BURNS Isabelle (@isabelleburns.art)

Hi, I’m Isabelle, here you will be able to follow my progress throughout this year-long course. You will see from my work that I’m heavily influenced by nature, particularly small plants and animals, and fantasy themes.

This year, I will be focusing on creating a children’s book, following the story of a witch character I designed during my studies in the Diploma of Illustration. Watercolour will be the main medium used in, what I intend to be, a series of mixed media pieces.


If you’re interested in seeing more of my work, you can find me here:

@isabelleburns.art on Facebook & Instagram


Dec & Jan | Chapter 1

My aim for the year is to complete my personal project, a children’s book, so that it is ready for publication by or before the end of the course.

So, before class starts, I’ve been working on character designs and story ideas. I’ve decided to turn my book idea into a series, as I’ve come up with too many plot and character ideas for one.

As the main character is a witch, I’ve been researching how witches are portrayed in films, specifically witch archetypes and how their designs reflect such. I have also been looking at artists’ styles that inspire me, from which I’ve been able to pinpoint what appeals to me: soft or vibrant colour palettes, delicate rendering, outlines in either bold or sketchy line work. Most important, is lots and lots of detail.

Some examples of this:

Rather than continue referring to the main character of my project as the ‘little witch’ or ‘main witch’, I dedicated quite some time to naming her…


A full page of brainstorming later, to settle on Nina-Nado.

Nina from ‘La Niña’, a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon, and Nado, from tornado. Her nickname will be Nina.

February | So, it Begins

Having started the course on the 14th, we were each assigned our studio spaces. I’m happy to have my space with clear access to natural light. Madison and I went halves for a set of drawers from ebay, so we could safely store art materials and such.


I have also been busy working on setting up my studio space at home, a caravan I’ve converted. I started with sanding and painting the interior, with the help of some of my friends. Then moved in some furniture from opshops, and ebay. We also removed the bed frame and shelves inside, and the panels over the windows.

I’ve been working on watercolour tests, painting some character designs. Below is a snapdragon dragon, goldfish, and bee carrying a basket of honey.


On the 23rd, we went to David Hockney’s exhibition at the NGV. While his landscapes are more successful from a distance, the still lifes and other small works appear more rushed and rudimentary. The landscape displayed across multiple panels is like that of joiners in photography.


March | Excursions Galore

In Drawing we’ve been doing life drawing.


30 Days of Drawing Challenge:

Certainly, not an assignment called ‘challenge’ for no reason. I decided to focus on painting and drawing things to help with the progress of my personal project, focusing on character designs along with painting things that inspire me as reference, such as colour studies.

My art teacher, Jennifer Whitten, had her exhibition at the Abbotsford Convent, titled ‘Parallax’. I went to the opening night, and again with the class on an excursion. Whitten paints ‘reverse paintings’, in which she paints with oil on glass, focusing on the opposite side on which she places the paint, creating her hyper-realistic artworks. This leaves the side that holds the paint with a blotchy rendition of her subject matter, female figures representing the four seasons.

On the 30th, we went to Bill Henson & the Festival of Photography. I sketched one of Henson’s photographs, focusing on the perspective captured, although the dim lighting made it quite difficult to see the page. The lighting in the photographs was also dark, this allowed the figures to give the illusion of being made of marble.


April | Identity

For the Brand Identity assignment, I’ve been brainstorming my logo along with a new business card design. I ended up sketching my cat in an oversized crown while experimenting with different text layouts. In my art, I tend to focus on flora and fauna as a theme, usually small, so I considered featuring a bee or my goldfish character in my logo too.

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I recently bought a finetec watercolour pan in moon gold, which I tested by painting my cat with the crown. As I have seen business cards with gold foil, I thought I could take advantage of this in setting my brand apart. It also reflects on old fashioned books.

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My cousin is getting married later this year under a big oak tree near the Abbotsford Convent. She has asked me to design and illustrate their wedding invitation, so as I attend art class at the convent I went to photograph the tree after class, then I sketched it with different ribbons for them to choose from. They ended up settling on having their initials engraved in the trunk of the tree inside a heart pierced by an arrow.

May | Assessments & Finals

For the homage project, I decided to imitate Arthur Rackham’s style. Initially, I was going to illustrate Snow White, as the trees in Disney’s film were inspired by Rackham’s. However, as most of Rackham’s work focuses on fairy tales, I decided to illustrate something he wouldn’t have. Therefore, I picked the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park.

I worked in graphite with ink in a limited colour palette, of phthalo green and burnt sienna, over the top.


