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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. Step-by-Step-by-Stagger...


I'm finishing off the work on the first stage of my sketching people book. The two 'drawing people on the trainpresentation spreads are all done. 



I have been working on the spread 'using colour first, line later'. One of the things that has been quite tricky is that I've had to do a step-by-step set of images. My publisher felt it was useful for the reader to see one of my sketches built up in stages. Trouble is, the very nature of them is that they are quick and instinctive.



I tried to sketch John in the garden, but it was a nightmare. After each paint mark, I needed to go upstairs and scan my sketchbook, before coming back down to John for brush-mark two, then back up to the scanner again, and so on. Because of the palava, I felt under terrible pressure to get each mark right. Well, there's no better guarantee of failure than that. 

So I gave it up and decided to create a mock-up, repainting an existing sketch. The guitar-player at the top was done a few years ago, but it's a good example of the technique. I created a print-out to trace on the lightbox in paint.


I scanned it in 5 stages. The line-work was the hardest. Trying to draw as if you are drawing quickly and intuitively, when actually you are copying, is a bit like trying to forge a signature (I don't make a habit of that, honest). 



It didn't turn out quite the same as the original, but near enough and it does the job. Phew.



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2. Urban Sketchers Get Wet (again) in Manchester


Yes, despite all this glorious, sunny weather of late, it poured down all day this time last week, for our SketchCrawl. At least it was still warm. I wore strappy sandals and waded my way through the streets of Manchester.


I seem to have an uncanny knack of picking the only REALLY rainy day of the month for our SketchCrawls, surrounded by beautiful, sunny days. June's squelchy day in Buxton was exactly the same, and so was our May outing, the last time we were in Manchester. The forecast was so awful, I nearly cancelled this time. 

I'm so pleased I didn't. About a dozen of us had a fantastic time and, in dodging the torrents, discovered some rather special, hidden spaces. First stop was the library, chosen mainly because it was actually open at 9.20am. Mostly it was a bit BIG and so quite hard to draw at that tender hour. So we just did a 30 minute warm-up, then sploshed our way round the corner, to the cafe at the Town Hall.


I discovered the The Sculpture Hall Cafe by chance, while researching whether we were allowed inside the Town Hall to sketch. It totally lives up to its name. Under an amazing, vaulted ceiling are leather sofas and tables draped in white linen, and its all watched over by the statues. A beautiful, very unusual place. 

I decided I wanted to fill my mini concertina sketchbook, so did this series of sketches across a couple of pages:  


Next stop was the Royal Exchange Theatre. I'd never been. What a surreal building! The traditional, and very lovely, Royal Exchange building, with its marble columns and gigantic circular windows above, is huge, like a cathedral, so big it actually encloses the ultra-modern theatre. It looks a little bit like an alien spaceship has teleported in! Apparently, the floor wasn't strong enough to take the weight of the new theatre, so they created this mad set-up to transfer weight through the columns.


I managed two drawings before we stopped for lunch. I really loved the three giant roof windows, so tackled a part of the central one:


I didn't think there was time to sketch the modern theatre, as it was visually pretty complicated, but I was struck by the contrast between old and new, so took a section of the view from where I was sitting, which incorporated both elements:


I didn't sketch them separately like this though. I carried on in my concertina book, so the end result was the long thin sketch at the top of this post. 

We lunched in Waterstones - cheap and cheerful (and big enough for us all to sit together). Stephan was showing us his Pentel brush-pen and let me have a try-out. It was lovely and fluid to use. I did this quick sketch of Mike:


The afternoon was spent at the John Ryland's Library. I had really fancied drawing the outside (it's a wonderfully Gothic building - dark stone and very twiddly) but no chance: still pouring. Luckily the inside was good too.

I had never been before but Lucie knew where to go - she took us straight to the Reading Room:


It was designed by Basil Champneys and is a mass of decorative detail. The space feels very like a church, with stained glass windows and another extraordinary vaulted ceiling. Like in a church, everyone was whispering and it was very peaceful, until someones mobile phone went off and played a silly tune VERY loud:


By lucky chance, there was an exhibition of Urban Sketching on in the Reading Room: a collection of really evocative drawings of the city, by the Manchester artist Anthony McCarthy.

We did the sharing session in the Ryland's Cafe - part of a modern wing, added during the recent restoration of the building. There were several new members again and it was so lovely chatting about what we all do and looking through the sketches. Here's me being very proud of my concertina sketchbook:


Oh, and guess what? The sun came out and the rain stopped, just as we finished our drawing time and started the sharing. Typical!

At least I got to walk back to the station with Stephan in lovely weather. I travelled back to Sheffield alone, so did my usual on the train:


Another great day out with smashing company. Thanks to everyone who came, especially given the weather conditions. If you'd like to join Urban Sketchers Yorkshire and come out to play with us sometime, just drop me an email or join our Facebook group.






