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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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John and I had another fun evening recently with Dr Sketchy Sheffield. The theme was a Toulouse Lautrec style cafe. Some great costumes. We had a fabulous cancan dance half way though too:
For some reason, I didn't feel much in the mood for drawing with my watercolour pencils, so worked the whole evening in watercolour, using a paintbrush instead of a pencil. Luckily, I had brought pretty big sketchbooks with me, which made it easier.
I ended up giving this painting to the model, as she was so taken with it:
Luckily, I had a 2nd opportunity to sketch the dancing girls in their extraordinary costumes. I just love those huge turquoise feathers:
I had been working at a school in Scunthorpe during the day, so unfortunately we were a bit late getting to the pub where the Dr Sketchy events are held. I like to get there first, so I can get a seat at the front, where you can see better. The organisers do allow for that problem though, by having the models roam the audience, posing around the room, often sitting at the tables amongst us:
The pose of the three dancing girls in the photo above was sideways on to the audience, with the girls leaning on the bar. I was sneaky and quickly slipped onto the other end of the bar, which gave me a clear view and more room for my paints:
The rest of the time I sat myself on the floor at the front, so I could spread out. When you are working quickly in paint, you have to have somewhere to put the ones which are still wet, while you work on the next pose. I put my lager on the stage, to stop me accidentally using it to wash my paintbrush!
There were fellas modelling too. I was very taken with this man's waxed moustache. This was another sketch I gave away, which is why it's signed. I was having a rare generous moment! The model kindly did a scan of it for me before he got it framed:
I love the challenge of Dr Sketchy - so much to do in so little time. You can feel the concentration humming in the room. With multiple models at once, you often only get part done:
I really enjoyed the paint-drawing. I think I need to get a better brush though. I know Liz Steel works a lot with a dagger shape, which gives a good range of fluid marks. I've got to get one, but I am having trouble getting a wide enough one from a UK seller that isn't also really long. Thanks so much to Eric Murphy for the use of these great photos. He even managed to capture me without the usual sketcher's double-chin, so an extra thanks for that!
If you like the idea of Dr Sketchy and live in or near either Sheffield of Buxton, check out their Facebook page for future events. If you live further afield, try a bit of Google searching, as Dr Sketchy is a franchise, with groups around the UK and USA I believe.
I had another of those nice packages arrive through the post...
Turns out The Leverhulme Trust (the lovely guys who are giving me the money to do my residency with The Morgan Centre) has a magazine. It's called a 'newsletter', but it's very glossy. January's edition was forwarded to me by Professor Heath. It announced the list of residencies they were awarding - 20 in total.
Lots are with various universities across the country There's a really wide range of study areas: Law, War Studies, Pharmacy, Geography, Medicine and more. Then there is an observatory in Armagh who is working with a musician, The National Waterways Museum who is working with a theatre writer / performer...
Apparently they selected from over 200 submissions, so we did really well to be selected, which feels great! I am delighted to discover that it is possible (at least in principle) to earn a crust from my sketching, as well as my picture book illustration. I am really enjoying the greater variety I have these days too.
Anyway, in December, Professor Heath wrote an article for the newsletter about our plans and, as you can see, it got a full page. Hurrah!
A big roll of watercolour paper also arrived last week, with a few book-binding bits, ready for me to make the concertina sketchbooks I am going to use throughout the 10 month residency. It's starting to feel real!
Sorry it's been a week since I last looked in. I am working hard every day on my mural. I did get to escape the computer on Saturday though - everything stops for SketchCrawl day!
This month, Urban Sketchers Yorkshire met up with our counterparts in Nottingham, for a drawing day at Nottingham Castle. There were a few sketchers from the Manchester and Birmingham groups too, so it was really lovely to meet lots of new people.
The train from Sheffield arrived half an hour before the one from Manchester, so I did this quickie of the station front, while we waited. By the time I got underway, I only had 20 minutes, so I was really pleased with the results. I think, because of the silly amount of time, I had such low expectations that I was really relaxed. No time to think either, so I was working on instinct, by-passing my brain (often a good thing with my brain).
