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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. Bears on the Stairs: Lights, Camera... Action!


When I read my picture books to children, I always add at least one fun activity, to make the experience even more memorable for them. Bears on the Stairs, written by my favourite partner, Julia Jarman, is the perfect book for all sorts of added-value fun, so I almost always read it at least once during a school visit. 

I read it to a KS1 class in the lovely St Andrews Infant School in Brighouse last week. When we got to the end of the story, I asked the children if it was okay for me to be a bit silly. Luckily, they said yes. Even more luckily, one of the teachers filmed the next part of the session on her iPad, so I can show you exactly what I mean by 'added-value' and just how silly we can get!

I wrote the poem 'The Bear on the Stair' to fit with Julia's story and the whole class performs it together. Before we start though, I ask for volunteers. First, I need someone to be the bear: to roar and eat the children at the end of the poem. Then I need a volunteer to do a big burp (I once had a Head Teacher volunteer for this role!), so I asked the class at St Andrews what noise you might make if your belly was really, really full of children. Instead of a burp, one little boy rubbed his tummy and made a fabulously deep, bear-like 'Mmmmmmmm....' sound. So, as well as the burper, I added him to the mix.



I was delighted that it was this particular session which was filmed, because it was an especially good one. The children were so engaged and the 3 guys at the front really went for it. It makes me laugh every time I watch it, to see them making up all the actions to go with the poem. Watch for yourself and see.


After all the noise and silliness of the poem, I quieten things down with a mock-serious award ceremony, giving a little Bears on the Stairs badge to each of my volunteers. Unfortunately, I have almost used up all the badges that the publisher gave me - just a handful left. 

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2. Playing the Celeb in Brighouse:


The school visits kicked off really early this year. My first event was immediately after New Year: I was the guest of honour, opening the gorgeous new library at St Andrew's C of E Infants. I got to cut the ribbon and everything. 


I hope you're impressed by how well my dress coordinates with the school colours!

The children in the photo are members of the School Council, so also rather important. After the ceremony, I sat and signed some books for the library and they gathered round to watch. They were so excited and amazingly cute. Listen to them chatting to me while I draw a warthog in a copy of Stinky!:



The rest of the day was a series of storytelling sessions. It was such a lovely school. The children were a delight and lots of parents came along to sit in. 

Teachers filmed a lot of the sessions. Here I am playing my usual flipchart guessing game with one class, seeing how long it takes them to work out what I am drawing:


It's a shame that the teacher is filming from the wrong side really, but you can still tell how great the kids were. There is another, really brilliant film of me doing my Bears on the Stairs poem with another group, but it was emailed in two halves, so I'll post it up a bit later, once we have stitched it back together. It's really funny, so well worth waiting for.

Another fun game I play at the flipchart is drawing the anaconda from Class Two at the Zoo, and letting the children decide who will be in the snake's mouth. Sometimes they nominate a teacher, sometimes I get volunteers. This time it was Namory who got gobbled up: 


I am so lucky to have a job which lets me share such lovely times with children (and then pays me for the privilege!) 

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3. '3-a-day' Sketch Challenge


There is a fun game going round at the moment on Facebook, where people are nominating sketchers whose work they admire to take part in a posting project. You have to choose 3 sketches to post each day for 5 days. Every day you also choose a favourite sketcher of your own to nominate.


I was nominated by an Urban Sketchers friend, Beliza Mendes, from Luxembourg, who did the sketch above. I'm a bit busy right now (you have probably noticed that I am blogging a little less often than usual), but luckily I have so many pre-scanned sketches that it wasn't a problem to take part. 


I started the challenge on Sunday, with my favourite 3 sketches from the SketchCrawl at the Hat Works. I nominated a member of our Usk Yorkshire group, Paul Gent, who does really beautiful sketches, mostly of the Derbyshire area, where he lives: 



Unfortunately, there was a bit of a hiccough the very next day and I didn't get my 2nd set of sketches posted. John and I had a horrendous drive to and from a school in Telford - over 3 hours each way. Because of the traffic, I was late, so I worked half my lunch break to catch up. Then I signed books for an hour before the long drive back and was simply too shattered to go near the computer when we got home. Not a good start!


I did two posts on Tuesday to make up for it. I thought it would be fun to compare 3 of my older train sketches, from when I used to draw with just a 3B pencil (no colour at all, which seems incredible now) with 3 more recent train sketches, after colour became really important to me and I got so excited by my Inktense watercolour pencils: 


Tuesday's nomination from my fellow sketchers was Rolf Schroeter, from Berlin. He's someone else who often draws people and in a really exciting and dynamic way:



Next up for my 3-a-day: my passion for landscape sketching. A few years ago, when I began exploring all different media, I discovered that I love applying the same kind of expressive mark-making to hills, valleys and skies. There are so many interesting shapes and patterns to explore:


On Wednesday I was delighted to nominate Melanie Riem, who does wonderfully evocative landscapes, but can draw pretty much anything and make it equally enticing: 



