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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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I am doing a lot of waiting at the moment. I can't proceed with my mural until I get the go-ahead on the rough and I am also waiting to hear back from publishers about book projects. I hate that 'in-limbo' feeling, so have decided to get on with other things and forget about it all.
Over the Bank Holiday weekend, I was inspired by all the different work I saw at Sheffield's Open Up. It's so lovely to visit other local artists, especially in their work space. Since the weather was so lovely at the start of the week, I took my pastels out into the Peak District for some sketching:
I don't normally use pastels on location, as they are really messy, tricky to transport and the results are a bit of a nightmare to get home unscathed (especially as I can never resist the double-page spread). But I tried doing it once last year, during a SketchCrawl out in Edale and was really pleased with the results...
...so I had another go on Tuesday morning. The one below was what I spent most time on. The light changed a lot, as the sun was in and out, which was quite a challenge, but I didn't mind, as I wasn't trying for naturalism, more an impression, capturing colours and shapes:
I tried fixing it, but of course, all the colours were immediately dimmed and it lost its impact (grrrrrrr...), so I then spent ages reworking it, to brighten it up, and didn't spray it again.
Then I did the drawing at the top very quickly, as the sun had gone and things had turned windy and cold. I used a 2nd sketchbook, so as not to damage the first drawing any more than was necessary.
I was back in the studio by lunchtime, so felt very pleased with myself. It was just what I needed to kick-start the day.You can see the rest of my sketchbooks on my website or, if you are interested to watch me create a sketch, take a look at this film from my YouTube channel:
I am still working on my mural design for the new Wakefield Library. I have scanned in all the most interesting creatures the children drew during the illustration workshop, like this badger and flamingo. I've kept everything at low resolution for now, so my computer doesn't grind to a halt:
I explained to the children that my plan was to create a crazy chase through the library, so some of them drew useful sundry objects in the background of their illustrations, things like shocked librarians, flying books and library signage:
These were all very helpful to add a sense of the location and to help create extra chaos. I had to find a way to incorporate this great staircase too:
As I expected, some simple graphics behind the creatures was needed, to tie the whole thing together. I decided to make the perspective really wonky, to add to the fun and to help the staircase fit. I pulled the colours from the colour scheme of the library furniture.
I had to flip and resize a lot of the animals in Photoshop. I spent ages moving them around to try and fit as many in as possible:
I wanted to add one or two bits of mine too. The dragon from Dragon's Dinner was an obvious choice. It was the book I used to kick-start the project, since the story is one big chase, and made a great counter-point to the massive dragon on the left:
There's a big sceen mounted in the middle of the wall in the children's library, which I had to bear in mind. I thought it would be fun to use that as a prop too (though there is a risk it will be so well camouflaged by the mural, punters may not realise it is there!).
This is just a rough by the way. I will boost the colour and strengthen up the outlines of some of the animals before I re-scan them, then get rid of fold lines and smudges in Photoshop.
I thought photo-montaged books spines would be a fun wat to fill the bookshelves, the same as I'm doing with the computer screens (spot my website!), so I've been scanning in the books from my shelves at home. Picture books are very skinny though and only hardbacks have enough spine - even stretched, they don't fill much space. I've now run out, so will have to borrow some to fill the bottom shelf. That's why I am going for ordinary adult non-fiction to fill the end bookcase. I'm still half way through:
I will use this low res version as a template when I up the resolution. I want to do the real scans at the actual size I need them, without messing around in Photoshop (otherwise you lose quality), so the plan is to scale up the template in manageable sections, then measure the size of each item, scan it to fit and simply drop it in. In practise, I doubt it will be possible to get them exact, but at least things should only need a single tweak.
A while ago I mentioned a mural project that I am doing, based on children's drawings created during an illustration workshop, focussing on characterisation and movement. The wall I have to cover, at Wakefield Library, is over 13 metres long, but only 2 metres high - very long and thin - so the idea is to create a chase scene along it, as if the children's animals are running through the library.
I let the teachers take the drawings back to school with them, for the kids to finish off. Unfortunately, instead of posting them a couple of days later, as promised, it took them 6 weeks and repeated hassling, so I am only now getting down to it.
I am currently spending my time on Photoshop, trying to work out how to lay things out. It's so massive, and such a weird shape, I'm working on a one-tenth, low res mock-up, into which I have placed scans of all the animals, so I can move things around and re-size them, until it looks OK. Then I'll re-scan everything at the right size, as the final artwork will be created digitally (in sections and at one quarter size, so my computer doesn't blow its brain).
