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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. Exhibition: a Year in Sketchbooks

What a varied and interesting year I am having! Yesterday, I went to visit a gallery called Z-arts in central Manchester, where I am having an exhibition in the summer. It is the culmination of my year as Artist-in-Residence at the Morgan Centre. The timing couldn't be better: the end of my residency coincides with the 7th International Urban Sketchers Symposium which, of all possible cities of the world, this year happens to be held in... yep, Manchester. Perfect. 

The funding is still to be finalised, but we are quietly confident and so have booked the space. It is a lovely big area, divided into two sections plus a screening room. Ignore the tables and chairs in the photos - there were just clearing up from an event. 

I hope to have created about 50 pieces of artwork by the end of my residency, so there should be no shortage of material. 

Any regular readers to the blog will know that each piece is created as a concertina sketchbook, recording some element of the life of the students and academics at the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives. The plan is to pick a selection of these sketchbooks to exhibit, and also to blow up details and have them printed on huge AO boards, as well as a few big photos, to show the process. 

The gallery has an outside covered-balcony area too, which will be perfect for a July private view:

We have been wondering how best to mount my artwork. Each piece of my sketchbook artwork is 2 metres long, which is not something you want to glaze. I originally envisaged them opened out and flattened to the wall, but now it seems a shame to entirely flatten them out - I'd like to keep some sense of how they were created. 

I researched different possibilities and sought lots of advice. In the end, I found a really low-tech solution. Very cheap, but extremely effective - using tiny clips:

The idea is the have the clips top and bottom, running along the length of the book, nipping the artwork to the wall at the sketchbook creases. I pressed my handy technician into service and we tested the system in the studio:

We needed to be certain it would work and also that the clips would stay up. It looks great and has been up on the wall for 2 weeks now, with so sign of problems - success!

The show will go up at the very end of July, with an opening event on the evening of Friday July 29th. Come along!

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2. Recording How we Move Through Familiar Spaces

I have done lots and lots of drawings of people for my residency. There are, of course, no end of meetings to document. I am in my element there, but I have been trying to think of ways to make sure the sketchbooks don't look too samey.

I am interested in the way we move through familiar spaces. After a while, a home or a workplace can become so commonplace for us, that we no longer really notice it. I thought it might be fun to get people to re-engage with the intimate elements of the building they work in and to show the spaces through an outsider's eyes. 

I began this book back on December 1st and have been adding to it here and there, when I have spare pockets of time. I wanted to focus in, so I began with the big revolving doors which everyone has to go through every single day. To give this context, you can see the relevant section of the university map and the local Oxford Road station most people use.

When you get inside the doors, you are faced with two alternatives: stairs or lifts. I had to borrow a chair and sit in the middle of the foyer to do these two sketches, which was great, as lots of people stopped to talk to me in their way in and out of the building. Someone bought me a coffee. 

I needed to include the little coffee shop beside the lifts, as stopping off there, to pick up a drink or something to eat, is an important part of many people's journey to their work area. I got into conversation with the lovely Elenor who mans the cafe every day. She was delighted to be featured and I got another free coffee. Excellent.

I made my way up to the 3rd floor, where the Morgan Centre people are based. There is a loo just behind the lifts, another important feature. I toyed with drawing inside, but decided to be more discrete. The area outside reception is where students wait to be met for tutorials. This one looks a bit nervous I think. The water-cooler seemed a key feature too, as it's well-used.

I really zoomed in next, on the area in the centre of the reception drawing, to capture Martine, the Sociology receptionist, who is really friendly and much loved. Her pink hair is a great visual indicator of her radiant personality. I just caught her Christmas trimmings in time, before they came down at the end of term.

There is a bookswap shelf just inside the security doors. I borrowed Gone Girl over the Christmas holidays - a great page-turner. I was interested in the nature of the books, which wasn't quite what I expected. I simply had to record the juxtaposition of Feminist Review and Victoria Holt, as it was too perfect!

Once you get inside properly, the space is mainly divided between offices, like the one with the pink window where Professor Heath is based, and open-plan work areas. The desks there are laid out in a way I thought could best be captured with a aerial, plan view. 

And then I was at the end of my book. 

I have just begun a new book with a conventional drawing of the open-plan space. In the meantime, this Wednesday we are having the next workshop, where I will be showing the academics more techniques to try in their own sketchbooks. We will be getting out the watercolours again this time. I will also get to see how they got on with following up on December's workshop, where we had fun with collage. Watch this space!

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3. Sketching People: My Book is Here!

The advance copies of my urban sketching book just arrived - hurrah! They should have been here a couple of weeks earlier it turns out, but they went astray in the mail and the publisher didn't realise I hadn't had them. 

It's been a bit fraught with technical hitches to be honest because, when they resent my package this week, someone put in the American edition and one by a Singapore publisher (below), but left out the UK one (above). Never mind - they look gorgeous and glossy and I am very pleased. The contents on the inside of the different editions are more or less the same, it's just odd words and grammatical variations - it's mainly the covers which look different.

It's lovely to see how all the content looks, in it's proper form. I spent so long putting it all together and now here it is, looking like a real book! 

I thought I'd take some snaps to give you a sneak preview, though you probably have a pretty good idea by now, since I've talked about it in progress often enough (hit the Sketching People label on the right, if you're interested). 

