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Projects

Space: My next frontier

It has been many months since my last blog post. A lot has happened in our house, including a rather hefty total kitchen and pretty-much-the-entire-downstairs of our house update; Sidney, my eldest, has started primary school. Harriet is out of nappies and embracing pants, and I have taken to journaling in a big way.

So what, of all of these things shall I begin by writing about? Well … None of them today. After fab success with my first self-published picture book, Reynard the Fox, I have been looking for a new book project to work on. I want to go through the traditional publishing route this time; get myself an agent, and work with them to get my book to print.

For a long time, I had planned to create a bedtime book about British Birds – something that would entertain and educate both grown-ups and little ones – as I adore the birds that feed in our garden. My favourite books to read to my children are the ones that entertain me as well as my little listeners. However, I finally admitted to myself that though I feel this a worthy project – to break into the mass market with a book only marketable in Britain – would probably not be my best idea.

Then an idea presented itself in the best way possible. Sidney, not far off 5 now, loves Space. He has a couple of Space books, which are both lovely (including one I have already designed for a client) but have a little too much information for him to take in. They are aimed at children aged 7-11. Here, I noticed an enticing opportunity!

After doing some searching, I couldn’t see a Space fact book aimed at pre-schoolers, or first-readers. So, my new book is going to be exactly that. The text will contain bite-sized facts that children can easily absorb and remember, with colourful, engaging illustrations of our amazing universe, and it will work both as a bedtime book or something that can be dipped in and out of. The fonts will be easy to read for first-readers and I hope it will engage children to learn and find out about Space.

I am really excited about this concept, as I know that it could also work as part of a series. I have written a first manuscript, and am working up three sample spreads to begin sending out to potential agents.

When I was last writing my blog posts I used to mention imposter syndrome, and also talk about my mindset and lack of self-belief. In the last 9 months, I have begun to see that we all have the power to achieve our dreams if we really want to. My dream has always been to be a children’s author illustrator. I am firmly on that path now, I have published one title myself, which I am so proud of. Now I am looking to take the next step on that career path, and find an agent and a publisher who believe in me too.

Shall I use this final sentence to go all Law-of-Attraction on you … Oh go on then, why the flip not!? … As I was looking for my next fab, big, book idea, the Universe, which clearly has a sense of humour, presented itself to me. Thank you, universe 🙂

About

A few of my favourite things

This week at one of my networking groups we had a guest-speaker who is a life-coach, Karen Carpenter. She was such an inspiring woman and shared with us a few tips and tools to use as boosters when we are feeling low in confidence. One idea she shared with us was so uplifting, I thought I might take the opportunity to create it as a blog post, which in turn would convey the idea to you, and you could then also use it as a positivity booster yourself.

For a while I have been wondering how to do a post about myself. Not my anxiety or my mindset. Not my children, or my work-ethic, or any of the projects I am working on – a post just about me. I’ve procrastinated about it for a while – “Me, Myself and I” is a pretty epic theme for a blog post – and no one wants to read my entire autobiography when they’re just browsing social media feeds!

So what I am going to tell you in this post, is three times in my life when I have felt a completely overwhelmingly positive emotion*. The idea of this, is that we think of these moments, and make a list of them. Actually, the life coach suggested created them as pieces that fit together as a puzzle. In doing so, we begin to see the wonderful moments in our lives that have shaped us. Often we remember the negative or traumatic moments, but if we can remember more of the amazing and profound experiences – and focus on the powerful feelings that these experiences evoked – we can increase our positive sense of self, our confidence, our emotional well-being and ultimately start to control how we feel about ourselves – hopefully a more centred, happy self! … So … Here you are:

Meeting Noel

Noel and I have been married for three and a half years, and together for ten. We met at our office Christmas party on December 18th, 2008, when we were both working on different floors, for different departments of the same media content agency in West London. I had seen Noel a couple of times around Shepherds Bush, near where I lived and I had assumed he must live somewhere quite close by. I thought he was extremely cool – too cool for me even to have a crush on in fact – but I thought that I could perhaps say hi to him at the Christmas party and then he would be someone cool for me to say hi to around work!

