Piratess Tilly – The Art Show

Banner_SmlThe inspiration

“The adventures of Piratess Tilly”, written by Elizabeth Lorayne, illustrated by myself (Karen Watson) and published by White Wave Press recently hit book store shelves and is the inspiration behind my most recent art show. While creating the artwork for this enchanting story, a “call of artists” came through my in box announcing that our local art gallery was looking for artists to submit their work and ideas for upcoming exhibitions. I was inspired by this call, for in my experience once the artwork for a book is completed the originals are scanned and digital versions are created for printing. The original paintings are generally filed away only to be enjoyed by a small few (that is, if you are a traditional illustrator like myself). While printing these days has come a long way an original still has something that a print can never capture. I submitted my proposal to exhibit the original paintings from the book and was delighted to be accepted at the Gallery @ Artisan Square, Bowen Island BC.

The planning

I’m a list maker so I started with a list of “to dos”:

Come up with a name for the show – Like the title of a book or film, it’s important that the name of your show be catchy, representative and memorable. I came up with “Drawn to Story”, an extension of the same theme from my previous art show “Drawn from Words”

The Artwork – I spent the summer of 2014 in my studio painting and bringing to life the story of Piratess Tilly. There was a lot of thought and effort between the Author Elizabeth and myself to make this story a book from character designs to story boards and finally finished water-colour illustrations.Artwork_Image_02

WindInTheWillows_RattyAndMrMoleThe 22 paintings for the book were completed several months before the art show opened, which left me time to create more! I felt compelled to make sure the show was filled with whimsical images and no big white empty walls. I went to work to create more illustrations  on the theme of the show: Drawn to Story. Inspired by such fairy tales as Thumbelina, Pinocchio, Cinderella and others I was able to create 7 additional pieces. This was my favorite.

Ratty and Mr. Mole “Friendship” from “The Wind in the Willows”by Kenneth Grahame


Framing  – Piratess Tilly was illustrated in water-colour and therefore all the artwork needed to be framed. With 22 paintings created for the book plus the 7 new illustrations all of varying sizes, I knew it was going to be very expensive to frame all the artwork. From past experience the best and least expensive way is to DIY.

Framing_TillyMost of the paintings were based on a standard frame size (this really cuts down framing costs). Ordering custom frames is much more expensive and I avoid it whenever possible. I also needed to order mattes for all 29 paintings. Framing all this artwork was a big job. Luckily here in British Columbia we have Opus Art Supplies which has a great framing department with very experienced staff that are happy and willing to help with your framing needs. I love their archival mattes and the black BOD wood frames. I use OPUS for all my artwork pretty much across the board. Simple, black, sleek and professional frames, not to mention a great price.

Remind self that this was a good idea – Putting on an art show is tough to do without some savings; all your costs are upfront and like any venture it’s a gamble. After getting all the frames I was just hoping that some of the artwork would sell so that I could recoup my investment. Cost aside it can also be difficult for artists to show their work, and this being my first solo show my anxiety was starting to build. Nothing ventured nothing gained; sometimes you just have to go for it.

The Poster – Creating a poster is an important marketing tool. Getting the word out is one of the many key tasks in putting on an art show. It had to be eye catching especially from a distance, with all the information that one would need to know should they want to attend the show. Composing the poster was fun, but it really took a lot of trial and error to arrive at this final design.


The Extras – It’s always nice to have varying price points for those who like your work but may not want to or are unable to invest in the original.Cards

I designed cards and made prints of the artwork that wasn’t featured in the book in order to make it affordable for anyone who wanted to purchase my artwork. Cards are a great way to promote your art and I’m happy when anyone is interested in the images that I create.


I also made 4 cards specifically to promote the book including a quote from the story on the back



And the book of course! I ordered a number of copies of Piratess Tilly to have available at the show.



Signage, price signs for cards, prints and books were designed and printed for a professional looking display.


KarenWatsonBio_2015sml For my Bio, I used a transparent full sheet shipping label and my ink jet printer to create a Bio sticker for the wall of the gallery. It’s a very simple and professional way of displaying your credentials.







Business cards are really important for making sure as many people as possible have your contact info which will hopefully lead to commissions. Plus they are free for people to take and everyone loves free stuff. I went with a simple text design on the front and my favorite illustration of my most recent work on the back.  I ordered from a high quality printer and used nice thick card stock. These took some planning and needed to be ordered a few weeks before the show to make sure they would be ready.BusinessCard_Proof_blog

The Invitation

InvitationDrawnToStory_TallI shamelessly used Facebook to invite the majority of my FB friends. Creating a 4 x 6 design that I could post as well as print and hand out to anyone that showed even the slightest interest. I’m generally not a shameless promoter; I hardly ever post artwork on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram as one is supposed to do these days. However, motivated by the fear that no one would come to my opening reception I invited as many people as I could, and baited them with promises of cookies and wine.





