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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. More Painting and Drawing - In My Element!


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.  

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2. SketchCrawl Event at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park



Do you fancy doing a bit of sketching with me in the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park


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:


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3. An Amazing Day: Plein-Air in Winnats Pass


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.


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4. Layouts: the Designs for my Book Have Arrived!


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.

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5. Rediscovering the Archive


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! 

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6. My Furry Companion is Back!


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.

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7. SketchCrawling in Doncaster: Great Architecture!


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.

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8. Mural Installation ...Problems!


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!

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9. High-Res Scanning - Grappling a Monster


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!

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10. Recreating Digitally Tinted Sketches


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.

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11. A New Invention: Improving My Sketchbook


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.

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12. Sketch Day No.3: My Visitor from Paris



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


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13. Sketch-Day No 2: a Visitor from Manchester



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.

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14. The Mural is Being Installed This Week!


I just heard the really exciting news that my new mural in Castleford Library is going up on the walls this week! 


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. 

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15. A Bumper Urban Sketching Week

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!

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16. Learning to Read German...


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.

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17. A New Challenge: On-Line, Illustration Workshop


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!



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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23.


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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24. 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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25. 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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