Well … My colleagues and I had arrived fashionably late to the party as we’d been invited to another party first – so by the time we were at our party I was feeling sufficiently sparkly. Fast forward a few songs on the dance floor and I noticed that this cool, tall, beardy guy (Noel) was hovering nearby and looking at me. With my sparkly confidence nicely in place, I tottered over and went to say hi. Next thing I knew, one of my friends dangled some mistletoe and Noel went in for a full-on snog! After I had gotten over the initial, ‘Oh my goodness, everyone will have seen!’, the rest of the night was a bit of a blur. Noel was a little more tiddly than me, and told me that he thought we would be, ‘A good match’! … Now any young woman worth her classic literary salt would instantly hear the Jane Austen rings in such a statement. What choice did I have really. The coolest guy in our building thought that we would be, ‘A good match’! Well, that was that. The memory I have of that night is just one of sheer excitement and a lot of, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe the coolest guy in the office likes me!”

Being told that Reynard is a child’s favourite book

As it was World Book Day last week, lots of children all went in to school dressed up as their favourite book characters, with their favourite books tucked under their arms. A friend who had bought my story, Reynard the Fox for her daughter for Christmas, this week told me at our networking group that her daughter had taken Reynard with her – its her favourite story!

There are a few moments in my life where I can note that my heart genuinely swelled in my chest, and that is one of them. I know that this little girl really loves reading, and to be told that your book is her favourite story makes me feel so proud and so happy. I have wanted to write and illustrate books since I was a child, and to know that my book is someone’s favourite makes me genuinely feel like I have achieved something truly magical.

Sadie

Sadie was a dog. Not just any dog, she was the dog. Sadie was the dog that I had pretty much spent 18 years begging my parents for. She was a black Labrador and she was a rescue – probably about 6 or 7 years old when she came to us. It took her a little while to settle in – she did not care for being left alone to begin with, at all. But it did not take long for her to be the apple of everyone’s eye.

In some ways, writing Sadie as a profoundly positive experience is cheating a bit – as she clearly was loved for her whole life with us – but I am choosing to include her as she was the dog that I had wanted forever. And she did not disappoint. When I think of her, I am filled with a love and affection that I don’t think will ever leave me. She left us many years ago now, but I can still remember her smell and the feel of her soft, thick fur when you buried your face in it. To my family, she was perfect (obviously she was also a tinker – what dog isn’t in their own brilliant ways?) But when I think of her, I am simply filled with love. And that is the profoundly positive bit.

*I was actually going to tell you about seven or eight moments, but as you can see, no one would want to read that many!!

Parenting

Toddler tantrums and Fournager feelings

I am a person with a lot of emotions. Always have been. Luckily Noel is someone who understands about emotions, and being married to me, he has to. So it is no wonder that our children have big emotions. And at the moment they have a lot!

Sidney is 4 and due to start school in September. Around this time for the last few years he seems to go through a developmental phase. On one side he is noticeably more independent, and will surprise us by saying or doing something quite new and grown-up. And then, on the other side, we get a regression to a needy and highly-emotional child. Very like a mini-teenager.

Turning off the telly is one of the cruelest punishments one can bestow on Sidney.

The triggers are often to do with me. He suddenly doesn’t want to be apart from me and go into nursery, or let Daddy put him to bed. Likewise, where he can be pretty reasonable, the emotional mini-teenager side to him can burst into mega-tears at a moment’s notice and be pretty intense until he can calm down. The telly is another trigger for him. We almost always have the telly on in the daytime in our house, and Sidney is very fond of it. Turning off the telly is one of the cruelest punishments anyone can bestow upon Sidney.

Harriet meanwhile has properly morphed from baby to toddler and along with that have of course come the tantrums. She is quick to anger and has a fantastic banshee-like screech that would make even the most zen of people wince. Harriet has also perfected the art of throwing her entire body on the floor, anywhere at all, and kicking around like a crazy 80s body-popper. It’s actually quite impressive … I could add here that her hair is on the strawberry side of blonde, and that hot-headedness may be something she will take with her through life. As a ginger myself, I can see this being a thing.

