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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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I have started my pastel artwork for The Jungle Grumble. I am only doing 2 pieces of artwork at this stage, to be taken to the Frankfurt Book Fair by my publisher. I have just enough time to get it done. Because things are tight, John has been helping me with jobs, like cutting my pastel paper to size:
I generally work larger than the actual size. On this book I am doing my drawings at 120%, although one of the 2 images the publisher has chosen for their Frankfurt presentation is the very complex 8th spread, so I'l be doing that at 140%, so I can manage the detail:
Another job is getting the prints-outs of the roughs ready for me to trace. We only have an A4 printer. By the time the line-work is enlarged to the scale I am going to work at, the image is pretty big, so we have to print it out in several bits and then stick them back together again. The image above was in 6 pieces! To get them to line up accurately, we use the light-box:
I then have the extremely tedious job of tracing the illustrations up onto my pastel paper, again on the lightbox. I have to turn out the lights and pull the blinds, to make it dark enough to see through the pink pastel paper, which is about as thick as watercolour paper. If you want to know why I use pink, read this post, from when I was at the same stage with Dragon's Dinner.
I had a bit more trouble with one of my Jungle Grumble spreads that the others and I thought it offered a good opportunity to talk about issues around composition.
It was the penultimate page: the animals have all swapped back and decided that they are much better off that way (of course). My original thumbnail looked like this:
But Julia Jarman's text begins, 'Later that night, Lion listened to the animals as they gathered at the waterhole.' then it follows on with their comments. I realised that Lion needed to be on the left. So I flipped it:
I wasn't happy though - giraffe didn't fit (she needs to be standing in the water to squeeze her legs in), Hippo was too close to the gutter but, if I moved her, it left poor Zebra out on a limb on his own.
So I shrunk Giraffe a bit and shuffled things around. I moved Parrot from Elephant's head to Croc's, for more humour, moved Monkey to Zebra's page, but it just didn't hang together and was all a bit dull:
There was also the issue of whether to draw naturalistic or non naturalistic poses, now the animals are all back to normal. As you can see, I tried mainly naturalistic, but it was proving hard to make that fun.
The biggest issue though, was the relative sizes of the animals. When you have a cast of very different characters, it's a logistical nightmare fitting them all in so the smallest aren't visually dominated by the largest. Which is why Giraffe and Elephant are at the back. But to make Giraffe fit, she was getting so small that she felt detached from the action. I thought about having her sitting on her bottom at the water's edge, but when I sketched it, it just looked weird - too unnaturalistic!
As I added the characterisation, things at least started to look a bit more happy:
I got the idea of putting Giraffe waist deep in the water, so I could bring her forward, but she needed to be doing something fun. I thought I could have her being spurted by Elephant and splashing him back, but this also proved tricky. Her arms were too long to look right splashing. I tried many times without real success:
Over lunch, I showed my problems to John. He didn't like the splashing sketches either, but suggested drawing Giraffe drinking, like they do, with their legs splayed. I'd used this pose earlier in the book, so had disregarded it as a possibility, but things were getting desperate: I tried it...
Hey presto! Thank goodness (and thanks John).
Not only did this fit her in, it also brought her head down to everyone else's level, so she's part of the fun. And the splayed front legs draw your eye in a circle around the ring of animals, joining together the disparate elements in the composition, which was otherwise in danger of looking 'bitty'.
Let's pray my publisher likes it and I don't have to start again!!
On Saturday, I met up with some of my SketchCrawl chums, where we had a little stall at the Sheaf Valley Festival.
It is an annual festival and is held in a fantastic location: an amphitheatre, right in the centre of Sheffield, cut into the steep hill behind the station, with great views down over the city:
Just like last year, SketchCrawl North were invited to record the occasion in our sketchbooks and were given the stall for free, to help spread the word about Urban Sketching.
We took it in turns to man the stall and, in-between, went out drawing the fun. There was plenty to go at. I especially enjoyed the challenge of sketching the dancers.
Throughout the afternoon, there were performances by lots of different kinds of dancers - all ages, from quite young children up to adults, and all in fabulous costumes, like these majorettes:
The Son de America were particularly good to sketch, in their long, swirly skirts and I loved that massive sombrero:
But possibly my favourite was the Indian dancing, with it's very particular movements. The saris were glorious. One little girl of about 9 did a long and remarkably confident solo dance. She came over to see my drawing of her afterwards and her mum took a photo.
Our stall made a very handy 'base-camp': a place to chat, chill and eat cake between sketching bouts (we were opposite a way-too-tempting cake stall). There was also a massive stall (about 4 trestle tables, laid out end-to-end) celebrating different kinds of bread, all baked and donated by local people and businesses:
I am amazed, looking back through my sketchbooks from the day, that I managed so many drawings, as I seemed to spend quite a long time chatting. It was a really sociable day - more time than usual to talk to my fellow sketchers, plus and I kept bumping into people I knew.
At 3 o'clock there was a dog show. I remembered it from last year and so was really looking forward to it. There were all kinds of dogs, big and small: some beautiful, some cute, some bouncy, some hairy - almost all rather over-excited by the occasion. They had proper judges from Crufts (!) but it was still absolutely bonkers and really funny:
We were very lucky with the weather. Despite threatening clouds and occasional wild gusts which threatened to blow the stall away, we stayed dry all day and had some bouts of gorgeous sunshine to wallow in.