For the final day, I decided to feature sketches of architecture. I used to draw buildings years ago, before I felt confident about sketching people. I went off them and avoided architecture for years, but got back into it a couple of years ago, when I realised that I could bring the same expressive style to bear and didn't have to worry about accurate measuring and perspective. Now I forget all that and just have fun:



On my final day, I nominated Nina Johansson from Sweden, who does the most exquisite drawings and paintings, often in very cold conditions. It might have been her that once told me that Vodka stops your watercolours freezing (!):


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4. Stockport Hat Museum with Urban Sketchers Yorkshire


Saturday was January's SketchCrawl outing for Usk Yorkshire. I met 6 other members at Sheffield Station and we took the train to Stockport. It was the day of all the gales and we had not been on the train long when they announced we couldn't get to Stockport because of a tree across the line!


Fortunately they cleared it just in time and we got to Stockport's Hat Works in plenty of time to meet up with another 25 members, including people who had travelled from Manchester, Derbyshire, Macclesfield, Hull and Birmingham. 



During the morning more and more people turned up, so that about 40 of us were there for lunch in the cafe. Luckily there was virtually nobody else there, unluckily, they had only two people on duty (one who was on their first day), so it was chaos! After nearly an hour's wait for my sandwich, I started this sketch, because that was a sure way to ensure my food would arrive, and it did.


The museum itself was fantastic, with hats through the ages and across cultures, as well as lots of contemporary designer hats, some elegant, some bonkers, all wonderful to draw. It used to be a working factory, so the basement area had all the machines to show how the hats were made, as well as mock-ups of the original milliners shop, with this gorgeous old till:


There was so much to explore, I didn't even get to see one floor, so must go back. That's the only problem with sketching - you have to make quick decisions about what to draw, so can't spend all day looking round.


At 3 o'clock we all walked next door to The Plaza: an original Art Deco cinema. Look at this decorated interior:


There was a lovely, traditional tea room upstairs with white tablecloths, amazing cakes and waiters in all the gear. We had pre-booked but, once again, they had real trouble with such a big group. I attempted a really quick sketch, but mostly we were chatting and planning future outings:



Because it took so long to serve us all (and took several attempts at ordering on our table), half the group had to leave before we got around to sharing the work. There were still more than enough sketchbooks left to fill one of the tables though:


Despite the difficulties, it was real fun to have such a fantastic turn-out (the best we've had since the York Minster day). I was especially pleased to have about half a dozen new members with us.


A huge thanks to Lynne McPeake and Andrea Joseph for taking over the organisation of the event for me. Thanks as well to Kerry Davies for most of the photos. I'm always so busy, I generally forget to take any. 



Another brilliant Urban Sketchers day out, sharing what we love and meeting lots of new people.  

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5. An Urban Sketcher's Manual: Drawing Fluid Lines


I am still writing my book for most of the working day at the moment, taking advantage of the opportunity to focus on one task, while I can. It's a bit like writing this blog actually, in that I am sharing tips and hints about how I work, but with a slightly different focus and format


I'm enjoying the opportunity to talk about other people's work sometimes as well, but for the most part I am analysing what I do when I am drawing people in various situations, which of course makes me think differently about things which I have learned to take for granted.


This week, I decided to go back to basics and talk about how a fluid line is so much more useful that straight lines, when it come to sketching people, because basically, people are curvy. Straight lines tend to make them look stiff and lifeless. So, a couple of spreads in the book are dedicated to looking at how you can develop a more instinctive, fresh line, which will bring your characters to life and help communicate the sense that you have captured them mid-movement.


For the more hesitant sketchers amongst you, those who tend to twitch their pencil back and forth, barely moving, I talk about drawing from your wrist, elbow and even shoulders because, if you don't move your arm, you can't move your pencil expressively. 


I demonstrate blind-contour drawing too, which is a great way to get your line loosened up, and I show how contour drawing helps you to hang onto the principles of instinctive eye-to-pencil sketching on an everyday basis. 

Not forgetting of course, how a quick, linear sketch can be done with a paintbrush too - what a gorgeous, expressive line watercolour can give you if you keep your hand fluid!



We have a title now by the way. It's going to be Sketching People, with the subtitle, an Urban Sketcher's Manual to Drawing Figures and Faces.

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6. Delivering my Manuscript

Happy New Year! Are you all having a lovely holiday? Looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow?

Actually, I am. I'm really enjoying writing my book on sketching people and it's coming on really well. I am well ahead of schedule, which is good news, because I won't have much time once the work for the new children's library mural kicks in, not to mention all the school visits I have lined up between now and mid March.


My deadline for delivering the text is staggered. It's divided into 5 stages. I have to upload 20% of the content each month, between February and June. Since the spring will be tricky, I uploaded my first 20% just before Christmas. Because of the holidays, I've not had any feedback yet.


