Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The story behind the Sunshines

Back in November I did my very first live Sunshine portrait pop-up at the Handmade Nottingham Winter Market. It was both exciting and terrifying but I loved it - so much so that I did a second pop up at their Spring Market last weekend!

Whilst I was doodling lovely customers at the Winter Market someone asked me "When did you start doing these?" My first response was, "This is my first time!" but that was quickly followed by me explaining that the 'live' part was my first time and that the watercolour process is fairly new, then a lot more waffle about how I've been drawing forever and have done portrait commissions since the beginning of Hello Sunshine. I fear I may have just spewed a load of nonsense over that poor, lovely customer but it made me think a lot about how my Sunshines started and I have wanted to write a blog post about ever since.

After the Winter Fair a lot happened though; Christmas, engagement excitement, new yearness, holidays, launching new products, and well... LIFE! The idea for this post has remained on my to do list since November though and I think it's important for me to remember how far I've come with this part of my business, after all, I realised when I looked back that I have been drawing my Sunshine portraits in the same style for TEN YEARS now!

I can't quite believe it, ten whole years, crikey! That's a pretty long time, right? I came to thinking that I should be proud of that too. My style has developed along the way but looking back, my portraits have always kept to the same simple, no facial feature style and people have continued to commission them from me, something I am constantly grateful for!


I can't tell you exactly where I was when I drew what would become my very first Sunshine but I can tell you I wasn't at home. I was on my travels after uni and feeling very homesick, I had brought a notebook and pencils/pens with me and started to draw to distract myself during a storm. After a few mindless scribbles I started to draw friends and family from back home but kept getting frustrated because as soon as I added a nose or mouth to faces they looked rubbish! However, I soon realised that I didn't actually need to add those features in to make them resemble my loved ones - I can't tell you how I did it, (I still can't tell you how I do it) but somehow, with just two black dots as eyes, it worked!

When I returned from my travels I scanned in and neatened up all of my scruffy drawings and gave them all to my friends as presents. I thought nothing of it at the time because I'd missed everyone so much and at the end of the day I was just giving them some heartfelt scribbles.

Over time though people started asking me to draw their significant others and I also started to draw and gift portraits as wedding presents to my friends. When I launched Hello Sunshine I was getting enough requests for portraits that it made me realise I could offer them as a part of my business (alongside the jewellery). Even though illustration wasn't the primary focus of Hello Sunshine to start with, I steadily built up a portfolio of work which didn't just include my friends and family.

Even today I'm still surprised and delighted by people I have never met before asking me to draw them, their loved ones and their pets. It's one of the best feelings in the world! Realising that my portraits, something with such a personal beginning, appeal to other people enough to make it part of my business is incredible! It's also my most favourite part of Hello Sunshine... but shhhh! Don't tell the jewellery.


I never really liked the word 'caricature' and although I referred to them as caricatures for a long while, it never felt right. I would call them 'Hello Sunshine doodles' but that always seemed a bit long winded so it often became 'Sunshine doodles' and after a while I referred to them as just 'Sunshines'.

Maybe it was out of laziness, maybe it was just something I'd always had in my head but never put my finger on it, either way I LOVE that they are called Sunshines now. The fact other people call them Sunshines now too not only makes me happy (the word Sunshine is such a cheerful word anyway) but it also banishes everything terrible I associate with the word caricature - no enlarged noses, sticky out ears or gigantic teeth! And that translates quite LITERALLY too because my portrait style is so simple.


As my Sunshines started life as doodles of friends in a tattered notebook, I had to scan them in to then be able to print and pass them on as gifts. At the time I didn't have a clue how Photoshop or Illustrator really worked, I'd learnt a bit at Uni but basically had to teach myself. So I would scan in each sketch to keep a copy, then outline my sketch in pen, re-scan and spend hours in Photoshop trying to figure out how to neaten it all up and add some colour.

The results were... sketchy! It worked but I was never really happy with them until I learnt more about Illustrator and a good friend of mine (April Towriess) showed me how to create vectors of my line drawings. From then on my sunshines started to look neater and I was much happier with how I could colour them in layers.

For digital commissions the process is much the same today, thankfully I can use Photoshop and Illustrator much more competently now but I still learn something new each time I create a portrait which I LOVE about it all. I thought it might be useful to share the process, not only to share it with you guys but to also remind myself how much goes in to each Sunshine portrait because I often forget.

It's not a perfect process and there are elements I intend to work on (the recent addition of my iPad Pro & Pencil will certainly help!) but from start to finish here is what generally goes in to every digital Sunshine commission I create:

First up I get to chat to lovely customers! Orders are placed or emails and quotes are arranged, then lots of photos and information about who and what I need to draw are sent over and discussed.