The day finished off with live music. I have always had a soft spot for barbershop quartets, so especially enjoyed the Manor Tops. I gathered a crowd of children behind me while I was doing this sketch ('Can you draw me and my friend?' 'You're right good, you' 'How'd you draw that so fast?'):
It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon: local people, celebrating local talent and showcasing local produce and community groups, all having a good time, hanging out together in the sunshine - exactly what local festivals should be about. SketchCrawl North collected several new recruits over the day too.
A big thank you to the organisers: a great success. I'm already looking forward to next year!
Hurrah - all done in time and emailed off to the publisher!
All those very tiny thumbnails I showed you earlier were scanned and enlarged in Photoshop to 75% of the actual book size:
I then used print-outs of these as a guide, to help me draw everything again, reworking the compositions and correcting mistakes where needed. You can just see the enlarged thumbnail showing through my layout paper:
It was also at this stage that I was adding the new characterisation to each animal, as I went along.
The finished pencil drawings were then re-scanned and enlarged to actual size, then taken back into Photoshop for last-minute tweaks and scale adjustments, as well as the fine-tuning of the text placement.
When I was doing the original thumbnails, this was the spread I was most nervous about. I left it to the very end, because there were so many animals to try and fit in it: not just the 10 featured ones, but sundry others to act as the audience:
I had to find a way, not just to squeeze everyone in, but also to show off their various 'swaps' in a way that let you see everything clearly, to avoid visual confusion (whilst still remembering not to put anyone's face anywhere near the page gutter). Nightmare! Only, actually, when it came to it, I managed okay. Maybe because I had warmed up on the rest of the book.
The one that was redrawn the most in the end, was this one, which at first glance looks the most straight-forward:
I'll tell you why next time - you'll just have to wait!
I thought it might be interesting to use my work on Jungle Grumble to talk about how I design around text. One common error made by would-be children's book illustrators, is forgetting that quite a lot of space needs to be created in your illustration for the words.
This can be a challenge if the illustrations need to be busy. Though ideally the text is evenly spread through the book, this is not always possible, depending on the action. Some spreads can end up very 'text-heavy'. Others have lots of dialogue and all those new lines make the text expand down the page:
Before I put pencil to paper, I always ask my publishers to set the book's text in the chosen font, at actual size, so I know exactly how much space is needed. I then create blank templates for each spread in Photoshop (as above, with the gutter clearly marked), into which I place the text.
Obviously, until I have drawn the illustrations, nobody knows where the text needs to be positioned, so I am okay to move it around, as long as I follow basic design rules (like keeping an appropriate distance from the top / edges / gutter).
Mostly I keep the specified text on the particular spreads suggested by the publisher although, with Jungle Grumble, I did make a couple of changes. For instance, in my brief, this text at the very beginning of the story was split across 2 spreads:
Which seemed an unnecessarily slow start and, by combining both sets of text into one illustration, I freed up an extra spread for later in the book, which was very handy when we were in the thick of the action.
While doing the first thumbnails, I estimated the text area needed:
I then enlarged all the thumbnails and popped each into one of my Photoshop spread-templates. Dragging the bits of text into the positions my illustration idea demanded, I was able to see where more space was needed and rearrange the compositional elements accordingly.
Below is the spread that fits the template at the top of this post. You can see how I have divided the block of text into 3 sections, to make it more palatable to the reader and also easier to draw around. I have then placed the proper text in position on the enlarged thumbnail, replacing my estimated, hand-drawn text. This one fitted the actual text really well:
Using layout paper over the thumbnail print-out (which is translucent, allowing me to see enough of the thumbnail to guide me, but not too much, so no visual distraction as I redraw), I reworked the illustration, making sure I didn't get too close to the text.
My new drawing was re-united with the text when it was scanned and placed back into the Photoshop template, in place of the thumbnail:
Of course, the designer will now rework the text layout - mine is just a suggestion for how I think it best fits my illustrations. Sometimes it stays as is, other times they have ideas to make it funkier.
Hands are always tricky. Getting the thumbs facing the right way, drawing the angles correctly, especially the bend of the wrist...
I often find it easiest to look at my own hands and I have a mirror in the studio, so I can pose. But, because of my foot op, I have not been working in the studio. The foot is healing really well, but it still needs to be elevated as much as possible, so I have been continuing to work from my armchair (ever cloud...).
Anyway, earlier this week, I wanted to draw the lion from Jungle Grumble clapping the other animals, as they strut their stuff after their mad swaps. I had a couple of quick goes, but it wasn't looking right at all. I had the upper hand all twisted and even the other one looked a bit odd.
So, when John came by with a cup of tea, I got him to pose. He had to sit on the floor, to get the angle right. The extra flourishes, in the 'roaring' department, were his own idea (he really threw himself into the role!).
I did a very quick sketch, capturing the shapes but imagining his fingers as being more dumpy and paw-like:
I then transferred the pose to my lion. This is a detail from the final rough of the spread. Much better:
It sometimes makes me laugh: as an illustrator you catch yourself having very serious conversations about the funniest subjects. This time it was blue bottoms. Julia Jarman wrote a Blue-Bottomed Baboon into The Jungle Grumble. He of course wants to swap his bum for something different (he ends up with Zebra's stripy tail in its place, but that's by the by).
The thing is, when I did my photo-search for reference, not one single photo of a baboon's blue bum came up. There were plenty of the disturbingly swollen, red ones, which look like they've been inflated (built-in cushion?), but no blue ones. However, a photo of a mandrill's blue bottom did appear. I hadn't heard of a mandrill: it's a bit baboony, but with a face like an explosion at a cosmetics counter.