On the 12th, I did a watercolour demonstration for Seth, as he asked to see how I paint fur I picked a photo of a hamster from Madison’s inspiration wall to paint. It ended up taking longer than I expected, and there were a couple times when I struggled to explain my process, but it was good practise as I’ll be starting tutoring soon.


There’s an antique book store near my house, where mum found an old copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. While it is missing some pages, it is easily one of my most precious possessions.

For the Penguin Cover assignment, I picked Watership Down by Richard Adams. Rather than illustrate rabbits in or around their warren, I decided to illustrate a dead rabbit, or rather, the absence of one. I drew foliage around a silhouette of a rabbit, which was described as looking like nature’s chalk outline.


On the 25th we went to Van Gogh and the Seasons. I particularly liked a couple of his paintings that were mostly dark and earthy besides one vibrant light strip of colour along the horizon.


On the 30th, I presented my Business Kit. It was a bit of a disaster, although not just because I’m terrible at public speaking, my PowerPoint was corrupted, luckily it worked fine when I played it through gmail. Regardless, I presented my logo design, along with a sketch I did during the 30 days project, that I’m considering using as my new business card design.

June | The Halfway Mark

Tasks 3 and 4 were due. Along with my visual diaries, I submitted a character sheet of my character, Nina.

On the 5th, I started tutoring a boy in grade 6. It took a while to get him to tell me what he wants to draw, but we’re going to start with human anatomy as he wants to draw knights fighting monsters. His dad also said his friend’s daughter is interested in having lessons with me, so I’ll probably start tutoring her over the holidays too.

For the Self-Directed Drawing Project I decided to illustrate three houses, one each for the three main characters of my story. Nina-Nado, the main character, a music witch, and a plant witch. I completed Nina’s house in graphite and watercolour, and left the other two as graphite drawings to suit the outlines of drawing class.

I’m looking forward to the holidays and have started planning what I’ll get done for my personal project. The priority being: getting my final draft done so I can get to work on page thumbnails and, from there, the final illustrations.

Summary of Semester 1

Semester one was more classwork orientated than I expected. By the halfway mark, I originally planned to have started on my book illustrations by now, but I ended up having to put more time into assignments for class. This was especially frustrating when it took up studio access time, which should have been time I had dedicated to my personal project.

However, I did try to make the most of any assignments we got, as I wasn’t wanting to rush them just to get them out of the way, if I was going to spend time and materials on these drawings I wanted it to be something of value.

The 30 days project was a challenge especially. While it was good to have it at the start of the year, especially if people hadn’t completely ironed out their personal projects by then, however, I was eager to start on my book and found it taking up my entire first month. The same results could have been achieved if it was a 14 day challenge, if not a 7 day challenge, as then there is more room to narrow down a specific theme and we would have had less pressure.

I have to travel quite a long way, I ended up being very late to my studio access classes in particular. Some days I would just stay home to work on watercolours or other traditional works as it’s difficult to transport A3 paper on public transport without it getting damaged, let alone with all the watercolours, inks, brushes, palettes, etc. I also find I just end up being more productive at home, especially now that I’ve got my own studio space set up in the backyard. Mostly, when I have due dates coming up, I worry about the time I waste on public transport being unable to work on projects, where if I had worked from home, I could spend those hours being productive.

I’m planning on taking advantage of the holidays and catch up on where I originally planned to be in my personal project, along with working out a schedule for next semester.

Overall, I really enjoyed the first semester, I’m just finding assignments are taking up most of my time, with travelling taking up the rest. However, of the assignments we have had, I enjoyed coming up with my concepts and working on the finals.


July | Hectic Holidays & Start of Term

Over the holidays, I worked on the wedding invitation for my cousin. They wanted a watercolour painting of the tree they’re going to get married under in November, along with their initials carved into the trunk. They also asked if I could handwrite the text which I was nervous about as I’m not overly confident in my handwriting but they said it was exactly what they wanted.

I had them over to watch me arrange everything in Photoshop, so if they wanted anything moved they could tell me as I was doing it and thereby avoid a week of emailing back and forth. After I sent the final invite to them ready to be printed, there was some confusion over the commission money paid, they ended up paying me double what I asked and refused a refund saying they appreciated all the work I out in. So, I now have a favourite cousin.


Fact or Fiction:

In the second week of the holidays, I began work on my Fact or Fiction entry. I decided to focus on J.K. Rowling for my entry, as her wizarding world has been a huge source of inspiration and comfort in my life, amongst hundreds and thousands of others who have read and cherished her fantasy series, Harry Potter.

Looking back to when Rowling first started writing The Philosopher’s Stone, I wanted to illustrate her in The Elephant House cafe, which was one of two cafes where she spent most of her time writing.

