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Guest Blog with Helen Birch from Draw Draw Draw

March 20, 2017

Hey it’s the first day of Spring today, and it’s pouring down !..mmm let’s hope it’s not a sign of things to come. ‘Happy Springtime’ everyone.

I met up with an old friend Helen last week. We studied Textile Design together at Nottingham Polytechnic, back in the 80’s (in the days before it turned in to a University) … gosh how old does that make me feel ! Helen is an art lecturer, a social media advocate and has created the highly successful blog Draw Draw Draw, and is the author of two best selling books ‘Freehand’ (which features my own work on the old cover), ‘Just Add Watercolour’ and a third, soon to be released  called ‘Drawn From Life’ (out March 23rd).

Helen says…

It’s always good to catch up with my old art school buddy Craig over at Fishkink….or even better – for real – over a lovely cup of coffee

We talked about all sorts. It’s always good to compare notes about what we’ve been making, seeing, blogging about and thinking about doing. The dialogue inevitably includes ‘so what are you busy with right now?’.  My reply: I’m waiting for the arrival of my new book ‘Drawn from Life’.

It was lovely to see that some of Craig’s most recent work had included collaborating with a jeweller – combining his love of illustration with his beloved Boo.. this time in 3D. Dog talk is always something I’m happy to do, especially since I’ve become an active borrower and walker of pooches on the site/app ‘Borrow My Doggy’. Canine chats gave us an idea: why not do a guest blog feature on each other’s blogs with a dog theme as our prompt?

Here are a just few dog drawings I’ve enjoyed looking at recently:

ANJA ZAHARANSKI (dogs can bark) for her beautifully observed drawings. Her website is here. Or you can find her on Etsy and Instagram

The dog drawings of well known artists:

Hockney’s daschunds – always a favourite and a suitably rude but real collaboration from Warhol and Basquiat.

Lucian Freud’s whippet drawings – it’s good to see these studies. The dogs appear in so many of his paintings too.

Rembrandt – studies from 1637 and 1640 rendered in pen and ink and as an etching.

Sally Muir – using a vet collar to make a memorable dog portrait.

Kiki Smith – just the paws and finally Nick Slater’s more graphic-y rendition of a dog.

He bases his observations on his own pet corgis – who have their own Instagram account. We had corgis when I was a kid so I retain a soft spot for them even now.

Many thanks to Helen for being a part of Fishink Blog for today and good luck with the release of the book this week too.








Fishink’s Mystery Blogger Award

March 15, 2017

I’ve been nominated for a Mystery Blogger Award by a long-time follower and friend of Fishink blog, Kaori Okumura who writes the Home Spun London Blog, so many thanks for that.  Kaori, originates from Japan and says “I am an artisan in London, who specialises in hand-made luxury knitwear. I love true creative works, (not soon forgotten fads) and also enjoy reacquainting myself with London, via my Brompton folding bike.”

The rules of the award are :

1. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog. (Done..tick… see above)
2. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well (that would be Okoto, many thanks)
3. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself. (I am a textile designer, an illustrator and a Reiki Master)
4. Answer the questions from the nominator.. which are…

1. What makes you smile on miserable wintry Monday morning ?

Well apart from my lovely dog Boo …


…. the few ceramics I’ve gathered in my studio space, always grab a smile out of me.

2. Are you a tea drinker or coffee drinker?

Definitely a coffee drinker, although I like it weak enough, so it looks like tea! When they see it, most people ask me what it is that I’m drinking, and then look at me like I’m crazy when I say it’s ‘coffee’. I love the smell of real fresh coffee but just don’t like the strength of taste.

Again my selection of mugs, helps to keep me happy.

3. Favourite films?

There must be more as these ones are pretty old now, but still favs.

4. If you are to be locked up in one famous landmark for a day / night, which place do you pick?

It would have to be a huge bookshop like Foyles. I’d love to sit and read through the children’s books and surround myself with all those great illustrations.

5. What menu would you choose if it were to be your last supper?

Oddly enough, although I do enjoy my food, I’m not a huge foodie. So just for a change I’d like to mix up my countries a bit with something along the lines of…

Buffalo Mozarella and fresh Tomato starter from Italy, Coriander Chicken with Basmatti Rice main course from India, followed by a Lemon Cheesecake for desert from Portugal.