There a section which looks at art materials, with a specific eye on how you choose tools which are appropriate to the problems of drawing people out on location:

I look at how you choose your subject, which is hugely important. There are some locations and activities which are virtually impossible, but plenty of others which make things a lot easier for you, especially if you are cutting your teeth:

Then there are the different possible angles to tackle. I would rarely advise drawing people front-on. It's much more interesting and far easier on the whole, to tackle them in profile or in three-quarter view, particularly when you are concentrating on faces:

I write a fair bit on techniques to deal with the fact that people move about a lot, which is of course one of the main things which makes them so tricky. I can't stress enough the benefits of trying contour drawing, both for warming up your arm and eye and for tackling your subject as swiftly as possible:

Plus another technique, handy particularly if you are drawing groups of people or people passing by, is using composites - sketches made up of a little of one person and a bit of another, with maybe the head of someone else again!

There is a lot more too, of course. I tried to think of everything I know. It's hard when you have been doing something for so very many years. It all becomes second-nature. Writing the book has been really interesting, because it has helped to make me analyse what I know. Which has actually really helped for when I am teaching workshops, like the ones I am doing at the moment for the Morgan Centre as part of my Artist-in-Residence year, and of course the work I do with Urban Sketchers.

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4. Sketching Live Music in Cafe#9

On Friday night, John and I went to a wonderfully intimate evening of music at Cafe#9 in Sheffield. You can just spot us at the back. The photo was taken through the goldfish tank above the piano, hence the ghostly floating fish

I was with friends, so I didn't spent the whole evening sketching, but I couldn't resist whipping my book out for a quick spurt, when the totally brilliant Goat Roper Rodeo Band did their set. They describe their music as 'cosmic country blues' - great harmonies but also very lively stuff, which made them very tricky to draw, as they were jumping around most of the time. 

I used watercolour and white chalk in a Strathmore tinted sketchbook, to try and capture the flavour and movement:

Cafe#9 is a favourite place of ours, both for just hanging out and for its music nights. Because the place can only take about 25 people, there is a unique atmosphere. It's like the artists are performing in your sitting room. 

In fact, there is an occasional event there called Gig in Me Lounge, which originally started with a bunch of friends playing for each other in their lounge but, in recent times, they have progressed to using Cafe#9. These two sketches were done for the last Gig in Me Lounge evening.

Whoever is playing at the cafe, the music is always really good and there is always the same relaxed, informal atmosphere. We are so lucky to have it just round the corner. I only have to walk 5 minutes to get there - the poor Goat Roper Rodeo Band had to drive all the way from Wales to play for me!

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5. SketchCrawl, with an Unexpected Treat to Finish...

Last Saturday, Urban Sketchers Yorkshire had their January SketchCrawl. I have been a bit busy lately, so I thought I would do an easy one and get people together for a coffee-house crawl, always nice and cosy at this time of year. 

There is a particular stretch of road not far from me, with loads of little places but, as usual, I didn't know how many would turn up, so we met in a big Wetherspoons nearby first. Good job we did, as over 30 people showed up! 

We filled one whole section - pretty much everyone you can see above is a sketcher. It's a good place to draw, as the glass walls give easy views out all round. I was doing a lot of meeting and greeting, as about half a dozen new members arrived too, which meant not much time for sketching, but I managed this one painting. The highlights are white chalk: 

We decided to split into smaller groups when we got to the smaller coffee-shops, although we were lucky with timing and about half the group fitted into The Rude Shipyard, again, more or less filling the place on both floors. 

They too have great window views. They also do AMAZING food, so I spent half my time gorging not sketching. Actually, I spent at least half the remaining time chatting, so I went for a quick watercolour impression of the street outside: 

We were intending to work our way down the Abbeydale Road, popping into various cafes, fitting in where we could, but something rather exciting came up instead. It turns out that one of our members knows the man who has taken on the considerable challenge of renovating the old Abbeydale Picture House, a huge, badly decaying cinema from 1922. It was once a very grand place, the largest in Sheffield, with a ballroom and a billiard hall inside as well. I painted it last year, but from the outside: 

It's been closed to the public since 1975, when it went rather down in the world and was used as an office furniture showroom. Things got worse though, and it was boarded up in 1991. 

Anyway, a quick phone call and we suddenly had permission to go and draw inside for the rest of the afternoon. It is in a bad state, but the original splendour is still there, clinging on to the crumbling walls. We spread out all over the cinema, with some people up on the balcony, with great views down. 

It was hard to know where to start, so I just sat in front of the screen and painted the view back across the stalls. I loved the time-scourged glamour. 

It was slightly spooky. It was also freezing cold. I think everyone would have liked to stay longer, but our fingers were giving up the ghost, so we walked a bit further down the road to the Broadfield pub, where we warmed up while sharing the work. There were still so many of us that we had to sit at two separate tables. 

These are just some of the sketchbooks from the day:

I wonder if the brilliant turn-out was a result of all those New Year resolutions. If so, that's great - it was lovely to see new faces and to re-meet some people who'd not been for a good while. Come again next time everyone! Not sure what we are doing yet, but the date is Feb 13th, so mark it in your diary and join our Facebook group to get updates. It's all free!

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6. Yeehah - I am at 99%!

Since my Craftsy masterclass launched on Oct 19th, I have had an amazing 1161 people sign up! This is great news, not just because it is brilliant to know that it is obviously hitting the spot, but also because Craftsy classes are paid very much like picture books - you get an advance and then royalties. 

For those who don't know how an advance works, it is a payment to help cover the time the artist spends in development and production. It's better than a flat fee though, because it is an advance on royalties that the company expects you will be able to earn, which means that, if sales go really well and you earn more than the advance they've paid, you start to get more payments: your actual royalties.

I was paid half my advance when we finished filming in September last year and half when the class went live in October. The Craftsy website has a place with a little graph which tells me how much of my advance has been earned out. I've been taking a peak every few days and watching it creep up and, FANTASTIC news - this morning it looked like this. It was at 99%! 