As well as the Drawing Strangers is Scary chapter I was telling you about last time, I have now completed the book's final chapter, called Capturing the Moment (if you remember, I am not taking them in order). After all the sections with more specific tips about how to draw people, which I've mostly yet to write, I finish up by sharing techniques for getting more out of your sketches. 


This section talks briefly about the difference between an urban sketch of a person and a portrait. Urban sketching is not so much about getting a likeness when you draw someone, as presenting a snapshot of them: a person as part of a time and place. That's why I never ask permission when I sketch people - it has to be natural, because I want to catch someone going about their life, not posing. 


I talk about ways to soak up all sorts of peripheral information, to help place your sketch in-the-moment: bits of conversation, things that happen while you are drawing, observations about the weather etc, so that your sketchbooks don't only paint a very rich picture, but always take you straight back to where you were, like a visual diary.


As you know, I love incorporating this extra information, so I share techniques for adding text and having fun with the way you arrange things on a page, because the contents of your sketchbook does not have to match what's out there: you are free to experiment and play. 


I think next, I might tackle the section which talks about how to cope with the fact that people move. It's very inconvenient, but inescapable: they do it all the time. But fear not - I have lots of tips to share!

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7. Urban Sketchers Yorkshire's Christmas Bash


Merry Christmas everybody!

I have been so busy working away on 
my sketching book, that I forgot to tell you about the Christmas party I threw recently. Each year Urban Sketchers Yorkshire has a seasonal do. Sometimes we go out, sometimes it is at my house, as it was this year.


Everyone contributed food and drink, so I didn't have to do any work (my kind of party). T
here was so much to eat! We piled it high then sat round and drew it as we scoffed. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any photos before we'd gobbled the best part of it.

I think at least 25 people turned up throughout the afternoon. To allow people to sit, we had to use both rooms. I cobbled together a 2nd table from coffee tables pushed together, so those in room 2 had some food to draw (as well as nibble on):



After we had finished Round One of eating, I laid a fresh, white (paper) tablecloth under the pudding course in the dining room, and people sketched directly onto that:


It was fun because it was a bit silly, and was a good exercise in being less precious about our work, as we all knew that, inevitably, the cloth was going to be put in the bin at the end of the day:


Then we tried something else which was even more unusual. One of our members from across the Pennines, Mike Dodds, bought a stack of paper espresso cups. We gave them out and everyone sketched what they could see around the room. This is one of my favourites, by Rich Wells:



The little cups were really lovely but, as you can tell above, photos didn't really do them justice so, next day, John and I filmed some of them. Here's one of the little films. Please forgive the amateurishly ragged start and finish - there was no time to mess about editing:


 
Our last game of the afternoon was 'sketch speed-dating'. We crammed about 15 people around the dining table then John rang the old school bell, which you can just see in the background of the film (VERY loud!!). Then we had two minutes to sketch the person opposite. When the time was up, he rang the bell again (poor ears...) and everyone moved one seat along and began again. Here are some of my two minute sketches:


When people had gone, I took some photos of the tablecloth sketches and put them together into a montage:

SketchCrawl Xmas paty: shared tablecloth sketching

It was a really lovely afternoon, with such a great atmosphere. I can't wait until next year, though we have a hard act to follow now, and I will have to think up some more fun things to do...

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8. ...It Slipped onto YouTube, When I Wasn't Looking!



Look what I found on YouTube today, by pure chance:


Some of those who have a copy of When You're Not Looking! at home, might notice that the text is a little different to the original version. It was reworked for a later US edition.

Great job Lily and Lola!

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9. How to Sketch People: Starting on the Text


At last! This week I have finally started properly writing my book.

I don't need a massive amount of text per spread. I am typically writing 200-300 words of general text on each spread and then the rest is explanation and teaching points attached to specific sketches. That's why the sketch-selection is so important.


The tagging system John devised is working really well. At the touch of a button, it shortlists each category for me, pulling from a pool of over 430 sketches we photographed last week (very glad that job is over), which makes it SO much easier for me to pick the 3 or 4 images I need for each spread.

I don't have to start from the beginning and work my way through chronologically as, for the most part, sections stand alone. My editor explained that, for this kind of publication, people rarely read from start to finish anyway: they tend to dip in and out all over the place. She suggested I begin where I feel most confident. 

So I started with a chapter called Drawing Strangers is Scary. I find that sketchers are very inhibited by the thought that they might be 'caught in the act' while drawing someone, so I have written about tricks for keeping a low profile, but also what happens when you are discovered. The chapter then goes on to look at how you choose people to sketch, thinking about different locations and activities and how easy or tricky they typically are. I couldn't go through every possible option of course, so narrowed it down to 10, which are either recommendations or which have unexpected advantages of disadvantages. This is the chapter where the spread we did for the presentation, about drawing on the train, will go.