So, you see, our house is quite tumultuous at the moment. We have lovely, happy, quiet moments. Mainly I thank CBeebies for their hard work here. I also bless the lovely Spring weather we have had recently – what a joy! And also, the best bringers of peace to our home; a very friendly neighbour’s tabby cat – who even when sleeping doesn’t seem to mind being prodded by little fingers. And the lovely Bella – a Labrador-collie of senior years belonging to my parents – who comes for the occasional ‘working holiday’ – earning her keep by being ever-patient and enduring endless cuddles from two mostly-gentle small children.

I can see that they are the frustrations of having to share, or wait, or take turns.

The tantrums are for the most part fine (the noise is the worst thing). I can see that they are the frustrations of having to share, or wait, or take turns. And these are hard lessons to learn. Sometimes I don’t want to share things either … That is why I wait until everyone is in bed to eat a chocolate muffin. I can choose when to eat it so that I don’t have to share! Mwah ha ha ha! And these emotional phases will pass with time. (Phew).

For Sidney and Harriet though, who both live very much in the moment, those “No, I’m sorry. You have to wait” responses are terrible. They can be pretty awful for all involved if I’m honest. They add a certain intensity to the day, but they also make the happy moments all the more joyful. When everyone is happy and playing together, or eating fish fingers, or watering the empty pots, I try to be mindful and enjoy the moment – knowing that happy moment is extremely precious and could end in a mili-second.

Mindset

A shift in The Force … of my mindset

This is the first blog post I have written in several weeks. A few reasons – partly my work has been so busy that I haven’t had any spare time to think about writing … Oh, and Christmas too, obvs. But largely, I had fallen into a bit of a ‘mind-funk’ that I have worked hard to pull myself out of.

Without realising it, as Christmas and the business that brings, along with more Harriet-sized viruses, and some crazy design deadlines, I have found myself withdrawing and retreating from the new parts of my work which I have been enjoying. I stopped writing posts, and stopped selling my book. I haven’t wanted to think about my book – and have quietly dismissed my authorship when people have asked about it. It has taken some serious reading and talking to try and understand why that is.

It is as though there has been a small, annoying Sith Lord poking a Light Saber of self-doubt in my tea and stirring it in. So much so, (and this will sound ridiculous) that I have felt unable to use one of my mugs for weeks. It says, “best mummy in the world” on it. For quite some time I have felt that I haven’t been a good enough mummy to deserve its use. How stupid is that? So stupid!! But, it is true.

So … What has been my problem? A few things. The dark and cold of mid-Winter doesn’t help. Nor does a toddler who doesn’t care to sleep in her own bed and is still working on building up her immune system (I have told her she will be as tough as an Avenger next year). But more its a problem I need to fix in my own mind. An inability to be proud of myself and know that I am doing a great job – whether it’s being mummy or being an author of a book.

Learning to tell myself a different story. An alternate reality from the underperforming identity that I have been giving myself is what is required. Re-writing the stories in my head. Instead of allowing The Empire of self-doubt and self-worth to prevail, I need to focus on giving myself different instructions. No Sith Lords telling me what to do.

Just me, actively telling myself that I am doing a great job. I am the best mum! I am a children’s author. I wonder why the negative thoughts are so much easier to believe? Each morning in the shower at the moment I am having an inner discussion with myself. The easy-to-believe negative stuff that I am too tired to have any patience with my children, let alone think about promoting my book that I just happened to write. The Jedi side of me is actively pushing back against these thoughts and saying, Yes. You have patience. You are a really fun mum. And, you have a beautiful book that children genuinely enjoy reading. And, you have some wonderful ideas for some more beautiful books.

I have been working on my thought processes for a couple of weeks now, and I am starting to see a shift in my patterns. I am still having these internal discussions, but I am finding it easier to see that the constant self-depreciating mode is not a good one. I am also noticing that ideas are starting to form again, and the desire to act upon them. This Young Padawan will a Jedi make yet 🙂

Mindset, Projects

Retrospectively speaking

This year I have been really lucky to have jumped back into my life as a designer, post maternity leave, and be consistently busy throughout. I have worked on projects for large publishers and self-publishing authors. I have designed a logo for a charity, and of course got my own picture book finally out of the archives and out into the public domain. (You can buy that here of course!)

