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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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1. Craftsy Workshop: a Skype Rehearsal


I have just a few days to prepare for my trip to Denver. It's a wee bit scary and I'm feeling a bit frazzled, as there's still a fair bit of prep to do before I am ready to be filmed.



I'm so pleased that I front-loaded the most time-consuming element and got the main content for the seven lessons planned out months ago, when I was first commissioned. Now I have to go through it all again though, fleshing out the detail and scripting certain sections of it. There will be an auto-cue apparently: though I don't want to be 'reading' what I am saying, the prompts need to be fairly detailed, as there is so much information to get across. 



I'm finding some bits and pieces which need to be changed too - as I rehearse the lessons aloud, I keep tripping on elements which don't quite work properly, or are too complicated. 

Before my holiday, I had to do a run-through of one lesson for my producer in Denver, using Skype, so he could see how it was coming, check my timings, and get a feel for how the class would work generally. Unfortunately, at that point I was still knee-deep in the final editing of my sketching book, so I had no time to rehearse properly. It was a bit ragged, to say the least. I did lots of rambling on too, so took way more time than I needed!




It'll feel better though in a day or two, once I've had the chance to immerse myself in the material and get my head back around what I was doing when I was last working on it. I feel like I've been juggling too many balls of late.


When I get to Denver, we have a whole day set aside for rehearsals, so it feels like I will have plenty of opportunity for fine-tuning. Thank goodness. That feels reassuring, as my sketching book has taken up so much of my head-space recently, I have barely had time to think about Denver until now. Right, back to it...

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2. Nice Article about My Book Illustrations


Back in February this year, I travelled to Lincoln to do a couple of days of lectures and workshops for Bishops Grosseteste University. I was a little nervous, as it was a bit different to what I normally do, since I was working with trainee teachers. I have worked with teachers and librarians before, but not for a while. It turned out to be a smashing job though, as everyone was so lovely and everything went down well. 

As an little added extra, I did an interview with a couple of 2nd year students for the university's magazine Hullabaloo! I then forgot all about it until a copy arrived through my postbox. It is a really nice article, in a special English Literature edition. 


I am hopefully enjoying my well-earned week off at the moment, having a relaxing time, drawing and painting in the wonderful Lake District landscape. I do hope it's not been raining too much! 

Anyway, I thought that I would post the Hullabaloo article to give you something to look at while I am away (hope it's clear enough to read when enlarged).

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3. Planning Meeting: Chapter Headers


While I was in London with the publisher of my Sketching People book, we sorted out various other jobs, as well as photographing all the demos I showed you last time. 



One task I had deliberately left until the end was selecting images to use for the chapter headers. Most of the pages in the book have 6 - 8 sketches per spread, but at the start of each chapter, I can have one sketch taking up a whole spread. 

I'd created a shortlist and emailed it down in advance. It was tricky, because only landscape or square format sketches would work across the double-page spread, but an awful lot of my sketches are portrait format. Moira, my designer, printed my various suggestions out on mock layouts, to see how different possibilities might look:



It was a difficult decision, but easier with other people's input. In the end, none of the ones in the photo above made the grade. You'll have to wait and see what I chose!

There was also another photography job to get sorted. One early section of the book looks at which art materials are most suitable for location-sketching and give tips for travelling light. So, I took all my gear with me and Phil took photos of every single item in my sketching kit. I love this picture of my grubby paint palette:


It feels good to have such a monster project wrestled into submission.

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4. Portrait outside Pentonville Prison


I need a photo of me to go in my sketching book: I always think it's more friendly to be able to see the person who is 'talking' to you in a book of this kind. I have loads of publicity shots (I've never been a shrinking violet), but the more perceptive amongst you might have noticed that I changed my hairstyle about a year ago: my spikes have given way to a quiff. Which means older photos are not so good. 


So, while I was visiting my publisher, all kitted out in my best frock and with photographer Phil Wilkins on hand, I suggested we take a picture of me 'in action' with my sketchbook. I thought we would do something in the street, but my designer thought the local cafe, where we had just had our lunch, might be fun.

Quarto's offices are 100 yards from Pentonville Prison and the cafe is literally opposite the prison's main gate, which is why it's called the Breakout:


We went just before closing, so we wouldn't be disturbing any punters, and I sat at a table in the window on the far right of this photo. We shot loads of subtle variations on the theme. We tried a serious 'I'm concentrating on sketching' pose:



...and an 'I'm just sketching whatever is outside this window' one:



We also of course did the standard 'smiling at the camera' pose:


At one point a man came rushing in from the street, said: 'Don't take my picture, I just escaped!' then ran off again.

I am not sure yet which picture we are going to use in the book. They are all nice (thanks Phil), but I think the last one is the most friendly and welcoming. What do you think?

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5. On the Pavement outside St Pancras Station...


Actually, to get the best view (and still be on the sunny side of the street), I was sitting on the pavement outside the neighbouring Kings Cross Station, but it was St Pancras I was interested in. I've been desperate to have a go at sketching it for ages, but I am so rarely in London any more and, when I am, I'm normally rushing around, trying to fit loads in.



To be honest, my recent trip to my publisher was no exception. I thought I'd sketch it after work, but we carried in until quite late and, by the time I had got back to my hotel, it was already 7.30 and I realised I was exhausted (and hungry for dinner). So, I got up good and early the next morning. 

Luckily, I was staying at the Kings Cross Travel Lodge, just across the road. I gobbled my breakfast, got packed up, checked out of the hotel and was on the pavement ready to start at 8.30am. I didn't have time to tackle the whole building - it's huge - so set up where I had a nice view of the clock tower at one end.


I was fortunate that I wasn't needed at Quarto until 10.00, so had an hour to spare before I had to be on my way. I decided on my 'watercolour first' technique, as it's nice and speedy. Then I worked into it with watercolour pencils and, finally, white chalk for occasional highlights.

Kings Cross is very busy. There were lots of tourists but also lots of people rushing past me on the way to work. Several stopped to have a look, one or two stopped briefly to chat. I just about managed to get done in time, though as usual I chopped the top off! 


And then suddenly it was time to go. I shoved everything into my bag and scurried off with my wheely suitcase to join the other commuters and get the bus to Quarto's offices: 


Next time I'm in London, if I can steal another hour, I'll tackle the front entrance of St Pancras I think.

