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Sit on the shoulder of a children's book illustrator and nosy into the ups and downs of my world. Find out how my books are created from your spy-hole inside my studio, see sneak previews of all my new projects, celebrate with me when books are published, and help me tear my hair when it's not going to plan!
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Generally speaking, authors and illustrators don't get together to chat through new book projects. I get the text from the publisher, not the author and, as I work on my illustrations, I talk with the art director and designer, not the author, sending my ideas, roughs and eventually my artwork to the publisher, never once having had any contact with the author. It surprises people, but that's quite normal.
It's a bit different though with Julia Jarman. When an author and illustrator team up for several books, they can become friends and often start to work more closely, certainly at the start of a project. Julia and I have done 5 books together now and are a good match - we think alike and we laugh at the same things. Which is why we work so easily together and why we get on so well too.
Julia often emails me stories she is working on and would like me to illustrate, asking for my input. Julia's writing is very visual: as I read one of her texts, I can immediately see illustrations in my head. This gives me a slightly different perspective to Julia and my take on things can help her to fine-tune the wording, before she sends it to the publisher.
We were working on a new story last week and several drafts of it went back and forth between us by email. I'm not actually drawing anything at this stage, but Julia knows my work so well, it only takes a few words for me to paint a picture for her of what's in my head.
I can't tell you anything specific, but I think it's going to be a good one and am really crossing my fingers that the publisher takes it.
Tomorrow I am of to Leeds for the very last visit of the Spring season. After that, I am back in the studio for quite a while.
John re-visited his role as Chauffeur recently and drove me to the tiny (and lovely) Scamblesby Primary School in Lincolnshire (it was just one of those places that was a nightmare on a train, even though it wasn't really that far). He dropped me off and then went to the coast.
It's a good system, but I get to do no train sketches of course. Not to worry though: I spent 2 days at a secondary school in Nottingham last week, working with ESL students at Djanogly Academy (I still have no idea how to pronounce that), so I got my train-drawing fix, as you can see.
Djanogly was a very interesting booking. For those who don't know, ESL stands for English as a Second Language. I had really small groups, anything from 4 to 12 students, because some of them had not been in England for more than a few months and had only a very basic grasp of the language. Some of their confidence levels were, understandable, quite low, although many of them were obviously pretty bright.
I was really pleased that we managed to work so well together, and they all clearly enjoyed the session. I took lots to show them and forced myself to talk slowly and clearly (not easy for me!), keeping my sentences short and my vocab simple. They all worked really hard and produced some smashing drawings.
The staff were very complimentary afterwards, which felt great, as I was in completely new territory. They said that the students weren't used to sitting and listening for anywhere near that long, so they were really pleased with how focused and enthusiastic they all were, right to the end.
I really enjoyed working with young adults too. Even when I am in secondary schools, I rarely get the older students. They are usually caught up with the exam syllabus, but Djanogly were having an Arts Festival, with various visitors and creative workshops going on, so students could opt out of regular lessons, or spend their lunchtime / after-school doing different activities. What a great idea.
I just went to my YouTube channel to reply to a lovely comment about one of my films and discovered that the filmed demo I did of me drawing a piece of artwork from Swap! has recently gone over 20,000 views. How exciting is that?! It's kind of weird too, to think that 20,000 people, probably all over the world, have watched me drawing.
If you haven't seen the demo already, here it is again:
Do 'like' or 'share', if you find it interesting - every little helps in this business!
Since we did this film, John and I shot another demo film in the studio: this time it's me creating some artwork from Jungle Grumble. It's a larger illustration and so, when it's ready, it will be a longer film. We recorded pretty much the whole way through the illustration, from first marks to completion, which means lots of footage, so it needs quite a bit of time spending on editing, to get it down to a manageable length. That's a tricky business, as I am talking about process all the time, so we need to cut big sections, without losing too much that's interesting.
Trouble is, things have been so busy ever since we filmed it, there has not been time to finish the editing process yet. We are about a third of the way through, I reckon.
It's another thing on the 'to-do' list. Life is quieting down though, now we are out of the main school-visits season, so hopefully it won't be too long before I can share the new demo with you. In the meantime, here are a couple of films we made of me talking through how I drew the roughs for Jungle Grumble. If you haven't watched them already, you might find them interesting:
I spent Saturday in Manchester, sketching in and around the fantastic Museum of Science and Industry (yes, this is me in action - thanks to Adelina Pintae for the lovely sketch): The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI, asked if I would run a sketchcrawl workshop day for them. The idea was to make it very much like the sketchcrawls I do each month with my Urban Sketchers group, Sketchcrawl North but, because SCBWI represents authors as well as illustrators, we incorporated on-the-spot writing too. I kicked off with a talk in the Learning Loft, because the concept of sketchcrawling was new to many of the participants, in fact several of them had not done location sketching before, or not used a sketchbook in years. I took along lots of my sketchbooks, told them about Urban Sketchers, talked about reportage sketching and the various techniques I use. People were very interested in the contents of my kit bag, because I have got it down to a fine art now. I carry quite a range of art equipment, but can pack it all into a little zip-up case, just 10" x 6":
MOSI is spread over several buildings. Our first sketching spot was in the Air and Space building. I concentrated on a replica of an old tri-plane, although I was also very interested in the iron architecture behind:
I could have stayed there all day, but after an hour we moved on to the Power Hall. It was certainly a baptism of fire for the new sketchers. If our first venue was pretty tricky, the second spot was fiendishly so! It was all pumping pistons and spinning wheels. I got quite interested in the patterns that the various structures and machine elements made so, rather than concentrating on one machine, I went for a general view across one end of the room.
