Winter is Coming…

In the world of independent creative businesses Christmas is, unsurprisingly, the busiest time of the year. It’s a season geared towards spending and artists around the world are here to make sure that you have something unique, ethically sourced and individual to give to your loved ones. Each sale is appreciated, and although of course I am biased I would recommend that everyone make an effort to support small traders and support local businesses in their christmas shopping this year. In this post I want to talk about the perks and perils of the season and introduce some tips for coping with the most wonderfully manic time of the year.

Are you prepared?

For me, enquiries for bespoke christmas gifts started coming in in October. Just about the time I started on making a batch of a brand new product, ceramic Christmas decorations with a distinct “This Is Sian Ellis” vibe (more on those soon!). It was also when I started on my first fair appearances of the season and have begun to organise the two day extravaganza which is the Whirlow Hall Farm Christmas Fayre, which I will not just be running but exhibiting a stall at too (and I did the poster artwork, in for a penny, in for a pound!).

There’s a lot of pressure that comes for a small business at Christmas, fuelled not just by the frantic marketing of other businesses around us but by the knell of a quiet January (seriously, who makes any money in January?).

As this is my first Christmas as a trader I know I need to take it slowly. I haven’t approached any stockists this year, for example, and I have limited my fair appearances to 4 fairs over 5 days. I have not just a lot to learn, but a lot to do, in both of my jobs. Rather than rush into a Christmas unprepared and stressed I have taken the decision to spend that quiet January in preparation, including for Christmas 2019.

What I would advise is that all sellers, whether you are full time or part time, remember to take stock of their energy levels and general sanity this Christmas season too. Of course we are all grateful for a busy Christmas, and it’s what we dream of when we set up our businesses, but it shouldn’t reduce us to crumbled husks by the time it’s through.

Steps to a stress free traders Christmas

1) Are you still accepting commissions?

Do you need to be? Keep an eye on your work loads, commissions are the most time consuming of all and if you have enough lined up for the Christmas season and need to focus on selling your products perhaps this is something you can keep an eye on as to when your workload gets to a point you need to put this on hold.

2) Ask around.

There are a lot of markets and Christmas Fairs and so many are on conflicting dates, plus you need to make sure you have time for all the parts of your business that aren’t sales too. Try to make sure that you exhibit at the absolute best ones for you and your produce, find out from other makers about their experiences with fairs you are unfamiliar with. A day at a dud fair can be time and money that you can’t afford to lose this time of year.

3) What are your January plans?

What can you be doing in your quiet months to prepare for this time of year? Can you work on your Christmas 2019 stock, your look book? How about in the months running up to your busiest period try and encourage or incentivise your fans to approach you for Christmas commissions early.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you have a great Christmas season 2018!


Techniques for Illustrating Ceramics: 1. Underglazing

Introducing ceramics

For the last couple of years I have been practicing ceramics. I took a course in handbuilding and later one in the use of coloured slips. Alongside this I’ve dedicated time to practiciing and exploring ceramic forms and decoration. Throughout this blog I’ll share tips and tricks I have learnt beginning with a focus on surface design.

I have also created a glossary page with definitions of more specialist words I’ll be using to describe illustration and ceramic techniques. As with most things, they tend to be easy enough to learn once you break through the smoke and mirrors that is the associated vocabulary. Nevertheless I will try to keep this all as jargon free as possible.

My ceramics and illustration have always gone hand in hand and it is not uncommon for me to spend more time on the surface design of a piece than on it’s initial build. This is quite the feat as a handbuilder as building pots through slab, coil and pinch pot techniques is generally more time consuming than their wheel built counterparts. As such it makes sense to me on this blog to explore first different techniques in illustrating and colouring ceramic pieces.

The use of underglazes

The first technique I’m looking at is underglazing. Here I ‘m referring specifically to commercial underglazes that can be applied to greenware or bisque fired pieces before they are glazed. Underglazes work largely like paint. The colour that you see when you paint is then dramatized through the addition of glaze and the final firing process but they are very simple to paint directly onto bisque fired clay.

I’ve also had success with these underglazes on pieces that I haven’t glazed. However, I ‘ve found that the underglazes produced by my studio are quite volatile to use on greenware, often resulting in bubbled or raised results after the final fire. Ultimately the trick to using underglazes is practicing using the right amount as using too little can result in a blotchy finished piece and too much can bubble or run.

If you have any more specific questions on the use of underglazes, get in touch!


My Own Personal Drawing Challenge: 100 Ghosts

So as it turns out I was not ready for Drawlloween* to end on October 31st. I had a thousand more pictures in me and responding to the pressure of drawing one a day pushed me in a way I wasn’t ready to let go of. So what’s a girl to do if not make her own challenge?

This time though I can choose my own length, subject and medium. Having done mostly digital sketches for Drawlloween my Staedtler fineliner pens are calling me so an analogue drawing challenge it is.

100 ghosts drawing challenge

I want to explore this character a little more. I draw them a lot and they are a popular product on my etsy store as prints and patches. I am hoping that my 100 Ghosts Challenge will reveal a little bit more about their stories and personalities. Of course, I’m hoping to improve my drawing skills too, with an emphasis on shading and detail. 

100 pictures, are you mad?

Probably, yes. However, I think that this exercise in practice, production and creativity will have it’s benefits maximised by being much more than the usual 31 pictures. I feel like it’s how I need to push myself right now to improve. It’s entirely a personal thing too, I really believe that we are all different on this. I just know that for me, my gut feeling is that a long challenge will be the vehicle by which I can improve my skills, learn more about my characters and expand my creativity too. The consistency it will provide on my social media feeds is an added bonus.

If you are interested in taking this journey with me I will upload all of my 100 ghosts to my instagram feed so head on over and give me a comment to let me know what you think. I’ll also be selling some of the original sketches via my Etsy shop too 🙂

*Drawlloween is the quickest way to describe all of the drawing challenges I took part in in October.

Mural Painting at Whirlow Hall Farm, Sheffield

I was asked to create a mural for the Sheffield Farm to welcome school children visiting on educational trips. Luckily for me bright, bold, quirky and playful are totally my style and all very appealing to kids so it felt the perfect project to be my first large public painted piece. I would love it if more schools or businesses in Sheffield commissioned me to do mural work like this. It’s big and messy and makes me feel like a kid again!

The Process

The base layer was black paint. I started with a very basic pencil layer to indicate composition.  Next I painted the piece with emulsion paint using a digital drawing I had created as a guide. I found it important to step back every now again and check the proportions of my work. This is a necessary step in big pictures, the bigger they are the more difficult it is to control distortion. 

It took several layers of white before the piece started to look anything other than a bit of a mess. It’s important never to get disheartened if your piece looks bad at the beginning because they most often do! The benefit to the emulsion was that it dries pretty quickly so I could continously work on the piece. For the most part whilst waiting for a section to dry I could work on another, and by the time I’d finished the original section would be pretty much ready to start on again.  

To finish the piece I used posca markers. These pens are like magic and work on pretty much anything. They aren’t the cheapest but there is no comparison between official Posca pens and other more inexpensive products masquerading as similar to Poscas. Nothing I have found has come close (although please comment on this post if you wish to challenge me on this!)

If you want to know anything more about the process, leave me a comment or get in touch!