in all blogs
Viewing Blog: An Illustrator's Life For Me!, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 913
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!
Statistics for An Illustrator's Life For Me!
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 15
Last weekend I was away from home for 4 days in the historic village of Evesham, near Worcester, doing another of my dream jobs. It involved enormous amounts of eating (best rhubarb crumble I ever tasted), sketching in the sunshine, listening to stories, chatting into the night over glasses of wine... oh, and also delivering workshops and portfolio advice for members of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
I knew the SCBWI retreat was to be held in a lovely old house with pretty grounds, but I was completely gob-smacked when my taxi stopped outside a long, Tudor house, all timbers and thatch. I was shown up a big, wooden staircase into a lovely old room, whose floorboards sloped down into one corner. I unpacked with a smile.
We kicked off about an hour later, with a brilliant getting-to-know-you exercise run by fellow author/illustrators, Loretta Schauer and Alexis Deacon. We paired up and had to draw or describe events from each other's past, stimulated by silly questions like: When have you injured yourself as a result of your own stupidity?
Then I ran my first session of the weekend: teaching people how to make concertina sketchbooks.
SCBWI had provided a big pile of watercolour paper. We set to, cutting and sticking. We cut up old cardboard boxes for the covers - it worked a treat. Then we all filed into the dining room for the first feast of many.
After dinner, we had a book review cum storytelling session, where we each read a favourite picture book to the rest of the group. There were 30 of us, so it took a while, but was a lovely way to spend the evening.
Next morning was a workshop by Alexis. He taught us techniques for making narratives more interesting, looking at the potential for using dishonest characters with hidden motivations. We all tried to create a story, though mine ran out of steam half way through. After coffee and biccies, we had a bit of free time, so I took my newly-minted sketchbook into the grounds:
Then it was lunch (yum), followed by an interesting talk by Andrea MacDonald, Senior Editor at Random House, about what makes a good picture book:
I did a couple of one-to-one advice sessions next. I found a lovely little summer house tucked away at the foot of the garden, which was perfect for a cost chat. people had booked appointments with me and I did my best to be wise and helpful with first an illustrator, then an author:
My 2nd workshop used the sketchbooks we made earlier. I wanted to explore the idea of finding a narrative in a place, of capturing the essence of a particular period of time using words and pictures, but doing it through close observation, recording what we could see, hear and smell. This is of course something which I am very used to doing in my sketchbooks, and I thought it might make a good source of inspiration.
I sat under a big tree and rang a bell. People gathered from around the grounds. Some had been playing croquet on the lawn!
We had expected mostly illustrators to take up the challenge, but a few authors went for it too. I showed the work I'd done since I arrived, as an example, and talked through easy techniques for getting instant results with watercolour (it was a revelation to most people that you could paint with clear water first, to control the colour), then everyone dispersed for an hour or so of experimentation.
After dinner (yum), we gathered in the conference room and, in small groups, talked though our work-in-progress. Each group then chose the strongest 3 pieces of work for each person - a great idea, as your own favourite bits of work are not necessarily your best and a fresh perspective is very useful. All the work was then displayed for everyone to browse and the next thing I knew, it was midnight!
Sunday began with my main workshop (after breakfast of course - yum). I devised a technique for drawing a journey, one piece at a time, to build up the elements of a story. Only, to put a fly in the ointment and get people out of their comfort-zone, many of the components were chosen randomly, by a neighbour. For me, the challenge was making it work, when about a third of the delegates were not illustrators. Still, it seemed to go extremely well. After coffee (and biccies) people took it in turns to pin up their drawing and tell their story.
Some ideas were hilarious, some were quite dark, some narratives were in a bit of a tangle, which the group helped to sort out: the brainstorming of 30 creative minds, all focussed on progressing one story idea was fantastic to watch.
The 'house cat' decided he wanted to join in. He demanded to be let in from the rain through the French windows, jumped up on the tables, walked across people's work, then took at seat near the front to listen:
After this of course, it was time for lunch (yum). Then we had another talk, this time by Emily Lamm, once my editor at Gullane (who worked with me on Swap!
), now working as Commissioning Editor at Hachette. She gave some excellent advice on what editors are looking for and things to try / avoid in your writing. I tried to capture her and highlights from what she was saying in the concertina sketchbook:
I had two more mentoring sessions during the afternoon, sadly in the house this time, as rain was still bouncing around outside. Then Alexis did a demo session, showing how he draws with ink, using different kinds of brushes (in various stages of decay):
I had my final one-to-one session, then at 7pm the gong sounded and it was time for another glorious dinner. I was impressed with the fact that the veggie choice for every meal was just as adventurous and delicious as its meat counterpart. We were all so impressed as a group that we asked for the chef and kitchen staff to come out and gave them a huge round of applause.
After dinner, we took a group photo in the garden:
Then we were all given a postcard, onto which we had to write three achievable goals for the next 3 months. The illustrators decorated the front of their cards. We stuck stamps on and handed them back to Loretta, whose job it was to post them all back to us in three months time. Good idea, or what?
We stayed up chatting and drinking and taking photos of each other until late, a gradually dwindling group. Finally, at 1am, the last dregs gave up the ghost and headed for bed.
Next morning, I packed my suitcase then luxuriated over my final breakfast (yum):
Then gradually, a few at a time, people had to leave (cue hugging...). It had been such a rich weekend, we all felt rather sad to be on our way. I was so sad that I had to buy myself a present from the gift shop (a VERY funky necklace).
Thank you to Loretta and all the team at SCBWI for inviting me to take part. It was a joy. Thanks as well to Sue Eves and Paul Morton, for the photos.
It was lovely to meet everyone, including the rather amazing Alexis Deacon, who's head is just stuffed with crazy story-stuff. And you know the really good news? I get to do it all again next year, as it's a 2-year invitation!
I have finally tackled the remaining teaching-drawings for the book. The publisher calls them step-by-steps and some of them are exactly that, like the one I did on using colour as a framework. There's also one on 3 stages of drawing eyes.