Meanwhile, my publisher has sent out a call to various urban sketchers, asking for examples of people-sketches. We won't need many more guest contributors, as I have already selected quite a few, as I mentioned previously, but they say it's good to do, as the perfect image for one of my teaching points may drop into our lap.

These are all sketches which have made the grade into that initial chapter, as far as I am concerned at least (but of course everything still has to be run by my editor and set by my designer - I am not even thinking about layout).


By the way, if you missed the beginning of this project and want to follow the progress of this book from the start, just use the Sketching People label on the right hand panel and scroll down. There have been 10 posts so far.

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10. The Next Stage: Tagging all my Sketches




Now that the basic structure of my sketching book is sorted, I have to go back to all the piles of sketchbooks which John and I waded through when I first got started on the project in the summer. Of course, there are a few new ones now too.


Back then, I had a rough idea of the categories I was trying to illustrate, and used colour-coded bookmarks to help with that. Now the book's structure has been fine-tuned, I'm ready to make the selections, but I have to find a way of shortlisting from the hundreds of possible sketches, buried in nearly 90 books. 


The plan we hatched was to work through the images we bookmarked last time, taking quick snaps on my phone, so I can see them all together. I used post-it notes to tag drawings against the sections of the book I had in mind. Trouble is, the tags needed transferring to the photos I'd taken, or I'd just end up with a bucketful of meaningless snaps, which wouldn't be much better than the piles of sketchbooks! Then there was the complication that most sketches could potentially work in various sections of the book. Oh dear...

There were so many images in play, I had to find a system that would be efficient, without being too time-consuming. John came to the rescue and downloaded Picasa: photo-album software, which lets you tag your images. 


I have been working through the sketchbooks, numbering each sketch as I photograph it and logging it in a book, along with the number of the sketchbook (so we can find the sketch again when it comes to scanning), and any tags which might apply. The photos are then uploaded to the computer in batches and quickly renamed with the two reference numbers. 

While I am snapping the next batch and scribbling in my book, poor John has the unenviable task of adding all the tags in Picasa. I'm still using the post-it notes, to speed up finding specific sketches if they make the grade and we need to scan them in:


The system is not as time-consuming as it sounds and we did the lot in a few days (though an emergency-dash to Staples had to be made half way through, for more post-its).

The tagging system is brilliant, as I can now pull together all the sketches of noses, or contour-drawing, or speed-sketching at the touch of a button. It's going to make the next stage much, much easier. Phew.

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11. Meeting my Publisher and Choosing Guests


As you can see, I have been sketching stuffed animals:


But more of that later...

It's been a week since my trip to see the publisher of my latest project, the 'Sketching People' book. I have been pretty full-on with it ever since.

The meeting went really well. Everyone in the team was very friendly and easy to get on with. It was good to finally meet the designer, who I worked with on all the presentation spreads. Five of us sat round a table with proper coffee and very nice chocolate biscuits (their regular treat for author visits) and my editor sat me at the head of the table: I felt very important.



Once we got down to business, we really hammered away at the project. They were great at listening to my take on things and good at explaining what I needed to know, so all very positive. 

I love that my editor is a straight-talker, like myself, so we got loads sorted in just a couple of hours. There were some tweakings needed to the flat plan and synopsis I had created, but luckily it was basically sound: the changes were mainly a structuring issue that I hadn't realised and a bit of streamlining, all of which was a great improvement.



A new flat plan has been created out of the meeting, although it is apparently still very fluid: the idea is that the structure is there to hang all my work on, but it can adjust to accommodate more or less space needed in the different sections, as I go along.



After the meeting, I had a few hours to kill before my train home. It was bitterly cold and no good for sketching outside unfortunately, so I took myself and my sketchbook to the warmth of Natural History Museum, as I enjoyed it so much the last time. Which is where our stuffed friends above come in.

The rest of last week was mostly spent choosing guest contributors for various sections of the book. We have to do that early on, to give plenty of time for people to sign the paperwork and get their artwork scanned. I need guests because there are some aspects of sketching people which I am pretty rubbish at - crowd scenes for one - so I have collected examples from people like Caroline Johnson, who are great at it:


It's good to have a variety of approaches in other sections too, so I had my head in Flickr and Pinterest for days, searching people out, and got quite bug-eyed!

I have tried to mix it up a bit: some well-known Urban Sketchers correspondents, whose work often appears in similar publications, but also some less known sketchers, as the book seems a great way to showcase talent. I sent a list of possibilities to the publisher today, and am waiting to hear what they think. Keep you posted!

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12. Getting Started on my Sketching Book: the Flat Plan


Now I have the go-ahead for my Urban Sketching book on sketching people, the next job has been to convert the detailed synopsis I created earlier, into what's called a 'flat plan'. This is a way of ensuring that the chapter sections divide appropriately into the amount of pages I have at my disposal, and that the flow of the book works properly.


My editor sent me this template to work on. The idea is to fill it in with section-headings for each page and colour-coding for the chapters, to give a complete over-view of the book, at a glance.