I always seem to have a plan of what I will be aiming to achieve

As we draw near to the close of the year, many of us will be starting to think about our goals for the year ahead – I always seem to have a plan of what I will be aiming to achieve – next year it is going to be working on my book sales targets, the next step in our house-renovation, and getting Harriet out of nappies and into pants! (I have actually told her already that is her big goal for 2019 – she thought that was pretty funny).

I don’t usually look back retrospectively though. I am a person who is always very much focussed on the next step – never really reflecting on my achievements or failures – just ploughing through life like it is a great big To-Do list. Tick one thing off, then move straight onto the next thing … You can read a bit about that in my post, On a path to Happy. I do understand however, that this goal-oriented lifestyle tends to mean that I am never really satisfied. Or, more, I find it difficult to feel content.

What can I take from all these events and experiences and apply to my 2019 goals?

However, I am mindful that this year has been a big one. Returning to work and being busy as a graphic designer, continuing to try and be a good parent (not an easy feat), support Noel as he moves forward with his career, and my biggest personal career achievement – publish my book. We did also manage to decorate our bedroom in the summer, though its not quite finished yet …

So with all these things, not to mention the fact that I am constantly trying to keep on top of my anxiety (some days are more successful than others here), what have I learnt? What can I take from all these events and experiences and apply to my 2019 goals?

Well, these things actually:

Good time management requires focus and a lot of concentration
 I definitely find it difficult to maintain focus sometimes. Wondering whether there are any social media notifications is a killer to my focus. This is an area I need to work on for sure – some tasks are easy to become absorbed in and others require much more effort. If I want to continue to grow my business, I need to become better at maintaining my focus. … I will do some investigating and let you know how I get on!

My work to grow my business is as important as my paid design work
When I came up with the idea for Designer Mum in June, I finally realised how I could develop myself in terms of a brand. Until that point, I believed that I would only get work if people offered me work. Developing Designer Mum has shown me that I can actually create my own work. Creating content for this site has become something I genuinely enjoy, and I understand its importance for business growth. Yes it is important that I do not let my paying clients down, but I also have to grow my own career alongside it. And by nurturing the things that I am passionate about, I become master of my career – which is something I don’t think I ever believed I could do before now.

Social media holds so much scope to market your business
I never really got on much with Twitter in the past, and lost interest in Instagram quite regularly too, but I am learning how they can be used to build brand awareness, and your brand profile, which if used correctly can start to build up a following. All the main platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on have their individual niches and purposes. I don’t pretend to understand how they can all be used to their best yet, but I am starting to understand how to get good responses with each. As with time management, I definitely need to build some structure into this area. It requires my time, but it is worth it, if used well and brings in traffic to my site, and ultimately book sales.

Worrying does not help me
I have known that worrying doesn’t help since I was a little girl, but its a hard habit to break. When I have anxious moments, and my mind is focussed on all the things that I am worrying about, I can get very lost in all the things I think I am not very good at.
… Breathing does help. My very first post Remembering to breathe got some fantastic responses and I genuinely underestimated how many people did the same things that I did. Talking too, does help. Writing my thoughts down and sharing them with you does help. And if it helps you too, then I am really pleased. It’s so important to normalise how we talk about our mental health – I definitely want Designer Mum to almost be a safe space for people to feel reassured that how they feel is normal. And that it’s ok.