I get my sketchbook, pencils (and a brew) ready and start drawing - my favourite bit! Drawing from photos can often be quite hard so I like to ask for a lot to look at whilst sketching and knowing a few things about the kind of person I'm drawing can also help A LOT. It means I can capture more of their personality in the way they're standing/sitting or in the clothes they are wearing and even in the objects that surround them.

Once the sketch is complete I scan it all in. Depending on what's in the Sunshine, depends on how many pages I have to scan. I often draw backgrounds on one page, objects for hobbies and interests on another and the lovely people or pets on another page. When they're all scanned in I use photoshop to edit, tidy and layer them together.

The completed sketch is emailed over and I request specific feedback for any amends that may need to be made. After a round of amends and a couple of emails, the sketch is approved and it's ready for the digitalisation!

I print off the sketch in its finished form and outline the whole thing in my favourite ink pen. It's then scanned back in and tidied up again in Photoshop to leave a crisp black and white line drawing. I then open the pen version in Illustrator and trace around the outlines to create a super smooth, black and white vector.

Working back from photographs and emails I add colour, pattern and texture to the Sunshine. This is the bit where I often learn something new, whether it's creating a new pattern, learning about a new tool or just working out how to make grass look like grass with a simple texture.

As with the sketch, the colour version is then sent to the customer for review and any colour changes are made at this stage. After a couple more emails the final Sunshine is signed off. YAY!

Once everyone is happy, the final digital file is prepared and a high resolution jpg is sent on to the customer. An A4 print of the digital illustration is also printed, packed and posted ready to be framed or gifted to the happy recipient.

VOILA! That is how I create my digital Sunshine portraits.

I will point out again that I know this is a long winded process and one that can be sped up with new tools/software (especially if I didn't use a track pad to do everything!!!) BUT it's a process I love and feel more connected to. If I just created everything on my iPad I'd miss the pencil to paper part, I'd miss the satisfaction of going over something in pen when it's all agreed. OK, I wouldn't miss the scanner tantrums and bodge ups but it's all part of the process and what makes each Sunshine special - to me and the customer.


As you can imagine, being able to offer everything above at an event just isn't possible but a couple of years ago when Rhea, who runs Handmade Nottingham, asked me if I could somehow speed my portraits up and offer sketches it got me thinking. Actually, that's a lie, it scared me and I didn't think anyone would pay for just a sketch so I kinda shied away from it, until I started the INKtober challenge last October. I started playing with ink pens and watercolours, something I hadn't used for yonks but I loved it and mentioned to Rhea that I might have found a way to produce super quick portraits - if I practiced!

So... I practiced and timed myself and practiced a bit more! Eventually I felt happy that I could offer 10 minute watercolour portraits if I just did head and shoulder shots and used ink pens and watercolour paints. Rhea was happy to give it a shot and booked me to do Pop Up Sunshine Portraits at the Handmade Nottingham Winter Fair in November 2016. The rest, as they say, is history! It went really well and as I mentioned at the start of this post I have conquered the initial fear and can now say that I LOVE IT and can't wait to do more events this year!

Hopefully that explains where the live Sunshines have come from recently and why they have to be different. I mean they are totally the same style but it's a completely new process, a process that allows a quicker, more affordable and unique experience and piece of original artwork for people at events... and a process I'm falling in love with!


At the moment I only offer watercolour style portraits at events or do personal ones as I keep practicing. I absolutely LOVE creating them in this format but it's not possible to offer commissions over email with the same service/cost as I do at events.

If you look back at the digital process you'll see that there's a helluvalot lot of admin time, a lot of this would work out the same with watercolour Sunshines if they were done over email. After initial emails, photo organising and agreeing what would be drawn, plus costs for P&P, then adding in studio time and actually getting to the post office, it would take so much longer. Compare this to being set up at an event and spending ten minutes drawing a lovely customer exactly as he/she is in front me and then letting them walk away with the finished portrait ten minutes later - I'm hoping you can see the difference.

I would REALLY like to work out a way I can offer watercolour portraits over email and through online shops though. I just need to figure out how, set some rules/guidelines and work out a fair price for everyone. If you have any suggestions or advice I'd love to hear your thoughts!

It's not often I talk in detail about my portraits, the processes I use or... well... we all know how little I blog in general! So it's been good to spend some time writing this down and I hope you've found the read interesting as well as insightful and dare I say it... enjoyable?!

Thank you so much for getting this far and I hope you have a nice brew to reward yourself with after the epic read! I'm off to rest my fingers and pop t'kettle on... all this typing makes me thirsty.



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