However, quite a few of the so-called step-by-steps are not actually a series of stages, but sets of little graphic features, to help explain how to draw certain aspects. Since hands are always so tricky, I thought I would do some teaching-drawings, looking at how you can use the position of the knuckles to help judge whether you are getting things right or not.
It's a trick I always use. Though the knuckles are staggered, rather than in line, the shape you get when you join them up is echoed in the next set of knuckles, as well as the finger ends. This helps you get finger length right - another thing that is easy to misjudge.
I sketched three line-drawings, (actually, I drew 5: the other 2 were a bit rubbish). I tried to get really different poses. Then I placed a bit of tracing paper over each sketch and circled the knuckles in a coloured pencil. As soon as I joined them up and then drew in the finger-end line, I knew the drawings would work really well.
I scanned both drawings and tracings, then put them together in Photoshop.
The rest of the spread on How to Sketch Hands uses drawings from my archive of sketchbooks to talk through some other ways of thinking about the various problems, including creating montage sheets, drawing just hands, over and over for practice. This is useful for stopping you getting frustrated when people move. It's also good for making the individual sketches seem less 'precious', so you are less inclined to worry if they go a bit skew-whiff here and there:
It's a great way to pass the time on a train. Try using a couple of different coloured pencils, to stop things getting too confused.
I think (think...) I have now done the last of the scanning for the urban sketching people book (hurrah!). We lost one drawing completely though. This boy was going into a new section I added last month, on things to look out for when drawing people of different ages.
Because he was a last-minute addition, he didn't get sorted out with a reference number when we tagged everything, to remind me which sketchbook he was in. John and I scoured the pile several times (now nearly 100 books). We had a clue - we could tell from when I originally uploaded the sketch to my website sketch-space that it was done in 2012, which narrowed the field at least. We couldn't find it anywhere though. Total mystery.
In the end we gave up and I substituted this one instead, which is a nice sketch, but not as clear for demonstrating the teaching-point: how children's lower lips are often set back, so the upper lip protrudes slightly. Hey-ho.
I don't have many drawings of children, because they are generally such a pain to sketch. Babies are even scarcer in my sketchbooks. Luckily I did find this page, done on a plane:
The montage system is definitely the easiest way to deal with the constant motion of babies and it was great for the book, as all the different angles gave me loads of observations to talk about.
Things might be a bit thin on the ground for younger ones, but I have plenty of examples at the other end of the scale - I just love drawing older faces. So much character. As we age we get more and more individual.
Fortunately, there are some constants to watch for when you're drawing older people, like the tiny, vertical creases we women get above our top lip, the deepening shadow between eye and nose, the loose neck... oh goodness, I've got to stop - it's all too depressing!!
Goodness: the deadline for the book has suddenly jumped out of the bushes and is frantically waving its arms at me! I have until August 20th to get everything done. It's about a month, but counting only the free days I have to work on it, it's actually 3 weeks. Trouble is, that is also the only remaining time I have to prepare for filming the Craftsy class too - same deadline. Yikes.
I clearly need to get my skates on. I hate to be so busy when it's summer though. I spent last Sunday working at my computer with the blinds down, while other folks were prancing around in the sunshine. Sob.
I have gone through the design layouts for almost all the book now. There are about a dozen new images to scan, because of rejigging the content at the design stage, then I have to choose sketches I want to feature as full page images for each of my chapter-header pages. It's hard to do that without having a proper overview of the content, so Quarto are about to send me a definitive version of what we have done so far.
Once the final sketches are scanned, I will at last be able to get rid of all the sketchbooks piled around the studio. I'm really looking forward to a good tidy up.
There are still a few little bits of text that need doing: extra sections that have appeared as we have made changes (it has been very much a project that you have to allow to evolve as it goes along). That won't take long though. The main job left is all the step-by-step drawings dotted through the book.
I am going to do some of them live to camera, so we can choose stills from the film to use to illustrate stages of the process. It's a wee bit scary, to be honest. I am going down to London to sort that out in a fortnight. We have 1.5 days to work on the filming and sort any photography, like taking pictures of all the elements of my sketching kit for instance.
Right. Back to it...
The weather forecast for last Sunday - SketchCrawl day - was for it to rain overnight, but be dry all day. It was raining when I got up and still raining at 9 o'clock, when I got to the station. Hmmmm...
I met Oliver, another sketcher, on the train. We both agreed it would clear up soon. Our optimism was rewarded on our arrival at Edale Station, where we also met two new members, Katie and Isabel, along with Archie, the dog. Undeterred by the low turn-out, our compact band of four set off for the hills. We got 100 yards and it started to rain.
Luckily, because we hadn't got far, a little cafe presented itself and we dived in. With huge self-control, we ordered tea, but none of the home-baked scones or flapjacks. It was still warm, so we took Archie out into the covered garden at the back, where I christened a brand new concertina book I had made the day before, by quickly painting the trees you can see above.
The sun came out, so we ventured forth once more. Guess what? Yep. It was only spitting though. We were intrepid, we didn't care! But the trouble with Edale, is that it is mostly bare hills and no matter how intrepid you are, you can't use a sketchbook in the wet. After a while though, we found a couple of twisty trees, which gave some shelter, and set up camp.
The great thing about dodgy weather is the sky. I had chosen a spot which gave us a panoramic view of the hills on either side on the valley. The light was constantly changing as huge, threatening clouds slid along the horizon. It was all very dramatic. The rain stopped again. Despite the very ominous skies that came and went, it remained dry for the rest of the morning. I painted like a demon. I love it up there.
Unfortunately, it was getting quite windy and we were all getting rather chilly. We gobbled our packed lunches, managed one last quick sketch, then headed back down. Close to the station there is a pub. It was raining again as we queued at the bar, but had stopped by the time we got our coffees, so we braved the beer garden with its lovely views. It was much warmer down in the valley.
Lucy and Isabel headed home mid afternoon, but Oliver and I were back in the groove and kept scribbling. Oliver caught the 4.30 train back to Sheffield, but by then the sun was out, so I stayed another hour and drew some houses behind the pub:
I walked up to the station for the 5.30 train, but the views from the platform were even better than the views from the pub. The train pulled in. The hills looked at me with their gorgeous end-of-day shadows...
