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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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While I was away having my adventures in Denver, my Sketching People book went off to our US publisher, Barron's, for a pre-publication evaluation. It's standard procedure apparently. They have a list of questions they check against, to decide if they think the book needs any changes before they publish it in the States.
The check-points cover quite fundamental quality issues. They include questions like:
Is the writing style, reading level, interest level, and level of detail appropriate for the intended audience?
What is the general quality of scholarship and accuracy of the text?
Is the coverage of topics thorough and well balanced?
Under each question, the evaluator at Barron's writes a paragraph or two of feedback, before sending the report back to Quarto in the UK. Any problems then come back to me, via my editor, and changes need to be made to fit in with their requirements.
I got the email this morning from my editor at Quarto. She was so delighted, she sent me a copy of the Barron's evaluation report.
Turns out, they loved it. We passed with flying colours - no changes at all. The opinion was that everything was extremely clear, without being overly technical and that I had done 'an excellent job of offering many different approaches and techniques' with 'exactly the details that will help and inspire readers to draw people in urban settings', covering my subject 'well and completely'.
They believe my audience will be find it a 'lively and colourful read'. Best of all was in the summing up at the end, where it says: 'I am ...very familiar with all of the books about onsite drawing that have been published in recent years. "Sketching People" is one of the best books on the subject of urban sketching that I have seen... I am sure (it) will be popular and will sell well.'
That's such a wonderful vote of confidence, especially from somebody as all-powerful and in-the-know as Barron's. Let's hope that you guys, my 'gentle readers' think the same.
The only bit of bad news is that, because Quarto got very behind with things, they have changed the publication date. Instead of being ready in time for Christmas, Sketching People is now not going to appear until around February. Oh well, something to brighten those long, winter evenings...
When I found out that I was going to be flown to Denver to shoot the on-line Designing Children's Book Characters workshop for Craftsy, I wrote a quick 'showing-off' post on my Facebook page (like you do). All my friends left lovely feedback, wishing me well, which was of course lovely. But I got another bit of feedback too, one that was rather unexpected...
I got a message from the person who runs the Botanical Illustration course in Denver. She asked if, while I was there, I would be interested in doing a real-life workshop for her students. My 1st thought was: that's odd - I am not a botanical illustrator. My 2nd thought was: wow, you never know who is looking in!
I got in touch, of course, and discovered that the course likes to invite visiting demonstrators to present different kinds of illustration workshops. Sometimes these visitors offer a wider take on Botanical Illustration (while I was there, someone from the Royal College of Embroidery was delivery a drawing-in-stitch workshop, producing wonderful rose embroideries). Sometimes though, they like to look at other kinds of illustration. Which is of course where I came in.
So, I finished shooting the Craftsy class on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning I was sitting opposite twelve very keen illustration students, in a teaching space which was situated bang in the middle of Denver's wonderful Botanical Gardens (hence my water-lily sketches).
It was a two-day workshop. On day one, I taught pretty much the same material as I had just been demonstrating for the Craftsy film, which was very handy, as I couldn't have been better up-to-speed if I'd tried. On the morning of day two, I concentrated on idea development: how you generate ideas and allow them to evolve, so they have time to get even better. We also looked a look at communication: ways to make the ideas in your illustrations come across clearly to the reader, as well as how you add humour and impact.
In the afternoon, I tried something a bit new: I quickly sketched out an image of Giddy Goat
onto a couple of bits of paper, then got all the students to gather round, while I did a demonstration. I showed them two very different ways of colouring the same illustration: one using coloured pencils to get interesting colour blends and to shade 3-dimensionally (much as I do with my pastels); the other using watercolour, but with a soft, coloured pencil outline.
The students spent the rest of the afternoon experimenting with colouring up one of the illustrations they had developed that morning.
It went really well. I was so pleased. All the students were really nice and several of them gave me a big hug at the end, saying how much fun the weekend had been and how useful they had found it. I felt very loved.
Mervi, who ran the course, gave me a lovely thank you present of this beautifully illustrated book the students and staff had published of their sketchbook work (thank you Mervi!):
Possibly most exciting of all... she invited me to go back and do it all again sometime!
Well, goodness me - what a fun, whirlwind week I had in the US! I got back last Tuesday evening and have been catching my breath (and catching up on emails) ever since.
Where to begin? Well, the 3 days I spent at the studios were so interesting. Craftsy are a lovely company to work with and really looked after me, including a chauffeur to pick me up from the airport, which was an excellent start.
