Illulina on Colour Tones, Texture and Fluidity

Melina – or Illulina, as she is known online, describes herself as a ‘tea drinker, woodland dweller and illustrator.’ I’ve been a fan of her work on Instagram for a while, falling in love with the use of texture and and fluid lines. I caught up with her to discuss her workspace, how she is influenced by the natural world and why illustration has always been her passion.

Tell us about yourself?

First of all, hi! I’m Melina. I was born and raised in the north of Germany’s beautiful Bavaria. I am very passionate about hot drinks, especially tea, which is the reason I am constantly sitting in Cafes or exploring old, Diagon-Alley-like tea shops. I love books, especially the ones about faraway places with wizards, magical creatures, flying broomsticks or pipe-smoking Hobbits.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Illulina.

What is the story behind the name Illulina?

Lina is one of my nicknames and ‘illu’ is short for illustration. Little me was so creative! I got used the to nickname and learnt to love it.

How did you being illustrating?

My interest in art started to develop in kindergarden, when I was lucky enough to spend my days in a small library full of illustrated children’s books. From a very early age I realised that I might want to do this for a living, so I began to take the wish seriously. Studying art has been my dream ever since.

How did you develop your illustration style?

At first I didn’t really have my own style. After a long time of pressuring myself to find my very own way of drawing I realised that I just have to let go and draw in a way that is the most comfortable for me. This was the moment I started to develop the style I have today.

Do you use certain themes or colours in your work?

I’m in love with muted, earthy tones. Sometimes I dip my toe into the world pastels and strong, saturated colours, but I prefer my palette inspired by nature.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Illulina.

What inspires you to create?

The people and things around me, my dreams and wishes.

What are you artistic tools of the trade?

My favourite tools are coloured or graphite pencils, because they create a lot of texture and movement in my illustrations.

What is your creative process like?

I actually just go for it. If I see something I find interesting or an idea jumps into my mind, I start doodling rough shapes and colours. If I like what I brought to paper, I start working on more detailed pieces.

Where do you like to create your work?

Most of the time I’m working in my room. It’s cozy, safe and silent. My desk is in front of a window, facing a beautiful old oak and a forest. Often enough I space out and just sit there, forgetting about my tea, which is then becoming cold.

What is your favourite piece you have created?

I haven’t really thought about a possible favourite. I cherish all of my illustrations, since each one of them shows my progress.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Illulina.

Have you ever lost passion for your work?

Actually, yes, quite recently even. Art school rejected me and I started doubting my skill. I was sulking for about a week, but I never stopped drawing. If something doesn’t work, don’t give up. In Germany we have a saying which goes “if there’s a will, there’s a way,” – it’s true.

What are the most challenging parts of illustrating?

Frustration caused by not being able to visualise the image in your head right away.

And what are the best parts?

Telling stories in my very own way and the loving and heart-warming art community.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Illulina.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in illustration?

Go for it, and don’t give up if it doesn’t work immediately. The beautiful thing about art and illustration is the progress you make and looking back after months of hard work.

All images copyright of Illulina.

You can find Illulina’s work on Instagram at and on Tumblr at

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Alyce Brown: Feminism, Activism and Wearable Art

Alyce Brown is a forensic science graduate who became a self employed artist after discovering her passion for wearable art and statement designs. She is an activist, and much of her work deals with feminism, beauty standards and mental health. We discussed why wearable art is a great way to promote a cause, how she creates her pieces, and why she chose to leave full-time employment to pursue her passion.

Tell us a little about your work?

I am a full-time artist, but that wasn’t always the case. I have both a BSc and an MSc in forensic science and forensic anthropology respectively. However, there are no jobs in forensic anthropology. I taught for approximately three months and it really wasn’t for me, so I decided to take the leap and be self-employed. I started with prints of my illustrations but didn’t get very far. When I made my Smile painting and print, it instantly became a bestseller and I realised that instead of making ‘pretty for the sake of pretty’ illustrations (not that I believe they do not have their place), I could make art that has a purpose and can make a difference. This evolved into wearable art when I bought my badge machine (Betty) and started making acetate stencil patches.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

What materials do you like to use?