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3. Sneaking a Day Off in the Sunshine


It's been so glorious lately. It's been very hard to work at the computer, with the blinds down, knowing all that sunshine is out there, beckoning... It's okay for all you folks in sunny lands, but we Brits never know if this might be the last bit of nice weather!

So anyway, that's my justification for taking the day off yesterday. We wanted somewhere where we could chill outside all day, but where there would be plenty of shade, as it really is hot at the moment - it's getting me in the mood for Brazil!

We drove to Rufford Abbey, about an hour away, but worth the travel. The abbey itself is mostly a ruin, but there is one bit intact. 


I sat on some steps in the rose garden and did a drawing. I was using one of the sketchbooks I made, ages ago. Lovely watercolour paper (shame about the dodgy perspective):


They had some birds of prey. People were paying to fly hawks and owls. I wanted to sketch the biggest owl really, but couldn't get near enough. This Harris Hawk was easier, but as soon as I began, he turned his back on me!


We strolled around the park, exploring the lake, then sat in the dappled shade under a tree for a while. Did I miss my computer? What do you think?



This is one of those sketches I got annoyed with: undergrowth is always tricky and easily overworked. I rescued it with watercolour pencil, but didn't really capture the heat:


There were lots of waterfowl at one part of the lake. We sat on a step right by the water's edge where geese and swans were wandering about. One swan immediately got very interested and thought we were going to feed him. They really are HUGE when you are sat at ground level and they are right in your face! He tried pecking my book then my paints.


It was lovely to be up so close. They were all so used to people, they carried on, right at our feet.


They all started grooming themselves, so I got some interesting poses. Then the swan settled down for a sleep: very cute with his beak tucked into his wing:


We had to head for home then. I didn't want to go. I wanted to curl up in the sunshine with the swans. A lovely day. Back to work now though.


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4. Spotted in The Sheffield Star...


I had a message last night from a Facebook friend: 'There is a lovely little article in today's Sheffield Star, with a photo of you'. I couldn't think what it could be. Then she sent me a photo of the paper:


I went to visit High Storrs School a couple of weeks ago. It's only 10 minutes from where I live. I was do writing workshops with various Y7 and Y8 children. At lunchtime, they had an award ceremony for a short story competition and I gave out the prizes. 

They asked me to bring something to read out afterwards. I chose the 'packing for the trip' section from Three Men in a Boat, because it always makes me laugh. Also though, it was the very reading that a visitor did for us, when I was in secondary school. He read it out at assembly. Can't remember who he was - that's long since faded away and gone to Memory Heaven - but I do remember giggling.

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5. Invisible Man: My Sketching People Book in Progress


Things are going pretty well on the new book, although the garden studio is officially closed now (sigh). I would SO much rather be outside in all this glorious weather than sat at my computer, with the blinds drawn against the sunshine. Hey ho.






The sample spreads I am producing ready for the Frankfurt presentation are going to be:

Sketching on trains (2 spreads)
How to sketch with colour first, then line (2 spreads)
Drawing eyes (1 spread)

These were decided on by the publisher. They know what the US co-edition publishers will be looking for. My art director has done sample designs for me to approve (which I'm afraid I don't think I can show you yet) and I have written all the text. 

I have chosen all the sketches for these sections too. Unfortunately, all my sketches are scanned at low-res for general sharing, so the ones for the book all have to be re-scanned at 300ppi. I have set John onto that task and he has done the lion's share now.


One of the train sketches had to be redone, because I tinted it digitally, originally at low res (duh). I was experimenting with digital tinting in 2010. Above is the original pencil drawing, done in a 3B: my tool of choice back then. I used a very basic drawing tool in Photoshop and a limited palette to re-created the coloured version I did at the time. Below is the final tinted version.


The weird image at the top of this post is the coloured layer, separated out, which I thought looked rather fun and funky, but also helped you to see how the digital version was created.

Right - enough chatting to you guys: it's back to work for me!

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6. Jungle Grumble - Almost Here!!!


Sorry I've been off-air for a while. I am so busy trying to get my sketching book ready for presentation at the Frankfurt Book Fair, that I have not been able to stop and chat. But I had to tell you about what arrived in the post today... 




My advance copies of Jungle Grumble! It was a total surprise, as I wasn't particularly expecting them yet, since publication isn't until October. It's looking great. It's got a silk-finish cover, rather than full gloss, which I rather like.

I'll let you know when it's actually available to buy. Not long now! Right, back to work...

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7. The Final Sketchbook!!!


