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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. A Ghostly Presence amongst the Fire Engines..?



On Sunday, we had another Urban Sketchers Yorkshire day out. This time we spent it in a slightly spooky building which was once Sheffield's Victorian Police and Fire Station, although these days it's the National Emergency Services Museum


Apparently it's the largest volunteer-run museum in the UK. Fancy that. I also didn't realise that it has several resident ghosts. 


I'm not surprised, to be honest: those Victorian police cells in particular really looked the part. While I was sitting sketching, I kept waiting for a ghostly tap on the shoulder, but the spirits in question are obviously not art-lovers.


The upstairs rooms of museum are stuffed with all sorts of paraphernalia, big and small, but I found myself mostly drawn to the vintage vehicles downstairs. I don't know why: I am rubbish at drawing cars. I had two cracks at the American fire engine below, but got a bit frustrated with my inability to judge the various wheel ellipses. My problem is that I don't like to do pencil prelims - I just want to go for it. I think it's the challenge of that which excites me.  Except, there are some things which are totally unforgiving of errors - tyres amongst them!


During the first couple of hours at the museum, sketchers arrived from different places in dribs and drabs, until we were about 20. The only drawback to that is that, as each person arrived, they came to say hello, so I ended up doing a lot more talking than sketching before lunch. It was very sociable though. 


I was most pleased with my last sketch of the day: the one at the top. I squeezed it in, right at the end of the afternoon. I went out into the yard and decided that was the cutest of the old fire-engines. I just finished it off in time and had to hold my sketchbook open all the way to the pub, to wait for the paint to dry off.



As usual, it was fun looking through the sketchbooks. Not everyone made it to the pub, but we still had to pull two tables together to fit us all round. Then I stood on a chair to attempt a panorama shot, to fit all the books in. Not 100% successful to coordinate, but the source of much amusement.

Gold star to Andrea Joseph, for being the only person STILL sketching:



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18. Terror at Dean Clough!



Luckily for me, it wasn't real terror, but Tales of Terror, a wonderful exhibition of beautifully detailed illustrations by David Roberts, which has just opened in the Illustration Gallery at Dean Clough in Halifax. John and I went along to the opening on Saturday, where we met the absolutely lovely David Roberts in the flesh (I think all children illustrators are lovely to be honest... but then, I am biased). 


I just love David's work and I especially love this series, because of the sinister edge to each illustration. It's often quite subtle but definitely disturbing. Wonderful stuff:


They were created for the Tales of Terror books by Chris Priestly, a Victorianesque series of horror tales for children. David explained that that's why the illustrations are created to look a little like the old etching plates from Victorian novels:


I also met up with my friends and fellow illustrators, Chris Mould and Lydia Monks. It was great to have a good old chin-wag. Chris has a permanent studio at Dean Clough (they do loads to support artists). I went to visit his studio a few years back: take a peek... Chris was also the curator of David's show (well done Chris - nice job).

Here we all are in the Dean Clough restaurant, after I had just finished scoffing down a rather yummy lunch (I was a little worried about my grin, visualising bits of rocket between my teeth and am very relieved to see that, if it's there, it doesn't show).


There are several galleries at Dean Clough, and all the exhibitions were opening at the same time, so we had a lovely afternoon, mooching around them all. I particularly liked Jo Brown's abstract paintings

Go take a look yourself. the exhibitions are up until January 3rd.


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19. A Favour To Ask...


I have just finished my first week of International School visits. I've been in a different Barcelona school every day, with early starts and long signing sessions afterwards, so I will have been working really hard, but I have today to relax in the sunshine, before we transfer to Valencia tomorrow. 

I wrote this post before I left though, because I have a favour to ask...

Almost a year ago, I lost my dad. He was a gentle, modest man with a wicked sense of humour and a sharp intellect. It's from him that I get my love of words - apparently, when he was conscripted at the end of WW2, he carried a pocket dictionary everywhere and he read it from cover to cover. No wonder he had a fantastic vocabulary and was so good at crosswords!

He was also a great boogie-woogie pianist. He taught me to play Cow Cow Boogie when I was just a tiny thing and had to climb to get up onto the piano stool. It was a fantastic party-trick. Dad never learned to read music, playing by ear. He taught me various boogie-woogie songs over the years. I later took piano lessons and, though all that has mostly blown to the wind by now, I can still play Basin St Blues to this day.