My most frequently used materials are my Huion tablet to design all of my badge designs; Betty my badge maker to actually make the designs into badges; Speedball, Vallejo and Permaset screenprinting inks, acetate, a sharpie, a scalpel, sponges, the lid of a jar (as a palette for the ink – see, you don’t need fancy equipment!) and various canvas and floral craft cotton fabrics to make patches. I also work with markers for my illustrations and work with oil paint for commissions and for my own enjoyment. I love to try new things, but making badges and patches seems to have stuck pretty well in my restless brain. If I won the lottery tonight, I’d still go to work on Monday making badges and patches.

What inspired you to start to create feminist and activist art?

My first feminist print was “Smile” which sports the slogan “It’s my face and I’ll smile if I want to” became an immediate bestseller as soon as I listed it. I’m a feminist, I’m an activist, I suffer with my mental health and I’m a chronic illness warrior. There are a lot of things in the world that need awareness raising for them. In a day and age where women are still hesitant to refer to themselves as feminists (I know because I used to be one of them), because of the negative connotations the word has picked up, I feel that feminism and the promotion of feminism and social activism is more important than ever. I don’t mean to imply that my work is doing grand things; but I like to think that it at least makes a small difference, whether that be providing a ‘he him’ pin for someone who is sick of people referring to them with the wrong pronouns, or just someone who wants a quirky neon witch patch.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

What do you like about making wearable art, compared to making art on paper?

I’d wanted a badge machine for ages because I had loads of ideas that I felt would work best on pins and the like, quick slogans and small images. I like making wearable art because whilst people may not have room on a wall for a large painting exploring issues of feminism and social activism, they usually have a garment to which they can affix a cute pin or patch.

What themes and motifs are most often present in your work?

My most consistent themes are feminism, activism and chronic/invisible and mental illness awareness. I don’t have any particularly consistent colours or motifs but I do tend to go with pastel colours rather than anything particularly bold or bright (though some of my work is very bright or dark or both!)

What is your creative process like?

I have sketchbooks lying around that are filled with ideas, or I have ideas that I’ve scribbled on pieces of paper or the notes section of my phone. If I want to create, I go to those first if I don’t have anything firmly in mind. Sometimes my other half and friends makes suggestions to me as well, sometimes I ask my audience what they’d like to see on a pin, a patch, a mirror.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?

It’s kind of hard to explain how, exactly. For pins; I colour the background, I add imagery or text, I remove the bleed lines, I print the inserts, I run them through Betty and press them into pins. For patches I rough the design onto the acetate using a sharpie then I cut it out by hand with a scalpel, then I tape them to the fabric (also hand cut, but with scissors) and I use a sponge to blot the ink on; I peel the tape away and then I peel the acetate away and voila! Sometimes patches need touching up a bit with black ink to crisp up the lines, or if it’s on floral fabric and it’s been smudged it is destined to become a misfit (essentially, an imperfect patch sold as a second). Whilst I’m working I usually listen to music or watch YouTube videos (I’m a big fan of Minecraft let’s play videos) or The Simpsons.

Where do you create your work?

I have a studio in my home. I work mostly at my desk and generally I spend most of my time in my studio. I have it set up so that everything I need is within easy reach (badge maker on the desk, badge parts in the drawers by the desk, saxophone for stress relief, and so on).

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

I think one of the most challenging aspects as working as a self-employed person in general, let alone an artist, is dealing with the uncertainty. Mostly it’s financial uncertainty, but sometimes it’s the uncertainty that you’re going to be able to create anything worthwhile that day. But that’s okay. As long as you’re creating that’s fine. Your tastes will overtake your skills frequently, you just have to try and keep up. With being an artist comes the necessity for a willingness to live with those uncertainties.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

And what are the best parts?

Being able to get up every day and do what I love. I love creating, I love making feminist and activist art because it has a purpose, it furthers a cause. As I said previously, even if I won the lottery tonight, I would still get up on Monday morning, go to work and make pins and patches. It is a passion and it is unceasing, so I have to be unceasing too.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

All you have to do is never give up. It is not easy, but it is simple. My dad (very successfully self-employed) has wise words on this subject. This is a message he sent me when I was having a bad day, early in my self-employed journey:

“Keep going! I know you think you aren’t getting anything back, but you’re wrong. You are. You just have not seen it. But it’s there, waiting for you and it’s yours for the taking. But, only those who REFUSE to give up will get there. I am one of those few people. You are too.”

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

What are you currently working on?

I’m always working on new badge designs but I’m currently, at the time of responding to these questions, working on a collaboration with a wonderful artist called Emily from KittyCraftsCo on some moon phase pins. I’ve wanted to make moon phase pins for ages and Emily recently made a watercolour painting of moon phases – so it seemed perfect!