Music – I created a play list of fun whimsical music to keep the energy up and flowing at the opening reception. Very important to set the mood.

The Hanging

Two days before the show was scheduled to open I packed up all the framed artwork, Piratess Tilly books, greeting cards, prints, signs, labels, etc. and headed for the Gallery. The curator, Janet Esseiva, is wonderful and an amazing artist in her own right. It was really important to me to recreate the story but tell it in an exhibition format. I printed out the text using the same transparent sheets as I used for my Bio allowing the text from the book to be placed beside the illustration. As you went around the room you could absorb the artwork and follow the adventure. Thanks to Janet the hanging went off without a hitch. The Gallery looked beautiful and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment to finally see all of the artwork hanging side by side.

These photos don’t do the gallery justice; unfortunately when these were taken the artwork had not yet been lit. If you would like to see a video walk though of the show you can go to Tilly’s face book page

Wall 1 – The Adventures of Piratess Tilly


Wall 2 – The Adventures of Piratess Tilly continued



Wall 3 – Illustrations inspired by classic Fairy Tales




Wall 4 – Illustrations inspired by more classic Fairy Tales





Show Time!

I enlisted my Mum and a few close friends to help me with nibbles. Finger food, crackers and cheese, fruit etc. and as promised I baked a bucket load of cookies. My lovely friend, Nancy, made her famous carrot cake cupcakes in a mini form and iced them with cream cheese icing. They were a hit!

cookiesThen my artsy friend, Becky, showed up with letter shaped cookies to go with the theme of the show, spelling out my name as well as the name of the show. They were so perfect and the kids just loved them. Not to mention, delicious!

It was really nice having my show during the most amazing summer. It meant that I was able to put vases of cut hydrangeas from the garden around the room.
Everything that I had taken the last year planning was coming to a head there was nothing left to do but get gussied up, put on my most stylish fancy clothes and high heeled shoes, take a deep breath and hope people would soon arrive.

And arrive they did, in droves. (It helps when you invite everyone you know)

The opening reception exceeded my every expectation. Lots of my friends, family and the ever supportive Bowen Island Art community came out to support me. It delighted me to see lots of kids at the show; it has always been my goal to inspire young minds though my art.
ArtOpeningCollage90% of the original paintings sold on opening day as well as every last book. Three weeks later when it was all said and done I came home with two lonely unsold paintings, one of which has since sold. All the hard work and meticulous planning paid off. I felt like I was on the top of the world. I’m certainly far off from a big New York Gallery and I’m still relatively unknown in the sea of immense artistic talent out there, but I felt justified as an artist- like I could do it all over again.

So we are! Elizabeth Lorayne and I are teaming up once again for The Adventures of Piratess Tilly’s – Easter Island. Available summer of 2016.

It was a wonderful experience and I’m grateful that the “call for artists” sparked  my inspiration. This show led to several commissions and who knows what other potential doors may open in the future.

My only regret … that I didn’t get more photos of the day when the gallery was full of art lovers. Next time!

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Bowen Island Christmas Cards

Christmas 2009

Each illustration was created using watercolour and pen and ink. They were then scanned into the computer where I took the time to fix any little flaws that may have been in the original.

Killarney Lake, Bowen Island - Original Illustration“Killarney Lake Ice Skaters”

Of course now a days the lake doesn’t freeze enough to skate on which is why the skaters in this card are depicted wearing fashions from an earlier time.

Reindeer in Snug Cove, Bowen Island - Original illustration“Reindeer in Snug Cove”

With no predators, you can imagine we have lots of deer on the Island.

It’s a quaint little cove leading from the ferry, with a library, Marina, General store, a few restaurants, a pub (of course), post office, pet store, Dr. office and more. Everything you really need.

Santa's on his way, Bowen Island - Original Illustration“Santa is on his way”

The doll in Santa’s sack was inspired by one that I made to sell at the craft fair. It’s fun to add a little personalization to an illustration, it’s makes them much more original.

We are so lucky to live on the west coast. Close to down town Vancouver, but nuzzled in amongst other Islands. This is the view of Bowen from Cypress mountain, with the sunshine coast in the background.