Although my initial chase idea sounded simple, I soon discovered that, if I don't want to end up with just a 'procession' of animals, in a long, uninteresting line, I will need to draw in incidental props, like bookshelves for animals to climb onto, or chairs for them to jump over. I might need to do some graphic things will colour in the background too (like I did with the cover of Swap!), to divide up the space. Not sure yet.
Right: back to it...
By: Lynne Chapman
Blog: An Illustrator's Life For Me!
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When it comes to the digital 'finishing' work on my books, it's the cutting out that's the real chore but, once that's done, I feel as though I have finished. Not so! There's the final, fussy job of doing the text overlays. Sigh...
All text has to be created separately from the main artwork, because of translations: you can't have English words embedded in the illustration and then hope to sell the book for foreign editions. This goes for all wording, but I am not talking about the regular text you can see above, but the little, incidental details: can you see the word 'DOG' on the bowl?
There are quite a few more on the spread below:
Most illustrators don't have to worry about the text overlays - the design team at the publishers sort out all that, when they place the other text. However, because I am daft enough to create my artwork in pastels, the bits of text which are intrinsic to the images don't work very well if they too are not in pastels: the wording sort of floats above the illustration.
It's not practical to do the text overlays in actual pastels, so I do it digitally, in 'pretend' pastels, using an old version on Corel Painter, which does a pretty good job of emulating the marks of my pastels, particularly after I have scanned in a sample of the actual paper I draw onto, so the texture matches. This is the text from the classroom door.
It's a boring and fiddly job, but looks much better. Of course, when it comes to the foreign translations, I have no control, so they just bung on ordinary text. Hey-ho - there are times when you just have to let go...
For the children's dance studio below, I've done the whole sign as an overlay, including the little drawings of the kids, because foreign translations can take up more space than English text. This way, it allows for the little figures to be removed if necessary, to fit in a more wordy name - clever eh?!
Anyway, I am now done, done, done (hurrah!) and a DVD of all the finished artwork has been sent back to my Art Director, who will be busy this week, dropping all the text into its final position and sorting out the final bits of design work (spine, title page, dedications, blurb, bar codes...).
The next stage should be the colour proof. That's the truly exciting bit, when it all looks real!
Last month, Sheffield University began allowing the public limited access to a secret, little, teaching museum, which was created in 1905 for the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences: the Alfred Denny Museum.
It's just one room, but full of wonderfully traditional, wooden-framed display cases and slender, wooden drawers, all of which are crammed with skeletons, taxidermy and odd things floating in jars. Sketching heaven. Unfortunately, we were only allowed 1 hour, and that included the very interesting 20 minute talk by a 3rd year student, about the acquisition of some of the stranger creatures.
I whizzed round with my sketchbook and captured specimens as they caught my eye. I was using my brand new Sailor pen for the first time:
It's designed for Japanese calligraphy, but it is just the ticket for on-location sketching as, though it's a fountain pen, it allows for extreme variations in line width, and glides really smoothly across the page, because of its curiously bent nib:
The sketch below is only about a 3rd of the massive python skeleton mounted on the wall in the university foyer:
Some interesting news: the museum's curator likes the sound of SketchCrawling and it looks like we might get back in soon, for a longer session this time, just for sketchers. Can't wait!!
The other nice thing, was that I got 2 new recruits to SketchCrawl North while I was drawing. That's what I love about sketching in public: people just come up and chat, so you make all sorts of new connections.
We've tried a few times to film my workshops and lectures, but the events which have granted us permission to film, have all taken place in a shared space, like in a library, which means too much background noise. The recording John made at the Hallam University lecture was the same: there were students in an adjacent studio, chatting, laughing, coughing or just walking about, which on the film made it sound like my audience was bored!
So, we decided to try something different - a film of me sketching out on location. We went for a walk up into the Limb Valley and John filmed over my shoulder at I painted.
It was weird though: I had thought, after all these years of sketching in public, that being filmed would be no problem at all but, for some reason, I found it incredibly off-putting. The camera, which needed to be right beside my face, to provide the best view of the sketchbook, felt really oppressive. The pressure to do something 'good' meant, of course, I was convinced I was creating rubbish from the very outset. Despite my smiles at the end of the film, I was very grumpy (poor John)! It's a good thing we decided to go for a voice-over, otherwise you'd have had to listen to all my grumbling and swearing.
Hopefully you can't tell that from the film though. I still think I've done better sketches, but I'm hoping it's interesting to watch it evolve on the page and hear why I am making various creative decision during the process.
If you do enjoy it, please share it with your friends. Plus, if you like this one and haven't yet seen any of the others, take a look at the film page on my website or subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Over the Easter weekend, we had (bizarrely) two music festivals here: the Sheffield Sessions folk festival and CADS Blues and Beer Festival. It was clearly too good a SketchJam opportunity to miss!