I was out of the studio yesterday, visiting a local secondary school, but I'm back today, working on my urban sketching book. John and I have at last gone through all 80 sketchbooks. What a marathon! This was the last one:


In the meantime, my publisher has told me which spreads I need to concentrate on first. We have to mock up about 5 spreads for the Frankfurt International Book Fair, where my UK publisher will be presenting the book to American publishers, hoping to get a co-edition signed up. That's vital, as the market for Urban Sketching books is mainly in the USA. 

The first couple of spreads we are working on are, naturally, about sketching on trains. My art director sent me draft layouts, to give me an idea of the designs she has in mind and the word count which will fit. She included image suggestions, taken from my on-line sketchbooks. I mostly really like the ones she has picked out, which I'm taking as a very good sign, since it shows we are on the same wavelength.


Today I have been back in my garden studio with the laptop, writing the text to match the images.

After that, the real fun begins - the scanning!! Thank goodness for my handy assistant. At least we only have to scan the ones for the presentation spreads at this stage.

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8. My Sketching Book Synopsis Gets the Go-Ahead!


Remember my latest project, my book on sketching peopleWell, I set-to on it straight away and, within a few days, submitted a synopsis to my editor, laying out exactly what I wanted to talk about.

It was an interesting process, trying to marshal my thoughts. It's hard when you have been doing something for a long time: so much becomes instinctive. I had to remind myself of all the different things I know, think about what other people might need help with, and then try and organise everything logically into chapters. The synopsis ran to 6 pages!

The good news is, I have had the thumbs-up on the plan. My editor has made a few suggestions, and has an extra chapter she wants me to add, but basically she says it is thorough and nicely structured. So I'm feeling rather pleased with myself. 


The next step has been to go through all my sketchbooks, matching drawings to topics. There are around 80 sketchbooks, so goodness knows how many sketches. We decided to try a colour-coded system of bookmarks. I pulled out 16 main themes from the synopsis which we needed to illustrate. Each theme has a colour. We then went through the books, popping colour-coded bookmarks in all the pages I might want to scan for the book.

At least there's no shortage, but it's a bit overwhelming. We have luckily had some gorgeous weather, so at the start we were able to work outside in the garden, which was glorious:


Until John started to sneeze. He's never had hayfever before. His nose was literally running like a tap! Even an anti-histamine had no effect. 

So, the following day, we moved base-camp to the courtyard, away from most the flowering plants and that seemed to sort it out. He's definitely alergic to something specific as, the moment he went up the top to try and mow the lawn, it happened again (very convenient that).

 
Anyway, the idea of the bookmarks is that I will take one theme at a time and select the best few images from the ones we marked as possible contenders. Then John will start scanning, while I begin the next stage of writing. 


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9. We just passed 600,000 page views!!


600,000 - how mad and wonderful is that?!!


I started writing this blog in August 2008, little knowing how much fun I was going to have with it and how many people from across the globe would look in on me. 

Yes, I know blogging can suck up your time, quite a lot of it. Okay, shed-loads of it. But it has been SO worth it. I have really enjoyed sharing my work with you all, through its various up and downs, ins and outs, and intend to continue to do so despite occasional moans from You-Know-Who. Actually, he is very patient. Okay, incredibly patient.

So - a trip down memory lane... What was going on in the summer of 2008? Well, my new book was An ABC of Nursery Rhymes - I had just received my advance copy. Always very exciting. I was working on the artwork for Dragon's Dinner. I'd just finished the bulk of it and posted it off to the publisher. That's always a huge relief. Or rather, it's a huge relief once they say they've received it, all in one piece, without any unexpected paper-engineering, postman-style. It happens. 


What else..? Kangaroo's Cancan Cafe was on CBBC (I do feel sad that Kangaroo went out of print). At least Julia Jarman and I went on to do lots more books together and the other 3 are all very much still alive and kicking. Plus of course, Jungle Grumble our new one is coming out later this year. Hurrah! 


Most exciting of all, I got approached by the lovely folks at Tameside Central Art Gallery and invited to do my first big illustration exhibition. Here I am in my posh frock with Damian Harvey, another of my lovely authors, creator of the fab An Itch to Scratch


What else can I tell you? Well, the all-time favourite post since I started the blog is still the one about drawing cats, at nearly 25,000 views as we speak. I don't know why that one is so popular - maybe people just want to draw cats more than anything else.


But, it is being gained on rapidly by Tips on How to Draw People, which has had over 22,000 hits.


That's got to be good news for the future of my new project, the sketching book on drawing people. 

I was to send a HUGE thank you to all my readers, especially those loyal ones who have been with we from the beginning. It's fun writing all this stuff anyway, but so much nicer to know somebody is reading and enjoying it.


