Inspiring : Emily Julstrom {surface design}

Emily Julstrom says it’s good to get as many terrible ideas off your chest as possible so you can get to something interesting. I think she must have done an awful lot of work, because what I see is utter skill and total clarity of vision.

I first came across some of Emily’s surface designs on Pinterest (oh yes! I still love it – I’m here)– lush florals in a modern illustrative style, full-bodied and sensuous. So delicious!


emily julstrom - magenta flowers

emily julstrom – magenta flowers


But when I dug a bit deeper, I discovered her work jumps from illustration through art direction to surface design and lots in between, AND in every format from digital animation right down to absolutely stunning pencil drawings, and traditional figure painting. SO good, that even though she only graduated from design school last year, she’s already worked with Tupperware and Skippy Peanut Butter, to name a few.


emily julstrom - blue bulbs

emily julstrom – blue bulbs


emily julstrom - jungle

emily julstrom – jungle


After graduating from Ringling College of Art & Design with a BFA in Illustration in 2014, she now freelances full-time, and works from her tiny studio home in Chicago.

When working for a client, Emily stresses that communication is key. “At Ringling two ideas were stressed to the students – to ideate extensively, and to respect, understand and commit to what a client asks for. Often times you cannot do both. So, be incredibly clear about your intentions – I show the client my ideas each step of the way first in sketches, then thumbnails, color studies, value studies, and final tweaks. Whether I’m working for me or a client, it’s important to always have a plan so that I know I’m meeting my needs or the needs of my client and won’t get stuck along the way to a good finished product.”

“When I have the opportunity to be creative, I sit down and write down as many ideas and sketches as I possibly can. One way to move away from the cliche and into something new is to create word lists – each word relating to the last in slowly more and more remote ways until you have something strange and unexpected.”


emily julstrom - brights

emily julstrom – brights


emily julstrom - brights

emily julstrom – brights


It doesn’t hurt to have a great atmosphere when you’re growing up either. “Growing up in Indonesia I was surrounded by a constant supply of intriguing textiles and arts that probably jump-started my need to live a life based heavily on aesthetic designs. I also was lucky enough to have a mother who would let me sit down and draw as long as I wanted any and every day – always supporting any avenues I wanted to explore from my ill-fated attempts at jewelry, or sharing with me her love of paper flowers.”


emily julstrom - magenta geometric

emily julstrom – magenta geometric


“One of the things I miss most about being in school was having all the time I wanted to explore and learn. I’m so thrilled to have a steady income and job but I do miss the days of having all the energy I need to learn more new and exciting techniques. I’m still grappling with it myself, and so far all I know is that to gain one thing you must lose another and that might mean one weekend I don’t do much socializing in exchange for sitting down and making an effort to learn, or not eating out for a month so I have the funds to try a new software.”


“I truly believe anything is possible if you are able to think and prioritize what matters to you. “



emily julstrom - the mother of dragons

emily julstrom – illustration – the mother of dragons


from emily's sketchbook

from emily’s sketchbook


What’s the best piece of advice she’s ever been given? “I’ve been given amazing art advice, on all kinds of subjects…but the most helpful thing I’ve ever heard was during a period where I was out of work. I was told to invest in myself and believe that I would find the work.”

“It ended up being true and I know that if in that period I hadn’t have been spending my time working hard and investing my time in learning and creating I wouldn’t be where I am now.”


“So believe and invest in yourself or you have no chance of achieving what you’re hoping for.”



You can find more of Emily’s work on her site,



emily's studio, where she surrounds herself with books and colour

emily’s studio, where she surrounds herself with books and colour


How to Color Patterns in Illustrator

(How to Color Patterns in Illustrator: Guest post by Sew Heidi.
We’ve been working on colour this month, so I thought this would be a fitting one to finish with! Heidi always writes such great posts, and this is no exception. Enjoy.)

