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Viewing Blog: An Illustrator's Life For Me!, Most Recent at Top
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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. How to Sketch People Who Move


I'm still working hard on my book. I'm currently writing a chapter about the complications of sketching people, who are, of course, inclined to move about. 


It's a problem. Even if they are pretending to be still, it never lasts. People are basically fidgets (read the text on the sketch above...). 

Even when they are asleep they snuffle and slide and change position to get more comfortable. Honestly. The worst ones are those who have been still as a statue for the last ten minutes, so you finally decide that they would be good to draw, but then, just when you have made your first, indelibly black mark right in the middle of the page, their friend arrives and they leave.


So, what's the answer? Well, there are actually lots of different answers. None of them make people keep still, but I am looking at all the different techniques I use to get over the frustrations. For instance: don't try and create a single 'picture' but a spread which tells the story of a changing moment of time. That way, a page with lots of half-drawn sketches has a different kind of value. Like these musician drawings I was doing a couple of weeks ago in an overcrowded pub:


I'm also looking at the ways in which you can make life easier for yourself. If you might have less than 5 minutes before someone moves off, you need to have instantly accessible and easy tools. A small sketchbook can be whipped out in a moment and is comfortable to use if you are standing up. Similarly, 2 or 3 coloured pencils might not seem much, but a set of 12 is no use at all to a speed-sketcher: you'll waste half your time choosing colours and the other half picking the dropped ones up off the floor.


One counter-intuitive tool tip is that, even though a pencil might feel safer when the job is tricky, as it pretty much always is with people, since there's no time for rubbing out, you might just as well use ink and get the benefit of a bold mark.


Another tip is that composite characters are not cheating. Whether you are drawing people buying apples at the market, paddling in the sea, or standing at a bar, you can more or less guarantee that you will have a steady supply of people turning up to strike similar poses, standing in more or less the same place. 


Grafting one person's legs onto someone else's torso might be a bit Silence-of-the-Lambs in real life, but in a sketchbook it's fine. That's the technique I used in the National Portrait Gallery sketch above and how I managed to capture what I did of these skater-boys:


I am creating eight different spreads for the People Move! chapter of my urban sketching book, each concentrating on a different technique for dealing with movement. Some tips, like those above, deal with the problem of drawing basically stationary people who fidget or move position, other sections look at the special challenge of trying to sketch people in constant motion. 


I've finished half the spreads now, but still plenty to do, so I suppose I'd better stop chatting to you and get on with it!

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2. My Personal Sketching Kit: What I Carry and Why


I have been writing a section from the beginning of my book, discussing different art materials and looking in detail at the kit which I carry and why. Getting your personal kit-bag sorted is important, because you don't want to be fussing about what to take or leave behind, each time you go out. It's difficult, because we all know what it's like to want the very thing you left at home.


Nevertheless, you need to make decisions and pare things down. It's good to travel light, otherwise you aren't able to carry your kit with you 'just in case'. I have 3 versions of my kit. The slim-line version is just my trusty Sailor pen and an A5 - A6 book, which you don't even notice you're carrying. I tend to have these in a pocket most of the time, because you never know. 


The next step up is to add my watercolour pencils, a waterbrush, a sweat-wristband (for cleaning the brush) and a knife. That's my medium kit and a good on-the-train kind of size: enough to see me though the odd hour here and there.


My full kit, for sketching day's out, is still pretty compact as I hate being loaded down. All the art equipment packs up into a zipper bag, the size of the average toiletries bag, which slips easily into a large handbag, along with a sketchbook or two. 



If it's an urban day, I usually pop my mini-stool in my bag too, so I don't have to look for benches or doorsteps. It weighs nothing and fits in a large handbag:



If I'm going rural, this foldaway sitting-mat from a camping shop is way better, because of uneven ground:


I have had to unpack my full kit this week and photograph every individual element for the book. This is because I want to dedicate a spread to peering inside my kit-bag, with pictures of everything and annotations, telling people exactly what each item is and why I have chosen it. I photographed 28 different items like this:


My snaps are not the photos we will end up using, but the designers need to know what everything looks like, so they can design suitable graphics for the page. Once that's done, the publisher will commission a proper photographer to take the pictures they need. In the meantime, I have been writing all the text.

If you are interested in getting some of the specific items like the Sailor or the stool, I have put together some links to where I got them. It's on Facebook here, as part of the Usk Yorkshire website.

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3. A Sunny SketchCrawl in Manchester


Last weekend, we had another SketchCrawl day, but this time it was a bit different. 


Simone Ridyard (in the centre of the photo) is my counterpart in Manchester Urban Sketchers. She set up a street-sketching day with the Society of Architectural Illustration. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so sketchers from both the Usk Yorkshire and Birmingham Urban Sketchers groups also joined in.

The event didn't kick off until 11am, but I got a slightly early train and so managed to squeeze in an extra sketch at the beginning of the day. 


The Palace Hotel, just round the corner from Oxford Road Station, is a stunning colour, especially with the sun on its red bricks. Better still, you can get a great view of it from the warmth and comfort of the Corner House cafe, on the opposite side of the road. I passed a very relaxed 45 minutes with a sketch-buddy, then we had to hot-foot it across town to the meeting place for the official start. 

A group of 20 or so people were milling about when we got there: some familiar faces, some people I had so far only met on Facebook, some new introductions. After the hellos, we split into two groups, with half of us drawing the buildings visible from Bridge Street and the others venturing down to Chapel Wharf. The modern architecture provided an exciting interplay of shapes, especially with the sweep of this suspension bridge:


I sat myself in the sun but, unfortunately, my spot quickly got swallowed up by the shade of a tall building behind me. Once out of the sunshine, is was FREEZING but I couldn't move until I had finished my painting. Just five minutes before I stopped, the sun taunted me by working it's way back round. Typical. I was very pleased with the results though, so it was worth the pain. 


I had decided to take one of my new concertina books for a trial run. You might remember that I made a test book, to perfect the technique, so I sketched in that throughout Saturday, running my sketches together. I love that the concertina format lets me keep unfolding new pages, so I can add more space as I go along. Everything worked a treat, so that's good news after all my cutting and folding and sticking (although I had a major water-bottle leak in my bag, which was nearly a disaster).