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10. A Culture-Fix Gets Me All Inspired


We seem to have had quite a lot going on lately. You know, when your head starts buzzing, because you have too many different things on the go? To be fair, much of it is good fun and hardly feels like work at all, but still - I reckoned we were ready for a few days off.

So, when John and I were invited to go and stay with my uncle and aunt in Beaconsfield (between Oxford and London) for a few days, it sounded like a grand idea. 

It was lovely to catch up with my folks (and being looked after for a few days is always nice). We also took advantage of the location to visit some galleries. 

We went to an exhibition at the Ashmolean on the way there, where I discovered (in my ignorance) a painter I hadn't heard of before: Chaim Soutine. I just loved his crazy, frenetic paintings of Ceret.

On another day, we visited the RA Summer Exhibition. I have not been for a few years. It's a mixed bag of course, but the wild variety of work on show is part of the appeal. I particularly like how it was hung this year, with paintings and sculptures reflecting themes and styles back and forth. There are always pieces to love and hate, but it's never boring. 

We walked from the Royal Academy to Tate Modern. My Aunt and Uncle went to see the Matisse Cut-Outs show, but we had already seen that (wonderful by the way), so we pottered around the standing collection, which is always rewarding, as it's so well put together.


On Day 3, John drove us to the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I was desperate to see the Art and Life show, as I love the work of Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson. I didn't know Christopher Wood's or Winifred Nicholson's work as well, so it was a surprise that her work in particular really stood out. I think it was the most inspiring exhibition I've seen since the extraordinary Hockney show at the RA.  


We spent ages inside the gallery, then I spent ages in the shop, deciding which book to take home with me, to keep the inspiration alive. The exhibition catalogue is really good, with excellent reproductions, so I treated myself. 


If you have never been, the Dulwich Picture Gallery is a fabulously green and calm oasis, tucked away in the midst of the busy, grubbiness of South London. It was a beautiful day too, so we had lunch outside then I sat on the grass and did some quick paintings.


It was a good thing the exhibition was so brilliant, because the drive back to Beaconsfield was diabolical and went on for ever, through rush-hour traffic (poor John was a quivering wreck).

On our last day, we all went out for a lovely walk in the sunshine, along the bank of the Thames, out near Cookham (Stanley Spencer country - another of my faves). It was fun eyeing up all the mega-expensive houses on the far side of the water. When we came across these cows cooling themselves in the river, I had to ask people to hang on for 10 minutes, while I did a quick sketch:


Our wonderfully relaxed walk ended up by chance at a village show, where we had an ice cream and watched the dog show: always good for a giggle. And then, all too soon, it was time to start for home. 

Thank you so much to Bill and Anne for putting us up, feeding us and generally making our stay so lovely.

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11. Being Sick and Sketching in the Park (Luckily, not Simultaneously)


So far this weekend, John and I have mostly been in bed. No, I know what you are thinking... nothing saucy (far from it). On Thursday night, during the private view of The Great Sheffield Art Show, I suddenly had to rush to the loo to be violently sick. Not, I hasten to add, an effect of the artwork, but of a very nasty tummy virus. I had my head in the loo once an hour, all night long. Lovely. John wasn't actually sick, but felt awful (at least that's what he said... or was he malingering?). Anyway, we both slept all of Friday and still felt decidedly delicate yesterday. 

Thank goodness it was this weekend though, and I was fit and well last weekend, as that was the weekend of my Broomhill Festival eventFor the last three years, the festival have asked me to run a SketchCrawl in the Botanical Gardens. 


Often the people who come are less experienced sketchers than at the Urban Sketchers Yorkshire SketchCrawls I run each month and my role is more to offer help and inspiration than to actually sketch. In previous years, we have had a fairly modest turn-out though, so I have done quite a bit of drawing too. This year, we had a lovely big group, so I only grabbed 10 minutes at the end to do the quickie above.

It was glorious weather and a really lovely group of people, so we all had a good time. They worked really hard too and several of them have now signed up for my regular SketchCrawls, because they want to try it again - result!

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12. SketchCrawl on July 19th - Mark Your Diary!


Urban Sketchers Yorkshire's day out in Buxton was great fun and so was the Broomhill Festival SketchCrawl last weekend in Sheffield's Botanical Gardens. Next time round we are going to spend the day in Manchester, so if you like sketching, do join us.



I am REALLY hoping for dry, warm weather (it is mid summer after all!) so we can draw outside, because we are visiting some beautiful buildings: Manchester's old Town Hall, the magnificent John Ryland's Library and then finishing the day with the gloriously unconventional Royal Exchange Theatre.

Anyway, the details are below if you would like to take part. Everyone is welcome, whether you are a beginner, a professional or anything in between. It is totally free. You can even bring your children, as long as they bring a sketchbook and draw alongside you.