Anyway, to the point. During the last 4 years of his life, Alzheimers gradually took my Dad from us and all these precious aspects of his personality slowly slipped through his fingers.


I am doing the Alzheimers Memory Walk in two weeks, on Saturday October 11th, in Dad's memory. It would be lovely if you could sponsor me, so I can help raise money to try and stop this horrible disease from taking the people we love from us, in such a very sad way.

This is Dad and I together, on one of the last social occasions when he was more or less himself, at the 60th wedding anniversary party we threw for him and Mum:


Anything you can give would be really welcome. Just go to this link. Thank you so much!

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20. Urban Sketchers Do Battle with Sugarloaf Mountain!


I was telling you about my trip to Rio...

The weather forecast for my first full day in the city was really good, so we decided to go up Sugarloaf Mountain and spend the day sketching the views (and goodness gracious - there were views!): 


I worked mostly in the watercolour Moleskin I'd started in Paraty, but thought it might also be fun to record a narrative of the day on the other side of the little A6, Laloran concertina book we were given at the symposium (I used the other side for Richard Alomar's sketch-walk). 

I began as our little group were waiting for the taxi outside our hotel - as you can see, my friend and fellow correspondent Suhita Shirodkar was already sketching. On the way, I recorded the taxi driver and some of the things I saw on the journey, including our first sight of the mountain:


The couple I've sketched far left are correspondent Marc Holmes and his wife Laurel, who we met the cable car, ready to embark on another adventure. Liz Steel is taking the photo here and that's see Shiho Nakaza, another correspondent, next to me and Esther Semmens, a fellow Brit ,far right:


I did my best to draw the unfolding view through with my trusty Sailor fountain pen, as we were travelling up in the cable car. I had to be speedy! Once we had disembarked at the first level, I was able to finish it off, by drawing the bay and adding some quick colour. Then an obliging helicopter took off from right below me:


We all wandered around trying to take in the view and work out what on earth to do with such a lot of information! I found it very challenging: how could I squeeze all those mountains into a tiny Moleskin? Then there was the even trickier issue of how you ‘code’ so many shoulder-to-shoulder high-rises and the sprawling mass of favellas, trailing towards infinity along every valley. One of our group summed it up: ‘It’s like someone spilled their Lego out over everything’.


I did the sketch at the top first, but was unhappy with the way the format flattened out the view, so I experimented with using my book at different angles, to better capture the drama, first diagonally (you're going to have to tilt your head to one side for the one above, I'm afraid), to get in the section of mountain we still had to climb, then turning it vertically, to try and capture the view down to Guanabara Bay, full of little boats. 


The turquoise splatter is deliberate by the way: I was trying to add perspective and pull the front forwards. I'm not sure if it works - I rather like it but John's not keen.

It was truly exhilarating, painting alongside the others, all of us focussed so intensely on this one, very challenging task. It created a shared dynamism, a kind of urgency to get it all down, again and again. Such a buzz!


I recorded us sketching in the concertina book of course. We had been joined by yet another correspondent, Omar Jaramillo. In my sketch below, he's the one in the middle between Shiho and Esther (but you can also spot him in the photo above):


After all that work, we figured we deserved a spot of lunch and I ordered a big glass of gorgeous, fresh watermelon juice to cool down. As we were getting the bill, a little group of marmosets climbed out of the trees and started foraging for scraps at the tables:


Then it was time to take the next cable car, up to the very top. Yahoo! Again, I sketched through the window, this time with my Super5 fountain pen (another lovely freebie from the symposium). As before, when we arrived, I carried the vista on across the book. It was an extraordinary view...


...and again, so vast that I could only capture one small section:


We had time for one more sketch before the weather began to turn. I did the one below. I had been really inspired, watching Liz Steel painting beside me, so did my best in watercolour alone:


Then we took a group photo. That's Omar on far right, Liz Steel below Marc and also Brazilian sketcher, Claudia Jarjoura, far left:


By this point, having sketched in the same place together all day, we felt really bonded as a group: a band of sketchers! 