Everyone regrouped before lunch, to share the work so far, because some people had to head off. That's when we took the photo at the top. Then it was reward-time. We were too big a group to eat as one, but I went with 10 people for lunch at a fantastic Greek self-service restaurant. We were all too busy scoffing to sketch. Gorgeous food (and cheap too!).


The afternoon's sketch-venue was the area around Albert Square. I have wanted to sketch the Town Hall for a while, but until recently it has been surrounded by builder's barriers. It's a monster of a building, so I tackled one tiny section, being very careful this time to pick a truly sunny spot.

At 4pm, we regrouped again at a pub, where we looked through each other's sketches and got the chance to chat to some of the people from other groups. It was all too short unfortunately, as I had to dash for a train home. 


It was still sunny though and there is one section of the journey across the Pennines to Sheffield, which is especially lovely in good weather. It's only visible for a very short time, so I had my sketchbook ready - this time a ready-made, mini Moleskin concertina, just A6. 

A thoroughly lovely day. Thanks so much to Simone for organising things.

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4.


Look what I was sent this week:



The lovely Missus B emailed to ask permission from myself and Damian Harvey. I'm not sure that she actually needed it, but it was lovely to be asked and even lovelier to listen to her reading our book. 

If you have children of the right age (or just like to have a story read to you - I know I do...) then take a look.

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5. Back to My 'Urban Sketching People' Book


Now the mural artwork is done (phew) and I have got my concertina sketchbooks sorted, I have cleared my schedule to concentrate purely on my 'sketching people' book. 

If you have been following the project, you will remember that I have a handful of spreads which are more or less finished - the ones we did as samples, to get the US edition signed up, including this painting before you draw spread:


Then, at the start of the year, I sent off a good chunk of the text, along with all the images that will go with it (just photos of my sketchbook pages for now). My publisher has been working on it while I have been doing other things. About two thirds of what I submitted has now been set into very rough spreads and sent back with some suggestions for changes. I had an long phone call with my editor, where we went through everything in fine detail and I scribbled notes all over the spreads:


It's not too bad at all actually. All the text is intact without changes, it's pretty much all suggestions for either squeezing in more images or adding step-by-step breakdowns here and there. 

The publisher also sent out a call for other sketchers to submit work for possible inclusion and I have sheets and sheets of gorgeous guest work to choose from. That's going to make things easier. So far, I have been trying to collect potential guest images by trawling Flickr and saving things into Pinterest.


I have mostly addressed the changes now. I just have some captions and annotations to write, to go with the added images, but I'm waiting until my suggestions have been given the green light before I do that. 

For now, I have moved on and begun writing a new section of the book. This one looks in detail at how to draw specific parts of the body. We did sketching the eyes as one of the sample spreads. I took a couple of days to get my head back into things, after such a lengthy pause, but I am motoring nicely now and have already written 'feet', 'hair' and 'ears'. Still got mouths, hands and noses to do. Better get on...

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6. Concertina Sketchbooks: the Clever Details


I have now finished my 35 sketchbooks, ready for my residency at Manchester's Morgan Centre. I don't know if anyone out there is going to have a go at making the books for themselves, but in case you are, here's the final stage of the process.


The cover is more or less done, but two things are missing - we need the card insert, to hold the paper concertinas we created in place, and we need a way of fastening the book closed, because the paper will try to escape and inevitably unravel itself in the most inconvenient places you can imagine.

The insert is very straight forward. I bought a pack of A4 black card from WH Smith, 240g, which was perfect. The insert width needs to be approx 10mm narrower than your back cover board. The height, needs an excess of 30 - 40mm to fold over, both top and bottom. The centre between the folds should measure 5mm more than your concertina-paper height (which should also be about 10mm less than the height of the book cover). Score the excess and fold (gently, rather than tightly):


Test that this does in fact sit neatly into your back cover (I made lots of measuring errors during the course of making the books - it's best to double-check everything).

I tried using double-sided tape to stick the insert into the book at first. I figured that it would be less messy than PVA when trying to position the folded card, but it started to peel up after just a couple of hours, so I went back to PVA. 


I glued the top flap first, positioned it (folded under) on the inside back cover - 5mm from the top and outside edge - then put it under a couple of books to dry (squeeze out and wipe any excess glue first!)

I did the bottom flap once the top was secure. One trick: I was aware of the potential for excess glue to squeeze out underneath at this stage, unseen, and accidentally glue the insert shut, so I slipped a strip of waste card in between, before pressing the glued flap down. 


Again, put books on top to dry, or it springs up.

The end of the concertina-paper can now be slipped under the card and slipped out again when you want to replace your paper. Ingeniously simple solution for refills. I can't take the credit I'm afraid: my clever friend Lucie Golton designed it.


Many people use ribbon to fasten books. I didn't want to drill holes in the cover through, as it acts as a mini drawing board when I am using the book, so I wanted it unsullied. John came up with the Velcro system. I was going to buy Velcro tape, then discovered these nifty little guys:


Perfect. You pop one fuzzy spot onto the book, back and front, then attach the loopy halves onto a short strap, which I made from vinyl to match the spine. 


I just cut a piece of vinyl twice as wide as needed and 10mm longer each end, cut across the corners, then folded it in on itself, using PVA again. 

The beauty of the Velcro is that, when the book is in use, if the unfastened strap gets in the way, you can detach it and stick it back on at 90 degrees. You don't lose it, but it doesn't keep flapping and springing around the edges your paper.

If you found this project useful and want to check out other handy posts, try using the Hot Tips label on the right. I add the label to anything I think might be helpful to other people. It's a bit of a mix, with other ways of home-binding sketchbooks, but also tips for building up an illustration folio, how to do a school visit, create a 'Flat Plan' to plan out a book, or how to use  / where to buy particular art materials. All sorts. 

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7. Concertina Sketchbooks: Making Detachable Covers


The covers are done - hurrah! Making them isn't as tricky as you think, honest. You need:

Book board: warps less, but any thick board could be substituted I guess. 
PVA glue and a biggish brush (don't let it dry on the brush!).
Cloth: I've used regular cotton before, but book cloth is stiff and paper-backed, so easier.
Book vinyl: for the spine (though again you could try other materials).
Endpapers: any thickish, patterned paper works.
Medium weight card: a small piece to create a flap, to hold the folded paper in place.

You also need lots of scrap paper, to help create both a clean and a 'gluey' work area, side by side.