We had a lunch break up in the Learning Loft. It was a wide, bright space, up at the top of the main museum building, with fabulous views out over the surrounding area. We spent 45 minutes sketching the views. I picked this one, down over the 'train' part of the museum, complete with working steam trains. This is the sketch I am doing in Adelina's drawing at the top:
We were intending to stay within the museum, but it was a lovely warm sunny day, so we went for a little walk instead, to a really good outdoor location, called Castlefield. The canal meets various railway lines as well as the road, so there are lots of different bridges in a small space, creating some great shapes and contrasts:
There are also canal boats and geese, as well as a lovely variety of old and new buildings. I made a mental note to take SketchCrawl North back there as soon as possible.
We went back up to the Learning Loft to share the work. As usual, it was fascinating to see all the different styles and approaches to the same subjects. The two writers who were with us didn't read out, but they also passed round their notebooks. They had both chosen to capture words and phrases, to take away a sense of the place, rather than write a narrative.
I enjoyed walking back to Deansgate station through the same area we had drawn in. It was very visually exciting. Even the grotty bits were interesting. I had a fun journey home too. the train was rammed. Luckily I got a seat and started to draw.
A family, who were standing behind me, were all watching. Their little girl, about seven I should think, had her head just above my book and was fascinated. Incredibly, despite all the attention and all the little girl's questions ('Are you drawing that?'), the people still didn't appear to realise they were being sketched!
A big thanks to Anna at SCBWI for organising the event and for inviting me to lead it. I met some lovely people and had a great time.
Peter Bently and myself are in some pretty awe-inspiring company too: Axel Sheffler (Flap-Flap Farm), Tony Ross & David Wallliams (The Slightly Annoying Elephant) and Ed Bryan (Red Riding Hood) are the others in our category. As, you imagine, I am tickled pink.
We are in a section for the best digital adaptation of books, because Signed Stories has done a superb job of creating a signed and animated version of A Lark in the Ark. Just look at that signer in his waterproof! There's a trailer here which gives you a flavour.
You can vote for your favourite's in all the categories here (vote for us, vote for us, vote for us..!) and you can download the signed versions of the book from Signed Stories here. It's £3.99.
Each year I do a painting for a charity called The Willow Foundation. It goes towards a project called Stars on Canvas: a London exhibition and on-line auction to raise money for seriously ill people and their families, providing them with much-needed, special days out to remember.
The charity send out 20cm square canvases to all sorts of people, some of them artists like myself, many of them celebrities from all sorts of fields. Everyone creates a piece of art on exactly the same format.
This year I thought I would do Bears on the Stairs, because the little bear would fit the square format rather well.
Acrylics are still an unfamiliar medium though, as I have just not had enough spare time to get to grips with technique. This little canvas has been a good way of helping me learn how the paint responds. It's very different from watercolour or pastels of course. I enjoyed playing around, trying to get the effects I wanted, without knowing for sure what I was doing.
This is how he looks, hot off the press: I wanted to identify the book the character had come from so, like last time, I used the side of the canvas to write the title. The opposite side had a good space for my name. It was very tricky and fiddly doing the text though - in many ways the hardest bit!
If you would like to make sure you get the chance to buy the rude little bear, or want to see some of the other canvases that will be for sale, here's the info you need. Also, if you are a painter, illustrator or celeb and would like to have a go at doing your own canvas for the exhibition and auction, the deadline is not until August, so there's still time if you're quick.
It's not often that work takes me to the seaside.
As you know, I had a couple of events just outside Norwich last week. I knew the work would be fun, but it's still a 4 hour drive. Which was why we decided to book an extra night's B&B on the nearby coast at Cromer, to make better use of all the travelling.
It's not a part of the country I know, but a librarian I worked with in Leeds recently was born nearby, so she recommended a great guesthouse with a perfect sea view. Not only could we watch the crashing waves, but I had this view down over the pier:
We got up at 5am on Monday morning (ugh) so we could get to Cromer for 10.00 and have a full day to play. We took pot luck with the weather, but it turned out sunny and dry all day. We pottered and ambled along the sand, ate a picnic lunch on the cliff and wandered back across the top, chilling out with the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair (jealous yet?). By 3pm though, John was flagging from the early start and all his driving so, while he went to recuperate, I sat on the pier and sketched.
By then the wind was up. I had to cling onto my book for dear life, to stop it being snatched out of my hands and into the sea. I was also very aware of the pencil-sized gaps between the wooden boards at my feet!
All along the coast they are hard at work, repairing the storm damage. I did a really quick sketch of one of the many diggers on the beach. I was sketching to a soundtrack of sawing and banging. All the pier boarding was being replaced - the sea rose up underneath and simply lifted them all off. It lifted the buildings at the pier gateway too, so they all need rebuilding. So much work, but they are really getting on with it.