We sketchers gathered up our drawing gear and got stuck in on Saturday afternoon at The Shakespeare
pub. Les and I sketched there last year
. This year we were five strong.
It was a tiny room, full from the start. Despite this, more and more musicians turned up during the first hour, squeezing into every corner, standing up or sitting on instrument cases, joining in with whatever music was in progress.
I soon found I could only see bits and pieces, around the people sitting in front of me, so I had to move the pints aside and sit up on a table. Luckily, it turned out to be very comfortable up there.
The music was wonderful and the musicians such a joy to draw. I love the challenge of trying to capture the energy and movement, as well as the difficulty of making sense of hands that are in constant motion.
It all died down about 5.30 and most of the musicians and sketchers left. Les and I were waiting for our other halves, before moving on to the blues festival in the evening, so we stayed behind. Which was lucky because, less than an hour later, a fresh batch of musicians began to trickle in. They took turns playing for one another, or helped out by adding harmonies or accompaniment:
The blues event later in the evening was completely different. We were in a basement gig space, painted black, with a tiny stage in one corner. It wasn't too packed, but the audience were all standing and the light was very low - neither of which were ideal for sketching.
I gave it a go anyway. Standing up meant just one pencil at a time, but there was no way to use colour in the dark anyway. Luckily I had a tin full of little, pre-sharpened end-stubs of soft graphite sticks. I filled my pockets and I worked my way through them, drawing as best I could.
I couldn't tell whether what I was doing was really working, because I couldn't judge tonal values or see much of my mark-making, but could see enough to be able to gauge space on the page, which was enough. I was encouraged when John used the torch on his phone to reveal that the drawings were in fact looking pretty good.
After the first band though, I once again found my view disappearing and, being short, I was only getting glimpses between heads. Under normal circumstances, I might well have given up drawing at this point but, because we had been out since lunchtime (and it was by now about 10pm), I had drunk more lager than I would generally...
By now any residual self-consciousness was long gone, so I climbed up onto a ledge at the side of the room, which gave me a view over the audience's heads:
We started home just after midnight, with the event still in full swing behind us. Unfortunately, because it was that evening when the clocks went forward, it was actually getting on for two in the morning by the time my head hit the pillow. What a great day though - a big thanks to my sketch-buddy Les for suggesting it!
You can see some of the other sketches people did in the afternoon on the SketchCrawl North
page. There are also lots of my other sketchbooks on my website
If you would like to come along to a sketching event, just drop me an email
and I'll put you on the list for my e-newsletter, which will give you all the information you need to join us.
Events are free and untaught: it's all for fun. We are just a bunch of people who enjoy sharing the experience of drawing together on location.
I finished off all the digital finishing-work, on the inside illustrations and on the cover for Swap! before the Easter holidays. It felt like I was nearly done. I thought I would be able to rattle off the endpapers and be ready to send it all off to the publisher pretty soon after getting back to work this week.
I don't know why I thought that: it was very silly.
|front endpaper illustrations|
I wasn't really taking into account the fact that, not only are the illustrations different on the front and back endpapers, but there are six independent illustrations on each, every one of which is fiddly. Also every illustration features Lucy, whose head is a very similar pink to the pink of the paper I use, making it a bit of a technical nightmare to cut free.
|back endpaper illustrations|
The illustrations will be put into a spot repeat pattern across the double spread of each endpaper:
I thought that, because the illustrations needed to be different - a sort of 'before and after' - I would use the same lilac coloured background for them both, to give some unity.
You can follow the progress of Swap!
(as well as Baby Goes Baaaaa!
and Bears on the Stairs
) from my first sketches and plotting sheets, through pitching the idea to publishers, creating artwork, as well as all the miriad issues that have arisen during the book's life so far, by clicking the Swap! label
, or other relevant label, on the right of the posts.
You can watch me create a piece of the original pastel artwork from Swap!
in a short film here
The diagonal line through the illustration is there because I wanted to use two different colours, partly to assist the design, but also to underline the idea of there being two sides, like the two sides in the story, which are going to swap over.
To help to make the cover as punchy as possible, I didn't want the two background colours to be drawn in pastels but to be dropped in digitally
. However, even at the point when I was colouring the final pastel artwork
, I didn't have much idea of which colour combination I wanted to use for the background.
But this week, once I had cut away the pastel paper in Photoshop, I suddenly had to decide. I wanted to stick to the colour palette from the inside illustrations, so I tried out some alternatives. My first thought was the pink and blue above. It's nice and rich, but felt a little heavy. The yellow and turquoise below seemed more lively and threw the characters and text forwards more:
I ran both alternatives by my Designer at the publisher. Luckily she agreed with me, so yellow and turquoise it is (at least for now...