Fired up with this success, I decided to brave the cold at the castle and draw outside. Several people did the same as the views across Nottingham were spectacular. I avoided the really long views and drew the interesting aerial view down over the surrounding streets, continuing in my concertina sketchbook with the tinted paper, flowing on from the drawing I did on Castleford.
Nottingham Castle isn't a real castle - the real one was blown up hundreds of years ago. The new one is a museum and art gallery, so I headed inside and had a quick whizz round to warm up my fingers and toes. Then it was time for some lunch and chin-wagging with my new chums.
After lunch I was sufficiently thawed to try again outside. It was cold, but there was very little wind, so it was possible to stand it for about an hour. I did this view of the front entrance.
Once more chilled to the bone, it was wonderful to walk through the automatic doors and feel the wall of heat kick in! The gallery was a really lovely space, so I sat in there for my last sketch of the day, working with my Koh-i-Noor rainbow pencil and some white pastel:
This was a continuation in the concertina sketchbook and flowed on from the earlier drawing:
It also filled the very last section of the book - a rather satisfying end to the day - so it's now complete:
You can't really see the drawings properly here but, if you are interested, you can enlarge it sufficiently for a good look on my Flickr page. This lovely book was made for me as a present by one of my group (thanks again Lucie!), but I have also made concertina books for myself. They are very easy. If you want to have a go, this post shows you how.
Great news - Wakefield Library Service love the mural design, so it's full steam ahead.
While I was away during the first half of this week, working with under-graduates at Bishop's Grosseteste Uni in Lincoln, John was helping out back home, scanning all the children's work again, this time at high res. It is extremely boring to have to scan everything twice, but I didn't know until now which images were going to be used and at what size; the original drawings have been re-sized a lot, to make them fit together within the design.
I also decided to try and fit a Henry Moore sculpture into the design, because of his Castleford history. It makes for a good discussion point for school groups coming into the library. As I mentioned previously, using someone else's photo would raise copyright issues. I have various sketches of Moore's sculptures, but the one above, from a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is the only one in full colour. We still had to run it by the Henry Moore Foundation though, to get their blessing. Luckily, they love it and so have now been added to the invite list for the Grand Opening.
It was no mean feat trying to find a spot for Henry, but in the end I moved a bush-baby out of one of the trees (above), to create a space on a column between two bookshelves. I also popped a tiny owl (I think that's what it is) on top, which really helped to make the sculpture 'belong':
It's a bit surreal, but well, it's not as if the rest isn't! I did like the bush-baby though, so I rejigged things in another section, to make room for him in a new location. It's a nightmare though, because each thing you move has a knock-on effect. Spot the differences:
My next job is trying to find a way to work with the high res scans in Photoshop. I am working at 25% of the real size and divided the design into 6 sections, but the base layer of each section was still coming up at 470MB - still too big to be practical. So I am also having to work on just the upper part first, adding the below-bookshelf-height elements at the end.
It's still going to be a bit of an ordeal for the computer and I will have to 'flatten' the artwork as I introduce each new element, as floating layers make a file enormous and my poor computer is likely to throw in the towel if I am not extremely careful. 'Saving' really often seems like I good idea!
On Friday afternoon, I emailed my mural design to Wakefield Libraries - hurrah! It's looking really fun, as the children's drawings were even better this time around. This is a section from the middle:
The drawings weren't all finished and some were a bit wishy-washy, but I found it rather soothing, spending a whole day touching them up, colouring-in with my big tin of Derwent pencils. Then John helped me out by scanning everything (just low-res for now).
I abandoned my original plan of designing it in 3 sections: I needed to see the whole thing as one, with all 4 walls strung together into a long, thin template. I used the plans I drew a couple of weeks ago.