I’ve watched many designers fight through the process of recoloring seamless repeating patterns. They’ll drag the pattern out of the swatch panel, edit it, and then drag it back in. Are you guilty of recoloring patterns this way? If so, you’re not alone – but I will help you break this bad habit, and show you a much quicker, easier and more intuitive way to do this. Ready? Let’s go!

What You’ll Need:

Note: This tutorial also applies to recoloring artwork / objects that are not or do not contain repeating patterns, but the example below will be done with a pattern.

Step 1: Access Illustrator’s Live Color Feature

Select an instance of your pattern in your file and choose Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork (1) or click on the color wheel icon (2) in your control bar.

Step 2 (for versions AI CC 2015 and newer – if you’re on AI CC 2014 and earlier, skip to Step 3): Reset Colors

In the CC 2015 update, Adobe released a new Live Color feature that automatically recolors the artwork based on recently used colors. I personally dislike this new feature and haven’t been able to find a way to turn it off (perhaps you will like it in which case you’re in luck!).  If upon launching Live Color, your artwork automatically changes colors, you may want to reset to the original colors. Do this by clicking the eye dropper icon (1) towards the upper right to “Get colors from selected art”.

Once you click this, the original colors will be restored.

Step 3: Using the Live Color Interface

Upon launching Live Color, you will see 2 lists of colors: Current Colors (1) in the left column and New Colors (2) in the right column. The Current column contains the colors that your artwork is currently made up of, and the New column contains the colors that you will be changing your artwork to.

Step 4: Swapping Colors

If you want to swap color positions, it’s as simple as dragging and dropping colors over each other in the New column. In the below example, I’ve taken the middle caramel color and dragged it onto the dark brown color in the top position (1).
illustrator_color_patterns_step3-1.1You can see now that the color positions in the pattern have been swapped (2) and the New column reflects the new color positions (3).

Step 5: Merging / Overwriting Colors

If you have too many colors in your artwork and you want to merge them, you can drag the colors from the Current column into the New column (1).
You will now see in your artwork (2) and in the New column (3) that the caramel color has over written the dark brown color.

Step 6: Choosing Brand New Colors

You may want to completely change the colors of your artwork, which is easy to do! Double click on the color in the New column that you want to change (1). This will launch the Color Picker (2) where you can select any color you want. If you want to choose a specific color from your Color Swatches, click Color Swatches (3).
illustrator_color_patterns_step3-3.1Your Color Swatches are now loaded (4) (which may just be the default AI swatches unless you’ve defined custom swatches). Note: only solid color swatches will load here, you will not see pattern or gradient swatches. If you want to switch back to the Color Picker, click Color Models (5).
illustrator_color_patterns_step3-3.2Once you’ve selected new colors for some or all of the color positions, your artwork should show the recolored results (6) and the New column should reflect the new colors you’ve chosen (7).

Step 7: Randomly Change Color Order

This is one of my favorite features in Live Color as it will often give you color results that you may not have thought of on your own. With only 3 colors, the results aren’t super exciting, but if your artwork has more colors, you can click this button many times to quickly get a ton of different color options. Simply click the “Randomly change color order” button (1) to watch the colors change in the artwork.
Below you can see 2 different colorways (2 & 3) I’ve quickly created using this button.

Step 8: Accepting the New Colors

Once your artwork is recolored and you’re ready to accept the changes, you are almost ready to hit the OK button. Before you do this however, make sure that the check box for Recolor Art in the bottom left corner IS checked (1). If this is not checked, the artwork will not actually be recolored and you will lose all your changes. Once you have double checked that this box is checked, you can hit OK (2)!
Once you’ve hit OK, have a look at your swatches panel. You will now notice, you have the original swatch plus the newly colored swatch (3). Every time you create a new colorway of your pattern using Live Color, it will automatically create a new swatch instance for you – so cool!

Not Just for Patterns!

Remember, the Live Color feature is not just for patterns! You can use it to recolor any artwork in Illustrator whether it’s solid blocks of color or solid blocks of color and patterns. It also will recolor both strokes and fills. Simply select the artwork, choose Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork and swap, overwrite or choose completely new colors. Be mindful that when using Live Color for artwork other than patterns, you may want to create a copy of the artwork first (1). Unlike how AI creates a new pattern swatch of your new colorway, it will not automatically create a new instance of your artwork.