We had a SketchCrawl day last weekend, but we woke up to thick snow. We were supposed to be drawing in a local park in the morning, then capturing a performance by the Sheffield Oratorio Chorus in the afternoon.
The concert was cancelled, which was quite ironic, since we were due to draw them last winter and were snowed off then too. I decided to give the park a go anyway. Even if nobody else turned up, the walk through the beautiful snow and the cosy park cafe at the end seemed reason enough, so I donned long-johns, multiple layers, walking boots, gaiters, silly hat etc and headed out.
The 6 inch deep snow made it quite a trek. I would have loved to draw the trees, all picked out in white, but it was really very chilly so, like everybody else that morning, I took refuge in the cafe. It was pretty chaotic in there: quite lively, quite well stuffed and very noisy.
Only 3 other sketchers made it. Colleen had headed off alone into the snow by the time I arrived (making me think of poor Captain Oates...). I huddled with Martin and Heather in one corner. John joined us after a bit, though without a sketchbook, so he didn't count.
Drawing people in cafes is always quite a challenge; much more tricky than trains
. People move, to chat, eat and drink (how very selfish of them). At least I had a nice big table to lay out my sketching bits, with no danger of losing my pencils in crevices...
When I had finished these sketches, I rewarded myself with a nice lunch and a mochachino (John got lunch too, though he didn't do any work, so I'm not sure he deserved any). Unlike some of my sketcher friends, I gobbled it up while it was hot and didn't wait to draw it:
Then, reluctantly, we pulled our hats back on and started the walk back up the hill.
Part of the Photoshop work I have been doing recently on Swap!, has involved designing the colours for the book. Some pages have fully illustrated backgrounds, but the ones that don't - the ones I have been cutting out - need my pastel paper replacing with a bold, flat colour.
To give the book an overall feeling of unity, the designer and I have to decide upon a colour palette: a limited range of colours to which I then restrict myself:
The trick is to distribute these colour backgrounds reasonably evenly throughout the book, whilst still making sure that each illustration has the best colour behind it, a colour that shows it off to best effect, but that also compliments any illustration on the opposite side of the page.
Quite often in this book, I have used two different colours to suggest a room, without actually illustrating one, as with this spread of the ballet class:
I like the contrast the technique creates between the textured pastel work of the characters and the smooth, bold colour behind.
This week I am glued to my computer, doing the Photoshop work on the 2nd DVD of scans of my Swap! artwork, cutting away the pink paper backgrounds, as you can see on the illustration below, and also creating text overlays where needed. I know, it's AGES since I worked on it last - I bet you thought it was all done and dusted.
|Raw scan before any work|
You might recall, there was a rush to get my book mocked up for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October so, in early September, I sent about 2/3rds of my pastel artwork away to be scanned, then carried on, rushing to finish the rest in time for my publisher to take that to the fair as well.
A DVD of scans from that first batch of artwork came back to me with just a few days to do all the Photoshop work by the deadline, ready for the publisher to create the mock-up. It was all very last minute, as is often the case around the big book fairs.
|Finished illustration: pink paper replaced by yellow ground|
But - DISASTER - there was something wrong with the scans! They were very dingy and I wasn't happy, but I had no chance to even tell anyone, as it was the weekend and I had to work on them straight away or I would miss the deadline. So I did all the usual computer work then also used Photoshop to fiddle around with various settings, until I thought they looked better.
It all went to Frankfurt OK and I explained about the duff scans. My publisher said they would talk to the repro people, but were happy for batch 1 to use my tinkered-with versions. So, I was expecting to get a DVD with the 2nd batch of scans sometime in November, once the fuss of the show was over. But nothing arrived. It turned out the delay was to do with worries about the dingy problem. Christmas came and went. Then my publisher had a bit of trouble and went down to a skeleton staff, which delayed things further.
So, here we are in March. Actually, the new DVD arrived a few weeks ago, but I had to get all my school visits out of the way before I could do anything about it. Apart from whitening-up the children's shirts a bit, I haven't tinkered with the values in the image above and I think it looks OK, so they seem to have got the problem sorted.
If you want to read more detail about how I cut away the pink paper background, check out this post from when I was doing Baby Goes Baaaaa!
This time last week, I was on the east coast, celebrating my birthday with good friends.
The coastal area around Robin Hood's Bay and Whitby is one of my favourite places and somewhere John and I return to again and again. We got engaged at Robin Hood's Bay and so started our honeymoon there too. Unbelievably, that was 20 years ago this summer, which makes me feel really rather old!
