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Sit on the shoulder of a children's book illustrator and nosy into the ups and downs of my world. Find out how my books are created from your spy-hole inside my studio, see sneak previews of all my new projects, celebrate with me when books are published, and help me tear my hair when it's not going to plan!
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1. I'm off to Rio! Yippee!


Okay, I am making the assumption once again that things are following the plan. Whether that's true or not, one thing's for certain: the Urban Sketchers 5th International Symposium is now officially over (sigh). But, my trip isn't quite done yet (hurrah!).

Before I left England, I booked a long-distance bus to take me and fellow instructor Liz Steel to Rio de Janiero. The symposium actually ended with the bit party on Saturday night, but I know from past years that the pace over the three days will have been extremely intense, so I thought I might appreciate a short period of relative calm, sketching at a gentler pace in Paraty on Sunday, before moving on.

Liz and I leave Paraty on the 09.20 bus (or has it already happened? Can't remember which way the time-thing goes...), but it takes over four and a half hours to get to Rio. Now, Liz is probably the only person alive who talks more than me, so we'll be able to pass a fair bit of that time chin-wagging, but I'm guessing we'll also be doing some of The Usual. 

I don't have long in Rio - just two and a half days, which is nowhere near long enough for such a crazy place, but I'll get a taster at least. And, yes Mum, I'll be careful and won't go out and about on my own - promise!




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2. Jungle Grumble - the Paperback!


The day before I left for Brazil, the postman bought me another of those fun packages. I have already had an advance copy of my next book Jungle Grumble, so I have seen it, but this new copy is the paperback.


It's due out in October, although I am not sure which end. Not long though now!


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3. I'm in Brazil!!! (I Hope)



Yes, if everything has gone to plan (pleeeease...), I arrived in Sao Paulo on Monday, in the early morning, where I met up with a handful of other sketchers and we took a bus together, down the coast to the lovely, historic city of Paraty. It's a long way and takes several hours, so much better with company.


Don't be confused by these sketches btw: your instincts are right - they are not Brazil. All will be explained...


Anyway, today I will be chilling in Paraty, trying to get over my jet-lag before the symposium starts tomorrow afternoon. I suspect I will already have started SketchCrawling though, with the others who have arrived early. There are lots of drawing events arranged around the edges of the symposium this year, so as many people as possible can take part. 


If I can work out how to do it from my phone, I will share some photos and sketches with you via the hotel's wi-fi, but I am not great at phone stuff, so no promises. If you are into such things, I think people will be sharing their work this year through a new app: PEN.UP, as they are one of the sponsors of this year's symposium (if it turns out to be user-friendly that is, otherwise it'll be Instagram).


In the meantime, these are sketches done earlier this month, on our wedding anniversary, when we took off to the east coast for a couple of days. It's one of our favourite places, especially Robin Hood's Bay, where we went for our first weekend away together (around 22 years ago!), which was why we chose it as the venue to get engaged and also stayed there for the first night of our honeymoon. 


Aren't we soppy? 

Have you spotted the helicopter by the way?

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4. Drawing the Summer - Festival Fun!



Sheffield Museums have had funding for an exciting new festival this year, called Drawing the Summer. It's all about getting people to draw: everyone and anyone, especially encouraging those who don't normally do it, to have a go.

It's such a great idea - there are so many people out there who secretly want to draw, but who lack the confidence, or just the time in their busy lives, to get out some paper and 
just try.

As well as lots of practical hands-on events, there are also some great exhibitions on, to tie in with the festival: the Recording Britain Now show in the Millennium Gallery is wonderful - really exciting and varied new work by artists shortlisted for the 2014 Ruskin prize. There is also an excellent series of lithographs from 1916 by Joseph Pennell at The Graves. They bowled me over!

© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

Anyway, one of many activities taking place for the festival involved Yours Truly on Monday. Museums Sheffield commissioned me to host an urban sketching session in the centre of Sheffield. 


© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

Our Drawing the Summer base-camp was a big table set up with drawing boards and stools, pencils, A3 paper and a big box of coloured pencils. We strung a washing-line up too, so we could peg up drawings. We had two lovely big banners, but it was so windy, we couldn't use them. Hence all the multiple pegs above!


© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

We grabbed any passers-by, to ask if they fancied stopping and doing a sketch. There was plenty to draw: as well as all the extremely varied architecture, Tudor Square has a couple of table-tennis tables set up for the summer months so, to get the ball rolling, I had a go at sketching some of the different people who stopped for a while, to play:



We clocked 80 people during the 2.5 hours we were set up, but my favourite was this man, who said he had never drawn before, but who sat for about an hour, very carefully drawing a complex view of the buildings, which turned out really well. I think he was astonished at what he'd achieved.


© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

Many people took their work home, some gave it to us to peg up on the line. Some people asked for help and advice, which was where I came in, but mostly they just got stuck in. I obviously had my sketch gear too, so when I wasn't needed, I drew alongside them, hoping to attract attention and perhaps to inspire. This was one view from our table: 



The older kids were lovely to watch: we had various families with children, often around 8 - 11 years old.  In an age of short attention-spans, it was interesting to see how well the act of drawing focussed them. They sat, totally absorbed, for around an hour at a time and created drawings which were strong and confident.


© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

One very interesting thing I noticed: the Crucible and The Old Monk pub in Tudor square have prominent lettering. Adults always started by drawing the shapes of the buildings and then added in the typography afterwards, so invariably ran out of space for the letters. The children all started by drawing the lettering, then created the building shapes around the words, so that everything fitted. A curious difference.


© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

There are still lots of events to go, between now and September 10th, in fact there is another very similar event tomorrow (Sunday 24th) at Weston Park, so you too could have a go. Whether you are an experienced sketcher or a complete beginner, it'll be fun. And if you really don't want to draw yourself, there are still some excellent talks and demonstrations you will enjoy. Check out the Events Guide and look for the yellow pencil icon.



© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

In the meantime, if you want to see more photos from my Tudor Square event on Monday, take a look here.






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5. How to Make Sketchbook with No Sewing!



Concertina-format sketchbooks are a bit intimidating: I had one on my shelf for a whole year before I finally got up the courage to use it at last year's Urban Sketcher's symposium in Barcelona


The trick is just to start. Once I did, I was away. I have filled two, on both sides, and am keen to keep going. There's something really exciting about the ability to create an on-going image - maybe one long landscape like the one at the top, done in Wales last summer, or combining sketches in creative ways like the Manchester one I did recently:


Trouble is, the nice watercolour paper ones are hard to come by and a bit pricey. So, I decided to try my hand at making my own to take with me to this year's symposium. How hard could it be? Well, a wee bit trickier than I thought, to be honest, but I got there.


I cut 2 big sheets of watercolour paper into 3 strips each, enough for 3 books: one slightly smaller one, like the Manchester one, and two medium, Moleskin-sized books. Working out the best page width was the first tricky bit. I then scored across the paper strips with a special device, ready for folding (you get it from book-binder's outlets):


The width of one paper sheet wasn't enough on its own: there had to be a join to get a decent length of concertina. This was the next tricky bit - if you don't get the two strips exactly in line, the error accumulates with each fold. My first attempt was a bit wonky, because I didn't realise that. You can just make out the fold below. I allowed a 10mm overlap and joined the the 2 strips with double-sided tape:


The really exciting bit is the binding. The little book I took to Manchester has no binding at all - no, really - just a board attached at each end. No sewing or making covers with spines: easy-peasy (ish). 


The finished book folds up into itself and all you need is a rubber band to stop it unfolding. It's the perfect method. I covered the end boards with fabric from a dead pair of walking trousers, stuck on with PVA. The fabric didn't want to do what it was told, so the corners are a bit dodgy, but, all in all, it looks very smart and cost very little. Have a go!

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6. Usk Symposium Workshop: Creating my Handouts


I don't know about you, but when I am bombarded with new ideas and things to remember, I tend to boggle-over (technical term). If past years are anything to go by, the Urban Sketchers symposium in Paraty will be amazingly stimulating for all concerned, but for those taking all the workshops and going to all the lectures and demos, there's going to be a lot for the head to hold.