1st stop and meeting place: outside Manchester Town Hall, Albert Sq at 9.20am
(sketching for 1hr 40mins, until approx 11.00)
(indoor meeting alternative if it's wet: Central Library foyer – access via Peter St)


2nd stop: John Rylands Library, Deansgate at 11.10am
(sketching for 2hrs until approx 1.15 – inside if wet)


1.15 - 2.00: lunch – both venues have a café, or bring a packed lunch if you want to picnic.
3rd stop: the Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Sq, at 2pm
(sketching for 2hrs until approx 4pm – inside if wet)


As usual, we will go somewhere nearby to share our work at the end of the day: either a cafe or a bar. We will be winding up about 4.45 I imagine. 

I will be catching the 8.04 train from Sheffield, if you want to join me, getting into Piccadilly just after 9am (it’s not the nearest station, but cheaper, as you can buy cheap singles). Meet me by 7.55 at Ritazza cafe on the station forecourt. If that’s too early, feel free to join us later.


If you can't make July 19th, but would like to hear about future SketchCrawls, just email me

Power to your pencil!

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13. A Penguin in Acapulco


I'm been continuing work on my penguin artwork for Spider magazine. I didn't quite get it finished on the 2nd day, as I suspected. Not far off though. Mainly the butterfly and the palm leaves to do. This was how it was looking at the end of Day 2:


Unfortunately, once I had done the butterfly, I had to fix it. I couldn't draw the palm leaf fronds on top of the background without doing this, as the paper was too packed with pastel to take another layer.

As you know, I hate fixative because it messes things up: everything goes a bit dingy (and strangely, while everything else gets darker, the blacks go less dark). Once it was dry, I had to spend a while re-lightening certain areas, then adding back the darkest shadows on the penguin. At least fixing the base layer will make the artwork slightly less vulnerable.

I had to turn everything upside down to do the writing on the sun cream. REALLY fiddly. Hope it is legible, so people get the joke:



There's another wee visual joke on the sandcastles, which you might not have noticed: I have used the Antarctic flag, since that's where Mo has come from. 

The palm leaves were a bit I was not looking forward too, so I left them until last. I knew they would pull it all together, but also knew they could seriously muck things up if I wasn't very careful. This was how things looked at lunchtime on Day 3 - finished at last. 


The courier is coming to pick it up any time now, to wing it across the ocean to America. Let's hope they like it! The Penguin Who Didn't Like Snow is due for publication in the November/December edition of Spider magazine.


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14. Manchester Library Meets Baby Goes Baaaaa!


I was in the newly re-opened (and gorgeous) Manchester Central Library recently, doing a storytelling event for local schools. I was too busy to look round properly, but what I saw was impressive. They have managed to pull off a modern, hi-tech look, without losing the warmth and friendliness that you need in order to want to curl up with a book. I liked the way the old and the new are dovetailed too. They are very fortunate to have some fabulous old bits to work with:


The performance space was really quiet and just roomy enough without being cavernous for little people. I had a lovely session with sixty 4 - 5 year olds, then ate a rather yummy lunch with the senior librarian in the library's gleamy new cafe. 

On the way out, I spotted this:



I had quite forgotten that Manchester were using some of my Baby Goes Baaaaa! illustrations for their publicity. This is a detail from the 'D' page of the book: Baby goes Da-da! - I think it works really well.

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15. Starting My Pastel Artwork


The publisher of my new penguin project loved the rough I sent. No changes needed at all - hurrah! 


It took me most of the morning enlarging the line work and printing it out, cutting my Canson Teintes pastel paper to size and then tracing the image up on the light box. Then, finally, I was ready to go.

Here I am getting stuck into the artwork. I laid down the background first, as you do with pastels and am just beginning to pick out features:


It's been so warm lately and it gets really hot in the studio, being at the very top of the house, but it's been really nice to have the windows open. We have Veluxes on both sides of the roof, so you get a lovely through-breeze. It's almost like being outdoors, if you use your imagination, because we get birds sitting on the roof outside too. Sometimes I hear scrabbling scratching noises - the toenails of the fat pigeons slipping on the slates outside the window!

This is how things stood at the end of the day. Still at least another day of work to go I would say, but it's getting there: 


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16. Masterclass in Lincoln


"Are you Lynne Chapman?" 
I was spied on the platform at Sheffield Station, sharpening my pencils as I waited for the train. I didn't know Beryl, but she recognised me, because she was on her way to my masterclass for SCBWI in Lincoln! Which was lovely: I didn't get to use my newly sharpened pencils, because we chatted all the way there.

I was met at the other end (thanks Alan) and Beryl and I were driven to The Museum of Lincolnshire Life, which looked really interesting. Unfortunately there was not a spare moment to look round, as I had a very full day.