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6. Photographed in Action: a Trip to London


As regular readers will know, I am very close now to the deadline for my book, the full title of which is now decided: Sketching People, an Urban Sketchers Manual for Drawing Figures and Faces.  All the scans from my archive of sketchbooks are done, as well as various additional drawings, created specifically for the book (like for how to draw hands and using colour as a framework instead of pencil). 


But one BIG ELEMENT has been waiting until the end... the photographed sequences. These are needed to show how sketches are built up: 


But that's really not something that can easily be done at home, so I took the train down to London and spent two days with my publisher and with Phil Wilkins, a freelance photographer. 


To better explain how I draw different elements of people and how I tackle specific tricky situations, we wanted to show my sketches in stages. But for my style of working, where a sketch is done very fast, stopping at various stages was a problem. Which is why we got Phil to stand behind me, capturing the work in progress. 

I was rather excited and looking forward to the adventure, but also a bit nervous: I wasn't sure how well I would perform under that kind of pressure. 

There was a bit of a spanner in the works too - a tube strike. This meant we had no models, so had to press-gang various people from the surrounding offices to come and sit for me. We started off by drawing the Senior Editor Kate. She was very unsure about the whole thing, but reassured when she saw it was just her hair I was focussing on:




I did someone's ear, as you can see at the top, then someone else's nose and mouth. We scoured the building for someone glam enough to be wearing high heels, then got her to clamber up on a table so I could draw her legs and feet:



The most scary sketch I had to do was left to day 2: to demonstrate a technique for drawing movement, by superimposing different elements over the top of one another. I thought a violinist would be a good option. Luckily, my editor Lily could play. Unluckily, the only violin we could lay our hands on was a child's one which had been gathering dust in someone's attic, so it's slightly smaller than it should be in the sketches. Hey ho. Probably nobody but another violinist would notice.

Once again, Phil set up over my shoulder so he could take pictures all the way through, from first marks to finished drawing. I did two different versions, first with my Koh-i-Noor rainbow pencil, so Lily ended up with lots of arms:


Then I tried again with my Inktense pencils, using different colours for the different overlaid arms. I think it's this one I like best as it's a more interesting teaching technique:


We finished off with a long pose. I wanted to do something on how to plan out a more complex situation, where you have more than one characters and a bit of background. We mocked up a meeting with 
Lily and one of the interns. I sketched a little thumbnail first, to plan the composition, which Phil photographed for the book, then I used this plan to create an under-drawing in my sketchbook, in lilac coloured pencil, before beginning in ink with my trusty Sailor pen:


Every minute or so I paused for a photo. It was really quite an odd way to sketch! 

Once the line drawing was complete, I used watercolour to pull out the light and shade and give splashes of colour. It's not the way that I would normally work, but it's a good technique to demonstrate for beginners and so something that needed to be covered in the book:



The final sketch is not as exciting as I personally like - it's interesting how the more formalised approach made it harder for me to be expressive - but it will do the job. I gave it as a present to the intern, as a reminder of her time at Quarto, as she is heading home to new Zealand shortly. I also gave individuals the pictures of their ears, noses and legs etc.

We had some other jobs to do while I was in London, bit I'll talk about them next time, or we'll be here forever. See you in a few days...

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7. Urban Sketchers Yorkshire meet Henry Moore


There are always a few of Henry Moore's sculptures nestling in the gardens of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park but, this summer, these have been joined by many more. 



As well several new monster pieces outside, the Underground Gallery is stuffed with drawings, prints and lots more sculptures. I visited a few weeks ago to plan a SketchCrawl and one look set me buzzing with inspiration. I couldn't wait to get back with my art gear.

Urban Sketchers Yorkshire did last Sunday's SketchCrawl in cahoots with the YSP, so we had lots of new people, as well as plenty of regulars. We started in the Moore gallery, as I thought that seeing how he tackled drawing monumental pieces might give people ideas. As you can see, his technique certainly inspired me:


I was pleased to have already seen the work once. With so much to see and only an hour to choose something to sketch, it was even then quite a challenge.


Our 2nd hour was spent sketching the Moores outside in the formal gardens. 



They work so incredibly well in the setting. The contrasts and colours are perfect. My friend Kerry sketched me sketching the watercolour at the top:



We had a spot of lunch, then headed down the hill to the Anthony Caro pieces. Most of the new Caros are a bit hard to sketch. They are big, fairly featureless pieces of red metal: interesting as a contrast with the soft landscape, but not much to get your pencil into. There was one though which had a bit more to offer:




It was quite a giant and I suddenly realised I had left my big sketchbook back at the lunch room. Disaster! A sketch-buddy came to my rescue and let me use her spare book (which was gorgeous 300gsm watercolour paper and much, much nicer than my scanky cartridge). Thank you Jo.



Our last stop was the bizarre field of Dennis Oppenheims: tubular steel trees growing from the long grass and sprouting mostly toilets and sinks.



It was tricky to know what to do with it, but I like the way the steel branches cut across the trees and sky. I sploshed in the background tones and colours then went in with more paint and watercolour pencil line. I was pleased that it seemed quite whimsical:



It seemed a shame to stop, as the sun was shining, but it was time to do the sharing. We headed up to the Hay Loft - a room the YSP had set aside for us. 

When I got there people were already in full swing: 



We passed then book round the table and had great fun looking at what everybody had done. There was some gorgeous work and, as usual, everyone tackled things differently.



Another fantastic day, made all the better by some lovely weather. Thanks to the team at the YSP, and especially Janette, for helping arrange things and giving us so much support on the day. We'll be back...

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8. Foreign Translations - Issues with Text



The final, must-have-it-all-done deadline for my urban sketching people book is August 21st and I am delighted (and relieved) to say that everything is on track to be ready in plenty of time. Cue round of applause...


The whole timing thing has been a tad tricky though. I am used to the world of picture book publishing, where I can predict pretty accurately how long things will take me at each stage, but the planning, writing and illustration of this book has been totally different. With no previous experience, it was impossible to know how long I'd need for any of it, which has made it very hard for me to plan my time this year, particularly with weaving it around other projects. 


