The power of personal projects for artists & small creative businesses – Alice Draws The Line

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The power of personal projects

I am a big believer in personal projects. 

Alice Draws the Line came about because of one of them. My new year's resolution for 2008 was to do a drawing a day for the whole year. I kept the daily drawings all in one sketchbook and by the summer it spilled into a second volume. 

It wasn't easy, it was a challenge. Some days I wasn't inspired to draw at all and would end up drawing something just before I went to sleep - a pencil from my pencil case becoming a reliable last minute option. I missed at least two days too - it takes a while for something to become an unforgettable part of your day. By the end of the year it felt like a bit of a burden and so I stopped the project on December 31st 2008.

A lot happened in that year. It's all documented in those two books, but in a way that probably only I know about. I remember the conversations, feelings and other circumstances that surrounded me and the sketchbook when the drawing was done. Some images tell me where I was and who I was with by the subject matter - my cousin's crockery at their home in Guildford - it tells me that the picture was drawn while having breakfast following a day trip to France the day before with my sister and another cousin. I know from the number of mugs I've drawn and the paraphernalia in the background. Other drawings give little away - a jar of cooking utensils most people would think nothing of, but I know that I drew it at my parents kitchen table the night my Grandmother was taken to hospital having suffered a stroke. These sketchbooks are an incidental diary. The idea was just for me to get drawing again and improve but there are bi-products of the project that became as important as the sketching.

In 2013 I decided it was time to have another go at doing a drawing a day. Once again it was a new year resolution. I was given a sketchbook that Christmas which cemented my resolve to begin again on January 1st.

I haven't stopped since.

Alice Draws The Line has done a drawing a day since 2013 filling many sketchbooks

(by Andrea Gilpin Photography)

Although many of the daily drawings are still a diary account of sorts, I have become more intentional about what I am drawing and why. Having drawn a few twigs in early 2013 I became interested in really looking at the variation between species and then would hunt out different trees and began drawing a collection. These later became my 'Tree ID' greeting card and mug design

Tree identification sketches and products by Alice Draws The Line Tree identification sketches and products by Alice Draws The Line Tree identification sketches and products by Alice Draws The Line

As the year went on I drew the buds as they burst into leaf, and then leaves and flowers of the same species. By the Autumn I was drawing fruit, seeds and berries, all of which then became the basis for the first greeting cards and Enamel mugs I designed. This is the Autumn Enamel mug.

Autumn fruits seeds and leaves enamel mug by Alice Draws The Line

In April 2016 I began a new personal project - the drawing a day continued but for this month I challenged myself to study a bird a day, and to make it a challenge to myself and to help me better learn my bird species I had to have seen it that day. I called this 'Alice's April Aviary' and it was a good focus - if challenging - it did make me walk to new place and really keep my eyes opened wide. It led to the creation of the garden birds range.

Alice's April Aviary bird studies led to the creation of the garden birds range by Alice Draws The Line

Having enjoyed this, in May 2016 I embarked on a new project - the Woodland Alphabet. I gave myself the whole month despite there being only 26 letters. Some letters had a couple of different drawings and some days I drew something unrelated. I wanted to create a whole alphabet of woodland flora and fauna illustrations - I did, and it became the design for my Woodland Alphabet print and the Woodland Alphabet tea towel design

Woodland Alphabet by Alice Draws The Line from sketchbook to product

My most recent personal project was year long. This time last year (September 2019) I asked Tammy of Wild Bunch Flowers if she would be interested in helping me with my idea of drawing a cut flower bouquet for each month of the year. Fortunately she was pleased to help and so the project began. I love flowers and wanted to study more varieties through drawing them. 

Each month I'd visit Tammy and we'd walk along the rows of flowers with her expert eye selecting stems to form that seasonal selection. We'd visit the fields and hedgerows as well as the flower beds and polytunnel and the resulting bouquets were an utter joy. 

I drew each species in the bouquets. Sometimes individually, sometimes as a cluster of same species together and in spring 2020 I started drawing the whole bouquets in one. 

All of these drawings were scanned and are currently at the printers as they are to become my 2021 Wall Calendar! 

I've found it so fun, useful and also anchoring to have this ongoing project in the last 12 months. Despite moving to a studio, then moving house and then a global pandemic (!) there has been a wonderful reassurance in this monthly project. I have been able to choose when in the month to do the drawings - linking with when Tammy could pick the flowers of course, blocking out usually four or five days following the collection of the flowers to do all the drawings before they wilted or went past their best. 

Seasonal botanical blooms by Alice Draws The Line Seasonal botanical blooms by Alice Draws The Line Seasonal botanical blooms by Alice Draws The Line

(by Andrea Gilpin Photography)

I'd talk to Tammy about the species and ascertain how each would fare now that they had been cut, and from that work out an order in which to draw them. Starting with those that were likely to wilt or perish first I'd throw myself into blissful days full of drawing to get the studies done while the flowers were at their best. 

For some of these studies I set up my camera to film as I drew and there are now a series of time-lapse studies on my YouTube channel which you can find here. 

Irises by Alice Draws The Lawn

As I'm writing this I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of a courier who is bringing the samples of the wall calendar from the printers. I'll check the details and the colours and the format in general, have a practice at hanging it up and check for any typos and then make any changes that are required. Following that I'll put the order in at the printers and they will be in the shop soon. 

I'll do another blog post soon about the pros and cons of doing such a long term project as this as I found there were a few things that surprised me, particularly towards the end of it, all based around my style and approach to documenting the blooms.

However, the brilliant thing about personal projects in general is that it is a great way to create a collection of work. All of these projects have enabled me to bring a new product to the shop, they have motivated me to create and experiment. The best bit is obvious - as they have been made up by me, I have been motivated to see them through, I've made them about things that are of interest to me which is the biggest motivator and I like the idea of it leading to something that I can share with others at the end - a new design, range or product.