I did a lecture first, about how I became an illustrator and the various other kinds of work I have done before picture books. Everyone laughed in the right places and asked lots of questions afterwards, so I think they enjoyed it.


The rest of the day was more informal. I had rooted out lots of roughs from Baby Can Bounce!, Bears on the Stairs and Swap!, including my very first sketch sheets, where I write my books in a kind of 'half words, half images' kind of way, trying to capture the ideas that pass through my head, before they escape. We laid these out on a big table and I talked people through them. 

I had even found my editor's feedback from Baby Can Bounce!, so we could look at my first roughs, the publisher's comments and my re-roughs together. I thought it was useful for showing the kind of feedback you get. I showed artwork too. Again, lots of discussion and good questions.


After lunch, I talked about my Urban Sketchers work. Again, we gathered around the big table and I took everyone through my sketching kit, demonstrating various tools for them. People were very interested in how I use the watercolour pencils and, as ever, people were fascinated by my Sailor pen.

I took a pile of sketchbooks too, and let people have a good old rummage.


I had a smashing day and met so many lovely people. It makes a real change to talk to grown-ups rather than children. Thanks so much to Addy Farmer at SCBWI for inviting me and to everyone who came, for making it such fun.

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17. Broomhill Festival SketchCrawl


Every year I do a drawing event in Sheffield's Botanical Gardens for The Broomhill Festival. Time has flown, as it always seems to, and the festival has come around again. I suddenly realised - my SketchCrawl event is this Sunday afternoon, June 22nd! 

So, if you fancy having a look at some of my sketchbooks and then spending the afternoon sketching with me, come along with a sketchbook at 2pm:


Crossing fingers for sunshine. See you there!

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18. The Penguin Who Didn't Like Snow


Well, I have finished the synopsis of my new Urban Sketching book and it has gone off to the publisher. I have organised my ideas into 15 chapters and, though I say so myself, it feels pretty thorough, but we'll see what my editor thinks. I'm really looking forward to getting down to it (though not looking forward to trawling through dozens of sketchbooks, trying to find the right images to illustrate it...).


In the meantime, I needed to crack on with my latest illustration project. It's called The Penguin Who Didn't Like Snow by Julie Anna Douglas. Poor little Mo the penguin - he feels the cold and ends up running off to Acapulco. You can see above that I spent some time working things out in my sketchbook and then drawing ideas up on layout paper. 

I wanted to illustrate Mo lazing on the exotic, Acapulco beach. I suddenly remembered a sketch I did when we were on holiday a few years back, in Costa Rica: palm trees, rain forest down to the sand...


The sketch was just the ticket as reference for the background, as you can see below, in the rough which I sent to the publisher: 


The text is a poem and it's an editorial job this time, rather than a picture book, so just the one spread to do. It's being published in the Nov/Dec edition of Spider, a children's magazine aimed at the American market. Let's hope the Art Director likes my idea. Keep you posted!

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19. What a Scorcher!


We are having a (probably) brief heatwave here in the UK and Sheffield has been gorgeous. It's been very hard to stay indoors and work. We had the excuse on Friday that I needed to go to the art shop, so we drove out to Rowsley in Derbyshire (where there's a great place that's like an Aladdin's cave you can wander round). 

Of course, that was only round the corner to Chatsworth House, so we took a little detour and sat on the grass while I did this watercolour sketch of one of the gatehouses:


By then the clouds were rolling in anyway, so I didn't mind going home and getting on with work.

The good news was that it was still hot and dry for the weekend. We joined lots of other people in the Botanical Gardens on Saturday. We had a picnic, then of course I did the usual:


I started with the sketch below, working with watercolour first, then adding occasional bits of texture and detail with a few watercolour pencils and some white chalk. I have always found the intensity of full-on undergrowth quite a challenge. It's tricky is getting the shadows into areas between the brighter leaves, unless of course you are working on a dark background to start with. 


I felt that, because of this struggle, I had slightly overworked it, so I did another from the same viewpoint but tackled completely differently. I sploshed the 3 coloured areas in before I began, in a deliberately inaccurate way, then did the line drawing as soon as it was dry (didn't take long in that sunshine). I was going to use pen, but decided a black line would be too heavy on the pastel colours, so went for two different coloured pencils instead: 


I didn't know how it would come out (that is a big part of the fun for me), but was really pleased with the lightness of touch and the playfulness the technique provided.

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20. 40th Birthday Party in the Sunshine


One of my best friends just turned 40 so John and I went to their house for a party last weekend. We had a great evening, all glammed up. Before you ask: I had way too many champagne cocktails to sketch! 