It's been a really interesting process. It immediately pointed up certain problems with the plan as I had it, mostly because, as with picture books, you have to be very aware of how your material works as spreads and of course can't have random single pages. So, I have been re-jigging things, nipping and tucking my content. I did a rough flat plan with coloured pencils first then, once it was working properly, did a posh version in Photoshop:




Today, I am going down to London, where I will meet the rest of the team for the first time. Together we will go through my flat plan and make any changes necessary to fit with what they think will work best. As ever, although I am the author, a book is a team project. I might have a lot of experience in designing children's books, but this is a very different kind of project, so I am happy to be educated as we go along. 

I'm excited to meet my editor and keen to get started! I'll let you know how it goes.

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13. Yahoo - I Got my Grant from the Leverhulme Trust!!


In August I was approached my a professor at Manchester University, asking if I would be interested in doing a residency with the Sociology Department at The Morgan Centre. They had discovered that The Leverhulme Trust was offering grants of £15,000 to fund projects where artists work in partnership with non-art institutions. It's a wonderful idea and I was excited to be asked.

We spent September writing the bid between us, trying to get it just right. The idea is that I will be a sketching fly-on-the-wall in their department for a full academic year, in particular recording key research projects. It's especially interesting to be doing this now, as sociologists have been thinking a lot lately about different, less impersonal ways in which to gather and record data. The team at The Morgan Center are all really excited about the project and the possibilities for the future. They are thinking of writing a paper on me!


Anyway, the BRILLIANT news is that I just got a letter from the trust, saying we got the money! I was told the decision wouldn't come through until around Christmas, so it was totally unexpected. I was pretty nervous opening the letter (vague memories of A Level results...).

The actual work won't kick in until late next year unfortunately, as we wanted the project to encompass a full academic year but, from October 2015, I will be doing my reportage-sketching for 2 days a week and I can't wait - it sounds so interesting! You can read a bit more about the specific projects I'll be sketching on my last post about it.

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14. Castellers: Monkeys Climbing Human Towers


As well as the fire-breathing dragons, I witnessed another rather unusual spectacle while I was in Sitges. They have a strange competition. I had been told about it, but was so lucky to be there to see it for myself.

It was a Sunday afternoon. Crowds began to gather in the centre of the old town. Then the teams arrived from three local areas. As far as I could gather, despite the acrobatics, they were just ordinary people.



The idea was to create 'human towers' and compete to see which team could get the highest. The base was created by a massive rugby-scrum of people all pushing in to stabilise the core. Then people climbed up over them to balance on each other's shoulders. A small child was always the last to go up, light enough to perch at the top.

This was the first tower. They 
paraded through the crowds in the square, the scrum shuffling along beneath:



But this first tower was just a warm-up. After that, the competition started in earnest and the teams took it in turns to do a much higher tower, first with two people on each layer, then four...

The higher they were, the bigger the bases needed to be to support them. They began forming a second scrum on the shoulders of the first! As they got really high, competing teams would help, adding extra people to each other's scrums, so the towers would be surrounded by a massive crowd of people, all leaning forward on each other's shoulders. 



People at the centre of the second scrum, reached up their arms and supported the bottoms of the people on the next layer up:



The 'monkeys' were the little children. You can see one above, standing on the top scrum, about to climb up. On the big towers, two or three children would climb up at once. In order to fulfil the rules, the monkeys had to not only get to the top, but then circle round the pinnacle, clambering over the top tier of people, before climbing down again.

Each team did three towers, getting taller and wider each time. 
I was just wondering what would happen if one collapsed, when one began to crumble before my eyes!




It was very shocking to see and one older man in particular was very upset afterwards (I wondered if it was him who had first given way) but, amazing, nobody seem to get harmed. 

Talking to a local in the crowd, I learnt that they give a signal if collapse is a possibility, to allow them to do it in a controlled manner, bending their knees and crumpling inwards, rather than falling sideways. The scrum braces to take the impact and nobody hits the ground.

At the end of the competition, there was a clear winner. There was a tense hush during the building of their final tower. The other two groups both got involved on the ground level and the team were very excited when they were done, so their tower was obviously pushing the boundaries.

The event finished with the three teams making lots of smaller towers again, all at once:




Then there was a fantastic celebratory dance. The children rode on the adult's shoulders as they danced around the square while everyone sang and chanted and waved. Wonderful.


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15. The 'Stars on Canvas' Auction Results - Wow!!


Thank you SO much to all those who bid on my little bear canvas. On the final morning of the Stars on Canvas auction, I looked to see how it was going and he was still at £74, so I was blown away yesterday when I discovered that he finally sold for £296.45! That's fantastic, isn't it? It's loads more than I expected, as the last one I did, an illustration from Class Two at the Zoo, sold for £155, so I am delighted.


I don't know who got my little, growly bear in the end, but I am sure he has gone to a good home. If you bought him, thank you, and thank you to everyone who bid on all the various canvases. Let's hope The Willow Foundation made shed-loads of spondoolies!

