Studio update – early August 2017

Well, hello there! I’ve decided it’s time to restart this blog again after a long silence. Friends have been asking what I’m up to lately, creatively-speaking, so I’d really like to write a decent blog post every couple of weeks that will act like a newsletter of sorts.

Lombard Street illo for the 52-week Challenge.

I haven’t had much time to participate in the 52-week Illustration Challenge recently, and the last artwork I created was this illustration of Lombard Street for Week 26: San Francisco. That was over five weeks ago, so I have some catching up to do! In my role on the challenge’s admin team, it was my week to pick my favourite artworks for the theme, and you can check those out here on the 52-week Illustration Challenge blog. I enjoy working in this style, and will be creating some more cityscapes as part of a range that I’ll make available as giclee art prints for sale, as soon as I decide which online marketplace to use. Here are a couple more I created recently (really must finish that Flatiron Building one!):

Flinders Street Station and the Flatiron Building.

At the end of June I said farewell to my design business, Crackers Art, which I have run for nearly two decades. In the last five years it was focused on selling digital party printable files for children’s birthday parties. I had a lot of fun styling parties and creating tools for my customers to DIY their own kids’ celebrations. But that business no longer challenged me creatively, and I started to resent the time it swallowed up when I wanted to be working on my other creative projects. It’s sad to say goodbye to something that’s been in my life for so long, but I really feel it’s time to focus on the next part of my career – writing and illustrating.

Farewell, Crackers Art! You were lots of fun.

Speaking of writing, I’ve just completed the line edits on my debut young adult novel which will be released in early 2018 with Walker Books Australia (release date not confirmed as yet). This means I’m yet another step closer to having this book all polished up and ready to hit the printing presses! I’ve recently updated my writing website – Sarah Epstein Books – and can’t wait until I have a book cover design to share with everyone. This is organised by the publisher with their professional cover designer, and I’ll hopefully see some cover concepts soon. Eek! Exciting.

Home page from sarahepsteinbooks.com.

I’ve also recently started an online course about writing for children, created by Australian children’s book author, Jen Storer (you can find details on Jen’s website here). In recent years, my ideas for junior fiction and picture books have been shoved aside in my pursuit of having a YA novel published. So while I’m working away on my next YA manuscript, I’m also enjoying a little flurry of ideas while I make my way through Jen’s course. And so far participating in this course is doing exactly what I’d hoped it would – it’s like I’ve been given permission to get silly and messy and indulge in all those ideas I’d put on the backburner. I’m hoping some of the ideas I’m scribbling away on in my little notebook will make it onto bookshelves one day.

My Scribbles notebook created especially for Jen’s online course.

I’ve also discovered Jen’s wonderful online support group called The Duck Pond for writers and illustrators of kidlit. (Hello, Duckies!) You can find out more about Girl & Duck on Jen’s website here. If you’re a writer, illustrator, artist, designer or crafty person, I highly recommend seeking out like-minded souls in private Facebook groups or online forums so you have people to ask for advice, share your successes with, and commiserate and/or celebrate what it’s like living the creative life. It’s extremely challenging at times, and hanging out with other creatives who completely ‘get it’ is invaluable.

Quack, quack!

On the crafty side of things, I’ve just completed this owl headpiece for my youngest son to wear in his school concert coming up later this month. I used a very simple craft project I found online here, and matched the colours to some feathery costume things we picked up at Ikea that I’ll attach to his t-shirt to create owl wings. I had to learn how to do a blanket stitch around the edge of the headpiece, and thankfully found a very easy tutorial on YouTube. Gotta love the internet, right?

In the next couple of weeks I hope to:
1. Start playing around with some character drawings for an illustrated middle grade book idea I’m developing.
2. Complete at least one of the 52-week Illustration Challenge themes.
3. Learn how to use my new Wacom tablet which arrived today! Can’t believe I’ve survived without one for so long considering how much digital colouring I do.
4. Complete another colouring page illustration for a set I’ve been developing for far too long (really need to make them available as digital downloads very soon).
5. Get lots of new words down on at least one of the manuscripts I have in progress.

So, that’s a wrap for this week’s update. I’ll check in again soon and we’ll see how I actually went with this To Do list. 🙂

Bookcase revamp using chalk paint

Sarah Epstein Creative - bookcase revamp 8

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So, here’s a little project I did quite some time ago but I just never got around to blogging about it. I’d heard about the awesome product that is Annie Sloan’s chalk paint, and I wanted to try revamping a couple of old furniture pieces I had around the house to give them a new lease on life. Please note:  when I say chalk paint, I am not referring to chalkboard paint which you buy from hardware stores to create blackboards on doors and walls, etc.

The big attraction to using Annie Sloan’s chalk paint is that you don’t have to sand the stain or strip old paint off the furniture first, so it essentially cuts out the time-consuming and boring step of preparation. I mean, who loves prep work? No one, that’s who. We all want to get to the fun stuff – the big transformation!