At some point on the far side of midnight, a neighbour nipped home and came back laden with a variety of musical instruments, including a pair of congas (4 foot high bongos). Needless to say, those who were staying overnight were still up at 3.30 in the morning. Unfortunately for people's hangovers, there were young children involved, so one or two people were up again at 6am. Luckily John and I were stopping a few doors down the road, so could lay in a bit longer, but the weather was so glorious, it seemed a shame to waste a moment in bed.


We were so lucky that the party fell in the middle of the lovely weather. We had a wonderfully relaxing chill-out day, sitting in the garden with our friends, eating BBQ sausage sandwiches and various party left-overs, while a couple of the menfolk messed with ropes and wood and built a platform for the children in a tree. Paradise. Every so often I whipped out my sketchbook.


Towards the end of the afternoon, while I was trying to do a sketch of the house, a couple of the little boys suddenly noticed what I was up to. They watched fascinated. The two year old immediately climbed on my lap (pretty much kneeling in my paints!) and began asking lots of questions and then demanding I use certain colours (he was very keen on pink). 


With a bit of rejigging, we squeezed him in next to me on the chair and I did my best to get the sketch finished under his forceful art direction! 


A lovely time spent with lovely people. Happy birthday G!

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21. Guest Appearance...


My copy of Thomas Thorspecken's new Urban Sketching book just arrived in the post. 'Thor', as he's known in the Urban Sketching world, is a fellow Urban Sketchers Correspondent, working in Orlando. 

I haven't had time to have a proper look at Thor's book yet, but it's crammed with gorgeous stuff and looks really interesting:


Thing is, the very next morning, I got an email from fellow-sketcher Richard Bell. He said that he had found me lurking in one of the sketches in his copy of Thor's book. He wondered if I appeared, Hitchcock-like, tucked away in a corner of every sketching book!

Richard wouldn't tell me exactly where he'd seen me: he thought finding myself might make a fun, Where's Wally kind of game. I smiled and thought no more about it for a few hours until John popped his head round the studio door with the book.

There are 128 pages and approx 400 illustrations in Thor's book, but John couldn't resist the challenge and found me (luckily only on page 37):



Turns out it's not one of Thor's sketches but one done by Lapin, during a meal at the Santo Domingo symposium a couple of years back:


Fancy that!

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22. Drawing Live Music - Ireby Festival 2014



I absolutely love drawing live music. There something special about twinning the two activities. I generally bob about while I am drawing and, the more into it and mobile I am, the more alive the drawings become. I find this kind of sketching makes me feel at one with the music, in the same way that dancing does. It's pretty intense, but great fun!


John and I have friends up in the north of Cumbria and every year at this time, we pack our warm jumpers and my sketching kit and drive up to stay the weekend and go to the lovely Ireby Music Festival with our friends.


The whole thing takes place in the tiny village of Ireby. They use the village hall, the church and the tiny (and very old) chapel in the middle of a field, but they also create a main stage inside a big marque on the hill above the village, overlooking some pretty dramatic scenery (although this year we could mostly see rain and cloud).


I hate not being close enough to make out the detail, so I often go up to the front and sit on the floor right by the stage. Luckily Ireby is the sort of place you can do that. I often get to share my spot with young children, which is fun, because they are of course very interested in what I'm up to.


While I was working on these three of 'Stark', a little boy kept telling me the bits I had missed. He had to lean in and shout into my ear every time, so I could hear him above the music ('Aren't you going to put the star on?'... 'Don't forget his tatoo'... 'What about his earpiece?'...). Very cute, if a bit distracting.


To do these, I had to kneel in a narrow gap at the feet of the front row of the audience (fortunately I had my little camper's mat for my knees). 


I was okay for a while, but by the time the next set got underway, I discovered I had lost all feeling in my feet and of course my legs were locked into position.  Somebody took pity on me and found me a seat on the front row, although standing up to manoeuvre myself into it was interesting!


The Hut People were slightly bonkers. One played percussion from around the world, while the other played the accordion and demonstrated French Canadian foot percussion - a cross between very fast tap dancing and Irish dancing, complete with the high-kicks.


On Friday night and Saturday night everyone packs into the marque. I was on the floor at the front once again for The Bills, the final act of the festival. They were fabulous: a fusion of all sorts. I had a wonderful time, scribbling away and jiggling around like a thing possessed, but had to give up drawing at the end and join the boppers, before I got trampled. To be honest, I am just as happy jumping about, so that was the perfect end. 


If you would like to see the rest of the drawings I did at the festival, as well as other sketches of music events, check out my new Live Music Sketchbook on the website.

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23. 'Picture This!': Meet Me for a Day of Talks in Lincoln...


I am doing a rare event for adults on Saturday June 14th. If you are free and want to find out more about any aspect of my work, there are still places available.