I arrived on Monday night and I had Tuesday off, to get over the jet-lag and altitude, although actually neither gave me much trouble (I think my excitement over-ruled them), so I enjoyed wandering about, exploring Denver city-centre (above) and I had a lovely visit to the art museum, which was fabulous both inside and out:
They had an exhibition on 'flower painting through the ages' and, when I spotted a bunch of easels and piles of oil-pastels in their activities room, I couldn't resist sitting down for an hour and giving it a go:
On Wednesday morning I was picked up by the lovely (and very pregnant) Danica, my make-up artist, and driven to the Craftsy studio complex, where I had my very own dressing-room:
I took a change of clothes for half-way through each day of filming, so four outfits in all, to create visual variety on screen. We had fun trying to find ways to hide the mike under my cardigans and collars. People who were doing classes about dressmaking took about 10 outfits, so I got off very lightly.
I liked the personalised star on my dressing-room door (nice touch):
That first day was a rehearsal day. We ran through a couple of lessons, to get me warmed up and used to working with the teleprompter, but it was mostly a technical rehearsal. We spent the day setting up the cameras and the clever, computerised stuff, talking through the best way to achieve things and familiarising me with the process.
We were a team of four and we all got on like a house on fire, right from the beginning. There was Clif my producer, who was as familiar with the material as me and who also acted as director and general 'person-with-an-overview'. This is Clif and pretty much the view I had while we were filming:
Then there was Tim, the man behind the sound recording and the various cameras. There were three rolling all the time I was delivering my lessons. Firstly, there was camera A which was looking straight at me, then camera B which always pointed directly down at the paper in front of me. Lastly, looking over my shoulder, was camera C. Here is Tim getting camera B into position on Wednesday morning:
Finally, there was Nick (who sadly, I forgot to get a photo of). He spent the whole time behind 3 computer screens at the back of the studio. His principle job was to create a rough-cut of the footage as we went along, editing together the output from the three cameras, on-the-hoof.
On Thursday and Friday, I was picked up at 7.30am (!), made to look gorgeous by Danica, before starting filming at around 9.00. We had such a laugh. All my team were great - they were very easy-going and good fun to banter with, but at the same time clearly knew exactly what they were doing. The attention to detail was very impressive.
We worked until 6.30 most nights, with me sitting at the desk, either explaining various elements of a lesson to camera, or doing my demo drawings of the many different characters I'm teaching people to create. I had practised the material quite a few times, so mostly I didn't need to actually 'read' it off the auto-cue, just use it as a prompt to keep me on track, but we still had to do a fair bit of stopping and starting, where I fluffed words or forgot what was coming next, because I was looking down at the drawing I was doing and so not at the prompt. That's where having 3 camera angles is really useful: you can always find an easy place to cut in again.
There are now about 5 weeks left before the class will be ready. Nick's rough-edit needs to be fine-tuned, plus lots of images from my books need to be spliced in, where I use them to illustrate various teaching points as we go through the lessons. Like with Nana Croc for instance, when I am talking about ways to add humour when you are designing outfits for your animal characters:
There are all sorts of additional graphics to add too, as well as setting up the interface for the students - one of the great things about Craftsy classes is that you can ask me questions and can show me your work.
Just before the workshop goes live, I will be running a competition, to give away a free subscription to the class, so watch this space. I will also be giving out special launch-week discounts.
I can't wait to see what the technical guys do between now and then. SO exciting!
Yep: if all is going to plan, that'll be me, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as we speak. I will have finished all my filming in Denver (can't wait to tell you all about it - hope it went well...), done my weekend workshop for the university there and be at this very moment winging my way back home to Blighty. Though perhaps it's tempting fate to point it out. We'll see!
In the meantime, how many of you clever folks got the musical reference in the title? I suspect only those over a certain age (the precise details of which shall not be mentioned, to protect the innocent). If you were around in the 70s, you might remember the iconic Nimble Bread adverts:
It was revolting stuff - about as far from healthy wholemeal as it's possible to get - but the ad used a great old song by the Honeybus, I Can't Let Maggie Go:
Okay, so hands up who remembers that far back..?
While I am away on my Denver adventure, I thought you might like to see some more of the sketching I did on my week off in the Lake District. With everything that I have had going on recently, I haven't had time to scan anything, but luckily I remembered to take photos of quite a few, in-situ. It is fun anyway, to see the sketch against the subject matter.
The whole time I was there, I was struggling against what I considered to be too much like realism:
...as opposed to my attempt at a more expressive abstraction of what was in front of me. It swung back and forth, often to do with how warmed up I was (in both senses of the word - it got jolly nippy up on some of those hills!)
I took some charcoal and a hardback, A3 cartridge pad as well as my paints. It was a welcome rest in some ways, to be back in my comfort-zone a little more, drawing, rather than painting. Very messy business though!