I goes up slightly faster if people click through from my website or blog, so it's hard to work out exactly how many people that missing 1% represents, but I reckon I need about 12 more people to subscribe, for me hit the golden 100%.

The great thing about a Craftsy class is that it is not in 'real time'. You can sign up at any time and watch it at any time: it's there forever, for you to watch over and over if you like, so you can work through things as fast or as slowly as you wish. Plus, if you get busy and suddenly don't have time to get through all the 7 lessons, you can come back and carry on next year, if that fits better. You also get the chance to ask me questions and post your homework. If you've not seen it yet, this little trailer gives you a very clear idea of what you learn:

So, if you want to be able to draw characters with confidence - animals, people, whatever you fancy - and more importantly, learn how to make them feel real, by giving them individual personalities and emotional responses to their situations, have a go at the class and be one of my 12 people! 

It's currently on sale at £19.16 (or whatever the equivalent is in dollars, if you are over that side of the pond). I think for what you get, that it really good value. I've certainly had lots of lovely feedback. Hope you like it!

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7. Emergency Medical Kit, a German Dictionary, Silica Gel, Half a Tea Strainer...

Quiz question for the day: what do these objects have in common?

Answer: they are all examples of Dormant Things, yet more objects of limited use, pulled from their hiding places in my attic and in the nooks and crannies of the studio. 

Apart from a rather lovely visit to Pye Bank Primary School on Tuesday, I have been working at home this week. There have been a lot of back emails to plough through (groan) but, in between, I have been working on the Dormant Things projectfilling the rest of the sketchbook I started before Christmas.

Posting some of this work on social media has brought out many interesting points. Should we be working towards getting rid of much of the clutter we gather around ourselves, or are our personal reasons for keeping things of dubious value justification enough, no matter how daft they might seem? I have managed to dump some truly pointless items, like the half a tea strainer above (kept in case it came in handy) and the anonymous key in the bottom sketch. Objects with symbolic or sentimental significance are mostly staying put.

Sentimental objects have given rise to another interesting discussion: items like the candle-sticks below, which John and I found on our honeymoon, are often the guardians and triggers of important memories. We tend to take photographs of significant people and places, but not significant objects. But, if you sketch the object, does the sketch take over the role of memory-guardian and allow you to release the object into the wild? I think for me, the answer is 'sometimes'. I am more likely to let go, if the object could be loved by a new owner and have another life, instead of sitting in the dark forever.

I'm having a lot of fun with this project and, as you can see, it's provoking a lot of thought. I've now completed the whole of this concertina book, but I have of course only scratched the surface and will continue to reveal the dark underbelly of my hoarded clutter... 

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8. Recording the Stuff We Can't Quite Throw Away...

Happy New Year all! I'm 3 months into my residency now and have so far mostly been painting a general picture of university life. I have been really looking forward to this next bit though, as I will be getting increasingly involved in the research projects of the various academics at the Morgan Centre. 

Just before Christmas, I got a sneak preview or what is to come. I took my sketchbook to my very first research interview, for the Dormant Things project. It looks at the way in which almost all of us has a weakness when it comes to throwing certain objects away. We don't actually need them though, so we shove them under the bed, in a drawer, or shoehorn them into the already chocka cupboard under the stairs. Even better, we stash them conveniently out of sight and mind, up in an attic or down in the cellar. Unless you are a rare creature indeed, you will know that I mean. Yep? Thought so.

Our reasons for hanging onto these unneeded objects vary. Often they carry important memories or mark significant moments in our life. They might be 'things that could come in handy one day'. Some are unwanted gifts, or objects whose use we have forgotten but don't like to throw away, 'just in case'. I have hung onto my cut-off hair, because it is a part of me, a part of the younger me who had long hair all through senior school and university. I don't need it, I don't even need to see it, it just feels wrong to part with it.

The research interview was with a woman in Stretford. All interviewees need to remain anonymous, so we called her Margaret for the day. The researcher, Sophie Woodward, had already explained about my Artist-in-Residence role and so Margaret was expected me. We had a cup of tea and she chatted generally about her personal clutter, then the three of us when into the hall, where Margaret spent about 40 minutes 'unpacking' the contents of her hall cupboard for us. I sat on the floor, a fly-on-the-wall, while she took out one thing at a time, explaining to Sophie why she had decided to store it in there, rather than get rid of it. 

My task was to try my best to record the objects and their significance. I obviously couldn't draw them all. Even scribbling away at super-lightning speed, I could only get the highlights and try to capture the flavour of the interview. When we were done, I showed Margaret what I had done and she got quite emotional. I was very pleased, since I felt it showed I had captured the poignancy of her saved objects. 

Once we had left Margaret, I chatted to Sophie about some of my own Dormant Things and she thought I should record them too. Which is why I dug my old hair out of the attic. It was good fun, having a reason to rummage. I found lots of contenders and am going to enjoy sketching some of them this week. Here's the first one I did: 

It was a wedding present from my mum and dad. Unfortunately, it never worked properly, so was eventually stored away: too beautiful and too significant to be parted with.

If you feel inspired and fancy a bit of personal rummaging, Sophie says that she would love to see your sketches, so please do send them to her by email.

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9. Urban Sketching Books: Early Christmas Presents!

I've had a couple of lovely Christmas presents arrive through the post in the run up to the holiday. 

About a year ago I was asked if I would contribute my work to a couple of sketching books by fellow Urban Sketchers correspondents: Simone Ridyard from Manchester and Pete Scully, who is also a Brit, but who lives in California these days. 

