Monday, 22 June 2015

The Making of GoGoDennis

This Summer, Norwich will be taken over by a blaze of 84 huge Dragons sculptures - the GoGoDragons. A follow on from the gorillas of 2013 and the elephants before that. 

GoGoDragons is an interactive art trail organised by Break charity (You can see their website and the excellent work they do here) and Wild in Art. Each sculpture is sponsored by a local company, and painted by a local (and sometimes not so local) artist. The sculptures all have Bluetooth sensors in them, so with the help of an app, you can complete the trail using a smartphone. You can also fill in the trail map and send it off the old-skool way to win a pair of flights from KLM. You can download the trail map here, or pick one up from the Forum, or Jarrolds.

My world map design was sponsored by Konectbus and Anglianbuses, and was inspired by medieval maps and the monsters who inhabited them. 

My original design 

‘Here be Dragons’ is often believed to have been written on maps featuring ferocious beasts and mythological creatures to show dangerous or uncharted waters. There’s a wealth of monsters on medieval maps from around the world. Many of which are based on whales and other creatures while others are more far-fetched.  

Dotted around Dennis’ seas are 20+ sea monsters, most of which are inspired by monsters from medieval maps, including Olaus Magnus's Carta Marina (1539) and Abraham Ortelius's 1598 map of Iceland.

Olaus Magus' Carta Marina - the 1539 version

Olaus Magnus' map became famed for it's wealth of monsters and activity. I would have loved to have put more and more detail onto my design, but had to be a bit realistic with what I could achieve in the time available. 

I was always a little worried about the size of the dragons - and where to paint them - they were too wide to fit through my front door. Fortunately my mum offered up her house, so long as I wasn't too messy. So I got to work with the base coats, and first layers of spray paint at the dragon warehouse. It was a bit chilly, but I got my first sneak peek at some of the completed dragons waiting for their clear coats.

To get the word map design onto the dragon I used a projector. I had contemplated doing it freehand, but it seemed quicker and easier to just project my design on, and rough it on with charcoal, altering it to fit as I went along. The more curved edges were a bit of a pain, but we got there in the end. 

Once the land was all roughed out in charcoal, I went over all the lines with a Posca pen, and washed off all the charcoal. I used an airbrush to go around the edges of the coastlines and make them slightly darker. 

Now the messy bit was over, we bundled Dennis into the van and took him back to mums house. He looked quite at home in her kitchen. 

Painting in the land took a little while, I ended up having to do several coats to get a nice even finish on the colour. 

Once blocked in, I used a posca pen to outline the coastline, put little flecks (akin to the historic maps) around the edges of the sea, and draw in the rivers. 

Each tree was drawn on, and then filled in. There are coniferous trees in the northern regions, deciduous trees for woodland, and some more tropical trees for the rainforest regions. Each has a shadow on the tree, and a little shadow on the land. I had a few kids atlases to follow for the placement of these, as well as the mountain ranges I inked in with a brush - I was going to use a pen, but couldn't find one the right colour - in the end the brush worked much better. I airbrushed some deserts and grassland on too. 

The monsters and ships were all sketched out in a sketchbook to begin with and when it came to placing them, I took my favourites (There wasn't enough room for them all) and blew them up to the right size on the printer. Using the kitchen window as a lightbox I pencilled up the back on the drawing ready to be arranged on the dragon. 

I placed all the monsters where I wanted them with blu tak. The placement changed numerous times before I was happy with the composition, some were swapped about, and others were just discarded. Next, I set about tracing them on, going over the lines with a pencil after I'd got the shapes on. Then came the colour - each ship and every monster was painted in. 

Once all the monsters and ships were on, I plotted in the navigation lines on with string and Blu tak. Drawing them in was pretty nerve wracking, and I mostly used a tape measure to draw along. I then filled in all the sea with little waves in pen.

We delivered him back to the warehouse with the other dragons, after taking some photos in the sunny garden.

His sponsors Konectbus have been amazing. They ran a competition to name him (I'd been calling him 'Herbie Dragon' up until then) and they named him Dennis, after the company who makes their busses Alexander Dennis

He's now in place near the St Stephens St roundabout, and will be there until the 5th September.

I've made him a monster spotters 'guide too'. It has all his monsters on it, and the map (and date) that they originated from. It's available to download here, and will soon be available at the bus station as a leaflet too. 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Freelance life - 3 years in.

Once again, it's been a while since I wrote anything on here. My blog has been somewhat neglected in favour of social media lately - If you've been following me on twitter, FB or Instagram, you've probably seen a lot of what I've been up to.

A lot has happened in the last 18 months, both on a professional level and a personal one. I've worked on lots of brilliant projects for some lovely clients, expanded my portfolio a lot - I've decided to specialise in map illustration (not exclusively) I've met lots of excellent people - many fab local artists and illustrators, painted some dragons, had some exhibitions and have taken part in some great local markets and street fairs. I've been to more funerals than I'd have liked too. (I shan't go into that here)

I've also just reached my three year anniversary of being freelance, and it seems to have gone in a flash. I've now been freelance longer than I've spent in employment, and it's been a really enjoyable learning curve. I'm happier (and more overworked) than ever. I would recommend it to anyone though, and it's really not as scary as it seems at first. The fear of having no work, quickly turns into worrying you might have taken on too much.