I started by cutting 2 pieces of book board: you need to allow 5mm more than your folded paper inner all round. I then cut 2 pieces of book cloth, allowing about 20mm overlap on three sides, but cutting it 20mm short on the spine edge. You stick the book cloth pieces to the boards (it's easier to apply the glue to the board, rather than the book cloth):


You turn it over and cut off the corners, snipping within 2mm of the board corners:


Then you glue all the excess cloth edges and stick them down, making sure to pull the cloth tight over the board edges (sorry, just realised this photo is up the other way - bit confusing, but you get the idea):


The corners are slightly tricky (this is where the book cloth really helps). You use your thumbnail to tuck the cloth into the corner on one side, then fold the other edge over to seal a neat corner:


Next comes the spine. I measured the width of my folded-up paper inner at 15mm. I didn't squeeze the paper too tight, so it wouldn't be under too much pressure and the book would close more easily. 

This is where the vinyl comes in: you need a piece to join the two boards together and create a strong spine. Book vinyl is great as it's very strong but also takes pencil on the reverse, so it's easy to measure and cut to size. 


I measured 35mm, to stick to each board, plus the 15mm spine, so 85mm wide. It needed to be as long as the board height, plus an extra 20mm top and bottom to fold over. I drew all this onto the vinyl, so it was easier to line things up when sticking on the boards: 


I put PVA glue onto the vinyl one half at a time, placing each board so it sat within my pencil lines, until it all looked like this:


Then I glued the excess vinyl top and bottom and folded it over, making sure it was pushed well into the spine. 

I then cut another strip of vinyl to go on the spine's inside. That needs to be just 1mm shorter than the book height, both top and bottom, and roughly the same 85mm width. When you glue that on, you need to really push it into the spine edges, so it's snug against the board and stuck tight to the other piece of vinyl:


There is a book-binder's tool which is designed for that job, but there are plenty of things which will do the trick, including a thumbnail.


Then you do the endpapers. You would normally stick the paper to both sides but, in this case, the inside back cover is going to be completely obscured by the flap we need to make, to slip the paper insert into. You just need to cover the front. Measure a piece that is 4 - 5mm smaller than the front cover all round and stick it on.


You're nearly there now. I'll tell you how to make the card insert next time, as this is turning into a very long post.

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8. Concertina Sketchbooks - Folding and Sticking!


Yesterday afternoon, John and I cut up the very last section of the huge roll of paper for my concertina-format sketchbooks. It's been quite a marathon task, but I now have sketchbook paper coming out of my ears. It has mostly landed on my already full desk, where it is perched on top of all the tagged and numbered sketchbooks, which are still waiting to be scanned for my Urban Sketching book


So, now I have to gird my lions for all the folding. The ones I folded on Wednesday have been sitting under piles of heavy books ever since. They do seem a little tamer for it:


I have folded 10 so far, so still another 25 to go. 

I have made a start on the detachable covers too. There are two to make, as there are two different sizes of paper. This was because the size I wanted to create didn't fit exactly into the width of the roll. Which meant that I got 30 sketchbooks at the 21.5 x 14 size, then another 5 from the 'excess' edge of the roll which were squarer, at 17.5 x 14. 

I made a test one first, to fit a Moleskin-size, just to get the technique right. It worked really well. I bought some proper book-cloth specifically for this project, which was a great idea, as it cuts and sticks down very much easier than regular cloth. I also chose a snazzy print for the endpapers. This time, because I had a budget, I bought the proper stuff, rather than using gift-wrap, like I did for the Japanese bound ones:


Because the 300gsm paper folds up into quite a thick book, I had to create a reasonable sized spine for my covers, which I have done with a book vinyl. This is the inside of one of the covers so far:


In case people want to try making some for themselves, I have taking photos at the various stages to show you, but that's for next time.

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9. How to Make 35 Concertina Sketchbooks!


Although my residency doesn't start until the autumn, I wanted to get the sketchbooks made well in advance, in case of difficulties. So, a couple of weeks ago, a HUGE roll of watercolour paper arrived in the post. It was 10m long and over 1.5m wide: a bit of a nightmare to manoeuvre, but perfect for making concertina books, as you don't need any joins (usually the trickiest bit).

This morning we got stuck in!

We had to pull a 6ft table up alongside my work bench, just to have somewhere big enough to cope with rolling the paper out so we could work with it. Everything had to be scrupulously clean too - another nightmare.


I had worked out that I would get 7 sketchbooks out of the roll's width, each a max of 2m long (so they would not be too unwieldy to exhibit at the university, when I'm done at the end of the residency). Given the roll's 10m length, that meant 5 sets of 7, so 35 books in total.

I decided to cut a couple of the 2m lengths from the roll first, to make things more manageable. I had intended to get the lighter weight paper I usually work on, but at the last minute went for the 140lb instead, so the finished lengths will be more sturdy. Trouble is, that weight means the paper is really springy, so absolutely everything was a two-man job. Thank goodness for John!


I thought long and hard about the order of things and realised that it made sense to do all the scoring (for the folds) before cutting the paper into the separate books. That way I could score across all 7 books at the same time, with only one lot of measuring. The books are going to be 14cm x 21.5cm, but you only need scores for alternate folds (because the folds go in 2 different directions), so we began by measuring out 28cm intervals down each of the 2m lengths.




The book-binder's devise I used on my last sketchbook experiment seemed a bit thick to be accurate enough for a long concertina (where any errors quickly multiply), so I sanded the sharpness off a bamboo pen, which was perfect. We didn't have a ruler long enough to straddle the complete 1.5m width, but John dug out a really long spirit level: 


That too needed a jolly good wash but, once clean enough, it saved a lot of time at the scoring stage, as we only had to measure up each edge of the paper and not in the middle too.


I had tried to use the spirit-level as a straight-edge for cutting across the width, but that was a BIG MISTAKE. It's depth interfered with the handle of the knife and so I have one rather raggedy cut, before I realised the problem. Ah well - it's a learning process.

