I’m Permanently Covered in Paint!

After all those years belligerently and stubborning refusing the jeering calls of the paintbrush, I now find myself well and truly addicted to watercolours. I sleep, I dream of painting, I wake up, and I’m thinking of what I want to paint next, even when I eat I find myself wondering … can I paint with mushy peas? How well would they mix with my favourite yellow? Could a moldy canvas be the new artistic breakthrough that I’ve been searching for?

Either way, today I have been feeling quite under the weather, so instead of hiding under my duvet with baby rats I figured I’d put on some Doctor Who and paint with baby rats. By that I mean, the baby rats are on my shoulder eating treats, not that I use them to paint with. I didn’t have any real goal in mind, just that loading my paper with water and flicking paints on there looked pretty, and it slowly morphed into yet another ratty drawing, adding promarkers for good measure.


I’m really happy with how this turned out, so happy that I think I’ll get some prints made up of it next week. The yellow is perhaps a bit more intense than it really needed to be, and some areas of the ‘nebula’ background is a bit too sharp, but will work on that for the next one!


Compassionate Artwork

Two posts in less than two weeks? Surely I’m just spoiling you? But in all seriousness, it’s nice to have things to write about again!

Last week I was asked if I would like a stall at the Compassionate Christmas Fair, held down in Halisham this December, and I’m very excited about it. The fairs aim is to promote a cruelty free lifestyle, selling vegan products and raising money for a number of different vegan and animal charities in the UK. Compassion and love for our fellow beings is something that I hold very dear to my heart, and I have been vegan for almost four years now, so it means a lot to me to finally be able to get involved in something that I feel so positively about.

I have been working on a number of artworks, my ‘Friends not Food’ series, that explores the beauty and compassion and love of the animals often overlook and exploited by many. It has been a good excercise for me, working with such varied features and shapes, animals that are certainly out of my comfort zone when it comes to drawing, and it has given me a chance to really dig my toes into the watercolours. I am a long way from mastering the medium, that’s for sure, but I am starting to understand how these paints work, and what you can get them to do!

sweetrat230 sweetrat231 sweetrat232 sweetrat233 sweetrat234

All of these so far have been on 5×7″ paper, a good size for prints, I figure! But I also finished this A4 piece last night. I’m not as happy with how this turned out compared to those above, but I suppose the composition is very different from what I have been working with previous, focusing mainly on the silly, characterful faces that these animals pull. But still, it was an enjoyable piece to pain.

It also pleases me to say that all the materials I work with don’t contain animal derivatives, so that’s always a big bonus!

The Evolution of Change

It has been a while since I made a decent update to this page, what with my Facebook, Etsy and Tumblr pages taking up most of the time I had dedicated to networking each day, but I have experienced a number of changes over the past two months that have inspired me to put pen to paper (ok, fingers to keyboard) and give this blogging lark another shot.

The most notable development since my last update has been my decision to quit my part time office job, a position that caused me a great deal of stress, and focus all of my energy on Sweet Illustrations. It has been a rocky month, to put it lightly, though I am still earning more than I was before I took the plunge, and in my eyes that’s as good an achievement as any!

Having seven whole days a week to dedicate to my artwork has allowed me to explore mediums and styles that I simply felt I couldn’t dedicate the time to before, and my recently completed artworks have got me thinking about how much my art and, most importantly, my approach to art has changed since I first realised that I was actually pretty ok at it.

