Akaihane // Designer & Illustrator

My Work // Nixie

Nixie by Karen Murray

Last week, I introduced you all to Gretchen. Now it’s time to meet a her companion (sister?) piece, Nixie. I think “water sprite” is an appropriate name for her. Years ago I started a little drawing around the idea of a girl wearing a deep sea diving helmet, and it’s quite reassuring to see how far I’ve come from that original attempt.

Again, like Gretchen, she was drawn using a range of pencils (mostly Bs), and then coloured in Photoshop. In the future, I’ll probably play about with using different colouring mediums, from the computer, to watercolour and gouache, and who knows what else, but for now Photoshop is what I’m most comfortable with. I don’t know what I’ll eventually end up using most of the time, or I may dip into different media depending on the piece. She has an Art Nouveau / 1920s feel, with subtle pastel colours and a strong outline.

Like her ‘sister’, I’m very happy with this piece and now feel I have a great path set out ahead of me in terms of where my work will go. And she will hopefully soon be for sale in printed form, on both Etsy and Society6, and will be one of my submissions for Papergirl Belfast.

Nixie by Karen MurrayNixie by Karen MurrayNixie by Karen Murray UPDATE: This piece is now available for purchase on my Society6 store.

Loved Links // April 2014

Easter egg message tutorial from PoppytalkTiii Me // Calculate your total time spent watching TV showsChateau Gudane // A chateau in the south of France, under restoration.Ursa Major Glow in the Dark Constellation Pillow in BlackPrinted and embellished tights and socks from em tee seeOreo Cupcakes from Cate's World Kitchen

Just a few little things that have caught my eye on the net this month.

  1. I’ve never really done anything for Easter, but I love this cute little Easter egg message tutorial from Poppytalk
  2. It’s a bit scary the amount of time I’ve spent watching TV! Calculate your own time on Till Me
  3. I love old French buildings, so to watch one, in this case Chateau Gudane, go under restoration is fascinating
  4. I’m on the look out for unusual pillows for out new sofa, and love this Ursa Major Constellation one. It even glows in the dark!
  5. I mostly wear skirts and dresses, so tights are always an important part of my wardrobe. These printed and embellished tights and socks from em tee see are amazing
  6. Now that I’m getting better at baking, I’m keeping my eyes open for new recipes. And, well, I love Oreos

My Work // Gretchen

Gretchen by Karen Murray

Here’s a little piece that I’ve just completed. I’ve named her Gretchen, after her collection of pearl-like jewellery. After months of practice, experimentation and research, I feel I’m now at the place where I not only am developing my own style, but my illustration skills are at the level I’ve been working to reach.

What I’ve been aiming for in my illustration has been largely realised here. A strong, realistic drawing of a woman with a character-filled face and expression. A visual style influenced by Art Nouveau, and the 1920s in general, which jumps off the page, part in thanks to the thicker line that goes around its outer edge. And a soft but lovely colour palette; picking a good set of colours has long been one of the most difficult aspects of illustration for me, but I feel I’m getting there now.

I have another illustration along the same line, that I will share in a few days (though you can already fine it on my Folio page as well as on my Behance account), and I’m excited to continue work along this vein. These two pieces will most likely make up my first pieces of art on my Etsy and Society6 stores, so people out there can purchase a print (and maybe more) for themselves. I’m actually going to print out a few copies and send them to Papergirl Belfast, where it will hopefully be given, by someone on the back of a bicycle, to a random person walking about Belfast.

Gretchen by Karen MurrayGretchen by Karen MurrayGretchen by Karen MurrayGretchen by Karen Murray UPDATE: This piece is now available for purchase on my Society6 store.

Moodboard // Rebrand

Rebrand InspirationRebrand InspirationRebrand InspirationRebrand InspirationRebrand InspirationRebrand InspirationRebrand Inspiration

As I mentioned recently, I’ve come to a place where I feel a rebrand of my company is a necessity. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been mulling over what this new identity would be. Although I still have a long way to go before nailing anything down, I do have a direction in which I’m heading.

After a lot of learning, practice and research (my Instagram is a good place to keep abreast of the progression on such things, and in a more timely manner than this blog), I found myself developing a style informed by Art Nouveau and quirky, fantastical tales, balanced with a sophisticated edge. As you can see above, while looking for inspiration, I found myself very drawn to the covers of old fable books from 100 years or more ago, as well as intricate patterns.