And Last But Not Least, the Live Color Disclaimer: There is No Undo!

I get asked all the time and see designers trying to do it all the time: cmd/ctrl + Z while in Live Color. Unfortunately there is no “Edit > Undo” within Live Color. This is true both while you are inside the interface and after you’ve hit “OK”. If you are in the Live Color interface and define a new color using the Color Picker, then accidentally overwrite it, there’s no way to get it back.  Additionally, if you hit OK and then want to jump back one step into the Live Color interface to modify some of your changes, there is no way to do this. Choosing Edit > Undo will simply change your pattern back to the original colors.

This disclaimer aside, Live Color is by far the fastest, easiest and most efficient ways to color patterns and other artwork in Illustrator. Give it a try and I promise, you’ll never go back to your old ways!


Heidi B describes herself as the “Fashion Tech Evangelista”, and has been working with and teaching Illustrator for more than 15 years. If you get the impression she knows her stuff, you’d be right – and she’s got some pretty cool tutorials on her website to prove it. You can find her at

Inspiring : Ben Conservato {illustration}

ben conservato - cloak and dagger V3

ben conservato – cloak and dagger V3


“I did struggle with taking photos at first; for someone who studied photography, it kind of baffled me that I couldn’t get it right.” So says Sydney-based Emma Kidd, artist, illustrator, printmaker, zine maker, and photographer, and the face behind Ben Conservato. She thinks she’s figured it out though – “Plain old white background and natural light never fails.”

Emma started drawing monsters “Because I don’t draw people perfectly. It just became more and more monsters… and sea creatures.” Her characters are whimsical and mostly friendly (but I wouldn’t want to meet some of them in a dark alley), and her menagerie has extended to include lots of wings – winged horses, monkeys, and men, and birds that don’t wish to fly at all.


ben conservato - orange birdman

ben conservato – orange birdman


“… apart from the time my mother, who worked at a business college, insisted I learn how to type.”


ben conservato - kingston - winged copper plumed horse

ben conservato – kingston – winged copper plumed horse


ben conservato - two characters from the 8 x paper doll pack

ben conservato – two characters from the 8 x paper doll pack


The name Ben Conservato  came about originally when Emma started up a jam-making business after travelling through Italy a few times. “Well preserved” seemed the perfect name then, and she still loves it now.  But it’s been a long {and sticky?} road between jam-making and illustration. Most of the time her journey has been a positive one, “Apart from the time my mother, who worked at a business college, insisted I learn how to type. … I’ve always been doing something in the creative, even if it is while I do some other job that I hope didn’t interfere with my own work. It sometimes does.”


ben conservato - four armed sea man

ben conservato – four armed sea man


Emma has always drawn a lot, and was encouraged as a child to be creative and do what she loved even if it didn’t earn any money. She completed an Associate Diploma in Fine Arts, specialising in photography and printmaking. “There I discovered photographic etching and at the time, in 1998, it changed my world.” She also completed a graphic design certificate a few years back. “I thought it’ll be good, it’ll be creative. But when you’re sitting there and doing work for other people and they’ll want you to make their logo bigger or use comic sans or something horrible. Then when you get home you’ll think ‘I’m going to paint now’, but I just have no idea what to do because I’m drained.” So, she says she mostly keeps hospitality as her fall-back position – “It is something I can do and rarely bring it home to the point I am unable to do my own work.”


ben conservato - cockatoo on a night adventure (without his wings)

ben conservato – cockatoo on a night adventure (without his wings)


“My workspace is generally (apart from the piles around our small flat) a stand-up desk in the corner of my once workroom, that is now my son’s room. He is only 2.4 years old, so he can’t kick me out yet, or at least hasn’t tried. It is messy and sometimes frustrating, but I like there is a place I can leave all my paint there, pieces of creatures and other things without having to put them away. I can paint things in passing throughout the day if there is limited time. I tend to work when he is doing his half day at “school” and when he sleeps.”