This time, we rented a lighthouse cottage, high on top of the crumbling cliffs above Whitby. Very dramatic:
Given the time of year, we were pretty lucky with the weather, though it did rain on me while I was out painting this view of the cliff. I had to stop as it got heavier, but I rather like the speckle-effect:
We mainly pottered about on the beach, as recently melted snow made it too muddy to walk along the coastal path. The boys had fun hunting fossils - there are loads to be found in that area:
I mainly hung behind, drawing and painting the cliffs and the sea.
I just love the patterns and colours you can pull out of the rocks, the water and the sky:
It was all over way too quickly. But isn't that always the case when yiu are having fun?
Just before Christmas, I had an email from a librarian working in Barnsley Children's Centre. She told me she was planning a course for local parents, teaching them how to create story sacks. She wanted my permission to use one of her favourite books, Class Two at the Zoo, to base the course around. How lovely!
For those who don't know, a story sack is a bag you fill with all sorts of little props and ideas, relating to a favourite book, to help you to add value to storytime with your child. The bag might include a simple puppet to help you read the story, or activities that pick up immediately after finishing the book, like games or songs with a related theme, or props to help you retell the story together. It's basically the same kind of thing I use when I am doing a storytelling with a school group
I have come across libraries that make story sacks and lend them out with the books, but Jane in Barnsely wanted to empower parents to create their own - a great idea and good fun I should think.
The parents made sock puppets, bingo games, snap cards, laminated puppet masks and games of snakes and ladders. They also made copies of my illustrations, which they cut out and coloured in, re-creating background settings from the book with Velcro-on characters, to animate the story with their children.
All the parents ended up with a lovely story sack to take home and share with their child, as well as a certificate to say they had completed the course. Fantastic stuff.
If you have young children or grand children, why don't you have a go at creating a story sack? As long as you are not selling what you create, you are free to use any of the illustrations or ready-made activities, colouring sheets, step-by-step drawings you find on my website, either to creare props to add to one of my books, or someone elses.
As you will know, if you read this blog at all regularly, I love sketching to live music. The two things go together so well and the music (and the beer) really helps to get your sketching arm moving!
This set are from a recent evening I spent with a few of my SketchCrawl North buddies in the White Lion pub, listening to Carolan folk music in their tiny front room.
It was a very intimate experience, as the space was only about the size of the average sitting room, so we were very much on top of one another. There was no way to be discrete about the sketching - it was obvious from the outset, but the musicians took it in good part.
There were in fact about the same amount of sketchers as there were musicians!
I decided I wanted a change from my trusty watercolour pencils, so took my paints and graphite sticks instead. To ensure I stayed loose, I used the technique I learned from Richard Camara at the Lisbon Urban Sketchers Symposium: applying the colour first and the line later.
We had drawn this group once before, just under a year ago. On that occasion, during a pause in the music, the man above said 'I like to draw', so I recruited him on the spot to SketchCrawl North. He joined us for our summer sketchcrawl out in Edale. We must do that again once the weather is nice (it snowed again today - brrrrr...) In the meantime, we are sticking with indoor locations. Our next SketchCrawl, if you want to join us, will kick off from 10am in Sheffield's Endcliffe Park cafe (brave souls can try drawing out in the park itself). Then, in the afternoon, we will again be entertained by live music: we have been invited to sketch at the rehearsal of Sheffield Oratorio Chorus, which should be amazing.
Things have been quite busy lately, so John and I really enjoyed the chance of a lovely weekend away recently.
I have brothers who are twins and it was their 50th birthday. We are all always busy and so don't get to spend time as often as we should, so we rented a house on the isle of Anglesey for a long weekend.
We were very lucky with the weather. It was FREEZING but, despite being Wales, it was dry and the sun came out for us, at least for a little while, each day.
It was all very laid back: getting wrapped up like Eskimos then mooching around various bays and beaches, looking at the sea birds, collecting shells, taking photos, then warming up in cafes or pubs.
As you can see, I took my sketchbook. I love drawing the big outdoors and those huge skies reflected in the pools of sea left between the sand-banks was perfect. I was lucky that the view from the house was fantastic, so I could paint and draw from the comfort of the kitchen:
But I did also take a mini-sketchbook out onto the walks and drew on the beach:
It was a bit tricky standing up in the middle of nowhere, holding onto my various pencils and my book and my waterbrush, trying to balance an open pencil case in my coat pocket... I kept dropping things and getting in a right muddle!
Worth it though. Although I can sometimes get grumpy when I am drawing-in-adversity, I still really enjoy the immediacy of it. If you're freezing to death and your friends are fast disappearing into the distance, you can't mess about and so generally do your best, most intuitive work.
