Behind the Scenes
Flipping the Flautist June 2018
We are indebted to several fans for pointing out a terrible error in our English Garden: the flautist whose little statue decorates the pond has his flute the wrong way round! As a company we pride ourselves on getting things like that correct, so it was particularly galling that none of us not even the musicians amongst us had spotted the error.
Like most modern instruments, the modern concert flute is essentially right-handed. This wasn't always the case: when a flute was simply a pipe with holes to be covered by the fingers, you could play it either way round and indeed if you frequent the traditional music venues of Ireland you'll often see the Irish flute (which is based on a 19th century design) being played left-handed.
But over the years more complex keys and levers were introduced to the classical flute, culminating in 1847 with the Boehm system which is still in use today; and to accommodate these changes, at some point someone decided that henceforth, all flutes would poke out to the right of the player.
There is some sense in this discipline: imagine a cramped concert hall, or a marching band, perhaps, with flutes poking out in different directions! And to play the flute well, both hands need to be equally dextrous anyway.
So we're delighted (and not a little relieved) to announce that within the next few weeks there'll be an update coming to your English Garden which will flip our flautist around so he's playing correctly along with a host of other enhancements and additions. Keep an eye on our newsletters for more details.
Claude Debussy May 2018
Observant lovers of classical music may have noticed that in the last few months we've featured a lot of music by the French composer Claude Debussy. We've played both his delightful Arabesques for piano (the second features in a card due for release in a few weeks), three of the four movements of his Petite Suite, and a movement from Estampes.
Music lovers who are keen historians may also have spotted that this year is the centenary of Debussy's death in March 1918 at the relatively early age of 55, and may have concluded that we're consciously marking the occasion with our choice of music.
But in fact it was just coincidence, at least to begin with. Pagodes and the first Arabesque simply seemed like a perfect match for our Chinese New Year and Valentine releases respectively, and then one idea led to another in the same vein and we kept finding perfect matches. The centenary just gave us a brilliant excuse for sticking to the theme!
The Petite Suite in particular is a delightful collection. Debussy originally wrote it for piano duet, but when its popularity led to demands for an orchestral version, he was too busy to undertake this himself and asked his friend Henri Büsser instead. Büsser's orchestration is masterly and is the version you will hear in any recording or concert programme. But unlike poor Debussy, Büsser lived to the ripe old age of 101, as a result of which his work is still in copyright in some countries. So the orchestration you hear on our e-cards is our own.
Rodmarton Manor April 2018
From time to time we like to gather the JL team together somewhere interesting to thrash out new ideas and seek inspiration. A few months ago, on a cold January day, we met for an afternoon at Rodmarton Manor (opens a new window), the beautiful Cotswold home of the Biddulph family.
The house was built, and all its furniture made, in the early decades of the 20th century, according to the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, which valued well-designed, locally-sourced, hand-made products in a reaction against poor quality industrialised manufacturing of the late Victorian period. No doubt to the amazement of their social peers, the Biddulphs lived modestly in one wing of the house, and opened the grand reception rooms to the public for community teaching, craft work, and artistic events including puppet shows for the children of the village.
During the Second World War, Rodmarton became home to children evacuated from a London school under Operation Pied Piper, the wartime program devised to protect children from aerial bombing of cities. Quite by coincidence, we discovered just before our visit that amongst the young girls sent there in 1939 was one Ann Forsyth, elder sister of our very own Jacquie Lawson. Her memories of the place include the freezing cold chapel, terrible food and masses of butterflies in the exquisite gardens.
Many thanks to John Biddulph, grandson of the original owners, for welcoming us to the house outside the normal season, and for his very interesting tour.
Garden Time March 2018
We've always been amazed and flattered when members tell us that they, or their children or grand-children, are still playing with our Advent Calendars well into the New Year and, presumably, subjecting their families to the accompanying Christmas music, long after everyone is heartily sick of all that Ding Dong Merrily!
So for a while now we've been wondering how we could recreate the magic of an Advent Calendar in a product for year-round use. And if you've been following our newsletters, you'll know that we've just released the new Jacquie Lawson English Garden (opens a new window) with that aim in mind.
Part of the fun of an Advent Calendar is the daily reveal of something new, so one question which exercised us for many hours was how to manage the garden's internal calendar. Should we unlock something new every day, starting from the date you first open the garden? Should we just let you access everything on Day 1? We wanted that element of excitement, with something new appearing each day, but we didn't want to force the user to a rigid timescale.
We ended up with a gradual reveal of activities, games and so on over twelve separate days but the internal calendar only advances on days that you actually visit the garden. So you can miss several days and when you come back, the calendar will only have advanced by one day.
Of course, you can carry on enjoying the fun sowing your seeds, planting and replanting your flowerbeds and borders, and playing the games and puzzles for as long as you like after those first twelve days are over. In that respect it's just like our Advent Calendars, and at least you won't have to listen to Christmas carols while you do it!
Looking Forward February 2018
Let's face it, for most of us February is a pretty dismal month. The Christmas and New Year parties and celebrations are just a memory; cold, damp weather seems to seep in through every keyhole; and Spring still seems a long way off. Maybe you kept your spirits up in January by playing with your Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar, but even that is beginning to pall by now.
You look through the window at a bare, grey garden and you dream of the days when you'll be able to get out there, sow lovely flower seeds, nurture the seedlings, and eventually plant them out to form brilliant banks of colour. But all that is weeks away yet!
Or is it? Here at JL we've been working on a new project which will fill your world with sunshine and flowers! Not only that, but it'll also fill that Advent-Calendar-shaped gap in your life.
Keep an eye on our newsletters and home page for the latest news ... more to come very soon.
Anonymous Amours February 2018
When I were a lad, which is a long time ago, the sending and receiving of Valentine's cards was a somewhat bizarre ritual, at least between those not in established relationships. If you were lucky enough to receive a card, you had no way of finding whether you'd hit the jackpot and the sender was indeed the girl or boy whose attention you craved, or whether you actually had a secret admirer of whom you had previously been unaware. And meanwhile, you'd send a card to the object of your love, hoping madly that he or she wouldn't think it was from someone else.