What will you be working on next?

I got a laser cutting machine for my birthday but unfortunately the CO2 laser tube was broken so the laser was not firing and the machine didn’t work. I’ve just ordered a replacement machine so I’m really excited to make some acrylic jewellery, wooden and acrylic charms and badges and other awesome things!

All images copyright of Alyce Brown.

You can find Alyce’s work at,, and on Instagram and Facebook at @doodlepeoplexo. 

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Beth Garnett: Pyrography, Eclectic Materials and Playful Creativity

Beth Garnett is an artist and maker who creates quirky mixed media work. She has worked with ceramics, needle felting and crochet, and recently started to work with pyrography. She currently lives in Cornwall, after moving there to study an MA in Illustration. I was interested in the playful, eclectic way that she uses materials. We spoke about the differences between creating art with wood and paper, Beth’s creative process, and why she works with such a diverse range of materials. 

Tell us about you and your work?

I live in Cornwall, though I’m from Reading originally. I have always liked drawing. I’m a complete introvert, more so as I get older. I do a bit of drawing and painting, and I make things too. At the moment I make a lots of brooches and decorations on woodslices, using a combination of pyrography and paint.

What materials do you like to use?

The woodslices I use in my pyrography are currently locally sourced offcuts from pruning and tree felling. Having a gardener for a husband is really useful! Sometimes customers save me bits of wood from their gardens or drag things they’ve found on their walks back for me. I also collect fabric, threads, wire, and all sorts of things because I always have it in my head that I’m going to make more. As for my 2D work, it’s mixed media: inks, crayons, watercolours, felt tip…it would probably be easier to make a list of things I don’t use!

Pyrography by Beth Garnett

Your painting style is very lively and fluid. How has your work and style developed over time?

I’ve spent a long time trying to develop a really gestural, lively way of mark making. I can’t spend a long time on a piece of work, I get bored, but I have spent hours repeating a three minute image until it looks perfectly impulsive! As I’ve got older, and since doing my MA, I’ve developed more confidence. I’m quite a perfectionist but I’m drawn to the imperfect; the honesty of the mark. So I use play as a way to try and make that moment when something just works happen more often, and I’ve learned to care a little less. It has to be fun otherwise it feels pointless and I don’t end up with work I care about.

How did you begin pyrography? What do you enjoy about working with wood compared to working on paper?

Completely accidentally! My husband carves wood. He makes these beautiful spoons and trinket dishes and things in the green (fresh wood). He fancied trying pyrography on his work so I bought him a cheap machine for his birthday. Somehow I ended being the one who used it.  I was doing a Christmas market so decorations from all this wood lying around seemed like something worth trying. It’s sort of gone from there. If I’m totally honest, this happened by accident and I don’t love working on wood, in fact it’s really frustrating at times! But I do love making things rather than just images, and this just happens to be the thing I’m making the most of at the moment. I find making puts me into that creative place really quickly – that relaxed focus that my best creative moments emerge from. With my painting and drawing there’s so much history and struggle behind it – it’s hard to relax and have confidence in it sometimes. But for some reason I find making stuff is like having a sneaky way in through the back door to that place I need to be in.

Ink Painting by Beth Garnett

A lot of your work focuses on animals. How did this theme develop?

I think it’s just a natural interest in them. The natural world is weird and wonderful, and I can’t believe some of the stuff that’s in it. Plus, animals have faces, they can look so silly or sneaky or whatever you like. I also love birds so I draw a lot of them. My first degree was in Illustration for Children’s Publishing so that’s affected the way I draw, but I’ve never been interested in drawing things that don’t move or don’t have life in them. In recent years I’ve become more interested in the habitats and creatures around me, insects like moths and bees and bugs, so I also work on some less silly things that celebrate those.

What are your main sources of inspiration?

For my character work it tends to be things I find silly, joyful, just playful, idiotic stuff. I definitely think I’m funnier than I am, so it’s a good outlet for that. But on a wider level it’s colour, nature, pattern, wildlife. Cornwall is a constant source of inspiration, it’s such a beautiful part of the world to live in.

Pyrography by Beth Garnett

What is your creative process like? How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?