What's a sketcher to do? I let the train go and got out my paints again. I stood on the platform for the rest of the hour, painting the one above. I had to start a new book as I had filled the forts one. I finally heading back to Sheffield on the 6.30 train.
When I got home, I laid out everything I had done and was astonished at how much I had managed:
As you can see, the largest of my concertina's fell in half - it didn't like the dampness and, more than that, didn't like the fact that I had made it at speed and so used Pritt-Stick instead of PVA for the joins (note to self).
Phew. I need a lie-down just looking at all that work!
Remember the Craftsy online-workshop I was invited to run on How to Design Children's Book Characters? Well, last month, my outline got the go-ahead (yeh!), so I have now moved onto the next stage, fine-tuning the content.
The company are extremely professional and organised, which is great, as it fills me with confidence that they will get the best out of me (and help to make it look like I know what I am talking about!). They have a huge team of people working on all aspects of the process. First of all, I was commissioned by the Acquisitions Editor, who talked me through the framework of the workshops and advised me while I put together the outline and organised it into 7 similar length lessons of approx 15 - 20 minutes each. Now I have started to go through the lesson plans in detail with a Producer.
My producer called me from Denver last week and we talked for about 45 minutes about what happens next. He asked me to devise 'homework' projects to follow each of the 7 lessons. I also have to make a list of all the materials I will need and all the materials my students will need. The biggest job though is to time myself, to make decisions about which teaching points I am going to demo live and which I am going to talk through, using existing examples of my book illustrations - I can't demo everything as there is so much to teach and so little time.
I did the homework last week and have started making preliminary decisions about what book illustrations I think I am going to need to show on-screen. Next job is to hunt them out of the archive to send to my producer. Luckily, I still have the original digital scans of pretty much everything I have ever had published.
I have also just had an email from another member of the team: the Talent Coach. they are responsible for making sure I coming across well on screen. All very interesting stuff. I am so enjoying the wild variety of my work at the moment, what with this film, the urban sketching book, the residency, the school visits and of course my next picture book with Julia Jarman, which I start in October.
What a lucky bunny I am!
I'm so pleased with how bright and funky it looks. It was such a dark and dismal room before: more like a cell than anything, so we certainly have transformed the space.
The team at Wakefield Libraries arranged an official opening day, where all the children from the two local schools who had worked on the project were invited back to see their drawings writ large.
They were all very excited. Lots of pointing and shouting 'Look, look, that's mine!' to friends. It was a bit of a Where's Wally experience, as they jostled around the space, trying to find their particular tiger, snake or screaming librarian, but I think everyone found their pieces in the end.
After the speeches from the Head of Libraries and the Friends of Castleford Library, who helped with the funding, I posed with the children for lots of photos for the press. Then we had the rest of the day for drawing.
I ran a workshop with each of the class groups in turn. When we had worked together originally, there was so much to do and so little time, there was not much opportunity for me to do more than gentle guidance, so this time I was able to spend a bit longer, showing them in detail how to use emotion and body-language in their drawings, to bring their characters alive (although, I think you'll agree, they did a pretty good job without my help!).
Everyone worked really hard, produced loads more illustrations and seemed very proud of the characters we piled up at the end of the sessions, for them to take back to school.
I ran around in the lunch hour getting these snaps. It was a very hard space to photograph, so I apologise for the dodgy quality of some of the pics, but I hope they give you a flavour of how it looks. Didn't the children do well? There are some very funny little details and nice jokes that they added, for instance, the flamingo above is holding a book called 'How to Get More Pink'.
If you want to take a look for yourself, Castleford is in Wakefield, North Yorkshire.
I am sorry for my uncharacteristic absence of late. After my last post, everything suddenly stopped here, because John got rushed to hospital and has been very poorly. He had a big operation and is now into about 3 months of recuperation, but the very good news is that we now know he is going to be fine. It's been quite a roller-coaster though.
I went back to work at the end of last week, because I was booked to spend two days drawing at Manchester University, recording the fascinating 'Atmospheres' conference for the Morgan Centre team. It's a precursor to my residency, which kicks off in October, and I really, really didn't want to miss it. Various friends and neighbours volunteered to step into my shoes at home and keep an eye on the poor old invalid, so I packed my sketching gear and hopped on a train, a little nervous, but mostly very excited. I have once before done a similar job, on that occasion for the library service, and it was good fun. My pencil finger was itching to begin!
The idea was that I should sketch as much as possible, recording the various speakers and capturing something of the atmosphere of the conference since, after all, the theme was 'atmospheres'.
Apart from the fun I had meeting the sketch-challenge, the conference itself was fascinating. It covered a huge range of sociological issues around the theme. I particularly enjoyed a paper on shared atmospheres at heavy metal concerts and the rules of audience 'moshing' (jumping up and down, crashing into one-another in an apparent frenzy). There was a paper on snobbery, another on beer festivals, one about the weather, one on taste, another on Goths... it was extremely varied and totally accessible to a layman.
Near the end, I gave a 15 minute presentation about urban sketching and then used a visualiser to show everyone the drawings I had been doing over the two days. This was one of the reasons that I was a little nervous...
Thankfully it all went fine and, as far as I could tell, everyone seemed to approve of my drawings of them. Then, straight after my presentation, I co-delivered a paper with Professor Heath, the director of the Morgan Centre, talking about the upcoming residency and what we hoped to achieve from the year.
The final key-note was the wonderful Simon Armitage, who talked on 'The Language of Where we Live' and read us some of his spellbinding poetry. When it came to questions, there was an embarressing moment: the first questioner apologised to Simon and then addressed their question to me instead! It was a good question, about the parallels between my way of recording detail through images and Simon's gathering of detail through language. It sparked some good discussion, but I did want to floor to open up at first, when all eyes, including Simon's, shot to me, brush in hand, mouth open in surprise.
And then suddenly it was all over. I decided that, since I had recorded part of my journey there, I would carry on working and record my journey home. The train was packed so I was very lucky to get a seat. I was tucked tight against the window, so it was quite a challenge, frantically scribbling impressions of the passing landscape with my concertina paper unfolding all over the place and the man next to me being terribly British and pretending it wasn't happening!