With over 100 drawings, it was hard to know where to begin. I had calm, library-like details as well as crazy, tiger-infested ones. This gave me the idea for the layout: the tigers could be bursting in from one end, so the other end would still be normal, for contrast. This is the far left, the calm end (with just the odd hint of tiger-trouble):
I established a horizon line early on, to stop things floating, and started to import the drawings, creating little groups and gradually building it up. It didn't look enough like a jungle though, so I introduced big fern-like shapes and tree-covered hills in the distance. Here are the first 2 stages:
I did my best to include everyone's work, though it got fuller and fuller! I did have to admit defeat before I fitted in every drawing, but I squeezed the vast majority in there. This is the tiger end, with my tiger from Open Wide, starting things off: As with the first mural, in Wakefield Central Library, I was asked if I could pop some of my own characters in amongst the children's. There are quite a few dotted through this one. Here is the section which joins onto the one above, as the tigers work their way into the library. My little trio of bats-in-hats are from When You're Not Looking! of course. I love some of the detailed and surreal shelving systems the children devised:
I hope you are impressed at how I managed to shoe-horn the Romans in. This was a requirement, because Castleford is an important archaeological site. In the end, it was a fun addition to have them bursting from the history shelves:
It was such a massive job that I had to spend all week glued to the computer, working it all out, but it was good fun and John had to virtually drag me from my chair at about 7 o'clock each evening.
I haven't yet included Henry Moore (Castleford was his place of birth), for want of a copyright-free image, but my idea was to add a hill in the background, with one of his massive sculptures on it. If necessary, I have a couple of sketchbook paintings I have done at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Here's the whole thing. It should enlarge to a size you can see properly:
Cross-fingers that they like it, after all that work! I'll let you know.
It's been a while since I got the fantastic news that I have been awarded a grant from The Leverhulme Trust, to spend a year working with The Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives at Manchester University, shadowing their research projects with my sketchbook in hand. Unfortunately, because we wanted the project to span a single academic year, we set the start date as October 2015 - ages to wait when I'm so excited! In the meantime, we can at least start planning, so Professor Heath from The Morgan Centre came to the studio this week, for a meeting.
I have learnt that the main project I am working on is studying the effect the weather has on us Brits - more painting in the rain perhaps! Plus there is also a project around 'Dormant Things': objects we all own, which we don't need or even really want, but can't quite bear to throw away. Cellars, attics and bottom-drawers everywhere are packed with them.
Another couple of bits of research I might dip into are going to involve interviewing people on the streets of Manchester. One is about how people interact with public spaces and the other is looking at street fashion. That should be quite a challenge - my speed sketching will come into it's own!
I've also been commissioned separately to shadow their conference in July. The theme is 'Atmospheres' and they have some fantastic presentations booked in. It sounds like it is going to be fascinating, over and above the fun I am going to have recording it in my sketchbook. I will be co-delivering a presentation with Prof. Heath about our project and, as with the ASCEL conference, I will have a short slot on my own near the end, for showing what I have been drawing during the event and talking briefly about Urban Sketching.
Such a fun job. Can't wait.
This Saturday was wonderful. Good company, good food, good drawing... I wasn't going to bother with World Wide SketchCrawl Day this time around, since Usk Yorkshire only recently had our January outing, at Stockport's Hat Museum. But I have been feeling a little bereft to be frank, because I have been spending all my working day at the computer just lately, either writing my book, working on the mural, or preparing lectures and events. Which means that I am not drawing. Hardly at all!
So, I advertised that I would be spending the day drawing in local, quirky coffee shops, if anyone fancied joining me for a spot of sketching to mark the day and guess what? Loads of my sketch-buddies came to keep me company. Perfect.
The inside of a cafe is not always the most inspiring subject matter: I would sooner be out in the street drawing buildings, or up in the hills painting landscapes but, with snow on the ground, it was a wee bit chilly out there. Okay, I know some of my Urban Sketchers cousins are sufficiently hardy that they sketch in temperatures so cold they have problems with their watercolour freezing (yes, really), but I kind of want to keep my fingers and toes. Call me a softy.
In a coffee shop, you do get the added benefit of cake. Really nice cake actually. And a SUPERB goat's cheese tart for lunch at The Rude Shipyard (name from a quote in Cloud Atlas by the way - we looked it up). I actually got to sketch the street from there too, as there were good views from the windows:
After lunch we walked 100 yards to Strip the Willow, a great arts and crafts collective (where my aforementioned venture into the nice cake featured):
Then it was on to our final stop: the Electric Candlelight Cafe, with odd things on the walls:
There were cuckoo clocks too, but I couldn't fit them in.