It’s playful and experimental. I always have my materials to hand, so often I’ll just fancy drawing birds and using some neon paint so I’ll do that and see where it takes me. For new character work I tend to sketch things out in brush pen or soft pencil first, quickly trying different ideas, but other times the idea is just sort of there. I’ll think, well – maybe there’s a chicken who’s really into the Wu-Tang Clan, that might be fun. I’ll do a little scribble, the chicken will look at me, he’ll be saying something utterly stupid and I’ll think, right, you’re going on a brooch.

When it’s not silly chickens, or cats, or whatever, it’s still playful in its process. I play with the media, I make patterns and marks, I try to pinpoint what it is I am really interested in about a thing and it will either slowly come together or it won’t. Recently I’ve started using collage to use all the bits and pieces in those times it doesn’t, to make something whole. That’s quite an exciting development.

Beth Garnett’s Work Space

What is your creative set up like? Where do you create your work?

The spare bedroom is my workspace. I’d say it’s 65% full of materials I rarely use because I collect craft things hoping I’ll get round to doing something with them. The other 35% is the stuff I need regularly. My husband calls me a craft-grazer.  There’s a desk, drawings on the walls, general chaos and a window that looks out to the field behind our house.

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

Having confidence in your work. Not knowing if you like what you’ve just made because it’s new or because it’s good. Trying to be you and not anyone else. Always wanting to do more. Pricing. Selling yourself. Networking when you’re an introvert. Having to say ‘I burn cats’.

Illustration by Beth Garnett

And what are the best parts?

When someone just gets something the same way as you do. They think a grumpy cat singing MMMbop is funny and  – who would’ve thought it – worthy of parting with cash in order to pin it to their cardigan. Or they see a drawing and respond with the same buzz I was feeling when I was making it, they point out my favourite mark or the same splash of colour that makes my heart sing. That’s always a very pleasant surprise. Getting to say “I burn cats.”

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Assuming you already make or draw stuff and you want to start selling it…look at the stuff you make and try to work out what connects it all. That’s the thing that you are selling, and knowing what that is will help connect with your customers and followers better. If it’s something weird, don’t worry. That’s the best kind of thing to have.

Know who your customers are and focus on them. Don’t waste time trying to sell to just anyone, not everyone is a potential customer. Friends and family are completely valid customers, don’t worry if that’s all who buys your stuff for a bit. They will be the ones who rave about your stuff the most.

Define your own idea of success. Where do you want this to go? It’s not always about creating full-time.

Think about business cards, packaging, promotional materials, photography. You can’t do it all to start with but every time you can afford to up your game on this side of stuff, do it and aim high. If you do craft fairs, talk to the other stall holders. I’ve had good fairs and rubbish ones but I’ve always come away with contacts, good advice, tips, leads and – best of all – swapsies!

Most importantly – Play!!

Pyrography Brooch by Beth Garnett

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

At the moment I’m entering full-on Christmas mode. I’ve just dropped my day job down to 3 days a week to try to make my creative stuff into something bigger. My idea of success would be to not need to work full-time in a day job because this stuff make a fairly consistent and significant contribution to our income, so this is a big step for us to see if I can make that happen.

All images copyright of Beth Garnett.

You can find more of Beth’s work on her website at, or on Facebook at 


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Sophia Shaw: Watercolour, Nomadic Lifestyle and Connecting to the Land

Sophia Shaw lives a nomadic lifestyle with her partner on the UK waterways. She works from their narrowboat, finding inspiration in the surrounding countryside. Her illustration style is light and playful, and has grown from her experiences of travelling and connecting with different lands and cultures. 

Tell us about you and your work?

My name is Sophia, the face behind Sophia’s Illustration. I am 29, a dreamer and tea-drinker who loves to draw, paint and live quite a nomadic lifestyle. Last winter my partner and I bought our first home together – a 1987 Springer 42ft narrowboat, the perfect life for us right now!

Sophia Shaw.

What are your artistic tools of the trade?

For the past few years I have been working with watercolour, ink and gouache. I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator  to prepare my work for print, but never usually for anything more – I have always preferred to work by hand with paint.

How did you discover art and illustration?

My mum was always creative and really inspired me as a child. We used to have lots of crafty days and once I sat for her to draw. I always knew that I would like to be an artist and it was always a strong subject for me at school. In college I studied an amazing full-time arts course and it was my tutor who advised me to apply to study Illustration, which I studied at Swansea University.

Map of Wales © Sophia Shaw

How did you begin map-making and what kind of projects have you worked on?