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16. The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes



My postman rang the doorbell this afternoon, dragging me all the way down 2 flights of stairs from my attic studio. Nevertheless, I love it when that happens, as it means a parcel. Sure enough, he handed over a big brown package for me to sign for. The paperwork said it was from the USA, which gave me a clue.

I opened it with glee and I was right - it was the new Urban Sketching book by my friend Marc Taro Holmes:


Marc promised to send me a copy to review a while ago, but his publishers have taken their time sending it out and I had almost forgotten it was coming, which made it all the more exciting to finally be unwrapping it.

Unfortunately,I am too busy right now to get stuck into it: I must force myself to get on with some work instead, but I thought I would show you, to whet your appetite.

A quick flick through was enough to tell me that it would be good. Marc is such a highly skilled sketcher, I'd expect nothing less. I always knew him as a brilliant watercolourist but, when I spent time with him in Brazil this summer, I saw him in action with a pen for the first time. How irritating to discover that he is a brilliant speed-draughtsman too :-D


Anyway, this book covers both, which is great. I will look at it properly and let you know what I make of it as soon as I can!

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17. Getting Singed in Sitges


I never got around to telling you about my fun and games I had while I was staying in Sitges, for my Barcelona school tour. I was really lucky, as my stay just happened to coincide with a big festival - one of the main annual events for Sitges, the Sante Tecla



I've been to a few festival parades in my time, but I've never encountered anything quite like the Sitges one before so, though I've been back ages now, I still want to tell you about it and show you what I drew. 


I packed my sketch-bits and walked the 20 minutes into the old town on that particular evening, to check it out. As I arrived, odd things were beginning to appear in the streets, like the lovely blue dragon above. People seemed to be heading in one general direction, so I followed the giant below, trying to draw it on the move, as we made our way through the streets. Very tricky, trying not to trip up!


I got the chance to add colour when we got to the starting-point of the parade as there was a bit of a wait, while everybody got into position. Loads of local people saw me drawing and came up to chat. Then suddenly we were off!


The parade was hugely long, with all sorts of different elements, including different troupes of dancers in colourful, traditional costumes, drumming groups from various towns...



...acrobatic characters, musicians, people in huge papier-mache heads, religious elements, cute little children with hoops covered in paper ribbons, and much, much more. They wound very slowly through the old streets, stopping every so often for 2 or 3 minutes so the dancers could do a turn. I captured what I could, mostly at the stopping points. 


Most people lined the streets, but I figured it would be easier to draw if I walked along with the parade, weaving in and out. I spotted another dragon, so thought I'd sketch him (below). I was totally unprepared for what would happen next.

I didn't realise that fire was a big theme of the festival. There were a couple of dozen demons in the parade, brandishing big sticks with fireworks attached at the ends. A head demon went round lighting them all and the street was suddenly filled with fizzing and banging


The firework sticks whizzed round like catherine-wheels and watchers, including me, had to run out of the way as we were showered with the sparks. Then the head demon lit more fireworks inside the dragon's mouth and tail. What had gone before was nothing...


All hell broke loose, pretty literally. The fire-sticks spun and whizzed and exploded. The dragon truly breathed fire! Everyone around was shot with the sparks. Running and screaming was all part of the fun it seemed.


When the fireworks died away, I thought that was it and went back in close to carry on drawing, but no - the chief demon went round again - they had enough fireworks to reload again and again. The narrow streets filled with smoke! Here is the blue dragon I spotted in the street before it all began:




To escape the smoke and get a calmer drawing opportunity, I ran further forwards in the parade and found these guys: the Moixiganga Men. They would march normally will their long candles then, as soon as the parade did its little pause, they would climb up and do this balancing act, holding the pose as they walked on for a couple of minutes. The only way to draw it was to walk in front of them backwards, with my sketchbook held up, frantically scribbling, once again hoping not to trip.




I built it up over 3 or 4 goes and, once they saw me, one of their number walked behind me to make sure I was not going to fall. I did the painting while walking along too, which really fascinated them. I drew what it looked like behind as well. In the sketch above, you can just make out the head of the man that's stretch out in the rear view below - between the top man's legs


At one point, I thought things had finished, as the parade suddenly broke up and all participants all got a drink from whichever bar was at hand, but it turned out the parade had just stopped for a beer break! Ten minutes later, things reformed and we were off again! Here I am with the some of the Moixiganga Men, my sketch half-finished still:



I had another shot of strange and interesting sketching at the weekend, as there was another odd but spectacular custom, but I'll tell you about that next time, as I have rambled on way too long as it is.

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18. A New Picture Book with Julia Jarman!


Remember a while ago, I mentioned that Julia and I were talking through her ideas for a new story? Well, Julia has put in a lot of work since then. The text has undergone several rewrites and the various drafts have been back and forth to our publisher, but all that work has finally borne fruit - Hodder have given us the go-ahead. Yippee!


