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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