Because, of course, Valentine's Day cards were always unsigned. To put your name on a card was considered frightfully bad form.
I don't know if people still send paper Valentine cards in this way, but we do occasionally get requests from members to send anonymous Valentine e-cards (opens a new window). Sadly, however, the technicalities of the internet, the risk of abuse, and the need to get our emails through spam filters all conspire to make it almost impossible for an e-card to be sent anonymously.
Shame, really it was all quite exciting, even if with today's sensibilities it seems a little odd!
Little Frogs January 2018
Newcomers to jacquielawson.com are sometimes surprised to find that even though our cards are destined for distribution and display by electronic means, they have their origins in paint, pencils and paper; and the subjects on which they're based are equally real and tangible.
The star of our latest floral arrangement is Ranunculus asiaticus, which belongs to the same family as the common buttercup. Curiously, the Latin word "ranunculus" actually means "little frog", or "tadpole", and it's thought that this may derive from the fact that ranunculi grow well in damp areas near rivers or streams.
The cultivated ranunculus, with its dense layers of soft petals in wonderfully bright colours, is imported to Great Britain from Italy and other Mediterranean countries, and is at its best in January. So it seemed like a perfect subject for a card to brighten up a grey winter, and our artist Bev dutifully went out to purchase some prime examples to act as models for her paintings. It seems, however, that the good folk of Devon share our enthusiasm for these pretty blooms: several florists proved to have sold out completely before Bev was finally able to purchase the fine specimens you see below.
So when you view or send A Cheerful Composition (opens a new window), perhaps you'll enjoy the thought that the magnificent flowers you're watching on your iPad or computer screen were not just conjured into a shadowy digital existence using Photoshop, but were grown and picked in Italy, transported to a florist in Devon, purchased and brought home and arranged in a vase on Bev's desk, appreciated and admired, painted in watercolours on fine art paper, and finally scanned into a computer for our animators to work their magic!
The Church Door December 2017
A visitor to the beautiful village of Lurgashall in West Sussex cannot fail to notice the central cricket green, the Noah's Ark pub, and the ancient cottages surrounding the green. But tucked away in a corner near the pub, and hidden from view by trees, is the equally beautiful church of St Laurence.
The oldest part of the church is early Norman, while the tower dates from the 14th century. But perhaps the most interesting architectural feature is a very unusual wooden gallery running along the southwestern wall of the nave. Built in the late 16th century, it once housed the village school!
As can be seen in the photo below, the opening to the gallery has no door. This presented a problem when we were making our latest Christmas card (opens a new window), since Bertie needed somewhere to hang his painstakingly-prepared wreath. No problem: with a little poetic licence and some clever artwork, a beautiful 16th century oak door was constructed especially for the occasion.
Kitchen Orchestra November 2017
A few months ago, in one of our team discussions on forthcoming e-cards, the subject of this year's Thanksgiving card (opens a new window) came up. Someone recalled Clockwork Celebration (opens a new window) a very successful New Year card which featured Auld Lang Syne being played (apparently) by the clocks in a clockmaker's workshop. How about doing something similar, but with music made up of the sounds of a Thanksgiving meal being prepared in a kitchen?
Well, I'm never one to do things by halves, so I decided that I would forgo traditional instruments altogether, and see what I could make using only the objects available to me in my own batterie de cuisine. There followed many happy hours of clattering about in the kitchen testing different saucepans, spoons, glasses and bottles for their musical qualities. I can't imagine what the neighbours thought I was up to.
My only slight cheat was to use Kontakt sampling software to provide a full scale of notes for the pitched "instruments". With this program I was able to record just a single wine glass "ping", then tell the software that this single note was (as it happened) B flat, and the software then magically gave me an entire scale, so I could play fully chromatic wine glasses on my MIDI keyboard!
If you listen carefully to the bass line, you may wonder what it is that's making that rather satisfying sound. Sounds almost like a pizzicato string bass, doesn't it? That was the idea: but in fact, it's the sound of a large paella pan being hit with an overgrown courgette!
Advent Advice October 2017
We're getting close to the time when our latest Advent Calendar (opens a new window) is exposed, with a fanfare of trumpets, to the scrutiny of our loyal fans. While the basic concept hasn't changed much since 2010, almost every year sees some changes to accommodate developments in technology, or to add fun new features, or to improve the experience in some other way.
The first and second Advent Calendars ("Village" and "London") featured a single, full-screen scene designed only for desktop computers; then we introduced a secondary, indoor scene where you could curl up with a jigsaw puzzle and various other entertainments; and by the time of "Edwardian" we had several secondary scenes, and things were getting a bit out of hand! Then, to allow for the small screen on an iPad, we brought in horizontal scrolling and a three-layer parallax design, and all the games and puzzles from the secondary scene were brought into that main scrolling scene.
This, it transpired, was not popular you liked your cosy secondary scene! so we're pleased to be able to announce that this year, it's back! The bare bones of the scene are shown below ... for now, we'll just let you imagine where it is, and how we might decorate it.
Mediaeval Manor September 2017
Our new Halloween card (opens a new window) is inspired by Bailiffscourt Manor at Climping in Sussex, which the team visited one foggy weekend a few months ago. Although the house looks for all the world like a mediaeval manor, it was actually constructed between 1928 and 1935, but adhering strictly to 15th century architectural style and using original stone, woodwork, fireplaces and so on from other ancient houses.
The estate also includes a (genuine) 13th century chapel, an underground tunnel between two of the buildings and a muster (or an ostentation, if you prefer, as I do) of peacocks!