A bit more research told me that there was no such thing as a blue bottomed baboon. So I emailed my publisher, who emailed Julia, who texted me. According to Wikipedia, the mandrill is often referred to as a baboon, so we thought we could get away with me drawing the mandrill instead. That suited me, as mandrills look so bonkers. Also, to be honest, I don't especially like drawing baboons: their faces are hard to get right (I drew baboons-in-pantaloons in Lark in the Ark).
That's when I did this sketch of a mandrill's head (on a giraffe's neck, naturally).
The only snag is that mandrills don't have monkey tails - they have short, rough tails, more like a goat. I thought that might be a little bit confusing in the final illustrations, especially given that our mandrill would have to give his tail to someone else when he swapped his bum.
I was just discussing the ethics of sticking a baboon's tail onto a mandrill, when my editor found another blue-bottomed monkey.
The lesula monkey was only discovered in 2007. It has a perfect monkey tail and a slightly less obscene-looking bottom than the mandrill (if you ignore the rather prominent, blue dangly bits - I won't be drawing them):
So we decided to change again and use the lesula monkey. Since nobody will have heard of a lesula, we are going to just call him Monkey. This was my first sketch of him:
His face is equally as funny as the mandrill's, just in a different way - sort of weird, with hauntingly human eyes and a puff-ball head:
After a few more drawings to better develop his character, this is what I think he is going to look like in the book:
John has now finished editing together the films we shot recently. There are five new films altogether. The ones that are entirely new are three demonstrations, showing how to draw the bears from Bears on the Stairs. I take them one at a time, sketching them in pencil and talking you through what I am doing and why, as I go along. First I tackle the Big Bear, and draw him sliding down the banisters:
Then I do the small-but-growly Little Bear, pulling a rude face:
In the third film I draw the fat koala, picking his nose:
The other two films we've uploaded are remakes of the How to Draw a Cat film we made some time ago. We were never very happy with the fact that some of the initial sketching is not very visible. In hindsight, I also felt that the introduction, though full of interesting information, might be a bit annoying if all you wanted was a drawing lesson.
So, as part of the revamp, we have split it into two films. Part 1 is me talking to camera about the various cat characters I have created for my books and how I use reference to create the poses, a lot of which has been re-shot, providing close-ups of my illustrations as I talk:
Part 2, the drawing demo, we did from scratch. But because I didn't want to just repeat what I had done before, I chose a different illustration to draw. It's the same kitten as before, but this time I talk you through created the illustration from Baby Can Bounce, where she is sharing an ice-cream with a little spider friend:
If you have the time, do please take a look at them and let me know what you think. I would also be interesting to hear if you have any thoughts about films you would like to see. Oh, and please don't forget to 'share' the links if you like them, so more people get to see them.
There are 10 different animals featured in The Jungle Grumble. I collected lots of photo reference via Google Images (how did we survive before?) to help me sketch the animals into my 'thumbnail' roughs. Of course they were only titchy, as each thumbnail spread, like the one below, is only about 2 inches high.
I was drawing much larger versions of each animal when I was designing the crazy combos, but at that stage I wasn't fretting too much about characterisation, just visualising how the 'bits' might fit together:
All this has proved a great way to loosen up. Usually, I start work on a new book with the characterisation, which is by no means the easiest part. This means that I generally have a day or two of agony and extreme grumpiness, before I warm up (John gives me a very wide berth!)
This time, having planned all my spreads in miniature, I then went back to sort out the characterisation. Because the swapping will make the illustrations quite complex and tricky to 'read', I don't want to dress the animals (usually a good way to help establish character), or even to accessorise them, as I did in An Itch to Scratch where the animals were unclothed.
Which means that it all has to be done through face and body language. You can see from the sketches here, that I draw the face of the creature again and again, trying different things out:
The idea is to use the photo reference to get basic shapes and key features that make an animal look, well... like itself. Then I play around with nose shapes, eye height etc, creating variations on the theme. Each time you alter a feature, you get a different, unique individual, which suggests a different personality. Some look more male, some female. Some are more successful, others not. Generally speaking, they get stronger with each drawing.
This is a very important part of the illustration process: the reader has to believe in each animal, not just as any old giraffe, but as a specific giraffe. I get the personality started in my sketch then, if it is 'alive', the reader will enlarge on this in their imagination.
OK, I promise, this is the last post about Barcelona! It seems ages ago now, but I just wanted to show you the sketches I did in the market, as I was really pleased with them.
I didn't get the chance to do much exploring during the actual symposium, what with teaching until lunchtime every day, then trying to squeeze every drop from the rest of the workshop, demo and lecture time. But as soon as it was all over and I had my free days, I was desperate to get into the Boqueria to have a go, as I had such fun last year, drawing in the Santo Domingo market.
We were given lots of freebies from the symposium's sponsors (which was lovely!), including a Japanese concertina-format Moleskin. I already have one on a shelf in my studio (a Christmas present which I still haven't used, because it's a bit intimidating), but I decided to take the bull by the horns and get stuck into this one, while I was inspired.
It was perfect for the subject - I unfolded 3 pages at a time and worked my way along the paper, doing studies of the various kinds of stalls, letting them run into one another, so it all linked up, just like the market itself.
Once or twice I lost control and the whole lot unfurled itself all over the place (once it goes, it's like a slinky and there's no stopping it), but a couple of sturdy clips sorted that out. While I was drawing the stall below, the butcher opposite brought out some crates and quietly set me up an ad hoc table.