Next job was to mark the width with the 12.5cm intervals, ready to cut the paper into strips for the separate books. It would have been really easy to mis-measure, so again I was glad to have my man-servant with me, double-checking as we went along. I was still rather nervous when I actually began cutting: 


We had to get 3 separate cutting mats lined up along the bench, because of the ridiculous size of the paper. It worked a treat though. By mid afternoon, we had curls of watercolour paper perched all over the studio, ready for folding:


I worked down the length of each book, folding at the scored lines we had created every 28cm: 


I lined up the in-between folds by eye, working without pre-measured scores, so that I could try and make sure the concertina didn't wander too far off square: 


The thicker paper took a bit more man-handling and got chunky quite quickly, which was another reason I limited the length to 2m: 14 'pages' of 14cm. 300gsm paper certainly has very strong opinions of its own, so the experience was a bit like wrestling an octopus at times. The folded books are still pretty springy and rather keen to explode - I have put them under heavy books to see if that tames them at all.


So that's the papers for 14 books done so far. I'll tackle another batch tomorrow, while I remember how we did it (and while the studio is clean). Although I must also get on with my book. Eek!

Plus I also have to make a cover for the sketchbooks. Instead of individual covers for each book, which would take ages, I was given a great idea by my sketch-buddy Lucie Golton: a detachable cover which you use again and again. She made me one as a present a while back, so I can copy her system. Thanks so much Lucie! 


I'll take some pictures as I make the cover, as well as showing you the finished item, but that's for next time.

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10. The Mural Artwork is Done - Phew!



Because of World Book Day, I'm out visiting schools all this week (all over the place as usual) but, luckily, I just managed to get my mural artwork finished first. It was a skin-of-the-teeth thing - I didn't sign it off until 7pm last Friday night. 

I'm enjoying being out and about again, as I have been locked at my computer for ages. The artwork stage has taken 3 weeks, working really long days mostly, but it is finally done. Hurrah! Below are the various sections, travelling around the walls anti-clockwise (ie from right to left), viewing what will be floor-to-ceiling once it's installed (though the emptier sections will be obscured by furniture):


There were so many different jobs to do and of course much of it took longer than expected - I think it's because I underestimated just how many individual characters and little objects I could cram into the huge space. Luckily, Wakefield Libraries have been absolutely LOVELY and said they will pay me for the time I've actually spent on it, rather than what I originally quoted them.  


Every one of the new, high-res scans that John did of the various animals, books, trees etc had to be individually matched to their position on the low-res template I created earlier, re-sized to fit and then laboriously cut off the children's white, background paper in Photoshop.


Each component also had to have it's 'levels' balanced, to match the weight of the rest of the design, and then have extra colour added, so it was punchy enough. I even had to subtly go over some of the children's pencil outlines in Photoshop, thickening them up where they were too spindly. 

And that's without all the graphic elements I had to draw for the background, like the distant forest and the various kinds of grasses and bushes. 


Because I had to create the artwork in 6 sections (to keep the file sizes from blowing the brain of my computer), I also had the job of making sure the different sections joined accurately. That was a bit of a nightmare to be honest, as one millimetre's inaccuracy at each joint would obviously add up, and then the error would also be multiplied by 4, because of the artwork being 25% of the actual size. Yikes.


I was very good at remembering to 'save' all the time, not just to the computer, but also to an external hard drive, just in case any of the files decided to corrupt along the way. I got away without 'losing' anything, which is a great relief.


Then, just when I thought it was all finished, I realised I had forgotten the area of 'bleed' beneath the library's computer table! I had remembered to continue the design behind the bookshelves, so I don't know why I forgot the table. Tired I guess.

The colour boosting was the last job. I wanted to keep the mark-making from the children's colouring, so I made my final artwork translucent, then created a layer beneath the design, where I 'scribbled' half-opacity colour, so the effect was subtle and blended seamless with the children's coloured pencils. It was time consuming, but was worth it, as the boost made a huge difference. Look at the difference between the section above and part of the same section, before the extra colour:



Notice too, in some places I had to do extra tricksy things with the colour in Photoshop: look at the original colour of the desk, immediately above, then the colour it ended up.

Did you notice by the way, in the 2nd section from the beginning, I left my 'signature' on the computer screen? Sneaky huh? 
Actually, I suspect that most of this area will be obscured by book-bags, but I only really put it in as an after-thought.


The next stage is a final chat to the printer who will be transferring my design to wallpaper, ready to paste onto the walls. I'm a little concerned about how on earth we will manage to get things to line up where they are supposed to, what with crooked walls and wonky ceilings. For instance, all the creatures' feet, which need to be on the level with the tops of the bookshelves. 

I am crossing fingers it all works out okay, as there isn't much I can do about that side of things.

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11. Cafe de Sketchy



John and I had another fun evening recently with Dr Sketchy Sheffield. The theme was a Toulouse Lautrec style cafe. Some great costumes. We had a fabulous cancan dance half way though too:


For some reason, I didn't feel much in the mood for drawing with my watercolour pencils, so worked the whole evening in watercolour, using a paintbrush instead of a pencil. Luckily, I had brought pretty big sketchbooks with me, which made it easier. 

I ended up giving this painting to the model, as she was so taken with it:


Luckily, I had a 2nd opportunity to sketch the dancing girls in their extraordinary costumes. I just love those huge turquoise feathers:



I had been working at a school in Scunthorpe during the day, so unfortunately we were a bit late getting to the pub where the Dr Sketchy events are held. I like to get there first, so I can get a seat at the front, where you can see better. The organisers do allow for that problem though, by having the models roam the audience, posing around the room, often sitting at the tables amongst us: 


The pose of the three dancing girls in the photo above was sideways on to the audience, with the girls leaning on the bar. I was sneaky and quickly slipped onto the other end of the bar, which gave me a clear view and more room for my paints:


The rest of the time I sat myself on the floor at the front, so I could spread out. When you are working quickly in paint, you have to have somewhere to put the ones which are still wet, while you work on the next pose. I put my lager on the stage, to stop me accidentally using it to wash my paintbrush!


There were fellas modelling too. I was very taken with this man's waxed moustache. This was another sketch I gave away, which is why it's signed. I was having a rare generous moment! The model kindly did a scan of it for me before he got it framed:



I love the challenge of Dr Sketchy - so much to do in so little time. You can feel the concentration humming in the room. With multiple models at once, you often only get part done:


I really enjoyed the paint-drawing. I think I need to get a better brush though. I know Liz Steel works a lot with a dagger shape, which gives a good range of fluid marks. I've got to get one, but I am having trouble getting a wide enough one from a UK seller that isn't also really long. 


Thanks so much to Eric Murphy for the use of these great photos. He even managed to capture me without the usual sketcher's double-chin, so an extra thanks for that!



