Creating covers for Instagram stories and highlights

For ages I’ve been massively admiring other peoples’ instagram pages, especially those with consistent covers on their story highlights, so this week I did some investigation to find out how to do it – so that’s what I’m sharing today.

Let’s start with the results because that’s the fun bit! Here are my two accounts:

Now let’s look at how we get this.

Step 1 – Make the covers

I made these in the most simple way possible – in Photoshop.

  • Create a portrait rectangle in Photoshop (1080x1920px)
  • Fill it with a solid colour
  • Grab an icon from an icon library (I used Noun Project)
  • Centre it
  • Save out as a jpeg

Step 2 – Add to Instagram

I’m assuming you’ve already created some stories and saved them to your page as highlights.

Next, tap into one of the highlights. And choose “more” from the bottom right.

Next we want to edit the existing highlight

Now open the cover editor

And finally, choose a new image from your photos and adjust the image so it looks how you want.
Then save!

If you do this for all your highlights, your page should end up looking something like this:

NTMC – the book! (part 1)

Well it’s finally time, and I’m going to start putting together the first volume of “Never Too Many Chickens” – a book based on the Instagram art project I’ve been running for the last 2 years.

This started in Feb 2020, right before the first UK lockdown, where for some reason I decided it would be a fun challenge to draw the various Chickens on Instagram, with their own accounts or featured on their owners (..parent’s..?) account.

The premise was that anyone with an account could nominate their own chicken, provide their name and I’d add them to my list.

List became very long very quickly. I also found it went out of date fairly often, so I had to keep re-asking for recommendations and permissions!

I’ll do a full project run down at some point in the future, but for now, here are some pics of my initial set up – as I take hi-res images of the originals, plus a short video because Fun!

Here I’m using the IPEVO V4K high definition usb camera, which I have attached to my MacbookPro. This is an upgrade to the basic iPhone photos I’ve been taking for the Instagram account, so should hopefully produce something usable for publishing.

Inktober 2021

I tried to be a bit prepared for this year’s Inktober, but as usual it came with its share of unexpected challenges.

Preparation

As in previous years, I tried to have a bit of a think about the prompts before the day itself, mostly by creating a sort of mood board of inspiration for each word.

Launch

I was extremely excited to start this year’s Inktober, especially as I’d not been very active on Instagram for a while (Covid, busyness etc) so of course it was an extra challenge that I was immediately blocked by Instagram for two weeks for no reason and with no way to appeal.

So, I launched Inktober on TikTok, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest instead.

Keeping up

As far as each day’s drawing, I used one of my standard exercise books to draw one or several preliminary sketches for each prompt.

Once I’d worked out the basic panel structure, I then drew the final version in my Royal Talens sketchbook, using my old favourite Micron fineliner pens.

The final product

For this year’s final output I made an A3 poster of all the drawings on one sheet. I was really pleased that the dark image (Day 18 – Moon, which is the most dominant) fell in the middle of the series.

This poster is now available to buy here.

Watercolour & drawing process

Today I’m sharing my approach to watercolour and ink drawing which I use for my instagram project, @NeverTooManyChickens.

All of these are original drawings, using ink pens and gouache (watercolour) on watercolour paper. For instagram, I usually do further editing of the main image in Photoshop to make the colours look more like they do in real life, rather than what the iPhone camera captures.

Materials

A quick summary of materials, before I walk through my process and my “whys”:

The models

I’m lucky that instagram is full of chickens and chicken parents who nominate their critters to be drawn!

Look at this beauty..

Pencil (for once)

My first step is to draw a rough pencil outline, and then ink over the top. This is the only project I have where I actually use pencil first rather than going straight to ink. This is because, frankly, I’m not terribly good at drawing real chickens from life – hence I started the project to get better at it!

Winsor & Newton graphite pencils

For this I’m using a standard 2B graphite pencil from Winsor & Newton. If you’re working in pencil you probably have, or should get, some kind of box set as it’s more cost-effective. This studio collection from Winsor & Newton is standard and reliable, but there are a lot of options out there.

Inking

Once I’m happy with the rough shape and features, I then create a line drawing. Here I’m using Derwent Line Makers and using a standard plastic eraser. My pencil is quite light, and as I’m using pigment pens and erasing carefully, it doesn’t damage the ink work.

Painting

From there I just attempt to match the colours as well as I can. I have some key go-to colours from the Holbein Artists Gouache set that I have set up in my Daisy Palette.