We had a really sociable, laid-back time and were enjoying ourselves so much that we didn't venture home until 5.30. Because I was the one who planned the day, I made sure we finished up just a short walk from my house too - clever or what?
On Tuesday, the new mural was kicked off to a flying start, when I met the two Y4 classes, from St Joseph's Primary and Smawthorne Henry Moore schools in Castleford, who have been chosen to help me to create the artwork. We worked in Castleford Museum, just upstairs from where the mural will be housed. I had each group for less than two hours, so we had a lot to achieve in a short time
You may recall, I decided on a tiger theme, because of the local rugby team
and it was a small step from that to having tigers rampaging among the librarians and children in a 'jungle library'. So, I asked the morning group to focus on tigers. I demonstrated various quick techniques to help the children structure their animals and give them movement, then they were off!
They were so into it and all drew like demons for the entire time. I just love the one at the top by Riley Farrar from St Joseph's! Those that finished their tigers early, had a go at librarians. I showed them how to use body language and eyebrows to get across emotion. Not everyone finished colouring, so I will be getting out my Derwents soon!
For the afternoon session, I changed things slightly and asked children to be more general, drawing other jungle animals. We had some interesting discussions: 'Miss, can I draw a penguin?', 'I don't think you get penguins in the jungle, do you?', 'Well, how about a shark?'.
Thank goodness for Jungle Grumble
, to get some idea of the animals you might actually find in the jungle!
I also asked them to think about background details for the jungle library, whist being careful not to actual colour the background, as that will of course be done digitally by me, once the design is sorted out.
The afternoon group drew me some children and a few more librarians too. Bethany has definitely got to win the prize for best librarian illustration. Look carefully and you will see that she has also featured one of the library's 'talking books':
As well as having a well known rugby team, Castleford is an important archeological site
(the museum is full of Roman artifacts, including the wheels of a chariot), so I have been asked to try and feature the Romans in the mural too. It's a hard match to the existing theme, but I wondered if a few Roman soldiers might come to life from the Ancient History bookshelves. They could help restore order and fight off the tigers perhaps. With this in mind, a few children drew Romans for me:
I did the return journey to Sheffield with a lovely, fat package of amazing illustrations. This week I have been scanning them into my computer, just as low-res images for now, so I can play around, dropping them into the templates
I created, trying to combine as many of them as possible into what will ultimately be one big illustration, rampaging around the walls of Castleford Children's Library.
I took the train to Castleford yesterday, to work in the library for the day, running the drawing workshops I was telling you about, with local, Y4 school children. They did me proud and I'll show you some examples next time, once I've sorted through them all.
In my lunch break, I sat in the glass stairwell and sketched the view from the window, using my favourite Sailor Pen and some watercolour. I'm not much into drawing cars, but I liked the long view right across the car park, across the shopping street, towards a river and distant hills:
I was using an A5, grey-paper, concertina sketchbook which a fellow member of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire, Lucie Golton, made for me as a present, because I loved my tinted-paper Strathmore so much and she noticed how I've recently been getting into the extendable space of the concertina format. How lovely is that? Concertinas are great for longer views like this, when there's loads to fit in, especially if you don't like drawing small. I did everything but the white, pastel highlights on the spot, but ran out of time before I could get them added (white chalk really lifts things when you are sketching onto a tinted ground). I added the pastel on the train and so got into a lovely conversation with a young man and his mum who were sitting across the aisle. They had been talking about his baby daughter previously so, with an apology for ear-wigging, I signed him a copy of Baby Goes Baaaaa!, passing on the present vibe:
Regular readers will remember the excitement of the 13m long mural I created for the shiny, new Wakefield Library, working with local school kids. To be completely honest, I was really apprehensive about taking on the project, as I had never done anything at all like it before, but the results far exceeded my expectations, so I'm really glad now that I took the plunge.