The next day was cooler but still nice and we didn't need to get to my event until late afternoon, so we headed the other way down the beach. I did some more sketching, wrapped up in my big coat:
Unfortunately, the rain eventually caught up with us. I was half way through trying to capture all the patterns in the eroded sandy cliff when it started to spit. I held out as it got heavier and heavier, until my sketchbook was starting to get quite wet (as well as me, of course). You can see the rain marks in the paint:
We headed inland to dry off at our next B&B, which turned out to be even lovelier. When I booked White House Farm in Hindolvston, I had no idea it was such an old and beautiful house. A lovely garden too, with lots of different kinds of chickens and a pond full of big frogs. Inside, there was a big soppy dog to greet us, plus lots of cake.
The Book Group talk went really well and it was nice to show everyone the drawings I'd done that very day. People were all really friendly and interested. I stopped and chatted to them afterwards and signed lots of books.
Next morning, my chauffeur dropped me at Reepham School, where I had a brilliant day with the children and got them all drawing too. The time shot by and, before I knew it, John was back to pick me up. We drove back via the coast and grabbed one more brief walk on the marshes with the sea birds, before starting the long drive back.
Good fun, good company, good weather and good sketching in a beautiful part of the world - I think we can call that a great success!
This week I have been back in Norwich. Remember I spoke at the Reading for Pleasure conference there in November?
Well, I visited a couple of local schools while I was there and one of them, Reepham Primary, has invited me back, which is a lovely vote of confidence (thank you Reepham!).
It's a long way to go for one day though. I was originally spending a couple of days in another Norwich school too, but they cancelled on me at the last minute. Not ideal, despite the cancellation fee. But I couldn't let Reepham down, so I'm still going.
Luckily another event has come up: Marilyn Brocklehurst at the much-admired Norfolk Children's Book Centre was supplying books for signing at Reepham School but, as it happens, she also coordinates the Norfolk branch of the Federation of Children's Book Groups. The Federation do all sorts of amazing things to promote reading, not least run the highly acclaimed Red House Book Award.
Marilyn arranged for me to do an author event for the Norfolk group on the evening before my day at Reepham Primary, which has definitely helped to get more value from all that travel time.
I was originally going to take the train but, with the changes to the plan, John volunteered to be my chauffeur instead (an ever-expanding job-description!). We got home last night and I'm declaring today a day of rest, so we'll be putting our feet up, probably with a book and a coffee, quite possibly in a nice local coffee shop. There might even be cake involved...
You might think this question has something to do with the strange animal couplings from Jungle Grumble, but you'd be wrong. The answer to the riddle is... me, last week. Okay, hopefully I didn't bear any visual resemblance to either frogs or mice, but my voice certainly did. Yes, I know, again. Almost every year it seems to happen to me. I get a cold and end up with laryngitis. As usual for March, there have been so many visits booked in, I've just had to dose up on paracetamol and get stuck in. Normally I can blame the germy children I meet around World Book Day but, this year, I think I caught it off a friend the weekend before, because I got poorly on the very first Monday, 2 weeks ago. Groan.
By that Friday, the voice was seriously wobbly, but I was booked to do a talk first thing to a hall-full, at Sheffield High School. Luckily we got an emergency microphone rigged up so I could do the mouse-voice thing. Then, half-way through the subsequent illustration workshop, John suddenly appeared with emergency supplies: a big bottle of of TCP, so I could do some lunchtime gargling in the loos! What a hero. Unfortunately, I've been bathed in the delightful scent of TCP ever since.
It does help though and is probably the reason why I've not gone completely silent this time round. I had only two days of visits last week, on Wednesday and Thursday. I had hoped that the few days of rest would sort it out, but no - still the same. Oh well. John is enjoying the luxury of getting a word in edge-ways. Also being told off at a far lesser volume than usual.
I met some smashing children on both days and everyone has been very patient with my difficulties. It all seems to be going very well anyway, despite adversity. Maybe next week I will sound less like a squeaky frog...
Despite my occasional moans about the early trains I have to catch, I do enjoy the March school visits season. I love interacting with the children. The one big drawback to being an illustrator is that it is easy to spend far too long on your own in the house.
Before the days of school visits, when I worked as an editorial illustrator and in the early days of doing the children's books, I used to get a bit stir-crazy. Being an illustrator might sound glamorous, but mostly it's just day after day in four walls, with only a computer and a drawing desk for company. In fact, I first met John because I decided I needed to interact with the world, before I lost the power of speech!
I'd not long moved to Sheffield, so didn't know many people and thought teaching at the local art college might be fun and help me make new friends. It was actually pretty scary to start with, but I muddled through and ended up lecturing for about 7 years, going from 1 day to 3 days a week.
I taught all sorts - Printed Textiles (that's what my degree is in), Life Drawing, Print-making (a lot of learning as I went along), Photoshop (even more learning as I went along!) and, of course, Illustration. John and I shared an office and discovered we were living on the same side of Sheffield. I had to get 2 buses to the college, so John started giving me a lift home after work and the rest, as they say, is history.
I think this is one of the first paintings I have of John, from those very early days in the 1990's. We'd not been married long:
We've been married for over 20 years now, so some of it is a bit hazy, but I do clearly remember fancying him in his black leather driving gloves, during those lifts home from the college!