March is the busiest time of year for authors and illustrators who do school events. It's all because of World Book Day on March 7th. I've already visited children in Pinner, Telford, Leamington Spa, Sheffield, Manchester and Barnsley. Next week I am part of a 5 Schools Project here in Sheffield where I'll be performing in a theatre!
Because I am hardly in the studio at all at the moment, I don't have time to tell you about the specifics of what I've been up to, but anyone who reads this blog at all regularly, will know the kind of thing I get up to.
They will also know that all this travelling around has of course generated more train sketches.
I love showing them to you - it's so much better than just closing them up in my sketchbook and storing them, unseen, on a shelf in the studio. Since I've been on the move, John has been back at base-camp, scanning them in for me.
Mostly I am still using my watercolour pencils and waterbrush, though the black and white drawing is done with a 6B graphite stick, which I would recommend for it's lovely range of marks.
Having John working with me is invaluable at this time of year. If I'm not in the studio for days on end, I need someone to answer the emails, buy my train tickets, send out the invoices, tell me where I'm going next day and, most important of all, make me a nice cup of tea when I get home! Thank you John :-)
If you are interested, here are some of my hot tips for drawing people in public. There is also a short film about keeping a sketchbook on the film page of my website.
A rather unusual project has come my way... Wakefield's central library is a brand new building (I did some storytelling to help celebrate the opening in November). There is a very long, very empty wall running through the children's library. It's supposed to be decorated with a mural. The mural was part of the original building contract, but the various designs offered were apparently awful and the librarian's rejected them all.
So, I got an email asking if I had any ideas. Everyone thought it would be a good idea to involve local children in some way, so I dedicated one of my long train journeys to giving it thought.
Which is why I was in Wakefield again this week.
I didn't really fancy painting onto the actual wall: that's very much out of my comfort zone, especially as it's over 12 metres long (!). Yikes.
My idea was to bring a couple of school groups into the library for illustration workshops and get them to draw (on paper) various animals chasing one another through the library (books flying everywhere, horrified librarians...). I would then take these home, scan in my favourites, and use Photoshop to combine them into one long, digital illustration, which I could simply send to a printer, to have made into panels, to attach to the wall.
Which all sounds kind of straightforward, doesn't it?. Hah! If only.
The workshops were the easy bit - they went really well and we had a lot of fun together. The children did some smashing illustrations, which they've taken back to school, to finish colouring in.
But, when the drawings come back next week, I have to play around, grouping them in different ways, designing the mural's layout. Which means I need to get the individual animals to a scale where I can move them around in a space the same shape as the actual wall. This is the tricky bit.
Even scaled right down, the wall is too long and thin to look at on the computer as a whole, but I don't have a real-life space anything like big enough to lay out the actual children's drawings on the floor. Hmmmm.....
Plus, even when I have somehow designed the mural and scanned in all the drawings, I'll need to create the final, digital artwork in several sections: even at one quarter size, the entire file will be so massive, it would crash the computer several times over!!
I'll let you know how things progress...
In the meantime, I hope you like these watercolour pencil
sketches, which I did on my way to Wakefield on Wednesday morning.
I was sent a link to a little film last week, from a librarian all the way across the water, in Bighorn Library, in the USA. I'll be honest, I hadn't realised that this year is Chinese Year of the Snake, but Rose Reid, the librarian in Bighorn, was on the ball. It was great that she selected Class Two at the Zoo as the perfect book to share with children, to celebrate (thank you Rose).
When I'm doing school visits or festivals, I always enjoy reading Class Two at the Zoo - Julia Jarman's rhyming texts are so playful to read aloud and the children always roar with laughter. It was definitely one of my favourites to illustrate too. I had a lot of fun thinking up different ways for the anaconda to gobble up the various children and drawing the reactions of the various other animals in the zoo!
In her film, Rose demonstrates a very simple, but very effective workshop activity too: how to create your own anaconda puppet to go with the story.
Take a look, especially if you are a librarian after a way to do some work around the Year of the Snake theme. There are other snake activities on my website too: a step-by-step guide to drawing the anaconda, a quiz to see how well you remember the story, an anaconda to colour in with your own pattern, plus a series of short films with lots of background information on how I create my books.
Remember I told you, way back in November, that Baby Goes Baaaaa! had been shortlisted for the Coventry Inspiration Children's Book Award? Well, over the last few weeks the competition has turned into a knock-out: each week the 2 books with the least votes gets eliminated (yikes!)
The fantastic news is that I have survived through the first three knock-out weeks and am still, so far, in the game. There are just six books left in my category, 'Never Too Young', but I need more votes to keep going.