After I finished university I was so over illustration! I went travelling with my partner to Australia and Asia and ended up being away from home for two and a half years. We had the most amazing time and we learnt a lot. Whilst we were away I always carried a sketchbook around, but I still hadn’t found my ‘style’ of working, which was a constant pressure throughout university. I played around painting large scale murals in Australia and also in Kuala Lumpur. It was amazing to enjoy painting without any pressure. We spent six months working in Fremantle, Western Australia, and lived in the garden of the most amazing house. There was no exterior wall at the back of the house and the kitchen and living rooms were outside. Matthew, the owner, was an eccentric photographer who created recycled sculpture from old metal objects, which were all over the roof and garden. It was Matthew’s house where my style of working was born. The very first ‘map’ I drew was his wonderful house and gardens. Once we returned to the UK we moved back to Swansea and I started painting maps of Wales to reconnect with the land and culture.

What inspires you to create your work?

My paintings are often inspired by things that I see in day-to-day life, such as the shapes in a landscape, or a glimpse of a cat sitting in a field or a beautiful allotment. I am a big day-dreamer and always looking for the perfect composition. I have a sketchbook which I use to jot down little ideas of things that have happened, or things that I see, that I can refer back to when painting.

Do you find that you often use certain motifs, themes or colours in your work?

The colour green definitely features most in my work at the moment. I really love to paint gardens and the countryside. I also like to add in little personal details; if I paint animals I will often add pets of mine who have passed away. I really like the personal touch and the connection that this work has to me, but a stranger wouldn’t know.

Boat Workspace © Sophia Shaw

What is your creative process like?

I feel like I am one of life’s great procrastinators! Give me a sketchbook and I can draw and paint all day every day, but when it comes to painting a final piece I find myself doing anything but starting the painting. I seem to get an ‘artist’s block’ and feel like I don’t know where to start. Often I can overcome this if I have a deadline to work to, so this is usually what I do – I seem to work better under pressure. Once I get started I can work quite quickly. I can never finish a piece in one go, but have to leave it a few days and see it again with fresh eyes.

Tell us more about your workspace, and your life living and working on a boat on the UK waterways?

Living on the boat is awesome, but space is tight. The boat is just 13m in length and 2m in width. I have a desk which takes up half the living space, but can be packed down if we have guests. My partner is very chilled out, and we are both very used to living in small spaces, and so it suits us. Under the bed I have a large A3 scanner/ printer and I have to make my prints in very small quantities. In the summer we installed a solar panel to the roof, so I can charge my laptop easily now. At the moment my partner is working in West London and so we have to float around in one area, but our licence states that we must move a couple of miles every 14 days. In the summer we roamed the countryside and enjoyed our freedom! Life on the boat is wonderful, but there is a lot to learn and a lot of time spent opening and closing locks in the pouring rain!

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

I think that taking knock-backs is the most challenging thing. It is quite hard to separate yourself from the work and not take knock-backs too personally. Also making yourself stay motivated; it can be quite a lonely life working as an independent artist from a home studio! My dream is to one day have my own studio/ gallery space to invite people in for arts workshops.

In The Wild © Sophia Shaw

And what are the best parts?

The best part of working as an artist has to be when somebody chooses to own a piece of my work, it’s a lovely feeling that somebody has made that connection and wants my work in their home!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Be patient! Work hard and always make sure you are enjoying creating your work.

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

I have just finished painting my Christmas card designs for this year ready for some Christmas markets that I am selling my work at in West London. Next thing I am working on is illustrated map tea towels, I have always loved the kitsch holiday souvenir tea towel designs and I want to create some in my own style, watch this space!

English Country Garden © Sophia Shaw

Connect with Sophia at, and

All images copyright of Sophia Shaw.

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Artist Interview: Amber Roberts on Photography, Nature and Empowerment

This week I interviewed one of my closest friends, Amber Roberts. She is a photographer based in Kensington, and can be found shooting in the surrounding areas of Notting Hill and Holland Park with her partner, Philip. She has a calm, tranquil style full of warm, dreamy tones. We talked about how she began her photography business, shooting with her partner, her love of nature and her aim to encourage female empowerment through her work.

Tell us what inspired you to start photography?