If you are an observer of detail, you might have noticed that I am re-trying the people-catching technique we were shown by Inma Serrano: using watercolour shapes to capture the basic poses, then watercolour pencils for adding small amounts of linear detail, leaving as much to the imagination as possible.
One issue with watercolour is drying time. I hate having to wait, especially when I am in that kind of environment and am trying to squeeze as much drawing in as I can, so I always carry 2 sketchbooks, that way I'm not tempted to ruin a painting by turning the page too soon. That's why a couple of paintings are not part of the panorama at the bottom.
I worked most of the day, painting right through lunch (there's dedication indeed!), then went back again on my final morning for another quick blast before my flight.
It can be a bit intimidating, because of all the people milling about but, if you can find a corner to tuck yourself into (I often found myself cosied up to the bins), markets are a fabulous way of capturing life in all it's colourful, bustling glory. Here's how the sections joined up:
Thank you to Moleskin for this lovely, Japanese book. I've had a look on their website and, as far as I can see, you can't normally get a watercolour paper in this format - it was specially made for the symposium. Thanks too to Stillman and Birn for the book I used through much of the symposium and for the rest of these sketches. It proved to be a good all-round book, good quality paper at a practical size and weight.
I am still beavering away on Jungle Grumble from my makeshift, armchair workstation. It's not too bad at all. I have most things at my fingertips and the laptop to use for reference photos for the various animals. No scanner though, which is why the images here are not quite as crisp as usual - sorry about that.
Having worked out how the animals all change, I now have to plan the pencil illustrations for the whole book. I have been trying some layout ideas in these little thumbnail sketches.
I don't normally work with thumbnails - I prefer to draw full size from the start (so much of the humour in my work derives from facial expressions and subtle body language). However, big drawings take longer, especially if I need to visualise several different versions before I get it right, and I am slightly concerned about the deadline for this project. I have to get all the roughs, plus a couple of pastel spreads done by the end of September, ready for the publisher to take the project to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where they will be looking for co-edition interest.
I have a few other commitments in there too, plus it's a rather complex book, with a cast of 10 main characters, plus sundry others, all of whom are different creatures, so need characterising individually.
Anyway, that's why I am working smaller and, I have to say, I have found it quite OK, as long as I also do occasional larger drawings alongside.
I feel as though I am getting used to the animals as I am going along too so, hopefully, when I start drawing them a bit bigger next week, they will have already adopted many of their individual characteristics.
Wish me luck!
Because we knew I was about to be very busy again with my new book, this time last week, John and I decided to spend a day doing a bit more filming. It's been 2 months since we made the last one, the How to Draw with Watercolour Pencils demo (which I'm proud to say has already had well over 6000 hits - thanks to those who helped with that!).
Anyway, we wanted to keep the momentum going. With my foot problems, we had to stay in the studio, so we shot more of me demonstrating how I created various characters from my books.
We began by re-shooting bits of the earliest film: Drawing a Cat, because it was too difficult to see parts of it, especially the initial stages of me demonstrating (we hadn't bought our fancy lights at that point). I decided to demo something slightly different though this time round, to make it a new film too, so instead of the singing kitten from the first film, from Baby Goes Baaaaa! I drew the kitten from Baby Can Bounce!, sharing an ice-cream with a cute spider:
It takes AGES. I really understand now why film sets are so boring! It's mostly about getting the lighting set up. It's amazing how incredibly dark a very bright room can look, plus there are all sorts of issues with me getting silhouetted against windows, reflections off the books, or sunlight going in and out. We generally have to have the blinds down and then re-light the room artificially, to keep it constant.
Then there's noise. All phones have to be disabled to stop someone calling in the middle of the shot; the computer has to be completely off (too much fan-noise); all windows have to be closed (even when we are frying under the lights!) in case of background noise... it's a right performance. Would you believe it, we had just got set up when a neighbour had a contractor round to pump out their drains - it held up play for over an hour!
The final spanner-in-the-works is me. I like to do my talking off-the-cuff, so it sounds as fresh and natural as possible. That means it often needs a fair few takes before I stop fluffing it, or saying something that sounds completely idiotic.
It was funny: above the desk in the photo at the top, everything looks pretty normal but, down below, we had to lash my bad foot to the cross-beam of the drawing desk with one of John's belts, because I still had to keep it elevated. It is even packed in ice, wrapped in the tea-towel:
As well as the kitten demo, we also shot films of me drawing all three bears from Bears on the Stairs:
John is working on the editing now, why I am getting on with The Jungle Grumble. I will of course let you know when they are ready for viewing. In the meantime, you can see all our films to date on my YouTube channel.
I want to pop back to the Urban Sketchers Symposium today...
As you know, I was honoured to be chosen as an instructor again this year. I called my workshop Sketches That Sing, because I wanted to help people to find techniques for freeing up their work. I thought some of you people out there might also find it useful, so I am sharing the principles here.
It's so easy to get caught up with trying to replicate the subject we are drawing and to forget that, once you have walked away, nobody will care about that aspect: they will judge your sketch on how interesting, exciting and dynamic it is. What's more, they won't have the original there to compare. Once you take that on board and allow yourself to let go a little, you can create sketches that sing their own song, independent of the thing you are actually drawing.
Since I don't know Barcelona, the symposium organisers allocated me a little square to work in, just 5 minutes walk from the CCCB centre where the conference was based (perfect, since I am inclined to get lost). Each morning at 10am I led my little group over there, to brief in the workshop.