Now, sad but true, I'm not one of these authors or illustrators who wins loads of awards (sob), so it would mean a lot to me to get this one, not just for the head-swelling factor (always nice) but also to help with raising the profile of my new baby books.
Baby Goes Baaaaa! and Baby Can Bounce! were created in consultation with my friends the lovely Early Learning librarians, to help with the early development of young children and ensure that sharing books with your baby is lots of fun.
I'm really proud of both books, but of course, nobody will buy them unless they know that they are out there: awards are a great way of letting people know a book exists.
So... I need your help. If you like Baby Goes Baaaaa!, please, please, please go to this link - it's the work of a moment (by the way, since I am in the Never Too Young category, unless your child is school age, you just put 'baby' or 'pre-school' in the 'school' box).
Thank you! Wish me luck!!
I really like this sketch, but it was nearly a right old mess.
I had been showing my sketchbook to some Y2 children in Leeds and did a quick demonstration of the watercolour pencils and waterbrush I use (kids always love it - magic paint). I must have not quite screwed the top back on my brush properly: when I started to use it later on the train home, I suddenly has a small lake on my sketch!
I didn't want to blot it off, as that would definitely ruin the drawing, so I blew on it, fanned it and tipped it back and forth, trying not to spill any of the inky water in my lap. It took the rest of the journey home to dry. I still had to walk through Sheffield Station wafting my open sketchbook back and forth in the air (what an attention seeker).
It's odd how it goes. Late last year, I felt like a commuter to Nottingham but, more recently, I seem to have been back and forth to Leeds a lot. I was there working with KS1 children on Tuesday and Thursday of last week, although the two events were unconnected. As usual, I was enjoying myself as much as the kids. It's such a great excuse to tap into the bit of you that is still 8 years old!
The real school visits season is yet to begin: there's always a surge around World Book Day. I am doing another couple of days next week, then have a week's grace before it really starts and I am visiting somewhere different almost every day for a fortnight. Luckily, I have just about finished visualising the new stories I need to show to my publishers, so everything is under control (phew).
I have been trying to do too many things at once (again). All a wee bit stressful, but I can't complain, because it's all fun stuff and I would so much rather be too busy than not busy enough.
One of the jobs I've had to get done was some high-res scanning of these drawings from my sketchbooks. They are needed as publicity images for 3 days of sketching workshops I am doing this summer in Barcelona. Yes, I know - I told you it was good stuff!
I was thrilled to bits when, a couple of weeks back, I got the fantastic news that I have been selected to be one of the instructors to deliver on-location sketching workshops at this year's Urban Sketching Symposium. The competition was fierce this year so I put in my application, but really didn't expect to be accepted.
My workshop will be Sketches That Sing: Creating Drawings with a Life of Their Own. It is one of 20 workshops being delivered by some of the top on-location sketchers in the world! As you can imagine, I am awed and honoured to be amongst them. You can read about all the workshops on the symposium website as soon as everyone's info has been uploaded by the Urban Sketchers team.
Anyone can attend the symposium and take part in 5 different workshops, as well as lots more. As long as you enjoy live, on-location sketching, you can register for a place. Registration opens in March and will cost $395 but, if you fancy it, you will need to be quick - places are expected to go like hot-cakes.
If you have not heard of the Urban Sketchers Annual Symposium before, you can get a pretty good idea of what it's all about by reading my posts after last year's symposium in Santo Domingo:Just backSketching in the Mercado
Workshop with Nina JohanssonColour-Games workshop with Jason Das
or even from the year before in Lisbon
Maybe see you there..?
John and I got up early on Saturday and took our trusty 22 bus to Sheffield Station, where we met up with a small band of fellow sketchers, ready for SketchCrawl North's February SketchCrawl. I warmed up on the way:
Part way to Leeds, Suzie, a first-time 'crawler, jumped on the train to join us, then several more met us at the Royal Armouries, until we were eventually about 18 strong, including another couple of newbies (welcome guys) and our 3 regular, younger members: Josh, Tom and Harry.
If you have never been, the Royal Armouries is a fantastic museum which I would highly recommend: full of beautiful and fascinating stuff to draw, as well as talks and re-enactments all day long (and it's free!).
Saturday was a gorgeous, sunny day and the museum towers above the Leeds canal, with full-length windows on all floors, so the views were pretty enticing too and several sketchers had a go. I was tempted, but stuck with the exhibits in the end. It's really easy to lose half your sketching time in indecision, especially in a museum, where there's so much to choose from, so I try to just go for it, with the first thing that draws my attention.
