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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. '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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8. '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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9. 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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10. Last Chance - Half Price Offer Ends This Weekend!

This weekend is your last chance to take advantage of my special half-price deal, celebrating the launch of my online illustration workshop. 
This little trailer shows you the kind of thing I cover in the 7 lessons:

I am thrilled to bits with how it's recruiting and I already have two really lovely 5-star reviews on the class. Here are highlights from what my new students had to say:
"This is a terrific course. Lynne Chapman is an excellent teacher who knows how to make it seem easy and fun to draw. I am a retired illustrator, and I've been rather stuck in my ways of doing things but I have enjoyed learning Lynne's approach and it is giving me new inspiration. This is carefully planned and well presented. I recommend it. A five star course for artists young and old." 
" Lynne is so clear to listen to and really helpful. The homework seems really doable and the accumulated knowledge is applicable to all kinds of illustration regarding a younger audience"

Thank you guys for that smashing feedback. I'm so glad it the class is coming across so well!
So, click this link and you will get the class for 50% of the regular price. After tomorrow night, the link will still be there, but the discount will be reduced to $10 off. Have fun!!

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11. Sketcher-in-Residence: I Have Finished Book no.1!

I have done another couple of days of my residency, sketching life at the Morgan Centre and Manchester University. I thought you might like to see what I have done, especially as I have now filled the first of my 2m long concertina books: 

You saw the first section at the beginning of the month, but I have managed to add quite a lot since then. It's still been okay weather, so I spent some more time drawing outdoors to make the most of it, hanging around where the students chill out, ear-wigging their conversations... 

The snatches I grabbed really help to paint a picture of what it's like to arrive at a big uni at the beginning of term and sometimes be a long way from home.

When it got a bit chilly, I went into the canteen area, to capture the flavour of that. I got into several lovely conversations with students, because of course, I couldn't help attracting a certain amount of attention. 

On my most recent day, I attending a lecture. It was not the easiest thing to sketch, I must say:

This was the last section of the concertina, but the lecture hadn't ended, so I started on a new sketchbook and did the sketch below, of one of the students sitting near me. I showed her and her friends as the lecture wound up. 

Immediately afterwards, I attending a Morgan Centre team meeting. I just did this quicky sketch, as I was gearing up to do a little presentation to the team as part of the meeting, talking about the residency and my sketchbooks so far:

That afternoon, I ran a 3 hour workshop for around a dozen members of the Morgan Centre team, most of whom had never done any sketching at all. I was a little nervous, as the team including not only the director of the centre, but also David Morgan himself - the man the whole place was named after! 

The idea was to empower them to feel comfortable about a challenge they had signed up for - each had agreed to keep a personal sketchbook during the course of my residency. Perhaps even more scary for them, they are going to take part in a chain-sketchbook project, as well as go on a sketchcrawl.

I tried to make it fun and to show them different ways of tackling drawing and painting, to free them up from the idea that the main benchmark of success is visual realism. Everyone seemed to have a good time and be genuinely pleased with their efforts. Result.

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12. My Craftsy Character-Illustration Class is Here!!

Today is the day!! My Craftsy master-class, teaching you how to draw children's book characters, just went live, slightly ahead of schedule! To celebrate, you can get the class half price for the rest of this week from this blog post. Yep - Craftsy allow me to discount the class if I want. So what better time?

Last week I got a sneak preview of how it looks and am absolutely delighted with the way it's turned out. The editing guys have done a smashing job, splicing all the material together. There's me talking (okay, nothing new there says John...), plus all the various drawing demos that we filmed, lots of illustrations from my books, as well as various extra drawing tips with bits and bobs of graphics. 

Plus, Craftsy's clever, techy guys have had to build the whole background platform, because the workshop is not just a series of films. Oh no...

After each lesson, I set my students a homework project to do. Then, when they're done, they can post their work onto a gallery, for me and the other students to see. Great eh? Plus students can even ask me questions, if there's anything they need more help with.