The driving force behind this extraordinary effort was Lord Moyne, whose great-great-grandfather Arthur Guinness founded the eponymous Irish brewery. Mediaeval houses were all the rage at the time, and for five years after its completion the house would have been the scene of glittering parties for the elite of London society. But after the death of Lady Moyne in 1939 the family left the house, and a few years later Lord Moyne was assassinated, while working for the UK Government as Minister of State in Cairo.
In these more peaceful times, Bailiffscourt is now a posh hotel where you can go to enjoy the peacocks and parkland over nice a cup of tea!
Advent Venue July 2017
Our first Advent Calendar, way back in 2010, was set in an indeterminate European village we didn't really think too hard about the location back then. But in the years since then, the need to keep things fresh and fun has led us to a variety of amazing settings. We've had a festive trip to London, we've spent Christmas in a country house in the Edwardian era, we've shopped till we dropped at a Christmas Market, and last year we got our feet wet at an English seaside resort!
So, where are we going for Christmas 2017? Somewhere pretty and Christmassy, of course. We need snow, too: snow is an essential part of the Christmas tradition, even though in London the chances of a white Christmas are only about one in 17! A bit of history will lend interest, while some dramatic scenery and the opportunity for fun outdoor pursuits will keep us amused throughout the countdown to Christmas.
Below is a snapshot of work in progress for one of the interior scenes. Maybe you can guess the country we're heading for?
Quite such fun April 2017
When our artist Tom Evans came up with a particularly surreal idea for a card featuring Indian Runner ducks (opens a new window) splashing around in the rain, we thought it would be fun to accompany the animation with an equally surreal "Duck Song". If we need a group of singers for a card, our normal partners in crime are the wonderful choir of Salisbury Cathedral, but they were in the USA on tour and unable to do the recording in the time we had available. Into the breach stepped the Aquae Sulis Chorale, a group of current and ex-choristers from Bath Abbey, who did a fantastic job at short notice. Many thanks to the choir, and to Shean and Bruce for their contributions in directing and recording the performance.
You should be able to hear the lyrics quite clearly, but some of our transatlantic fans might find the English accent hard to follow. They're not exactly great literature, but in case you're curious, here they are in full:
Drip drop drip drop! Ducks love water,
Drip drop pitter patter! Get wet? Doesn't matter!
Splish splash splish splash! Who'd 've thought a
Drip drop drip could be quite such fun!
And indeed, it's not often we have quite such fun putting together an e-card we hope you enjoy it too!
Barnardo's December 2016
Nineteenth-century London was a city with many problems. The industrial revolution caused a dramatic increase in population, and into this cauldron of bad housing, unemployment, poverty and disease there arrived in 1866 a 21-year-old Irishman, Thomas Barnardo, intending to train as a doctor with a view to becoming a medical missionary in China.
A few months after his arrival an outbreak of cholera swept through the East End with catastrophic effects on poor families, and Barnardo decided to give up his dream of going to China and to devote himself instead to helping destitute children.
In 1870, still only 25 years of age, Barnardo opened his first home in East London, where boys were trained in carpentry, metal work and shoemaking to enable them to secure apprenticeships and work. By the time he died 35 years later, the charity he founded had opened 96 homes caring for more than 8,500 children.
Since then the focus of the charity has of course changed dramatically to meet the needs of today's young people, and their services include counselling for children who have been abused, fostering and adoption services, vocational training and disability inclusion groups. You can read much more about their wonderful work on their website.
Please send Christmas Lights (opens a new window) to your friends and family this Christmas; and maybe you and your recipients might consider making a small seasonal donation (opens a new window) to help Barnardo's with their valuable work.
Maggie's Centres December 2016
In May 1993, Maggie Keswick Jencks was told that her breast cancer had returned and was given months to live. In the time left to her, she and her husband Charles Jencks worked with her medical team to develop a new approach to cancer care.
In order to live more positively with cancer, Maggie and Charles believed you needed information that would allow you to be an informed participant in your medical treatment, stress-reducing strategies, psychological support and the opportunity to meet other people in similar circumstances in a relaxed domestic atmosphere.
Maggie's Centres are built in the grounds of NHS cancer hospitals, and they provide free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends. They're places to find practical advice about benefits and eating well; places where qualified experts provide emotional support; places to meet other people; places where you can simply sit quietly with a cup of tea.
The first Maggie's Centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996 and since then Maggie's has continued to grow, with 19 Centres at major NHS cancer hospitals in the UK, online and abroad.
Please take the trouble to find out more about this remarkable charity, and consider making a seasonal donation (opens a new window).
Two Cats October 2016
Many of you will recognise Rossini's Duet for Two Cats as the basis of the music in our latest Halloween card (opens a new window) without the singing cats, but spooked up instead with a touch of orchestral colour and some great sound effects (see below).
The Duet for Two Cats has an interesting history, not least because it isn't by Rossini! It was the little-known Danish composer Christoph Weyse (below left) who in 1812 came up with the idea of a Katte-Kavatine (or Cat Song) with miaows for lyrics. The unknown compiler of the Duet for Two Cats took Weyse's song, changed it from 3/4 to 4/4 time, and then tacked on a couple of tunes from Rossini's opera Otello, with the original lyrics replaced by more miaows, to form the piece we know today.
No-one knows for sure who was responsible for putting it all together, but for some reason Rossini (below right) usually gets the credit. And yet it's the sinuous felinity of Weyse's melody, and the crazy humour of his original idea, which give the piece its real charm.
The Duet is usually sung by two sopranos, and accompanied ad libitum by feline frolics which make it well worth hunting down a good recording. One of my favourite performances is that by the divine Dr. Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket (available on YouTube (opens a new window)).
And if you haven't heard of Hinge and Bracket ... well, you must be younger than me!
Sound Effects September 2016
A few weeks ago, quite out of the blue, we received an e-mail saying that our e-cards were all very nice, but that some of them could be really brought to life with a proper sound effects track running alongside the music. After a few moments pondering this thought, we decided our correspondent was quite right, and why hadn't we thought of that?
