets my brain working more than when I come upon a perfect environment.

What get’s you out of bed in the morning ?  Either my alarm clock or when I have to pee.

How do you manage to create self portraits ?

There’s a short answer and a long answer to this…… short answer: tripod and a self-timer. Long answer: I didn’t start photography with the intention of taking self-portraits. I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself to be a “self-portrait photographer”. Let me tell you though, Taking nude photographs (and in public places) of yourself doesn’t just happen. It takes time to grow comfortable with yourself in front of the camera. I remember being afraid to take off my shirt for a photo. Everyone’s different, but the more you photograph yourself, the more comfortable you’ll be with being uncomfortable.

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I saw you’re project #365, well done in achieving that, it’s quite a feat in itself. Where there many times when you thought, this is too hard, or I’m stuck and don’t know how to go forward. What drove you on when the going, got tough  ? : )

Also what were the high points ? It was more than just tough. It was almost impossible. That’s why I took me a year and six months to complete it. There were days where I was just completely drained and had no ideas… and I would shoot anyway. In fact I took a photo every day for way more than a year. I just became so picky with what I uploaded that I would miss days for weeks on end.

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You mentioned that when you first started taking photographs, you didn’t have any intention on making yourself the subject matter. What changed and how easy was it to not only be the main subject, but later often a nude subject in your work too. Has doing this made you a more confident person ?

It’s kind of inevitable when you get into self-portraits that you start taking nudes. I’m excited to start taking more this summer. Looking back a few years, I would say my confidence has increased quite drastically. Either from photography or just inner peace.

I was wondering if it feel strange for you, when you’re at a show of your photography, for others to see you naked in your work  ? Do you somehow manage to detract yourself from the person in the images at the time ?

I haven’t shown any nudes in my exhibitions yet. so I haven’t had that experience yet. I don’t think it would be a big deal, though.

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I know you often have other subjects in your work, are these mostly friends. Are there increasingly new people who either want to work with you, or people who you would like to work with ?

Yes and no. Yes, everyone who models for me is a friend. No, I haven’t gotten many requests for people wanting to model me… or maybe I’m just very picky.

Plans for the future ? I imagine they include job, trying to make a living etc ,good luck with the sales of the prints, a great idea. How much is photography a part of your life now ? Could you see yourself doing anything else ?

Not really. I plan to pursue photography for the rest of my life.

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Ben has recently had over 20,000 likes on his Facebook page and is also creating quite a stir on Tumblr too. If you’re around midtown Manhattan area then pop into Bar Catalonia and see his latest exhibition ‘We Are Dust’.

I wish him well.. watch this space !

Vikki Chu Watercolour flowers for all occasions

April 2, 2014

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Vikki Chu knows a thing or two about watercolour delicacy when it comes to painting flowers. She has a keen eye for colour and doesn’t shy away from producing intricately flowing and ornate illustrations. Vikki originates  from Richmond, Virginia but is now based in New York.

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I love the feeling of movement and fluid rhythms in her work, I got in touch to discover more.

Where did your interest and fascination with flowers come from ?

I used to work as a textile print designer and a lot of the patterns I created at that job were floral. Since then, it has become more of an influence on my work.

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I can see your watercolours translating well into fashion fabrics. Have you ever thought of doing a range of womenswear summer fabrics ?

I would love to do a range of fabrics, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet.

What has been your favourite commission to date ? Is there anything that you wouldn’t like to paint ?

My favorite commission has been working on the illustrations and patterns for the book Eat Pretty which just came out. Making patterns to be printed in a book was different than making them for fabric that is meant to go on a body. It was a fun project that really let me utilize my experience as an illustrator and textile designer.

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I see that you already produce some lovely designs for cards and sell prints of your work too. Are there any other areas that you would like to move your artwork towards ?

I would love to make wallpaper.

What is your favourite way to work ? Direct from nature, from photographs / sketchbooks or from your imagination ?

Unfortunately, I don’t draw from life as much as I used to but I’d say that drawing using nature is really my favourite way of working.

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How long do some of your intricate designs take to create from start to finish ?

It can take anywhere from half an hour to weeks. Really depends on what it’s for, but it’s definitely the digital part that takes the longest for me. I really tend to get stuck in that stage.

Fortunately for us, Vikki takes her sketchbook wherever she travels. You can sense the vibrancy or tranquillity of these cities from the way in which she has drawn them.

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I sense that along with very good eyesight you must be quite a patient and articulate person to paint the intricate work that you do. What do you most / least like about your chosen profession ?

Of course I love being able to make money from something that I already love doing. My least favorite thing is definitely the long hours of sitting hunched over a desk, which is sometimes needed. It really has taken a toll on my back and I often feel like I’m actually 80 ! I’m going to make the switch to a standing desk soon.

I love your animals and little church scenes too, are there any plans for more of these painterly views or delicate blue foxes ?

Yes, I’m sure there will be more of them in the future !

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Thanks I’ll be keeping an eye out for them then. You can buy Vikki’s designs on cards here at Betty & Dupree.


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