I had a translator for the Spanish speakers, Helena Xicola, above. I've never worked with one before. Helena did a grand job keeping up with my motor-mouth. She was a great help in lots of ways: by the third session, she knew what I was doing as well as I did and was brilliant at helping to explain things to people (thank you Helena!).
Anyway, for those who want to try it at home, here's what we did. I broke the 3 hour session into 3 exercises, each designed to get people to think about a specific technique they might use to force themselves to let go of a little part of reality.
The first was framing. I often crop my subjects very close, like the sketch above. This can add considerable dynamism to the page. I asked my group to consider the 4 edges of their book as part of the sketch.
Each person selected a specific object to focus on and I challenged them to draw so that their object bled off at least 2 of their page edges, like this portrait by Beliza Mendes from Luxembourg and the bike below, done by Santi Salles from Barcelona itself.
We looked at the negative spaces created, at the beauty or ugliness of the shapes you can make and how tilting your perspective can help you avoid boring, horizontal cuts across your page.
The next exercise looked at colour, because it is easy to be a martyr to realistic colour, but quite unnecessary. I got the group to draw a longer view this time, but to choose a specific object within the scene as their focus, and we used colour to guide the viewer to that focal point. I asked everyone to disregard the colours they could see and look instead at tone: if you get the tonal values right, you can do what you like with colour.
People drew their scene in cool blues, mauves or greens, all except the focal object, which was to be a total contrast, in warm reds, pinks or yellows. Then I asked them to add just a hint of warm colour elsewhere - to tie things together.
I had quite large groups to get round, so didn't have time to draw myself. I did manage this quickie though:
One thing which was interesting when we looked at all the sketchbooks together, was how the images we'd created had a really strong narrative element to them. As the viewer, you couldn't help wondering why the object in each was significant and begin to weave a story around the drawing.
Lastly, we considered pattern: the marks you make can be the most exciting part of a sketch. I like to exaggerate the patterns I see or create patterns in the way I describe things.
I asked people to work with 3 different materials on the same sketch, so they would get a variety of marks to explore. But - and this was what they told me they found the most challenging of all - I restricted them to just one colour of each. The idea was to experiment with combinations of marks and patterns using the 3 colours in different ways, trying to convey the patterns and textures in the scene, but to be liberated from being too literal, by the limitations.
It was interesting to see how people interpreted the exercises - everyone bought something different to them. The lovely sketch above is by Patrizia Torres who lives in Malaga and the one below is by Judith Dollar from Texas:
At the end of each section, we laid out all the books on some handy steps, to talk about what we felt worked and what didn't:
Most people agreed that it had been hard, but they said it was hard in a good way, that they had learned a lot, which is great, as that was the idea. We did a lot of laughing too, which is generally a good sign!One of the lovely things about giving morning workshops, was that I was able to invite people to join me for lunch afterwards. There were some handy, not too touristy cafes just behind our square - perfect for relaxing with a some tapas (and of course sketching each other doing it):
If you would like me to deliver a sketching event or lecture, just drop me an email. You can see many of my sketchbooks here and the rest of my Barcelona sketches here.
This week, I have begun work on a new picture book - hurrah!
Even better, it's another story by my favourite partner-in-crime, the wonderful Julia Jarman. We have a very similar sense of humour and have done lots of books together, including Class Two at the Zoo and Bears on the Stairs.
This new one is quite a challenge. It is a very simple story, but calls for decidedly surreal illustrations. It's called The Jungle Grumble (at the moment anyway) and is about a bunch of discontented animals. They think their bum is too big, pattern too boring, their nose is too long etc. There is much grumbling, until clever old Lion sets up a Swap-Shop changing room. You can guess what happens next. The major challenge was working out whose unwanted body-parts to give to whom. The text gives me nine named animals to work with (plus Lion, who is far too sensible to do any swapping). I wanted to swap more than one part and ideally not just make it a direct exchange, but have more of a general shuffle around.
I made notes, but this very quickly became way too complicated, because I had to keep track of who was missing which essentials, as much as who had acquired what. I eventually discovered the answer was to cut out bits of paper, label them up with all the swap-able bits and pieces, then move them around, mixing and matching, until I had a full set of interesting combos.
The other tricky bit was making sure there was enough of the original animal's head left to allow them to remain identifiable. Because of my recent op, I have been working from an armchair (rather nice), with my foot up on a cushion on the coffee table, and a makeshift drawing board resting on my knees.
I started by just seeing what on earth my various creations would look like:
The results are bonkers. These are first sketches, so still extremely subject to change and refinement, but I can already see that it's going to look pretty unusual!
A bit more about the Urban Sketchers symposium in Barcelona, as promised...
I have gone right off drawing buildings. I love the relative freedom of expression you have when you are drawing landscape or people, the fluidity of line, the fact that you don't have to worry about how many windows there are, or whether the perspective is right.
Which is why I SO enjoyed Inma Serrano's workshop in Barcelona: Rhythm in the City. She showed us how there doesn't need to be any difference when it comes to buildings - just treat them as if they were alive.
We started though, by drawing people:
We were in a big square, in front of the cathedral, so people were constantly milling about, taking photos, chatting, or standing around in groups. Inma explained how, if you want to catch someone's brief pose, you can use watercolour, just one colour, to quickly capture the main shape, then use a watercolour pencil to add just enough line to pick out details, while the paint is still wet. This worked a treat and was good fun.
Then Inma did a demonstration, which was truly inspiring.
She drew the cathedral, but in a completely unconventional way. The idea was to sketch the building, not as a piece of architecture, all straight lines and equally-spaced windows, but to draw it as though it was also alive: as though it were a monster.
