Friday, 31 August 2012

Travel Journals | Inspiration

It's time to let you in on a secret I've been planning for most of this year... Next month my sister and I are embarking on an adventure, travelling first to Nepal and then on to Burma for THREE WHOLE MONTHS!

It's a long time spent away from everyday life, and I'm incredibly excited, but I've also started to consider what I will miss of my home comforts. Music will be a big one, as will be my bed, clean clothes, hair straighteners and the rest, but I think most of all it will be my work. I've come to realise that I pick up a paint brush pretty much every single day - and I'm not ready to go cold turkey from this habit.

For this reason, I've decided to give up some space in my rucksack for a mini watercolour set, a few paint brushes and a sketchbook. I'm going to be painting up mountains, looking up at temples, sitting in crowded backpacking bars - I can't wait!

Here's some collected inspiration of existing travel journals. I very much look forward to sharing mine  in 2013 :)

Michelle Allen's colourful sketchbooks.
Liz Steel


Le Corbusier : les voyages d’Allemagne : carnets / Ch.-E. Jeanneret, Le Corbusier. New York: Monacelli Press, 1995
Ella Jackson's painting from travels in Cambodia.

Sara Midda's South Of France: A Sketch Book





Sunday, 5 August 2012

Illustrated Tweets | Watercolour Illustrations


I'm excited to announce I've embarked on a new self initiated project, whereby I will be illustrating my favourite tweet from every week. You can follow the project here: atweetaweek.tumblr.com

Monday, 30 July 2012

Flower Illustrations | Watercolour Illustrations

These illustrations were for a presentation for a potential flower arranging book, which may be going ahead in the near future. I enjoyed getting to grips with detail.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Festival T-shirt for Cheer Up Clothing


This is a design I've had to keep under wraps for quite a while, so I'm really excited to finally be able to share it. I worked with the super cool clothing company, Cheer Up! Clothing on a festival t-shirt design, and this is the result!

It was a bit of a challenge having to keep the items fairly 'safe' for a t-shirt design (ie. alcohol is clearly the biggest festival essential - I had to resist the urge to paint lots of beer and vodka!) Also, the idea was to keep the items unisex, which I think I achieved - although perhaps not every man needs chaps stick...


You can buy yourself a tee here, which I recommend you do quickly as it's a limited edition item. If you do make a purchase please do send me a picture of you in it (extra points if you wear it to a festival!) You can post it to me through Twitter, or on my Facebook page. I'd really love to see it in action! 

Friday, 6 July 2012

Zizzi's Plate Design Competition

Yes. I went there. I entered an illustration competition. I generally avoid these as I feel like they degrade the industry and give it that tacky X Factor feel. If you want an illustrator for your project, why not just hire one? The industry is competitive enough, without bombarding it with actual competitions.

That being said, I wanted to create some new work, and saw this as an opportunity to do so. Plus, I find the way Zizzi promotes their "fresh talent" to be very well executed, and many of the winners have gone on to carve out successful careers in the industry.

Here's my design. Sadly it didn't make the shortlist, but I'm happy with it and feel it would make a lovely plate so...there.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Topshop Commission | Watercolour Illustrations

So here it is finally. I was holding out on some better shots of my work in situ, but sadly no more have come through, so I must apologise in advance for the low quality photos!



I was asked to create a head-through-hole portrait of Marie Antoinette and a poodle for international Topshop stores, to be used as a decorative and interactive feature over the Jubilee weekend. It was fun to work with line and a few select colours - and I'm pretty happy with the results.





The boards were on display in Singapore, Jakarta, Japan and Australia. It's exciting to know my work has travelled half way across the world in physical form! But, of course, the most exciting part of this whole commission was to work with such a well-known and prestigious client, such as Topshop.

More please!

Peabody Housing Association | Watercolour Illustrations





I think I like his feet the most.

The Peabody Housing Association asked me to produce an illustration of the founder, George Peabody, to accompany a new series of documentaries involving a cycle tour around London. You can find out more about the association, and see my work being used on the site here


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My 200th Blog Post


This is my 200th post on this blog and for this reason I wanted to make it significant. I'm going to talk about the simple matter of doing what you love.