If you like the idea of Dr Sketchy and live in or near either Sheffield of Buxton, check out their Facebook page for future events. If you live further afield, try a bit of Google searching, as Dr Sketchy is a franchise, with groups around the UK and USA I believe.

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12. Oh Look - It's Me!


I had another of those nice packages arrive through the post... 

Turns out The Leverhulme Trust (the lovely guys who are giving me the money to do my residency with The Morgan Centre) has a magazine. It's called a 'newsletter', but it's very glossy. January's edition was forwarded to me by Professor Heath. It announced the list of residencies they were awarding - 20 in total. 

Lots are with various universities across the country There's a really wide range of study areas: Law, War Studies, Pharmacy, Geography, Medicine and more. Then there is an observatory in Armagh who is working with a musician, The National Waterways Museum who is working with a theatre writer / performer...

Apparently they selected from over 200 submissions, so we did really well to be selected, which feels great! I am delighted to discover that it is possible (at least in principle) to earn a crust from my sketching, as well as my picture book illustration. I am really enjoying the greater variety I have these days too.

Anyway, in December, Professor Heath wrote an article for the newsletter about our plans and, as you can see, it got a full page. Hurrah!


A big roll of watercolour paper also arrived last week, with a few book-binding bits, ready for me to make the concertina sketchbooks I am going to use throughout the 10 month residency. It's starting to feel real!


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13. SketchCrawl in Nottingham


Sorry it's been a week since I last looked in. I am working hard every day on my mural. I did get to escape the computer on Saturday though - everything stops for SketchCrawl day!

This month, Urban Sketchers Yorkshire met up with our counterparts in Nottingham, for a drawing day at Nottingham Castle. There were a few sketchers from the Manchester and Birmingham groups too, so it was really lovely to meet lots of new people.



The train from Sheffield arrived half an hour before the one from Manchester, so I did this quickie of the station front, while we waited. By the time I got underway, I only had 20 minutes, so I was really pleased with the results. I think, because of the silly amount of time, I had such low expectations that I was really relaxed. No time to think either, so I was working on instinct, by-passing my brain (often a good thing with my brain).


Fired up with this success, I decided to brave the cold at the castle and draw outside. Several people did the same as the views across Nottingham were spectacular. I avoided the really long views and drew the interesting aerial view down over the surrounding streets, continuing in my concertina sketchbook with the tinted paper, flowing on from the drawing I did on Castleford.

Nottingham Castle isn't a real castle - the real one was blown up hundreds of years ago. The new one is a museum and art gallery, so I headed inside and had a quick whizz round to warm up my fingers and toes. Then it was time for some lunch and chin-wagging with my new chums.


After lunch I was sufficiently thawed to try again outside. It was cold, but there was very little wind, so it was possible to stand it for about an hour. I did this view of the front entrance.


Once more chilled to the bone, it was wonderful to walk through the automatic doors and feel the wall of heat kick in! The gallery was a really lovely space, so I sat in there for my last sketch of the day, working with my Koh-i-Noor rainbow pencil and some white pastel:


This was a continuation in the concertina sketchbook and flowed on from the earlier drawing:


It also filled the very last section of the book - a rather satisfying end to the day - so it's now complete: 


You can't really see the drawings properly here but, if you are interested, you can enlarge it sufficiently for a good look on my Flickr page.

This lovely book was made for me as a present by one of my group (thanks again Lucie!), but I have also made concertina books for myself. They are very easy. If you want to have a go, this post shows you how.

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14. Talking to the Henry Moore Foundation


Great news - Wakefield Library Service love the mural design, so it's full steam ahead. 

While I was away during the first half of this week, working with under-graduates at Bishop's Grosseteste Uni in Lincoln, John was helping out back home, scanning all the children's work again, this time at high res. It is extremely boring to have to scan everything twice, but I didn't know until now which images were going to be used and at what size; the original drawings have been re-sized a lot, to make them fit together within the design.


I also decided to try and fit a Henry Moore sculpture into the design, because of his Castleford history. It makes for a good discussion point for school groups coming into the library. As I mentioned previously, using someone else's photo would raise copyright issues. I have various sketches of Moore's sculptures, but the one above, from a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is the only one in full colour. We still had to run it by the Henry Moore Foundation though, to get their blessing. Luckily, they love it and so have now been added to the invite list for the Grand Opening.


It was no mean feat trying to find a spot for Henry, but in the end I moved a bush-baby out of one of the trees (above), to create a space on a column between two bookshelves. I also popped a tiny owl (I think that's what it is) on top, which really helped to make the sculpture 'belong':


It's a bit surreal, but well, it's not as if the rest isn't! I did like the bush-baby though, so I rejigged things in another section, to make room for him in a new location. It's a nightmare though, because each thing you move has a knock-on effect. Spot the differences:


My next job is trying to find a way to work with the high res scans in Photoshop. I am working at 25% of the real size and divided the design into 6 sections, but the base layer of each section was still coming up at 470MB - still too big to be practical. So I am also having to work on just the upper part first, adding the below-bookshelf-height elements at the end.

It's still going to be a bit of an ordeal for the computer and I will have to 'flatten' the artwork as I introduce each new element, as floating layers make a file enormous and my poor computer is likely to throw in the towel if I am not extremely careful. 'Saving' really often seems like I good idea!

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15. Designing My Children's Library Mural:


On Friday afternoon, I emailed my mural design to Wakefield Libraries - hurrah! It's looking really fun, as the children's drawings were even better this time around. This is a section from the middle:


The drawings weren't all finished and some were a bit wishy-washy, but I found it rather soothing, spending a whole day touching them up, colouring-in with my big tin of Derwent pencils. Then John helped me out by scanning everything (just low-res for now).

I abandoned my original plan of designing it in 3 sections: I needed to see the whole thing as one, with all 4 walls strung together into a long, thin template. I used the plans I drew a couple of weeks ago. 

With over 100 drawings, it was hard to know where to begin. I had calm, library-like details as well as crazy, tiger-infested ones. This gave me the idea for the layout: the tigers could be bursting in from one end, so the other end would still be normal, for contrast. This is the far left, the calm end (with just the odd hint of tiger-trouble): 


I established a horizon line early on, to stop things floating, and started to import the drawings, creating little groups and gradually building it up. It didn't look enough like a jungle though, so I introduced big fern-like shapes and tree-covered hills in the distance. Here are the first 2 stages:


I did my best to include everyone's work, though it got fuller and fuller! I did have to admit defeat before I fitted in every drawing, but I squeezed the vast majority in there. This is the tiger end, with my tiger from Open Wide, starting things off:


As with the first mural, in Wakefield Central Library, I was asked if I could pop some of my own characters in amongst the children's. There are quite a few dotted through this one. 