As it turned out, the e-mail was from John "Fingers" Wood, who has over 50 years' experience of work as a sound engineer on dozens of films and TV programmes, from The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour and Wind in the Willows to The Royle Family and Bob the Builder! Here's a link to his IMDb page (opens a new window).
So it took about five minutes for us to say "yes please, when can you start?" and you'll hear the results of this new collaboration in our forthcoming Halloween card (opens a new window). Prepare to be truly spooked!
A Cut Above the Rest June 2016
The musical accompaniment for our new Father's Day card (opens a new window) was a forgone conclusion: it had to be a barbershop quartet. Thanks to a recommendation from my friend Pippa, we got in touch with Tagline Quartet, winners of the British Association of Barbershop Singers national contest in 2015. And after a few hours one Sunday morning in a tiny London studio, we had a fabulous recording in the can.
The music is an arrangement of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", with some silly lyrics written specially for the card. Words that rhyme with "fellow" are a little thin on the ground so we took a few liberties! But I also had to mug up on the somewhat esoteric technicalities of barbershop style: I hope I gave them enough of those ringing sevenths.
Corona Games May 2016
I well remember as a teenager buying my first (and only) typewriter. It was an Olivetti, and this wonderful machine liberated me from my dreadful handwriting, allowing me to type newsletters for school societies, programmes for school concerts, and even the odd letter to friends and family. Just sitting in front of it made me feel like a famous novelist or daring war correspondent. It became part of me, an extension of my body, like my piano or my motorbike, until computers came along and changed the world.
A few years ago, a nostalgic whim took me to the pages of eBay where I purchased an even more ancient typewriter than my Olivetti a Corona, dating from the 1930s (pictured below). When the package arrived I opened it in front of my young daughter, who was fascinated.
"What is it, Dad?"
I explained it was a machine that people used to type letters and important documents, before the invention of computers.
"Oh cool. Has it got any games?"
Mozart Uncut March 2016
We use a great number of classical masterpieces (and lesser works too!) as the musical accompaniment for our e-cards, and it's always a shame to have to reduce them to a mere minute or so in order to fit the animation. But equally, we pride ourselves on choosing and arranging music which fits each card perfectly in mood, tempo and overall duration, so we have little choice.
When we went to Salisbury Cathedral last week to record Mozart's beautiful little motet Ave Verum Corpus, we decided to try something new. We had already worked out a reasonably musical way of cutting the Mozart to 76 seconds, as required for the e-card, and that was soon in the can.
But while we were there, why not also record the entire piece, and provide it as an MP3 download to accompany the card? That way, senders and recipients of the card could listen to Mozart's music as Mozart intended or as he might have intended, if they'd had iPods in 1791!
On a PC or Mac, you can download the MP3 file directly from the e-card or by right-clicking the image below and taking "Save as ...". Once you've downloaded it you can import it into iTunes or transfer it to your phone or tablet. If you only have an iPad or iPhone then you can still click the image below to play the music.(opens a new window)
National Autistic Society December 2015
You may have noticed that one of our recent Christmas cards (opens a new window) was dedicated to the National Autistic Society (opens a new window), a charity which provides a huge range of support, information and services for those affected by autism. Here in the UK alone, around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum and in the USA there are over 3.5 million, so the total number of people worldwide whose lives are affected on a daily basis by autism is enormous.
Our card can do very little by itself: but if you send it to your friends and family this Christmas, we hope that they'll click the logo at the end, and read about the marvellous work which the NAS undertake, and maybe even head over to their website to make a small donation.
The great thing about e-cards is that unlike paper cards, people won't think you're a bit odd if you send more than one! So please, help promote awareness of autism and the NAS by sending Sleigh Ride (opens a new window) to everyone you know.
Traditional Toys November 2015
For the Victorians, the family was the foundation-stone of society, and our artist Tom Evans has enjoyed creating some delightful scenes of Victorian family life for our Advent Calendar. His own family have been his inspiration, and while much has changed since those times, some of their toys are as familiar to children today as they were to their Victorian predecessors: jigsaw puzzles, dolls' houses, tea-sets and alphabet bricks.
If you study your Advent Calendar carefully (as we're sure you do) you may spot a little girl learning to read, just like Tom's own daughter Polly, who is now of the age where she brings a book back from school every evening. But when her reading's done, Polly can do something which no Victorian child could dream of she can play with the Advent Calendar on her Dad's iPad!
Frozen Mutton September 2015
One of the joys of working for jacquielawson.com is the unexpected directions in which the work can lead. Our forthcoming Advent Calendar will include a virtual art gallery (a bit like the one you may remember from our London Advent Calendar a few years ago), so we needed to research paintings of Christmassy or wintry scenes by Victorian artists. The task fell to me or more accurately, to my wife, who coincidentally is studying for her MA in History of Art! and she was able to introduce me to the wonderful work of Joseph Farquharson.
Farquharson's speciality was beautiful snowy scenes of his native Scotland, usually featuring cattle or sheep to the point where he was nicknamed "Frozen Mutton Farquharson"! To achieve the greatest possible realism, Farquharson painted from a specially constructed mobile hut, complete with a big glass window and a stove to keep him warm.
This technique certainly seems to have done the trick. Maybe for our next Christmas card we should try sending a JL artist out into the snow in a hut on wheels!
Winter, 1901, Joseph Farquharson (1846-1935).
Photo © Cardiff City Hall / Rob Watkins 2004
Cobbled Together June 2015
It's late June and the sun is shining, but most of us here at JL are thinking about snow and fairy lights and tinsel. Yes, production of our new 2015 Advent Calendar is well under way and this year we've got our work cut out, because we're going for full iPad compatibility too.
So we thought you might be amused to see a little of the work in progress. It looks like Santa has left his red coat at home as well he might, in June! We love his red and white socks. Maybe he's getting some new boots? We're not sure ... but all will become clear in December!