Wakefield have had such amazing feedback (hurrah!) that they want me to do another mural, this time in Castleford Library, which is having a refurb. Again, I am a little nervous. This time it is even more complicated, as it is a whole room. Also, instead of a simple (albeit BIG) panel, I have to work on the whole space, designing around bookshelves and windows etc.
How to begin?!
Well, I started by taking photos of the various walls in the space then, with a bit of jiggery-pokery in Photoshop, montaged them together to create a single flattened-out view:
So far so good.
I then asked the caretaker at the library to take his tape measure and note down every dimension. This was more complex than you might think, as I needed to know the exact size of obvious things like windows and bookshelves, but also the exact positions of objects like the alarm on the wall, the depth and width of the wall pillars, the height of the book-bag rail, the desk...
To organise that information into something that made sense, and thereby minimise the number of mistakes I was likely to make, I plotted all this information on top of the photo in Photoshop:
Then the even more fun job: I had to create a scale drawing of the space to act as a template: the shape to design the illustration into.
This is where it gets complicated, because the space is obviously VERY big. Eventually, I will create the high-res, digital artwork at 25%, but that's still going to mean working with massive files and, to stop the computer taking it's ball home, I will chop it up into 6 sections. Designing something in 6 bits is near impossible, so I am doing the designing at 10th size, so I only have to work in 3 sections.
This is what the template for section 1 looks like (the left third). You can see the pillar between the first 2 bookcases, the alarm and the first computer desk:
The next step is a bit more fun - a couple of illustration workshops with Y4 classes from local schools, to generate the children's drawings which I am going to build the design around. The workshops are tomorrow and the theme is: tigers loose in the library!
When I read my picture books to children, I always add at least one fun activity, to make the experience even more memorable for them. Bears on the Stairs, written by my favourite partner, Julia Jarman, is the perfect book for all sorts of added-value fun, so I almost always read it at least once during a school visit. I read it to a KS1 class in the lovely St Andrews Infant School in Brighouse last week. When we got to the end of the story, I asked the children if it was okay for me to be a bit silly. Luckily, they said yes. Even more luckily, one of the teachers filmed the next part of the session on her iPad, so I can show you exactly what I mean by 'added-value' and just how silly we can get!
I wrote the poem 'The Bear on the Stair' to fit with Julia's story and the whole class performs it together. Before we start though, I ask for volunteers. First, I need someone to be the bear: to roar and eat the children at the end of the poem. Then I need a volunteer to do a big burp (I once had a Head Teacher volunteer for this role!), so I asked the class at St Andrews what noise you might make if your belly was really, really full of children. Instead of a burp, one little boy rubbed his tummy and made a fabulously deep, bear-like 'Mmmmmmmm....' sound. So, as well as the burper, I added him to the mix.
I was delighted that it was this particular session which was filmed, because it was an especially good one. The children were so engaged and the 3 guys at the front really went for it. It makes me laugh every time I watch it, to see them making up all the actions to go with the poem. Watch for yourself and see.
After all the noise and silliness of the poem, I quieten things down with a mock-serious award ceremony, giving a little Bears on the Stairs badge to each of my volunteers. Unfortunately, I have almost used up all the badges that the publisher gave me - just a handful left.
The school visits kicked off really early this year. My first event was immediately after New Year: I was the guest of honour, opening the gorgeous new library at St Andrew's C of E Infants. I got to cut the ribbon and everything.
I hope you're impressed by how well my dress coordinates with the school colours!
The children in the photo are members of the School Council, so also rather important. After the ceremony, I sat and signed some books for the library and they gathered round to watch. They were so excited and amazingly cute. Listen to them chatting to me while I draw a warthog in a copy of Stinky!: The rest of the day was a series of storytelling sessions. It was such a lovely school. The children were a delight and lots of parents came along to sit in.