Sometimes reaching out can hurt a bit
Anyone who has worked in the publishing industry knows that self-published titles are often quickly slighted by traditional publishers and book sellers. Honestly, I agree that the quality of many self-published books can be poorer than their traditional counterparts. However, I also see traditionally published titles that do things I consider, not up to scratch too.
In the pursuit of raising awareness for my book I have reached out many times and been knocked back more than once. Sometimes my pride is quick to bounce back, but sometimes it takes a little longer. At the moment, I am nursing a wound that seems to have left a little scar. This particular rejection has hit a nerve more deeply. So what can I do to heel it? Well, with any rejection I try to understand why I was rejected, so that I can learn from it. In this particular instance I do understand the reasoning, however much I don’t like it, and I do have a plan in mind of how to move beyond the setback. (This particular plan will likely take me 10 years to achieve, but I am confident that I have the drive to get me there).
In reaching out we are bravely putting ourselves in the hands of others. Like any rejection, it can hurt our pride and make us want to hide away to prevent further injury, but I am a believer in following dreams and passions. If you want something enough, you will always find a way to make it happen. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Wow. That was a long post. You get my total gratitude and admiration if you made it to the end! Thank you for bearing with 🙂
In summery, there is much to take from the endeavours of the year. I hope that you find some of my thoughts useful and that they may help you reflect on your own adventures. I really enjoy this process of writing down my thoughts. They help me find clarity in the way that I think about things. Looking back is a great foundation for moving forwards – there is much to learn from – and much to make me a stronger me in 2019.

Mindset

The joy of normal

Or, “Can you ever just be whelmed?” (as taken from one of my favourite 90s movies)

It’s been rather hectic in our house for a while. I have been busy sorting out the release of my first picture book, Reynard the Fox and getting it set to launch – its now fully released and on sale – huzzahhhhh! And you can buy it here by the way 🙂

I have also been catching up on some design deadlines, which were already tight, and then not helped by a month of various viruses that Harriet has had to endure. Also, Noel has just been offered a new job – which is great news for him and indeed all of us – he works very hard and deserves this new opportunity. I’m really proud of him, though now we have to ride the next wave of change that comes with starting a new job.

As each new year has come about, we have said, “Ok, this is the last big thing, and then that’s it!

So, you can see, there’s been a lot going on. You would think from reading the above, that Noel and I would be the sort of go-getting people who embrace change with happy, eager, waving, open arms. Actually, we aren’t at all! For quite some time now, as each new year has come about, we have said, “Ok, this is the last big thing, and then that’s it!” … We have been steadily trying to get to a point where we can feel settled, and not needing to change anything significant for about the last 5 years. Each new year has come, and there has been something big to achieve for that year. Sometimes it has been work or a new job, twice it has been growing a baby in my belly, and a couple of times it has been moving house … It’s safe to say that we have been busy.

So now, as we head to the close of 2018, I find myself as I often do, feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the next set of tasks I have to do, but also overwhelmed by our achievements. Now I have finally released my book, I have to learn how to actually sell it. I also have to find the time to be proud of what I have achieved, and not frightened by it … Or let myself get wound up in Imposter Syndrome (that was actually going to be the theme of this Mindset post).

Just the four of us, getting on with things, all feeling quite safe in our routines

I have mentioned it before, but I often find myself craving normal (sorry if I sound like a broken record here!) In my mind, normal, is I suppose, the default setting that I want to feel that my family are in. Nothing major going on, just the four of us, getting on with things, all feeling quite safe in our routines. Feeling like we know where we are, what our daily purpose is, and not feeling overwhelmed by something big we are navigating. In short, I would like us to feel perfectly whelmed.

When I think about it, can ‘whelmed’ even really exist? Much as I would like it to, I know that my hope for a normal, slightly passive 2019 is already a non-starter. We are set to have some building work done to our house in April, which will mean a few months of upheaval. And Sidney will be starting school in September – he has shown himself to be pretty anti-change too – so I am anticipating an emotional autumn for next year. There will be cause for much joy though too. The building work will give us the super-dooper kitchen-diner of my interior dreams – and Sidney loves learning stuff – so once he gets sorted I know he’s going to really enjoy school.

Change is the necessary force for moving forwards. I know I should probably conclude here that life is about the journey – not the destination – but sometimes it would be really nice to just feel a bit whelmed for just a short while. Feel like we are in a nice little humdrum of normal. I feel quite normal today actually – best hold onto the feeling for a while. And it’s certainly not going to feel like that next year … Maybe 2020 will instead.

 

Design tips

The Brief: a de-brief!

Its taken little while to write this latest post. I have been working very hard on some design deadlines – having probably taken on one too many overlapping projects. And  after Harriet’s stomach virus from three weeks ago, she then came out in a horrendous cold, which then developed into tonsillitis. Then after a week of penicillin she was raring to go, and now has Hand, Foot and Mouth (it sounds Victorian, and is a bit like chickenpox). Needless to say, our house is full-on at the moment!