“In the business, I tend to try to do everything myself.  There are times we all financially struggle doing our own work and trying to stick to it. There are definitely low points in the year.” But it’s still worth it. “The best bit is being able to create and actually get some type of recognition that that is my style.”


ben conservato - shallows and deep sea - 5 piece nesting doll set

ben conservato – shallows and deep sea – 5 piece nesting doll set


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Don’t let graphic design kill your style.”


You can find more of Emma’s wonderful work in her Etsy shop, BenConservato. And I totally urge you to check out this lovely video about her as well.



Inspiring: Elly MacKay, TheaterClouds

I can’t get over how delicate and lovely these images are from Elly Mackay, the artist behind theaterclouds. They glow like warm memories of childhood, viewed through a magical peephole.


theaterclouds - she brought back the gift of the season

theaterclouds – she brought back the gift of the season


Elly is part craftsperson, part theatre-designer, and part photographer. She has been fascinated with tunnel books (books with consecutive cut-out pages that you expand to create a three-dimensional scene), Victorian paper-theatre and zoetropes ever since she can remember, and as a teen began making dioramas with moving parts and selling them at a gallery in Toronto. After completing school, she went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Art from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (where she met her husband), and now works from her home studio in Owen Sound, Canada. There, she weaves her magic with ink, paper and light, within the miniature wooden theatre her woodworker husband made for her.


theaterclouds - solo

theaterclouds – solo


“My creative process usually begins with an idea and title; the image follows close behind. I have a big whiteboard in my studio and I play with themes — weather, creatures, botany, etc. I do really loose drawings there, and I keep them up for a while to see what comes from them.


theaterclouds - sun leaves - page from the picture book fall leaves

theaterclouds – sun leaves – page from the picture book fall leaves


“I begin an illustration by sketching. I then build the layers. For the most part, I use ink on Yupo paper, a plastic paper. It has strength, and no grain. It catches the light quite beautifully too. Spraying it with different oils, alcohol, and rolling over inked areas creates unusual surfaces.

“When everything is in place I set up the lighting. Different filters, direction and type of lighting create different atmospheres. I also use the opacity/transparency of the Yupo paper to create shadowed areas or areas that beam with light. Sometimes I get multiple images from the same scene with quite different moods.  It is also nice being able to alter just one aspect of an illustration.


theaterclouds - when it is rainy and grey

theaterclouds – when it is rainy and grey


theaterclouds - the shadow teller

theaterclouds – the shadow teller


“I have a fluid process. With layers to create the setting, individual characters, lighting, filters, camera lenses and settings, there is lots of play that goes into getting my images and sometimes interesting surprises.”


theaterclouds - they tied their hopes to a string

theaterclouds – they tied their hopes to a string


theaterclouds - two families

theaterclouds – two families


theatercouds - on the back of a tiger

theatercouds – on the back of a tiger


Lately, she has been turning her attention to writing and illustrating books, and to date has illustrated two books, as well as writing and illustrating three of her own books – If You Hold a Seed, Shadow Chasers, and Butterfly Park, and . I highly recommend you watch the video about Elly’s process and thoughts about her book, If You Hold a Seed.





You can find more of her beautiful work in her Etsy store theaterclouds, and on her website,


Inspiration : Carmel Debreuil {painter/illustrator}


carmel debreuil


Carmel Debreuil says that one of the greatest things about having been drawing and painting so long is that she doesn’t have to worry about whether the nose is straight or the eyes match. “I can spend more time thinking about the story. That’s a good feeling!”