As you can see, a cloud descended on us shortly after that photo, completely obscuring the view, so it was time to take the cable car back down (love the bag-lady look, don't you?):


We were so lucky to have such a long clear spell to do our sketching. During the next two day that I was in Rio, the weather was never clear and bright like that again. 

It had been a wonderful day. Working with such a close-knit group was truly something special. Thank you guys - you're the best and I miss you all terribly!

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21. Island-Hopping with a Sketchbook




Okay, I promise, I'll stop banging on about Brazil soon. But, the thing is, I haven't even mentioned the boat trip (what on earth is going on with my knees below..?):


It was Brenda's idea - she's the kind of person who gets things done. She organised us all, then pep-talked us into it again, when we saw the cloudy weather that morning and started to dither. Here she is, in the red, as we make our way to the pier and the little boat we hired. Well done Brenda!


Because it was a wonderful idea. Despite the lack of sunshine, it was still warm enough to sit up on the top of the boat and sketch together, as beautiful scenery glided by. 


The sea was peppered with pointy islands. It was incredibly restful. 


We anchored just a small way from a tropical island and the more gung-ho members of the party jumped off the boat. A few of us swum all the way to the island. Then our captain rowed the others across to join us. We saw blue butterflies the size of your hand and bright red crabs scuttling on the rocks. A spotty fish came to investigate my toes... Bliss.


The next island we visited had a little bar cum cafe - we didn't swim to this one, but were ferried in shifts in the dingy, so I was able to take a sketchbook. 


I had an odd but delicious sandwich, deep-fried (!), then sat next to my mate from New York, Mark Leibowitz, drawing the view with the boat, above.


The sandwich lady had two little dogs which sat doe-eyed beside each of us in turn (you can see Mark studiously ignoring their pleas). I think it was Brenda who turned out to be the soft-touch (I gobbled mine down - no sharing!). 


We started back shortly after that, because the weather was getting worse. Instead of idling along, we picked up the pace, so it started to get chilly. 

Undeterred we sketched on: 


We piled on what little clothes we had with us (which is why, once again, I donned my fetching bag-lady look):


I was sketching in two different books, both home-made. One from ages ago, my first foray into sketchbook binding, but also one of the concertina books I made not long ago. It was perfect for folding out so I could draw bigger (although I had to hang on to it tight, once the boat really got going):


We made it back to shore before it rained and, as soon as we were stationary, it wasn't even that cold.


We found time on our walk back to do a quick throw-down of the sketchbooks, to get a proper look at what everyone had done:


I hope you appreciate how brave I am being in putting up that photo - what DO I look like? The pink T-shirt was meant for swimming, in case the sun was out: even I wouldn't deliberately match pink and orange!

We had a lovely time and, just like in Rio, it was great to spend several hours with a small group of friends, sketching together, getting to know one-another better and sharing a special experience. Thanks again Brenda. Good one.

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22. Publication Day: Jungle Grumble is Here!!


My new book, Jungle Grumble is in the shops! Yahooooooooooooo!!!


Actually, its publication date came while I was still in Barcelona but, as you can imagine, I had a few other things going on at that point, so have only just found time to tell you the good news. 

Jungle Grumble is really funny and very unusual, so please do all rush out and buy it, right away! The paperback is £6.99. If anyone would like a signed copy with a little drawing and a dedication inside, just drop me an email and we'll sort it out on PayPal, then I'll pop one off to you. Perfect Christmas presents to put away perhaps?


Jungle Grumble is another brilliant text from my good friend Julia Jarman, who is of course also author of the classics, Class Two at the Zoo and Class Three all at Sea, as well as my top book for reading in schools at the moment, Bears on the Stairs. Julia also wrote one of my old favourites, sadly now out of print, Kangaroo's Cancan Cafe so you can see, we have had a lot of fun together over the years. Thanks Julia!

Thank you as well to all the team at Piccadilly Press who have worked with Julia and I on the book. People outside the business don't always realise what a team job picture books are and how important people like the editor, art director and designer are, not to mention all the folks we rarely get to meet, from sales and publicity etc.