Teachers filmed a lot of the sessions. Here I am playing my usual flipchart guessing game with one class, seeing how long it takes them to work out what I am drawing:
It's a shame that the teacher is filming from the wrong side really, but you can still tell how great the kids were. There is another, really brilliant film of me doing my Bears on the Stairs poem with another group, but it was emailed in two halves, so I'll post it up a bit later, once we have stitched it back together. It's really funny, so well worth waiting for. Another fun game I play at the flipchart is drawing the anaconda from Class Two at the Zoo, and letting the children decide who will be in the snake's mouth. Sometimes they nominate a teacher, sometimes I get volunteers. This time it was Namory who got gobbled up:
I am so lucky to have a job which lets me share such lovely times with children (and then pays me for the privilege!)
There is a fun game going round at the moment on Facebook, where people are nominating sketchers whose work they admire to take part in a posting project. You have to choose 3 sketches to post each day for 5 days. Every day you also choose a favourite sketcher of your own to nominate.
I was nominated by an Urban Sketchers friend, Beliza Mendes, from Luxembourg, who did the sketch above. I'm a bit busy right now (you have probably noticed that I am blogging a little less often than usual), but luckily I have so many pre-scanned sketches that it wasn't a problem to take part.
I started the challenge on Sunday, with my favourite 3 sketches from the SketchCrawl at the Hat Works. I nominated a member of our Usk Yorkshire group, Paul Gent, who does really beautiful sketches, mostly of the Derbyshire area, where he lives:
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a hiccough the very next day and I didn't get my 2nd set of sketches posted. John and I had a horrendous drive to and from a school in Telford - over 3 hours each way. Because of the traffic, I was late, so I worked half my lunch break to catch up. Then I signed books for an hour before the long drive back and was simply too shattered to go near the computer when we got home. Not a good start!
I did two posts on Tuesday to make up for it. I thought it would be fun to compare 3 of my older train sketches, from when I used to draw with just a 3B pencil (no colour at all, which seems incredible now) with 3 more recent train sketches, after colour became really important to me and I got so excited by my Inktense watercolour pencils:
Tuesday's nomination from my fellow sketchers was Rolf Schroeter, from Berlin. He's someone else who often draws people and in a really exciting and dynamic way:
Next up for my 3-a-day: my passion for landscape sketching. A few years ago, when I began exploring all different media, I discovered that I love applying the same kind of expressive mark-making to hills, valleys and skies. There are so many interesting shapes and patterns to explore:
On Wednesday I was delighted to nominate Melanie Riem, who does wonderfully evocative landscapes, but can draw pretty much anything and make it equally enticing:
For the final day, I decided to feature sketches of architecture. I used to draw buildings years ago, before I felt confident about sketching people. I went off them and avoided architecture for years, but got back into it a couple of years ago, when I realised that I could bring the same expressive style to bear and didn't have to worry about accurate measuring and perspective. Now I forget all that and just have fun:
On my final day, I nominated Nina Johansson from Sweden, who does the most exquisite drawings and paintings, often in very cold conditions. It might have been her that once told me that Vodka stops your watercolours freezing (!):
Saturday was January's SketchCrawl outing for Usk Yorkshire. I met 6 other members at Sheffield Station and we took the train to Stockport. It was the day of all the gales and we had not been on the train long when they announced we couldn't get to Stockport because of a tree across the line!
Fortunately they cleared it just in time and we got to Stockport's Hat Works in plenty of time to meet up with another 25 members, including people who had travelled from Manchester, Derbyshire, Macclesfield, Hull and Birmingham.
During the morning more and more people turned up, so that about 40 of us were there for lunch in the cafe. Luckily there was virtually nobody else there, unluckily, they had only two people on duty (one who was on their first day), so it was chaos! After nearly an hour's wait for my sandwich, I started this sketch, because that was a sure way to ensure my food would arrive, and it did.
The museum itself was fantastic, with hats through the ages and across cultures, as well as lots of contemporary designer hats, some elegant, some bonkers, all wonderful to draw. It used to be a working factory, so the basement area had all the machines to show how the hats were made, as well as mock-ups of the original milliners shop, with this gorgeous old till:
There was so much to explore, I didn't even get to see one floor, so must go back. That's the only problem with sketching - you have to make quick decisions about what to draw, so can't spend all day looking round.