The book is another in the series with Class Two at the Zoo and Class Three all at Sea. This one is to be Class One Farmyard Fun and involves similar levels of chaos. This time though, the action revolves around a bull on the loose. The teacher is,  once again, hopelessly ill-equipped (she ends up getting tossed into a tree) and it's the kids who save the day.

This will be our 6th book together. I love working with Julia - we have exactly the same silly sense of humour and her texts are so incredibly visual, the pictures just leap straight into my head!


I'm delighted about this one in particular, as Julia has been trying to get another in the series published for some time. The other two have been so popular and successful, it seemed such a waste not to. 


I can't start on the artwork until half way through next year, as I have too many other irons in the fire, but will certainly share my sketches with you as soon as I get going.

Well done Julia!!


.

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19. The Penguin Who Didn't Like Snow


A nice surprise package arrived this afternoon. I was trying to work out what it could be, as I wasn't expecting anything big and flat. I had completely forgotten about the American editorial commission I took on at the beginning of the summer, via my US agent:


I haven't worked in editorial for years, though it was where I learnt my trade, back in the late '80s. On publication day, they always send you at least one copy of the magazine, for your portfolio. So here it is! 

The spread was for Spider - a subscription magazine for children, mainly full of stories and poetry, with some activities to try. This fabulous front cover illustration was done by Dom Mansell:


If you are interested to see how the artwork was created, I blogged the process in three different stages and you can see them all here.

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20. Urban Sketching Badges



During our recent sketch-day in the museum, I was given a pressie: a big bag a badges to distribute to all my Urban Sketchers Yorkshire members! They are cut from acetate and are very smart:


Those of you who are not close followers of Urban Sketchers are probably a bit confused. Actually, quite a few of my group didn't recognise the Urban Sketchers logo! I must admit, I have no idea what the relevance of the design is (I must ask the Powers That Be), but trying to work it out gave us something to think about over our lunch in the museum's cafe.

Thanks so much to Mike, who is actually part of the Manchester Urban Sketchers group, but who is also having a bit of a fling-on-the-side with us Yorkshire folk. A mate of his, who has a bit of sheet-cutting machinery, made the badges with a big lump of left-over acetate and so both the Manchester and Yorkshire groups are now properly labelled!

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21. Kangaroos and Koalas at the Window!


I have been out of the studio doing illustration workshops most of this week, because it's half term and libraries like to put on family events. 

On Monday I did something a little different to my usual format: Castleford Museum wanted me to decorate a window. It was a tricky project to work out, logistically - I had only 5 hours, I had to work with 2 separate groups of children and the window had to be finished by the end of the day.



I used storytelling to create content and the local area as the theme. I got each group to design a hero or villain (with me drawing at the flipchart) then we spun a story around them. The children illustrated their story as a communal drawing on two huge squares of paper, then I gave them sheets of acetate and coloured permanent markers and they traced the various elements they'd drawn. I then sellotaped all the different bits of the story onto the window, trying to arrange them so that they fitted together, at least vaguely!).

The image above is the first group's story, featuring a poor kangaroo who, because he was really good at doing back-flips, got kidnapped by a travelling circus and brought to Castleford. Luckily his sister came to rescue him. I love the turning circle at the circus (always very handy when you get big animal deliveries!)


The second story, above, revolved around an evil koala, with a plan to blow up all the local banks. I love the detail of Castleford's shops. Can you spot the koala, climbing a tree to mark the position of the banks on a map? The rockets are people fleeing Castleford to take refuge on the moon until the trouble is over.

I was a bit unsure of how it would go, but in the end everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves and it was good fun for me to do something a bit different. The children's illustrations are going to stay up on the window in the museum for a several weeks, which is lovely.

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22. Tigers Climbing the Bookshelves: Another Mural!


Regular readers will remember all the excitement around creating the mural in Wakefield's new Central Library. It was a bit of a monster, so the job took a lot of getting my head round, especially as I had never done anything like it before.


But it was all worth it. Anyway, the brilliant news is that the feedback has been FANTASTIC. Everyone loves it. And one thing leads to another...

Turns out, there's another new children's area at Castleford Library and that needs a mural too! So, when I went to Castleford last week, to do the window-decoration workshop in the museum, I squeezed a meeting into my lunch break. It's the same local authority as Wakefield Library, so the people who commissioned me last time came down to chat about ideas and to show me the new space.


It's a very different kind of space this time. Instead of one long wall, it an entire room: the space above the bookcases all the way round. I took lots of photos of the walls and roughly joined them together, as you can see. It's not a huge room, but it's a complicated shape.

We batted about some themes. It turns out the local rugby team are The Castleford Tigers, so I am thinking 'Jungle Library', with tigers jumping on the bookshelves, books getting eaten and other kinds of exotic mayhem. 