Art of Sailing May 2015
Keen sailors may recognise the boat in this card as a SCOD, or South Coast One Design, designed in 1955 by Charles Nicholson. Around a hundred SCODs were built and most are still sailing including one which took the title role in Woody Allen's 2007 film Cassandra's Dream. After a few days training off the east coast of England, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell apparently turned out to be quite good sailors!
The serene photo of two SCODS above was taken off Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight many thanks, Jaik! But the scenery in the paintings which are artfully brought together to make this card is that of the south coast of Devon, where our artist Bev Pask-Hughes lives.
When I asked Bev if she was keen on sailing herself, her laconic response was: "Oh no! Too wet! Can't swim!"
Lent Lily March 2015
The sight of pale yellow-tinged daffodil buds pushing up through the cold soil is an encouraging signal that winter is retreating. In ecclesiastical circles especially, the daffodil is sometimes known as the Lent Lily, and tradition says that the flower will open on Ash Wednesday and die on Easter Day a tradition immortalised in A.E. Housman's poem "The Lent Lily":
Housman once joked rather self-deprecatingly that he always consented to having his poetry set to music "in the hope of becoming immortal somehow". But when no less a composer than Ralph Vaughan Williams had the temerity to omit a section of one poem, Housman reacted furiously: "I wonder how he would like me to cut two bars out of his music?"
Our forthcoming Easter card features a brand new musical setting of The Lent Lily, sung by our young friends at Salisbury Cathedral Choir. But we have a confession: to keep the song within the one minute straitjacket of the e-card, we were forced to omit the second verse. Our apologies to AEH.
Merry-Go-Round December 2014
Christmas Markets, just like Christmas itself, are all about tradition: and one famous tradition of Christmas Markets here in Europe is the carousel or merry-go-round. If you opened your Advent Calendar on 4th December you'll have enjoyed watching Ted's fantastical ride. And earlier today, on a beautiful sunny morning here in the glorious Georgian city of Bath, I snapped the above shot of our own magnificent example.
The Bath carousel dates from Victorian times and as you can see, it's a wonderfully elaborate extravaganza of colour and light. On a chilly Monday morning there weren't many takers for rides, but when the evening comes and the city fills with families out for a Christmas shopping trip there'll be hordes of children clamouring for a turn on the merry-go-round, followed by a sizzling sausage sandwich and a cup of hot chocolate, while their parents warm their hands on a steaming paper cup of spicy mulled wine. What could possibly be more Christmassy?
Sea Tractor October 2014
In the British Isles you can never be more than 70 miles from the sea, and our jagged cliffs and sandy beaches constantly beckon those in search of rest or recreation.
A few weeks ago the team met up on the coast of Devon to spend a few days bouncing ideas around in the search for mutual inspiration. We were staying near Salcombe, and the easiest way to get from our hotel into the town was by sea the local roads are hair-raisingly narrow and twisty. To that end, parked on the beach next to the hotel was something new to all of us: a sea tractor.
Initial investigation showed it to be no more than a motorised platform on wheels. Surely this clumsy-looking contraption couldn't take us all the way to Salcombe?
Indeed not: it transpired that the sea tractor simply takes you down the beach and far enough into the sea to act as a mobile jetty. A little ferryboat meets the tractor at agreed times and takes you the rest of the way.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and we loved the simple brilliance of the idea, and the way it reflected the resourcefulness of people for whom the sea is a daily challenge.
I don't know if the sea tractor directly inspired any new e-card ideas, but the salty air and autumnal sunshine certainly left us refreshed and ready for the Christmas rush.
Arts and Crafts August 2014
Bev's two new note cards designs are loosely based on the Arts and Crafts movement, which was established in the late 19th century, but went on to influence artists and designers especially of textiles, furniture and other domestic products for many decades.
One of its aims, as stated by the architect and designer Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, was "to revive the desire for beauty in things of everyday use" and it struck me that this philosophy shares a great deal with our own aims here at jacquielawson.com. One of our guiding principles has always been to show that e-cards do not have to be ugly cartoons accompanied by characterless music: they can be beautiful creations.
One wonders what William Morris, the most famous proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement, would have thought of electronic greeting cards. He considered production by machines to be "altogether an evil", so it's unlikely he would have embraced the digital age. On the other hand, the creation of greetings cards by individual artists exercising true skill and personal creativity seems very much akin to the movement's aims, even if the means of distribution would have been almost incomprehensible at the time.
Lulajże Jezuniu July 2014
It's July, so we're preparing for Christmas!
One of the challenges involved in producing a new Advent Calendar every year is to find around 25 pieces of music to accompany each day's animation. Of course, all the old favourites need to be in there Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and we can also have fun with arrangements of popular carols in unusual styles, such as the hula illustrated below! But it's important also to bring in some completely new melodies, and this year we've looked for inspiration from a rich tradition of Christmas music from continental Europe.
One of our selections is a beautiful Polish carol called Lulajże Jezuniu, to be sung in the original Polish by our friends at Salisbury Cathedral Choir. This caused a few raised eyebrows German and French were no problem at all for the choristers, but Polish pronunciation was something new to them. But they rose magnificently to the challenge and we have a lovely recording in the can.
Incidentally, if you know Chopin's piano music, you'll already know the melody of Lulajże Jezuniu: it's the middle theme in his B minor Scherzo.
A knight to remember March 2014
Some of the ideas for our e-cards come from the unlikeliest places.
As related below, last year we had a team get-together in Oxford, and one of the items on the agenda was to visit some great English country houses, as part of our research for the Edwardian Advent Calendar. One of the houses we visited was Broughton Castle a beautiful and fascinating mediaeval manor house which is the ancestral home of the 21st Baron Saye and Sele.
Our newest recruit, Tom Evans, was persuaded to do the tourist thing and dress up in a suit of armour for us all to photograph. Little did we know that this spark would light a fire in Tom's imagination which culminated in one of our most popular Halloween cards ever: Halloween Knight (opens a new window)
If you're ever in North Oxfordshire, we'd highly recommend a trip to Broughton Castle. Unlike so many old houses open to the public, Broughton Castle is still a family home, and that gives it a marvellous feeling of authenticity and history. And we even met His Lordship! a delightful gentleman who seemed most concerned that we should enjoy our visit.