At 3 o'clock we all walked next door to The Plaza: an original Art Deco cinema. Look at this decorated interior:
There was a lovely, traditional tea room upstairs with white tablecloths, amazing cakes and waiters in all the gear. We had pre-booked but, once again, they had real trouble with such a big group. I attempted a really quick sketch, but mostly we were chatting and planning future outings:
Because it took so long to serve us all (and took several attempts at ordering on our table), half the group had to leave before we got around to sharing the work. There were still more than enough sketchbooks left to fill one of the tables though:
Despite the difficulties, it was real fun to have such a fantastic turn-out (the best we've had since the York Minster day). I was especially pleased to have about half a dozen new members with us.
A huge thanks to Lynne McPeake and Andrea Joseph for taking over the organisation of the event for me. Thanks as well to Kerry Davies for most of the photos. I'm always so busy, I generally forget to take any.
Another brilliant Urban Sketchers day out, sharing what we love and meeting lots of new people.
I am still writing my book for most of the working day at the moment, taking advantage of the opportunity to focus on one task, while I can. It's a bit like writing this blog actually, in that I am sharing tips and hints about how I work, but with a slightly different focus and format.
I'm enjoying the opportunity to talk about other people's work sometimes as well, but for the most part I am analysing what I do when I am drawing people in various situations, which of course makes me think differently about things which I have learned to take for granted.
This week, I decided to go back to basics and talk about how a fluid line is so much more useful that straight lines, when it come to sketching people, because basically, people are curvy. Straight lines tend to make them look stiff and lifeless. So, a couple of spreads in the book are dedicated to looking at how you can develop a more instinctive, fresh line, which will bring your characters to life and help communicate the sense that you have captured them mid-movement.
For the more hesitant sketchers amongst you, those who tend to twitch their pencil back and forth, barely moving, I talk about drawing from your wrist, elbow and even shoulders because, if you don't move your arm, you can't move your pencil expressively.
I demonstrate blind-contour drawing too, which is a great way to get your line loosened up, and I show how contour drawing helps you to hang onto the principles of instinctive eye-to-pencil sketching on an everyday basis.
Not forgetting of course, how a quick, linear sketch can be done with a paintbrush too - what a gorgeous, expressive line watercolour can give you if you keep your hand fluid!
We have a title now by the way. It's going to be Sketching People, with the subtitle, an Urban Sketcher's Manual to Drawing Figures and Faces.
Happy New Year! Are you all having a lovely holiday? Looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow?
Actually, I am. I'm really enjoying writing my book on sketching people and it's coming on really well. I am well ahead of schedule, which is good news, because I won't have much time once the work for the new children's library mural kicks in, not to mention all the school visits I have lined up between now and mid March.
My deadline for delivering the text is staggered. It's divided into 5 stages. I have to upload 20% of the content each month, between February and June. Since the spring will be tricky, I uploaded my first 20% just before Christmas. Because of the holidays, I've not had any feedback yet.
As well as the Drawing Strangers is Scary chapter I was telling you about last time, I have now completed the book's final chapter, called Capturing the Moment (if you remember, I am not taking them in order). After all the sections with more specific tips about how to draw people, which I've mostly yet to write, I finish up by sharing techniques for getting more out of your sketches.
This section talks briefly about the difference between an urban sketch of a person and a portrait. Urban sketching is not so much about getting a likeness when you draw someone, as presenting a snapshot of them: a person as part of a time and place. That's why I never ask permission when I sketch people - it has to be natural, because I want to catch someone going about their life, not posing.
I talk about ways to soak up all sorts of peripheral information, to help place your sketch in-the-moment: bits of conversation, things that happen while you are drawing, observations about the weather etc, so that your sketchbooks don't only paint a very rich picture, but always take you straight back to where you were, like a visual diary.
As you know, I love incorporating this extra information, so I share techniques for adding text and having fun with the way you arrange things on a page, because the contents of your sketchbook does not have to match what's out there: you are free to experiment and play.