If your piece of furniture is rough or flaky, then by all means give it a light sand. All I had to do was give my bookcase a wipe down with a wet cloth and I was good to go. Another big plus with this chalk paint is the lack of fumes, so I was able to set myself up to paint inside the house. I made sure there was still good ventilation, and my son was not sleeping in this room at the time anyway while we were making it over.

Sarah Epstein Creative - bookcase revamp 1

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Here are the Annie Sloan products I used. This 946ml tin of chalk paint set me back $59.95 AUD, so it’s not cheap. But, I ended up doing three coats on the bookcase and still had half a tin leftover. I’ve since painted a lamp base with it as well, and should have enough left for two coats on a chair or small table. So it definitely stretches. The soft wax is for finishing the piece once painted. This is optional, but it does give the paint job a lovely subtle satin sheen and protects it, making the piece more durable. I used the clear wax, but you can also buy a dark wax if you want to give your piece an antique or rustic finish. The 500ml tin of clear wax cost me $39.95 AUD and I still have half left for other projects. It’s available in a smaller tin too.

Sarah Epstein Creative - bookcase revamp 2

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Annie Sloan has technique tips on her website (and there are YouTube videos you can search for where she and other people show how to use her products). I used a very casual brushstroke where I swept the paintbrush in all directions. This looks streaky at first, but you gradually build up the paint with subsequent coats until all traces of the original furniture colour underneath disappear. This technique gives a lightly-textured finish, but the paint dries matte and, of course, chalky, so you don’t notice too much texture unless you’re looking closely.

Sarah Epstein Creative - bookcase revamp 3

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I left it a couple of hours between coats. As I say, I did three coats, but the third coat was more just checking for any uneven patches and making sure the paint finish was consistent.

Sarah Epstein Creative - bookcase revamp 4

This shows two coats. Click to enlarge.

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Close up of the bookcase with two coats. I covered the subtle patchy areas with another coat. Click to enlarge.

I let the paint dry for 24 hours before applying the wax. To do this, I just used a soft, clean paintbrush in a similar brushstroke to how I applied the paint, making sure I dabbed the brush into any cracks and tight corners so everything was covered. I was very liberal with the wax – you don’t have to be precious since brushing it on is only step one. I then took a clean cotton rag (mine was quite soft) and used it to rub the wax into the paint surface in a circular motion, effectively wiping a lot of the wax off. You can also apply the wax with a cotton rag from the get-go, but I needed to use a brush to get into the nooks and crannies of the bookcase’s panelled backboard.

The great thing about using this chalk paint is how easy it is and how quickly you get to see results. It’s really very addictive, and you start eyeing up all sorts of furniture around the house, wondering how it would look transformed. I have an old round timber breakfast table in my studio which will be my next chalk paint project. Just need to decide on a colour!

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Finished! Click to enlarge.

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End result. Click to enlarge.

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Before and after. Click to enlarge.

52-week illustration challenge – week 10-12

Here are my latest illustrations for the 52-week Illustration Challenge for weeks 10, 11 and 12.

©Sarah Epstein - Playful Foxes

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Week 10: Animal.
I created these playful foxes by scanning my charcoal sketch and adding different textures in Photoshop to create a digital collage.

© Sarah Epstein - Mother

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Week 11: Mother.
This simple illustration came to mind for the theme of ‘Mother’, because if you are one, chances are you’ve received one of these lovingly created (and very flattering 😉 ) portraits the kids have made at preschool for Mother’s Day.

© Sarah Epstein - Non-dominant hand

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Week 12: Non-dominant hand.
I am so completely NOT ambidextrous, so this theme definitely lived up to the ‘challenge’! I drew this with my left hand, then used my left-hand to digitally colour it in Photoshop (perhaps even more challenging than the actual drawing part). It took a lot longer than usual, my hand and arm were tense and sore throughout, and I really had to concentrate. Clearly, I am lost without my right hand! I hope nothing ever happens to it.

52-week Illustration Challenge – Week 6: PRINTING

Sarah Epstein - Waratah illustration

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I missed a couple of weeks in the #illo52weeks Challenge while I was finishing up my third novel. So while I’ll have to go back and play catch up with those two missing weeks, I’m jumping in here with Week 6: Printing. I instantly thought of halftone printing for this theme, no doubt because of my graphic design background. This is a bit of a cheater’s version of halftone, but I really love the effect. I’d love to revisit this theme further down the track and create some fun pop art illustrations à la Roy Lichtenstein.

52-week Illustration Challenge – Week 3: THEME PARK

Sarah Epstein - Theme Park illustration

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Oops, running behind here! I neglected to upload week 3’s illustration for the #illo52weeks challenge, and now we’re up to week 6, so I have some catching up to do. I’ve been busy finishing up my novel, so I got a bit sidetracked.

This cuckoo clock is for the theme of THEME PARK, and I call it ‘Make time for more fun’. Something we all need to do!