All a wee bit stressful, especially as, I must confess, I am a bit of a control-freak (ask John). 


One last-minute job I've just sorted, was to find some extra images from European sketchers. This is an interesting ploy by my publisher. Other sketchers who have done books will tell you that there is a big issue with having text on your drawings: it creates problems with foreign co-editions, because the handwritten text can't be translated. Now, if you know my work, you will know I use quite a lot of text...


The discussion started early on, when I wrote a section on how to add value to your drawings by writing snippets of overheard conversation, or any other elements which seem pertinent to the moment. I often like to record incidents (see above), sounds and smells (see below) as an intrinsic part of the image, to better conjure the slice of time, or the place I am recording. 


It was obvious the text needed to stay in place for sketches in this chapter of the book, but then I realised that it would look slightly odd if, having recommended the technique, there was no hand-written text to be seen anywhere else.

My team at Quarto had a bit of a think. My editor said we might be able to get away with keeping English text on my sketches, if we also had lots of other work with handwritten text in a range of other languages. I had already included some foreign language text on the work of guest sketchers - one of my all-time favourite people-sketchers is Marina Grechanik from Israel, who uses loads of text:


But the foreign sales team said that the translation issue is more to do with Europe than anywhere else. So I went on the hunt. It was not easy: most urban sketchers don't feature people much and those who do, don't usually use text. I found several brilliant music ones from a website link someone sent me, like this one by Nicolas Barberon:



But I needed more variety of subject matter. In desperation, I put up messages on various Facebook groups. It worked! 



The wonderful thing was that they came in from lots of sketchers who weren't necessarily well known outside their own country. From the outset, I wanted to feature less high-profile sketchers in the book, alongside the old favourites like Marc Holmes and Inma Serrano. The sketch above is by Enrique Flores, the one below is one by Juan Linares and the bottom one is by Ana Rafful.



The only remaining difficulty was finding space to fit these extra images in, when the book is already pretty much written and the sketches for inclusion already chosen. A bit of last-minute jiggery-pokery was needed. 

Some of the European sketches have been substituted for guest ones I chose previously, some have been squeezed into relevant chapters. We also dropped an idea I was going to include and instead created a new spread, looking more generally at how urban sketching works, where I can talk about the brilliant way the movement has pulled together people from around the globe. 



I am expecting another batch of layouts any day, the latest version of the whole book, which will help me to see any holes, where bits of text are needed, and give me the chance to make any amends before we go to proofing stage. I've seen most of it already, in bits and bobs, but this is the first time I have seen the whole thing together. 

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9. Online Characterisation Workshop: Timing Myself



Things are moving on with my on-line workshop for Craftsy. I have now selected over 100 images from my archive of around 30 children's books, which I will be using to help explain various teaching points as we work our way through the 7 lessons. It's so incredibly useful to have that resource at my fingertips.


All the lessons are now planned in fine detail. The last thing I did was to time it all. I need to aim for each lesson to average out at 15 - 20 minutes. I can have some longer and some shorter: it's very flexible, but that's the target. 

I had no idea how long they'd last to be honest. When I was planning, I just wrote down everything I could think of that I know about character design, then organised it all into 7 categories, and then organised that into logical sequences (each lesson is broken down into 3 sections, which helps a lot with planning).



So, timing... I set the stopwatch on my phone and got started. It takes a bit of getting used to, teaching thin air, but I've done it before, when rehearsing lectures. This time though, I had to draw as I went along, because I have to know how long it takes me to demo everything. I filled sheets and sheets of scrap paper with little characters:


I ran through each section 2 or 3 times (it gets quicker as you improve). Lesson lengths vary from 14 minutes to 26.

As always with my workshops, I could easily fill more time. I can continue to talk all the time I am doing the drawings, which helps, plus I am pretty quick with the sketches. The more demos a class has though, the more time it takes. 



One way I can cut the time is to use pre-drawn sketches instead, though I much prefer to be scribbling away live. I think people like to see that too, watching the process and seeing things emerge. I have had the okay for the timings from my producer now though, so we are going to be fine. 



Most of the sketches I'll be doing are quickies to explain a point, rather than proper drawings, as you can see from the sketch-sheets I created. There is a sneaky trick I can use if I need it though: my producer says, when it comes to more complex drawings which take a bit longer, we can always put in 'jumps', rather than watch the entire process. Clever thinking...

There are going to be 2 cameras filming at all times and I'm told the technical team have all sorts of clever tricks up their sleeve too. It will be so interesting. Getting quite excited now!






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10. My Denver Trip: The Flights are Booked!


Yeh! I'm all set... 


Remember my on-line workshop on children's book illustration? well, I fly off to Denver to start my filming adventure on September 7th and will be away for a whole week. Craftsy have a travel agent who has sorted it all out for me. They have managed to get really good flights times, so no getting up at the crack of dawn, or arriving at midnight. 


It sounds like I will be looked after well when I get there too. I will be chauffeured between the airport, hotel and film studio, which will make things lovely and relaxed. There's nothing like relinquishing all responsibility for that part of things. I still get a thrill from flying and travelling alone is an even bigger adventure, but there's always a slight worry of things going awry, so I'm glad to be looked after.

An added bonus: I will be taken to the studio each morning by the hair and makeup artist, who will hopefully make me look at least 10 years younger. We'll see! 

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11. SCBWI Retreat 2015: Workshops with Grown-Ups (and FOOD!)



Last weekend I was away from home for 4 days in the historic village of Evesham, near Worcester, doing another of my dream jobs. It involved enormous amounts of eating (best rhubarb crumble I ever tasted), sketching in the sunshine, listening to stories, chatting into the night over glasses of wine... oh, and also delivering workshops and portfolio advice for members of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

I knew the SCBWI retreat was to be held in a lovely old house with pretty grounds, but I was completely gob-smacked when my taxi stopped outside a long, Tudor house, all timbers and thatch. I was shown up a big, wooden staircase into a lovely old room, whose floorboards sloped down into one corner. I unpacked with a smile.


We kicked off about an hour later, with a brilliant getting-to-know-you exercise run by fellow author/illustrators, Loretta Schauer and Alexis Deacon. We paired up and had to draw or describe events from each other's past, stimulated by silly questions like: When have you injured yourself as a result of your own stupidity?