To start this tale, I’m going to take you on a magical journey back in time, where a younger, much smaller and much more naive little Holly stood outside of her art class at break time, talking to Mr. Endicott, the only art teacher that I have ever felt I learned from and who inspired me to do something with my talents. It was during my GCSE years that I really started to commit myself to the idea that I loved art, and to allow myself the time to work on my skills, and to feel confident enough in what I was producing to feel proud to show my family and my teachers. I loved drawing in graphite, drawing animals and cartoon characters, and presenting them in my art classes as my finished products. Endicott would give me advice and constructive criticism on my work, and over time my skills continued to improve, but there was something I really could not cope with. And that was painting. I refused to paint, because when I tried it look awful. I realise now that I was approaching paint in entirely the wrong way, that I was expecting the same results I got with my pencils without having to put in the effort, and it frustrated me. I outright refused to work in paint, no matter how often he would try and encourage me too, and as a result of this I spent most of my life never touching a paintbrush and certainly never touching paint. When it came to university we were expected to do our design proposals in paint, namely using gouache, but the method was simply filling and shading, and I almost always managed to find a way around that by using gel pens and pencils. When university was over I stopped drawing completely, too depressed to find any joy in it any more until, by chance, I was bought some promarkers and, when a friend lost one of her ratties, I decided I would try drawing them for her. I got back into art again, but still I refused the paints! I stuck with the markers, eventually moving onto graphite and coloured pencil.

I did get the old goauche set out during that time, though I used it exactly the same way that I used the markers … blocks of colours, refusing to utilise the many benefits that paint offered because, in my head, I still couldn’t paint. I would tell people that I couldn’t paint, that I was hopeless at painting, and further more I convinced myself that I didn’t need to paint. Whilst there are artists out there who find markers and photoshop and coloured pencils enough, I hadn’t come to this conclusion because I preferred the markers and pencils, but because I was too stubborn to give something a try. Because I had done a stupid thing and convinced myself that, because I couldn’t paint ten years ago, how can I possibly paint now? This is a mistake I see so many people making … people who tell themselves over and over that because they didn’t get the results they wanted years ago that it was impossible for them to do so now. People who say that ‘I tired but I can’t.’ But I was that person, for all that I had improved, I was still stuck in the same mindset as my sixteen year old self.

My journey into painting came about quite accidentally, rather recently. I bought myself some coloured ballpoint pens to do play around with, and realised that I needed an effective way to create some contrasting and dynamic backgrounds to the ballpoint subjects. I have an old watercolour set that was bought for me many many years ago, and dubiously I pulled them out, and after doing a little research I began playing around with throwing and splashing the watercolour onto the page. I loved it, I loved the result, and I loved naturally the results formed.


People loved them, and I sold them in a very short space of time, and got a number of comments from people saying how much they adored this new style. It was a huge boost for me, as although commissions had been coming in fairly steadily since I quit my job, I still didn’t feel particularly confident that I was doing the right thing. Little did I know, that by simply splashing some watercolour around on some paper, I had begun to chip away at this idea that I couldn’t paint, and a few days later I found a wonderful reference photo that I was really excited about, and after I had done the splashed I realised that, actually, I may as well see what I can do by still working with the watercolours.

Let me just say, this was about as hallelujah a moment as I could possibly ask for. I LOVED it, and I was able to apply what I had learned with the markers, and the coloured pencils, in a way that really complemented the medium. Watercolours suited me, and how who knew? Certainly not me. It was the first piece that I had finished that actually had me beaming with pride. I had achieved something that the sixteen year old me always told the world was impossible. I had painted something, and I liked it!


I am now exploring this new style that I have discovered, playing around with it as much as I can, adding other mediums when I can to see what sort of result I can get. Although I love doing the commissions, it’s nice to actually feel like an artist again, to know that I’m pushing myself. I have learned a very valuable lesson throughout all this, one that I wish I had learned earlier, and one that I hope everyone reading this can take from as well; you can’t expect to be good at something without first putting in the work to GET good at something. No matter how naturally gifted or talented you are, or you are not, everything that you do, that you want to get good at, requires patience, it requires an understanding that you won’t be producing a masterpiece of getting thousands of notes and likes on whatever platform you’re used to the first day, or the first month, or even the first year! What makes the difference between someone who is ‘good’ and someone who is not, is that one of these people didn’t give up.

I leave you now with a preview of the painting that I have been working on this evening.