At the moment my mind is combining these ideas together into a vision - dark backgrounds with a faint pattern around the edges, but which pop into vibrant colours (like the flowers in the examples above), and a ornate logo - but I’m having the hardest of times trying to come up with a name! I love names that are kind of a short phrase - A Beautiful Mess, A Black Apple, A Dainty Squid, Wit and Whistle, Tee and Toast - but to pick some words that represent myself and business, ones that can be moulded into some form of logo … Oh, it’s difficult. Before I just translated two words into a foreign word, but that has caused all kinds of problems, so that definitely isn’t a path to go down once again!

So the progress has begun, but it’ll still be a while before I have anything definite. But as much as I would love to have it all sorted, I’m going to let it come a little more naturally to me, and let it develop as my style does. Hopefully it won’t take too long.

You can find larger versions of the above images and more, as well as their sources, on my Pinterest board created for this branding exercise. Some other ideas can also be seen on a general board I created for the Art Nouveau style.

On the Road to Somewhere, Part 2

Sign in a park near the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Last week I started to write down some thoughts that have been racing through my head over the past few months, in an effort to start a concrete plan of where to take my business. Today is the second part, the more positive of the two, where things start to come more together.

Back on the Path

Quickly I got back into work. I went from being okay at drawing people, to getting to a point where I feel I’m getting good. I tackled an area I felt I was especially lacking, typography, studying modern calligraphy (thanks to Molly Suber Thorpe’s wonderful book). I started to play about with media I haven’t used before, such as gouche, and reintroduced myself to those, like inks and watercolour, I haven’t picked up since high school. I have a lot more to learn, such as how to turn my physical work into digital files I can use for print runs, but it’s getting there.

Currently I’m working to bring these skills together with my other abilities to develop my own style. When things become more cohesive, I hope to produce my own line of products, and start to look for clients to work with.

I’m finally getting to a point where I really do believe that with time, hard work and determination, you can get to where you want. You just have to face your fears and push through the period where you’ll want to burn everything you produce.

Future Steps

Now that my design and illustration skills are improving every time I use them, I need to work on the business end of things. When I was a web designer, I never seemed to need to look for work as I had contacts through previous work and colleagues to keep things turning. Now I’m left with nothing in that area. I’m trying to get the lay of the land locally, finding out what organisations are here that I can tap into, attending events where I can explore connections. I’m attempting to understand social media a little better, and have actually started using it to converse with people and not just watch them. It’s going to be hard!

I’ve been taking part in an online business course on Skillshare, and using it to build a proper plan for my business as time goes forward.

And that has brought me back to something I’ve been debating internally over the past number of months: my brand.

Graffiti quote on a bridge in Paris - "Etre libre de temps en temps" / "Be free from time to time"

"Etre libre de temps en temps" / "Be free from time to time"

New Identity

I’ve been using the name Akaihane for quite a long time, initially as I needed an identity during my last year of university for projects, and then I carried on using it upon graduation for my online portfolio while on the job search. That was nine to ten years ago (it could actually be older, but I’m not sure). It was something I felt connected to as someone in their late teens and early twenties. For my final piece during my GCSE Art & Design course (at age 16), I had drawn an angel with red wings. This notion of red feathers continued with me (red was my favourite colour at the time), and needing a name that was a little more unique, I translated red feather into Japanese and came up with Akaihane.

When I went out on my own four years ago, it became my business name. The colour red slowly disappeared, as I didn’t like this obvious reference to the name, and it morphed into something more sophisticated. But using it for the first time where I was interacting with clients constantly brought up one problem: pronunciation. No one, especially those with a Northern Irish brogue (think a very sing-song accent, a mix between Irish and Scottish), could say it properly. Japanese pronunciation is very different to English. Unless you understand how to speak Japanese vowels, you’ll have a hard time saying Akaihane. Even people I worked with for years and had heard me say the word time and time again had a hard time repeating it. If I was talking to someone over phone or VoIP, I would actually spell out my company name rather than pronounce it. And, well, I would always have to spell it out regardless.

Not only this, I no longer really felt connected to the name. It was a part of an old me, the student and web designer, and as things start to come together in my mind for where I’d like to go with my style and my career as a whole, the identity didn’t seem to belong.

So I’m currently working on a rebrand. I can’t tell how long it will take, as I want it to be an organic process, but don’t be surprised if one day you see thing change around here.

And Now …

So that is where I currently find myself. I’m still charting new and choppy waters, but even with some trying times (my long illness and also the passing of one of my cherished cats), I’m managing to not just stay afloat, but get somewhere. I’m still formulating where I hope to be in a year, but if you’re interested in my progress, I’ll be posting here, and on the eventual new site, on where this journey takes me.