Huge CONGRATULATIONS to Tami T, who was the winner of my prize draw. Well done Tami! Have fun. I look forward to seeing your characters :-)

If you were unlucky, don't worry: all is not lost! C
raftsy classes are very reasonably priced but if you are on a tight budget, get in quick while mine is super-duper-brilliant-value with my launch-week deal... 

The other brilliant thing about the workshop is that it does not have an expiry date. You can watch it as many times as you like, for as long as you want - once you sign up, everything is yours for good. And because you only need a pencil and paper, once you have signed up, it's not going to cost you anything extra at all.

I have tried really hard to pack all 7 of the lessons with tons of tips which should really help your character drawings, both of animals and people, but I've also done my best to make it a fun workshop to do. 

Please do let me know what you think. As this is my first venture of this kind, I'd really like to hear your feedback.

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13. Tree-Sketching Flash-Mob Protest

Anyone who follows me on Facebook will know that I am very upset (along with half the residents of Sheffield) that Sheffield Council have arranged for vast numbers of street trees across the city to be chopped down. 

They've already done over 2000, and that's just the start. It's all very frightening and terribly depressing.

So we decided to set up a sketching protest recently. The area where I live is famous for its gorgeous leafy trees, but the chainsaws are already in action! Public meetings and petitions seem to be having no effect. We thought maybe something a bit different might attract attention. 

I got together with Save Nether Edge Trees and invited people to come and sketch one of the local trees under imminent threat. Lots of local people turned out. We filled the pavements surrounding the tree. It was a lovely, peaceful demonstration, with everyone painting and drawing to celebrate its beauty, in a desperate attempt to draw wider attention to what's going on, before it's too late.

It's all about money (of course). They are giving lots of different reasons and it's true that some trees probably do need to come down, but as part of a sensible Tree Strategy. For some crazy reason though, Sheffield Council is using that as an excuse to chop thousands and thousands of healthy, beautiful trees, many of which are 100 years old.  

The tree we painted, being so old, has raised the pavement at its base, like quite a few mature trees in Nether Edge. The council says this discriminates against the disabled, because it limits access, so the tree needs to go. This is clearly nonsense: the pavement just needs a little sensitive maintenance. It's a wide pavement anyway, with ample flat, safe access. You could drive a small tank through! 

So the fight goes on. The local press sent a photographer, which was one of the things we were hoping for, given ours was such a uniquely visual protest. There was also a lot of interest from anyone passing through and their names were added to our latest petition.

You can read a bit more information here. If you want to get more involved, or have any good ideas, join Save Sheffield Trees and Sheffield Trees Action Group

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14. 'Living the Weather' in Hebden Bridge

As promised, here is the sketchbook I created on the 2nd day of my residency, drawing the way in which weather conditions effect our life. I started another new concertina book, as I am going to do separate books for the various projects.

This time, I started by recording my journey to Hebden Bridge, as it was one of those annoying occasions, when the temperature seesawed between too hot and too cold. I waited in bright sunshine on Sheffield station, but thick mist enveloped everything, immediately I got underway. Ironically it was cold in the sun, but overheated in the train:

I was met at the other end by Professor Mason, whose research project I am contributing to. She first took me on a tour of Hebden Bridge, scouting out good cafes for the Living the Weather sketchcrawl we are organising for the end of the month. By then the sun was out and things were coming to life, so we settled down with a coffee, and I began by recording a busker with my Koh-i-Noor 'magic' pencil:

He was enjoying the unexpected warmth and the number of punters it was bringing out. It was just like July, sitting sketching in the sun, but then the shade of the building swung round and it was immediately freezing again, so we moved on.

The wildlife by the canal was enjoying the sunshine too. Pigeons were hunkering in an odd way, apparently trying to maximise their contact with the warmed-up cobbles, and geese were pottering about. One sat down and spread its feathers, trying a bit of sunbathing. There was also a man taking advantage of the opportunity to do some work on his canal boat. I managed to capture him too:

We had lunch outside another cafe. It was actually slightly too hot, unbelievable on October 2nd, but there was no way we were going inside! Everyone else had the same idea - the centre of town looked like a weekend, with people in sunglasses pottering about and cramming themselves onto any outdoor seating. At our cafe, someone had a dog. It was trying to laze in the sun, but had fleas, so every couple of minutes it leapt up to bite or scratch itself - not ideal for sketching!