Indeed, what should have been Noel’s birthday tea a couple of weeks ago, turned into a not-very-hungry supper for himself and Sidney, whilst Harriet and I spent the evening on the children’s ward of our nearest hospital for her to be checked out. Not very cool. But all is now well, thankfully, apart from the Hand, Foot and Mouth (Insert swearword).

My top tips to writing a successful art brief

So in the non-existent down-time I have had recently, I’ve been mulling over what design tips to offer up, and I reckon that coaching you on best practices for briefing your designers and illustrators could be great ways to:

  1. Improve the quality of your finished product
  2. Potentially speed up your approval process
  3. It might even save you money too!

Whether you are commissioning artwork for a book, a logo, a business card or branding for your mobile diner – getting your initial briefing right is first and foremost going to get you a good working relationship with your designer or illustrator. And if you get your design team on board, you stand a much higher chance of your artwork coming in on schedule and to budget. So here are my top tips to writing a successful art brief:

Choosing your person
Hopefully you have chosen your illustrator or designer based on something in their portfolio that you like and would like to assimilate yourself. But instead maybe they have been recommended, or they are someone that you know and they have volunteered their services. Whichever way, a good place to start is by looking at their portfolio and picking some examples of their work that you like. You can also show them examples of other work that you like. Styles of drawing, particular colours used, fonts that you are drawn to. This is a great way to show your designer what you are thinking of. Pinterest is a really handy way to show designers your ideas. Its visual and can provide a great way of creating a fantastic mood-board, which can itself become a pretty solid version of a brief.

Schedule
This is a key feature of your initial discussions. Most good designers and illustrators will be busy and in demand, so it can be a little unrealistic to assume that they can jump onto your project straight away. Depending on the scale of what you are asking, you may need to wait a month before they can even get started. You might have an idea of how long something will take, but your designer will be able to give you a realistic response of their availability. In my experience, not rushing things through is always a better approach to getting the results you want.
Outline the timeline that you have, but be prepared to adapt.

Budget
Like with planning your schedule, the budget is something that needs to be established early on. Different designers and artists will have different approaches as to how they charge for their work. Some charge by the hour, some charge by the project.
I tend to charge by project, and break it down for my clients into sections, such as Cover and page count. I have a set fee for cover design, and then charge per page for the interior. My page interior fees are calculated by the level of detail and work involved per page. Within my fees I also include three rounds of amends, and any/all final file production.
When you are commissioning, don’t be afraid of what your budget is. If your designer or illustrator is happy to work for you and you have agreed your fee, then you are good to go!

Outline
Ok. The fun bit – the stuff you need designing or illustrating! If you are commissioning a number of artworks, or a full book, it can be helpful to open your briefing with an outline of the content. You should include the target audience, page sizes, the format the content will be in. You can draw attention to key ideas and themes – anything that the designer needs to watch out for throughout. You might also introduce them to characters here, and explain their importance in the work.
Outlining your brief is also a good way for you to be able to explain what your project is in a concise way – it might even help you iron out any sticking points you are grappling with – as you find a way to summarise your work.

Detail
Now’s the time to get to the nitty-gritty! Your designer or illustrator should now have a solid understanding of the sort of work you are asking them to do. So you can now give them the details you require.
Some authors and editors give little art direction, and some give lots. Your designer should be used to working to both styles. If you are happy to give your designer or illustrator a free-reign, that can work really well. I would suggest you ask them to supply you with a few pages or artworks to check you are happy with the direction they are going.
Alternatively, lots of direction can potentially mean a slightly quicker turnaround, as it means slightly less thinking time required on the designer’s part.
Neither method is right or wrong – as you get your project underway – you will find your own level of involvement. My best suggestion is to encourage your artist or designer to ask lots of questions and that way, any issues can be worked out early on.

However you choose to put your art-brief together, I hope you find these suggestions useful. It really is worth putting the time into writing your brief – life will run much smoother for you if you do! (Smoother life = happy life = #lifegoals)

Best of luck in your projects – and I shall try not to leave it so long next time!

Sarah xx