Because it’s watercolour, I can let it dry out on the palette, keep it covered, and reuse it each time I need to work.

These are small drawings, so they use very little paint.

Using this little paint, with this much accuracy means it’s almost more like inking the image than traditional painting.

For Boudica, you can see that I had to go outside of my core colour base and add blue and green! Not your usual chicken colours!

For my brush, I’m using this Jacksons synthetic – Onyx size 6. Does the job, and is kind to animals.

Final work

Here’s the final artwork just snapped with my iPhone.

And here you go – the final drawing, post-editing, added to Instagram.

To see more of these, head over to Instagram and follow @NeverTooManyChickens.

Or sign up to my newsletter to get regular updates on all my projects.

Ink drawing materials

A recent commission titled: “Delivery Bike” (SOLD) Ink on paper.

I often get questions over on Instagram about what I use and how when making my ink drawings. So that’s what I’m going to cover today!

Method

It’s probably important to know the “what I am trying to do” before any of the materials decisions make sense!

Pencil or no pencil?

The most frequent question I get asked is “where are the pencil lines?” Well that’s simple – I don’t use pencil. Not sure why, but I’ve always just gone straight to ink. I think it might originally have been laziness, or a dislike of the way most erasers damage the richness of the ink, or it might have been to stop myself over-thinking everything I draw!

Probably all of the above.

Straight to ink. No pencil, no safety net.

Materials

For black and white line drawing, I basically only use two things – pen and paper. I like to keep it simple, which I think is reflected in the work! Also, the fewer materials I have to carry round, the less set up – and this means I’m more likely to sit down and draw something wherever I am, rather than need some elaborate set up.

This is particularly useful at the moment, when I’m living between cities and without a single large studio to work in.

Pens

The most important thing for me is pigment ink; the work has to be light-fast. Also, I prefer pens that are waterproof as it reduces the chance of smudging, especially on a hot day!

#1 Sakura Pigma Micron Fineliners

My go-to pens for many years now have been Sakura Pigma Micron Fineliners. I have a standard 6 pack in every drawing bag and case I have, but you can see the full range here.

Some years ago I conducted a fairly rigorous review for Jackson’s Art Blog and it still stands – they are the most reliable, least bleedy and blackest ink option for me.

#2 Derwent Graphik Linemaker

I used them through Inktober 2020 and I still use Derwent Graphik Linemakers for my project @NeverTooManyChickens. I can’t remember why I didn’t use the Microns – it might have been that I didn’t have any to hand, or someone had given me these to try, but now it’s a habit I can’t break.

Part of me wonders if they feel slightly more robust when drawing on watercolour paper – that’s the only thing I can think of.

#3 Unipin

Unipins were the first drawing pen I ever used, and so they have a special place in my heart. I also still believe that their 0.05 is the finest out there without investing in the inky mess of Rotring Rapidograph.

#4 Molotow Blackliner

A late addition to my suite of pens is the Molotow Blackliner – but oh my these are delicious. I think I was gifted some to try and fell in love. They are really dark black and flow really well. I used them for my entire book The Wizards of Cattywumpus because they were just a joy to use. A little harder to control the ink flow, so I still stick with my Microns for day to day use, but I adore these.

Paper

Ok, so paper is tricky because.. “it depends”.

In general, these days I use sketchbooks not sheets or pads. But there are some exceptions:

  • Commissions – need to be on a single sheet so that I can work for a long time on a flat surface, and then send the single item out to someone
  • Books – I tend to do the artwork on sheets of marker paper because I know they will be scanned and turned into digital work – never sold as originals and therefore don’t have to be high quality rag paper
  • @NeverTooManyChickens – all on hot press watercolour paper, because well.. I’m then painting them with gouache

But for day-to-day use I tend to use sketchbooks because these days, the paper quality is excellent and I if I can manage to carry the same sketchbook around for a period of time, I tend not to lose them all!

Features of a sketchbook

I’ve been using them for a few years now, so I’ve ended up with a clear set of preferences:

1. Paper has to be thick

Generally, I need paper to be of a reasonably heavy weight. This is because I don’t want my beautiful dark pigment ink to soak straight through, and because I may get asked to sell a drawing and so I need it to be of a high quality outside of the sketchbook.

2. Paper has to be smoooth

I don’t know where this comes from, but I’m generally not a fan of bumpy paper. It makes the lines wiggly and generally life a lot harder than I want it to be!