And those stories fascinate; the clues are few and beguilingly inconclusive. We can only guess at what games of imagining those blue-skinned children are playing. They look serious, sometimes like they are downright displeased at being disturbed from what they are doing, but hints of other emotions show through – a bit of bemusement; a pinch of superiority. The characters become even more enigmatic when we discover that they are most often clad in a uniform of sorts – vintage glasses and cowboy boots, and a parade of strange headwear – viking hats, sombreros and crowns. “I see kids as these amazing creatures that are perfectly imperfect. Everyone seems to be in a rush to guide kids into adulthood and responsibility, but I’m happy if they want to hang out with a giant squirrel while wearing a Viking helmet and cowboy boots. I think childhood’s an amazing time and quite funny!”


carmel debreuil


Carmel’s cast of characters are drawn from a mix of many children that she has met, both past and present, but one she has been especially inspired by was from an old photo of her two older brothers, where one of them was dressed in similar vintage glasses and cowboy boots.

She paints directly onto plyboard, and utilises the grain and knots in the wood as part of the picture. Wood becomes patterns on dresses, animal skins, and an interesting textural element.



She is absolutely adamant about the need to have disciplined technical skills in the fundamentals of realism – drawing skills in perspective and proportion, and a solid understanding of colour theory.

“No child is just told to express themselves on the piano. They do scales. You learn the alphabet and spelling and punctuation before you write your novel.” It is an attitude that she learnt from her father, Canadian artist Marcel Debreuil, and those skills were honed when she lived in Paris, where she worked as a street artist drawing people’s portraits for a few years. “There was nothing quite like being nineteen and living in a hotel in Paris, eating out every day, living this fantastic bohemian life and paying for all of it being an artist. I not only paid for my lifestyle, but I saved heaps of money and travelled for a year afterwards. Dad was really happy that I had this skill that, no matter where I travelled and how much money I had, I could, if nothing else, barter a portrait for some food!”


carmel debreuil


Now Carmel makes her home on the NSW mid-north coast, where she lives with her husband and two small children. She paints full-time, but admits that it is a difficult juggle with family, and it’s important to stay focused on what you intend to achieve.

“I think my big advantage is that I’m ADHD and a bit OCD, so I have lots of energy but I can really focus it. It’s not unusual for me to paint for nine hours a day. Basically in the morning the kids get off to school, then I check all my emails and do some updates on social media. Next I would head to my studio and pretty much work steady til the kids get home from school. Sometimes if I’ve got a deadline, I’ll keep painting, but I generally stop so that I can make dinner. Dinner is family time and we really like to catch up and chat and connect. I do a lot of my business side of things at night in bed – I might start around nine or ten and then work til two in the morning. This means sending out query emails, updating social media, connecting with clients and that sort of thing.

“It helps to be organised so I make tons of lists. It helps to be obsessive and work til the job is done. I find the more I do, the more comfortable I am with doing a lot. I took a holiday to Bali last year and although it was great fun, I felt like it put me off my routine! I am most happy when I’m productive and the more productive I am the happier I am.”


carmel debreuil


Her father has been instrumental to her career in more ways than one. As well as learning skills from someone who worked as professional art teacher and artist in their own right, Carmel says it was really after her father passed away a few years back that things really started happening for her.


“Just after he died, he came to me in a dream. He said  “You need to be an artist.” That was pretty good advice.”


“In the dream he talked to me for about an hour about what I needed to do to make it happen. I followed his advice and things have not stopped getting better. It’s pretty freaking amazing. I wish he was here to see what those words meant to me and see how my life has changed as a result. Life is good.”

At the moment her studio is “a bit all over the place” as they’re smack bang in the middle of building it. “So in the meantime stuff is piled up here and there. I have staked out a space in a downstairs area that used to be where the kids played games, and I’ve moved the tellies into their rooms and so now it’s a space full of art supplies. We also have a big deck so sometimes I work out there if the weather is good. I’ve also worked on the kitchen floor on occasion! I’m not super fussy in some ways, ‘cos the desire to work is strong. But I tell ya, I can’t wait to have my own space. It’s going to be awesome! It’s going to be great ‘cos it’s going to be mine, mine, mine and only mine! I also want to teach classes there and have it as an open studio during holidays. Plans!”