Here is the section which joins onto the one above, as the tigers work their way into the library. My little trio of bats-in-hats are from When You're Not Looking! of course. I love some of the detailed and surreal shelving systems the children devised:


I hope you are impressed at how I managed to shoe-horn the Romans in. This was a requirement, because Castleford is an important archaeological site. In the end, it was a fun addition to have them bursting from the history shelves:


It was such a massive job that I had to spend all week glued to the computer, working it all out, but it was good fun and John had to virtually drag me from my chair at about 7 o'clock each evening.

I haven't yet included Henry Moore (Castleford was his place of birth), for want of a copyright-free image, but my idea was to add a hill in the background, with one of his massive sculptures on it. If necessary, I have a couple of sketchbook paintings I have done at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Here's the whole thing. It should enlarge to a size you can see properly:


Cross-fingers that they like it, after all that work! I'll let you know.

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16. Rain, Fashion and the Contents of Bottom Drawers...


It's been a while since I got the fantastic news that I have been awarded a grant from The Leverhulme Trust, to spend a year working with The Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives at Manchester University, shadowing their research projects with my sketchbook in hand.


Unfortunately, because we wanted the project to span a single academic year, we set the start date as October 2015 - ages to wait when I'm so excited! In the meantime, we can at least start planning, so Professor Heath from The Morgan Centre came to the studio this week, for a meeting.


I have learnt that the main project I am working on is studying the effect the weather has on us Brits - more painting in the rain perhaps! Plus there is also a project around 'Dormant Things': objects we all own, which we don't need or even really want, but can't quite bear to throw away. Cellars, attics and bottom-drawers everywhere are packed with them.


Another couple of bits of research I might dip into are going to involve interviewing people on the streets of Manchester. One is about how people interact with public spaces and the other is looking at street fashion. That should be quite a challenge - my speed sketching will come into it's own!


I've also been commissioned separately to shadow their conference in July. The theme is 'Atmospheres' and they have some fantastic presentations booked in. It sounds like it is going to be fascinating, over and above the fun I am going to have recording it in my sketchbook. I will be co-delivering a presentation with Prof. Heath about our project and, as with the ASCEL conference, I will have a short slot on my own near the end, for showing what I have been drawing during the event and talking briefly about Urban Sketching.


Such a fun job. Can't wait.

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17. 46th World Wide SketchCrawl Day


This Saturday was wonderful. Good company, good food, good drawing...


I wasn't going to bother with World Wide SketchCrawl Day this time around, since Usk Yorkshire only recently had our January outing, at Stockport's Hat Museum. But I have been feeling a little bereft to be frank, because I have been spending all my working day at the computer just lately, either writing my book, working on the mural, or preparing lectures and events. Which means that I am not drawing. Hardly at all!


So, I advertised that I would be spending the day drawing in local, quirky coffee shops, if anyone fancied joining me for a spot of sketching to mark the day and guess what? Loads of my sketch-buddies came to keep me company. Perfect.


The inside of a cafe is not always the most inspiring subject matter: I would sooner be out in the street drawing buildings, or up in the hills painting landscapes but, with snow on the ground, it was a wee bit chilly out there. Okay, I know some of my Urban Sketchers cousins are sufficiently hardy that they sketch in temperatures so cold they have problems with their watercolour freezing (yes, really), but I kind of want to keep my fingers and toes. Call me a softy. 


In a coffee shop, you do get the added benefit of cake. Really nice cake actually. And a SUPERB goat's cheese tart for lunch at The Rude Shipyard (name from a quote in Cloud Atlas by the way - we looked it up). I actually got to sketch the street from there too, as there were good views from the windows:


After lunch we walked 100 yards to Strip the Willow, a great arts and crafts collective (where my aforementioned venture into the nice cake featured):


Then it was on to our final stop: the Electric Candlelight Cafe, with odd things on the walls:


There were cuckoo clocks too, but I couldn't fit them in. 

We had a really sociable, laid-back time and were enjoying ourselves so much that we didn't venture home until 5.30. Because I was the one who planned the day, I made sure we finished up just a short walk from my house too - clever or what?

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18. Run, Librarians, Run!


On Tuesday, the new mural was kicked off to a flying start, when I met the two Y4 classes, from St Joseph's Primary and Smawthorne Henry Moore schools in Castleford, who have been chosen to help me to create the artwork. We worked in Castleford Museum, just upstairs from where the mural will be housed. I had each group for less than two hours, so we had a lot to achieve in a short time


You may recall, I decided on a tiger theme, because of the local rugby team and it was a small step from that to having tigers rampaging among the librarians and children in a 'jungle library'. So, I asked the morning group to focus on tigers. I demonstrated various quick techniques to help the children structure their animals and give them movement, then they were off!


They were so into it and all drew like demons for the entire time. I just love the one at the top by Riley Farrar from St Joseph's! Those that finished their tigers early, had a go at librarians. I showed them how to use body language and eyebrows to get across emotion. Not everyone finished colouring, so I will be getting out my Derwents soon!


For the afternoon session, I changed things slightly and asked children to be more general, drawing other jungle animals. We had some interesting discussions: 'Miss, can I draw a penguin?', 'I don't think you get penguins in the jungle, do you?', 'Well, how about a shark?'. Thank goodness for Jungle Grumble, to get some idea of the animals you might actually find in the jungle!

I also asked them to think about background details for the jungle library, whist being careful not to actual colour the background, as that will of course be done digitally by me, once the design is sorted out.


The afternoon group drew me some children and a few more librarians too. Bethany has definitely got to win the prize for best librarian illustration. Look carefully and you will see that she has also featured one of the library's 'talking books':


As well as having a well known rugby team, Castleford is an important archeological site (the museum is full of Roman artifacts, including the wheels of a chariot), so I have been asked to try and feature the Romans in the mural too. It's a hard match to the existing theme, but I wondered if a few Roman soldiers might come to life from the Ancient History bookshelves. They could help restore order and fight off the tigers perhaps. With this in mind, a few children drew Romans for me:


I did the return journey to Sheffield with a lovely, fat package of amazing illustrations. This week I have been scanning them into my computer, just as low-res images for now, so I can play around, dropping them into the templates I created, trying to combine as many of them as possible into what will ultimately be one big illustration, rampaging around the walls of Castleford Children's Library.