Holly x

Never Doubt Your Worth

HI folks! Well, it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I posted anything here, having found myself somewhat distracted and overwhelmed by several other things going on at the moment. But, I’m back! Whether I’m back for any longer than this single post remains to be seen, but there is something that has been playing on mind a lot lately that I feel the need to get down. And this feels like the most appropriate place.

Recently I got into a bit of a spat with another person after they removed the signature from another artists artwork with the intent to embroider it on … whatever they planned to embroider it on and sell. I do not regret contacting the artist involved, and although it caused some conflict what I did was an appropriate response that, I hope, other people would do that for me if they saw my artwork being altered and butchered without first getting my consent. Ever since, I have been particularly vocal about issues surrounding both copyright and artists getting their worth. Today I choose not to focus on the copyright issue, instead I want to focus on your worth.

I have been guilty, as have many artists, of feeling somewhat uncomfortable and downright dirty for quoting a price for my artwork when people ask. Even to this day, it frightens me to give a quote anywhere over £30 because I’m still very much stuck in the ‘am I good enough’ mindset when it comes to my artwork. That people gladly pay that and more for my artwork has done only a little to calm me and to convince me that, actually, I do have a right to ask this of people when they show interest in my work.

A lot of artists, when they first start out, will experience this. They may find themselves, as did I, doing work for free based on the promise of ‘good exposure’ because we simply lack the confidence to ask for a fair fee. We find ourselves exploited by the people who know how to work ‘our kind’, and who can spot an unsure artist a mile away. Having been exploited in this way I find it incredibly insulting and frustrating when I see people using new artists in this way. On many an occasion I have butted in on the odd facebook conversation, stating that the artist would probably appreciate payment rather than empty promises for their hard work, and generally the artist is grateful that finally someone aside from themselves thinks their art is worth something. The turning point in my ‘career’, I suppose, was when someone first offered to pay me for my art. Until that point people were happy to get free doodles, and request more doodles, which I didn’t mind so much as they were friends. But when someone came up to me and said they would give me £15 for a drawing of their rat I almost cried. Here was someone who understood, someone who gave me the confidence in my talents and skills that I desperately needed. And it changed everything for me.

I still worry about my prices, when I upped them at the beginning of the year to try and reach something that at least resembled a minimum wage I didn’t sleep. I honestly didn’t sleep that night, convinced I would get several pm’s from people telling me how greedy and horrid I was, to wake up and find no more likes on my facebook group and that I would never see another commission come in again. But that didn’t happen. I woke up to find another commission had come through from someone who didn’t even blink at the new prices, and only once has it ever been brought up. I still under price myself, I’m painfully aware of that, but now I am at least earning enough for me to seriously consider moving onwards to full time self employment.

The lesson, really, is to never ever doubt your worth. I’m not saying you should overcharge, an inflation of ego can do even more damage to your business and career than a lack of, but you should try and remind yourself that, you know what? Your time IS worth something. Your talents ARE worth paying for. Don’t cut yourself short because you fear what people will say to you and because you doubt what you are capable of.

Sweet Blossum

sweetrat164Today, after my office job forbidding me to come in thanks to the lack of work we have going at the moment, I decided to finish off the GiveAway prize that was given to celebrate Sweet Rattery Illustration’s second birthday!

The prize was for one of my rainbow pieces, however the winner wanted something that would fit better with their ink pieces that they had commissioned in the past. I decided that I’d use this opportunity to do some more work with the gouache, ink and promarkers combined, and I have to say I’m pretty happy with the result!

My realistic painting skills still leave much to be desired, but that will come in time I’m sure.

I Do Live!

Well, I failed somewhat at keeping this updated, didn’t I? Oh well, just means I have more things to show all you lovely people!

Now that Christmas is over, things have slowed down somewhat, which means I’ve had time for a couple of personal pieces, and to work on my FanFiction and children’s book. The latter is something that I have been wanting to do and have been working on in bits and drabs for about a year now, though I have finally settled on an artwork style that I like and plan to use for the illustrations.