Then I ran my first session of the weekend: teaching people how to make concertina sketchbooks. 




SCBWI had provided a big pile of watercolour paper. We set to, cutting and sticking. We cut up old cardboard boxes for the covers - it worked a treat. Then we all filed into the dining room for the first feast of many.



After dinner, we had a book review cum storytelling session, where we each read a favourite picture book to the rest of the group. There were 30 of us, so it took a while, but was a lovely way to spend the evening.

Next morning was a workshop by Alexis. He taught us techniques for making narratives more interesting, looking at the potential for using dishonest characters with hidden motivations. We all tried to create a story, though mine ran out of steam half way through. After coffee and biccies, we had a bit of free time, so I took my newly-minted sketchbook into the grounds:


Then it was lunch (yum), followed by an interesting talk by Andrea MacDonald, Senior Editor at Random House, about what makes a good picture book:


I did a couple of one-to-one advice sessions next. I found a lovely little summer house tucked away at the foot of the garden, which was perfect for a cost chat. people had booked appointments with me and I did my best to be wise and helpful with first an illustrator, then an author:


My 2nd workshop used the sketchbooks we made earlier. I wanted to explore the idea of finding a narrative in a place, of capturing the essence of a particular period of time using words and pictures, but doing it through close observation, recording what we could see, hear and smell. This is of course something which I am very used to doing in my sketchbooks, and I thought it might make a good source of inspiration.

I sat under a big tree and rang a bell. People gathered from around the grounds. Some had been playing croquet on the lawn!


We had expected mostly illustrators to take up the challenge, but a few authors went for it too. I showed the work I'd done since I arrived, as an example, and talked through easy techniques for getting instant results with watercolour (it was a revelation to most people that you could paint with clear water first, to control the colour), then everyone dispersed for an hour or so of experimentation.


After dinner (yum), we gathered in the conference room and, in small groups, talked though our work-in-progress. Each group then chose the strongest 3 pieces of work for each person - a great idea, as your own favourite bits of work are not necessarily your best and a fresh perspective is very useful. All the work was then displayed for everyone to browse and the next thing I knew, it was midnight!


Sunday began with my main workshop (after breakfast of course - yum). I devised a technique for drawing a journey, one piece at a time, to build up the elements of a story. Only, to put a fly in the ointment and get people out of their comfort-zone, many of the components were chosen randomly, by a neighbour. For me, the challenge was making it work, when about a third of the delegates were not illustrators. Still, it seemed to go extremely well. After coffee (and biccies) people took it in turns to pin up their drawing and tell their story.


Some ideas were hilarious, some were quite dark, some narratives were in a bit of a tangle, which the group helped to sort out: the brainstorming of 30 creative minds, all focussed on progressing one story idea was fantastic to watch.


The 'house cat' decided he wanted to join in. He demanded to be let in from the rain through the French windows, jumped up on the tables, walked across people's work, then took at seat near the front to listen:


After this of course, it was time for lunch (yum). Then we had another talk, this time by Emily Lamm, once my editor at Gullane (who worked with me on Swap!), now working as Commissioning Editor at Hachette. She gave some excellent advice on what editors are looking for and things to try / avoid in your writing. I tried to capture her and highlights from what she was saying in the concertina sketchbook:


I had two more mentoring sessions during the afternoon, sadly in the house this time, as rain was still bouncing around outside. Then Alexis did a demo session, showing how he draws with ink, using different kinds of brushes (in various stages of decay): 


I had my final one-to-one session, then at 7pm the gong sounded and it was time for another glorious dinner. I was impressed with the fact that the veggie choice for every meal was just as adventurous and delicious as its meat counterpart. We were all so impressed as a group that we asked for the chef and kitchen staff to come out and gave them a huge round of applause.

After dinner, we took a group photo in the garden:


Then we were all given a postcard, onto which we had to write three achievable goals for the next 3 months. The illustrators decorated the front of their cards. We stuck stamps on and handed them back to Loretta, whose job it was to post them all back to us in three months time. Good idea, or what?

We stayed up chatting and drinking and taking photos of each other until late, a gradually dwindling group. Finally, at 1am, the last dregs gave up the ghost and headed for bed.

Next morning, I packed my suitcase then luxuriated over my final breakfast (yum):


Then gradually, a few at a time, people had to leave (cue hugging...). It had been such a rich weekend, we all felt rather sad to be on our way. I was so sad that I had to buy myself a present from the gift shop (a VERY funky necklace).


Thank you to Loretta and all the team at SCBWI for inviting me to take part. It was a joy. Thanks as well to Sue Eves and Paul Morton, for the photos.

It was lovely to meet everyone, including the rather amazing Alexis Deacon, who's head is just stuffed with crazy story-stuff. And you know the really good news? I get to do it all again next year, as it's a 2-year invitation!

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12. Step-by-Step: How to Draw Hands


I have finally tackled the remaining teaching-drawings for the book. The publisher calls them step-by-steps and some of them are exactly that, like the one I did on using colour as a framework. There's also one on 3 stages of drawing eyes. 


However, quite a few of the so-called step-by-steps are not actually a series of stages, but sets of little graphic features, to help explain how to draw certain aspects. Since hands are always so tricky, I thought I would do some teaching-drawings, looking at how you can use the position of the knuckles to help judge whether you are getting things right or not.


It's a trick I always use. Though the knuckles are staggered, rather than in line, the shape you get when you join them up is echoed in the next set of knuckles, as well as the finger ends. This helps you get finger length right - another thing that is easy to misjudge.



I sketched three line-drawings, (actually, I drew 5: the other 2 were a bit rubbish). I tried to get really different poses. Then I placed a bit of tracing paper over each sketch and circled the knuckles in a coloured pencil. As soon as I joined them up and then drew in the finger-end line, I knew the drawings would work really well.


I scanned both drawings and tracings, then put them together in Photoshop. 


Job done.

The rest of the spread on How to Sketch Hands uses drawings from my archive of sketchbooks to talk through some other ways of thinking about the various problems, including creating montage sheets, drawing just hands, over and over for practice. This is useful for stopping you getting frustrated when people move. It's also good for making the individual sketches seem less 'precious', so you are less inclined to worry if they go a bit skew-whiff here and there:


It's a great way to pass the time on a train. Try using a couple of different coloured pencils, to stop things getting too confused. 