If you would like to follow the process of how I created the illustrations, use this blog's Jungle Grumble label and scroll back to the beginning, for my very first sketched thoughts. There are also several short films on my YouTube channel, explaining how I created the animal characters in Jungle Grumble:


...and how I designed the book's roughs (it takes about a month to work out all the drawings and layouts in pencil, before any colouring can begin):


There is also another film on the way, talking you through the creation of a piece of pastel artwork - the cover of Jungle Grumble - just like the film I did when I was illustrating Swap!:


The footage for new film is all shot, but it always takes quite a time to edit the films and this is the most complicated one we have attempted. It got put on the back-burner while other things have been happening, but now the book is available, it's definitely time to get it out and get it sorted, so watch this space!

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23. Sketch-Day at Huddersfield Grammar


It made a nice change for me on Wednesday, to do a school visit where I was not only working with Y10 Art GCSE students, but where the day revolved around sketchbooks, rather than illustration workshops. I had a very keen group of about 10 girls and, along with their lovely art teacher Mrs Davis, we embarked on a SketchCrawl around the school. 



I showed them some of the work I had done in Brazil and Sitges, to get them in the mood. They got just as excited as me about the concertina format I've got so into lately and Mrs Davis is quite keen to create some with them. I was also able to show them a couple of sketches I had done on my journey there (immediately above and below), which went down really well.


Mrs Davis had bought each girl a new A4 sketchbook and a 0.5 fine-liner so, armed with these and some black brush-pens, we headed out. It was a bit chilly. I was well wrapped in anticipation, but many of the girls were coatless and one or two hadn't even put on their woolly tights. Brrrrr.... They were very good though and set-to without any serious complaint. 


Huddersfield Grammar School is a bit different. They are about to open a new-build extension, which is rather lovely, but the main section of the school was built in the 1860s, when they knew how to make things truly sketchable. We were spoilt for choice: the gorgeous stone windows, the decorated pillars, the Gothic porch, the stained glass...


We each managed two sketches before break. The girls were really up for it and did some really strong stuff. Above are a couple. Remember: this is straight in with black pen, no pencils, no rubbers. I drew alongside them, just offering little bits of input where they seemed to need it.

After break we took pity on them and headed indoors, first into the library, originally built as a rather fancy Billiard Room extension, in 1893, and then in the hallway with its oak staircase with torchere statuettes on the newel posts, Art Nouveau windows and a bank of beautifully decorated, brass light switches, which took several people's fancy.


I did a few quick drawings (the 'sorry's below were because we were sitting on the stairs just outside the staff room and teachers kept needing to get past), but I spent more time going round offering tips and guidance this time. It all seemed to go really well and everyone worked really hard. I love the carefully drawn grain above.


We had a late lunch and then headed back to the art room to finish off with something a little different. As everyone was so taken with my train portraits and the Drink-and-Draw series from Brazil, Mrs Davis decided we would attempt something similar. We all sat round a long table and I started them off with a 5 minute contour drawing. They found that quite hard, so we made it worse, by asking them next to do blind-contour drawings! There was a lot of giggling at the results, but it's a great warm-up exercise and creates some strong line-work. This was my contour drawing:


Then we handed out watercolour pencils - just 3 colours each: a dark blue or purple, an orange and a lighter blue. It's a great idea to limit your palette with watercolour pencil sketching and I wanted to demonstrate how it's so much more important to stay true to tonal values than colour: mad colours are fine, as long as the tones are right, but the reverse isn't true.

I did a quick demo of how to use water: quickly and boldly, once the sketching is done. It's a technique that takes a bit of getting used to, but I think some of them were quite surprised at the strength of their results and amazed at how well the crazy colours actually worked.


At the end of the day, I was slightly early for my train and reckoned I had about 20 minutes sketching time. There are some lovely buildings around the station, so I stood in the entrance and drew the sketch below. I just got it finished in time but, as I headed inside for my platform, I discovered my watch was slow and the train was about to leave! I made it by a whisker.


below are sketches I did on the way home of course. The lady opposite was very obliging and dozed in about as many up-the-nose poses as was humanly possible:


Thank you to Mrs Davis for inviting me to be part of your project and to all the girls for your hard work and enthusiasm. I believe that some of the sketches we did are going to be made into a colouring book of the school - it would be great to see a copy of that!