So, it's good practice for instructors to create a handout to go with their workshops. It makes things easier to take in on the day (especially for all those for whom English is a 2nd language), but it's also really handy for taking home as a record, to try again later.

Last year I printed them myself at home, but it took forever and cost a fortune in ink and special thick paper (so I could print images on both sides without it showing through). So this year I thought I would pay to have them properly printed. Of course, it still took me ages to design them: I am too much of a perfectionist and wanted them to be a lovely keepsake as well as an instructional leaflet.

Each hand-out goes through the three exercises we are going to do in detail, with examples of my sketches, to demonstrate what I'm talking about. I waited until after my dry-run to create my handouts, so I could tweak things if necessary but, in the end, I didn't change much at all.


They came back from the printers a couple of days ago and they have done a grand job. They look great! They also weigh quite a lot, because there are 50 copies, each one consisting of 2 folded A4 sheets. But I (as usual) had tons to say and show, so wanted to give myself 8 sides to do it. At least I won't be bringing them back, which means the weight can be replaced by all the lovely, freebie sketchbooks we always get from our sponsors (yippee).

This year we are getting a slinky concertina book from Loloran, which looks similar to the one I used in Manchester recently:


...and a Strathmore book, like the one we got last year, which I LOVE:


I have really enjoyed the tinted paper, which alters the way you approach things. 

We are getting all sorts of other bits too. It's really fun - like being a kid again, with a lucky-dip! I notice Moleskin is a sponsor, so cross-fingers we'll be getting a Moleskin watercolour book... 

A big thank you to all the sponsors :-)

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7. Urban Sketchers Yorkshire: Derbyshire Sketch-Walk


Last Saturday was Urban Sketchers Yorkshire's August SketchCrawl day. This time we were out in Derbyshire, doing a sketch-walk between village pubs.

I can't take any credit for the success of the day, as it was organised by Andrea and Paul, members who live in Derbyshire. It was nice for a change for me to be able to relax and follow orders, rather than be the boss.


We met up at the Pride of the Peaks pub in New Mills, where those of us who'd had an early start to get there, treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast (yum). Well, we needed to build up the strength in our drawing-arms, didn't we?

We then went out into the sunshine to do our first sketch of the day, while we waited for all the idlers, who couldn't quite drag themselves out of bed, to join us. There are some great views in that area, because of the depth of the valley and the old, disused mill buildings:


I was peering over a wall by the bus stop, but it looks as though I was hanging out of a hot-air balloon! The group has been sketching there once before - we did a sketchcrawl in New Mills last summer - and I doubt this is the last time we'll visit either.

We set off from the pub at 11.00, on a beautiful walk down into the valley and along the canal to our next stop, the Soldier Dick pub at Furness Vale. There were some scenic places to sketch along the canal, but many of us treated it as more of a drink stop. 


There were more canal views at the next stop anyway, looking down into Buxworth Canal Basin:


The Navigation Inn at Buxworth was a great lunch stop and the sun was mostly still shining, although it had got really windy and I struggled to hang on to my book while doing the sketch above - the wind kept trying to grab it and throw it into the canal!


My final stop of the day was half an hour further down the valley at White Hough. The Paper Mill pub had gardens at the front and back, with views of the lovely Cracken Edge. I did the painting below and then the one at the top, again peering over a wall.


Unfortunately, we Sheffield-based people had to leave after that, for a final walk to Chinley, to catch our train home, but the locals carried on to another pub at Whaley Bridge, and the more intrepid amongst them climbed up Eccles Pike. I was sad to miss that, but enjoyed the train journey back through the hills with my sketch-buddies, sharing our work.  

A huge thanks to Andrea Joseph and Paul Gent for sorting out all the logistics and herding us between pubs. Another lovely day!

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8. How to Use Colour: a Dry-Run of My Workshop


It's less than 2 weeks before I am off to Brazil (yippee), to run some street-sketching workshops in the sunshine, as part of the Urban Sketchers annual symposium



My workshop is called Afraid of Colour?. I've noticed that a lot of sketchers are great in black and white, but totally intimidated by colour. I used to mainly use a 3B pencil myself, but since I got into watercolour and discovered my Inktense pencils, I am having so much more fun. 