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13. Urban Sketching People - No More Scanning!


I think (think...) I have now done the last of the scanning for the urban sketching people book (hurrah!). We lost one drawing completely though. This boy was going into a new section I added last month, on things to look out for when drawing people of different ages. 


Because he was a last-minute addition, he didn't get sorted out with a reference number when we tagged everything, to remind me which sketchbook he was in. John and I scoured the pile several times (now nearly 100 books). We had a clue - we could tell from when I originally uploaded the sketch to my website sketch-space that it was done in 2012, which narrowed the field at least. We couldn't find it anywhere though. Total mystery. 


In the end we gave up and I substituted this one instead, which is a nice sketch, but not as clear for demonstrating the teaching-point: how children's lower lips are often set back, so the upper lip protrudes slightly. Hey-ho.

I don't have many drawings of children, because they are generally such a pain to sketch. Babies are even scarcer in my sketchbooks. Luckily I did find this page, done on a plane:



The montage system is definitely the easiest way to deal with the constant motion of babies and it was great for the book, as all the different angles gave me loads of observations to talk about. 

Things might be a bit thin on the ground for younger ones, but I have plenty of examples at the other end of the scale - I just love drawing older faces. So much character. As we age we get more and more individual. 



Fortunately, there are some constants to watch for when you're drawing older people, like the tiny, vertical creases we women get above our top lip, the deepening shadow between eye and nose, the loose neck... oh goodness, I've got to stop - it's all too depressing!!


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14. People-Sketching Book: My Last Few Weeks!


Goodness: the deadline for the book has suddenly jumped out of the bushes and is frantically waving its arms at me! I have until August 20th to get everything done. It's about a month, but counting only the free days I have to work on it, it's actually 3 weeks. Trouble is, that is also the only remaining time I have to prepare for filming the Craftsy class too - same deadline. Yikes. 

I clearly need to get my skates on. I hate to be so busy when it's summer though. I spent last Sunday working at my computer with the blinds down, while other folks were prancing around in the sunshine. Sob.


I have gone through the design layouts for almost all the book now. There are about a dozen new images to scan, because of rejigging the content at the design stage, then I have to choose sketches I want to feature as full page images for each of my chapter-header pages. It's hard to do that without having a proper overview of the content, so Quarto are about to send me a definitive version of what we have done so far. 

Once the final sketches are scanned, I will at last be able to get rid of all the sketchbooks piled around the studio. I'm really looking forward to a good tidy up.


There are still a few little bits of text that need doing: extra sections that have appeared as we have made changes (it has been very much a project that you have to allow to evolve as it goes along). That won't take long though. The main job left is all the step-by-step drawings dotted through the book. 

I am going to do some of them live to camera, so we can choose stills from the film to use to illustrate stages of the process. It's a wee bit scary, to be honest. I am going down to London to sort that out in a fortnight. We have 1.5 days to work on the filming and sort any photography, like taking pictures of all the elements of my sketching kit for instance.

Right. Back to it...

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15. Weather, Weather, Weather... SketchCrawling in Edale


The weather forecast for last Sunday - SketchCrawl day - was for it to rain overnight, but be dry all day. It was raining when I got up and still raining at 9 o'clock, when I got to the station. Hmmmm... 

I met Oliver, another sketcher, on the train. We both agreed it would clear up soon. Our optimism was rewarded on our arrival at Edale Station, where we also met two new members, Katie and Isabel, along with Archie, the dog. Undeterred by the low turn-out, our compact band of four set off for the hills. We got 100 yards and it started to rain.


Luckily, because we hadn't got far, a little cafe presented itself and we dived in. With huge self-control, we ordered tea, but none of the home-baked scones or flapjacks. It was still warm, so we took Archie out into the covered garden at the back, where I christened a brand new concertina book I had made the day before, by quickly painting the trees you can see above. 

The sun came out, so we ventured forth once more. Guess what? Yep. It was only spitting though. We were intrepid, we didn't care! But the trouble with Edale, is that it is mostly bare hills and no matter how intrepid you are, you can't use a sketchbook in the wet. After a while though, we found a couple of twisty trees, which gave some shelter, and set up camp. 


The great thing about dodgy weather is the sky. I had chosen a spot which gave us a panoramic view of the hills on either side on the valley. The light was constantly changing as huge, threatening clouds slid along the horizon. It was all very dramatic. The rain stopped again. Despite the very ominous skies that came and went, it remained dry for the rest of the morning. I painted like a demon. I love it up there.


Unfortunately, it was getting quite windy and we were all getting rather chilly. We gobbled our packed lunches, managed one last quick sketch, then headed back down. Close to the station there is a pub. It was raining again as we queued at the bar, but had stopped by the time we got our coffees, so we braved the beer garden with its lovely views. It was much warmer down in the valley. 


Lucy and Isabel headed home mid afternoon, but Oliver and I were back in the groove and kept scribbling. Oliver caught the 4.30 train back to Sheffield, but by then the sun was out, so I stayed another hour and drew some houses behind the pub:


I walked up to the station for the 5.30 train, but the views from the platform were even better than the views from the pub. The train pulled in. The hills looked at me with their gorgeous end-of-day shadows...


What's a sketcher to do? I let the train go and got out my paints again. I stood on the platform for the rest of the hour, painting the one above. I had to start a new book as I had filled the forts one. I finally heading back to Sheffield on the 6.30 train. 



When I got home, I laid out everything I had done and was astonished at how much I had managed: 


As you can see, the largest of my concertina's fell in half - it didn't like the dampness and, more than that, didn't like the fact that I had made it at speed and so used Pritt-Stick instead of PVA for the joins (note to self). 

Phew. I need a lie-down just looking at all that work!



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16. Craftsy Illustration Workshop: Meeting my Producer


Remember the Craftsy online-workshop I was invited to run on How to Design Children's Book Characters? Well, last month, my outline got the go-ahead (yeh!), so I have now moved onto the next stage, fine-tuning the content.