Within the first couple pages of the novel, there are snippets of news reporters marvelling at a number of strange events that had been occurring that day, one of which was that ‘hundreds [of owls had been seen] flying in every direction since sunrise.’ The reader later learns that the owls were all delivering the news of You-Know-Who’s demise and of the boy who lived. In the portrait, I wanted to include this scene outside the cafe window to represent, not only the start of the series and Harry’s life, but also how wide-spread and successful her story became.

I worked with graphite and watercolours.

The Mid-Way Show:

After coming back to class after a very busy break, our first job was to set up the Mid-Way Show in about a week, which was a rather daunting task.

Benji made a post in the group FB page prompting everyone to brainstorm a theme for the two exhibitions. He suggested moon phases, while Madison suggested a cocoon with an unexpected animal emerging from it. I suggested combing the two ideas, as moons reminded me of turtles hatching and using the light to find their way to the ocean.

A theme didn’t end up being selected, which was probably for the best as using Anna’s artwork for the poster is much better than anything that would have been created in a rush.

Madison set up the Facebook page and event (pictured below), which I checked for grammar and spelling errors, and then sent an email to the institute’s marketing team, asking them to advertise the Mad-Way Show on Melbourne Polytechnic’s social media.


Then once the posters had been printed, Madison and I went down to the marketing team to give them the information in person, and then went around the campus replacing Fact or Fiction posters with the Mid-Way show ones.

I decided to only exhibit one piece in the show, I didn’t have enough time to find frames for my other work and of the frames I have already only one suited my work.

The piece is a watercolour painting of my main character’s house. Pictured below are a photo of my work setup, with the mentioned piece on the drawing board, and a photograph of myself and some classmates near where mine and Madison’s work was displayed.

While I was pleasantly surprised with how things ran relatively smoothly, especially considering we only had a week, overall the exhibition was just a learning experience.

The area where my work was displayed didn’t have the best lighting and I’m worried that there won’t be a way around that when it comes to the end of year exhibition. Also, while everyone had enough wall space for their work, I think space will be an issue in FLUX, especially as I know a number of classmates who want to print out a2 sized works for display where before they had a3 at most. I can at least see where Madison and I are allocated will be a problem, as I only had the one piece while Madison hadn’t framed her pieces, so we didn’t need much space, but when we have multiple framed artworks we’ll need to have more room to spread out or else risk a cluttered exhibition.

Group Exhibition Visit:

On the 29th I went to the opening night of beinArt’s group exhibition, Small Works 2017. As I had been to beinArt’s previous group exhibition, Creature: A Group Art Exhibition, I was looking forward to seeing another. Especially as Shaun Tan was one of the artists participating in it.

While the artwork, and even framing where applicable, was varied, there was a consistent size of the artworks and the quality in all the pieces on display was very high. This, along with the theme, allowed the exhibition to flow and work well overall.


Some of the artists have inspired me to try out some new mixed media ideas. Such as Lucy Hardie (left) with her oil on copper, and Tran Nguyen (right) with their acrylic, coloured pencil, and pressed flowers.


August | Too Many Things

Fact or Fiction Opening:

The opening of Fact or Fiction was held at the Prahran campus on the 3rd. I had submitted my portrait of JK Rowling, which I’m happy to say won second place. While I missed the opening by half an hour because of trouble with public transport, my mum and Oma were there so they received my prize and took photos on my behalf.

Ugly Pretty:

One of our Theory assignments this term was on typology, with the theme ‘Ugly Pretty’. The first thing I thought of when typology was brought up were collections of insects. Rather than simply illustrate them as they are, I thought of drawing insects in period dresses, mostly because I wanted to play around with costume designs. To simplify it, Greg suggested Tudor paintings. I picked out nine portraits and arranged them together, supposedly in chronological order of when they were painted, although most sources estimated the dates. Then I took aspects of the figures’ lives and picked insects that suit them. For example: King Henry VIII, who famously married six times, two of the marriages ending in his wives’ beheading. With Anne Boleyn being one of those wives, I replaced her head with a butterfly’s, while the three portraits of Henry are of three different insects that eat butterflies.

I tore up some arches watercolour cutoffs so I could do oil painting at about 6x9cm.


I think the moth, crab spider, and ladybug are my favourites.


Madison and I went to Self-Made: Zines and Artist Books at the State Library. While I haven’t had much experience with zines myself, I have played around with the idea of making an accordion book in the past, I think it’s a unique way to present a story. I especially liked some of the miniature zines which has inspired me to look into making one of my Tudor Creepy Crawly Portraits.