My talks for adults are thin and far between, and then generally one-off lectures as part of literary festivals, but Picture This! is a very unusual opportunity to hear me talk for much longer and in a broader way, about both my sketching work and my book illustration. 


The event has been set up by the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, but is open to everyone. 


The plan is to begin by talking through how I got to where I am now, the different kinds of illustration I tried before I found children’s books, as well as how I got my foot in the door with children's publishing. 


I will then be going through the processes involved in creating my picture books, both from the point of view of an author and an illustrator. I will bring plenty of real-life examples of books-in-progress for you to look at, as well as at least a couple of pieces of my pastel artwork. It's so different to see things 'in the flesh'.


After lunch, I'll be sharing my sketchbooks and discussing my work as an Urban Sketchers correspondent.


I'll be talking a little about my educational work with children too and giving advice and practical ideas for any illustrators or authors who want to try doing school visits.

There will be a Q&A after each section, with plenty of opportunities to chat, as the set-up will be intimate and informal, rather than my usual lecture-theatre type of talk.

It is all happening in the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, from 11am - 2.45pm. It costs just £15 (£12 if you are a SCBWI or SoA member). So, given that numbers are limited, you need to get your skates on and get yourself booked in. Email Addy Farmer now, to reserve a place.

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24. I'm Writing a Book on Sketching People!



It's an idea that's been rolling around in my head, which I have been thinking of pitching to a publisher for a while. I never seem to get around to getting on with the groundwork though, as there is always so much else on (you know how it is). 

So, imagine my delight when Quarto Books emailed me out of the blue, asking if I would like to write one for them! It's going to be 128 pages, in the same series as Thor's book, which is a more general guide to Urban Sketching.


I have to write 25,000 words and there will be around 400 illustrations. The scanning in alone is going to be quite a task! The first stage is putting together a detailed synopsis, planning out the content chapter by chapter. So, last Friday, when it was uncharacteristically hot and sunny, I was able to sit out in the garden to work, rather than being cooped up in the studio. Lovely!

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25. USk Yorkshire Go SketchCrawling in Buxton


The forecast for Saturday was appalling: heavy rain from early morning through until the end of the day, with thunder and lightning a possibility. Perfect SketchCrawling weather, so I didn't really expect many people to turn out. Saturday was intended as a day of drawing outdoors too, capturing some of the beautiful architecture, but that was clearly not going to happen. 


There was already a small group huddled outside the Opera House when I arrived and, over the next 10 minutes, they kept coming until I counted 23. It was starting to spit already, so we went inside to our first 'Plan B' venue: the Pavilion Arts Cafe. 


From the upstairs, which we had all to ourselves, there were great views out over the Pavilion Gardens, but I was most tempted by the way you could peer down over a balcony in the centre and spy on people sipping tea on the ground floor. 


I stood up, leaning over the railing for my first sketch above, but kept worrying that I would lose the grip on my sketchbook and it would go flying down and hit somebody on the head, so I sat down for sketch two, which is probably why it is more controlled (and arguably less exciting). I was snapped half way through - don't you just love the sketcher's double-chin? So flattering. 


We stayed there until midday, when we got our brollies out and headed across town for lunch. By this time, a few more people had joined us. We were such a big group that I had to book out half The Cheshire Cheese pub. Thank goodness they could fit us in at short notice.

It took a while for them to serve us all though, so I did this sketch: 


I was so intent on what I was doing, I didn't even noticed my sneeky neighbour snapping me in action once again:


It was nice to have a long, lazy lunch actually - it gave us lots of extra time to chat, especially good for the new faces. We had quite a few first-timers. Ours is a very sociable group. I think it's a really important part of the day.

Once we were all fed and watered, we headed to the Cavendish Arcade: a lovely, tiled arcade, with a beautiful glass ceiling. I don't feel I did it any justice:


The last sketch-stop was The Dome - part of the University of Derby. It had actually stopped raining, so I spent my final 45 minutes in the car park outside, crammed into a corner against a grit-bin, where I was able to get this view:


We had booked the upstairs room of The Old Clubhouse pub for our sharing session. We pushed loads of table's together, but still struggled to get everyone round. 


As usual it was lovely looking through all the books. It was especially interesting because of all the fresh faces. Lots of holding up of sketches, and: 'Wow - who did this!' kind of thing.


After about an hour, everyone went their separate ways, but I had to hang around, as John was coming to pick me up. Because the day was over, the sun was now out and it was really warm. I sat on the wall outside the pub and managed this sketch before he arrived:


Thanks to everyone who took part on Saturday, especially for turning out (and sticking with it) on such a miserable day. Next month we are thinking of visiting Manchester again, this time for the John Rylands Library and the Royal Exchange. They are both beautiful outside as well as in, so I'm crossing fingers that we might actually get a proper summer's day, no umbrellas needed!


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