3. Covers have to be hard

I used to use all sorts of sketchbooks, but with extensive travelling, I now prefer sketchbooks with a hard cover and a band around them, so that I can chuck them in a bag or case without too much worry that they’ll get squished

4. Paper usually has to be white

I prefer very white paper. Partly because I just prefer pure black on pure white, and partly because it’s so much easier to take photos for Instagram!

My go-to sketchbooks

So, the sketchbooks that meet the above criteria, that I use all the time are:

Stillman & Birn ZetaI mean the whole series is to die for, but they hard hard cover and spirals which makes life super-easy. And the paper is the smoothest and whitest I’ve found. Heaven.

Daler Rowney EbonyThese are another nice, sturdy, smooth, white option. Not as beautiful-feeling as the Zeta (to me) but definitely in my stack and used on a regular basis.

Moleskine hard covers – I used to use these all the time, but the paper is a little lightweight and usually a little cream/yellow unless you buy the watercolour/drawing paper versions. These will still do for me in a pinch, especially working with Microns because the bleed through isn’t too bad. It’s good that I can grab these at an airport for example, if I have failed to plan ahead properly!

Royal TalensThis is what I’m using the most at the moment. These were given to me and I was hesitant at first – because I didn’t choose them(!) and because the paper is not quite white – it’s a little off-white or almost cream. Also not as smooth as the Zeta. But for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on, I’m really enjoying them.

I think perhaps because the paper has a really nice weight to it, and the cover feels high quality and extends nicely beyond the end of the paper. Also, despite being a white cover, I have thrown them in and out of bags with no damage or marks either to the cover or the pages inside.

What else? (a cheat)

One more question I get is “how do you draw such straight lines?”

There are two answers to that:

a) Practice

b) Cheat

In most of my sketchbooks, I keep pre-cut pieces of paper, or even post it notes!

Top tip: when using guides that you inevitably store in the back of your sketchbook, a thicker sketchbook paper like Talens, rather than that of a Moleskine prevents any impact through the paper you’re drawing on. Most of the time I don’t use guides, but when I’m doing something like Inktober and I want all of the cartoon panels to be consistent – that’s what I use.


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Come the revolution

UPDATE: SOLD.

Many years ago, having first been introduced to several artists who had their own studio, I realised that they are a special breed of person.

Most artist studios are not particularly luxurious. They are often in old warehouses or old buildings that have been repurposed on a shoestring budget, which helps keep rents down. This means that most artists find ways of maintaining their environment as best they can; leaky ceilings are patched with bubble wrap, gaps and draughts are stopped up with whatever they have lying around.

Years later, with my own art practice, I have learned the ways of adapting and making do within a budget. I have a nice studio that I have to travel to get to, and a place where I live in order to do the day job.

This means that my home has a small studio crammed into a corner of the bedroom, because I couldn’t work and not work.

I have a studio I can live in – just about – and a rented flat I can make art in – just about.

With the arrival of the coronavirus, I see a future where everyone has to adapt their living environment to be a live-work space. Often while sharing with other people who also work.

I believe that the things I have learned to do to enable an art practice at home will become the reality for many people in future.

Renting or housing

How can I find a flat that will have enough bedrooms and enough working space. Can I fit a studio in the corner of a bedroom? or can I turn the kitchen from living space to working space and back again? And what effect will this have on the rest of my household?

Furniture

What furniture will I need to enable a live-work space? Does what I need even exist?

Even IKEA doesn’t always have ready-made options. I’ve spent plenty of time sawing and connecting different bits of IKEA “solutions” to make storage or studio space that I need.

Broadband

Where am I spending most of my time?, how much bandwidth do I need for video chat? How can I have it wherever I end up going?

I’ve given up on broadband at home. It’s usually crap (unless you pay a lot), it breaks constantly and you can’t rely on engineers to turn up when they say they will (I’m looking at you, Talktalk) and with multiple studio spaces, an office, a commute and an unknown future around all of these, where do you need it to be?

I’ve finally gone with unlimited data on a cellphone. This means I can tether wherever I am in my space or in the country. I’m housebound for now, but who knows where I’ll end up having to be or if wifi will even be a thing?

From the ashes

It’s clear that the future is uncertain but definitely different to what I’ve known up until now. Once coronavirus is gone there will something else, or the threat of something else and the world will have to adapt to a new reality, with different versions of “daily life”.