I didn't used to keep a sketchbook as addictively in those days, so this is a much later sketch: the slightly older model, with a few more dints (don't tell him I said that, will you?).
I've been commissioned to do a SketchCrawl event in Manchester at the end of the month, for SCBWI - that's the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. If you are trying to get started as a writer or illustrator of children's books, it's an organisation that is well worth joining. They have regional groups all over the country and put on lots of events to advise and inspire.
SketchCrawling is an idea I introduced to SCBWI back in 2010, when I was keynote speaker at the 10th anniversary conference. I talked about it in my speech, because sketching is a key part of how I keep my love of what I do alive, despite it having been my job for 30 years now.
Because SCBWI represents authors as well as illustrators, the SketchCrawl event later this month in the Science Museum will not just be for sketching, but writing too - creating on-the-spot responses to what we see. There will be plenty to inspire and I'm sure the exhibits will be evocative enough to get the authors fired up. If you fancy giving it a go, as a writer or a sketcher, it's open to non-members too. Drop Anna Violet an email to book your place.
The publisher is now setting up the final designs. My designer at Piccadilly sent me low-res versions of how the spreads will look with text. Now she has my finished digital illustrations, she will be fine-tuning the designs and placing all the text into position, ready for proofing. This is how the first spread is going to look:
They have also created designs for the 'extras', like the back cover and the title page, using sections from the existing illustrations. This is the title page design:
It's all perfect timing, because of course I am out of the studio most days at the moment, visiting schools. Today I am actually in a school in Sheffield, so nice and close for a change, but sadly no chance for train sketching.
With train tickets in my pocket, a sketchbook in my handbag and a case full of picture books, I have started out on the trail again, visiting schools all over the place, to help children celebrate World Book Day with storytelling and workshops, talking to them about my work and sharing the wonder and fun of books.
There's actually only one World Book Day, this Thursday, and of course only one of me too, but since there are lots and lots of schools, my World Book Day visits tend to spread throughout March.
The week started with a visit to Kippax Primary yesterday, in Leeds (I've been before and it's always a pleasure). If all is going to plan, I should right this moment be stepping off a train in Liverpool, ready to begin a 2-day visit, working with Whitefield Primary.
I'll be staying in a hotel tonight, which can be a bit lonesome, so I'll try and get out in the evening to do some drawing. That's if I'm not too done-in anyway. Last time I was there, I did loads of sketching, all through dinner. In the meantime, since I've not had time to scan my travel sketches from yesterday, I though I would decorate this post with some more of the sketches I did on my trip to London. As well as museums, we visited the National Gallery.
Obviously the paintings were inspiring, but the building itself is lovely, so I sat on the floor (resting my sore feet) and whipped out my paints.
I was not at all sure that painting was allowed (and have since found out it isn't!), so was waiting to be told off the whole time, especially as there were attendants about. Maybe it's because by then it was nearly closing time, but they left me alone just long enough to get these two quickies done.
A little earlier that day, we also visited the National Portrait Gallery. I got to sit on a proper chair that time and drew the folks passing by in front of me:
I have been playing in a Strathmore sketchbook I was given as a pressie at the last Urban Sketchers Symposium. I am really enjoying working on the grey paper - it changes the way you work, which is good fun.
When I did my illustrator-in residence project for the ASCEL Conference last year, I met lots of librarians, which is always a pleasure, since librarians are almost as lovely as children's illustrators :-) One of those I met, contacted me a little while ago and asked me to visit their library. So on Wednesday I took the train to Nottingham and spent a lovely day in Sherwood. There were no visible forests, nor merry men for that matter (probably a good thing at that time of day), though we did find a lovely deli for lunch and a lot of merry children from 3 local schools.
It didn't start well though. When I checked the departures board at Sheffield station, to find my platform, I discovered that the train I'd booked didn't exist. Not just cancelled - never was! Bit of a blow. A chat with Customer Services informed me there'd been a landslide near Chesterfield on Monday and all the train timetables in that direction had been changed. Wonderful.
Luckily, though half an hour late, I arrived just as the 60 children were filing into the library. Phew. My morning group was two Y3 classes, so I read stories, drew animals at the flipchart and generally played the goat (Giddy Goat, naturally). They were all lovely and I quickly forgot the stresses of the journey.
After lunch (with cake - told you librarians were nice), I had a Y5 group, so I talked about my work and showed them some artwork, like this monkey's tea party illustration from Stinky!. I also took roughs and books-in-progress (including a sneak-preview of Swap!), then taught them how to draw characters in motion. They too were a smashing group and asked me some brilliant questions, which is always very gratifying (if I have to answer 'what is your favourite book' one more time...).
I finished the day with something a bit different: an hour with the homework club. Normally it's an after-school drop-in session, with 3 adult helpers on hand to give assistance with any homework children have. Since I was there, it was billed as a creative writing workshop instead. At the start though, we had just one boy (with the 3 helpers, the librarian and me - poor lad).
It was okay though: I did him a personal illustration, adding all the elements at his direction, to use as the starting point for his writing and, thank goodness, before the drawing was done, five more children turned up. I showed them how to start a story in the most exciting way possible, and they all got stuck into a tale about a scorpion and spider who were trying to catch and eat a man in the desert.