Thanks again to Kaori for the nomination and I’d like to nominate any of my readers to comment and answer these questions themselves…. let’s see how many answers we can generate !
















Lily Irwin Illustration.

March 13, 2017

Hello everyone and welcome to another sunny Monday, (well it is in my neck of the global woods anyway) : ). Just to let you know that I’ll be posting twice this week, as I’ve a small back log of posts that I promised to release, so look out for something else on Wednesday too.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Lily Irwin who has been a reader of my blog for quite a while. I discovered that she was an illustrator and that I really liked her work, so I invited her to answer a few questions and display her work for everyone else to enjoy. Loose yourself in these illustrative escapes.

What are your first memories of drawing and at what age? How long have you been an artist?

The most vivid memories of early childhood rest heavier on the imaginative worlds I created, most of the time brought to life alongside my Grandmother who possessed an extraordinary and rich imagination – old brass beds were turned into boats on perilous seas and banquets were held on old tree stumps in the garden surrounded by our many animals. I mostly drew onto walls as a young child, much to the despair of various family members. However, one of my first significant memories of drawing was my lessons with Lesley Fennell, a great friend and painter who lives down the road from us in Ireland. I must have been four or five when I first went to her studio. Observational drawing was paramount to Lesley’s teaching – whether we were creating and building layers of collage or drawing birds and plants in the woods.

I loved to write and illustrate stories as a child. One imaginary story that played a continuous role in my early life was a strange coming of age tale which involved rabbits, not a particularly happy world from what I remember, as the rabbits bade farewell to childhood, their ears would begin to droop and they were forced to wear clothes which seemed a preposterous idea to them.

I lost drawing in the midst of adolescence, like many others, it was a difficult time for me, lots of things that had been precious to me as child, disappeared under the surface. However, it began to come back to life in the last years of university, it started quite naturally, I remember I was reading Carrington’s illustrated letters at the time which sparked something in me. The drawings were mostly on scraps of paper, all pen and ink, very fine and detailed. I have gradually broken away from that, experimenting with many different materials. Studying at Cambridge has brought many wonderful things, but most significantly it has reignited my love of drawing from life.

Your artwork is very textural and detailed, what mediums do you most like to use and why?

I love to experiment and explore – my drawings are like great stock pots, filled with all kinds of different materials. Those that emerge most in my drawing are gouache, dip pen, pencil, oil and chalk pastels, lime wash and white ink. Most of my favourite materials are found by winding ways such as lime wash which I discovered lying in the cupboard last year or my favourite pencil – a paper mate extender, an unassuming character, very cheap but brilliant, spotted whilst queuing in the post office one day. They’re of a mysterious grade but create the most beautiful lines and marks. Colouring pencils – both watercolour and oil based – are another constant, I love luminance and derwent, the colours are very rich and blend and battle with their own kind and with other materials too.

Collage is another medium which forms a great part of my work, I have bags and boxes filled with recycled paper or old prints which I cut and build up, usually mixing in other materials like ink or gouache. I also like to create my own papers which can come together simply by rolling ink or sometimes using strange materials like fish bones.

Do you work mostly from photographs or your memory/ imagination when you work ?

Before my time at Cambridge, I relied mostly on my imagination or photographs – my work was very dense and intricate then, I tended to work only in pen and ink. I think my imagination found itself malnourished by only having photographs as a reference. My first term at Cambridge focused entirely on observational drawing. I found it a great struggle at first but as the weeks unfolded I suddenly sensed this tremendous shift. It was transformative, not only in my drawing but how I perceived the world around me; it felt like I was learning to see again, discovering inspiration in all kinds of unlikely places. Drawing from life brings so much richness to the imagination, I am fascinated by how a drawing unfolds when you are actively engaged and looking at something – there is a mystery or a magic to it. I am also very interested by the idea of working from memory and would like to explore it more – it can be quite frustrating and find that I usually have to rely on my observational drawings as a reference point, in order to bring the memory to life on the page.

I see animals, woods and water as familiar themes in your work, is that an accurate depiction of your favourite items to illustrate ?

I think all three are very significant to my work. I have always lived by the water and surrounded by trees – our garden and countryside is filled with chestnuts, oaks, apple trees and birch. The house I grew up in Ireland, attached to an old derelict mill which looks onto the river Griese, and in London, we are only a short cycle away from the canal. Water is a very grounding and peaceful presence and I find that I constantly gravitate towards the river or canal to draw.