I think next, I might tackle the section which talks about how to cope with the fact that people move. It's very inconvenient, but inescapable: they do it all the time. But fear not - I have lots of tips to share!
Merry Christmas everybody!
I have been so busy working away on my sketching book, that I forgot to tell you about the Christmas party I threw recently. Each year Urban Sketchers Yorkshire has a seasonal do. Sometimes we go out, sometimes it is at my house, as it was this year.
Everyone contributed food and drink, so I didn't have to do any work (my kind of party). There was so much to eat! We piled it high then sat round and drew it as we scoffed. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any photos before we'd gobbled the best part of it.
I think at least 25 people turned up throughout the afternoon. To allow people to sit, we had to use both rooms. I cobbled together a 2nd table from coffee tables pushed together, so those in room 2 had some food to draw (as well as nibble on):
After we had finished Round One of eating, I laid a fresh, white (paper) tablecloth under the pudding course in the dining room, and people sketched directly onto that:
It was fun because it was a bit silly, and was a good exercise in being less precious about our work, as we all knew that, inevitably, the cloth was going to be put in the bin at the end of the day:
Then we tried something else which was even more unusual. One of our members from across the Pennines, Mike Dodds, bought a stack of paper espresso cups. We gave them out and everyone sketched what they could see around the room. This is one of my favourites, by Rich Wells:
The little cups were really lovely but, as you can tell above, photos didn't really do them justice so, next day, John and I filmed some of them. Here's one of the little films. Please forgive the amateurishly ragged start and finish - there was no time to mess about editing:
Our last game of the afternoon was 'sketch speed-dating'. We crammed about 15 people around the dining table then John rang the old school bell, which you can just see in the background of the film (VERY loud!!). Then we had two minutes to sketch the person opposite. When the time was up, he rang the bell again (poor ears...) and everyone moved one seat along and began again. Here are some of my two minute sketches:
When people had gone, I took some photos of the tablecloth sketches and put them together into a montage:
It was a really lovely afternoon, with such a great atmosphere. I can't wait until next year, though we have a hard act to follow now, and I will have to think up some more fun things to do...
Look what I found on YouTube today, by pure chance:
Some of those who have a copy of When You're Not Looking!
at home, might notice that the text is a little different to the original version. It was reworked for a later US edition.
Great job Lily and Lola!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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At last! This week I have finally started properly writing my book.
I don't need a massive amount of text per spread. I am typically writing 200-300 words of general text on each spread and then the rest is explanation and teaching points attached to specific sketches. That's why the sketch-selection is so important.
The tagging system John devised is working really well. At the touch of a button, it shortlists each category for me, pulling from a pool of over 430 sketches we photographed last week (very glad that job is over), which makes it SO much easier for me to pick the 3 or 4 images I need for each spread.
I don't have to start from the beginning and work my way through chronologically as, for the most part, sections stand alone. My editor explained that, for this kind of publication, people rarely read from start to finish anyway: they tend to dip in and out all over the place. She suggested I begin where I feel most confident.
So I started with a chapter called Drawing Strangers is Scary. I find that sketchers are very inhibited by the thought that they might be 'caught in the act' while drawing someone, so I have written about tricks for keeping a low profile, but also what happens when you are discovered. The chapter then goes on to look at how you choose people to sketch, thinking about different locations and activities and how easy or tricky they typically are. I couldn't go through every possible option of course, so narrowed it down to 10, which are either recommendations or which have unexpected advantages of disadvantages. This is the chapter where the spread we did for the presentation, about drawing on the train, will go. Meanwhile, my publisher has sent out a call to various urban sketchers, asking for examples of people-sketches. We won't need many more guest contributors, as I have already selected quite a few, as I mentioned previously, but they say it's good to do, as the perfect image for one of my teaching points may drop into our lap.
These are all sketches which have made the grade into that initial chapter, as far as I am concerned at least (but of course everything still has to be run by my editor and set by my designer - I am not even thinking about layout).
By the way, if you missed the beginning of this project and want to follow the progress of this book from the start, just use the Sketching People label on the right hand panel and scroll down. There have been 10 posts so far.