Unfortunately, extrapolating from my output at the conference, it looks like I am going to need to wrestle with another roll of watercolour paper before the residency, as I will need approximately twice as many sketchbooks as I have already made. Rats.
A big thank you to the team at the Morgan Centre for hosting a really interesting event and for looking after me so well. An even bigger thank you to Sue Heath for commissioning me to take part in such a fun project. Can't wait for the next bit...
I thought you might like to see some more of the work I have been doing out in gorgeous Derbyshire landscape.
Yes, I went back to Winnats Pass a week after my last excursion, to have another go. I started with the drawing above, warming up with good old charcoal and a skinny stick of black conte, for the finer mark-making.
It wasn't an official SketchCrawl day, but I let people know that I was going, so was joined by a handful of other sketchers, who popped in and out during the day. Nice to have the company. We were all taken by this particular view - stunning stuff!
After lunch, once familiar with the lie of the land, I tried the same view again as an experiment, using Platignum writing ink (very water soluble), lots of water sploshing and then a wee bit of watercolour. The light had changed a bit by then though and we had lost those lovely long stripes of shadow:
I was interested in keeping the view basically representational, but creating a more abstracted and expressive interpretation of the shapes than the more literal drawing at the top. I got ink everywhere though, especially since the plastic pot I'd put it in had leaked. Black fingers again.
I did a watercolour next, from slightly further into the valley. I am still not entirely happy with the watercolours and very much still learning. The Peak District is the perfect place to practise though. So many beautiful shapes:
I was looking for a different view to finish, but didn't have time to climb to the far end of the valley and look back down, like I did last time, so I scaled the left side, to higher ground. There wasn't anywhere even vaguely flat to sit though and I had my work cut out, just stopping myself from sliding back down the steep slope! My rucksack kept trying to tip over and roll back down into the valley and I was sure that at any moment my brushes, water or palette would tumble away from me.
I managed to get a painting done before any mishap, though my poor bottom was totally dead by the end:
I am still learning how the watercolours work at this scale - it's very different to using them for the smaller urban sketches I am more used to. It was the patterns in the landscape which I was excited by. For me it is all about exaggerating shapes and pulling out colours, playing with marks and textures. Perhaps my early textiles training is still in there somewhere, trying to get out!
Here's how this one looks against the reality:
John had dropped me off in the morning and then spent the day hiking around the hills in the area. He arrived back in the valley while I was half way through this last painting, at the end of the afternoon, ready to take me to the pub for a well-earned dinner.
Another lovely and very productive day.
Well, why not book into the event I am running on August 9th. It's all free, but you need to register, as we have capped it at 40 participants and it is already filling up fast. Last time I looked there were just 11 places left! Just like with a regular SketchCrawl, there will be no tuition: it's more about getting fresh inspiration by working alongside other sketchers and empowering one another to feel comfortable about drawing in public. We will be working our way around the park, drawing and painting together, with a couple of 1 hour sketch-stops both before and after lunch, hopefully all in the sunshine.
Just grab a sketchbook and whatever materials you like using and come along. Don't forget to book your place first though.
If you want to learn more about either SketchCrawling, or get a preview of the YSP, take a look at this lovely little film we made on one of our previous visits:
I have been more or less padlocked to the computer during the week, which is really frustrating on sunny days. So, when I saw a forecast for particularly lovely weather, I decided to sneak a day off to go out sketching in the landscape. I knew exactly where I wanted to go:
Well wouldn't you? Isn't this an amazing photo by the way? The sky doesn't look real, does it?
John and I had already hiked through Winnats Pass, in Derbyshire, one Saturday afternoon recently. It was windy and cold that day, but the light and the shapes were so extraordinary, I had to sit down on the spot and do a quick sketch:
This time though, I could relax and luxuriate in the sunshine. John dropped me off and went on a long walk while I settled down to try and capture the fabulous sharp shadows. I took A3 sketchbooks, because it's such a massive landscape. It's very unusual too, because the really rugged crags are up close on both sides, giving you the ability to see detail and grandeur all at once.
This is my favourite from the day I think. I tried all different media, but compressed charcoal seemed to really get across the contrasts:
I tried watercolour, but couldn't seem to get the results I wanted. I am really still learning how to use paint, whereas I am totally comfortable when I am drawing. This is my first attempt. It started out quite interesting, but got a bit flat as I worked into it:
I tried again. The second one has kept more spontaneity, but still doesn't do interesting enough things or properly exploit the effects of the watercolour:
I did various other sketches in charcoal, getting black ingrained into my fingers and fingernails...
...but I also tried experimenting with watercolour pencil to add definition to the paint and combine the different sorts of mark-making:
I tried using my Sailor pen, but the line variation which I love so much is not as powerful at A3, so it couldn't hold the page without colour, which definitely helped:
It was a really enjoyable day. Even when things weren't going quite right, it was impossible to get grumpy! It is such a magical place, I will have to go back again. I've really only scratched the surface.
Last week, my publisher sent another big batch of draft spreads through for my Sketching People book. It's so exciting to see it coming together. It has been a very interesting learning process. It's so different to writing a picture book. Okay, there are an awful lot more words, of course, but that's not really what I mean. It's the process which is new. Organising all my ideas was probably the biggest challenge and that is behind me now. All the text has been created to fit within specific chapters, each of which is subdivided into spreads - remember the Flat Plan? I have never worked in that way before and it has been interesting to watch how the plan has evolved as we've gone along. We are onto our 4th Flat Plan now. About half of my text was generated by that process of organising my ideas, the rest revolves around specific sketches, selected from my archive of sketchbooks or from guest artists, chosen to help underline particular teaching points in the plan. Those decisions have been mine, but made with the advise and guidance of the editorial team at Quarto. As with any publishing project, it is far more of a team effort than it appears from the outside.
The bit where the rest of the team have really come into their own though, is with the design. I have written my text and chosen my sketches, spread by spread, concentrating on informative content, rather than how it will look. Now all that has to be organised visually, placed on the page in a way which is both clear and (hopefully) gorgeous to look at.