This is the first year I’ve pushed myself to pursue photography as my full-time passion rather than a side hustle. As a child it enabled me to escape the reality around me and be anyone I wanted. My mother didn’t have a lot of money so 35mm film was hard to come by. I loved the chances that I had to use the film camera and show what was happening around me at that moment in time. I kept it very real, and rather than removing the bad bits I recorded as much as I possibly could. When digital cameras became more accessible I would “steal” my best friend’s camera and take as many photographs as possible. This inspired me to study photography during my A-Levels where I developed my love for film photography, there’s just something so magical about the dark room.

How has your style developed over time?

Before my A-Levels I didn’t really know how to take a picture. I was also afraid of working with real humans and so I focused on nature and still life – something I don’t regret. When I went to university I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Now that I am pursuing this full-time I want to capture beautiful moments for my clients to cherish. My main goal is to enable my clients to feel beautiful, special and to find themselves during our shoot. I love to direct the models through each pose to help them to find confidence. One thing I really want to do is to help those who have been through something bad – like losing a job, a relationship break-up or a trauma – and help them to feel amazing at the end of the photo shoot experience. I want to create a special day for them, where they can come and have their make-up done, choose their outfits, have time shooting and then wind-down. My main goal is to make my clients feel happy and confident in their own body.

What are your main influences?

My main influence is nature. Throughout my creative career and childhood I have always been found reading books, drawing, painting, photographing the world around me and playing in the dirt or climbing trees. There’s something so magical about nature that helps me to reconnect with myself again. I want to create artistic portraits of the human body that aren’t sexualised by the male gaze or society’s standards. I would love to do a shoot about the female and male body, showing different angles with random objects involved – I haven’t thought much about it though! One photographer I love is Francesca Woodman. She was an American photographer who photographed herself and many females merging with their surroundings. Another photographer who I adore is Bleeblu, his feminine portraits are beautiful and very artistic.

Dorcas Serafina (Instagram @dorcas_serafina) by Amber Roberts
Dorcas Serafina (Instagram @dorcas_serafina) by Amber Roberts

You’re very open about your experience with depression, and encourage others to talk about their own struggles, something I’ve always admired about you. How does mental health affect your creative work, and what advice would you give to others with similar experiences?

Being creative allows me to stay atop of my mental health. During the depths it can even be a battle to leave bed in the morning, but photography and drawing helps to keep me in check. I’ve been fighting with depression since I was 14, and last year, when I turned 23, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The advice that I would give to others with similar experiences is to remember that you deserve happiness, you deserve to be here and to be yourself, and someone else’s opinion of you doesn’t define you. Alongside therapy I have been working over forty-five hours a week and studying fourteen hours a week, whilst running my photography business with my partner. I’ve barely had time for myself but once you find something that you love doing it is all worthwhile.

What are some of the creative struggles that you have faced, and how did you overcome them?

Creative block, artistic block, and my mental health taking a turn for the worse are the things that I dread. I like to take each day as it comes. Starting a business is hard work, and so one thing I would say is that you need a lot of self-belief, or else your business won’t go far. You need to be one-hundred percent sure that this is what you want and the rest will follow. Marketing is a hard thing to do, there are so many avenues and funnels to go down. Take some courses, do an internship in marketing, expose yourself to as much as possible before you market your product to help you avoid the simple mistakes businesses make in the beginning – but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Anna (Instagram @annafitlifestyle) by Amber Roberts
Anna (Instagram @annafitlifestyle) by Amber Roberts

Has the process changed since you started shooting with your partner?

Doing this with my partner, Philip, has been one of the best things I have ever done. He gives me so much love, hope and strength to pursue my passions and seeing how happy he gets when I am happy makes it all worth it. He surprised me with a Fuji x-t2 at the end of last year and I haven’t looked back since! Having his help and bringing him to shoots brings us so much closer together and I feel that working alongside each other and joining forces makes us so much stronger!

Your work has a really calm, beautiful nature. How do you achieve this look?

I like to keep a feeling of calm and tranquility throughout my work; London is hectic as hell, and I like to counterbalance it through my work. I like to involve as much greenery or nature as possible and I’m happiest when I’m shooting outside. On a side note, my flat in Notting Hill is full of wonderful greenery, and I like to always have cactuses, succulents, and plants that purify the air.

Miguel Ruizios (Instagram @migelruizios) by Amber Roberts
Miguel Ruizios (Instagram @migelruizios) by Amber Roberts

What are some of your favourite locations to shoot?

