I have very many lovely tasks in my working life. That’s mostly because I made up my own job and therefore gave myself lovely assignments. I’ve created a role that combines three of the things I’m most passionate about: drawing, the great outdoors, and lovely quality paper goods. I draw what I love and then turn that into a marketable product. This is great fun, always, but the process I look forward to the most every year is designing the calendar.
I think about the calendar all year. I’ve got a list in an app on my phone with ideas for the various months. I stop mid-dog-walk and make a little note about green acorns or birds’ nests or buzzing bees. I even started writing a monthly Wildlife Blog so I could record all my observations in one place. I’ve become obsessed with the changing of the seasons. The first snowdrops make me squeal in delight, I cry happy tears when the swallows come home, and I can’t help but stop to look up joyfully when the v-shaped trails of geese make their way across the sky in autumn. I find there to be something reassuring about the rhythm of nature. Sure enough, the seasons keep moving, despite whatever human drama. Winter will end (although started to doubt that this past year!). The promise of spring gives way to the arrogance of summer which has to give in to the decline into autumn. There’s nothing we can do to change that. **although we are managing to alter how and when it happens with our dratted global warming. Humans ruin everything.
I begin to assemble the calendar in the springtime. It has to be ready to go out to my stockists in June. Designing the calendar is a huge job. The first thing I have to do is decide on the images for each month. The work I do during the year tends to mean I’ve built up a resource of usable drawings. Inevitably, though, I will want to do extra ones to add a little something to some months. Once all the drawings are complete, scanned in and tidied up, I can start to assemble them. I do the designing in Photoshop. Unbelievably, when I first started doing an annual calendar (5 years ago!) I created it all in Word. I’m so happy I’ve finally learnt how to muddle my way through Photoshop. Photoshop allows me to play around with different little drawings until I get a layout that looks really pretty. I then write out all the little notes about what to look out for in nature that month. These are handwritten and then scanned, cut out and added to the image. I do this for each month until the year is complete.
The most daunting part of designing the calendar is getting the dates right. It’s my big fear that I’ll mess up November’s dates. I’ll wake up one morning to a slew of messages from customers telling me they’ve missed their son’s beauty pageant because I said Thursday was the 8th when it’s actually the 9th. I write the dates and days into my template by hand. And then I obsessively check them for about a week.
Once the whole thing is compiled and print-ready, it goes off to my suberb printing firm, Footeprint, and a proof comes back. I obsessively check this again. At this point we can see if the wire binding is going to cut off any writing. The first calendar I made – for 2014 – I printed myself, and for the first two years I punched two holes in the top corners and tied it together with hoops of twine. The calendar then hung from a little wooden skewer. This was very cute but impossibly time consuming (for my mum…) and unfortunately couldn’t continue. When you make paper goods that take quite a while to design, you have to sell a decent number in order to justify the time and be able to feed yourself. That meant that the adorable hand-tied calendars weren’t sustainable. It also gave me the idea of using the illustrations from each month as cards & postcards. I make packs of 12 Wild Months postcards – one for each month of the year. Recently when I was up at the West End Fair in Edinburgh with my stall, an older gentlemen bought a pack from me. He said he was going to send one postcard a month to his great grandson. I’m absolutely tickled pink that I get to be part of that interaction.
One of the things that has been mentioned over the years is that there’s not enough space for whole families to record their goings-on. So this year there’s a new calendar in town. It’s a Family Planner Calendar with columns for four family members. I love the idea that the whole family can get involved in the changes in the countryside as the year goes by. There’s even 12 wildlife stickers to help you record what you see.
Every year I’m amazed that people would like to buy my calendar. I love the idea that something I created is up in kitchens, recording special days and the humdrum of daily life. I’ve heard that some customers use it to record the firsts of the year – the first swallows, the first bluebells etc. I also know of a customer who uses hers to record everything that happens on her farm. So I’d like to say a huge thank you for buying the calendar. It’s a privilege to be part of your year!