I received complimentary copies of both books and they look fabulous - packed with information as well as gorgeous artwork by sketchers from around the world. I am honoured to be in such glorious company. This is a spread from Archisketcher featuring my painting of my neighbour's house

I have five pieces in Archisketcher. I was thrilled to bits that Simone used so many of my sketches. I am a big fan of her work, so am very happy to be included. She tackles complex architecture, but works very quickly, so her architecture is never stiff, but always vibrantly alive:

The two books are a little different in approach. Archisketcher concentrates on important aspects to consider when sketching architecture. It has detailed sections giving advice on perspective, style, choosing viewpoints, colour and composition. It is lavishly illustrated, both with Simone's own work and with a really diverse selection of top class artists. 

This is a sketch I did when feel very brave in Brazil, in the section on perspective:

This one is in a section looking at how to tackle interiors. It's a sketch I did in The Sheffield Tap pub, while on a sketchcrawl with my group. I was experimenting with 'drawing' in paint:

Pete Scully's Creative Sketching Workshop covers all sorts of different subjects for sketching. It is divided into 4 sections: Indoor Scenes, Outdoor Scenes, Buildings and People & Pets. These are all sub-divided into more specific subjects, each of which is presented by a different sketcher in that field, setting the reader exercises to try. 

So for instance, James Hobbs gives instruction on sketching waterside scenes. Pete himself does a section on sketching in bars, at which he is quite a master, and also on drawing objects which link into a series, like the delightful fire hydrant sketches for which he is so well known: 

I only have one sketch in Pete's book, in a section by Rita Sabler on drawing musicians, so I was quite surprised, and of course delighted, to get a freebie copy. 

I have been so busy, I have not had time yet to give either book the attention it deserves, but they are clearly going to be very interesting and inspirational. At £12.99 each they seem really good value too, as they are both chunky at 160 and 176 pages each. So, if nobody you know was kind enough to buy you one of these gorgeous books for Christmas, I think you deserve to treat yourself, don't you?

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10. Playing with Words: Painting on Books (whatever next!)

Things are still going really well at the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives. I am loving the opportunity to immerse myself in such a long-term sketching project and really getting into my long, concertina-format books. But one aspect of the residency which was only on the periphery of my plans before it all kicked off, is proving to be a significant part of my pleasure.

The sketching workshops, to enable the core team of about a dozen academics, were something I confess I was just slightly apprehensive about. The group is a bit different to any I have worked with before: mostly no drawing experience since school, but all high achievers in their field. I needn't have worried. They are being very brave and pitching in with whatever ideas I throw at them.

For the latest homework, I decided to give them back just a corner of their comfort zone as a reward. I want to open their approach to a blank sketchbook page as wide as possible so, since they are all used to words, I used Tom Phillips' Heart of a Humament project as inspiration. While in a 2nd hand bookshop, Phillips came across a rather tedious Victorian novel, called 'A Humament'. Back in his studio, he set about re-created every page by highlighting individual words from the text and joining them in new ways to create new meanings, before painting out the rest of the words in a way which illustrated the new text.

These are just some examples. They are all uniquely powerful and all different. 

For my sketch-group, I scanned lots of pages from my copy of the Heart of a Humament book, as inspiration, as well as some randomly chosen, but pleasingly verbose pages from Salman Rushdie and Gunter Grass novels, for them to work on. Fear not fair readers: they painted on print-outs, not actual books!

Each of the academics was asked to make the new text relevant to their individual research projects, so that their finished work still fitted with the theme of documenting life at the Morgan Centre. This is a selection of what they brought back in to show me:

I was bowled over. Remember, these are people with almost no drawing or painting experience. The 'new text' was great too - some was very poetic, some hilarious. Somebody actually managed to incorporate Mr Rushdie's word 'witchnipples' into a comment on their research. What do these sociologist get up to, we wonder!

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11. Nearly a Sticky End for 'Class One' (and Me)!

The roughs for Class One, Farmyard Fun are finished! Well, what I mean to say is, they have all been drawn up and submitted to my publisher. You never know at this stage whether you are actually finished or not - it is not at all unusual for there to be quite a few changes needed. We''ll see. This is the opening spread:

Actually, I had a bit of a false start - I thought I was finished, somewhat prematurely. I was just reading through everything with John, in preparation to emailing the roughs off to Hodder (it can be very useful to have a 2nd pair of eyes - John often spots things I've missed). It was all looking good though. Lots of chaos and plenty of children flying through the air...

Anyway, we read the last spread and the story ended rather suddenly. It was only then that I realised I had missed off the end! There's always a final single page, the one you get after the final spread. It's not always used - it depends on the book and the length of the text. In this series of books, that final page is always a sort of cautionary ending, sometimes with the hint of a sting in the tail. 

I worked out what went wrong: when my art director printed me a slightly reduced set of layouts to work from (blank pages with just the text), the single page had got forgotten at her end. I didn't notice because of not working through the illustrations in order. 

So, I had to go back to the drawing board (literally) and get scribbling again. This is what I came up with (the little girl will of course be wearing a red dress):

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12. Christmas Sketch-Party 2015

On Saturday, we had our annual Urban Sketchers Yorkshire Christmas sketch-party. It is always a good laugh. Everyone brings food and drink, so I don't have lots of catering to do, which also helps with planning, because I never know how many are going to turn up. This time round, there were about 14 of us I think, though it's been as many as 40 on occasion. 

It's a nice way to throw a do: I just had to deck out the house, lay the table, put some mulled wine on the stove and wait.

We always follow a similar format - people gather round our long dining table as they arrive and start to sketch the food. It's an unusual sort of party though: after the initial chatter and excitement, it eventual goes completely silent, with everyone concentrating on what they are drawing. 

We nibble as we go along and then eventually give in and start to scoff and chatter again. 