I thought her sketch was gorgeous. Below is how the final spread looked later, when she had finished adding colour and other sketches into it. Actually, though I love the wild colour, I think I prefer the stage before - it's more raw. Everyone got very excited during the demo: we couldn't wait to give it a go ourselves.
Inma said she never measures, not even with her eye - she just feels her way from one part of the building to another, expressing the shapes as she goes. We all got stuck in and tried it:
I enjoyed this technique so much. I love the idea of drawing architecture just like I draw mountains. It was so liberating and, like all good ideas, I couldn't think why I hadn't thought of it before!
This was my version of the catherdral:
The next afternoon was the final SketchCrawl, at the Arc de Triumf, and I used Inma's approach. I was absolutely delighted with the way it turned out:
It was this way of thinking about buildings which allowed me to draw York Minster so happily when I got back home to England. I tackled views like this vaulted ceiling, which I would never have considered previously, because I would have found it way too boring, having to spend ions carefully working out the construction and perspective. Instead I worked instinctively, just like I was shown, and had a great time!
If you would like to read about the Sketches That Sing workshop from the symposium, which was about helping to add freedom and life to your sketches, click here. Or you can take a peek at the rest of my Barcelona sketchbooks. Have fun!
I'm sure you can tell from the inappropriate amount of stuff I try to pack into the day (John's always moaning at me) that I am not especially good at sitting still. But that's what had to happen after my op. It was a novelty for the first 24 hours: licence to play on my phone and read a book all day long, while being waited on (sort of) by you-know-who.
Then it got boring.
So, yesterday, since everything has been fine (no pain - hurrah - and no swelling), I dispensed with the constant ice packs (thank goodness: every cushion and tea towel in the house has been sopping wet at some point), and did some work from my armchair, on a laptop. Tricky, with one leg balancing on a tower of cushions, but just about possible.
Today I hauled myself upstairs - 2 flights - VERY carefully, and am trying out the studio. It's not the most comfortable thing in the world though, trying to work at a computer with your leg in the air!
In case you're wondering, I haven't gone all 'street': the cap is to hide the hair, as I can't shower for 2 weeks (yuk).
I have a check-up on Monday and, after that, though I still won't be able to walk, I am hoping I will be allowed to at least sit normally, so I can get behind my drawing desk, as I have a new book project to start work on. But that's another story...
I have just had a lovely week in Wales. You might think therefore that the title of this post is about me getting my paints out in the hills again. Nope. In fact, it relates to what happened when I got back to Sheffield, earlier this week...
Only my most long-serving readers will remember the nasty cryo work I had done on my feet in 2010. Since then, the problems in my poor old tootsies have completely come back, so I needn't have bothered with all that drama.
Anyway, I went back to my GP and have now been assured that proper old-fashioned surgery is the way to go. Which is where I went on Monday morning. Yey. It was actually a very short op, only about 20 minutes in theatre but, because I only had a local anaesthetic, I was aware of the whole thing.
Now, I didn't want to get all faint and silly during proceedings, so guess what I did as a distraction? Yep, you got it:
The surgeon was bemused - he had obviously not been sketched in action before. The team all had a good look when they were done and it made them smile.
I must say though - it really worked a treat: while I was concentrating on drawing, there was no way I could give my full attention to the nasty sound effects of bits being snipped off.
The only thing that didn't go quite to plan was my attack of cramp. Yep: right in the middle of the op. I think it was the tourniquet they put around my calf. Luckily, when they eased it off a little, the cramp faded and I didn't end up hopping around the room with my foot hanging open!
I have spent the last couple of days sitting in an armchair with my foot up on cushions, packed in ice. Hope you like the sexy shoe and stocking:
They sent me home with a bucket load of painkillers, which was a bit worrying but, so far, I seem to have got away with it, as the most painful thing I have had to endure is John's cooking. Sorry John, that's a joke. Honest. You wouldn't want to hit an invalid would you? Oh, you would..? Uh-oh.
I'm having an incredibly creative summer. Within days of getting back from the Urban Sketchers symposium, I was off again with my sketching gear, hopping on the train for a SketchCrawl North meeting. I decided we should re-visit the beautiful Edale, in Derbyshire (where we had a summer event last year), while the weather is warm and dry: it's just half an hour from Sheffield.
I was a bit worried actually, as the weather has been so very hot, I thought we might all get sun-stroke. Luckily it calmed down for our day out and was a perfect temperature for sitting on a hill with a picnic, or pottering around the village.
I took several different books, so I could keep going while my paint was drying, by starting a new sketch (to stop me being impatient and ruining things). While I was there, I experimented with a new Japanese Moleskin - the pages pull out into a continuous, concertina-fold. I got one for Christmas, but been too afraid to use it. We were given another free at the symposium (Moleskin were a sponsor), so that forced my arm.
It was perfect for the panoramic view across the valley: I worked on three pages at a time and just kept folding out more as I went along. It was fun with the wind though, and I was glad of a couple of bulldog clips to keep everything from taking off.
After lunch, we walked back through the village for some variety. A farmer was sitting on a motorbike with a lamb across his knees, cutting barbed wire from where it was tangled into the poor thing's fleece:
I had another go with my Japanese sketchbook. It's good for building up a tableaux of linked pieces. During our sharing session, sitting outside the pub, I finished it off nicely by drawing someones dogs.
It was a lovely, relaxed day. We had some regular members, but also a few very recent additions and a couple who had never been before, which was great. If you are in our area and would like to join us for a future SketchCrawl, just drop me an email and I'll send you some info.