I had originally planned to use promarkers, a medium that I’m very comfortable with now and that I know can produce some delightful results. I wanted something soft, fluffy, adorable. More pastels rather than any big bright colours. The book itself is about rats, and a little girl’s relationship with her first pet rat, so I wanted something that really shows off what beautiful and adorable little critters they are. And so it became that the gouache stepped up to the plate, holding a splodgy hand upwards and volunteering itself as tribute. Sure enough, I fell in love with the result.

sweetrat161 sweetrat160The first image is of the rat that the story is about – my darling Papa Zen. I’m not sure if the party hat will come as standard or not yet 😉 Papa Zen was my heart rat, my very best friend. He changed my life for the better, of that I’m certain. I feel that our relationship was something so beautiful that it could translate so well into a story of a little girl and her best friend.

The second is one of my beauuutiful girls, Panya. She’s a sweetheart, and such a stunning girl, too, so I couldn’t not paint her.

I think perhaps I need to decide whether to stick to pencil or work with a blank ink outline, so more experimentation is needed there. But overall this is what I want, this is the exact mood I want to see.

In other news (though I’m still not sure if I’m ready to share a link to it yet because, well, is it embarrassing? FanFiction, I mean?) my little Avatar: The Last Airbender fanon trilogy is going well. I’m just about to start the third and final book, and had to knock up a quick cover photo for it. I would say be kind, people aren’t my forté, but how can we possible improve without accepting criticism? Right? But I have certainly gone wrong with the proportions of the faces, and I have no idea quite where I went wrong with Katara. But alas I did. So maybe I’ll make up a slightly better version in the future. For now though, cover those eyes folks, here’s a couple kissing

spiritworldOk, almost kissing. Lets not get too far ahead of ourselves there! Goodness. Occasionally I will break out the Tablet and do some digital work. However, I have a slight issue in that it’s almost impossible to get straight lines (hence why I ink outline and then scan in before colouring). I’m not certain if it’s because my tablet is only A5, or whether it’s the image software I use (GIMP 2.4), so if anyone can enlighten me on that I’ll be eternally grateful! Until then, that wonky shading is just my ‘style’, ok?

Twas the Night Before Christmas and … Zebra?

I finally got a chance to knuckle down and get my zebra piece finished tonight! I figured it was perhaps the only way I could distract myself from the mountain of cheese and crackers sitting in the kitchen.

I will confess I’m not 100% happy without the outcome. I think the background was, in retrospect, pretty poorly planned out in terms of the overall colour scheme. But hey, it was an experience and I’m learning to be a bit more confident with my strokes and to work outside of my usual ‘blocks’ of colour. The background itself I’m quite happy with, just think I should have perhaps used more mint green.
sweetrat153Backgrounds have been rather absent throughout the process (why yes, yes I do watch the Apprentice and yes I am now thinking in Mark’s accent), and it definitely adds a little more to the overall piece. Just need some fine tuning is all!

So, here he is, the Zebro!

As ever, gouache and ink were my medium of choice 🙂

Hey There Zebro

As all the Christmas commissions have been sent of ready to meet their new owners I’ve spent this weekend working on a gift for the other half, and a personal piece that I’ve been itching to do for a while now. The gift, I’m afraid, I’ll have to refrain from showing you until after Christmas Day as he may stumble across it here (if you’re reading, go away, go play your games, shoo shoo!), although I’m both apprehensive and excited to reveal that when the time is right! Not what I’d usually do, not even close, but it was a lot of fun anyway. The personal piece, however, I can reveal to you in all it’s pixellated, poorly lit phone pic glory! But everyone loves a good WIP photo, right?