I truly believe that from under the rubble and out of the ashes, those who have already adapted their lives to their own way of living will be the ones who cope first, and best with the changes to come.

Come the revolution, a drawing

This drawing is about everything I’ve written above. It’s about sharing a space but being apart; finding room to do what you want to do and planning your environment to enable that. It’s also about different types of needs and how they are fulfilled alone and together in mutual support. It’s also about chickens, of course.

Inktober 2019

In October 2019 I took part in the instagram drawing challenge of Inktober. I’ve done it a couple of times before, but generally found that I don’t have enough time to dedicate to coming up with really good responses to the prompts.

This year, I committed a lot of upfront time to researching the semantics of each word, and trying to come up with really creative solutions. As I was happy with the outcome, and received a lot of messages asking about my process, I decided to publish a book of the drawings, along with pages from my sketchbook and photos of my materials and the approach I took.

A limited edition of books is now available on my Etsy store.



Project Tortoise

For the last two months I’ve been working on a commission for a community kitchen in Margate.

The brief was to create something along the lines of the Nando’s “check in chicken” (nope, I’ve never been to a Nando’s, so I had to google it), but to base them on my character “Señor Tortuga”.

******

Week 1 – Design

The first task was to design the overall solution. I decided to go with a wooden spoon and base, given the theme and remit of The Kitchen.

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

Having ordered materials from that source of all random and unwitting art materials, Amazon, I had to go about the task of drawing an initial paper prototype.

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

And check that it would fit inside the head of the spoon..

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

Then before I was able to draw any tortoise outline or add any colour, I had to turn the wood into a canvas – by using gesso to prime the surface.

Week 2,3….. – Priming

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

In total, priming took about 2 weeks as it required up to 4 layers, both sides, plus drying time across 12 “spoons”.

Week 4 – Outlines

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

The initial outline for each tortoise, on each side, was done in ink from the beginning – no stencil, no pencil – straight on in ink, copying visually from my initial sketch by hand.

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

At the same time as drawing 24 sides of outlines, I took one tortoise through to colour, to ensure that the outline would hold enough colour contrasts and combinations.

Week 5,6 – Colours

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

After establishing that the green colour combinations were successful, I then started the prototype for other colour combos, so I would end up with the following combos:

  1. Green/Green/Yellow (x3)

2. Red/Orange/Yellow (x3)

3. Blue/Blue/Yellow-green (x3)

4. Gold/Brown/Red (x3)

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

As you can see here, I also had to paint multiple layers of colour on each tortoise, (12×2 sides, 4 different designs). even with the layers of gesso as primer, colours quickly absorbed and needed to be covered over at least 3 times each.

After which, the original black line had been obscured, and so had to be inked over again. (12×2).

Week 7 – Finishing painting

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

At the end of week 7, several final layers of paint and final black outlines went on.

Week 8 – Drilling, sanding, gluing and lots and lots of varnish

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

It took a few goes to find a drill bit big enough for this. In the end,  had to use 4 different drills sizes and work my way up. And yes, a router would have been easier if I’d had one 🙂

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

And they all needed to be sanded back afterwards, as the giant drill had basically torn the holes out..

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

Before gluing, I had to use this little fella to ensure that any remaining gesso was removed from the edges of the artwork.

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

And then gluing.. using titebond, non-toxic wood glue. Making sure that I left them for 24 hours to ensure no accidentally un-sticking occurred once I moved them for varnish.

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

Finally, I climbed out on to the roof (sorry neighbours) and applied multiple coats of Golden artists varnish. Initially, gloss varnish to seal the artwork, then a matt varnish to achieve the overall effect I was looking for.

Here you see my impromptu spray hood, with the aim partially of helping the varnish land, but more importantly, keep bits of Margate roof dirt (or seagull contributions) off the drying varnish.

Week 9 – Done & delivered.

Finally these chaps were delivered over to The Kitchen. Mission accomplished.

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

hinstow senor tortuga kitchenct9

Enamel pins – Tortoise

I’m very excited to have one of my characters translated into another enamel pin, which is now available on etsy.

This character is called “Señor Tortuga” and appears with moderate frequency in my Instagram cartoon doodles.

Here are some process pics.

If you want to grab one of these, or any of my other work, just head to Etsy.