Most people have a passion. Something that consistently interests them, and gives them great pleasure. For me it's image making. It always has been. For others it might be writing, or acting, or even playing frisbee. It doesn't matter what it is, but most people have an activity or interest that demands their attention - and I'm slowly learning that that doesn't make them (or me) special. It doesn't make me special that I love to paint, because Jenny down the road loves to play tennis every opportunity she gets, and Bob has the biggest collection of jelly moulds in the south-west. Everyone has a passion, it's in our nature to focus on things that make us happy, and shape our lives with them.


With passion, comes great responsibility, and after graduation I assumed it was my responsibility to make my passion for painting my career, and not stop until I got there. But I never imagined the great struggle I'd go through to get to the stage I am at today, and I wonder if I had thought more about my overall happiness and less about the C word (career) I could have saved myself a lot of stress.

With my 200th blog post under my belt, and with my early twenties nearly (finally) over, I feel it's about time to shake off the pressure I have wrapped around what I love before it destroys it. I now believe that if you have something you love to do, this is great, but if it's not in high demand, chances are pretty slim on making it your career in it's purest form. But it doesn't have to be your career or sole source of income, just because you love it.


I think the key to being happy, and this is nothing new by any means, is to find a balance in life. When I first started out as a graduate illustrator, there was no balance. I was ridiculously broke and constantly stressed about this. I had none of life's small pleasures, because I simply couldn't afford them. I was chasing what I thought I should be chasing - but the reality is that most people don't love their careers, at least not right away. Most people have that Sunday night dread that sits heavy in their stomachs, waiting for another working week. But, most people are happy (massive, massive generalisation I'm sorry- but I'm trying to make a point).


There's a reason we all work. Because it funds our existence. It pays for the roof over our heads, the food in our bellies, the much needed Friday nights out. This, to me, seems like a pretty good trade off. It's the small things in life that all link together to create the feeling of contentment and of happiness, and really, it's ok if your passion doesn't entirely fund this. I see this now. Because having other work that supports your basic human needs (food, shelter, comfort, a summer holiday!!!) will provide the frame of mind you need to do what you love, to the best of your ability.

Don't get me wrong, I am a paid illustrator, and I'm extremely grateful to have worked with some amazing clients this year. But I also have other work that keeps me afloat, and I've noticed that this is something not often talked about in the creative industry - are we, perhaps, ashamed of it?

This blog post is to anyone (me included) who worries and stresses and panics over their passion, and the pressure of making it your career. A drive to do what you love is a good thing, but it's important to look up occasionally, and see that life is beautiful and there to be enjoyed. For a happy few, their passion is also their career, but us day-jobbers can be happy too, we can paint part-time, and we can afford to have our cake in our favourite café and eat it.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Things That Stir My Imagination

Image source.

1. These artist studios in Barrons Court (I think?!). I pass them on my coach journey's into London, and every time they take my breath away. How amazing would it be to have studio windows like those? I can only imagine how stunning the interior must look. I adore the strange window placement, the dark lead and the red brick work. Magical buildings.

Image source.
2. Botanical tattoos. 


3. Japan. This is largely due to the fact I am currently absorbed in 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. 


4. Interior Gardens. They remind me of the tiny moss gardens I used to make as a child inside bakewell tart tins!


5. Allison Schulnik. After showing my sister the Grizzly Bear video she directed, I was reminded of how much Allison Schulnik's work inspires me. I am always bowled over by an artist who can cross disciplines and carry a distinctive visual identity with them. Her paintings, pottery and film work is all so inextricably hers.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Portrait of the Queen | Watercolour Illustrations


I have a brand new print in conjunction with the Jubilee celebrations taking place next week. As always, this print is professionally executed, on watercolour paper, and is of the highest quality. Each print comes signed by the artist (me!) and I'm offering them at a special price of just £10!

If you love English royalty, or know someone who does, this print is a great gift. It works well hung with patriotic bunting for some Jubilee themed decoration - just a little suggestion from me!

I'm even offering a framing service, which can be requested through my shop.



To see my etsy listing, simply click the button below. Thanks for reading!



Thursday, 24 May 2012

Sunshine & the Rabbit


Pictures from a sunny day, of my rabbit Hergè enjoying her first proper sun of the year.