I tried the same view in paint, with a touch of watercolour pencil, for definition. This is in an A4 pad:
We finished the trip at Wastwater, which is my favourite lake. It's possibly my favourite place ever. There's such wild and windswept drama to it, with a thrilling atmosphere of foreboding created by the ridiculously high scree-sloped which plunge down into the dark, deep water. We didn't get there until our final afternoon, as you have to go a very long way round to access the valley - there's just the one road in, which grinds to a halt when it hits the mountain at the end of the lake. It's partly that remoteness though, which keeps it a bit special.
I had never seen Wastwater as beautiful though, with the low sun picking out all the contours and lighting up great patches of purple heather. I wanted to stay forever, but we had to start our drive home...
Today is my day for getting everything together to take to Denver. I fly tomorrow!
I don't really enjoy packing at the best of times, but it's hard choosing clothes when you are working for a week and have to look good every day - no place for jeans and skanky T-shirts!
Luckily, I haven't got to take any picture books or artwork, because I posted a package a couple of weeks ago with all that. It always makes me a bit nervous when I post actual artwork, but I crossed my fingers and sent a big piece from Bears on the Stairs:
...along with various sheets of roughs and a load of my books.
I have been working really long days all this week, trying to get everything prepared, not just for the 3-day film shoot, but also for the 2-day, real-life, illustration workshop I am running for Denver University, straight after the Craftsy filming (I can't remember if I told you about that?). The university's weekend workshop has been rather tucked into the background of my head, with everything else that has been going on lately. Goodness me.
Anyway, I am as prepared as I am ever going to be - no more time to worry about it!
Wish me luck...
I've got another Skype rehearsal of my 'how to design picture book characters' workshop this afternoon. This time at least I have the chance to spend a bit of time going through it in advance, reading it aloud. It's amazing what a different that makes - lots of last minute jiggery-pokery is needed to make things flow naturally. The Skype practices are a bit of a performance logistically. I have to use our laptop to deliver the face-to-face lesson, for my producer Clif, in Denver. I need prompt notes though, which will be on the main computer, by the side. So far so good, but I also regularly use examples of my finished illustrations (scans of which will ultimately be edited into the lessons, so the student will see them on screen). Trouble is, for me to see what I'm talking about during the rehearsal, each illustration needs to be brought up on the computer as I go along, squeezed in alongside the prompt notes. It doesn't make for easy, uninterrupted flow. We haven't time to run though everything (7 lessons at 20-25 minutes each is a long time), so I will perform a single lesson, as a test, which will also give us an idea of how accurate my original timings were. I am either going to choose a lesson on facial expressions...
...or on creating movement, as those lessons refer less to my archive illustrations, which will definitely help. One other snag though, is that I will be drawing lots and lots of demonstration sketches (I also need to make room for paper, in front of 2 computers squeezed onto one desk), but Clif won't be able to see my sketching at all - just me talking away about what I am doing.
There's no way round that really, but Clif says he is mostly interested in the flow of me talking and the timing - he trusts that the drawing demo side will be fine. It's making the talking bit run quite naturally from one teaching point to another, as if I'm just chatting to a friend. I've got to get good enough at it that I don't ramble, so we can see more clearly how long each lesson will take.
Better get back to it then!
John and just got back on Sunday, from a smashing week away. We rented a static caravan on a tiny farm in the Lake District, to coincide with the deadline for my sketching-people book. I thought it would be great to get it all done and then go away, feeling cleansed.
Unfortunately, my publisher was behind schedule with the last stage of the book, so things didn't quite work out as planned. I was still getting pages coming through to work on, right up to the last minute. Even then, my designer didn't manage to get it all to me in time, so there were still a few spreads left hanging...
I felt okay about it though, because the delay was not my fault, so we went away on schedule and left it all behind. It was great actually, because there was no signal where we were, so I couldn't even get emails. Enforced relaxation.
Except, I don't really do relaxation, as such. I can't sit and chill: I have to be doing something. Which is why I had packed about 6 different sketchbooks and all my painting and drawing kit. The plan was for John to go out walking, while I sat on various hills and did my thing. Sometimes we went off for the day together, doing walks with lots of quickie sketching stops, where I whipped out my trusty Inktense watercolour pencils and waterbrush:
The weather forecast was pretty appalling (especially for a sketching week): torrential rain for at least half the time and some really gusty winds. In the end though, we were really lucky. Most of the torrents happened during the evening or overnight.
We even got a couple of days of gorgeous sunshine. Much of the time though, I was wrapped up in layers, hunkered down against the wind. August in England! The dodgier days made for more dramatic skies though:
I never cease to be amazed by the Lake District - so gorgeous. It can be crazy-busy at peak period, but it depends where you go: we were tucked away in the western Lakes, near Coniston, and it was wonderfully peaceful:
I will show you some more later, but I really have to get back to work now as I am off to Denver VERY soon!
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...
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).
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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...
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...
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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...
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!!
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.
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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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!