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19. An Urban Sketcher's Manual: Drawing Fluid Lines


I am still writing my book for most of the working day at the moment, taking advantage of the opportunity to focus on one task, while I can. It's a bit like writing this blog actually, in that I am sharing tips and hints about how I work, but with a slightly different focus and format


I'm enjoying the opportunity to talk about other people's work sometimes as well, but for the most part I am analysing what I do when I am drawing people in various situations, which of course makes me think differently about things which I have learned to take for granted.


This week, I decided to go back to basics and talk about how a fluid line is so much more useful that straight lines, when it come to sketching people, because basically, people are curvy. Straight lines tend to make them look stiff and lifeless. So, a couple of spreads in the book are dedicated to looking at how you can develop a more instinctive, fresh line, which will bring your characters to life and help communicate the sense that you have captured them mid-movement.


For the more hesitant sketchers amongst you, those who tend to twitch their pencil back and forth, barely moving, I talk about drawing from your wrist, elbow and even shoulders because, if you don't move your arm, you can't move your pencil expressively. 


I demonstrate blind-contour drawing too, which is a great way to get your line loosened up, and I show how contour drawing helps you to hang onto the principles of instinctive eye-to-pencil sketching on an everyday basis. 

Not forgetting of course, how a quick, linear sketch can be done with a paintbrush too - what a gorgeous, expressive line watercolour can give you if you keep your hand fluid!



We have a title now by the way. It's going to be Sketching People, with the subtitle, an Urban Sketcher's Manual to Drawing Figures and Faces.

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20. Stockport Hat Museum with Urban Sketchers Yorkshire


Saturday was January's SketchCrawl outing for Usk Yorkshire. I met 6 other members at Sheffield Station and we took the train to Stockport. It was the day of all the gales and we had not been on the train long when they announced we couldn't get to Stockport because of a tree across the line!


Fortunately they cleared it just in time and we got to Stockport's Hat Works in plenty of time to meet up with another 25 members, including people who had travelled from Manchester, Derbyshire, Macclesfield, Hull and Birmingham. 



During the morning more and more people turned up, so that about 40 of us were there for lunch in the cafe. Luckily there was virtually nobody else there, unluckily, they had only two people on duty (one who was on their first day), so it was chaos! After nearly an hour's wait for my sandwich, I started this sketch, because that was a sure way to ensure my food would arrive, and it did.


The museum itself was fantastic, with hats through the ages and across cultures, as well as lots of contemporary designer hats, some elegant, some bonkers, all wonderful to draw. It used to be a working factory, so the basement area had all the machines to show how the hats were made, as well as mock-ups of the original milliners shop, with this gorgeous old till:


There was so much to explore, I didn't even get to see one floor, so must go back. That's the only problem with sketching - you have to make quick decisions about what to draw, so can't spend all day looking round.


At 3 o'clock we all walked next door to The Plaza: an original Art Deco cinema. Look at this decorated interior:


There was a lovely, traditional tea room upstairs with white tablecloths, amazing cakes and waiters in all the gear. We had pre-booked but, once again, they had real trouble with such a big group. I attempted a really quick sketch, but mostly we were chatting and planning future outings:



Because it took so long to serve us all (and took several attempts at ordering on our table), half the group had to leave before we got around to sharing the work. There were still more than enough sketchbooks left to fill one of the tables though:


Despite the difficulties, it was real fun to have such a fantastic turn-out (the best we've had since the York Minster day). I was especially pleased to have about half a dozen new members with us.


A huge thanks to Lynne McPeake and Andrea Joseph for taking over the organisation of the event for me. Thanks as well to Kerry Davies for most of the photos. I'm always so busy, I generally forget to take any. 



Another brilliant Urban Sketchers day out, sharing what we love and meeting lots of new people.  

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21. '3-a-day' Sketch Challenge


There is a fun game going round at the moment on Facebook, where people are nominating sketchers whose work they admire to take part in a posting project. You have to choose 3 sketches to post each day for 5 days. Every day you also choose a favourite sketcher of your own to nominate.


I was nominated by an Urban Sketchers friend, Beliza Mendes, from Luxembourg, who did the sketch above. I'm a bit busy right now (you have probably noticed that I am blogging a little less often than usual), but luckily I have so many pre-scanned sketches that it wasn't a problem to take part. 


I started the challenge on Sunday, with my favourite 3 sketches from the SketchCrawl at the Hat Works. I nominated a member of our Usk Yorkshire group, Paul Gent, who does really beautiful sketches, mostly of the Derbyshire area, where he lives: 



Unfortunately, there was a bit of a hiccough the very next day and I didn't get my 2nd set of sketches posted. John and I had a horrendous drive to and from a school in Telford - over 3 hours each way. Because of the traffic, I was late, so I worked half my lunch break to catch up. Then I signed books for an hour before the long drive back and was simply too shattered to go near the computer when we got home. Not a good start!


I did two posts on Tuesday to make up for it. I thought it would be fun to compare 3 of my older train sketches, from when I used to draw with just a 3B pencil (no colour at all, which seems incredible now) with 3 more recent train sketches, after colour became really important to me and I got so excited by my Inktense watercolour pencils: 


Tuesday's nomination from my fellow sketchers was Rolf Schroeter, from Berlin. He's someone else who often draws people and in a really exciting and dynamic way:



Next up for my 3-a-day: my passion for landscape sketching. A few years ago, when I began exploring all different media, I discovered that I love applying the same kind of expressive mark-making to hills, valleys and skies. There are so many interesting shapes and patterns to explore:


On Wednesday I was delighted to nominate Melanie Riem, who does wonderfully evocative landscapes, but can draw pretty much anything and make it equally enticing: 



For the final day, I decided to feature sketches of architecture. I used to draw buildings years ago, before I felt confident about sketching people. I went off them and avoided architecture for years, but got back into it a couple of years ago, when I realised that I could bring the same expressive style to bear and didn't have to worry about accurate measuring and perspective. Now I forget all that and just have fun:



On my final day, I nominated Nina Johansson from Sweden, who does the most exquisite drawings and paintings, often in very cold conditions. It might have been her that once told me that Vodka stops your watercolours freezing (!):


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22. Playing the Celeb in Brighouse:


The school visits kicked off really early this year. My first event was immediately after New Year: I was the guest of honour, opening the gorgeous new library at St Andrew's C of E Infants. I got to cut the ribbon and everything. 