We took our puddings into the front room this year, for some silly drawing games. We started off with 1-minute portraits of each other, which is always quite funny. Then we played a sketching challenge: a sort if cross between I-Spy and The Twelve Days of Christmas

You had to take a letter from a Scrabble bag and find something in the room beginning with that letter, then turn it into one of the gifts from The Twelve Days of Christmas song and draw it on your postcard  - all within 5 minutes! Above are a few examples. I encouraged cheating, not least because it helped me: my letter was 'M' so I drew '...a much-decorated Christmas tree'.

What you can't see until you zoom in, is how clever Matthew Midgley's letter 'D' illustration is. Each of the 6 drawing pens is named after a reindeer, and Rudolph has red ends:

Finally, we did a reprise of last year's 'drawing on espresso cups' game. 

Quite a few people had to go after that, but those left standing finished off back in the dining room, eating cake and drawing on the paper tablecloth. Because I was playing host, I didn't get to do much actually drawing during the party, so went to town on the tablecloth with my watercolours:

There were some fabulous sketches. I took photos, but of course ultimately had to clear it all away in the bin. You can see them all on the Urban Sketchers Yorkshire Facebook group.

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13. Interview with Wonderstreet

I have done quite a few interviews in my time, some in person, some over the telephone, some via email. One of the nicest ones in a while happened via Skype recently. 

It was for Wonderstreet, a fairly new, online platform for artists to upload their work, a little bit like Instagram or Flickr, but crossed with Etsy, and with added features, like interviews with folks like me! 

Olivier from Wonderstreet was interested in all the different aspects of my work, past and present. Since I love talking about it all, we chatted away for ages. He then had to go away and make some sense of it all! Because we were talking of course about visual stuff, a lot of things didn't make sense without images, so I sent him lots of different photos, illustrations and sketches to go along with what we were talking about (including this one John took of me, doing my thing on the beach at Robin Hood's Bay).

Anyway, it is a really lovely interview. Take a look here

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14. Christmas Presents!

Since I've already done a few posts to promote my Craftsy illustration master-class, I'm guessing that most people who are interested will have already enrolled, but, in case I've missed anyone, or you haven't quite got around to signing up, you might want to know that it is on sale again for Christmas - It's £15.97 until Dec 12th. 

The other bit of good news is that many of the other drawing classes are HALF PRICE! Here's a link to see them all.

If you are anything like me, you will have people to buy Christmas pressies for who are tricky, people you are leaving until last and who you will be panicking about in a few days. So, you might want to know that you can now send people a gift of a Craftsy class. They do all sorts, not just drawing and painting, there's cooking, dressmaking, gardening, wine, knitting... If you want to buy a lesson as a present for someone, you do it here.

All of the classes last forever. You can dip in and out of them or do them again and again, as many times as you like. And all of them give you access to the teacher: you can ask questions and show them your work for feedback at any point, as often as you like. 

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15. Solving Problems with My Knickers...

I have been really busy lately - even more than usual! I have mostly been dividing my time between my residency and my drawings for the new picture book Class One, Farmyard Fun.

The roughs are going very well and I'm very nearly there. It's been slightly frustrating, working in fits and starts, rather than just ploughing on every day until it's done, but in some ways it's been better, as having 'rest' days keeps me fresh.

I hit a snag though, so had a meeting with Julia Jarman...

That's not something we would normally do, but we happened to be working together in Durham, doing a couple of storytelling events for the big Gala Day at the Northern Children's Book Festival, so we grabbed our chance after breakfast at the hotel. 

I was having a bit of bother with my knickers...

Actually, they were Julia's knickers.... Well, the knickers in her story anyway. The sort-of villain in the story, the bull, accidentally knocks himself out near the end, and the first thing he sees when he comes round is a pair of bright red knickers hanging on a washing line. Being red, they get him rather upset. 

I was having logistical problems, getting the knickers in the right place for them to be directly in the bull's line of sight as he opened his eyes, because I also needed the bull to be looking out of the picture at us as he wakes, for dramatic impact. While battling with this, I got a good idea: why not get him actually tangled in the washing before he knocks himself out and get the knickers caught on his horns? Funnier.

But this created another problem. On the next spread, Sam, one of the children, grabs the knickers from the line and uses them to lure the bull away. If the knickers were actually on the horns, this wouldn't be credible for a 5 year old child to do, even in picture book world. So I introduced a washing prop, for brave Sam to use to whip the knickers from the horns.

The knickers are Julia's means of saving the day in the story: with the help of the teacher at the wheel of the farmers truck, Sam gets the bull to chase the knickers all the way back to the field where he came from:  

All of which worked pretty well when I sketched it out, but it needed a significant change to the text - extra tricky, since the whole thing is in rhyme. So that's why I wanted to get together with Julia; I needed to show her my ideas, see if she agreed that it worked better and was funnier, and see how she felt about the text change.

Of course Julia was fabulous. She always is. She's such a great author to work with. She immediately got it. Luckily, we have a similar sense of humour, so she loved my idea. Within seconds, she was trying out bits of new rhyme aloud (much to the amusement of the hotel staff), experimenting with ways to create the new lines we needed. She had re-written it before I was back home at my drawing board. Thanks Julia!

I have now drawn everything and finished all but 4 spreads. They just need re-drawing (I always have to go through it all again, improving things and making changes). Nearly there. Better get to it!

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16. Kangaroos Cancan Cafe Re-Opens for Business!

Yes, Julia Jarman and I have been campaigning to get Kangaroo's CanCan Cafe back in print (Julia has done most of the work to be fair), and the great news is, we succeeded!

Hachette have done a print run of 1000 copies - not many, but if they sell, they have promised more. So, to help keep the cancan alive, you know what you have to do!