There's a few things that being freelance, I've had a bit of an ongoing struggle with. Once of which is my routine, and managing to fit in evenings and weekends. From the amount of articles I've read about the issue, I get the impression this is a common problem with people who work from home. The monthly planning whiteboard, and calendar have been essential for scheduling work.

Lately, I've been trying out some new ways to tackle my constant working - one is a little online time tracking website called 'Toggl' (You can sign up to it here) You can set up clients, projects and tasks, and run the timer when you're working, to track the time you spend on projects.

It's been really useful in finding how much time I've actually been working on a project and also to see how much time I've racked up over the course of a day or a week (Or month/year even) After about 8 hours, I know it's time I should stop working.

This week's stats 

This years stats - I started using it in Feb/March, and spent April painting a dragon (I didn't track that time)

Another thing I'm trying to build into my routine is a morning walk - or a walk to work - as I've been calling it. After working elsewhere for a few weeks and having to drive to and from work (like normal people do). I realised that I really missed having some time out to think and plan the day ahead. I've been doing it for a week and once getting back I've found it's a bit easier to focus on work. It's also cheaper than renting a studio, and if I task myself with taking a photo every day, it'll give me a small creative challenge.

Fingers crossed it makes a lasting difference, and becomes habit.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Latest Projects...

It's been a while since I wrote properly on here, the last few months have been crazy! I've been super busy working with the lovely chaps at Green Android on a brand new set of kids craft books - 'Mini Crafter' to accompany the 'Mini Artist' series I did a couple of years ago. As well as producing hundreds of new illustrations for the third and fourth books in our 'How to Draw' series - Space' and 'Vehicles'

They've both been brilliant projects to work on. For the Mini Crafter books, I was commissioned to design, make, and photograph all 11 step by step projects in each of the 4 books. They're quite a diverse range of titles - Junk Modelling, Puppets, Masks, and Clay Modelling, and together they saw me making all sorts of fun and messy projects, from bin bag snowmen, to vampire masks, and Toilet roll tigers. I can't say I didn't enjoy it!

I'm particularly pleased with the clay modelling title, which I was (if i'm honest) a tad apprehensive about. I'd not really done much clay work before, so it was a bit of an unknown. However, It's the title i'm most pleased with and i'm over the moon at how some of the models worked out.

For each spread, I designed how I wanted the project to look and went about planning how the steps would work. Then began working them up into roughs.

Once the roughs had been approved, I made a couple of practice runs of each project and then got to work building the 'extra' models to be used throughout the books. Finally, I settled down, book by book, making and photographing all the step by step projects. Each project had to be carefully arranged, and photographed in my little photo studio, to make sure the lighting, and positioning were all consistent. 

The chaps at Green Android have done a brilliant job on the design, and have just sent all four books to print. I can't wait to see the final books in the flesh!

Alongside all the craftiness, and hundreds of drawings for the next 'How to draw' books in the series, i've also been working on some other brilliant client briefs, Beast collective projects, exhibitions, craft markets, new products, and some other personal projects too, but more on that another time!

Monday, 10 March 2014

I'm a Busy Bee at the mo…

It's been a while since i've posted on here, I've been super busy working on new books for the Bolognia book fair at the end of the month, alongside some other brilliant projects.

Some great stuff has been happening lately though that I just wanted to share…

The little Illustration collective that I'm part of has an exhibition up at Cherryleaf coffee house in Norwich all this month. It looks fab, and i'm dead proud to be part of a group of such lovely talented and organised people. We all took a classic book, and re-designed the cover art. They've come out brilliantly and everyone has done a fab job.

Pic from Cherryleaf Website

Kellee drew us a brilliant sandwich board:

Pic from Kellee Rich

One of mine - Hansel and Gretel - All framed up - I couldn't resist seeing what it looked like in the frame.

My re-design of Hansel and Gretel

We all posed for cheesy pictures after the hanging too…
… and the Juniper tree
The Beasts

It's on until the end of the month at Cherryleaf Coffee House -
We're also selling prints of each of the artworks, along with postcard packs featuring all 14 pieces.

They're available at Cherryleaf, or online via Etsy:

You can find out more about Beast! Norwich at:

Facebook: BEASTNorwich
Twitter: @BeastNorwich

I'm also gearing up to take part in Clutter city on the 15th March, I've got some new bits and bobs to share with the world. … More on that soon!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Release the BEAST! (From the east...)

A lot has happened here in the past month or so, I've had my stand at craft markets, been to conferences, and have been getting out and seeing people, which makes a nice change from working at home in isolation. It's good to get out and connect with other people.

One of the most exciting things lately came from a twitter conversation and ended up with a group of us starting an illustration collective here in Norwich.  - BEAST!

BEAST! are:
Grace Sandford
Karl Newson
Kellee Rich
Mark Standbrook
David Hurtado
Me (Fiona Gowen)

We gave ourselves  a little project to get started on first, put all our names in a hat, and drew a beastly portrait of the beast who's name we pulled out. It was a super fun project, and there's some awesome drawings!

You can follow us on twitter here @BeastNorwich
We have a website HERE
and a Facebook page HERE

We've been working hard on some christmas cards, and have chosen a charity (The Hamlet Centre) to donate all the profits to. They're currently at the printers being finished off, and we should have them available to buy in all our etsy shops, and at local craft markets soon!

Hooray for collaboration!