Holiday Windows: Two Cards

Color pencil Scandinavian Holidays Greeting Cards by Marion

I can’t say I’m excited about changing the clock to winter time next weekend. But then there are snowflakes on the weather forecast and soon, there will twinkling stars popping at the windows.

I remember taking the longer route home through the streets of Ullevål this time of year, gazing at all the delicately illuminated windows. For me, coming from places where fairy lights often tend to be overly flashing and unreasonably multicolored, the Scandinavian take on holiday decorating is perfection. It’s truly magical.

Drawing these cards, I found myself looking at those windows from the inside. Such a nice feeling !

Holiday card drawing process || by marion


My main focus these days was to create scenes in which something “happens”: this is something I want to get better at, because often my drawings are kind of “static”.

Interiors are also high on the list of things I want to practice drawing (I am a homebody, after all!). Several persons commented about my christmas tree design that I should try adding a background to the scene. So, it was time to give it a try.

What was the most difficult was to decide how to mix a “kid’s drawing-like”, geometric style with a little bit of perspective. Also, depending on the texture and the direction on the lines in the background, I either ended up with a cold, empty room feeling or (hopefully!) a warm and cozy one.

Here again, the best way for me to experiment and correct mistakes as I went was to draw everything on paper with colored pencils and merge the different parts digitally.

I am getting the files ready to send to the printer, and hope to add these two cards to my little shop soon!


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Designing Cards (And Painting Walls)

Holiday greeting card design || Created on Jovoto || bymarion

I finally completed this greeting card design for the Unicef crowdstorm on Jovoto.

Holiday greeting card design process || pencil drawing

I used the same characters I created last year, which are really nice to draw. This time I tried to mix the minimalist aesthetics with a little more classic holiday elements to better fit the brief.

Holiday creating card design process || colored pencil drawings

I got some great feedback from other jovotans, which pushed me to make a version with the tree. I drew it separately and merged it with my initial drawing digitally. It was more work than I though it would be, but it turned out to be very convenient to go digital at that point since my desk was transformed into a very messy workbench as we proceeded to paint our living room.

Home improvement desk

I did my best! Now let’s wait and see if my design gets picked. Fingers crossed!


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Birch Forest Song : A Drawing In Progress

Birch Forest Song || Drawing process 04 || by marion

This week, I finally finished the Birch Forest Song painting/collage I was working on for a friend. Yay!

While it makes its way to her mailbox, here is a pencil drawing version I made to test a different composition after this attempt.

And here are some (bad) photos I took during the process:
Birch Forest Song || Drawing process 01 || by marion

Birch Forest Song || Drawing process 02 || by marion

Birch Forest Song || Drawing process 03 || by marion



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Time And More Time


A little package with my very own greeting cards arrived in my mailbox yesterday! I figured that my winter woods collage would make a nice touch of color alongside my black and white cards in the Alpha Angle shop. I had been a bit worried about ICC color profiles, but the colors turned out really nice.

I also wanted to add a “non-academic” option – because there’s a whole world outside academia!


Well, actually — ahem — this was the first idea I had in mind. I made this sketch last summer when I was very excited to try making a linocut. But finding the right combination of paper and ink turned out more difficult than I had thought it would be, and I set this project aside. It’s still there in the back of my mind, but it has to wait.


It’s been a constant this year: things taking way more time than I had thought they would. Although this fact is not really new to me — I constantly had the same feeling when I was a researcher — I seem to keep fooling myself about it.


I would really love being able to do all the bag-sewing and card-printing myself one day. For now I had to let that go – and learn how to make a print-ready vector file.

Still, it’s such a satisfaction to open a package and see a tiny batch of something that you’ve imagined and designed and that has become real.

After the photoshoot

One thing at a time. Yesterday was for taking photos. And guess what?
It took a lot more time than I had thought it would.

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More Winter Woods

Collage Pieces: Watercolor, watercolor pencils and cut paper

After making some sketches, it was time to make a finished version of my winter woods image. I decided to make it a collage for two reasons. First, I just like working with both watercolors and cut paper. Second, collage makes it easier to work on the different layers of the image, adding and removing elements and adjusting their positions along the way.

It’s a perfect technique for me, since I don’t have the patience to do a lot of planning and sketching — although I’m working on it!

If you want to see what an awesome artist can do with this kind of technique, do have a look at Phoebe Wahl‘s fantastic work. Needless to say, I’m nowhere near that level, but bear with me!

Forest background painting: watercolors and watercolor pencils
After seeing some tutorials here and there, I tried experimenting with watercolors and salt for the sky: I used coarse salt, so I obtained a pretty rough texture. Next time I’ll try finer grains. Initially I had not drawn any trees on this background, but I added some when I realized that the whole image looked really weird without them.

Scanning collage pieces
Since I wanted to be able to adjust each layer all along, and because scanning non-flat images doesn’t work for me, I scanned everything separately and made my collage digitally in GIMP. Many of you are probably used to working with either GIMP of Photoshop, but I’m rather new at it. I hope you won’t mind me sharing very basic techniques as I’m learning them. Also, any tips?

Using a green background (or a red one for the trees) as for chroma keying made it easier to find the contours of each object using GIMP’s foreground select tool.