Before I was an illustrator I spent ten years in the film and television industry as a VFX artist, specifically I was a compositor. Using Shake and Digital fusion to create a CGI (computer generated imagery) composites. However, photoshop works quite nicely for touching up a single image. It can also be used to composite and add to an illustration as you’ll see below. For these three cards I didn’t get too fancy, just a bit of colour correction through the levels and some digital snow, which is much easier to do in the computer than in the original watercolour illustration.

The final result

Killarney Lake, Bowen Island - Final illustration

Reindeer in Snug Cove, Bowen Island - Final illustration

Santa's on his way, Bowen Island - Final illustration

The first year I must have had a lot of time because I printed all the cards by hand on beautiful Schoellershammer German Watercolor paper made from tree free fiber “Spanish” grass

Bowen Island Craft fair 2009

 Using spray glue to adhere them to coloured card stock. They looked beautiful, but it was too much work for a repeat performance.



Since then I have had the cards professionally printed locally in Vancouver . I’m still using tree free paper and soy based inks.

The cards were then packaged in an assortment of 6 cards, two of each design with colour corresponding envelopes.


Christmas 2010

When we moved here 8 years ago the Island didn’t have any bears, coyotes, skunks, or racoons. However, somehow they have arrived over here and the gray squirrel population also rose on the West side of the Island where you very rarely used to see any squirrels.   We also had a couple of bears roaming the Island that year, one with a tag in his ear.

I thought it would be fun to illustrate the bear, and his woodland friends in the 2010 Christmas card. This is the original illustrationWoodland friends, Bowen Island - illustration

Christmas 2011

I felt that my skills had improved since I had painted this card, and there were aspects of it that I wanted to change for the 2011 series of Christmas cards.

Woodland friends, Bowen Island - insert illustration


By painting the foreground Characters and tree as a separate painting, I was able to replace the furry friends that I didn’t like, as well as add a few using Photoshop.


The final result

Woodland friends, Bowen Island - Final illustrationI’m much happier with this final illustration!

Light Up the Cove has become a wonderful Bowen event to open the Christmas season. Lead by the black sheep Morris Dancers, children and families walk down the path with hand made lanterns, through the cove and down to the Bowen Heritage restored 1930s cottage decorated to represent Christmas past.

This is the original illustration

Light up the Cove, Bowen Island - Original Illustrationyou can see I’ve painted the dog separately and composited him in after using photoshop for the final print 

Light up the Cove, Bowen Island - Final Illustration



The colour levels have been corrected to enhance their richness.

Snow was added digitally as well as the glow emanating from the lanterns.





The final print files had a colourful border added to the front. The back was adorned with a small part of the illustration, the title of the card, our local Island name, and my Bluebelle logo.

Like previous years, the cards were packaged in an assortment, this time there were 10 cards, two of each design with colourful corresponding envelopes.

All the labels are hand printed, and scored with information about the printing progress, as well as the Bluebelle logo wrapping around on the the back. The card packages were finished off with a round red sticker.


While Christmas cards are a delight to receive, as well as a good way of staying in touch and wishing warm holiday wishes to friends, they can be bad wasteful for the environment. I insist on keeping my cards GREEN by using tree free paper and soy inks. They are also locally printed to save on the fuel used for shipping .

It’s an amazing amount of work from start to finish. The design process for each new card starts towards the end of September to have enough time for the printing and packaging in order to be in stores by November.

I’ve been wanting to put this post together for a while, but never seemed to be able to find the window of time that it takes to sit down and compose. So … I asked myself why it is I have a blog, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really just for myself. To look back on the path I took, when I get to where it is I’m going. Not the everyday ups and downs but the main events. However, if you were so kind as to take the time to read this post, then I thank you.


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Enchanting Children’s Book Illustrations

My Modern Met wrote a sweet little blog post about me, and some of the illustrations I did for “Drawn from Words”, click here to read


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Sing a Song of Sixpence

After our Art Show “Drawn from Words”, I was commissioned to do two illustrations inspired by the Mother Goose Rhyme:

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds
Backed in a pie.

When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish
To set before the King?

The King - Sing a Song of Sixpence

The King was in the counting-house
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlor
Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And snapped of her nose.

I prefer “pecked at her nose” when reading this rhyme to children.

These two illustrations were created as a gift for twin Granddaughters, to adorn the walls of their bedroom. We decided to use animals to depict the King and Queen and chose a Lion, for he is the king of the animal kingdom, and the Lioness as his Queen. The maid is illustrated as a person, because anyone who has a cat knows, they rule the house, and we humans do all the work!

I love to add 3 dimensional elements to my illustrations, especially the commissions where the original is matted, framed and hung on the wall. The 3d flowers and leaves create shadows of their own, the chandelier shimmers in the light. It’s the extra little touches that make a piece of art come alive.