The space itself was fairly small, just the one room, but the high ceiling and light walls and lighting meant it was still very spacious and being there when it wasn’t busy really helped.


On the 11th I found out the theme of this year’s ArtzBlitz, a 24-hour Visual Art and Creative Writing Competition, which was ‘Adventure’. I decided to create a piece in fineliner and ballpoint on a round plywood board, as I created something in the same mediums two years ago which won me second place. Unfortunately, this year I wasn’t lucky enough to win, nevertheless I was pretty happy with what I created in such a short amount of time and was happy with my interpretation of the theme.

I decided to focus on the quote from Peter Pan, ‘to die would be an awfully big adventure’, and have an empty bed next to an open window with the curtains blowing in. This way it can either represent some sort of illness coming in (I think the author’s brother died that way, hence Peter Pan flying in through the window) and having taken the life of who had slept there, or a more positive interpretation is that someone had left through the window to go on an adventure and the room represents what has been left behind.



Artist Market meets Club?

On the 24th, I went to RAW in support of a friend of a friend who is also an upcoming artist. I had been approached by the organisation a number of times through my Instagram account, I replied each time that I didn’t feel like I had enough work to sell and I was often too busy with other projects at the time.

However, it was good to go and see what it was like before agreeing to showcase with them, as it didn’t end up being something I’d be interested in after all.

The idea is that you get a table in their exhibition but you have to sell 20 tickets for $20 each, if you don’t sell all of them you would have to pay the difference yourself. If you’re confident 20 people like you enough to buy a ticket, then it’s a great deal as they don’t take a percentage of whatever you sell on the night.

The event wasn’t focused specifically on visual artists, they showcase film, fashion, design, music, performance art, hair and make-up, and photography. When Madison and I got there, we were both taken aback by the atmosphere. It was as if someone had taken an artist market and put it in the middle of a club, the lighting was very dark and it was really difficult to hear what anyone next to you was saying due to there being loud music from the live performance on one side and a fashion show on the one across the room. Soon after Madison left one of my other friends who was there had to take me over to the entrance as he saw I was starting to panic and I ended up having to leave early due to a panic attack.



Slow Progress:

Now that we haven’t got any creative assignments, I can get back to focusing on my personal project. Here I’ve sketched out a reference for the music witch, Musette’s, face, which I’ll simplify more in my watercolour painting. On the right is her house design.


September | Term Wrap Up

Happy Father’s Day:



I made Dad a card featuring one of my favourite picture books, I used to pester him to read me when I was little, and our dog, Scarlet (aka his favourite child). I used fineliner and watercolour.

More Progress:

Started to watercolour the house


Hokusai Exhibition:

Oh the 7th, with Theory, we went to the NGV with Greg to see the Hokusai exhibition. It was fascinating seeing his works up close, computer screens certainly don’t do justice to the detail involved, and it was interesting to see what the colours used are like in person.

The floral pieces, and the books, appealed to me especially.

In this exhibition, everything was framed with the same plain dark wood frames. This, along with keeping a consistent theme throughout the exhibition, allowed the signature dark lines of his work to stand out.

As shown below, the artworks were displayed on either dark or a pale brown wall. This, along with the muted lighting, helped some of the muted works stand out especially, while it was ultimately to help prevent the works from fading.

One problem with the exhibition, besides the crowd that couldn’t be helped, was the layout. As you walk down the centre there would be narrow rooms looping back on either side which made it a little confusing for which was to go and also if you’d been in certain rooms or not yet.


October | Fundraising & More

Over the holidays, I fully completed writing my story which had been stuck as a near-complete draft for half the year. A big help in finishing was some advice Anna Jenkins gave me helped me trim back some unnecessary parts and alter some others to make them more entertaining. So I was also able to finalise my thumbnails with a clearer idea of what was happening on each page.

I also got cracking on my title font designs. From looking at other titles, like Coraline, I worked out that I like a simpler design as this will appeal to a wider audience. I also don’t want imagery such as leaves or Nina’s hat as this would appeal more to a younger audience.

With the sub-heading, Hullabaloo, I want the word to be loud and quirky to hint at the final reveal, but I also don’t want it to take away from the main title.

I had to get back to work on my illustrations, but it’s helpful having these ideas drawn out so when I come back to them I’ll still have a clear idea of what I do and do not want.

For FLUX, my main role was to run the Instagram account, so a week before we returned to class, I posted about the event.


While on the day of the fundraiser, I helped Anna and Sophie put the raffle baskets together, and manned the bake sale.