The aforementioned lovely librarian bought each of the children one of my picture books as a special present to take home with them, which I of course signed, before heading off for the adventure of trying to find a train home.
It was a really positive day and a great start to the visit season (thanks Sarah!). It all kicks off in earnest on Monday - I'll be out every single day that week. Luckily I'll be taking trains in the opposite direction :-)
Last week, the scans of my Jungle Grumble illustrations came back from the repro-house. Things have been a bit fast and furious: I've had just a few days to get all the 'finishing work' done, then Dropbox the final digital artwork back to the publisher, ready for everything to be put together and sent off to the printer. Phew.
There were three 'finishing' jobs for me to do in Photoshop / Painter:
1 - text overlays
Children's illustrators never draw text onto their actual artwork, because of translations. All text, even wording that is part of the actual picture, is added afterwards, digitally. Unfortunately, because of the pastel texture of my work, ordinary, typed text 'floats', so I make my own text overlays, using Painter, which look like they are drawn in black pastel. Luckily there wasn't much intrinsic text in Jungle Grumble, only one lion roar and the Swap Shop sign, though that does appear a few times:
2 - legibility issues
To keep things as clear as possible, it's easiest when a story's main text falls over areas of sky. That wasn't always possible in Jungle Grumble: in several places I had to use trees or bushes as backgrounds for text. But it was tricky to be sure precisely where specific lines of text would need to sit and, because of my style, it was hard not to include undergrowth textures which might be visually distracting behind the words. Once my designer got the scans, she was able to layer the two together so we could spot any places where things were slightly too busy or too dark to be sure of maximum visibility. I then used Photoshop to make subtle changes. Spot the differences to the bush bottom right:
3 - vignettes
Not all my illustrations are full spreads with illustrated backgrounds. Some pages feature smaller vignettes: characters against a plain background. My biggest digital job is cutting vignette characters off my pink paper. It takes ages because of the pastel edge, especially where the pastel colour is close to the pink of the paper, like Lion's roar:
He looks so much better on green, don't you think? For anyone who wants to know how I do the cutting out, here's a detailed 'masterclass' (though my version of Photoshop is old, so many things may be slightly different on up-to-date editions).
Most illustrators don't do this digital stuff themselves, but I prefer to, as the pastels make it quite a bit more tricky than usual. It's possible that I'm being a bit of a control freak, as usual, but after all that time spent getting the drawings done, I like to be sure that these final alterations are exactly right.
Saturday was February's SketchCrawl North day and we had a trip to Buxton in Derbyshire. It was a beautifully sunny day so, although we were on a pub-crawl (much like the one we did in Sheffield recently), I braved a bit of street sketching outside the pub, to kick things off: But, even in my fingerless gloves, it was colder than it looked. It's always chilly in Buxton! I retreated into The Old Clubhouse when bits of me started going numb, only to find most of the rest of the crew tucked up in comfy chairs with cups of coffee and perfect views of the Buxton Opera House through the picture windows - no discomfort necessary.
By the time I'd got my own coffee, I only had 20 minutes before we were due to move on, so no time for colour, just my fountain pen. It's such a wonderful building. I managed all its colourful glory last time we visited Buxton, sitting on the pavement in September sunshine (oh, for warm weather...).
We did a quick detour on the way to the 2nd pub: one of our team had noticed a great 2 for 1 deal on sketchbooks at Rymans. We descended like a plague of locusts and left the shelves virtually bare!
The next stop was The Cheshire Cheese. I was about to settle in, when my friend (a local) said I really ought to be drawing inside the second-hand bookshop opposite, or at least should take a look. So the two of us went off-piste for a bit.
Scriveners is indeed fascinating: one of those crammed-to-the-rafters bookshops, but with all sorts of interesting bits and bobs as well as books (as well as help-yourself, coffee-making facilities upstairs). It went up and up, a twisty-turny place with lots of little rooms opening into yet more rooms. When we got near the top, this rooftop view called to me. Unfortunately, I could only see it properly by piling heavy books up onto the stool of a harmonium and perching there like a rather old pixie.
We next visited the New Inn, a quite small and very 'local' feeling pub. There was a roaring fire and a group of men at the bar, sporting a selection of dogs. I asked one man if I could draw his dog. He was bemused, but then got into the idea and pulled Elvis nearer the windows, so I could see better.
But Elvis, who had been quite docile and still till then, now got very twitchy. It turned out he was frightened of a tiny little dog, Axel (with ears like a fennec fox). The man said that was nothing - big but totally soppy Elvis was frightened of the dark and of his own shadow!
Axel didn't keep still either: he was too interested in everything. He was cute and very delicate, but we were warned he was inclined to remove your fingers, given a chance. Perhaps Elvis was right...
Having broken the ice with the locals, I got up the courage to draw a couple of the men propping up the bar. They never noticed me though:
When I was done, I weighed up whether to show them. They weren't bad likenesses, so I went for it. It was the right decision: they seemed pretty pleased and all their mates gathered round to have a look, as they'd done earlier for the dog pics, which were a great success. We left the pub with lots of waved goodbyes and promises to check us out on Facebook. I so love that aspect of Urban Sketching.