I am waiting for all the measurements to come through, then I have to try and work out how long it's going to take, to get some idea of what it will cost them. That's the worst bit!

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23. Green Light for My Urban Sketching Book!


This morning I got some great news - the Urban Sketching book that I am writing, about how to sketch people, has got the go-ahead! 

If you remember, at the beginning of the summer, I was commissioned to write a proposal and then create several sample spreads, to be used by my publisher as a presentation, to show at Frankfurt International Book Fair. They needed to get a US co-edition signed up, to make the project financially feasible and yesterday the US publisher Barrons signed on the dotted line, so we're off!


Which is fantastic news, but of course it means I am going to be pretty busy very soon, because it will be running alongside the mural project. They are both going to keep me out of trouble right through until next summer.

I will of course keep you posted about how it's all going, but the proposed schedule for the book is amazingly quick - the idea is to have it out by Christmas 2015. So, Christmas pressies all round?


These people sketches were ones done yesterday on a train to Wakefield. The quotes are snatches of conversation I was ear-wigging, from a man behind me somewhere. Surreal stuff!

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24. Usk Yorkshire: Celebrating our 50th Sketch-Walk!



Yes, it's hard to believe, but Urban Sketchers Yorkshire has managed 50 sketching days since I started up the group in September 2010. We were called SketchCrawl  North in those days though, before we became officially affiliated to Urban Sketchers.


Our 50th outing was a pub-crawl sketching day in Buxton, last Sunday. We've been to Buxton a few times, and we did a pub-crawl in February, but Buxton's so lovely - there's still plenty to draw.

Here we all are, posing outside Buxton Opera House, looking a bit chilly:


I can't take credit for the organisation of the day. Every now and then, other members host the SketchCrawls and Paul Gent, an artist who lives in Buxton, put together a schedule. He created this lovely map especially for the event: 


Apparently, he chose venues according to the quality of the beer, as much as anything! 

We met up at The Old Sun at midday. I spent so long saying my hellos and giving out our new Urban Sketchers badges, that I only managed this quicky of Miriam and Matt in action, before it was time to move on:


Our 2nd stop was not a pub, but the Pavilion Cafe. We have drawn there before: it is great for drawing arial views down over the customers drinking tea below. It was also a good spot for some lunch, which meant I did more eating than drawing, but still managed this quick watercolour sketch:


Venue no 3 was The Old Hall Hotel, where most people sketched inside, but the sun had come out and it was pretty warm as long as you stayed out of the shade, so I nipped into the street instead and stood under a lamp post, rather awkwardly balancing things in the air as I painting the sketch at the top. I so love drawing Buxton Opera House.

At The Old Clubhouse, I drew the bar and barman:


At 4pm, about half the group had to leave, but the rest of us set off again, this time to The Buckingham. We chose the front bar, which had a nice big window. I drew the view, although it was already getting dark, so it was a race against time. I just got it done, as it got truly too black to see:


Weirdly, when we arrived, the room was empty, but within 5 minutes it was heaving! We pressed on to the last venue of the day: a quirky cafe/bar called 53 Degrees North. I drew the candlestick at the top and then just had time to do this sketch of Andrea, Matt and Eileen:


We did our usual sharing session, inspiring as ever, and then finally headed for home at 7pm after a really lovely, very sociable day out. We will celebrate our 50th again at our Chrismas party next month. Can't wait! 

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25. Auction: Your Chance to Buy my Growly Bear


Remember, ages ago I showed you a canvas I had painted of the little,  growly bear from Bears on the Stairs? Well, his time has finally come! He is being auctioned right now, as part of the Stars on Canvas campaign, to raise money for the amazing charity, Willow Foundation, which sends seriously ill 16 - 40 year olds on unforgettable Special Days out, to help them reconnect with their families, focus on quality time together and create positive memories for people to treasure. 

Little bear is on Ebay here. It's only at £21 at the moment, so I'm sure we can raise a little bit more than that, as there's another 6 days to go.


Luckily for the little bear,  and for the charity's coffers, he won't be alone - dozens of other illustrators as well as tons of celebs, have also created canvases to be auctioned.  


So,  this is your opportunity to bag yourself some great art, or a one-off special by that special celebrity you have a secret crush on.


Go get bidding right nowIt for such a good cause and there's loads to choose from. Treat yourself, or get some very unusual Christmas pressies.  At the very least, make sure my little,  growly bear gets himself a good home!


If you're in London, there's a big Stars on Canvas exhibition on at The Hub, Heddon Street from 20th - 24th November (12 - 6pm, 4pm on the Sunday). I was invited to a posh private view evening, but I'm too busy to get down there, so will miss all the champers and celebrity-spotting. Hey-ho.

You could tweet the auction for me too, if you want to help a little more, and spread the word: #StarsOnCanvas. The event happens every two years and raises tons of money. Remember the Class Two at the Zoo anaconda I painted last time? That went for £155, which was great. Let's see if we can do even better this time round.

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