Four years ago I launched my first ever book on Kickstarter. I named it Strangehollow. I can't believe it is four years ago already! The project turned out to be a huge success and that success quite literally changed my life. At least my artist life! I went from getting dribbles of client work here and there, to being able to create a future body of work which was entirely my own. In part thanks to Kickstarter, but also to my amazing patrons who had been supporting me.
'The Spriggle' - You can never know what people will like when you make it. This guy is probably one of my most popular creatures.
Before I named it, Strangehollow was just an idea. An idea to help me become more focused and to really develop a personal style. I had always been jumping all over the place with my style, mostly because I was using digital mediums and the fact that that meant I could essentially do 'anything' wasn't good for me and the way my brain works! I made a blog post about how I became more focused titled 'How I Achieved Consistency In My Work' which goes into that in depth. Towards the end of my first year (2016) running a Patreon page, I decided to create and illustrate the inhabitants of an enchanted forest. I figured if I had an all encompassing theme, and a place where these creatures all lived, it would help with creating a body of work which was all connected and looked like it was part of the same world.
Initially I didn't really have a plan but liked the idea of it being dark and mysterious (being a big fan of dark and mysterious art). As I began to create creatures for it, it became quite clear that I was not destined to make it dark and mysterious at all!
The painting that really solidified the way I work now, and shaped the look of Strangehollow was of this Ogre:
Something clicked when making this guy and the technique I'm using now is still very similar to this. Lots and lots of washes and layers built up to create the form and the hair/textures.
The ogre also set the tone of the forest I think as he was rather benign looking. I think Secrets Of Strangehollow feels a little more dangerous (and I was definitely thinking along the lines of the natural world than fantasy more than I was for the first one).
Once I had a large collection of creatures, I started writing about them. I had already been composing the intro to the book in my head for quite a long time and I really wanted to give a sense of wonder and nostalgia too, that I have about the fairy stories that I read as a kid. I think this yearning for that feeling that magic is real and that this place could have maybe existed, that I felt as a child, is what drives me to make these fantasy creatures and places.
The name Strangehollow took a long time to settle on. I thought of it quite early on when playing with names, but spent another two months toying with other ones but in the end kept returning to this one. Naming creatures and my books is so much fun. For the creatures I often get my patrons to help me name them and there were a few names made up by Kat Cardy which immediately made an image of what the creature would look like as soon as I heard it. The 'Darkling Glib' was one of them that was an almost instant download into my brain. Here's the sketch and the finished painting side by side:
I still prefer the sketch of this guy as he's far more disturbing! Back then I didn't do the 'carbon copy' method of transferring a sketch and I just had the sketch in front of me as reference and then went straight to watercolour and painted him that way. Not something I'd do now as I prefer to have more control over the final look.
I hadn't really thought past the Kickstarter project as I had no idea that it would be so successful. Once it was finished and fulfilled and sent out to all the backers, I felt like I didn't want to just jump back into the forest and create another book in the same world. I was worried that I'd get 'stuck' making Strangehollow books! Almost like a rebellious feeling in a way! I also felt like I didn't have anything more I could add to the book at this point (almost like I'd squeezed all the ideas out of the Strangehollow sponge), so I decided to create some different book projects. These became Cauldron, my second book about witches and their familiars, then Artpothecary (sketchbook and drawings) and a Dragon calendar for 2020.
Once I had begun with the dragon calendar, I was already looking forward to returning to Strangehollow as my brain had started to brew on new creatures and places that I could write about again.
Creating Secrets Of Strangehollow took a lot longer than Strangehollow. Not least because there were more pages and paintings, but with 2020 being such a bizarre and unsettling experience, it kind of put a dampener on my mojo for a few months where I wasn't making very much art at all. I was very grateful to be able to disappear into this place again and expand the world even more.
Thanks to my patrons, and to all my Kickstarter backers, Secrets Of Strangehollow did really well on Kickstarter. I am again taking a small break before I gather my walking stick, brownie repellent and tasty snacks and make my way back to Strangehollow, but I will definitely be going back.
Watch this space!