Unfortunately the Buxton Tap was heaving by the time we got there, so we returned to The Old Clubhouse for our 'sharing' session. We had to pull 3 tables together to get everyone round. It's such fun looking at everyone else's sketches from the day and you get so many new ideas.
Thanks to Kate and Stefan for organising the day - another great success and a brilliant turn-out.
One of my favourite buildings is the Natural History Museum. It's so very beautiful. Such lovely colours of brick and gorgeously detailed decoration, both inside and out. I love the carved fish swimming by you as you walk round and monkeys that climb up towards the ceiling! You won't be surprised then, that I spent a whole day in the museum during our London trip. John and I looked round together all morning, but I was itching to do some drawing, so after lunch he left me to it. I sat myself on the floor and got out my sketchbook:
There was so much to go at, it was hard to choose, but one thing I had to draw, as soon as I saw him, was this hairy warthog:
And, in case you think it's just my wonky drawing, here's a photo to prove that he really did have a head that flat. He's really not a looker, is he? Though I must say, his skinny, sticky-up tail is pretty cute, don't you think?
I couldn't walk by this wonderfully gooky rhino either, with his huge funnel-ears and slightly bemused smile:
...or this funny-looking fish. Sometimes a wee bit ugly is rather appealing, isn't it?
I did go for cute too though. These delicate features were simply irresistible:
As I was sitting facing the cabinets, I couldn't see behind me. Every so often I would catch some movement out of the corner of my eye and look round to find a huddle of people standing over me, looking suddenly embarrassed to be caught in the act.
I had a long chat with one man who got very excited when he saw my waterbrush and wrote down all the details, so he could go away and get one immediately. They really are a brilliantly simple invention and make wet-sketching in museums possible.
I drew my socks off until John came to collect me at chucking-out time. He told me that he had just been sitting having tea next to Peter Gabriel in the Science Museum cafe. Oddly, we also found ourselves sitting having tea next to Simon Armitage the very next day in the British Museum (Sorry - I didn't draw him).
This is what I am sketching in the photo near the top, by the way:
Disaster!! I just wrote this blog once, then managed to delete it after just 15 minutes. What a plonker. I'm not sure if I can remember all that I told you, but I'll do what I can. Grrrrrrr.....
Anyway, John and I went to London for a few days last week, which is why I have been blog-silent for a while.
We went to spend time in some of the lovely, big London museums, but we also went to see something rather special: we had invitations to see the London Symphony Orchestra perform a new musical version of an old favourite from my back-list: Giddy Goat.
The production was on at the Barbican Theatre. The place was rammed with children when we got there. Photos were not allowed during the performance, but I snapped the one below quickly, as they were setting up, just to show you the space.
The beautiful score was written by composer Paul Rissman, originally for a much smaller, touring production in 2008 but, when he got a job working with the LSO's schools programme, he revisited the work and expanded it for a full orchestra. He also wrote several news songs for the children to join in with.
Paul was master of ceremonies too, reading Jamie Rix's lovely story while my illustrations were projected above the orchestra. He was brilliant with the children, making them laugh, introducing them to different members of the orchestra and leading them in song (there were actions too - amazing to watch the whole theatre alive with moving hands).
John and I had special seats at the back, which was great as I could see the audience as well as the show. It was so lovely to see how totally engaged the children were. I had to stand up in my seat at one point and be clapped, which was fun.
Giddy has been one of my most popular books, but it is quite old now. I looked it up and discovered it was published in 2003 - over 10 years ago. It went out of print, but was re-printed for the 2008 show. It had sold out again but - hurrah - this new production has brought it back to life, yet again!
It's nearly 5 weeks since my op and my foot has been getting steadily better. It's taken quite a bit longer than last time though. I've been able to wear walking sandals for nearly 3 weeks now, but I've only been flirting with more mainstream footwear if I need to look a bit more glam and I know I'm not going to be actually walking much.
But this last week I've been noticeable better. Which is handy, since it's been so bloomin' wet that walking sandals just don't hack it.
Last night I donned my kitten-heel boots for a walk to the local pub and back (a suitable incentive). Then today we woke up to glorious sunshine, so John and I tested things further by doing the 20 minute walk to the coffee shop and back, for a decadent breakfast of coffee and croissants. All very nice.
It's quite a drag back uphill and I was pleased to get back into my boring old sandals by the time we got home, but I seem to have suffered no ill effects, so I think we're more or less there. Thank goodness.
This morning's sketches were done with my lovely Sailor pen by the way. I managed to lose the one I had last weekend (disaster!), so bought another one straight away.
It's meant for Japanese calligraphy and has a weird, turned-up nib end, as you can see, but that means it glides easily across the paper, allowing you to draw in any direction. You can get a real range of line widths too, depending on the angle you hold the pen.
I regularly get asked about where I got it, so here's a link if anyone is interested.
Yes, John has been editing like a demon and we have now finished the 2nd of our two new films about creating a set of roughs. This one tells you how I designed some of the many animal characters for Jungle Grumble. If you are new to my blog, Jungle Grumble is the latest book I have been working on with author Julia Jarman.
In this 2nd film, I show you how I begin with photographic reference and how I play around with facial features in particular, to turn each animal into a character more suitable for a picture book:
We shot the footage for this film back in September, at the same time as the one I published last week. I had just finished all the line-drawings and had submitted them to the publisher, so it seemed a good idea to talk about the process while everything was fresh in my memory.