The sketches in these layouts are still using mostly my quickie photos by the way, which is why they are horribly grey. The gleamy, high res scans will be dropped in next, which will look better still:
A batch of initial layouts, for a small section of the book, came through back in March, but my team at Quarto are working on many more books at once than I am used to with picture books, so there has been quite a long gap, where I have been waiting my turn. Now though, things are really motoring.
This new batch is about a third of the book. I went through them last week, adding notations for changes, then we talked it all through on the phone.
You can see from the layout above, that sometimes there are greyed-out areas, where images are to be dropped it later. That's because I have yet to do the filmed sections. Yes... filmed! It's all a tad daunting: I will be filmed in action, then stills will be taken from the film, to use as step-by-step illustrations, in sections like the Colour Before Line step by step I showed you a while ago. Sometimes that's the only way to create something in stages: as with the section above, which is about drawing motion.
Anyway, still some bits to work on as a result of these layouts, so better get on.
One of the very pleasing by-products of the drudgery of all the scanning I have to do at the moment, is that I am getting to look back over all my favourite sketches of past years - well, the ones of people anyway. It's been an interesting journey. Every image is imbued with memories. Some are a record of an important or touching occasion, like the day I came across this little girl and her brother fishing for their dinner in Kerala and ended up in their home, singing carols with their family:
Some are interesting because I tend not to work in the same techniques any more. Some are just old favourites that make me feel good about myself. It's never a bad thing to look back at work you are proud of: it's great for the confidence, which is in turn good for feeding back into new creativity.
It's rather ironic but, since I have been working on this book, I seem to have been drawing people far less. I don't know if you have noticed, but I have got rather into architecture this last year and have been far less prolific on train journeys than I was in 2013/14. I'm not sure why. Anyway, looking back through the archive has inspired me to get back to it.
I need to get some people-practise in to be honest. I have a 2-day job coming up next month, as Artist-in-Residence at a conference, at Manchester University. There'll be nothing but people to draw and I have volunteered to do a short presentation of my work at the end, to show the delegates what I have been up to. No pressure...
It's a good job that I am a show-off!
No, I don't mean John (who is actually getting less furry every year, though don't tell him I said that), but Maddy, my friend's cat. We have been 'babysitting' her for years, including on the occasion of my friend's honeymoon, when Maddy nearly plunged to her death by trying to jump out of the velux in the studio. I only just grabbed her back legs in time.
These days she is a very old lady, so is far less trouble. She is not above stealing my chair as soon as I get up to make a cuppa though:
Even though she just sleeps all day, it's kind of nice to have her in the room with me. I do miss having an animal, but John and I are too keen on gadding about, so it wouldn't be fair.
Our friends all know we are a soft touch with pets though, so don't need much persuading to act as kennels. One friend got stuck in temporary accommodation some years back, so we had her two cats for months. That turned into quite a challenge: poor Clyde expressed his disorientation in pee, on almost every carpet in the house. I expressed my feelings about this in an illustration:
We did have our own cat once. We stole Smudge from a neighbour. Well, not quite literally, but she came into our house more and more, so we put a collar on her with a message, asking who owned her. The man round the corner turned out to be allergic to cats (Smudge had been his wife's, who had moved to Ireland), so he was very pleased to officially hand Smudge over.
Unfortunately she wasn't an ideal addition to the studio. She once nearly ruined one of my pastel illustrations, by jumping up on my desk. I think Maddy's days of leaping across the room are behind her, so that's reassuring.
I can't believe that I have lived in Sheffield for so many years and yet never before visited Doncaster, which is just half an hour away on the train.
I discovered by chance that there was a lovely Minster there, so did a quick search to see what else there was to draw. That's how I found out about the gorgeous Corn Exchange, which made my mind up to go there, for the next meeting of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire.
That was last Saturday and, at last, we had a lovely day with NO RAIN - hurrah! It was so relaxing, sitting on the grass, peacefully drawing the Minster in the sunshine. It was very gnarly, with loads of gargoyles and a fabulous rose window. I intended to do various sketches, inside and out, but got very into one complex drawing, so ended up spending the entire morning on just that. I used my Koh-i-Noor 'Magic' pencil to get the multi-coloured line, which gives a softer finish than black and doesn't overpower the subtlety of watercolour:
I'd made yet another concertina book before the visit (I can't use the 35 I made recently, as they are to be saved for my residency). The concertina format was perfect, because it could expand with me as I worked my way up the building. I like to draw big enough to explore the nooks and crannies, so would never have been able to fit it in otherwise.
We had lunch at The Red Lion, which looked from the outside like a little, traditional pub, but unfolded like a tardis once you got inside. Wetherspoons had recently spent millions on it. The indoor restaurant was a bit busy, but there was a lovely courtyard garden: a real suntrap. We pulled 4 tables together and spent a very enjoyable hour chatting, eating and, of course, doing quick sketches of one another. This is me, between two newbies sketchcrawlers, Richard and Alec, sketched by another first-timer, Steve Beadle:
We had about 6 new members this time, so there was loads to talk about. As we were leaving, one of our first-timers, from Doncaster, pointed out two enormous paintings on the wall of the restaurant, one of Doncaster Market and another of the race course. He had been commissioned to do them by Wetherspoons. We were all suitably impressed!
The Corn Exchange had the sun behind it. I could tell that squinting at it all afternoon would give me a headache, so I wandered around the adjacent market for a while, looking for other things to sketch. It was no good though - the grandiose building pulled me back.
Again, I got caught up and so spent all my time on the one drawing and never even got to see the inside. The concertina did its work again: this time expanding sideways. The building was huge (I had to work really hard to make myself fit it into the height of the book). There was a lot of fiddly detail, so I worked in pen this time, tinting it right at the end.
Here's a photo I remembered to take (for once) of some of the group in action:
We went back to The Red Lion for the sharing. There was some amazing work done - really inspiring stuff. I always enjoy nosying through people's sketchbooks. Having so many new members gave me plenty to look at and there was lots of 'wow'ing.