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24. Memory-Walk in the Rother Valley


Yesterday, John and I took part in a charity walk, in aid of Alzheimer's, the horrible disease which stole my dad from me, almost exactly a year ago (and John's too, a few years back).


The forecast was iffy (it's Sheffield after all), so we carried rain gear and big coats, but in the end it was a gloriously sunny day. Maybe that's why an extra 1000 people turned up, so that over 3000 of us set off together, not to mention a varied assortment of kids and dogs (some dogs also wore the T-shirts: very funny, wish I'd got a picture).



The Rother Valley Country Park is a series of lakes, old gravel pits I think, now alive with ducks and swans and geese, so it was a really pretty walk. I took my sketchbook of course. Because we were so many, we were walking pretty slowly at the beginning, so I was able to draw while I was still on the go. Look what was posted to my Facebook page that evening:


Hee hee! Here is the sketch. I managed to add the watercolour while I was walking too, though I confess that I copped out and did the text afterwards:


This shows you what I was trying to capture:



It took a two and a half hours to complete the circuit. When we crossed the finishing line, John and I took a selfie to celebrate:


There was a memory tree, where you could post a message about the person you were dedicating your walk to:


I have managed to raise a little over £400 so far. My goal was £500, so I am doing pretty well, but if anyone would like to help me reach the £500, it's not too late and any donations would be absolutely lovely! Just click here. Thank you so much to everybody who has already supported me - I really appreciate it. 

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25. My International Book Tour!



Okay, I admit that's bigging it up a wee bit. It was international, in that I was visiting International Schools and it was in Spain not the UK, so that's international, right? And it was all about promoting and signing squillions (again, almost true) of my books... 


Anyway, it seems like ages ago, as I've been so busy since I got back, but in fact I only flew back about 12 days ago. I didn't want to come home and you can see why:


It was all arranged by the lovely Gary, from Bookbox International. He set me up with nine different schools across Barcelona and Valencia. Every day, he would pick me up at my hotel and drive me and a car-load of picture books to a school, where I would do storytellings, talks or workshops, then finish up with book signing.

Mostly it was little ones, the target audience for the books (so best from the signing point of view), but occasionally I worked with older ones. Here's a pic Gary took of me giving a lecture:


It was very like working in English schools, although the level of English spoken varied, so I had to speak slowly (yes, I know, not really my forte). My 'act' is very visual though, lots of acting the story out as well as drawing, so that helped. The children were generally less good as sitting quietly too, so there were some classes where I really earned my fee!!

One school had pets, so I did some sketching in the lunch break. The Y1 kids in the playground loved it (most the quotes are theirs):


It was a very long day though. For most of the time I was staying in Sitges, about half an hour from Barcelona, which as you can see is totally gorgeous and eminently sketchable:


...but that meant we were driving into Barcelona each morning, through appalling rush-hour traffic, so we had to leave every day at 7am (ugg) - too early even for breakfast! Then, because the Spanish have a siesta in the middle of the day, school often didn't finish until 4.30 - 5.00. By the time I done my signing, then we had driven home, it was usually around 6.30pm.


I didn't mind, I enjoyed myself and I always have oodles of energy when I am somewhere new. I had a lovely room in Sitges. This was the view from my MASSIVE balcony:


Each night when I got back from the school I would quickly shower then would walk into the old town at the other end of the bay, with my sketchbook of course, and have a couple of beers at a bar:


Sometimes people would spot me drawing and I would get chatting for a bit, which is nice when you're on your own, then I would quickly walk back to the hotel for a Spanish-style late dinner at about 10pm, then quickly to bed (usually feeling like a beached whale, full of all that dinner!) 


We moved onto Valencia after the weekend, which was slightly disappointing by comparison, as we were staying and working in the suburbs, so I never got to see the pretty bit at all. Never mind, I still had fun days with Gary at the schools, then he took me out to dinner each night. We struggled sometimes for restaurants in our area and one night, in somewhere very 'local', I ordered what I thought was tapas calamari (because it only cost 4 Euros) and I got this:


I did manage to eat most of it and it was delicious!

I will tell you more about my adventures at the weekend in Sitges later, as all sorts of stuff happened and I am running out of space and time here. In the meantime, here the sketch I did as I was leaving: 



See you next time!

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