But both films got put on a back-burner for a while, because of school visits and festivals. Then suddenly I had my artwork deadline to meet. We finally got round to editing them a couple of weeks back, while I was still having to sit around, because of my bad foot.
Anyway, I really hope you like our efforts. We have over 1000 views on the first film, which is great:
Please, please, please - if you enjoy the films, do share the links and tell your friends!
The next film to be uploaded to my YouTube channel will be another demonstration with pastels at my drawing board, showing you how I turn one of my roughs into a piece of finished artwork. Let's hope we get that one edited together a little more swiftly for you!
This year's Urban Sketchers' Symposium is going to be in Brazil, in the old coastal city of Paraty. The annual symposium is generally the most exciting event of my year, but I was a bit worried that I would miss out this time round, as Brazil is such a very long way from Sheffield. Each year the symposium is held in a different country, usually a different continent. My first time, in 2011, it was in Lisbon. I had the most amazing few days. I met so many other sketchers: people whose work I admired from the main Urban Sketchers blog site and people I was finding out about for the first time. Though many of us didn't even share language, everyone shared the same passion for drawing, so we all got on like a house on fire and I made many new friends. But 2012 was like this year - the symposium was half way round the world, in the Dominican Republic and I couldn't afford to go. Then a call went out, asking members to pitch ideas for the workshop slots. I didn't think I stood much of a chance but, having run children's workshops for so many years, I thought I could do it.
I tried to think about what I could share - what sort of sketching I was best at.
The following year I pitched another idea. This time I devised a workshop for helping people loosen up, called Sketches that Sing. I wasn't particularly optimistic that I'd be chosen, as the competition was fierce and I thought the organisers might well want to try new people. Imagine my delight when I was invited back! That was last year and, of course, the Barcelona symposium was equally brilliant. I felt a real part of the Urban Sketchers team too. I looked it up today - I was invited to be a correspondent way back in December 2008 and I am truly honoured to be part of the organisation, but sometimes feel like I am a bit of a long way from the main action, so symposiums are great for that too. Anyway, I pitched another workshop idea when the call went out for this year, not believing for a second I would get to teach a third time. I knew if I was to stand a chance, I had to make it good - something that people really needed help with. I thought long and hard. Running my regular SketchCrawl North group helped a lot with ideas - I considered which aspects of sketching most of my group found challenging.
I have noticed that many people draw in pencil or black pen. Some of them have consciously chosen to work in black and white, but a great many sketchers, even some experienced ones, are timid about colour. They are often not sure where to start, or find their attempts end up too fussy, too muddy or either too gaudy or too washed out. So, my new idea for this year's symposium was to offer a series of suggestions for ways to play with colour, called Afraid of Colour? - techniques for those who are unsure how to make the transition from black & white.
I just found out that my idea has been accepted and I am absolutely tickled pink. Not only does this mean that I'm going to Paraty after all (hurrah!), but it also suggests there must surely have been positive feedback from my previous workshops. All of which is wonderful news. I can't wait to meet up with my sketch-buddies from round the world and see what sounds like a lovely city.
If you are a keen sketcher and want to join us in Paraty, mark August 27th - 30th in your diary. Registration will open towards the end of March. Because it has been getting so oversubscribed, there are some new plans for this year, with different levels of participation and parallel activities. Here is some more information. Maybe I'll see you there!
Well okay, not quite literally, but the entire Jungle Grumble menagerie has been rounded up, tethered by John with masking tape and card, then popped in a package and posted off to Piccadilly Press: I made my deadline (cue applause...). It's an odd sensation, particularly with this book, which has taken quite a lot of graft, because of the complexity of the images. There is a sense of relief, a slight fear for the package's safe arrival, but also a vague feeling of disbelief that it's actually all done. Not that it is entirely done. Once all my artwork has been scanned, I will have the digital finishing work to do. All the vignettes need cutting out in Photoshop, like the piece above: the final piece I had to do (remember the altered end?). Also, because of the inevitable jungle undergrowth textures in the backgrounds of many of the illustrations, we need to get all the text in place and check for legibility issues. On my computer, I can slightly lighten background areas if necessary and tinker with any mark-making that interferes with the words. The schedule is pretty fierce, as Piccadilly want it proofed in time for the Bologna Children's Book Fair at the end of March. I will get the digital scans by Feb 19th and have to get all the Photoshop work done by the 28th. Then it's all put together at the publishers, sent round to everyone for a final once-over, then off to proofing on March 14th.
I can't wait to see how it looks!
This week, I have been finishing off the last stragglers of my Jungle Grumble artwork - mainly the front cover.
Sometimes publishers ask you to do the cover at the beginning, because they want to use it for early publicity, but I hate that: it's much better to leave it til last. As I work through the illustrations for a book, I get more and more comfortable with the characters and the colour palette. I sometimes have to go back and tinker with the first illustration I tackle, because I realise I've got better as I go along.
The cover illustration is so important. You want it to be as strong as it can possibly be, so I was really pleased to be allowed to leave it until the very end this time.