As regular readers will know, my location-sketching group, SketchCrawl North, has visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park several times in the past couple of years. But my original contact there moved on some time ago and now organises arts and community projects at the Minster in York. Which made me think...
Well, it would be the perfect location for a SketchCrawl, wouldn't it?
So, on Monday I took the train up to York to meet with her and put together a plan for a day of drawing, which will be part of The Big Draw, but also link in to a local festival, Illuminate York. We walked through the Minster, selecting good locations to focus on and working out timings for the day.
A surreal twist to the day came in the form of Prince Philip, who had decided to pop in that very morning. It was all very hush-hush, so there were no crowds, just a few photographers and people who worked in the Minster. At one point, he stopped to chat to someone and was standing just a few yards away, looking very smart in a rather sharp suit. If I'd had my pencil at the ready, I might have sketched him!
After my meeting, I decided to take advantage of my free access to the Minster, so sat and did a couple of sketches, practising one of the workshop techniques I learnt in Barcelona ('draw buildings as if they were monsters' - big thanks to Inma Serrano). I just dove in: no measuring, no guidelines, a totally feel-as-you-go type of thing. It's far more fun and makes complex architecture, like this vaulted ceiling, a lot less daunting.
The weather was brightening up by then, so I went and did some more sketches of the Minster from the outside. I was having a great time, sitting in the sunshine, drawing away, saying hello to occasional on-lookers.
I knew John was out until late at home so, with no reason to get back, I carried on into the evening. These geese made me smile: they were grazing a patch of grass between the park and the main road but had also decimated the municipal flower bed:
This last sketch nearly caused me to miss my last train home. All through the afternoon, trains were at 35 and 45 minutes past the hour. I let myself miss the 8.45 so I could finish off, then went into a pub for a half of lager and a packet of crisps, to kill time until the 9.35. It was only when idly checking on my phone, that I realised the last train home was at 9.15! I had to down my lager and run: the cause of much embarrassing burping once I got on board.
The York Minster SketchCrawl will be on Saturday October 26th and everyone is welcome. It's free and the Minster are even providing some art materials, so just grab a sketchbook and meet us there at 10am. You can check their website for more details nearer the time.
Yes, my mural is up!! We had an official opening on Thursday.
The printing company, Art Display
, put it up while I was away in Barcelona. It was printed onto a very high quality wallpaper
then pasted onto the wall - much easier than painting in situ:
I am thrilled to bits with how it looks. It has such impact in the space and, because of the big, colourful characters, you can easily see it from the street, through the library's front window, so I'm hoping it will lure children in. Luckily all the library team at Wakefield are very proud of it too.
To create the characters, I worked with Y3 classes from two local schools, St Austins Catholic Primary and Flanshaw Primary. Everyone's favourite was 'the gorilla with the blue boobies', as Andy Wright, the Library Manager, put it. The gorilla was created by Ben, who based his character on my Big Gorilla in An Itch to Scratch. Ben's version definitely has a little something extra though, and the Gorilla Fun Book he's borrowing from the library is a lovely finishing touch. Well done Ben! The library team have been rushing around, trying to get the mural up and ready before the end of the school year, as we wanted to invite the original school groups back for the opening day. The children got to see their work for the first time since our original workshop in the Spring, and seemed quite overawed by it all.
We were joined for our celebrations by Councillor David Jagger (Portfolio Holder for Culture, Sport and Libraries), as well as the Service Manager for Libraries and Richard from Art Display.
After the speeches and photos, I did a storytelling / workshop for the children. The mural was inspired by Dragon's Dinner, but we looked at that last time we met, so I let them choose which book they wanted me to read and the overwhelming winner was good old Stinky!.
The children relaxed a bit once we got underway and they all really got stuck into the drawing:
It was a lovely day and so thrilling to see my work writ so large. So, a big thank you to Andy and Alison at Wakefield Library for organising Thursday, and of course for commissioning me to do the artwork in the first place.
So, if you have a boring wall in your school or library, you now know where to come...
I flew back on Tuesday evening from the most frenetic but most creative few days of my year - the Urban Sketchers annual symposium. This is my 3rd year and I can't possibly describe how much fun it is: around 200 people, together in one city, to celebrate sketching, make new friends or meet up with existing ones from across the world. It was so lovely to spend time with everyone and to just immerse myself in drawing. I barely slept I was so over-excited!
As usual, we did pretty much nothing without it involving drawing and painting, all on location of course: at workshops and demos across the centre of the city, or at lunch and dinner, or just out in the street, where it took our fancy. We swapped ideas and top tips about materials, and we taught each other new techniques and new ways to approach our sketching.
I was teaching my 'Sketches That Sing' workshop for 3 hours every day, which went really well. People said they found it very challenging, but in a good way. We seemed to do a lot of laughing, which is generally a good sign.
Saturday afternoon was one huge sketchcrawl (tell you more later), but in the two other afternoons when I was free, I could take 2 other workshops (which I'll also tell you about later). Plus I went to a couple of great lectures and learnt about ink-and-stick drawing from the wonderful Kiah Kiean, from Penang. He created a fabulous sketch before our eyes, in about 45 minutes:
I tagged a couple of extra nights on the end of the symposium, which is why I didn't get back til Tuesday. It is all way too intense to just come home straight after. You need time to absorb things, to sketch at a more leisurely pace and to just chill with people (there's barely time to draw breath during the symposium, so much is packed in!). This is me with one of my favourite sketchers, Marina Grechanik from Israel, and the famous (and totally lovely) Lapin:
As usual, I got back to lots to do: there are all sorts of different things going on here at once, as well as me trying to catch up on what I have missed during the week I've been away. However, rest assured that, as soon as I can, I will get all my sketches scanned and on the website.
