Frost Light!

Hey, it’s my first blog post of 2023! Looking back on my 2022 art projects, the shining star of the year was definitely illustrating my first book cover! Frost Light by my dear friend Danielle Bullen released on December 15th, culminating almost a full year of research, collaboration, and drawing.

Working on this book taught me so much, and as we start a new year I’m documenting the process so I can use my new skills to move forward and make more books (hooray)!

Last week Danielle and I had a wonderful book discussion about Frost Light, our friendship, and the story of how I got to come along on this wonderful book adventure. The recording is here; for this post, I’m going to focus on the more technical aspects of making the artwork.

Inspiration and Research

Left cover art by Charlie Bowater. Right cover art by Anna and Elena Balbusso.

Danielle and I looked at a LOT of YA novel covers to try and identify publishing trends that we liked and disliked. The two cover illustrations that we really enjoyed were An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson (left, illustration by Charlie Bowater) and The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott (right, illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso).

In the early research stage, I also got to raid Danielle’s extensive Pinterest boards, and my feed was full of sheep, redheads, and snowy landscapes.

Early concept ilustrations by Danielle Bullen.

I had the blessing of working with an author who is herself a visual artist; these concept pieces by Danielle were hugely helpful inspiration.


Initial thumbnail sketches and meeting notes from my sketchbook.

I did 15-20 thumbnail sketches for my initial concept meeting with Danielle. We chatted about our favorites and listed our “must-haves”: design elements that were absolutely essential to have on the cover. These included Oanéka (our heroine)’s hair, a stag, snow, and flowers.

The official concept sketches, which I drew in pencil and cleaned up in Photoshop.

After the concept meeting, I took our three favorite thumbnails and developed them into concept sketches. We honed in on a dreamy, folk-art style, and tried three different views of Oanéka. Danielle and I both loved the center concept, which gave us a great side-view of the character and plenty of opportunity for Easter eggs in the design of her shawl.


Once we had a final concept, it was time to move forward with creating the full illustration!

I started with collecting a “palette” of colors and textures for the illustration. I scanned washi paper (left, a thin, semi-transparent paper with dried leaves and other plant matter pressed into it), watercolor swatches (center), and acrylic paint on tissue paper (right).

Then began my delightful marathon in Adobe Photoshop. This was actually my last project in Photoshop before I switched to an iPad and Procreate, and although I’m LOVING my new setup, the Frost Light artwork was a very nice final lap with Adobe.

I brought the concept sketch into Photoshop and traced over it with flat, digital colors. Then I layered my handmade textures over those drawings to create a digital collage look. Finally, I drew over my “paper” shapes with digital pencils and paintbrushes to add details like hair, freckles, and extra decor on the shawl.

Then came ALL of the color variations! We tweaked the cloak several times and couldn’t land on a color combination we liked, until Danielle suggested a lighter, more teal background color. As soon as we tried it, we knew that was the missing magic to tie the whole thing together.

We used the same process to make bookmarks as pre-order rewards for the book launch. It was a great opportunity to draw some supporting characters.

So then we had a cover! And six months later, we had a printed book!

And amazingly, a LOT of people ordered it. It still feels so surreal that Danielle’s story and my artwork have gone into the homes of people I’ve never met. Frost Light is such a special book, and it was so cool to have a hand in sending it out into the world.

Working on Frost Light was such a joy, and I’m so excited to see what Danielle writes next (she’s already announced a Frost Light sequel in the works)! Visit Danielle’s website to learn more about the book and to order your copy!

Foodtober 2022 (the sequel)!

Happy Official Christmas season! I had a wonderful Thanksgiving break eating delicious food, watching old episodes of David Suchet’s Poirot, and playing Pokémon Scarlet.

Before the calendar changes to December, I wanted to bid a final farewell to Foodtober 2022 with a quick retrospective of some things I loved and learned last month.

During this 31-day food illustration challenge, I discovered that I have a lot more time and opportunity to draw than I think I do. I’ve started carrying a sketchbook and a few pens with me everywhere I go, and it’s surprising how much drawing I can do in 10 minutes on my lunch break or in a waiting room.

I so loved meeting artists from around the world who participated in Foodtober 2022. We had illustrators from China, Japan, Finland, Jamaica, England, Ireland, France, the United States, and many other countries who joined in the fun, and it was so cool to see different cultural takes on each daily prompt.

One of my big goals for Foodtober was making new patterns and getting more comfortable with Procreate. I made seven patterns during the challenge; almost two a week, which is much faster than I was working before! The challenge helped me to make a fast, easy routine for patterns that prevents me from overthinking my designs. Now I have a new portfolio of cute foodie patterns, and a great workflow to use moving forward.

Making an illustration or pattern every day encouraged me toward consistency. Showing up to my daily drawing routine became more important than hitting a “home run” every day. That mindset is something I want to carry with me into 2023: consistent, unglamorous effort and celebrating the small steps of my art practice.

Foodtober, it’s been wonderful. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Foodtober 2022!