Professor Mason had to leave after lunch, so I found a pavement spot opposite this very typical Hebden Bridge mill. I figured that the weather was implicit in the fact that I was able to sit out comfortably and paint. Also, because it was so sunny, lots of people came up to take a look and say nice things. One man even offered to buy me a glass of wine!

I had a lovely journey home, all because of sketching. On my first leg, the student opposite me was asleep. All the people in the area were watching as I drew him. A little girl got really excited and demanded to draw. At which point he woke up, dug in his rucksack and gave her a bit of paper. I lent her a coloured pencil and she drew me a page of hearts.

On leg 2, I had a beautiful redhead sitting across the aisle. She had no idea I was drawing, but kept really still. Opposite me, a student was also drawing. We got into conversation and he dug out some fabulous sketchbooks from his bag - really gorgeous watercolours of the hills at Edale.

I did these last train drawings on the back of the main sketchbook, as they didn't have anything to do with the weather. In general though, I am only going to draw on the fronts, so we can exhibit the work at the end of the residency.

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15. Free Giveaway: Win my Craftsy Master-Class!

Guess what?! To celebrate the launch of my on-line illustration workshop, the one I filmed recently in Denver with Craftsy, I am running a competition. Hurrah! I'm giving away a free subscription to my 7-lesson master-class on How to Illustrate Children's Book Characters.

It's a prize-draw. All you have to do is click this link and you will be entered. Easy-peasy. When the class launches on October 19th, one person will be picked at random to get the workshop for free.

The 7 lessons take you through everything I could think of that you need to know for creating believable human and animal characters for your illustrations: I crammed in everything I have learnt over the years for you.

We go through lots of tips to show you easy ways to sketch various basic characters as well as how to get across different ages, by playing around with various proportions:

I also demonstrate simple devises for creating different personalities, by varying the positions of facial features, in combination with different head shapes:

I show you how to make characters walk and run, and how to add different facial expressions to communicate more about what's happening:

In one lesson, we look at how you can use clothing and props to tell people more about what your characters are doing and who they are:

We had a lot of fun filming a lesson on how to communicate emotion. At home in my studio, I often act things out in a mirror, to work out the best body-language to use. Clif, my producer, thought it would be good to actually do this on set, so we stole the huge mirror from my dressing room and set it up on an easel in the studio:

I then had to do my acting out in front of the camera (!), playing at being angry, sad, scared etc. before transferring the positions to different character sketches. It took us ages to work out the best way to film it, so we wouldn't see the cameras in the mirror, not to mention the big battery pack I had tucked under my skirt (does my bum look big in this...).

So, this is actually me, being terrified:

At the end of each section, I give you homework tasks, to help you practice what we have been doing and you can then post your work for me to see. You can even ask questions. 

I had a lot of fun creating the class and I am hoping it will be a lot of fun to do. By the end, you should be able to create pretty much any character you fancy. But better than that: you will be able to make them feel 'real' (even if they are a crocodile in a dressing gown and slippers), because you will learn how to communicate what they are thinking and feeling too.

So, don't forget to enter the free giveaway draw - you never know. But don't worry, even if you are not the lucky one, I will be giving away discounts in the first couple of weeks, so watch this space!

I am so excited. I can't wait to see how it's turned out! 

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16. Starting my Residency: First Day!

Things have been very exciting but very, very busy lately. As well finishing off my Sketching People book and setting up the exhibition in Doncaster, I have also just started my residency with Manchester University's Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives. My very first day was on October 1st.

I took the train to Manchester, armed with my new concertina book and my sketching kit. I had a long meeting with Professor Sue Heath to start off the day. She is Co-Director of the Morgan Centre and was the one who started it all off. We talked about all the different researchers I would be shadowing and the projects they were working on, as well as sorting out boring things like getting a 
security pass and a key to the office I can share. 

Then we both went out and did some sketching together to get the ball rolling!