I hope you're impressed by how well my dress coordinates with the school colours!

The children in the photo are members of the School Council, so also rather important. After the ceremony, I sat and signed some books for the library and they gathered round to watch. They were so excited and amazingly cute. Listen to them chatting to me while I draw a warthog in a copy of Stinky!:



The rest of the day was a series of storytelling sessions. It was such a lovely school. The children were a delight and lots of parents came along to sit in. 

Teachers filmed a lot of the sessions. Here I am playing my usual flipchart guessing game with one class, seeing how long it takes them to work out what I am drawing:


It's a shame that the teacher is filming from the wrong side really, but you can still tell how great the kids were. There is another, really brilliant film of me doing my Bears on the Stairs poem with another group, but it was emailed in two halves, so I'll post it up a bit later, once we have stitched it back together. It's really funny, so well worth waiting for.

Another fun game I play at the flipchart is drawing the anaconda from Class Two at the Zoo, and letting the children decide who will be in the snake's mouth. Sometimes they nominate a teacher, sometimes I get volunteers. This time it was Namory who got gobbled up: 


I am so lucky to have a job which lets me share such lovely times with children (and then pays me for the privilege!) 

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23. Bears on the Stairs: Lights, Camera... Action!


When I read my picture books to children, I always add at least one fun activity, to make the experience even more memorable for them. Bears on the Stairs, written by my favourite partner, Julia Jarman, is the perfect book for all sorts of added-value fun, so I almost always read it at least once during a school visit. 

I read it to a KS1 class in the lovely St Andrews Infant School in Brighouse last week. When we got to the end of the story, I asked the children if it was okay for me to be a bit silly. Luckily, they said yes. Even more luckily, one of the teachers filmed the next part of the session on her iPad, so I can show you exactly what I mean by 'added-value' and just how silly we can get!

I wrote the poem 'The Bear on the Stair' to fit with Julia's story and the whole class performs it together. Before we start though, I ask for volunteers. First, I need someone to be the bear: to roar and eat the children at the end of the poem. Then I need a volunteer to do a big burp (I once had a Head Teacher volunteer for this role!), so I asked the class at St Andrews what noise you might make if your belly was really, really full of children. Instead of a burp, one little boy rubbed his tummy and made a fabulously deep, bear-like 'Mmmmmmmm....' sound. So, as well as the burper, I added him to the mix.



I was delighted that it was this particular session which was filmed, because it was an especially good one. The children were so engaged and the 3 guys at the front really went for it. It makes me laugh every time I watch it, to see them making up all the actions to go with the poem. Watch for yourself and see.


After all the noise and silliness of the poem, I quieten things down with a mock-serious award ceremony, giving a little Bears on the Stairs badge to each of my volunteers. Unfortunately, I have almost used up all the badges that the publisher gave me - just a handful left. 

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24. I've Started Work on My New Mural



Regular readers will remember the excitement of the 13m long mural I created for the shiny, new Wakefield Library, working with local school kids. To be completely honest, I was really apprehensive about taking on the project, as I had never done anything at all like it before, but the results far exceeded my expectations, so I'm really glad now that I took the plunge.


Wakefield have had such amazing feedback (hurrah!) that they want me to do another mural, this time in Castleford Library, which is having a refurb. Again, I am a little nervous. This time it is even more complicated, as it is a whole room. Also, instead of a simple (albeit BIG) panel, I have to work on the whole space, designing around bookshelves and windows etc. 

How to begin?! 



Well, I started by taking photos of the various walls in the space then, with a bit of jiggery-pokery in Photoshop, montaged them together to create a single flattened-out view:


So far so good. 

I then asked the caretaker at the library to take his tape measure and note down every dimension. This was more complex than you might think, as I needed to know the exact size of obvious things like windows and bookshelves, but also the exact positions of objects like the alarm on the wall, the depth and width of the wall pillars, the height of the book-bag rail, the desk...

To organise that information into something that made sense, and thereby minimise the number of mistakes I was likely to make, I plotted all this information on top of the photo in Photoshop:


Then the even more fun job: I had to create a scale drawing of the space to act as a template: the shape to design the illustration into. 

This is where it gets complicated, because the space is obviously VERY big. Eventually, I will create the high-res, digital artwork at 25%, but that's still going to mean working with massive files and, to stop the computer taking it's ball home, I will chop it up into 6 sections. Designing something in 6 bits is near impossible, so I am doing the designing at 10th size, so I only have to work in 3 sections.

This is what the template for section 1 looks like (the left third). You can see the pillar between the first 2 bookcases, the alarm and the first computer desk:


The next step is a bit more fun - a couple of illustration workshops with Y4 classes from local schools, to generate the children's drawings which I am going to build the design around. The workshops are tomorrow and the theme is: tigers loose in the library! 

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25. Sitting on the Stairs in Castleford Library



I took the train to Castleford yesterday, to work in the library for the day, running the drawing workshops I was telling you about, with local, Y4 school children. They did me proud and I'll show you some examples next time, once I've sorted through them all.

In my lunch break, I sat in the glass stairwell and sketched the view from the window, using my favourite Sailor Pen and some watercolour. I'm not much into drawing cars, but I liked the long view right across the car park, across the shopping street, towards a river and distant hills: 


I was using an A5, grey-paper, concertina sketchbook which a fellow member of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire, Lucie Golton, made for me as a present, because I loved my tinted-paper Strathmore so much and she noticed how I've recently been getting into the extendable space of the concertina format. How lovely is that? Concertinas are great for longer views like this, when there's loads to fit in, especially if you don't like drawing small.

Ignore the candlestick by the way: that was part of some sketching I did during a recent SketchCrawl day in Buxton.

I did everything but the white, pastel highlights on the spot, but ran out of time before I could get them added (white chalk really lifts things when you are sketching onto a tinted ground). I added the pastel on the train and so got into a lovely conversation with a young man and his mum who were sitting across the aisle. They had been talking about his baby daughter previously so, with an apology for ear-wigging, I signed him a copy of Baby Goes Baaaaa!, passing on the present vibe:


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