It was quite late by the time we started for home. I ended up on the train by myself, and was lucky enough to have a 'snoozer' opposite, so got out my rainbow pencil again. I showed it to him as I got off.
I had a really smashing day and I met some lovely people. I've got to go back some time though, and have another go at some of the other views of that Minster.
You are probably wondering why I haven't posted to tell you about how it all went at Castleford Library, since I said back at the beginning of the month that the installation was imminent. Well, there was some major problem with the person who was booked to do the installation (remember, the mural has been printed onto a wallpaper, which needs sticking up around the room). He just disappeared off the radar for a while, so it was all a bit concerning.
Anyway, whatever it was all about, the library has told me that things are now back on track and we have a new installation slot of June 3rd - 5th. Phew.
We also now have a date booked for the Grand Opening Ceremony: June 26th (incorporating a comfortable buffer-time from installation, just in case!). We will be inviting all the children who worked on the mural drawings to come back to the library and see the result. There will be local dignitaries, funding bodies, the press and, of course, Yours Truly. I am going to be running a couple of short workshops for the children too, to help to really make the day memorable for them, like we did last time:
Can't wait to see it!
Yes, it's definitely a bit of a monster, scanning all the artwork which I have selected from my archive of sketchbooks. I haven't counted how many individual sketches I have picked out to go into my urban sketching people book, but it's quite enough to keep John and I busy.
Originally, we had thought that John would do all the scanning for me, but I am working on the computer so much at the moment that he's having trouble getting sufficient time on the scanner.
So we tried a bit of teamwork this week, which really speeded things up. I found the low res version of each of the images on the computer, which was tagged with a reference number to remind me which sketchbook it was in, then John ferreted through the sketchbook piles to find the right book...
...then he flicked through the book to find the sketch. We had marked the possibles with post-its right back at the beginning of the project, so that helped too:
John held the sketchbook down flat on the scanner bed for me, while I set the scan parameters, then saved and filed the final file, while he was trying to find the next one in the sketchbook piles. All very dull, but it's got to be done (and over 400 times...).
Then of course, I still had to spend a while on each of the images later, correcting the tonal balance and touching up anomalies, like unwanted marks which had transferred from the opposite page or other sketches showing through from the reverse. I also have to get rid of unwanted text - my publisher is keen to remove any text that is not essential, so it doesn't create problems with co-editions.
We've made a fair old hole in the job now and I feel much better for it. I was originally going to wait until all the layouts were back, so I would know for certain that all the sketches I have chosen are in fact going into the book. It's possible that, by doing the scanning early, we have scanned some artwork unnecessarily, but I was getting a bit concerned, as time is passing and the deadline is looming. It's one of those tasks - very hard to know if you've allowed enough time for it, because it's impossible to judge how long you'll need. At least this way, hopefully I won't get caught out!
I have now officially finished the text of the new book. Hurrah!
Judging on the response to what I have been submitting over the last 6 months, we probably won't be changing the text that much - more tweaks that re-writes I should think - but that doesn't mean I'm done. There will still be a little jiggery-pokery with my image choices, once the layouts have all been designed, and there's also some new artwork to create specifically for the book (like the 'colour before line' step-by-step I did for the original presentation for the US co-edition).
The other big job that's left to do is the scanning. So far, we have been working with low-res images: either the photos I took of my tagged sketchbooks, or low-res scans lifted from the website. All those images now have to be located in the original sketchbooks and scanned at 300ppi, ready for print. John is helping with that, but I still have to go through all the scans individually, tweaking things, as my scanner picks up a lot of 'background noise' like paper texture and sketches coming through from the other side, much worse than you see with the eye. Unfortunately there's another issue too. In 2010 I was rather into digitally tinting my pencil sketches, like this one of my new shoes (a reward after the first op I had on my poor feet). This means that there is another job for some of the scans from that period: because I was only playing, not consciously creating 'artwork', I only tinted the low-res scans I'd made for my website. Now that I want to feature some of those images in the book, I am having to create the coloured versions all over again.
This image is going into the 'drawing feet' section, because of the way the shoes are sculpted through shadow and highlights. Above is the new high-res scan of the original sketch, with a not very white background.
Once I had played with it in 'Levels' in Photoshop, it looked better. I moved the date across to the right a bit while I was at it, so it would better balance against the text (even though I suspect that the publisher will crop the text off this one):
Better. But the line-work in the old, tinted version was beefed up a bit and given a slightly blue tint, to help it to hold its own better against the colour, so I altered my new scan the same way (Photoshop is wonderful - how on earth would we have done something like that before?):
Then I painted the colours on a layer beneath the line work. The result was the sketch at the top. It was quite therapeutic actually - a nice bit of colouring in, with guaranteed success, so no brain power needed.
Sadly, those lovely red shoes have now bitten the dust. I did very recently buy myself another pair of bright red shoes though, so all is well.
Fans of the little videos John and I occasionally make for my YouTube channel, will be interested to hear of my latest venture. I confess, I am rather excited myself.
A few Urban Sketchers friends of mine, including the truly outstanding Paul Heaston, and Marc Holmes, have recently signed up to run on-line workshops for a company called Craftsy. Paul and Marc's lessons are excellent, as you would imagine (but if you want to sign up for them, do it via the artists' own websites, as that way they get more commission).
Craftsy classes are not just in urban sketching though: there are all sorts of things you can learn, including children's book illustration... See where this is going?
Yes, that's right - they have invited me to do a class on illustrating picture books, concentrating specifically on character design and development. Now, I really enjoyed making our studio-based films, but this is the real thing: the film will be shot over a 3 day period in a proper, real-life, film studio. And not just that... it's in the USA! Okay, so now you know why I am excited.
I have been stealing time where I can over the last week or so, to write down everything I can think of on character creation. It helps that I do a lot of illustration workshops in schools on this theme, as it can be hard sometimes, trying to remember the stuff that you know really well. My next job is to collate these ideas into Craftsy's specific lesson-plan structure.