The company are extremely professional and organised, which is great, as it fills me with confidence that they will get the best out of me (and help to make it look like I know what I am talking about!). They have a huge team of people working on all aspects of the process. First of all, I was commissioned by the Acquisitions Editor, who talked me through the framework of the workshops and advised me while I put together the outline and organised it into 7 similar length lessons of approx 15 - 20 minutes each. Now I have started to go through the lesson plans in detail with a Producer. 



My producer called me from Denver last week and we talked for about 45 minutes about what happens next. He asked me to devise 'homework' projects to follow each of the 7 lessons. I also have to make a list of all the materials I will need and all the materials my students will need. The biggest job though is to time myself, to make decisions about which teaching points I am going to demo live and which I am going to talk through, using existing examples of my book illustrations - I can't demo everything as there is so much to teach and so little time.




I did the homework last week and have started making preliminary decisions about what book illustrations I think I am going to need to show on-screen. Next job is to hunt them out of the archive to send to my producer. Luckily, I still have the original digital scans of pretty much everything I have ever had published.



I have also just had an email from another member of the team: the Talent Coach. they are responsible for making sure I coming across well on screen. All very interesting stuff. I am so enjoying the wild variety of my work at the moment, what with this film, the urban sketching book, the residency, the school visits and of course my next picture book with Julia Jarman, which I start in October. 



What a lucky bunny I am!

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17. Castleford Children's Library Mural - at Last!



Well, it's been a bit of a long time coming, what with the original delays to installation and then John's little bit of drama at home, but I am finally able to show you how the children's 'Tigers in the Jungle Library' mural looks in situ. 


I'm so pleased with how bright and funky it looks. It was such a dark and dismal room before: more like a cell than anything, so we certainly have transformed the space.


As you can see, I added my little trademark signature to the bottom, just like I did with the first mural in Wakefield Library:


The team at Wakefield Libraries arranged an official opening day, where all the children from the two local schools who had worked on the project were invited back to see their drawings writ large. 


They were all very excited. Lots of pointing and shouting 'Look, look, that's mine!' to friends. It was a bit of a Where's Wally experience, as they jostled around the space, trying to find their particular tiger, snake or screaming librarian, but I think everyone found their pieces in the end.


After the speeches from the Head of Libraries and the Friends of Castleford Library, who helped with the funding, I posed with the children for lots of photos for the press. Then we had the rest of the day for drawing.


I ran a workshop with each of the class groups in turn. When we had worked together originally, there was so much to do and so little time, there was not much opportunity for me to do more than gentle guidance, so this time I was able to spend a bit longer, showing them in detail how to use emotion and body-language in their drawings, to bring their characters alive (although, I think you'll agree, they did a pretty good job without my help!). 


Everyone worked really hard, produced loads more illustrations and seemed very proud of the characters we piled up at the end of the sessions, for them to take back to school.


I ran around in the lunch hour getting these snaps. It was a very hard space to photograph, so I apologise for the dodgy quality of some of the pics, but I hope they give you a flavour of how it looks. Didn't the children do well? There are some very funny little details and nice jokes that they added, for instance, the flamingo above is holding a book called 'How to Get More Pink'. 

If you want to take a look for yourself, Castleford is in Wakefield, North Yorkshire.


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18. Artist-in-Residence: the 'Atmospheres' Conference


I am sorry for my uncharacteristic absence of late. After my last post, everything suddenly stopped here, because John got rushed to hospital and has been very poorly. He had a big operation and is now into about 3 months of recuperation, but the very good news is that we now know he is going to be fine. It's been quite a roller-coaster though.


I went back to work at the end of last week, because I was booked to spend two days drawing at Manchester University, recording the fascinating 'Atmospheres' conference for the Morgan Centre team. It's a precursor to my residency, which kicks off in October, and I really, really didn't want to miss it.

Various friends and neighbours volunteered to step into my shoes at home and keep an eye on the poor old invalid, so I packed my sketching gear and hopped on a train, a little nervous, but mostly very excited. I have once before done a similar job, on that occasion for the library service, and it was good fun. My pencil finger was itching to begin!


The idea was that I should sketch as much as possible, recording the various speakers and capturing something of the atmosphere of the conference since, after all, the theme was 'atmospheres'. 


Apart from the fun I had meeting the sketch-challenge, the conference itself was fascinating. It covered a huge range of sociological issues around the theme. I particularly enjoyed a paper on shared atmospheres at heavy metal concerts and the rules of audience 'moshing' (jumping up and down, crashing into one-another in an apparent frenzy). There was a paper on snobbery, another on beer festivals, one about the weather, one on taste, another on Goths... it was extremely varied and totally accessible to a layman.


I was working in the concertina books I made. I scribbled away the whole time and filled 6 metres of paper! 


Near the end, I gave a 15 minute presentation about urban sketching and then used a visualiser to show everyone the drawings I had been doing over the two days. This was one of the reasons that I was a little nervous... 

Thankfully it all went fine and, as far as I could tell, everyone seemed to approve of my drawings of them. Then, straight after my presentation, I co-delivered a paper with Professor Heath, the director of the Morgan Centre, talking about the upcoming residency and what we hoped to achieve from the year. 


The final key-note was the wonderful Simon Armitage, who talked on 'The Language of Where we Live' and read us some of his spellbinding poetry. When it came to questions, there was an embarressing moment: the first questioner apologised to Simon and then addressed their question to me instead! It was a good question, about the parallels between my way of recording detail through images and Simon's gathering of detail through language. It sparked some good discussion, but I did want to floor to open up at first, when all eyes, including Simon's, shot to me, brush in hand, mouth open in surprise. 


And then suddenly it was all over. I decided that, since I had recorded part of my journey there, I would carry on working and record my journey home. The train was packed so I was very lucky to get a seat. I was tucked tight against the window, so it was quite a challenge, frantically scribbling impressions of the passing landscape with my concertina paper unfolding all over the place and the man next to me being terribly British and pretending it wasn't happening!


Unfortunately, extrapolating from my output at the conference, it looks like I am going to need to wrestle with another roll of watercolour paper before the residency, as I will need approximately twice as many sketchbooks as I have already made. Rats.

A big thank you to the team at the Morgan Centre for hosting a really interesting event and for looking after me so well. An even bigger thank you to Sue Heath for commissioning me to take part in such a fun project. Can't wait for the next bit...