With that in mind, I designed my workshop to share some ideas and pointers, to help others make that transition too.



I have 3 identical workshops to run, each of 3.5 hours, which sounds a lot, but there's so much I want to do, it's been a struggle fitting it in. I was a bit worried that things might feel too rushed, so I thought I'd do a dry-run in Sheffield. I did the same thing the very first time I was selected to run a symposium workshop, in Santo Domingo (my speed-sketching workshop Quick-on-the-Draw). It's really useful to test that everything works in advance.



I offered it as a freebie to my Urban Sketchers Yorkshire team and put together a group of a dozen guinea-pig sketchers. I chose a spot in the centre of Sheffield, where there is a grassy area surrounded on all sides by a good variety of architecture. I was a bit nervous about the UK weather though - Sheffield is not quite Brazil - but we were very lucky: it was a perfect day.


John told me that his main worry, when it comes to colour, is the likelihood of ruining a good sketch, so we started with a workshop aimed at getting lots of colour down on the page before we started any drawing. I created the sketch at the top a little while ago, to use as an example. Below is one of the sketches done on the day for this exercise, by Abi Goodman, and the one above was done by Peter Wadsworth. Good eh?



We followed that up with another slightly lateral idea: using coloured line-work. My idea was to make the colour intrinsic to the sketch, rather than just a way of tinting an existing drawing. 



I asked the group to choose 3 different colours for the line, based on the try-out I did a couple of weeks back. This is a sketch done by Lucie Golton:



The final exercise allowed people to start with a standard black and white line-drawing, but I asked them to use expressive methods to colour it up, in a variety of art materials. I did a little demo to give them some tips, using Inktense pencil, watercolour and oil pastels:




To help people further, I had also printed out a selection of my sketches and created a little folder of examples to give them ideas of different ways to tackle the different challenges:


One of the main secrets to success is having the confidence to be bold with both your colour choices and mark-making. Wishy-washy or dingy colours tend to feel safer, but they are not going to light up your sketch.



Between each exercise, we gathered to look at the results, laying the books out on the grass to give each other feedback, then I briefed in the next task. People worked really hard and, as you can see, some exciting sketching was done. It's hard to believe that these were done by people who are uncomfortable using colour. 



At the end we went for a coffee and I asked for feedback. Despite my worries, people seemed quite happy with the timings. Everyone said that they had found it challenging to be pushed so far out of their comfort-zone, but that is had been extremely useful and very interesting. Most importantly, they all enjoyed themselves. Phew. 

A week later, at our Derbyshire SketchCrawl last weekend (more of which later), I noticed that Andrea Josephwho usually works in biro, did a beautiful, loose and joyful watercolour - in full colour: 



Job done. Paraty, here I come... 

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9. How to Draw People: Guest Contributers


As well as using my own work to demonstrate techniques for drawing and painting people, my book will be showcasing other sketchers whose work I admire. 


Once we get the go-ahead (crossing fingers) after the Frankfurt International Book Fair, I will be working with my publisher to select possible contributors and we will then approach individuals, to ask if they would be interested in having sketches in the book.


It's a bit premature to contact most people yet though as, at this stage, all I need is 4 or 5 pieces for the presentation, to make it clear that other sketchers will be featured. I am using the 'colour before line' section to do this. There is one spread featuring examples of my work and my step-by-step demo, but a second spread which features other people's work. 

I used Urban Sketchers on Flickr and the main Urban Sketchers blog to source sketches where I thought people had probably used the colour-first technique and collected them in a Pinterest folder. From there I selected a handful that demonstrated different things of note and sent them to my art director. She created a lovely layout and I then wrote copy for each image.


The images I'm showing here are not ones I've chosen, just examples, although I hope to be able to use both these artists, if they are up for it. The top two sketches are by one of my all-time fave sketchers, Marina Grechanik, who lives in Israel. The one above is by the fantastic Rolf Schroeter from Berlin. 