Once that's done and has got the OK, I will work with a Content Editor to talk further about the specifics of how we turn those learning points into a filmed workshop (which specific characters I will draw as demos, what practical assignments I will set etc). When that's sorted out, I am assigned a Producer to work with, fine-tuning various practical elements of the project and the logistics of what needs to happen when. Apparently, we'll even be discussing my wardrobe (new dress needed..?)
Then comes the exciting bit: Craftsy are going to fly me out to where they are based, in Denver. I'm booked into the film studio for September 9th - 11th. Another adventure! I am doing rather well on that front just lately.
It's early stages and nothing much will happen for a while, as I have my other commitments to work on first, mainly my Urban Sketching People book, but I'll keep you posted (of course). Once the filming is done, there will be about 6 weeks of post-production editing before it's released. If all goes to plan, it sounds like we should have it ready to go live around the middle to end of October. Watch this space!
The postman delivered another parcel this week. It's the German co-edition of Jungle Grumble:
It's always fun to get copies of foreign co-editions of my picture books. I especially enjoy it when I get German ones, as I did German A level at school, many, many moons ago.
It got very rusty of course so, in the days when I used to torture myself at the gym, I used to work my way, painfully slowly, through German translations of trashy novels, while I was puffing away on the exercise bike - much easier vocabulary than more worthy literature. People used to laugh at me, because I had to hold the book in one hand and a pocket dictionary in the other!
After that, I decided to re-do a German GCSE, just for fun, as an evening class, because I was OK reading off the page, but absolutely rubbish at any kind of conversation - which is after all, the point of a language. I really enjoyed myself and was a real swot. A little group of us used to get together in-between classes and test each other. I got an A* and was very pleased with myself.
Anyway, enough of this rambling and back to Jungle Grumble. The fact that I can read the text (more or less) is interesting, because things are not always direct translations. The title for instance is no longer Jungle Grumble but 'The Hippo Wishes He was a Bird'.
It's great news that the 2014 German edition of 5000 copies has already sold out: the copy my publisher has just sent me is from a 2015 reprint - they have done another 4000. Hurrah!
I also just found out that Jungle Grumble has now got a Chinese co-edition. I had Chinese editions of Stinky! and Lark in the Ark too. I love the ones with different alphabetic styles. I've had lots of Korean ones and Big Bad Wolf is Good was published in Arabic, which is great for taking into schools, because it runs in the opposite direction to a UK book, something I didn't know until I got my copy.
It was a funny old week, last week. Despite having lots on, I ended up doing almost as much sketching as working.
It started last Saturday, with an Urban Sketchers Yorkshire outing, because it was the 47th Worldwide SketchCrawl Day. We spent the morning in one of my favourite places: the old General Cemetery. It's stuffed with the massive, crumbling tombs of the steel magnates and other wealthy types from the last 200 years, but it's also a veritable nature reserve and very beautiful, with lots of mature trees and wild flowers.
Luckily I had just about finished the painting above when it started to rain. We sheltered for a bit in the porch of the old church, then someone suggested a cup of coffee. We took a vote for what to do...
The local Wetherspoons proved the perfect venue for an early lunch, as there was space for about 20 of us to pull tables together. Irritatingly, the sunshine poured through the windows all the time we were in there and promptly dipped behind a cloud as soon as we left. Undeterred, we headed for venue no 2: the old Picture Palace on London Road, now a Sainsbury's:
We managed about 45 minutes I think, before it started spitting. We hovered, but it got worse. In the end we abandoned ship and walked to a local pub, the Cremorne. I put the colour into my sketch from memory...
...and then drew out of the pub window. I was fascinated by the density of the signage on the shop-fronts opposite. As I was working in the concertina book I made
, I ran my 3 sketches from the day together, letting the view of the shops help join the other two together:
I think I'd better tell you about my other two sketch-outings next time as, after all that time off, I really do have to get on with some work!
That doesn't mean I am taking my paints and brushes to Castleford. No, just like with the one in Wakefield Library, I designed and created the artwork digitally, rather than painting onto the actual walls, which would have been way too disruptive for the library and taken me far longer.
This technique has proved a great idea (though I say so myself). It worked really well last time anyway. My design has already been printed onto rolls of special, heavy-duty wallpaper, which is then going to be pasted onto the walls of the library. Clever eh? This was the taken during the installation of the last one, a couple of years ago (goodness - it seems like yesterday):
Of course, this time things are much, much more complicated. the Wakefield mural was very big, but it was one panel, running the length of a single wall:
This time, the illustrations wrap around all four walls, weaving around various features and bits of furniture as they go. The design stretches from the ceiling right down to the floor. Which was great fun for me, but is going to be a bit of a nightmare for the installers. Thanks goodness I don't have to do that job...
The problems will come if the corners of the room and the ceiling joins are not exactly square. Anyone who has done any wallpapering at home will know what I mean. As the paper turns the corner, any anomalies will change the angle of things and could make the illustrations for the adjacent wall travel up over the ceiling! When you are wallpapering round the corner with a normal, patterned wallpaper, you stop at the corner to create an overlap, levelling things up anew, to make the paper continue straight. But overlaps and changes of angle could mean tigers with lumps missing, headless librarians and all sorts - Aaaargggggggh!
It is an old building, so you can see why, as well as being excited, I am a little anxious, and why I am very, very, very glad that a professional is doing the installation, not me!
I have asked the librarians to see if they can get photos of things in progress, which I will of course share with you, my gentle readers. There's going to be a big opening event at the beginning of June anyway, so there will be lots more photos then.
Sheffield's Crucible Theatre is home to the World Snooker Championships. Now, the partner of one of my sketch-buddies, who lives across the Pennines in Manchester, is potty about snooker. He had a ticket to come and watch it, so my friend decided to take the train to Sheffield with him, but to spend the day sketching instead.
Which is how come I ended up taking the day off work (don't tell...)
We met up with 3 other sketchers, who'd also escaped for the day, and had a lovely time, pootling about the city centre, sketching whatever took our fancy. We had fun and games with the weather again though: I left the house in a hail storm! Then we had a couple of hours of alternate brilliant sunshine and heavy showers.