Notting Hill, Holland Park, and Regents Park are some of my favourite London locations to shoot. The Barbican Conservatory, though only open on Sundays, is my all-time favourite place in London. From the depths of the ground to the tops of the glass you are surrounded by plants, trees, cacti and even turtles! I also love Brighton, there’s something so special and magical about the Laines, the seafront and the Sussex Downs. I can never get enough of it.

What are some of your favourite things about being a freelance photographer?

Being a freelance photographer enables me to push myself through boundaries I never thought I would. I am meeting new people all the time, capturing intimate moments, and photographing sensitively and compassionately. I love working on new projects all the time and seeing who I will meet next and where the project will take me.

Sara De Lauretis (Instagram @sara_deleau) by Amber Roberts
Sara De Lauretis (Instagram @sara_deleau) by Amber Roberts

Can you name your favourite shoot that you have worked on?

I’ve worked on so many shoots this year – it’s hard to decide which was my favourite. I’ve worked with up and coming male and female models, mums to be, new borns, mummies and their toddlers, events, products, fashion and bridal. My favourite image from a recent shoot was with Italian model Sarah Delau, who I was lucky enough to work with. She knew exactly what she was doing throughout the shoot. She is so beautiful and has an amazing personality to match. I also worked with a good friend of mine called Ellie who is a makeup artist! She is a magician!

What are you working on at the moment? And what’s next?

I am working on many exciting things, many of which I can’t talk about but some are photography based and some are illustration based! Keep your eyes open and new work will be coming soon!

You can find Amber’s work on Instagram at @bluebirdandthorn. 

All images copyright of Amber Roberts and Philip Amour. 

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Artist Interview: Illustrated Stationary Designs by Jenna Russell-Smith

Jenna Russel-Smith is a self-employed artist illustrator and stationary designer. Painting with ink and watercolour, her style is fluid, lively and playful. Alongside caring for two pre-schoolers she runs a freelance business, selling on Etsy and via her website. I spoke with Jenna to find out about her work, how she learnt to paint, and the challenges of running a business. 

Tell us a little about what you do?

I am a self-employed illustrator, artist and stationary designer. I have an Etsy shop which has existed for a few years but which I’ve really started to focus on this year after finishing having babies. I create customisable stationary and house portraits, with art prints and greetings cards emerging from the design process.

How did you discover art and design?

I studied Art throughout school, even though I didn’t think it was something I’d ever use. The feeling was very much that, apart from the sacred few, most people would never make a living out of art and it wasn’t realistic to pursue it! Then, as so often happens, I became busy with life only did the odd bit of sketching or drawing when on holiday or bored. I found myself in a very uncreative job and feeling the need to have something else in my life. So, I started a blog, documenting my creative pursuits. Gradually the arty side of things took over, and I found myself spending more time on it, learning and improving.

What materials do you like to use?

I like ink. Drawing with pencil is too risk averse for me as you can always rub it out and start again. But with pen, you’re immediately committed to what you’ve done and I find it gives me a bolder line. I use Noodler’s Bulletproof Black Ink with either a Noodler’s Ahab or a dip pen. The ink dries waterproof so I can add watercolour on top without it running.


What inspires you to create your work?

It’s developed over time. I went through a stage of drawing people and did a ‘self portrait a day’ project until I filled an entire Moleskin! At the moment I tend to be inspired by nature. Plants, flowers, the odd animals. I also love drawing buildings, so spotting beautiful houses is always inspiring.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

My house portraits, as it has been a labour of love to get to a point where I’ve got a style and process I’m confident in and know I can reproduce quickly and consistently.


Can you describe your creative process?

I start with an ink and watercolour sketch and hone it as much or as little as required. If I am creating a portrait, I tend to do a first sketch to get all the features in the right place and use that as a guide with a light pad to draw the final line work before adding colour. Because my style is fluid and sketchy, some of my final pieces look a lot like the first sketches as I think too much development can loose the ‘life’ of the illustration.

What is your work set up like?

I have a little studio at home with everything squashed in, which is where I work most of the time. If I’m doing ‘admin’ work rather than art, I like to decamp to a coffee shop for a change of scenery.

What has been the most challenging part of working freelance?

Time! I have two pre-schoolers at home with me most of the time, so carving out time for my business can be tricky. Then the realisation that making art isn’t enough, you have to spend so much time on all the other stuff; photography, social media, writing listings, chatting to clients, and everything else.

And what are the best bits?