An imaginary manor December 2013
One of the most attractive jobs of 2013 was to dream up a magnificent mansion as the imaginary location for our new Edwardian Advent Calendar. This enviable task fell to one of our most experienced and talented artists, Sally Lisney.
The job required Sally not only to design the principal views of the house and gardens, but also to come up with ideas for twenty-five daily animations, as well as the beautiful settings required for each: the kitchen, pantry, nursery and so on not to mention a magnificent orangery which Sally created from scratch to show off a huge Christmas tree.
Many visits ensued to fabulous old houses as far apart as Saltash in Cornwall and Blenheim in Oxfordshire. After a few were rejected for being too old or too young, too austere or too florid, Sally chose Kingston Lacy in Dorset as her model for the main facade.
As Sally says, "Kingston Lacy has long been one of my favourites. The front and rear views are based upon this beautiful house, and the entrance drive, lake and bridge are inspired by Chatsworth and Lyme Park."
"I suspect that Mr Darcy had a hand in my daydreams..."
Her Ladyship December 2013
If you've opened your Edwardian Advent Calendar today (3rd December), you'll no doubt have had fun making flower arrangements, and maybe even trying to surpass the gorgeous displays designed by "Her Ladyship".
Her Ladyship is of course our own Bev Pask-Hughes, who not only designed the sample arrangements, but grew nearly all the flowers and foliage in her own garden, and then painted them and scanned the paintings into her computer.
The only plants which did not come from Bev's garden were the amaryllis, which is too tender to be grown outdoors in the UK, and the mistletoe, which grows widely but is hard to get established. One of Bev's ambitions when she retires is to grow mistletoe!
"Every Christmas my mother, and my grandmother before her, would fill a bowl with large white chrysanthemum blooms, and when we were researching the Advent Calendar we found that this was a common tradition in Edwardian times" says Bev. So for the first time this year, Bev grew chrysanthemums in her own garden, and with the help of our Advent Calendar, you can now feature her lovely white blooms in your own Christmas arrangement.
Share a Snowflake November 2013
Our annual Advent Calendar has always included a few games which let you design your own something whether it's Christmas stockings, wreaths, or even snowflakes. In fact our snowflake maker is probably the single most popular game in all the Advent Calendars so far so much so that we've included it again this year.
What's new this year is that all the "design your own" games will have the ability to save your designs (as JPG files) so you can share them with others not just your friends and family, but the wider public too. With that in mind we're encouraging people to use the hashtag: #JLAdventCalendar
You can try it out right now! This year's version includes more games and puzzles than ever before to entertain you while you wait for the calendar to open on December 1st, and one of the games available throughout November is yes, you guessed it the snowflake maker.
So fire up your Edwardian Advent Calendar, head on down to the Pavilion and design yourself some snowflakes. And then show off your skills on Facebook, Pinterest or whatever takes your fancy.
Just remember to use the hashtag: #JLAdventCalendar
Sounds of Sarum August 2013
We approached Salisbury Cathedral earlier this year to see if we could record the cathedral choir singing carols for incorporation into this year's Christmas productions. They agreed, so we're thrilled to be able to confirm that their wonderful singing will be featuring in this year's Advent Calendar as well as our Christmas e-card line up.
Our recording session with them took place in the Cathedral one evening a few weeks ago. We were very impressed by the professionalism and discipline of the young choristers not to mention that wonderful, ethereal sound as they effortlessly hit the top notes! Towards the end of a gruelling three-hour recording session they were getting visibly tired, but they kept going resolutely, and we have some fantastic tracks in the can which are even now inspiring the team to give of their best. We're hugely grateful to everyone at Salisbury who helped make this possible and we can't wait to show off the results this Christmas.
Inspiration June 2013
I can't believe it's over six months since my last contribution to this page. So much has been happening it's easy to let things like this slip.
One of the highlights of the last few months was a team get-together in Oxford. Most of the JL artistic team work from home, so it's really important from time to time to have a session where we all meet up face-to-face and throw a few ideas around. And we try to choose a location which we think will help inspire new ideas, so Oxford my old alma mater seemed like a fine choice.
And indeed it was: we had a great time splashing through the rain to admire the dreaming spires, between productive sessions to thrash out new ideas. One such was our latest card (opens a new window) for Father's Day I can't imagine how the idea of a classic car rally sprang out of a pint in an Oxford pub. But then again, that same pub apparently helped inspire the creation of hobbits, orcs and magic rings, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. It must be something in the beer.
Planning for Christmas October 2012
I just received an email from our local supermarket inviting me to reserve a turkey for Christmas. It's still only October, and I refuse to allow the ever-longer tentacles of the Christmas marketeers to force me to think about my family arrangements for Christmas just yet. And anyway, we usually do goose!
But in other ways, Christmas is of course very much on our minds, as indeed it appears to be on yours! No sooner had we released the new Circus (see below) than we were bombarded with email from members worried that all that work on the Circus meant we wouldn't be doing an Advent Calendar this year.
Fear not (said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds)! This year our desktop (PC and Mac) offerings will be a brand new Advent Calendar, as well as the London calendar updated for 2012. Additionally, an iPad version of the London calendar is already available in the iTunes store, and we're hoping to release other tablet versions too! As ever, keep an eye open for our Newsletters for more information. (If you don't currently get our newsletters, log on and click My Details, and make sure you've opted in the check boxes are at the bottom of the page).
The Circus is coming! September 2012
From the chariot races and gladiator fights of Ancient Rome to the freak shows and menageries of the Victorian era, from the spectacular displays of the Moscow State Circus to contemporary nouveau cirque, circuses have long been part of our culture. Most of us will have fond childhood memories of the excitement, sounds and smells of the Big Top. The circus even inspired John Lennon's song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite! in Sergeant Pepper. And of course, it has not been without controversy, particularly with regard to the treatment of animals; in recent years many countries have passed legislation restricting or banning the use of wild animals in circuses.