Converse – Drawing on sneakers

I have recently been experimenting with drawing on trainers, specifically; white Converse (or cheaper alternatives!). Although most of my work is ink on paper, I also enjoy branching out and seeing what materials allow me to draw on other surfaces such as walls, plasticwindows or even eggshells.

Initially, I tried both Sharpies and fine line permanent markers on old converse (grey) and cheap white canvas sneakers.

As you can see, although not dreadful, there is some bleeding into the material. The permanent markers gave me far more control than sharpies, so those were definitely the right pen – but how would I get the line to be crisper and cleaner and more like my work on paper? Especially as I wanted to move on from cheap canvas shoes to real Converse – and you don’t want to mess those up at £40+ per pair.

So, as with all things art supplies, I asked my friends at Jacksons Art what they’d suggest to help prime this kind of canvas so that I could create a cleaner line effect.

The recommendation from Jacksons was to experiment. Helpfully, they suggested 4 different types of primer that might work. And so the experiment began.

***

The following is an arts materials review. No doubt, I am not using the materials for their intended purpose and therefore apologise to the manufacturers if I am in any way criticising their products  – I’m just trying to find a hack that works for this purpose.

***

Types of primer:

  1. Golden Matte Medium
  2. Golden Fluid Matte Medium
  3. Liquitex clear gesso
  4. Winsor & Newton clear gesso

Next, I took a Converse sneaker (this was actually my own pair of size 8s that I was testing..!) and marked out 4 squares for the test.

I then applied each medium/gesso to the patch of canvas directly above, let it dry, assessed the effect, then drew on top to see how the permanent marker interacted with the gesso.

Findings – impact of gesso on canvas

What I was looking for was a light gesso, that wouldn’t make the canvas too stiff, wouldn’t remove the texture of the material, and wouldn’t darken or dirty that brilliant white.

  1. Golden Matte Medium

This one had the biggest impact on the material in that it darkened it considerably, even when dry. This picture is of the heel of the shoe which I thought might have contributed, but I did another test near the toe and it did the same thing.

2. Golden Fluid Matte Medium &  3. Liquitex clear gesso

These two were probably best in terms of impact/effect on the canvas – they neither left dark stains, nor were so thick that they obscured the texture of the canvas.

4. Winsor & Newton Clear Gesso

This one came out the thickest, obscuring the most of the canvas texture. Unlike the Golden Matte Medium, it didnt darken the material and kept it nice and white, but it almost looked like a thickly primed painting canvas.

Findings – drawing on gesso

For the next stage, once the gesso was dry I use the permanent marker to create some sample drawings.

Note: if you see someone with partially drawn on white converse, that will be me..

  1. Golden Matte Medium

This didn’t work for me. It felt like I was drawing on hard lumpy plastic or hardened glue. You can probably see from the way the roof of the turret is bumpy where I lost control of my pen on the uneven surface. Control is absolutely paramount to me so this, combined with the darkening effect puts this gesso in last place for me in this test.

2. Golden Fluid Matte Medium

This one was much easier to draw on than the Golden Matte (non-Fluid), but still felt a little bit scratchy compared to the next.

3. Liquitex Clear Gesso

The thing I liked about this one, was the ease of drawing (i.e. smoothness), compared to the level of detail I could achieve.

4. Winsor & Newton Clear Gesso

Remember, this is the one that went on thickest and removed the texture of the canvas. It was relatively easy to draw on (because it had smoothed out the texture underneath) and the black seemed to look blacker as a result. However, for some reason it seemed that I couldn’t get the same level of detail as the Golden Fluid Matte Medium and the Liquitex Clear. Take a look at the hat in the drawing, and the way the lines are almost blurring together.

Conclusion

I’m keeping the Golden Fluid Matte Medium and the Liquitex Clear, and would definitely buy both in future for this purpose, depending on what I could get my hands on. However, I’m starting with the Liquitex on all my current projects and commissions.

Now check out the difference between primed and unprimed – the expensive blimmin failure that was this pair of baby/kids Converse!!

Here are links to the products used in this test and in these sneakers (coming soon to my Etsy store).

Note: Jacksons don’t currently stock the permanent markers, so I had to spend a ton on Amazon. Tweet them and they tend to supply once you demand. 🙂

Update Nov 2021 – Jacksons do now stock Staedtler Lumocolor markers!

Golden Matte Medium

Golden Fluid Matte Medium

Liquitex clear gesso

Winsor & Newton clear gesso