Time! Being my own boss and being able to be as flexible as my life requires. I love knowing that every success and milestone my little business manages is entirely down to me – it’s my third baby.


Have you ever lost passion for your work? How do you keep going?

Frequently, especially when I am plodding through a big list of admin tasks or when things are not quite working as I imagine them! To be honest, I just keep going. Take a few minutes to make a cup of coffee, or do something else, but come back to it and keep going.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Keep drawing! It really is a skill that improves massively with practice. I think another excellent piece of advice is not to worry too much about creating your ‘style.’ Just keep creating and it will appear on its own.

What are you currently working on and what’s next?

At the moment I am working on a pile of house portraits, which I love. I am listing my new range of notecards that can be personalised to create your own range of custom stationary. In the long term, I’m excited about launching my new Wedding Collection next Autumn.

You can find more work by Jenna Russell-Smith at and

All images copyright of Jenna Russell-Smith. 


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Artist Interview: The Patterns of Elena O’Neill

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing artist and designer Elena O’Neill. Working with watercolour to create vibrant repeat patterns and illustrations inspired by the beauty in everyday life, Elena has worked with Thortful and Moonpig, and sells her work on Etsy and Society6. After learning to sew, she began to apply her patterns to pencil cases and fabric. I caught up with her to find out about her creative process, influences and challenges.

Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Elena O’Neill and I am an illustrator and pattern maker based in the south of England. I was brought up on a farm, just three miles from Stonehenge. I am passionate about patterns and seeing my work come to life as products.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but I started illustrating when I began studying Illustration at Plymouth College Of Art. We were encouraged to experiment to find our unique style. In my second year my friend told me to buy a watercolour set, and it was love at first use. It was then that my illustrations really took off. I used books and Youtube videos to learn how to use them, and a fair amount of experimenting. That was over two years ago now and I still love them. I guess I have a lot to thank that friend for!


What is your artistic weapon of choice?

My Windsor and Newton watercolour set – the best thing I’ve ever bought.

What are your influences? Who or what inspires you to create your work?

My favourite artist is Alphone Mucha, his work is so decorative and vibrant. I love botanical artists like Julie Collins and Wendy Tait, who’s wonderful books taught me how to paint. I am also inspired by illustrators like Katie Daisy and Cat Coquillette.

Do you find that you often use certain motifs, themes or colours in your work?

I love bright colours and seeing how the watercolours mix, its so different every time. I like to create my patterns on a white background, as I think when printed on material, a good quality print looks like it could have been painted directly onto the fabric.


Can you describe your creative process? How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?

I start by becoming excited about a theme or object, then I paint as many different variations as possible. I usually have many different patterns on the go, as the watercolours often need time to dry, and I like to swap between themes as it keeps my work fresh and interesting. Once I am done painting, I scan everything in and clean it up using Adobe Photoshop. Then I arrange my painted icons into patterns!

What has been the most challenging parts of being a freelance illustrator and running a business on Etsy?

The most challenging part for me is balancing everything. When you work for yourself, you have to be everything. The creator, photographer, accountant, social media expert… the list goes on. It can be so hard to get right!

And what are the best bits?

There are a lot of best bits, the freedom to decide what to do with your days, and being able to  look forward to going to work is amazing!

Was there ever a moment when you lost passion for your work? If yes, how did you get it back?

There are several moments most weeks! I think it might be part of having a creative mind. I find that I’m in a constant cycle of thinking ‘why am I doing this, its never going to work, my stuff is awful,’ and ‘I can’t believe how much I’ve achieved, I’m so proud of myself.’ It’s kind of exhausting really, but it keeps things interesting!


Where do you find clients and collaborators?

Most of the time I create work based on what sparks my interest and not for a client. Although I have done internships at Moonpig and Hallmark, which were opportunities given to me at the graduate show New Designers. I have also had a lot of people contact me after finding my work on Etsy and Society6.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as an illustrator?

Get your work out there! In the design industry most companies will contact you if they like what they see, but you have to put it out there to be seen. My advice is to make the most of websites like Redbubble and Society6, get as much on there as possible and promote on social media. If you wait until you think you’re ‘good enough’ you might never think you are.

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

It has just been made official that my greeting card designs are now available on Moonpig, which is really exciting for me! Next I plan to focus on creating patterns for Spoonflower, continuing to grow my Etsy shop and creating greeting cards for Thortful.

You can find more of Elena O’Neill’s work at

All images copyright of Elena O’Neill

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