Happily, our own interpretation of the circus will be entirely free of animal cruelty! This is jacquielawson.com, so obviously there will be animals! but ours are mere flickerings of liquid crystal before your eyes, through which we hope to capture the magic of the circus right there on your desktop.
The launch date for the Jacquie Lawson Circus is very soon, and after months of effort we can't wait to see what you all think! If you'd like prompt notification of the release, do watch out for our Newsletters or better still, download our Quick Send Widget (opens a new window).
A distinctive style June 2012
If you look towards the bottom of our e-card category pages, you can still see some of the cards dating right back to the early days of this website, and it's fascinating to see how the style has evolved and yet in so many ways remained constant. As computers have grown more powerful and animation techniques have become more sophisticated, our cards have grown in sophistication and complexity; and of course, as new artists such as Sally Lisney and John Bloom have joined us, they've added their own distinctive touches. But in spite of this, all the cards even the note card range seem to have a certain style which makes them unmistakeably JL.
That may be about to change!
In a few weeks' time we'll be launching the first two cards in a brand new series. They're lightly animated sketches, humorous in content, and based on well-known quotations or epigrams. We hope they'll appeal in numerous situations where our existing e-cards and note cards don't quite fit the bill: maybe to a more masculine audience (we're always being asked for more "man" cards!), or to younger viewers and those who don't want to spend 60 seconds or thereabouts watching a full-length e-card. Or just to people who aren't into dogs, cats, teddy bears and flowers!
The new range will of course be in addition to our existing e-cards, which we'll continue to develop as before so don't worry: Chudleigh, Bertie and all the others aren't ready for retirement yet!
Feline Inspiration March 2012
Fans who have been with us since the beginning of jacquielawson.com will remember that almost all the early cards described the antics of Jacquie's labrador dog, Chudleigh. Times change and our e-cards now embrace a wide range of subjects, but some of our most popular cards are still those featuring dogs and cats.
Maybe part of the reason for this popularity is that almost all the animals we've incorporated into our e-cards have been drawn from life, and based on real-life pets belonging to the artists. There's nothing like having a dog chasing leaves in the garden or a kitten climbing up your new curtains to alert you to their idiosyncratic characters, their fluid body movements, and the expressions on their faces.
Some years ago one of our longest-serving artists, Sally Lisney, introduced Bertie the spaniel and Fluff the kitten - not to mention an entire tribe of musical teddy bears - to the jacquielawson.com family. Happily the teddy bears are not based on live pets: but when Sally recently decided (under pressure from her daughter, she assures me) to acquire two new kittens, it was only a matter of time before their digital twins would be seen on our pages.
And sure enough, a new birthday card featuring Figaro and Twink will be out shortly!
Round Robin October 2011
One of the great traditions of a British Christmas is the annual round-robin "family newsletter". Usually it comes from acquaintances with whom you thought (and maybe even hoped!) you'd lost touch, and is peppered with references to little Johnny's Distinction in his piano exam (when you know full well that little Johnny has bananas for fingers), and to exciting events such as the new kitten, the family caravanning holiday, and the village fete. And as often as not there's a photo of their wonderful children, just to remind you how cute they are.
Well, we're thrilled to be able to tell you that from this Christmas, you'll be able to send your annual round-robin letter electronically, courtesy of the Jacquie Lawson Christmas Letter! Of course, the artwork and music will be every bit as beautiful and tasteful as in any Jacquie Lawson e-card; and of course, since you are a Jacquie Lawson member, your round-robin letter will be highly erudite, full of witty remarks and literary references, and it won't mention little Johnny's piano exam at all. But - thanks to the wondrous skills of our technical team - you will be able to include your own photo of your little darlings!
Christmas will never be the same again.
Christmas in July July 2011
As many of our fans will remember, the highlight of Christmas 2010 was the launch of a brand new idea: our downloadable animated Advent Calendar. If you didn't get a copy, you missed a real treat - but fear not: our e-mailbag has been bursting at the seams with requests for a repeat performance, and we've already started working on a brand new Advent Calendar for Christmas 2011. I'm not allowed to give away too many details, but since it's midsummer here now, the snapshot below seemed particularly appropriate!
Nota Bene March 2011
Over the last decade or two, e-mail has become such a part of our lives that we sometimes wonder how on earth we ever managed without it. But its convenience and informality come at a price. The format seems to encourage laziness in composition, and carelessly-written e-mails can often appear unintentionally abrupt or even downright rude.
And "smileys" are not an acceptable way of expressing ones feelings! ;-(
The whole process of composition and delivery make email one of the most intrinsically unattractive forms of correspondence ever invented. How can a monochrome message, harshly lit up on a computer screen in a functional but charmless typeface, ever compete for beauty with a hand-written letter, carefully composed on vellum with a green-inked fountain pen?
E-cards, of course, provide an attractive electronic alternative to the bald and boring e-mail, but sending someone a 60-second animation with background music to boot isn't appropriate for all circumstances.
Maybe our new note cards will help to fill the gap. They will allow our members to send the most attractive form of electronic correspondence we've yet seen, with gorgeous designs painted by Jacquie's team (see below), and with plenty of room for epistolary masterpieces, but with all the convenience of an e-card. Maybe they'll encourage people to compose their messages with more care, too.
And no smileys!
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! October 2010
Our e-cards can take weeks or months from concept to completion, and everything has to be planned well in advance, especially our more complex Christmas offerings. So one of the challenges of working for jacquielawson.com is the need to get into a Christmassy mood when everyone else is soaking up the sun!