We sheltered under an overhang for the sketch above, but we were freezing by the time we were done. There was quite a lot of interest from passers-by. I know some people find it annoying when people stop to talk, but I rather like it. It's the random connections with complete strangers that I enjoy.
We needed to warm up, so spotted a wine bar with really big windows upstairs and, because it was on a corner, it afforded great views. Unfortunately, we discovered the upstairs area of the bar was closed. When we looked all forlorn and explained what we'd wanted to do, the waiters let us in anyway. They even brought us up coffee and muffins while we worked - how nice is that?
Because we had the place to ourselves, I got down onto the floor, sitting virtually under a table to get the best view of the building above. It's been turned into another wine bar / restaurant now, but I fell for the typography craved into the stone, from the days when it belonged to Sheffield Water Works.
After lunch, we decided to stay indoors and keep warm, so went into the Winter Gardens and bought yet more coffee, so we could sit at the cafe's tables:
My friend from Manchester drew the greenery...
...but I fancied having a go at the view out of the windows again. I seem to be rather into architecture at the moment. Also, given the snooker was on, I thought I ought to take the opportunity to sketch the Crucible Theatre, where it all happens:
We still had over an hour left before the snooker turned out, so we girded our loins and braved the outdoors. We found a sunny spot, sitting on a grassy mound (just to the left of the view above), opposite where a big screen was streaming the snooker from inside the theatre. I drew this man who was watching the play. The view behind him was rather boring, but at least the cast shadow added a bit of interest:
And then it was time for my friend's train home to Manchester, so we all said our goodbyes.
What a lovely chilled and very sociable day. It was still only day number two of my three sketching days last week though. I'll tell you about my visitor from Paris next time.
One of the lovely things about the Urban Sketchers group is that we are like a family. If you are travelling, you can always look up any sketchers in the area and they will happily meet up with you for a bit of sketchcrawling.
Yves Damin is a fabulous sketcher. He lives in Paris, but has relatives in Sheffield. Which means that we have twice been lucky enough to have a visit from him. He came this time last year, so Urban Sketchers Yorkshire got together to spend a day sketching with him in Sheffield City Centre. I was absolutely delighted when he told me that he was coming back this year.
We met up with half a dozen other members of Usk Yorkshire after lunch on a Friday afternoon and sketched into the early evening. We started local to me at Nether Edge crossroads, drawing the shops. This is the sketch Yves did. He has really captured the feel of Nether Edge:
I got a bit cross with mine. I ploughed straight in with paint, the way I do, with no planning, which was a bit unwise with such a complex view, so the drawing underpinning the sketch doesn't bear close inspection. It's not quite as bad in hindsight as I thought at the time (often the way).
Another sketcher who did a far better job of Nether Edge than me was my friend Sian Hughes, whose work is just gorgeous:
Next, we went to the Abbeydale Picture House: once a grand cinema, music hall and restaurant, now sadly out of action. It's been derelict for years, but is still beautiful. It's pretty enormous too, so this is just a tiny section:
Most people went closer to draw details, but I sat on the opposite side of the road with Yves and Justine. Justine is a fellow illustrator, who has lived round the corner to me for years, but neither of us knew until she came on Saturday's sketchcrawl - I love the way sketchcrawling has linked me up with so many like-minded people from my area (and well beyond).
We were sitting outside a barber's shop which had a big front window, so the cutters and their customers were watching us in action. The lovely sketch on the wall is the one Yves did - he preferred the view down the street to the Picture House.
It was a bit cold, so most people headed home at that point, but the three of us kept going. We wandered about for ages, looking for a cafe with a window so we could sketch from indoors, but everywhere was closed, as it was getting late. Eventually, we found a fish and chip shop who let us sit in their window. This was the view:
It was only when I was half way though the drawing that I realised that, by pure coincidence, I was sketching the very barber's shop where we had been sitting earlier:
As I finished off, I glanced at my watch and discovered to my horror that it had somehow become 7pm. I was going out to a dance at 8.00 (I still do my beloved jiving), so had one hour to get home, make and eat some dinner and change into my glad-rags! Yves took this quick photo and I was in such a rush that forgot to take one of him (so sorry Yves - what a rude host!).
Despite the slightly undignified scurry at the end, it was a really nice afternoon. Yves is such a lovely person as well as being a super-talented sketcher and his visit was a great excuse to get out in my local area with a sketchbook (I almost always end up sketching elsewhere).
Needless to say, the glad-rags and the dance took preference over the dinner: that's what bananas are for :-D
View Next 25 Posts
I have come up with a new idea that I thought I'd share with you...
At the back of my mind, I am preparing for my up-coming residency with The Morgan Centre in Manchester, thinking about the art materials I will need and how to make things run as smoothly as possible. I have tried out my new concertina sketchbook design and am satisfied that will work well. There is one drawback to concertinas though - in order to make one page flow into another, you often need to open 3 pages at once, which means the paper is wider than the book and you have nothing to rest on. It can all get a bit cack-handed!
While I was thinking about this, I got a tip from another sketcher about water pots, which I thought might improve upon my hairspray-lid system (which does impinge upon my palette's mixing space). My friend suggested using the little, metal clip-on container that oil painters use for their linseed oil and white spirit. Sounded good, so I bought one. Trouble was, when I tried it out, there was no excess on my sketchbook to clip them to.
As it happens, these two problems have a common solution. I cut up one of those plastic folders you buy in stationers and created a sheet of plastic just over an inch taller than my concertina book and about half as wide again. This provides somewhere to clip the water-containers, while also providing an extended back-board to rest on:
The plastic is really light and flexible, so won't be a nuisance to carry around, but with the aid of the sketchbook cover, it is still stiff enough to support the water. I'll be able to tuck the plastic into my bag with my sketchbook and clip it on when I am working:
I've yet to give it a test-run, but it feels really comfortable. As you can see, the plastic doesn't extend quite as wide as 3 sections of paper, but doesn't really need to - that width is enough, because the 140lb watercolour paper is sufficiently stiff to support itself for the little bit of overhang. I didn't want to create something that would be too big and awkward to fit in my bag.