Happy Fall! Even though the season has only just officially changed , I’ve been ready for cooler, cozier weather since August. In a few days we’ll start one of my favorite Fall traditions- Foodtober!

Foodtober is an October art challenge that I started back in 2019 with a really simple premise: drawing food illustrations every day in October. I love cooking and eating, so I guess it’s logical that I also love illustrating food. Over the years several of my awesome artist friends have joined in (including the wonderful Amita, who hosted the 2021 challenge), and it has become a really fun visual feast!

After a few years of doing the Foodtober challenge (and definitely a couple of times when I haven’t met my goals), I’ve learned a few things that I’m taking with me into this October. Here’s what I’m doing to set myself up for Foodtober success this year:

Taking it Easy: A 31-day art challenge is a marathon, so it helps to strategize how you’ll tackle each day. As for me, I know I don’t have the time or energy to push my creative limits every single day of the challenge, so I’m trying to keep each illustration fairly simple so that I can stay consistent . There are plenty of ways you can make Foodtober easier on yourself, too: I hereby give you permission to skip days or take shortcuts if you need it!

Setting Personal Goals: Foodtober is a great time to learn new skills or hone old ones, but the numerous possibilities can also be overwhelming. This year, I’m setting two personal goals for Foodtober to help me narrow my focus: I want to make as many patterns as I can (to help me learn surface design on the iPad, a new tool for me!), and to vary up my media (watercolor, digital, collage, etc.) to keep things fresh.

Working Ahead: Maybe this is a drawing challenge faux pas, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it: I’ve already started creating my Foodtober artwork. I love creating art every day, but I also know that weird days, unexpected life things, and burnout all happen. Working ahead gives me an opportunity to share artwork every day while also creating at a pace that is gentle and fun for me.

If you’re drawing along with us this year, you can use the hashtags #foodtober and #foodtober2022, and tag me as @anniedrawsthings on Facebook and Instagram!

Red Winged Blackbirds

This week I’ve entered my first Spoonflower design challenge in over a year!

Earlier this year, my family installed a bird feeder in our backyard. We’ve had a great time watching the birds that visit and identifying the various species. When Spoonflower announced the Birding theme for this week’s challenge, I knew I wanted to jump in.

A watercolor sketch of our bird feeder from February.

I chose Red Winged Blackbirds as the subject of my pattern because they have a striking appearance with the flash of bright red and yellow on their otherwise all-black bodies. They also have a ton of confidence, and frankly they can be quite mean to other birds!

One of my favorite things I found while researching the species was the story of a Red Winged Blackbird attacking a Bald Eagle in a territory dispute. I wanted to try to capture that fierce, fiery personality in my artwork.

Photo credit: Jason McCarty

I painted my blackbirds by hand, starting with watercolor for the vibrant red and yellow wings. Then I filled in the rest of my sketch with black gouache, to get a thick, dark contrast to the bright colors. After the gouache was fully dry. I used a tiny brush to add some details in white ink, so we could see the definition of the feathers. It was fun to use three different paint media on one project!

Next I scanned my painted blackbirds and brought them into Procreate, where I arranged them into a pattern on a digital sky background. This was only the second pattern I’ve ever created in Procreate, so it was good surface design practice! Mel Armstrong’s classes on Skillshare have been a huge help in adjusting to this new software.

Voting on the Spoonflower challenge is still open until Tuesday, September 6th! I had a great time creating this pattern, and I’m excited to bring it to my Spoonflower shop soon.

My Bullet Journal made me better at hand lettering

Here’s a confession: hand lettering used to terrify me. For a long time, the internal editor that I’ve pretty much learned to silence when I’m drawing ran wild when I made anything with words on it. All of my lettering work looked shaky, forced, and wrong, especially when I compared it to the smooth, pristine lettering I saw on Pinterest and Instagram.

Of course, as I realize now with perfect hindsight, I just needed to practice. But at the time, I chose avoidance, my discouragement masquerading itself as disinterest.

At the beginning of 2021, I began my first Bullet Journal. Weirdly, I wasn’t even thinking about lettering when I started; I just wanted a creative way to manage my time and meet my goals. But obviously, Bullet Journaling required me to write, and not just journal entries in my regular handwriting. Each journal spread allowed me to play with different themes, different layouts, and different ways of writing while I was planning my schedule.

My journaling was very much focused on time management (with cute drawings thrown in), but accidentally, I had also created a sort of “writing sketchbook.” My Bullet Journal became a private, pressure-free space to experiment with lettering. Only I saw the outcome of each page, so it was easier to accept the occasional weird, wobbly letter. I didn’t set out with the intention of practicing hand lettering every day, but in a pleasantly stealthy way, that’s what was happening.

Eventually, my confidence grew to the point that I was ready to start making actual lettering pieces again. I felt much more knowledgeable about drawing words, and much less stressed. My lettering still has a long way to go, but through journaling I’ve learned to embrace mistakes and enjoy my practice.

Do you keep a journal, or make hand-lettered art? How does one impact the other? I’d love to hear your experience!

P.S. This post marks the launch of my new website and blog! I’m excited to be updating this space and writing about art, faith, and life. Welcome aboard!