Back in August we gathered together our little group of "herald angels" - Emma, Gemma, India, Izzie, Marina and Meg - to sing a selection of carols for this Christmas's productions. The neighbours must have thought we were mad! Here they are:
The second photo above is a snapshot of our latest Christmas project. We're not revealing too much detail yet, but if you look closely you might guess what we've been up to! All I can say at the moment is that it is easily the most ambitious animation project that we have undertaken, and it'll add a whole new dimension to your and your children's Christmas. We'll give you full details in early November, once we've finished testing it!
Manipulating a mood September 2010
It's fascinating sometimes to see how each e-card develops from initial sketches, through detailed drawings and paintings, and then into the digital domain with the addition of animation and effects. Often the scene can change dramatically through that process, as the examples below show. The first image is a painting of a pumpkin patch, painted by Bev Pask-Hughes (see below). The second is a screenshot from our forthcoming Halloween card, with a few electronically added effects (and a rather splendid tree)!
The new Halloween card will be released in mid-October and fans of Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals are in for a treat. But that's all I can give away right now!
Another year, another July 4th card June 2010
Just looking back over previous entries on this page, I realise that the first entry I made was this time last year, discussing the whys and wherefores of a British e-cards site regularly publishing e-cards celebrating America's independence!
And here we are again. Another year, another July 4th card. This year's card will once again feature Chudleigh, the chocolate Labrador whose exploits have enlivened many an e-card over the years. The card is being drawn by John Bloom - as the only American on our team he seemed like a good choice for this one! I can't tell you too much more for fear of spoiling the surprise, but the image below will serve as a bit of a tease!
Brrrr! March 2010
It is often said that the British talk a lot about the weather, and if that is so then the last few months have given us plenty to talk about. For the last twenty years or so, snow has been something of a rarity in England and for many children and even teenagers, a few inches of snowfall in February 2009 was their first ever experience of sledding, building snowmen and all the other childish joys which the white stuff brings.
But this winter we've barely had a week without at least a wintry flurry, and Lurgashall was completely cut off from the outside world for four days in December. Even the local policeman in his four-wheel-drive Range Rover got stuck in a snowdrift trying to get to an outlying hamlet, and Jacquie's addiction to the Daily Telegraph crossword was forcibly suspended, about which she complained bitterly.
The photo below shows Molly gazing across Lurgashall cricket green, clearly wondering what on earth the world was coming to. But the most stunning image of the winter so far has to be the NASA photograph which we've reproduced below, showing clearly the outline of the British Isles, drenched in white.
However, contrary to the idealised images in our e-cards, Christmas Day was as usual completely snow-free!
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Only five weeks to go! November 2009
Christmas is of course our busiest time of year and we always try to make some really special cards for the whole of the holiday season. This often means starting work on them while the weather is still warm and the swimming pool beckons, which is an odd time to be thinking about Christmas (unless of course you live in Australia or New Zealand)! This year, our new colleague John Bloom was first off with the holiday cards, and could be seen in August in shorts and a t-shirt, drawing Christmas trees and tinsel...!
John first came to our attention when working for another e-card company which was (rather cheekily, we thought) making cards featuring a Labrador dog which bore an uncanny resemblance to our friends Molly and Chudleigh, and - even more cheekily - was doing it rather well. So we're very excited that John is now on our team, and in the time he's been with us he's produced some fantastic cards. He works closely with Bev (see Proper Painting below), and you'll definitely be able to see her influence in his Christmas card. But I can't tell you any more about it - except we think you'll love it!
Proper Painting September 2009
Computers are wonderful things. But there are some things that are best left in what a scientist might call the analogue domain - the sphere of human endeavour that doesn't involve reducing everything to bits and bytes. Painting pictures is one of those things. For all the fancy digital tricks you can play in Photoshop and the like, there is nothing to beat the delicacy of colour and texture obtainable from a few paintbrushes and a carefully selected palette of watercolours, gouache, and so forth.
That's why many of the background scenes, floral designs, and other elements of Jacquie Lawson e-cards are initially created not by manipulating pixels on a screen but by applying paint to paper, and Beverley Pask-Hughes is our resident master of this infinitely expressive art. Once the original paintings have been completed, they're scanned into the computer, trimmed and generally tidied up, and then the laborious process of animation starts.
And that is one of the many things that differentiate Jacquie Lawson e-cards from the rest!
If you look carefully at the picture of Bev's desk below you can see the beginnings of this year's Hallowe'en card. And in case you were wondering, Bev did tidy up her desk before this photo was taken. Yes, honestly.
Underwater Reflections July 2009
Last month's "Behind the Scenes" reminded me that one of the most popular e-cards from the early days of jacquielawson.com was From Sea to Shining Sea (opens a new window) - the July 4th card featuring underwater scenes which finally make up a collage in the form of the Great Seal of the US. At the time we were a little concerned that people might object to such a great national symbol being made up of seafood - like a sort of patriotic "plat de fruits de mer" - but in the end it turned out to be massively popular, and the card got millions of hits.
We've been working on another "underwater" card recently and you should see it on the website in the next couple of weeks. I'm not allowed to disclose the ending, but it's very atmospheric and I'm sure it'll appeal to children especially. Here's a screenshot as a teaser...
FOURTH OF JULY June 2009
Celebrating the loss of our most troublesome colony?
jacquielawson.com has published a new e-card for Independence Day almost every year since the site was started. Being a British e-cards site, this may seem rather odd - although perhaps you could argue that the loss of our most troublesome colony deserves to be celebrated! But in fact the first July 4th card was published in 2002 as a mark of goodwill to our transatlantic cousins after the horrific events of September 2001, and it was so popular with our members that July 4th became a firm date in the JL calendar.
Over the years we've featured Chudleigh raising the US flag, we've seen the Great Seal appear as a collage of aquatic life, we've explored all the State Flowers and all the State Birds, and we've even had a marching band made up of teddy bears. This year, the card has been created by Jacquie's niece Sally Lisney, and it features her spaniel Bertie, who you'll have seen in other recent cards such as Christmas Visitors. Here's a photo of them together!