Animals are another constant presence in my life – we have six dogs and a Burmese cat in Ireland. The Burmese, Captain Blue and our lurcher, Pip forever appear in my work, their characters are extraordinary – both possess something magic, Captain is almost like the Cheshire cat, appearing out of doll’s houses and holes in the ceiling. Pip is equally rare, quite a fragile person, far more at ease out in the wilds.

Can you explain why you often seem to prefer slightly muted or limited colours in your illustrations ?

I have recently tried to experiment with a brighter palette but I seem to have a natural inclination towards deep blues and sepia tones. I can’t explain why muted or limited colours recur in my work, perhaps it is somewhat subconscious – I think using a limited palette can bring coherence to a piece, particularly in my case as I use a great deal of marks and patterns. Whenever I bring too much colour together, I think it can cause the final piece to become fragmented, the marks become lost amongst the chaos of colour.

Tell us about your experiences on the MA course at Cambridge. Where do you hope it may lead you?

The most profound experience at Cambridge has been the shift towards observational drawing. The course is led by a diverse and wonderful group of artists – during my first term, the artist and print-maker, Charles Shearer taught several of our classes. Like many artists, Shearer is openhearted and generous with his work – tables were often filled with his prints and sketchbooks from over the years for us all to see. I was fascinated by his sketchbooks and the many materials he uses and experiments with. One sketchbook was filled with animals observed over one day at the zoo – beautiful gouache washes finished with sensitive lines, capturing the spirit of each animal. Others were of time spent in Romania or Ireland – chalky landscapes, brought together with charcoal and gouache – rich with magic.

I have just begun my second term, exploring sequential imagery – I am working on a story inspired by a journey my father once made through the snow with an hysteric parrot and two great danes. At the moment I am wholly immersed in the course; rather like one’s sketchbooks, I am taking this time to explore and experiment without worrying too much about the end result.

When I look at your work, I think of Laura Carlin, Lowry and Chagall. Whose work do you most admire as an artist?

Laura Carlin has been an enormous influence. I discovered Laura Carlin and Beatrice Alemagna around a similar time, both were the seeds of inspiration to pursue children’s book illustration. They approach illustration like painters – fearlessly experimental and abstract, their work comes purely from the heart, showing great sensitivity and understanding, never consciously writing to a child.

Many of my favourite artists fall into the early and mid-Twentieth century – David Jones, Matisse, Mary Fedden, Paul Nash and Dora Carrington. The early romantics, William Blake and Samuel Palmer are also very influential.

There are a number of contemporary artists that feed heavily into my work. I love Charlotte Ager’s drawings, an artist on the cusp of graduating from Kingston. I’ve recently discovered the work of two Russian illustrators – Nastya Smirnova and Ekaterina Khlebnikova, their drawings are mysterious and macabre, beautiful textures, I see the spirit of Alemagna in their work.

Any plans for the future ? (shows events etc)

I joined a number of other illustrators for an exhibition earlier this year, ‘Artists as Book Illustrators’ at Potterton Books in London. I will soon be preparing for another exhibition taking place in the late summer at the Grennan Mill in Ireland, my grandmother’s old mill which is now an art school – they will be exhibiting the work of potters, painters, weavers and illustrators to celebrate Kilkenny arts week in August.

Many thanks Lily for your well considered replies and the use of your beautiful work to give us all a smile today. The best of luck with your illustrative journey and your own road to discovery and experimentation. I will keep my eye on the children’s bookshelves at Waterstones, for your name in the future.










Fishink Cards and Boo ring Jewellery

March 6, 2017

Well hello there and welcome to another day in the life of Fishink.  The collaboration between Jeweller Heather Fox and myself, to create a Boo inspired ring (that’s my dog), has come to a wonderful conclusion. It started with my drawings of her to use as inspiration for Heather’s work.

fishinkblog-10352-boo-ring-1 fishinkblog-10353-boo-ring-2

When I first saw just how tiny Heather was working, in order to cut out the silver shapes needed for the ring, I was amazed and all done by hand.. no lasers here ! I soon discovered that some of the shapes I had drawn, didn’t work so well when the dog was soo tiny. Her curled up paws, for instance, look more like roots of a tree !


I created another standing dog pose instead, but even then getting the ears right was another problem.