I know rainbow zebra’s is hardly a daring step of creativity, but the idea sat in my head, refusing to stop gnawing away at my brain cells until I submitted myself to it. And so, I begin the Zebro. Unfortunately I’m suffering a case of THE CLAW in my right hand from all the frantic detail work done on the other half’s gift, so poor Zebro will have to wait until tomorrow for me to do any more work on him. But I have some pretty snazzy thoughts for the colour scheme, and looking forward to revealing them!

Materials here are my good old magical squishy gouache tubes, and Langton hot pressed watercolour paper, which is definitely one of my favourites.

Why I Love Promarkers

When you think markers you are probably put in mind of those old Berol felt tips you had at school, those red and blue horrors that would start the year as a shiny new set no one could wait to get their hands on, and by the end of the first art session would be found snapped under chairs, their lids having mysteriously vanished into the Void.

Honestly, just seeing them without their lids sets my teeth on edge, and I find myself irrationally angry at whoever happens to be sitting next to me.

But, in fact, felt tips can be a wonderful and delightfully simple medium to work with! In my two years of *sob* periodic unemployment after university I tried my hand at comics. Not writting them, you see, but illustrating them. I told myself that I could easily finish a 100 page graphic novel, no problem, yet partway through I realised that, actually, comics really were not for me. I get bored of doing the same thing for two long, and included in that was drawing the same character over and over and over. On the plus side, however, I invested in a decent set of fine line blacks as well as a couple of choice Letraset Promarkers. I was in love! A product that needed no water, left no mess, and that I could get really creative with. Sweet Rattery Illustrations itself started purely with Promarkers, and it became sort of the trademark of my work. Before long I began to appreciate just how versatile these markers were, working well alongside gouache paint, easy to blend with one another, and with a layering quality that allowed me to create the sort of depth that I wouldn’t have imagined you could achieve with felt tips.

I suppose the huge benefit of Promarkers is that there is no fuss. Before long you will find yourself with an entire drawer dedicated to these pens, which I’m pretty sure eventually start breeding and nesting in various places in your house, and with that drawer open, a pad in hand, you can scribble and blend to your hearts content. They are perhaps the most addictive of mediums … I have found myself buying several colours that I’m all but certain I’ll never use just because I don’t have them yet, and many a dull evening has been brightened by ordering them by hue. Truthfully, they are fun. Going crazy with a brush can be every bit as enjoyable, but there’s something … childish about them. It brings me back to my days as a child, scribbling away with the few coloured pencils I’d managed to salvage from under the sofa, imagining to myself that I was some big shot artist working for Disney. Characters come to life before you as you layer on the impossibly perfect skin tones (seriously, the days of colouring people in pink because it’s all you have are over!), and I now find it very difficult to do a pencil sketch without grabbing one of my colours, grabbing my right wrist with my left hand, trying to fight back the urge to just add ‘a liiittle bit of colour here’.

The only issue I have found, personally, with Promarkers is that they do tend to run out quickly. Despite the impracticalities, I adore working on Bristol Board, and it very quickly sucks the life out of my pens. But the smoothness of the finish is just too good to sacrifice for the sake of saving a few pounds. They are the stable of my portraits, and still the most popular of the products I offer.

A selection of old boys enjoying some Bakewell.
A selection of old boys enjoying some Bakewell.
The range of colours available make it very easy to replicate real life colours of subjects.
The range of colours available make it very easy to replicate real life colours of subjects.
One of the best things about the Promarkers is the ability to layer a colour upon itself to create degrees of shading upon the subject.
One of the best things about the Promarkers is the ability to layer a colour upon itself to create degrees of shading upon the subject.
But equally, you can use a range of different colours on a subject, which creates an almost abstract result that I'm very keen on.
But equally, you can use a range of different colours on a subject, which creates an almost abstract result that I’m very keen on.

I get the feeling that Promarkers are one of the products that, the more you use them, the more you continue to learn about them. I suppose that much in itself is true about all other mediums, but the range of different techniques and results you can get from a simple felt tip is insanely satisfying.