In the next day or two, my art director and I will be getting in touch with all the contributors I have chosen so far, to ask their permission to present their work in the sample spreads for my book, at Frankfurt. Crossing fingers they want to be a part of the project!

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10. A VERY Interesting Meeting about a VERY Exciting Opportunity...


On Wednesday, I took the train to Manchester again. This time I was headed for Manchester University. I was very excited to meet the Sociology team at the Morgen Centre...

It began with an email a few weeks back, asking if I would give one of the professors there a ring, to chat about an idea. Intrigued, I rang. She explained about a grant she would like to apply for, to fund a year-long project. Guess who would be at the centre of the project? Yep - little me!


They want me to spent the equivalent of 2 days a week over a whole academic year as a fly-on-the-wall, illustrating their world in sketchbooks. How brilliant is that? My first question, well one of the first was: So, what do you do all day for me to draw?

There will be the usual meetings, teaching students, working at the computer of course, but the really exciting thing is, they spend a lot of time out and about, working on research projects. There are 3 projects in particular which they are keen for me to shadow, all of which involve interviewing people in their homes or out in the urban environment. 

One is about the 'rhythms of the city': what we notice, how we feel about the outside environment we pass through every day, how we use public spaces and how we interact, or not, with others.

Another is about our relationship with the things we own: specifically, why we all have objects in our houses which we don't use, maybe don't even really want, but somehow can't bring ourselves to throw away.

The third is about the Brits' relationship with the weather: how it defines what we are and what we do, the way it impacts on how we interact with others and our environment and how different types of weather conditions create an atmosphere which is the backdrop to our lives, effecting how we feel.


As you can probably imagine, I was immediately very interested and have been helping Professor Heath put together a bid for the grant ever since. The meeting this week was to finalise some of that paperwork, to meet some of the team I'd be working with and to find out more detail about each of the projects. 

They all knew about me and are all very keen, but got even more animated when I showed them real life examples of the sketchbooks and talked them through the kit I use. If we get the money, we will be involving the whole department, students and staff, in the project: I will be running workshops to empower everybody to sketch and setting up group sketchbooks that they will work on over the year. Oh, and of course we will have a huge SketchCrawl as a climax at the end of the year!


I am SO desperate to get this job and am crossing everything I have got, hoping that our bid is accepted. I will, of course, keep you posted, though we won't know until around Christmas. How will I survive until then?

These sketches are nothing to do with the meeting but, since I was in Manchester and it WASN'T RAINING, I spent the afternoon sitting on various benches outside the Town Hall with a few Manchester-based sketch-buddies, filling my time the way I know best. 


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11. How to Draw Eyes: Sketching You-Know-Who


My people-sketching book project has been a bit drawn out. I am still creating the presentation spreads, but it's going well. My art director is working on lots of projects at the same time, so I have to do things in stages and wait for feedback, but we are getting there and the spread layouts she is sending back are looking great.

I've been working on the 'how to draw eyes' spread.


As well as my step-by-step for the 'colour before line' spread, I also needed to do a step-by-step for the spread about drawing eyes. Guess who was my model? At least this demonstration piece was more straight forward, as it was a basic pencil sketch. I still had to keep stopping to scan in what I had done so far, but it was nothing like as stressful, because it was more like portrait drawing than speed-sketching. This is the finished drawing:


The rest of the spread is made up of eyes I have selected from existing sketches, which demonstrate various different things to be aware of, which I can talk around, like the distance between a person's eyes (more or less the width of another eye), the structure beneath, how glasses relate to eyes, the way shapes change when people are tired, where to shade to get the sculptural quality right etc, etc... 


Before the spread is designed, it's hard to know how much material I am going to need, so I did plenty and let my art director choose which to use and which to drop. I have just had the layouts back for this spread, so I now know which of my eye sketches she could fit in. 

I sent them originally at low resolution, cropped from people sketches from my website. Now I have to create high res scans, so... it's scanning time for John again!