For the rest of the term, I continued posting to Instagram. Mostly focusing on individual artists in my posts, but also other art-related projects they were working on, and the FLUX invite and poster.

For the majority of the semester, only Sophie and Marc were consistent in sending Madison and I photos for the social media accounts. So we could usually only make one post per week, or else risk using up what photos we did have and not having anything to post for one or two weeks.

In the lead up to the exhibition, I went through my storyboard and picked out some pages that I felt would show enough of my story to create interest, but not too much that it spoiled the ending. Then I got busy drawing out the line work on illustration boards.


November | The End is Nigh

For the opening night, I wanted to have a new business card design ready, as the ones I made last year were very rushed and, even at the time, don’t reflect my art very well.

With the idea of using the same font in on my website, I wanted to create my own so as to avoid the risk of copyright problems as the font I wanted to use was only available for personal use.

I had also looked into getting gold foil business cards printed, however it was going to be $110 for 100 cards, which is more than I was happy to spend. My art teacher, Jen, suggested I make a stamp of my logo as it would also give an extra personal and handmade touch to my cards, which would make them even more unique. After struggling to find the supplies I needed to make the stamp, I came across ‘addprintrubberstamps’ so I made an order through them, and after finding a gold ink pad at Spotlight that I thought would be too yellow and glittery, I found a youtube video comparing different ink pads from different brands, the one I wanted was only available in Queensland, but luckily the shipping wasn’t too high.


Then after looking around at different prices, I found ‘vistaprint’ was the cheapest option, while still using a high quality paper. Unfortunately, the image on the back of the card (a sketch) came out far too light, to the point where if you didn’t know to look for it you would think it was blank. After contacting them and explaining they were needed for my exhibition, they edited and reprinted the cards and sent them with express postage so that they would arrive the day before the opening night.


Again, the second print was barely and darker than the first. So I contacted them AGAIN about the problem, they said they would print the cards again and send me the pdf file to confirm the design.

In the meantime, I had to make do with what I had, so I stamped the second, very slightly, darker print.

Everyone I gave a card too was surprised I had stamped them as they had assumed I’d gotten the gold foil cards done. They also didn’t notice the sketch until I told them, but the front is the most important part anyway, so at least that turned out well, and I was happy with my font design too.

Then, (surprise, surprise) the day after the opening night, the third batch of business cards arrived and they were perfect. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for the second and third prints, but it was very frustrating considering I also ordered a custom stamp that I expected to have the most trouble with but it was completely fine.

The business card trouble on top of my general stress over trying to finish painting in time certainly didn’t help. However, I managed to get everything done. Mostly I was relieved I didn’t get another migraine or that my arm didn’t cramp up from painting non-stop from 8am Monday until 3pm Tuesday, before taking my work to the gallery space to hang. Luckily dad drove me and the frames in (because they were far too heavy to carry on public transport for that long, let alone just walking to the station) so he stayed behind to help me hang the works, which was also lucky because I was feeling very feint and probably would have either dropped something or fallen off the ladder.

Then Wednesday morning, I started making the figure of my main character out of super sculpey. I did a rush job of sewing her clothes, with the help of mum for some hemming while I carried on with shading the face with pastels.

On the day of the opening, I was aiming to get there at 4pm to finish hanging the 3 small frames and put the figure in the glass case. However, dad ended up finishing his job late so we had to wait another hour and a half before we could leave. Luckily, someone finished hanging my works so all I had to do when I arrived was quickly place the model in the case and package my prints.

Overall, it was far more stressful and last minute than it should have been. While I don’t think I could have finished my work any sooner than I did, it has highlighted how important it is that I get my Ps and my own car sooner rather than later.

The opening went really well, and it was great to hear such positive feedback from people, especially those who I didn’t really know but who remembered and adore my character from the designs I exhibited in illustre.


Summary of Semester 2

Semester two, while having less assignments thanks to not having Drawing class anymore, was still very hectic. It was the stress over FLUX coming closer and closer, while having migraines more frequently which didn’t help. However, as far as my personal project is concerned, I was very happy to have finalised the story and thumbnails finally, so that I could seriously start working on the final page illustrations, as I had already finalised character designs and fleshed out their personalities and quirks.

Some areas of improvement for next year are having Anna Jenkins come to mentor in Semester 1 and Semester 2. As an aspiring illustrator, I found her advice especially helpful, as when I asked her the same questions I posed to Warren, Anna went far more in depth and related my queries to problems she faced and resolved in her own work. Some of the advice she told me would have helped me a lot more in finalising my story if she had come in Term 2 as well, as that was when I’d finished my first draft.

Overall, I’m mostly just very tired.