Our book was originally published by Orchard Books, but this new edition is being put out by Hodder, publishers of Class Two at the Zoo, Class Three all at Sea and the new Class One Farmyard Fun, which I am working on right now. Both Orchard and Hodder are part of the bigger Hachette and it seemed more streamlined to have all our books under the same umbrella.

I am delighted to have this one back. It's always been one of my favourites for reading aloud in schools. I shall get my feather bower out again and dust off my cancan CD. Let the dancing begin! 

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17. My Illustration Masterclass - Big Black Friday Sale!

Okay, much though I personally hate the whole Black Friday bonkers shopping thing, it turns out that there is an very definite up side... (pause for drumroll)... 

... because my Craftsy class is going to be offered at a special SALE PRICE for the whole weekend - hurrah!
So, if you haven't got around to signing up yet (shame on you :-D ) here is the SUPER-DUPER BLACK FRIDAY SALE link to my illustration masterclass, which will teach you how to draw the most expressive and funny picture book characters. I make it easy. Promise.  

Just think what an amazingly original Christmas present idea it would be for an arty friend. Or maybe just an early Christmas present for yourself (the best kind of present...). Go on, treat yourself...

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18. Desk-Drawer Portrait: Latest Idea for my Residency

When it comes to my residency at the Morgan Centre, I have licence to pretty much draw whatever I want. I have a security pass to all the university buildings and have already drawn in lectures, tutorials, meetings, leaving dos, student areas... I am keen though to get a breadth of approach and want the sketchbooks to contain as much visual variety as possible. So, we hatched the idea of the desk-drawer portrait.

Professor Sue Heath is the person who got the ball rolling with the Leverhulme Trust grant and is very supportive of my work, so she volunteered to be my first desk-drawer victim. She promised not to interfere with what was in there: she took the whole top drawer out of her desk and handed it to me. It was a jumble of all sorts.

I sat quietly and sorted the contents into little piles, then methodically drew everything. It turned out to be much more amusing than I expected, because 90% of the contents were either completely unused, had not been looked at in eons, or were so well past their sell-by date, they belonged in the bin (totally dry Tippex with a brush-end like an exploding firework, glue-stick dried to a skinny, petrified finger...)

It took up half of one of my concertina books. I put down a painted background first, to tie it all together, so it wouldn't look 'bitty'. I also used text to add my own personal commentary. I left absolutely nothing out. I counted all the perished rubber bands and even drew the bent staples I fished out of the back corners: 

It took me 3 sessions to sketch it all, but I eventually got it done. It was rather revealing that, in the entire week I had her drawer contents held captive, Sue missed only I item: her stapler. But like many other objects in her drawer, it came with a sibling, so she took one and left me the other to sketch:

I had great fun and thoroughly enjoyed adding my ironic labels alongside each item. Luckily Sue has a good sense of humour, so I wasn't run out of town!

Okay, own up, who is already peering sheepishly into their own desk drawer and wondering..?

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19. My Very First Sketches for a New Picture Book

Do you remember absolutely ages ago, I was telling you about how Julia Jarman and I often talk through her ideas for new picture book texts? Well, the text I was talking about was successful: it got contracted by the publisher, so we are off! The huge delay is entirely my fault, because I have had too much work on until now with my Sketching People book and my Craftsy workshop to be able to start the work. 

It's called Class One Farmyard Fun and is a sequel to Class Two at the Zoo and Class Three all at Sea - both big favourites of mine and really good fun to illustrate, because of all the crazy things that happen on their ill-fated school trips out and about. 

I'm really enjoying getting stuck into this new one. I started with characterisation, as always. All this series feature an entire class, so my first job was playing around, designing lots of different kids:

It's important that they are all different and suggest different personalities, like any real class of five year olds. They'll evolve a little I'm sure, as I draw, but I was very pleased with my first efforts. 

I went on to have a think about the teacher. It's a woman again. This was my initial sketch sheet, trying things out. I've gone for the person on the far right:

I wanted to make her kind (she's always a touch incompetent in the stories, but never a nasty teacher). The teachers in primary schools are usually pretty young too. It was important to make her different to the other two class teachers, in Class Two and Class Three though:

I am now waiting for the designer at Hodder to send me a set of page layouts. They will chop Julia's story up into spreads and set the font size and style, so I know how much text I need to work around on each page. In the meantime, I am itching to get going, so have played around with one or two scenareos from the story. This introduces the bull, who is going to be the source of all the trouble! 

Julia came to visit us last week, which was lovely. She was doing an event in a Sheffield school, so she came to stop at our house the night before. She was of course desperately curious to see what I had been up to. Luckily, she loved the drawings - phew!

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20. 'Living the Weather' SketchCrawl in Hebden Bridge

Last week, I did a 2nd day of sketching in Hebden Bridge, as part of my ongoing residency with Manchester University. My last time there was partly about scouting out cafes for last Friday's 'Living the Weather' event. The sketchcrawl was arranged with Professor Jennifer Mason, who is researching the way the weather interfaces so intimately with our lives. We figured that by November we'd need to be drawing indoors. All to do with the weather, naturally! 

Both my sketching days in Hebden Bridge have been an attempt to capture some elements of how the weather impacts on us. I started sketching straight away on Friday morning, while waiting for my train on Sheffield station - the people were all bundled up in winter-wear, queuing at Starbucks for a hot drink to ward off the dampness, while the wet-weather safety announcement played over the tannoy:

This day was open to all comers. I invited people in Urban Sketchers Yorkshire to join me and Jennifer advertised the event at the university, as well as in Hebden Bridge. We weren't sure who would turn up, so it was a lovely surprise when around 15 people joined us in the first cafe of the day.