We got there. Eventually the pieces and the ring itself, started to take shape.


And here it is… Heather has made a wonderful job of interpreting my illustrations, and I’m delighted with the final piece. You can contact Heather here,  if you would like to commission her to make something for you.


I’ve also been keeping busy designing some new cards for the recent, Valentines Day and the up and coming Mother’s day.


I enjoyed doing some new creative work again, using nature as inspiration.


Also I’ve added some new characters to my small frames range, these were the original pencil drawings.


And some new animals.


Already the Manchester Bee and pig are proving themselves to be popular newcomers.


If you are interested in any of the cards (£3 plus p&p) or frames (£15 plus p&p) just let me know. More here in my online shop. All comments welcome.



Fishink at the Whitworth.

February 27, 2017

If I was to choose a local gallery that never fails to surprise or delight me with it’s exhibitions and general ambiance, it would have to be The Whitworth Art Gallery here on my doorstep in Manchester.  No surprise that it won the Art fund prize for best gallery of the year in 2015, or that it’s director, Maria Balshaw is moving on to be the first female director of Tate, I wish her well. I visited again last week and discovered this rather eerie sign about a Meteor Fall in the adjoining park !!

The building is a beautifully blended hybrid-mix of sixties wood/warmth and modern chrome/concrete.  Somehow their selection of exhibitions are perfect for me, as they invariably have an twist of detail, texture and variety to them. For instance this exhibition, taken from the last five years of the work of Idris Khan. His work draws from a diverse range of cultural sources including literature, history, art, music and religion to create densely layered imagery that is both abstract and figurative and addresses narratives of history, cumulative experience and the metaphysical collapse of time into single moments.

It’s Idris’s repetition of the printing of the words or musical scores that he chooses to work with, that for me, takes his work from narrative into a textural free-form. The art piece below was formed, using the build up of printed rubber stamps.


I like the 3-d illusion created by this chalky abstracted piece. From a distance the white areas looked like boxed organza. Always interesting when things aren’t quite what they appear to be lol.


Another current exhibition “Artist Rooms” featuring some of the work of Andy Warhol created in the early 80’s. Did you know… In 1968 Andy Warhol was pronounced dead; shot by feminist author, activist and member of his entourage, Valerie Solanas. He was taken to hospital, received an open-heart massage and was revived !


Controversial objects that symbolise 20th century America are also here depicted in colourful and large scale format by Warhol. Of these works Dollar Sign (1981), Camouflage (1986) and Gun (1981) are presented here at the Whitworth, raising further questions around Warhol’s opinion of America.


Sadly Andy’s later work didn’t inspire me as much as his earlier iconic screen-prints, although there was a great book in the Whitworth shop, which told me more about another side of this the artist. His pen drawings had a wonderful wit and flow to them.


Another few rooms of the Whitworth were devoted to the work of Deanna Petherbridge. Large, sombre, black and white, detailed paintings and line work which made me think of 1984, Escher and Soviet propaganda posters.


I liked the small, intricate changes in line and movement, more than the overall illustrations in their entirety.


Textiles are always a warm and welcome part of the Whitworth. Their extensive archives have some beautiful examples of design work from many different countries and time periods. Here are just a few.




The shop and of course the great cafe always get the thumbs up too. Coffee and cake among the treetops, what’s not to like !


Thanks again to the Whitworth for providing us all with a local source of inspiration and delight, we are soo lucky to have you here.















Joey Chou too!

February 13, 2017


The work of Joey Chou appears to be a firm favourite with the readers of Fishinkblog. It’s easy to see why…


Whether it’s his work with Super heroes…


Robots, X-men / Flashmen…


or just reminiscing with some old favourites like Spiderman and Wonder Woman, he seems to capture our imaginations again and again.


He appears to be that modern day link to a Golden Book era of Disney-esque illustration days.


His work is friendly, accessible and decorative.


His imagination and colour palette spills out onto the page.


Some old faces here too.



Some old, some gone… but not forgotten.


Every now and then he still finds time to have a sale of his hand painted work too.


Collage and gouache together. I love the sunny park view of the guy with his dog below, a perfect touch of the sixties, but with a modern twist.


He’s got it all , even a nod to the late Mary Blair ! No wonder we love his illustrations so much.

You can find more of Joey’s work over on his Tumblr account here.

Keep up the great work Joey.