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19. SketchCrawling in Doncaster: Great Architecture!


I can't believe that I have lived in Sheffield for so many years and yet never before visited Doncaster, which is just half an hour away on the train. 

I discovered by chance that there was a lovely Minster there, so did a quick search to see what else there was to draw. That's how I found out about the gorgeous Corn Exchange, which made my mind up to go there, for the next meeting of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire.

That was last Saturday and, at last, we had a lovely day with NO RAIN - hurrah! It was so relaxing, sitting on the grass, peacefully drawing the Minster in the sunshine. It was very gnarly, with loads of gargoyles and a fabulous rose window. I intended to do various sketches, inside and out, but got very into one complex drawing, so ended up spending the entire morning on just that. I used my Koh-i-Noor 'Magic' pencil to get the multi-coloured line, which gives a softer finish than black and doesn't overpower the subtlety of watercolour:


I'd made yet another concertina book before the visit (I can't use the 35 I made recently, as they are to be saved for my residency). The concertina format was perfect, because it could expand with me as I worked my way up the building. I like to draw big enough to explore the nooks and crannies, so would never have been able to fit it in otherwise.

We had lunch at The Red Lion, which looked from the outside like a little, traditional pub, but unfolded like a tardis once you got inside. Wetherspoons had recently spent millions on it. The indoor restaurant was a bit busy, but there was a lovely courtyard garden: a real suntrap. We pulled 4 tables together and spent a very enjoyable hour chatting, eating and, of course, doing quick sketches of one another. This is me, between two newbies sketchcrawlers, Richard and Alec, sketched by another first-timer, Steve Beadle:


We had about 6 new members this time, so there was loads to talk about. As we were leaving, one of our first-timers, from Doncaster, pointed out two enormous paintings on the wall of the restaurant, one of Doncaster Market and another of the race course. He had been commissioned to do them by Wetherspoons. We were all suitably impressed!

The Corn Exchange had the sun behind it. I could tell that squinting at it all afternoon would give me a headache, so I wandered around the adjacent market for a while, looking for other things to sketch. It was no good though - the grandiose building pulled me back. 


Again, I got caught up and so spent all my time on the one drawing and never even got to see the inside. The concertina did its work again: this time expanding sideways. The building was huge (I had to work really hard to make myself fit it into the height of the book). There was a lot of fiddly detail, so I worked in pen this time, tinting it right at the end.

Here's a photo I remembered to take (for once) of some of the group in action:


We went back to The Red Lion for the sharing. There was some amazing work done - really inspiring stuff. I always enjoy nosying through people's sketchbooks. Having so many new members gave me plenty to look at and there was lots of 'wow'ing.


It was quite late by the time we started for home. I ended up on the train by myself, and was lucky enough to have a 'snoozer' opposite, so got out my rainbow pencil again. I showed it to him as I got off.

I had a really smashing day and I met some lovely people. I've got to go back some time though, and have another go at some of the other views of that Minster.

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20. My Furry Companion is Back!


No, I don't mean John (who is actually getting less furry every year, though don't tell him I said that), but Maddy, my friend's cat. We have been 'babysitting' her for years, including on the occasion of my friend's honeymoon, when Maddy nearly plunged to her death by trying to jump out of the velux in the studio. I only just grabbed her back legs in time.

These days she is a very old lady, so is far less trouble. She is not above stealing my chair as soon as I get up to make a cuppa though:


Even though she just sleeps all day, it's kind of nice to have her in the room with me. I do miss having an animal, but John and I are too keen on gadding about, so it wouldn't be fair. 

Our friends all know we are a soft touch with pets though, so don't need much persuading to act as kennels. One friend got stuck in temporary accommodation some years back, so we had her two cats for months. That turned into quite a challenge: poor Clyde expressed his disorientation in pee, on almost every carpet in the house. I expressed my feelings about this in an illustration:


We did have our own cat once. We stole Smudge from a neighbour. Well, not quite literally, but she came into our house more and more, so we put a collar on her with a message, asking who owned her. The man round the corner turned out to be allergic to cats (Smudge had been his wife's, who had moved to Ireland), so he was very pleased to officially hand Smudge over.

Unfortunately she wasn't an ideal addition to the studio. She once nearly ruined one of my pastel illustrations, by jumping up on my desk. I think Maddy's days of leaping across the room are behind her, so that's reassuring.

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21. Rediscovering the Archive


One of the very pleasing by-products of the drudgery of all the scanning I have to do at the moment, is that I am getting to look back over all my favourite sketches of past years - well, the ones of people anyway. It's been an interesting journey. Every image is imbued with memories. Some are a record of an important or touching occasion, like the day I came across this little girl and her brother fishing for their dinner in Kerala and ended up in their home, singing carols with their family:


Some are interesting because I tend not to work in the same techniques any more. Some are just old favourites that make me feel good about myself. It's never a bad thing to look back at work you are proud of: it's great for the confidence, which is in turn good for feeding back into new creativity.


It's rather ironic but, since I have been working on this book, I seem to have been drawing people far less. I don't know if you have noticed, but I have got rather into architecture this last year and have been far less prolific on train journeys than I was in 2013/14. I'm not sure why. Anyway, looking back through the archive has inspired me to get back to it. 


I need to get some people-practise in to be honest. I have a 2-day job coming up next month, as Artist-in-Residence at a conference, at Manchester University. There'll be nothing but people to draw and I have volunteered to do a short presentation of my work at the end, to show the delegates what I have been up to. No pressure... 



It's a good job that I am a show-off! 

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22. Layouts: the Designs for my Book Have Arrived!


Last week, my publisher sent another big batch of draft spreads through for my Sketching People book. It's so exciting to see it coming together. It has been a very interesting learning process. It's so different to writing a picture book. Okay, there are an awful lot more words, of course, but that's not really what I mean. It's the process which is new. 


Organising all my ideas was probably the biggest challenge and that is behind me now. All the text has been created to fit within specific chapters, each of which is subdivided into spreads - remember the Flat Plan? I have never worked in that way before and it has been interesting to watch how the plan has evolved as we've gone along. We are onto our 4th Flat Plan now.