The Jungle Grumble cover is based on a detail from one of the spreads and, like most cover illustrations, it's not too complicated: simple, bold images generally work best. Because of this, I knew it wouldn't take too long to complete, so I thought it would be another good opportunity for John to do some filming.
The last demonstration film we made of me creating a piece of my pastel artwork, when I was working on Swap!, proved very popular. I've had such lovely feedback and it's had over 16,500 views so far, so I was pretty sure you would like another one. Here's that demo film, in case you missed it first time round:
I think it's far more interesting to film me working on an actual book, rather than a random drawing, but it can be a bit stressful to be filmed while I am grappling with one of my illustrations. I can get grumpy at the best of times, when things aren't working right and, as I'm sure you can imagine, the last thing I need then is John at my shoulder with a camera! That's another reason why we left the filming of the Jungle Grumble artwork until the cover, when (hopefully...) I knew pretty much what I was doing.
Even though the cover illustration was far simpler to pastel-up than any of the inside spreads, we still shot 1.5 hours of film. Poor John now has the task of whittling that down to something more appropriate, without losing too much of the practical information. We will probably edit the demonstration into two halves, which will double the film's length, so we don't have to scrap quite as much. I will of course let you know once it's ready (or you can subscribe to my YouTube channel to get automatic updates on new films).
My task now is to double-check all the Jungle Grumble artwork for continuity errors, and do any last-minute tinkering, before everything is mounted up and sent off.
On Saturday, my group SketchCrawl North got a mention on Radio 4! Okay, it was a 'cough-and-you'll-miss-it' mention, but it still brought in lots of enquiries by new members wanting to join our merry band.
The BBC were interviewing Simone Ridyard and James Hobbs, leaders of the Manchester and London Urban Sketching groups, because Saturday was World Wide SketchCrawl Day and Urban Sketchers from all around the globe were out with their sketchbooks. Unlike the lucky folks living in warm, sunny climes, SketchCrawl North decided it would be prudent to spend our day indoors.
This was my first visit to the natural history museum attached to Manchester Uni. It was also my first day out and about since my foot op. Things are healing gradually. It's a bit drawn out, but I am now able to wear shoes and hobble around.
The museum is a real treasure and much bigger than I expected. It's stuffed full with all sorts. As you can see, I really got into the cases full of skeletons. One room was dominated by a massive T-Rex (the favourite of all the children visitors):
One of my favourites was the elephant skeleton. I had no idea that inside their big, stubby feet, they have the bones for long toes:
As well as skeletons and stuffed creatures, there was a vivarium, with live snakes, frogs and lizards. I chose the chameleon because he was sitting nice and still. Only his eye swivelled round, keeping tabs on passing faces through the glass.
At the end of the afternoon, we met up with the Manchester group in the huge Kro bar. Together we were quite a crowd: 30 - 40 people, sharing our sketchbooks and getting to know one another. Fantastic. The home group had been drawing around Victoria Station and many of them had braved the street. There was some brilliant work, despite the cold (and often wet) conditions.
On the train home, by pure coincidence, the man opposite me got out a sketchbook, so we got talking. He was also a professional illustrator - what are the odds? The train was horribly delayed, so it was great to spend the journey chatting and checking out each other's art equipment (that sounds really nerdy actually...).
If you want to get involved with Urban Sketching in Yorkshire, just email me, or contact Simone Ridyard for the Manchester group, Tim Richardson at Urban Sketchers Birmingham or James Hobbs for London.
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Surreal as that combination may sound, it was what I was drawing on Tuesday night, during a hilarious evening at The Greystones pub in Sheffield. It could only be a Dr Sketchy night! The Yorkshire Puddings are a group of ladies who are big and proud. I suspect they more usually perform in fishnets and feathers, but for our sketching evening they dressed up like something out of Andy Capp (okay, so who is old enough to remember that strip?). There were headscarves and slippers, feather dusters and overalls, with wonderfully broad bottoms and big bosoms beneath.
But what made it so funny was that they didn't just dress up, they got totally into character. They grumbled and quipped their way through the proceedings, with heavy Yorkshire accents, shuffling their way up and down from the stage, round-shouldered, mops in tow. The whole thing was brilliant.
Then half a dozen char-ladies did a dance routine, still in character, which gradually evolved into a striptease, revealing bumper brassieres trimmed with sequins or ostrich feathers, black basques and big, lacy bloomers!
At half time, to keep up with the theme, there was a game of bingo, incorporating some rather unexpected calling names, quite clearly being made up on the spot. The bingo was followed by a 5 minute pose where we were asked to draw only with our bingo-dibbers. Unfortunately, I had a lurid orange one:
At intervals, prizes were given for the best sketches (chosen by the models). I won for a round where one of the ladies posed up on the bar between the pumps:
They got all the prizewinners up on the stage at the end, for a group photo:
I really look forward to my Dr Sketchy evenings, because I love the crazy dressing up, but I also love drawing to music and, although it's pretty exhausting, I really like the relentlessness of the pace: five or ten minute poses, one after another. There was only one pose I think that was as long as twenty minutes and that was because we had about eight models up on stage! I only managed to tackle three:
If you live anywhere near Sheffield and like life-drawing, but fancy something a bit different, for goodness sake check out the Dr Sketchy events at The Greystones. They are every couple of months: the next one is on March 8th, 7.30 - 10pm.