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12. SketchCrawling in Leeds



Yes, I know we only just had an Urban Sketchers Yorkshire drawing day, in Manchester, but a fellow-sketcher had organised an event last Sunday and, since the sun was shining and John was off doing something else, I jumped on a train and tagged along.


We had a lovely time, strolling round the city centre in the area near the museum, sketching all the gorgeous architecture. At last, I have actually managed to get outside and do a day of drawing buildings! 


I started with the civic hall and managed a couple of views of that from different sketching points. I did the one above before everyone else arrived, when the sun was still shining (my train was a bit early), then we all sat down for coffee at the museum cafe and I did another, while we waited for the rain:


It got really cold and windy (and I was in a skimpy sundress - brrrrrr). We thought it must surely pour down at any second, but somehow the black clouds didn't quite let go of their load and we got away with it. 

There was a church round the corner, with a great rose window I had to have a go at next:  



I fancied a change from my pen and got out my rainbow pencil. I really wished I had brought a bigger sketchbook though. I was struggling all day to fit things in.


There was an odd bit of time left before lunch: just enough for a 20 minute quickie of the museum itself. I grabbed my Inktense pencils. This is so very different to the last sketch I did of it, when I took my group there a couple of years ago.


We walked to the art gallery for lunch in their fabulous tiled hall cafe. That is well worth a sketch too, but we were too busy scoffing. Then it was off to George Street, where there is the most sketchable hospital ever. I loved the Gothic feel and the way it was so decorated:


This is just a tiny bit of it - it's a huge building with several of these towers. Unfortunately, I was sitting on the shady side of the road to get this vantage point and got quite chilly again. All my chums were sitting in a little garden outside the hospital itself, in the sunshine:


I joined them to warm up. It was lovely to sit together for our last sketch of the day too. 

I tried a quickie of our youngest sketcher, little Katie. Unfortunately, like most 3 years olds do, she got up and went to investigate something else, just as I started to draw, but I caught her pose with paint and did the line from memory (a perfect example of the usefulness of the colour-before-line technique):


There was a good view of the Town Hall clock tower from where I was sitting. It was peaking above the roofs:


Unfortunately, those black clouds were never far away and as you can see, by the time I was done and taking the photo, it was looking decidedly dodgy again:


We went to a cafe to share our work as usual and, as usual, we had a great time, nosying through each other's sketchbooks. After that, everyone else went home, but the sun had come out again, so I hung around for one last sketch of the hospital. 

There is a very heavily decorated entrance porch I wanted to try. I was disappointed though, as I overworked it. I should have stuck with a coloured line and kept more white paper in the front section I think:


I didn't really want to end on one I wasn't really happy with, but time was getting on and I was starving, so I headed back to the station and home, ironically, in glorious sunshine with almost entirely blue skies. Buxton all over again! 


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13. Impromptu Sketch-Moment: Preparing for the Symposium


I was walking home across the centre of Sheffield the other day, when I was struck by this view. You mostly don't get such a broad open vista in the city centre, because there are usually buildings in front of you. 

It's not the sort of thing I would normally choose to sketch, but I was in the mood for experimentation, so I sat down on the pavement.


I decided to try out a technique I want to use for part of my workshop at the Urban Sketchers Symposium next month. I am trying to find unusual ways of using colour, so thought coloured line might be interesting. It's always a good idea to do the exercise yourself first though, to check how well it works. I allowed myself 3 coloured pencils to interpret the view and applied the 'negative space' in watercolour, at the end.


It's typical of me that I managed to draw everything just slightly too big, so I cropped off the top of the building and made it way too tight at the bottom too. Hey ho. That's the price of not planning anything out first!

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


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



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



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

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


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



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



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15. Urban Sketchers Get Wet (again) in Manchester


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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






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16. Sneaking a Day Off in the Sunshine


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

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

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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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17. Spotted in The Sheffield Star...


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


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

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

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18. Invisible Man: My Sketching People Book in Progress


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






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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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



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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

Power to your pencil!

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


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

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


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

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

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21. A Culture-Fix Gets Me All Inspired


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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24. The Final Sketchbook!!!


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


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

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


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

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

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25. Jungle Grumble - Almost Here!!!


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




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

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

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