“I feel so lucky and grateful that I’m making a living doing art again and supporting my family. Everyday I wake up and can’t believe my good fortune. Still there are highlights. I was stoked to be a finalist in the Portia Geach Memorial Award – that was a huge achievement. I’m also looking forward to creating my Archibald entry this year. I have the perfect subject and although it’s a secret right now, I think it’s also going to be one of those things that makes you pinch yourself. And you know, there is this warm fuzzy feeling every time someone buys one of my paintings and brings it to a new home. It’s pretty cool when people like your stuff!”


carmel debreuil



Carmel has shown her work in over 32 shows in the last two and a half years, throughout Australia, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. She has also worked as a portrait artist in Paris, Amsterdam, Mexico and Byron Bay, and has had her work featured in a large range of publications, including Ink and Arrows, and Australian Art Review.

You can find more of her work on her website,, but if you’d like to see it in the flesh, you can! She’s got a new solo show opening on Thursday, 16th April, 4-6pm at M2 Gallery, Shop 4/450 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills NSW. The opening night will also be featuring music from DJ JoeSpoon (Grinspoon) and international DJ Ewol.


Opinion : Hot or Not?

Yippee! SO excited about this new segment on tractorgirl. What I’m going to do is pick a current trend in craft and design, review it, and pull it apart to see if it’s worth having as a trend. Whadya reckon?

Be warned, the vagaries of my personal taste are bound to peek through now and again…

OK, so let’s get started.



Do you love them or hate them? You know I live on farm, so I’m probably a bit predisposed to regard them as a blight on the landscape. Originally brought to Australia to provide hunting sport for the gentry, they spread rapidly and are now considered a feral pest throughout the country, with government programs in place in an attempt to eradicate them. They are a cruel destroyer of lambs (in a good season they hunt for fun, not food), which can be hard and expensive for farmers. But even more importantly, they have also devastated some populations of native animals and birds to the point of extinction.

Real ones aside, the pretend ones I am seeing in graphic and surface design and crafts are all a bit cutesy for my taste. Perhaps cute is OK when you’re designing for kids. What I’m REALLY not liking is seeing cute on things made for grownups. (And of course, I’m not fussed on the tendency for everyone under the sun to “whack a fox on it” in an ill-considered attempt to keep it “trendy”.)

Nonetheless, there are foxes and there are foxes. Here, I’ve chosen a few of the more interesting interpretations of this trend.


owlprintpanda - DIY felted fox knitting bag pattern PDF

owlprintpanda – DIY felted fox knitting bag pattern PDF

I quite like how the nose has been utilised as the closure here – it adds a nice three-dimensionality to the face. Not sure I’d like a knitted bag as a knitting bag though – I hope it’s lined so your needles don’t poke through. From  .


gnomewerxPDX - little fox family of four

gnomewerxPDX – little fox family of four

These are sweet and naive, perfect for kids to play with. But if it weren’t for the colour, I’d think they’re not so fox-like as much as Max in his wolf suit. From


rabbit and eye - 3 clever foxes leggings

rabbit and eye – 3 clever foxes leggings

Why have one when you can have three? Perhaps one would have been more eloquent. On the side. From

natitys - too cute fox ( cream)

natitys – too cute fox ( cream)

Hipster foxes! Now that’s a double whammy of appeal. Might be cute on a kid’s bag? Or pyjamas? But please, not on your tote. From


krukrustudio - leather bag sleeping fox

krukrustudio – leather bag sleeping fox

Perfect for an almost-teenage girl, it’s succinct and sturdy. Big enough for lipgloss, camera and a book to read – perhaps the one about the fox and the crow? Because a girl’s got to learn how to be crafty, and get what she wants.


Overall, I don’t mind these examples of foxes on thngs. But if you’d just take two seconds to search through any online crafty-type marketplace, I can guarantee you’ll come up with HUNDREDS of items of not-so-fantastic Mr. Fox. Hahaha, you know you will, don’t deny it!


So what do YOU think? Hot or not? You’re welcome to tell me I’m a snob!

Cheers, Julie X