Stay tuned for more Illustrations, drawn from words.

Contact me at karen@karenwatson.com for your very own commission


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The Art of putting on an Art show

Draw from words, an illustrated show featuring three Bowen Island artists opened June 22nd and ran through July 17th. Since then I’ve been wanting to write and share my experience, what was involved, and the steps I took to bring it to fruition.















I’d exhibited a piece here and there in galleries before, and contributed to a friend’s show with photography years ago, but I’d never really put together my own show, start to finish. Thankfully I was sharing the gallery walls with two other artists; Adrien Deggan, a very talented illustrator and Ron Woodall, a multi talented and extremely accomplished artist who happens to be our local cartoonist. Knowing I was going to be exhibiting with such talent made me nervous but also gave me the drive to push my own limits.

Recently I quite my day job as a VFX compositor for film and television in order to pursue my dream of being a childen’s book illustrator. I know my old job sounds glamorous, and it was! A well paying, creative job working with a great team of artists. It was was very hard to leave, but in the end I want to make a difference in the world. Being an illustrator, inspiring young minds, helping children learn to read is something I felt I needed and wanted to do.

The show was scheduled to run during the writter’s festival, which was a perfect venue to showcase my illustration style to authors. My goal has been to find that special story, something enchanting and magical. So, I decided to do 15 illustrations based on the classical children’s books that are out of copright, such as “The Princess and the Pea”, “James and the Giant Peach”, “Alice and Wonderland”, “The wizzard of Oz”, “Thumbelina”, “Wind in the Willows” and other nastalgic stories that everyone loves and remembers from their childhood.


It took me about a year to plan the show, and more that 6 months to create the artwork. I worked tierlessly, especially during the last month before the show. It’s not just the artwork, there is a lot of promotion involved. Website, blog, invitations, posters, business cards, I even went as far as to create a little book of my artwork. I made prints available from my website, and I also made cards from the original artwork so that there were a veriety of different price points for the veriety of visitors to the show. In order to get every thing done I made lists. Lists apon lists. Every day I gave myself goals. As a creative person I find deadlines nessesary, but I also find them to be creativity squashers. Any artist will tell you that they have good creative, artistic days, and days, where no matter how hard you try you end up spinning your wheels, so you have to give yourself a little room for those days, and anything else life might throw at you.

In the end it all came together, despite the mail strike and having all my invitations kiboshed by Canada Post. Like planing a wedding, you have to accept that at least one thing will not go as planed, and you just have to go with the flow.

We decided to do the Artists reception on a Friday evening to bring more of a party atmosphere to the openning. I went to the trouble of getting a liquor license, bought wine (I suggest getting beer too … next time) as well as an assortment of food; breads, cheese, fruit, veggies, cookies etc. I did the catering myself, with help from some fabulous friends in order to save money.




There was a fantastic turn out of people, and it went off better than I could have expected.






I priced my pieces to sell, not so low that I gave them away, but I did make them affordable, as I am not yet a well known artist. This is an important point for artists that are starting out, after all, it was my first art show. Out of 16 pieces I ended up selling 13 which ended up being a record for our little gallery. As well, I sold out of books and had to have more greeting cards printed. When I tallied up all the materials, framing supplies, promotional costs, 25% gallery commission and fees… never mind my time, I came out ahead, but not a whole lot. However, what I did get from the show was worth far more than money. I gained experience, exposure, several commissions and most importantly some great future possibilities, not to mention a visible progression in my work. For a little gallery, on a little Island, on the west coast I couldn’t have asked for more.

All in all it was a fabulous experience, that I would recomend for any artist, young or old, experienced or just starting out, submit to the call for artists. Even if you don’t sell a thing, the process will bring you much more that you ever thought possible.

I’m also now the new curator of our Art Gallery!

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Drawn From Words – an illustrated show

As the Opening reception creeps ever closer and the artwork is almost ready to hang. It’s time to invite the world to come and enjoy the fun and whimsical art inspired from words.

Drawn From Words, an Illustrated ShowPoster design: Adrien Deggan


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Drawn From Words – The book

This book is a compilation of 15 illustrations created for an upcoming Art show at The Gallery@Artisan Square

Drawn From Words an Illustrated show

The show features 3 Bowen Island Artists; Ron Woodall, Adrien Deggan, and myself, Karen Watson.

All of my illustrations were inspired by classical Children’s stories, such as Princess and the Pea, James and the Giant Peach and many more.

Drawn From WordsClick image to view book


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