Draft of the digital collage

After putting each object in a different layer, I was able to make a rough draft. Of course the contours still needed a lot of work, the quick foreground extraction left some unwanted transparency on the bottom left tree and there were too many saturated pixels on the path.Re-scanning the bottom part to remove saturation

I re-scanned the bottom part of the background with different contrast settings. This way I got rid of most saturated pixels, but the colors were still not very good.

Digital collage without shadows

Here is the result after I spent some hours cleaning the contours. Thankfully, there are good podcasts to listen to! I also adjusted the colors on the path and in the ray of light. I added the character’s shadow using the “perspective shadow” tool in GIMP.

Final digital collage with shadows
Finally I added some drop shadows to give the whole thing a cut-paper-y look.
What do you think?

This was fun,  I learned a lot, and I feel motivated to practice more.

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Big Eyes And Scanning Struggles

Einstein writing on the blackboard || Watercolor || bymarion

I could say that I’m sharing my desk with Einstein himself this week, nothing more, nothing less. But let’s just say that I made my own version of the famous portrait of Einstein writing on the blackboard. Although he’s plain flat watercolor instead of a relief cut-paper collage, he is officially joining my collection of big-eyed characters.

Einstein writing on the blackboard || pencil sketch || bymarion

As you can see, I changed the text a little. Ahem! But that’s because this painting was made to illustrate the first edition of the Outside The Lab newsletter, in which I chat about a political text called Why Socialism that Einstein wrote in 1949. You can read more about this here, if you’re interested.

einstein writing on the blackboard || infographic || bymarion

And here’s my final infographic, with a little shadow added digitally. The reason I made a flat painting instead of a relief collage was mainly to facilitate the scanning process.

Still, since I didn’t use high quality watercolor paper, it wrinkled when it dried. I had to flatten it to be able to scan in properly: I put the painting right side down on my ironing board, added a slightly wet towel on top and ironed it briefly, which did the job.

The scanning step is still a bit of a challenge for me, though, when it comes to color rendering, or dealing with the grain of the paper for example. Does anyone out there have any advice?

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Triangles And Winter Woods

geometric spruce sketch triangles bymarion

We’re still waiting for the first snow around here. I’m longing for walks in the quiet, white winter woods.

Meanwhile I’m experimenting with triangles, trying to find the best way to arrange them into a geometric version of a spruce. The first one looks like it’s flying, don’t you think?

geometric spruce sketch bymarion

I like it better this way, I think.

winter woods sketch bymarion

This is the idea I have in mind for my whole winter woods thing.

geometric spruce sketch gray bymarion

Trying to decide what to darken and what to keep white. There’s supposed to be snow on the branches!

geometric spruce sketch colors bymarion

I’m using my watercolor pencils for this one. I like it that they enable me to combine the transparency of watercolors and the texture of pencil drawings.

winter woods sketch color bymarion

That’s the progress so far. Now I’m working on some little fellows similar to these ones.





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Some Things

frozen leave

Something thoughtful Sohini wrote about being a literature student — and that many students and researchers in other fields could also probably relate to.

Speaking of students and researchers, something hilarious and perfectly illustrative that @AcademicPain replied to my prompt. Tag them with an “academic pain”, and they’ll make a gif out of it.

Something super interesting about the process behind the cover of a children’s book, Wildwood, by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis. I always love when artists share the behind-the-scenes like this. I should also mention that I found this link through Anja Øverbye’s pinterest which I warmly recommend to anyone interested in drawing , illustration and graphic novels. Anja is a talented Norwegian illustrator and graphic novelist, and also shares a lot of her own work and process on her blog.

A very interesting blog I discovered this week, and something unexpected that made me very happy. Thank you for your kind words, M!

Have a good weekend!
garden frost


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Sketches And Color Tests

illustration // color test // bymarion

Cynthia’s Christmas in July post inspired me to try and come up with a greeting card design, too. Since summer seems to be over already here in the North of Sweden, this is perfect timing!

illustration // sketch // bymarion

The idea of a waiting line in front of a mailbox came to me randomly in the middle of the night. The next morning, I started with a quick and dirty sketch. I’m still using up the leftover student notebooks I bought to make lab journals when I was a physics postdoc. It’s not particularly good drawing paper, but the lines turn out to be quite handy.

illustration // sketch // bymarion illustration // sketch // bymarion illustration // sketch // bymarion

Then I practiced a little and made cleaner sketches of all the characters. I decided to stick to very simple shapes, so I could just focus on the characters’ attitudes – otherwise it would be too difficult for me to draw without a model.


Finally I was ready to make a clean sketch of my whole layout. That’s the point where I have to force myself to draw ONE line, which I find to be a very good exercise. Before going any further, I scanned my finished sketch. Backup, backup, backup: this is a precious habit that I have kept from working in a lab and processing data!

illustration // color test // bymarion

So, at that point I could just print my sketch and try different things with colors and inking. The inking turned out really ugly, and this color version was too cheesy compared to what I had in mind: it wanted to make my card more modern-looking…

illustration // color test // bymarion

… so I stuck to pencil lines and tried more minimalist coloring…

illustration // color test // bymarion

… and then even more minimalist. This was getting closer to something I liked. My partner suggested trying to give the image a little rougher, sketchy look, and I thought it was a good idea.

illustration // color test // bymarion

So I dropped my beloved watercolors and turned to my (also beloved) color pencils.
Here I am now. What do you think? What should I try next?

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