Plus of course I will insist on boring you with lots more about the symposium. But now, to bed!
This weekend I have been delivering location-sketching workshops at the 4th International Urban Sketching Symposium, in Barcelona. I gave a 3 hour workshop on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, called Sketches That Sing but, the rest of the time, I have been taking part in the conference, attending other people's workshops and going to lectures. If last year is anything to go by, I will have been drawing and painting more or less round the clock since the moment I arrived.
Anyway, since I am not back yet to tell you all about it, I thought I would show you the last bit of sketching I did before I left. We had a mini SketchCrawl in Sheffield last Sunday. To celebrate the sudden, incredible weather, we met at a cricket match. Now, I know nothing about cricket and, to be honest, I was only playing the most scant attention to the game. Mostly it was about sitting on the grass at the back of the Cricket Inn, in the dappled shade, chatting and sketching with friends.
When I finished the drawing above, he came over to see and we got chatting. Turned out he was a graphic designer who missed sketching, so I told him about sketchcrawling. Next day, he emailed me this drawing of me, drawing him, done from memory:
I love the way sketching creates contacts between strangers.
The temperatures were ridiculous in the sun that day. I imagine I will be melting in Barcelona: the forecast was for it to reach 29 degrees today, so I'm guessing I'll have been seeking out the shade again. I'm home on Tuesday night, so I'll let you know how I got on.
One lovely site I painted, during my week in the Lake District, was Watendlath. It is very quaint and picturesque: a tiny hamlet, with less than a handful of buildings, a river running under an old hump-backed bridge into a small lake and of course hills all round. I was most tempted by the view down the valley though:
Unfortunately, only a couple of minutes after setting myself up, my hair was alive with midges. They were biting my head and my ears and driving me potty. I gradually wrapped myself up more and more until they could only attack my nose:
I was just wondering how on earth I was going to survive the rest of the day, when it started to spit with rain. Oh no! At least that settled the midges down a bit anyway. The rain eased off long enough for me to do the watercolour above and begin the pastel below (I carried on with it from memory later that afternoon, in our caravan, but the foreground is still not quite finished), then it began drizzling again and eventually came back with a vengeance.
As I discovered at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
, pastels and rain do not mix! I retreated down the hill and managed to find limited shelter under a skinny tree, which allowed me one more quickie:
...but eventually, as you can see, the rain got through and I had to admit defeat. Luckily for me, one of the buildings in the hamlet turned out to be a cafe, serving excellent home-made flapjacks and hot coffee. Much deserved I reckon!
I just took a week off, to go paint in the Lake District (I know - lucky me!).
As I mentioned recently, I have been feeling the urge to do more landscape work. The trouble is, I really need to work on-location, at least to begin with, and we get such a small window of opportunity in the UK. So, while things were a little less busy in the studio, John and I took ourselves off to Castlerigg: a gorgeously lumpy-bumpy bit of the northern lakes.Every day, while John went off for a walk, I sat myself on a hill, or by a lake, and sketched my socks off. This is me at Castlerigg Stone Circle, which is thought to be 4 thousand years old:
While I was sitting there, a lady from Thailand laid on her back in the centre and banged a tiny gong, to call spirits. Someone else proposed to his girlfriend. She said yes and shed a tear, while another stranger took their photo. It was all go! This is what I am painting above (it's watercolours with Inktense watercolour pencils):
As this is all a bit of a new departure, I wanted to experiment as much as possible, so took various media away with me, which of course meant a heck of a lot to try and cram into my rucksack every morning. The pastels in particular were tricky, but I thought they would help me to work larger. I used this old container from B&Q, meant for screws I think, but they weighed a ton and it was like carrying a brick on my back!
We were rained off entirely on 2 days and I had a couple of wet half-days, when I tried to soldier on, but quickly realised it is impossible without shelter. Otherwise, I was out there with my sketchbooks right through until about 6pm each day.
It was wonderful to have such concentrated time and the opportunity to draw the same hill over and over if I wanted, trying different approaches. I managed to do nearly 50 landscapes, from very quick sketches through to finished pieces and have uploaded all the other drawings and paintings I did in to a new landscapes sketchbook on my website.
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Unlike with the Derbyshire Open, I was not able to create new paintings - the submission dates were back in April, so too early to catch my recent batch of work - so I had to see what I could find. I thought I would put in a piece of illustration artwork, an editorial illustration, originally created for an article about ice-cream parlours. It was a favourite of mine at the time and has been hanging on our dining room wall, so was ready-framed:
I also selected a couple of paintings I did the last time I was able to dedicate time to that kind of work. They are both based on the view from my previous studio window.
The one above is in pastels, like my book illustrations
, but the one below is in a mix of oil pastels, conte and oil bar. I used to draw with oil bars a lot - they make a wonderfully bold, painterly mark.
The exhibition was hung by a team of volunteers throughout Thursday and, that evening, John and I went to the preview.
The show is a really eclectic mix of work, which is the idea: there is always going to be something there to appeal to every visitor. As well as the 'open' element, professional painters also hire space to show a greater body of work. So, if you fancy some inspiration, or are in the business of buying art, get yourself over there now. It's open from 10am today and closes on Sunday at 6pm.