The photos used in this post were taking by me during a rather cold and foggy November trip to Paris.
I’ll hopefully be sharing more of these soon

On the Road to Somewhere, Part 1

Metro station sign, Paris

I've been doing much mulling over the past few months, trying to figure out who I am as a creative individual, what that means for a career and how do I carve some form of path for myself. There have been some major roadblocks, some that are purely my fault for letting fear hold me back, and others that were completely out of my control. This is the first part of my thoughts regarding this, and I'll be back on Monday with the second {Update: this can now be seen here}.

I left my last full-time job four years ago now, with the aim of leaving the world of web design and development behind and moving solely into graphic design and illustration. It wasn’t until this past summer that I actually really took more than a baby step in this direction.

For almost three years I kept taking the easy road. Illustration was something I loved to do, but I wasn’t very good; I had barely drawn something since high school. I was a little more confident with graphic design as it more closely related to web design, but still I was at best an intermediate; good but nothing special. Due to my fear of failure, rather than do the hard work to improve my abilities and try to become what I wished, I kept accepting web design contract after contract.

I earned a good living, but I didn’t enjoy the work. I had thought that if I kept it on a few days a week, then the rest of the time I could do the training I desperately needed to change careers. Good intentions often don’t work out. The days I had hoped to spend learning, I ended up doing work for web design clients, even though they usually weren’t time sensitive. Or even learning new things in the world of web design, as I was coming from a higher level of experience compared to where I was with illustration and graphic design. The times when I did have time to spend, I ended up feeling too tired and deflated to do any learning, or I felt like I was grasping at straws and had no idea of what path I needed to follow to get where I wanted. I always had an excuse to do the easy work or little at all rather than force myself to face the hard tasks. I even used the fact that I was making enough money to tell myself it was okay to take a day off rather than working towards my goal.

If I was going to stop using web design as a crutch, I knew I had to do something drastic.

Cut What You Can’t Untie

So last summer I stopped taking on any web work. I told any clients I worked with that after the current projects we were working on, I would not be taking on anything new. I updated my online profiles and portfolio site to put the web behind me, and strike out as an illustrator and graphic designer in training. I stopped paying attention to new developments in the world of web so that I would quickly find myself out-of-date in that realm, making it harder for me to dip back in as time went on.

With the money I had made and saved over the past few years, and support from my partner, I bought myself some time to just focus on learning and practicing.

So I finally started properly, three years after I wanted to. I produced piece after piece of poor work. I would get despondent over my lack of talent, before pulling myself up again as I knew the concept we think of as talent is nothing other than hard work, and thousands of hours of it. Almost any one can do anything; the difference is those with the ability to do something love it so much that they are willing to spent a great amount of time and effort to get good. Of course what I was producing was crap. I still hadn’t put in the hours.

So I kept trying. And things were going well. My skills were shaky, but they were becoming honed.

And then I had three months stolen from me.

Carousel horses, Paris

Moving down the path, steadily until …

Everything on Hold

I woke up one day at the start of August and fell out of bed. I couldn’t travel around my flat without walking into a wall. I couldn’t go out without a chaperone, and I would get tired very quickly from any effort. I rarely got a chance to do anything other than sit in the house. Talking could even be a difficult task; I would confuse my words and lose concentration very quickly. I slept a lot. Even reading could be too tiring a task. Anything that required hand-eye coordination went right out the window. I couldn’t write properly, let alone draw. Using a computer and mouse, it took me three tries to hit something onscreen. The only thing I could use with reasonable ability was my iPad as things were much larger and I could use my fingers.

Vertigo. Oh, it’s horrid. How a viral infection in your ear that has gone bad can affect one.

After a bit, I could produce a few simple things on the computer, such as several of the products in my Etsy store. But those three months still feel like a lost time for me.

And suddenly, over the period of a week, I improved suddenly and greatly. My brain was finally able to deal with the fact my body was unbalanced. I’m still not perfect (it can take up to a year to fully heal); the hearing in my right ear is not up to the power of my left, I still sometimes get a wave of dizziness, or tire quickly, as my brain is essentially having to work harder than normal even at everyday tasks. But I have control over my coordination, and an MRI scan seems to show that everything is okay with my brain and inner ear (though I still have to see a neurologist and another appointment with my ENT doctor).

But those three months did give me time to think, and a new prospective on things. And time to miss what I had been doing.

And there is a good stopping point. This is mostly a little exercise to get this train of thoughts out of my head and onto paper, but if you read what I have so far, thank you! Maybe it will help someone out there who is somewhere down the same path as I am.

The photos used in this post were taking by me during a rather cold and foggy November
trip to Paris.
I’ll hopefully be sharing more of these soon