52-Week Illustration Challenge – WEEK 1: FANCY DRESS

Sarah Epstein - Fancy Dress illustration

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This year I’m reconnecting with the 52-week Illustration Challenge. This is a Facebook group that was created by founder Tania McCartney in 2014 for illustrators of all skill levels to draw to a weekly theme. I participated throughout 2014, not quite managing to submit an image every single week, but certainly enough to reignite my passion for drawing and stretch my very rusty and neglected illustration skills.

After sitting out in 2015, I realised how much I missed the challenge and how easy it is to let my pens and pencils gather dust unless I have a reason to pick them up. Between my design business, writing and kid-wrangling, there isn’t a lot of time for recreational illustration work, but mostly because I’m not making time. So when the new list of themes was announced for 2016, I knew straight away I needed to get onboard again for week 1 of the challenge and try to keep up!

Here’s my little girl in her fancy dress straight out of my sketchbook:
Sarah Epstein - Fancy Dress sketch

In my head I pictured a small, bashful girl in a magnificent party dress of multi-coloured feathers, and this is how she came out of my pencil (above). I scanned the sketch and made a few tweaks in Photoshop before I set about colouring it up digitally. I’m a big fan of digital colouring because I like the control it gives me and how much I can play around with variations until I get exactly what I want (and sometimes this can be completely different to how I first envisaged the illustration, so there’s a lot of room for experimentation with digital colouring). You might be able to see how I cleaned up the sketch and made a few subtle changes if you play Spot The Difference. 😉

Sarah Epstein - Fancy Dress coloured sketchI added a flower arch behind her from another sketch I’d done previously, and then created a watercolour paper collage behind the sketch to colour her up. I really enjoy this method of colouring because I love playing with paper textures. Sometimes I scan fabrics and patterned papers to use as well.

When she was all finished, Dr Seuss’s quote came immediately to mind, so I added it underneath. All in all, I was very happy with how Fancy Dress turned out, and I hope to offer my little lady as an art print in my Etsy shop just as soon as I start listing items.

Sarah Epstein - Fancy Dress illustration

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Pom pom garlands

Sarah Epstein pom pom garland 4

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Well, here we are another year over and a new one just begun! I’ve been taking down my Christmas decorations today and thought I’d share a quick blog post about the newest members of my decorating arsenal – the pom pom garlands.

If you’ve seen a couple of my random (and way too scarce) posts on Instagram, you’ll know I was making pom pom garlands before Christmas to coordinate with my new canvas prints by Kirsten Jackson.  I used this super-easy tutorial by Tara Dennis which is under the KIDS section of her website. So, yeah, um…very easy. 😉

First a trip to Spotlight was in order to grab some yarn. I just picked colours from their budget 8-ply acrylic range and it worked perfectly. No need to go for anything fancy-shmancy unless you are after particular colours not offered in the budget ranges.

Sarah Epstein pom pom garland yarn

The pom poms end up looking a bit wonky and misshapen when you first cut the loops (see link above for the tutorial I used) , so you just need to give them a little haircut. You can see the difference between the ‘hairy’ ones (in the foreground) and the trimmed ones (top left hand side) in the picture below.

Sarah Epstein pom pom garland WIP

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The garlands really gave my dining and living room a festive lift! I’m not quite ready to take them down yet since they took so long to make and I want to enjoy them for a bit longer, so I might keep the festive feeling going for a couple more weeks yet. Maybe they should become a permanent feature! 😉

Sarah Epstein pom pom garland 1

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Sarah Epstein pom pom garland 2

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Sarah Epstein pom pom garland 3

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All in all, very easy and lots of fun to make if you have the time. The kids can get involved too!

Kmart Hack: Chrysler Building Canvas

Sarah Epstein Creative - Chrysler hack intro 840As most of you will be aware, Kmart has some awesome home decor items this year that are very on-trend and affordable. As I’ve been making over both of my boys’ bedrooms, I keep poking my head into my two local Kmart stores and online to see what they have. On one such recon mission, my eight-year-old, Harvey, was with me. He spotted and fell in love with Kmart’s black-white-and-yellow Chrysler Building canvas print (we’d just returned from a family holiday in New York so it jumped right out at him). At only $9.00 for the large print, I didn’t hesitate to throw it into my shopping trolley.

Sarah Epstein Creative - Chrysler hack 1 840

But as I continued on Harvey’s bedroom makeover, I realised the yellow was all wrong. It was going to clash badly with everything else I’d bought for the room thus far. There was no question the print had to be included and given pride of place, so a bit of Kmart hacking was called for.

First I primed the yellow part of the canvas using White Knight grip-lock primer. The reason I had to prime it first is because the print is actually a synthetic material with a glossy sheen.

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Once primed, I had a nice matte surface to paint on using artists’ acrylic paints. I chose a palette more in keeping with what I’m doing in the rest of the bedroom.

Sarah Epstein Creative - Chrysler hack 4 840

Once the painting was complete, I finished the top half only with a Jo Sonja’s clear gloss varnish just so the painted section was as glossy as the printed black and white buildings, and also to protect the paintwork and make it easy to clean.

And here’s the finished product. It really does add some pop to the room!

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