An Illustrative Creative Journey - How The Illustrated Christmas Wrapping Paper Was Created
Updated: 4 days ago
I recently found some notes written just after completing the designs for the illustrated Christmas wrapping paper. They give an interesting insight into how creative ideas come about. Sometimes starting from simple observations made in the garden or conversations had with friends. So I’m going to try and piece the notes and illustrations together into something you might all be able to follow.
Over the various lockdowns of 2020/21 there was a lot of scribbling going on. I’d bought an iPad in the previous year, as I wanted to try and close the gap between my sketches and graphic design work. Previously the design work was done on my laptop and the sketches on paper, so they were two very separate activities. With the iPad I was hoping to move seamlessly between the two. Allowing my creative process more freedom.
The robin was the first illustration in the pack to be drawn. Luckily, I had no idea at the time it was destined for wrapping paper. I just wanted to document my two little feathered friends so didn’t over think it. I like to work outside whenever I can so robins have been a recuring presence in my life, hence them appearing in previous designs. Over lockdown I’d get regular visits from Mr and Mrs Robin. It felt like they were keeping an eye on me. Really of cause they just wanted some juicy worms.
I did a few angles of the robins but one particularly captured the plucky character. So when I came to turn the illustration into a pattern I chose this illustration and placed it on an orange background to match the robin and some snowflakes to break up the block colour. I decided to keep the background minimal to ensure the main focus stays on the robin.
This design emerged after chatting to two friends during lockdown, one living in the Swiss Alps and the other in Canada. The magic of those larger-than-life landscapes seemed even more amazing to me whilst confined to my 4 walls. Inspired by their photos of snowy mountains and memories of previous adventures we’d had, my imagination started to whiz away. I easily get lost in my head constructing new worlds. I imagined all the little details like the wood doors creaking open as they pushed against the snow, the distant view you can glimpse through the snowstorm, the woollen hats that creep over your eyes and sledges carefully carved out of wood. All of which screamed out Christmas! And if the main elements could just be simplified into a landscape which could be repeated. I’d have a pattern that could be used for wrapping paper….
I’d recently illustrated a piece of artwork for NHS staff which had the silhouettes of people and buildings so wondered if a similar style could work with a winter landscape. The drawing started with a quick pencil sketch and then the detail gradually built up around that. And thus, snowy landscape was created. It was the first pattern to take form and gave me confidence that illustrations could become the final product.
Red Star White Polar Bear
Some designs you work on just appear without you fully realising what your doing (like the robin illustration) others work their way into the back of your head and won’t go away until you solve the puzzle. The ‘Red Star White Polar Bear’ design was the latter. I was torn for a while as to what form the new pack of Christmas wrapping paper should take. As I had designed a geometric red star on a deep blue background quite early on which made me think it should be another pack of geometric patterns but there was something niggling at me like I had part of a puzzle but not the whole thing.
Then one day I woke up and there was a white polar bear walking alongside the red star. As if he’d always been there. And once id seen them together, I couldn’t disconnect the two. I renamed the drawing red star and white polar bear and committed to the next pack of wrapping paper being fully illustrated. After the polar bear the other pieces of the design came together quite quickly, I just imagined I was an arctic explorer missing home and thinking about all things Christmas related i.e. Warm socks, Christmas cake, crackers, hand written letters etc…
I knew that one of the illustrations had to be of Santa. I’d always wanted to have a go at drawing him. However I must admit it was by far the most stressful drawing in the pack. I nearly gave up on him a few times. Though I’m very glad I didn’t. The pressure was just getting to me, after all who is more recognised and loved than Santa. You don’t want to mess up with the big guy!
I started with a sketch of his face just to give me the right shape and layout. The initial intent was for the final outcome to be comprised of block colours like 1950s adverts or comics but it then became clear that once you took away the hand drawn element, he lost his character. I looked back at the robin illustration and realised block colours with a bit of smudging (for his rosy cheeks) combined with pencil drawn outlines would offer the best of both worlds.
Stars, similarly to robins are a recurring theme in my designs. Since I was a little kid these beams of light piercing the night sky have filled me with a sense of awe. They are the most extraordinary reminder of our place in the universe.
For the illustrated pack I wanted to create something that explored that basic childlike fascination. So I went back to the way I used to draw stars in the edges of my school notebooks. Nothing too fancy, just little marks in the sky like you might see on a clear winter’s night. The illustration serves as a simple reminder of our place within the vastness of the solar system.
I love studying nature. Little details like the texture of leaf’s, or the form of buds as they grow. I also love the creative impulse Christmas instils in people. Whether it be dragging a tree into the front living room to decorate or wrapping a scarf round some frozen balls of snow to create a snow man. So a Christmas wreath is pure joy to me! All those intricate shapes, colours and smells from nature woven into the shape of a ring. Nature and human creativity woven together. What could be better! So I started Illustrating a wreath I’d made. But the complexity of all the different leaf’s, stems, berries etc on that one wreath was a bit mindboggling. leading me to the decision that it wasn’t best suited for use as a small repeating pattern. As most of the detail would be lost.
Instead, I decided to create multiple wreaths each made from different plants. This way their unique forms would have enough space to be appreciated, and a more interesting pattern could be created out of there different shapes and forms. As I was using the ipad I was able to zoom in on each leaf and build up the detail in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible on paper. Which meant there was a huge amount of detail that went into every wreath. I was able to explore how each stem and leaf turned and twisted. Making tiny alterations to the shape size and colour until they all felt write. It’s safe to say this illustration was a real labour of love. Meaning the final effect is quite subtle for the amount of time taken drawing the individual wreaths. But that’s the joy of running my own creative business; it’s not just time equals money it’s about taking the time to create something you really love.
I think the main thing I’ve taken from creating these illustrations is that it’s important not to over think. Just take time out, have a doodle and just see where that goes. If I hadn’t made the illustration of the robin which at the time had no purpose. I would never have gone on to create the other drawings. I’ve tried to learn from this and kept doing little doodles/sketches.
The other thing I’m beginning to learn is how to meld the free form nature of illustration with the accuracy and boldness of graphic design. Whilst this pack clearly comes from a love of illustration there is also an interesting creative relationship developing with geometric elements. The most obvious example being the red star and white polar bear pattern which started life as a piece of graphic design then led to an illustration. I’ve continued to explore this relationship in my doodles so well see where that leads…
If you want to buy a pack of the Illustrated Christmas Wrapping Paper you can find them here: https://brightstemshop.com/products/illustrated-christmas-wrapping-paper-gift-wrap-folded-6-sheets-and-tags-mixed-pack