We chose a cafe called 'Sauce' because if it's good windows - lots of seats with views out. We dominated the place! I decided to try and capture the wet, slightly bleak roof of the pub opposite:

We moved on to another cafe, 'Innovation', half way through the morning. This didn't have views, but had an interesting interior. I ended up drawing one of the other sketchers though, attracted by the way he was hunched over his book, still bundled up in lots of layers of clothing:

One of our number, Professor Sue Heath, who helped me to get the residency, was brave enough to  do some drawing outside the cafe, where there was luckily a little shelter from the drizzle:

Finally, we went to the Town Hall cafe. The whole morning had been very wet, but suddenly at lunchtime, the sun came out. We went out into the cafe's courtyard and discovered it was really warm. It overlooked the river, which was surging because of the earlier rain. 
There was a perfect wooden ledge at sketchbook height, so I was able to unfold my concertina paper to paint more comfortably. I was very conscious of not knocking my pencil case off into the wild water below. Despite this, I nearly had a DISASTER... 

There was no wind, so I got complacent. I turned to show a pencil to my neighbour and a sudden gust whipped my sketchbook up off the ledge!!

I was rather pleased with my reflexes: I just managed to slap it back down before the whole book was lost forever, not just that day's sketches, but everything from the previous Hebden day as well. Huge sigh of relief. It would have been especially ironic to have lost it at that point, as the river sketch completed another sketchbook. When I got home, I joined everything together into the full 2m length:

You can details from the 1st half of the book here.

Here we are sharing some of the sketchbooks and getting to know one another in Innovation:

It was a lovely day and we are thinking of doing it again, maybe even helping to set up a regular Hebden Bridge based group, since there was such local interest. If you are from the area and would like to get involved, do let me know

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21. 'Sketching People': Checking the Colour Proofs

I received a package from my publisher just the other day, with some very exciting contents...

It was the colour proofs of my Sketching People book. 

I seem to be juggling lots of different projects at the same time right now, but the urban sketching book is at least one which is very nearly finished. 

The colour proofs are when you finally get to see what it's going to look like. Even though I've been very hands-on throughout the progress, I've been dealing with it in batches, so never had the chance to look at it as a complete project. Plus I'd never seen the final design of many of the spreads, so I couldn't wait to get a look. 

By this stage, all the design has been finalised, all the text is in place, exactly as it will look, and all the images, whether photos or sketches, are in their final positions on the spreads. It was lovely to see everything looking gorgeous! 

But I wasn't just sent them to admire: my job was to go through the whole thing with a fine tooth-comb, checking it over and making any final notes about alterations that needed making, or errors I noticed. That meant reading the entire book, which took a while, as you can imagine. 

There were actually lots of little things I picked up, both to do with images and text: I made two pages of notes!

One slight complication was that this was the US version - the text has been Americanised throughout, which does not just involve changes to words, but also some big changes to punctuation. I was surprised to discover for example, that in the US, a colon is followed by a capital letter! There were also many differences over where comas are used. 

The text will be re-Anglicised after the proofs have been approved, which means Quarto employing someone to make all the changes: apparently less complex than trying to re-instate my original text. All a bit odd, but everything is, as usual, very US-led. That's where the biggest market for the book will be, despite it originating in the UK.

The biggest single issue I picked up, was the placement of annotation arrows: used to point to where I am making specific comments about particular elements of a sketch. Many of them were not quite pointing to the right place, because my designer didn't always quite understand where I was referring to.

All sorted now though. I am very pleased with how it looks. The quality of the colour is great and the design really sets everything off beautifully (thanks Moira!).

I'm told that it should be ready for publication sometimes around the end of February. You can pre-order already, but don't worry - I will definitely be letting you know when it's ready.

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22. Artist-in-Residence at 'Under One Roof'

Last week, I took my sketchbook to Manchester Art Gallery, to do something slightly different as part of my residency. 

The 'Under One Roof' research project has been looking at all the different ways in which people live together in our modern society, whether as house-shares, families, lodgers, returning to live with parents, co-ops etc and how that impacts on the quality of their lives and their relationships. I know lots about it now, because last Wednesday, I spent the whole morning sketching the presentation which marked the project's end. 

On the train there, I felt like having a bit of fun to warm up so, instead of a normal sketch, I did a semi-blind contour drawing, which basically means that you don't let yourself look at the paper, only at the subject, except when you need to re-position your pen. I let myself look for adding the colour though:

I arrived a little early, so I had 10 - 15 minutes spare, to stand on the street and record the outside of the gallery before I went in. Luckily it wasn't raining:

Inside, there was stress in the air. The team giving the presentation were huddled around the computer at the front of the room. Something wasn't working! The audience began to arrive and were given coffee. I began to wonder if I would be drawing worried academics all morning...

Luckily it was sorted in the nick of time and we began. I originally found a seat at the front, then realised I was better further back, where I could see the audience as well as the speakers. 

I think this is my favourite one from the morning, for capturing the flavour. The man in the foreground arrived late, then kept changing position as he 'settled'. He did me a big favour by filling a pregnant space in the composition, but also by adding a sense of 'life' by his ghostly presence:

It was all really interesting. I tried to capture key points which stuck in my mind and weave them around the images. The graph in this part of the presentation was about how people use shared / private spaces: 

Some of it was quite funny, because it was based on case studies, so was often anecdotal. I remembered the issue of grime in bathrooms and kitchens, from when my brother once lived in a shared house. He got so fed up, he employed a cleaner, which only made things worse, since that completely stopped people cleaning up after themselves! Apparently lots of sharers leave each other notes complaining about mess, rather than deal with it face to face.

Some people embraced sharing though, actually choosing it over living alone, rather than being forced into it through financial necessity; others became prisoners in their rooms. There was also talk about the embarrassment of inviting visitors into a shared space, when the house is full of other people's drying underwear! 