About half of my text was generated by that process of organising my ideas, the rest revolves around specific sketches, selected from my archive of sketchbooks or from guest artists, chosen to help underline particular teaching points in the plan. Those decisions have been mine, but made with the advise and guidance of the editorial team at Quarto. As with any publishing project, it is far more of a team effort than it appears from the outside. 

The bit where the rest of the team have really come into their own though, is with the design. I have written my text and chosen my sketches, spread by spread, concentrating on informative content, rather than how it will look. Now all that has to be organised visually, placed on the page in a way which is both clear and (hopefully) gorgeous to look at. 

The sketches in these layouts are still using mostly my quickie photos by the way, which is why they are horribly grey. The gleamy, high res scans will be dropped in next, which will look better still:


A batch of initial layouts, for a small section of the book, came through back in March, but my team at Quarto are working on many more books at once than I am used to with picture books, so there has been quite a long gap, where I have been waiting my turn. Now though, things are really motoring.

This new batch is about a third of the book. I went through them last week, adding notations for changes, then we talked it all through on the phone. 


You can see from the layout above, that sometimes there are greyed-out areas, where images are to be dropped it later. That's because I have yet to do the filmed sections. Yes... filmed! It's all a tad daunting: I will be filmed in action, then stills will be taken from the film, to use as step-by-step illustrations, in sections like the Colour Before Line step by step I showed you a while ago. Sometimes that's the only way to create something in stages: as with the section above, which is about drawing motion.

Anyway, still some bits to work on as a result of these layouts, so better get on.

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23. An Amazing Day: Plein-Air in Winnats Pass


I have been more or less padlocked to the computer during the week, which is really frustrating on sunny days. So, when I saw a forecast for particularly lovely weather, I decided to sneak a day off to go out sketching in the landscape. I knew exactly where I wanted to go:


Well wouldn't you? Isn't this an amazing photo by the way? The sky doesn't look real, does it?

John and I had already hiked through Winnats Pass, in Derbyshire, one Saturday afternoon recently. 
It was windy and cold that day, but the light and the shapes were so extraordinary, I had to sit down on the spot and do a quick sketch:


This time though, I could relax and luxuriate in the sunshine. John dropped me off and went on a long walk while I settled down to try and capture the fabulous sharp shadows. I took A3 sketchbooks, because it's such a massive landscape. It's very unusual too, because the really rugged crags are up close on both sides, giving you the ability to see detail and grandeur all at once.

This is my favourite from the day I think. I tried all different media, but compressed charcoal seemed to really get across the contrasts:


I tried watercolour, but couldn't seem to get the results I wanted. I am really still learning how to use paint, whereas I am totally comfortable when I am drawing. This is my first attempt. It started out quite interesting, but got a bit flat as I worked into it:


I tried again. The second one has kept more spontaneity, but still doesn't do interesting enough things or properly exploit the effects of the watercolour:


I did various other sketches in charcoal, getting black ingrained into my fingers and fingernails...


...but I also tried experimenting with watercolour pencil to add definition to the paint and combine the different sorts of mark-making:


I tried using my Sailor pen, but the line variation which I love so much is not as powerful at A3, so it couldn't hold the page without colour, which definitely helped:


It was a really enjoyable day. Even when things weren't going quite right, it was impossible to get grumpy! It is such a magical place, I will have to go back again. I've really only scratched the surface.


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24. SketchCrawl Event at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park



Do you fancy doing a bit of sketching with me in the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park


Well, why not book into the event I am running on August 9th. It's all free, but you need to register, as we have capped it at 40 participants and it is already filling up fast. Last time I looked there were just 11 places left! 


Just like with a regular SketchCrawl, there will be no tuition: it's more about getting fresh inspiration by working alongside other sketchers and empowering one another to feel comfortable about drawing in public. We will be working our way around the park, drawing and painting together, with a couple of 1 hour sketch-stops both before and after lunch, hopefully all in the sunshine. 

Just grab a sketchbook and whatever materials you like using and come along. Don't forget to book your place first though.


If you want to learn more about either SketchCrawling, or get a preview of the YSP, take a look at this lovely little film we made on one of our previous visits:


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25. More Painting and Drawing - In My Element!


I thought you might like to see some more of the work I have been doing out in gorgeous Derbyshire landscape. 


Yes, I went back to Winnats Pass a week after my last excursion, to have another go. I started with the drawing above, warming up with good old charcoal and a skinny stick of black conte, for the finer mark-making.

It wasn't an official SketchCrawl day, but I let people know that I was going, so was joined by a handful of other sketchers, who popped in and out during the day. Nice to have the company. We were all taken by this particular view - stunning stuff! 


After lunch, once familiar with the lie of the land, I tried the same view again as an experiment, using Platignum writing ink (very water soluble), lots of water sploshing and then a wee bit of watercolour. The light had changed a bit by then though and we had lost those lovely long stripes of shadow:


I was interested in keeping the view basically representational, but creating a more abstracted and expressive interpretation of the shapes than the more literal drawing at the top. I got ink everywhere though, especially since the plastic pot I'd put it in had leaked. Black fingers again.

I did a watercolour next, from slightly further into the valley. I am still not entirely happy with the watercolours and very much still learning. The Peak District is the perfect place to practise though. So many beautiful shapes:


I was looking for a different view to finish, but didn't have time to climb to the far end of the valley and look back down, like I did last time, so I scaled the left side, to higher ground. There wasn't anywhere even vaguely flat to sit though and I had my work cut out, just stopping myself from sliding back down the steep slope! My rucksack kept trying to tip over and roll back down into the valley and I was sure that at any moment my brushes, water or palette would tumble away from me. 

I managed to get a painting done before any mishap, though my poor bottom was totally dead by the end:


I am still learning how the watercolours work at this scale - it's very different to using them for the smaller urban sketches I am more used to. It was the patterns in the landscape which I was excited by. For me it is all about exaggerating shapes and pulling out colours, playing with marks and textures. Perhaps my early textiles training is still in there somewhere, trying to get out! 

Here's how this one looks against the reality:


John had dropped me off in the morning and then spent the day hiking around the hills in the area. He arrived back in the valley while I was half way through this last painting, at the end of the afternoon, ready to take me to the pub for a well-earned dinner.

Another lovely and very productive day.  

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