In love with her fluffy ears!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The History Of Watercolour | Botanical Illustration

As a watercolour artist, I've always been aware that my chosen medium is considered quite "traditional" and even old-fashioned. For me, I take pride in the fact that what I use to paint with has been used throughout history, and without much adaptation.

 I thought it would be interesting to find out a little bit more about it's origins, both in fine art and in illustration, in the hope that I'll better understand how I've come to rely on it to produce my work.

Albrecht Dürer

As it turns out, watercolours go a long way back.

Cave paintings can technically be considered the very first watercolours, as pre-historic man mixed pigment with a 'binder' (such as natural oil or a waxy substance) and then water to paint onto cave walls. In the Renaissance, watercolours began to make their first real mark within the art world. Typically a medium used for sketching and planning by most artists, only a few were using watercolour for final artworks.

An important figure in the establishment of watercolour was Albrecht Dürer, who is generally considered one of the earliest exponents of the medium, painting botanical, wildlife and landscape paintings.

The Renaissance saw the the popularity and importance of botanical painting soar. Watercolour was used as a way to depict minute detail and in every colour imaginable, to get as close to nature as possible.


Georg Dionysius 
Ferdinand Bauer

There was great demand for information about natural history in Europe in the early 1800s, and so the use of watercolour as a medium was on the increase. Scientists and naturalists were keen to find out about undiscovered species, traders were interested in making a profit and wealthy private gardens were looking to increase their collection.

Often this involved lengthy ocean voyages, and ingenious (but somewhat experimental) ways to preserve the plants - including building a green house onboard the ship! This makes me think of Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic, and all the ridiculous rooms onboard their boat.


Anyway, due to the unreliable nature of sea travel paintings and illustrations were often far better at surviving the journey. Naturalists would often commission artists to travel with them to exotic destinations and paint during the journey and on location.

For me, what I really enjoy about these illustrations, is their exacting ties with science. Often, as well as painting a whole plant on a white background, the artist would dissect parts of the specimen such as the fruit or flower and add details of these to the same painting. These paintings proved to be invaluable in recording information about a species - and look like diagrams and artwork in equal measure.

One of Franz Bauer's famous orchid paintings

I've alway's loved botanical illustrations, even before I knew I wanted to be an illustrator. I remember my nanny having lots of dusty books in her conservatory, containing beautiful paintings of plants and birds, and thinking how lovely they were. I love that their purpose is to record and that they must replicate reality; sometimes its refreshing and wonderful that art can be so practical.

I find it fascinating that the very earliest forms of illustration were created using the medium I choose today. Watercolour's tie with the most traditional form of illustration is so appealing to me, as a traditional kind of girl. To use watercolour in a modern context, to me, is to keep the medium alive - and I'm glad to help in any small way I can.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Two House Paintings | Watercolour Illustrations


I painted two house commissions last month, which was a bit of a surprise as I've never really painted buildings before! I must admit I found it a little bit of a challenge, but with the help of some new tools (a ruler, pencil and rubber never usually feature in my work) I think I finally got there. I'm really happy with how they turned out actually, especially the lovely London town house above, with the addition of some hand rendered type.

If you'd like to commission me, you can always email me at mail(at)hollyexley.com and I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have, and create a personal painting just for you!



Monday, 21 May 2012

A Birthday and a Rainbow Cake

Seven bowls of cake mixture.
White chocolate icing.
The look of concentration.
"Is it just me or have party rings shrunk?"
Double veggie burger with cheese and caramelised onions.
My broccoli salad.

This Sunday was my sister's 22nd birthday, and we held a BBQ in her honour. I spent most of my Saturday mixing bowls of coloured cake batter and erecting sponge layers (which left me exhausted for work that evening!).

And here is the fruit of my labour, in the form of a very dense, very colourful, seven tiered cake.

If you'd like to try making a rainbow cake, I recommend this recipe by food blogger Kerstin Rodgers aka MsMarmitelover. I'd certainly heed her advice regarding colouring though - powdered or gel colours are worth buying as they are formulated for baking. The standard liquid colours I used aren't really suitable for cake mixtures - something I'd avoid the next time I try this!