It was a really intense morning: sucking up all this interesting information, but also concentrating really hard on trying to draw everything at the same time. I was delighted (and a little astonished) that I managed to fill an entire 2m sketchbook. 

I laid it out on one of the tables at the end, so people could see what I had been up to. They were all really interested and it definitely added something slightly theatrical to proceedings, bringing people together to interact with one another in a slightly less usual way. 

Here's what my book looks like, with all the work running together:

The morning was pleasantly rounded off with a very tasty buffet lunch. I probably should have drawn that too, but I was hungry! I reckon I earned it.

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23. Class One, Farmyard Fun: Mapping the Farm

In between my residency sketching days, I have been working on the roughs for Class One Farmyard Fun, my new picture book. It's another one by the lovely Julia Jarman, our 6th collaboration. It is full of all the usual fun and mayhem which Julia writes so well.

The action involves an escaped bull who moves around the farm, chasing various children and tossing then into the air. I tried to make a start, but was having trouble getting my head around the 'geography' of the story. I realised that I needed to create a map of the farm, so I could establish the layout and know which animals were where (ignore the 'flying' truck on the map by the way - that's me drawing a bit of reference off Google Images): 

The map was instantly a great help. As I'm working my way through the drawings though, I am occasionally having to go back and make changes to the farm's layout, so that certain things will fall alongside others which are juxtaposed in the text. 

For instance, I originally sited the whiffy muck-heap to the left of the bull, under the trees by the lake. The sheep had to be nearby, because Julia's text mentions them both on the same page:

They saw a lot of woolly sheep
And a cock on top of a whiffy muck-heap.
But they didn't see...

But this bit of text comes immediately after a page about the bull, so the two bits of the rhyme are on either side of a single spread. This is the first bit, about the bull:

...the bull in a strop.
They didn't see the big bull frown
Watching Class One walking round
Some of them wearing red
Which makes bulls cross - or so it's said.

I started off drawing this spread as two single pages, but there was such a lot of text to work around on the bull page, I couldn't get it to work. 

So I combined the two sets of drawings and turned it into a spread instead. Which meant going back to my map and moving the muck-heap and the field of sheep over to the right of the bull. Unfortunately, this change had a knock-on effect on an earlier page, but at least I had got things to work at last.

This is not the finished rough. It's early days. I get better as I go along, so often come back and re-draw the earlier spreads.

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24. Drawing Empowerment - Sketcher's Workshops

Last week I met up again with my brave sketching group at The Morgan Centre. They are all academics and mostly people who have no drawing, painting or sketching experience. They have volunteered to keep sketchbooks during the year of my residency and I know that they were almost all pretty terrified at the prospect.

Despite this, we had a lot of fun when we first met up last month. I ran an empowerment workshop for them, introducing them to new ways of thinking about drawing and painting. A lot of people's worries centre around their perceived inability to draw. But everyone can draw. The block is created because people feel their drawings don't in any way match up to reality. 

The important thing to realise, is that realism is just one benchmark of success and by no means the only or even the best one. I don't generally try to make my sketches look like what's actually there - I have the most fun when I free myself up to be expressive or think laterally.

My group all got a free kit of art materials which I chose for them, so I began by getting them to experiment with the various different marks you could get with them, so they were less afraid of the materials themselves, especially watercolour. I got them using lots of water and playing with mark-making techniques: 

I also introduced them to some alternative approaches for getting across what we see. We started by drawing a simple 'drinking vessel' which I had asked each to bring in. 

Instead of the generally frustrating 'realism' approach, we looked at the object from different perspectives and I asked the group to create interlocking line-drawings which explored alternative silhouettes of their object. We thought a lot about the spread as a 'design' too, letting the appearance of the open book become as important as the actual object itself.

Instead of worrying about conventional shading and colouring of the objects, individuals painted the negative spaces they had created, then enriched the spread further by adding pattern and text, to 'tell the story' of the object.

We also had a lot of fun with blind-contour and wrong-handed drawing. 

If you've never done it before, it feels very strange, but is also incredibly liberating. Instead of the hesitant, spidery-fine marks which beginners usually feel trapped into using, the drawings were bold and dramatic. Plus, they were done in just 1 minute each!

This 2nd meeting of the group was partly to review the homework task I had set them at the end of the workshop. Everyone had done really well, but one person had gone bonkers. He had no previous experience, but had been so liberated and inspired by the workshop, he had not only done the task I'd set, but then produced lots of watercolour paintings (really good ones too). I couldn't have wanted for a better result.

At the end of the meeting, I set a new homework task, based on the Heart of a Humament project, by the artist Tom Phillips. He took a rather bad Victorian novel he'd found in a 2nd-hand book shop and pulled new meanings from each page of the text, which he then illustrated, sometimes figuratively, sometimes decoratively. 

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25. I'm on Manchester's Library Cards!

Manchester Libraries have redesigned their library cards and they thought that the children's cards ought to be illustrated. 

They used illustrations from my baby books as part of their publicity when the newly refurbished library was launched last year (do you remember the poster?). So they came back to me this time and asked if I would let them use my work on the library cards. It seemed such a lovely idea, of course I said yes.

They sent me some samples of the actual cards. Great aren't they? To launch them, they organised a days of children's events with me. We had a lot of fun. I thought it only fitting to read the three books featured on the cards, so I read Kangaroo's Cancan Cafe for the first time in a long time (complete with feather bower and high-kick dancing!), as well as Bears on the Stairs and Class Three all at Sea

I did two storytellings in the morning, then a workshop with older children and their parents in the afternoon. We had a great turn-out and it went really well.

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