At lunchtime there was a Wild West, gun-slinging re-enactment outside, so we braved the cold to watch.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a crowd, so I couldn't see or hear much of the action (although the gun-shots must have been heard across Leeds!), but by climbing up on a seat, I was able to see over people's heads sufficiently to sketch some of the re-enactment team on the outskirts:
Then we had a spot of lunch together in the cafe, to warm up. After some soup and a blueberry muffin, I went back into the Oriental gallery to finish off this armoured war elephant I'd not quite got done before lunch. Almost everyone drew this elephant. It was the equivalent of the woolly rhino that we all fell in love with at the Weston Park Museum SketchCrawl. At the end of the day, we went back to the cafe for the sharing of sketchbooks. We popped them all on the tables and then passed them round and had a good nosy (I love looking in other people's sketchbooks!). As usual, there was some really inspiring stuff (you will be able to see some of it on SketchCrawl North's Facebook group, as people add their work) and everybody tackled things in their own way. Best of all, the newcomers all agreed that they had enjoyed themselves enormously and would come again!
This was a train sketch I did on the way - on the way home I was too tired!
If you are in our region and would like to join in on a SketchCrawl, please email me and I'll add you to the e-mailing list. It's all free and open to everybody: any age, any level of ability. It's about having fun together, sharing a love of sketching.
Last week I took the train to London and spent a whole day in meetings with various publishers, showing them the stories I have been working on recently.
I have worked with quite a few of the larger publishers over the years, although my new book, Swap!
, is being published by Gullane
, who also published my very first book The Show at Rickety Barn.
We've produced 12 books together in as many years, including the first one I also wrote myself: When You're Not Looking!
But I didn't show this latest batch of new stories to them because, at the end of last year, Gullane were put on ice by the company who owns them. The staff were made redundant and many ongoing projects were cancelled (luckily not mine - phew). Gullane won't be commissioning any books for the foreseeable future and my back-list with them is being handled by another publisher.
This is very sad as I have built up some great working relationships with the team at Gullane. Mine does sound like a dream job from the outside but, like all work, it's not always easy. From time to time you do get clashes of personality, break-downs in communication and frustrations that make you grind your teeth. But I can honestly say that the editors, art directors and designers at Gullane have always been an absolute joy to work with. Thanks guys.
Anyway, this is one of the reasons why I've been working so hard to put together my presentations. Not only am I looking for a home for some of the exciting new story ideas John and I have been working on together, but I am also on the lookout for a new publisher to fill Gullane's boots.
It all seemed to go very well at my various meetings last week, though you can never really tell for sure. One thing I've learned about publishing is that you mustn't count your chickens, even when they are hatched and squawking. In the world of children's books, there are still plenty of things which can go wrong!
I'll let you know if I have any good news, but it's Bologna Children's Book Fair
in a few weeks, one of the most important events on the picture book calendar, so everything else will be put on hold until that's out of the way. Luckily it's also World Book Day
coming up, so all my school visits will keep me well occupied in the meantime.
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We had another Dr Sketchy evening last Tuesday, up at the Greystones pub in Sheffield. I went with some of my SketchCrawl buddies.
The models dress up to match a theme and pose on the stage, while the audience all try to capture them in sketchbooks. There is a series of short poses, one after the after, starting with 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20 minutes.
I always enjoy myself enormously, but it's totally exhausting, as you can't afford to waste a moment. The concentration in the room is so intense you can feel it vibrating in the air. I was trying out some new intense pigmented watercolours I bought on Monday. Because I wasn't used to them, it helped me to be more experimental in the way I tackled things.
The theme this time round was the circus. We had 3 models: a sword balancer, a tattooed lady, and a burlesque ring master. The red of the ring master's jacket was great.
The sketch below was a 5 minute pose where I was warming up with my usual watercolour pencils. I played about, using my fingers dipped in water to smudge them:
Drawing in a pub is fun and I love drawing to music. The music for the evening is always selected so it reflects the theme of what we are drawing. When we drew zombies, we had horror-movie soundtracks blaring out, for the Victoriana evening, it was Music Hall, the rollergirls night was punk. This time round our frantic scribbling was accompanied by a mix of all sorts, including mechanical arcade music and French accordion.
The sword balancer did a little performance half way through the evening, to give our sketching arms a rest for 5 minutes. Then it was back to it.
One of the problems I had with my new paints is that, especially in the dim light of the pub, many colours looked indistinguishable on the palette. Something that looked black could turn out to be brilliant turquoise, purple or green. That's why there are all the little marks above the drawings - I'm doing an experimental dab, to find out the colour before I use it.
Thanks to all the models - it was good fun drawing you.
By the way, Dr Sketchy
is a franchise, so if you like the sound of it but don't live near Sheffield, check to see if there is one in your area.