Though a big part of my remit is to draw the research, I am also there to record a 'year in the life' of the centre - everything about the professors, the students, the university campus and what they all get up to.

It was such a glorious day, Sue and I were able to sit very comfortably outside, so I could start my sketchbook with a drawing of the Arthur Lewis building where the Morgan Centre is based. Then, after a lovely 'welcome' lunch, Sue left me to it and I went back and sat on the grass to get a couple more sketches of students:

Pottering around, looking for things to record, I was struck by lots of huge leaves that littered the grass outside the entrance to the Arthur Lewis building. I asked people what the tree was and nobody knew, but other people had noticed how unusual they were as well. 

I figured they were part of the life of the Morgan Centre too, and just had time to paint one before dashing for my train home:

The following day, I was based in Hebden Bridge instead of Manchester, working on the 'Living the Weather' project with Professor Jennifer Mason. She is interested in the myriad ways in which the weather impacts on our daily lives. I did loads of work, so I'll show you those sketches in a few days.

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17. Final Work on my Sketching People Book

Last week I officially finished work on my urban sketching book. Last Monday, my editor sent me a print-out (just done on their office printer) of how it looks so far. This was for us to go through together, over the phone, ironing out any remaining issues.

This is the first time I have seen the design of certain elements, like the title page and contents above. I just chose images, then the fairies turned them into something lovely! I am very pleased with how the chapter headers are all looking too. These were the images I chose when I was at the meeting down in London, but the graphics has now been fine-tuned and they are looking really punchy:

There are still the colour proofs to check, which are due in 2 or 3 weeks, and my final job will be to check over the re-anglicised version of the text, in just over a month. My English text has already been Americanised for the Barron's edition. All the main proofing and checking is done on this version, then it is turned back again to UK English. At which stage, I will quickly run my eye over things, to make sure the punctuation fits with the meaning I want to get across (control freak...).

As far as the real work is concerned though, I finished it off on Saturday. Hurrah! 

Earlier in the week, I went though my print-out, troubleshooting remaining anomalies and marking it up in red. I was looking at the image placement and graphics, re-reading through my text and looking at 'holes'. The holes were problems with guest images - people whose work I had selected, but who could not be contacted, or couldn't find the sketchbook the work was in. 

I was on the phone to my editor for nearly 2 hours last Wednesday afternoon, going through the whole book, pointing up things I felt still needed tweaking and talking through any last-minute text which needed writing to fit the new, replacement guest images we were choosing to fill the holes. Then on Saturday, I spent the day doing all the bits and pieces of final work.

The design team did a great job on the kit-list page, don't you think? Remember when I was talking about it all being photographed? My print-out is only A3, but the actual book is larger, so I can't wait to see the full-size proofs, where it will be all glossy and gorgeous too!

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18. Sketchbook Exhibition at The Point

I've got a mini-exhibition of my sketchbooks this month at The Point gallery in Doncaster. On Tuesday, I travelled there for a meeting, to finalise which sketchbooks I am going to have on display and to install them. 

For now, it's only a small display: just 6 open books in neat glass cases, set into the wall of the gallery. I chose various contenders to show to the curator at the gallery. I also needed to test out which would fit best in the spaces, which are only 12 inches square, which meant neither small ones nor long ones would work. 

Luckily they were perfect for A5 books, of which I have quite a few. We chose a selection of different subjects, for visual impact, but also to get across the idea that you can sketch anything. I was keen to show work in various media too, because for me, sketchbooks are about experimentation and having fun, rather than creating predicable results.

It was lovely seeing the gallery. It's not somewhere I was aware of before they got in touch, which is shameful, given how close it is. The Georgian front belies a very modern interior. It's more than a gallery too: it's an arts centre, with music and dance studios, as well as a lovely cafe (which was very good value - lovely coffee for £1!)

If you are thinking of going to take a look, you have until October 21st.

There is also currently an Urban Sketching exhibition on, with drawings by artist Terry Chipp. There's free parking for 2 hours on the street outside the gallery too. What more could anyone want?

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19. A Second Chance to Get it Right...

I've got another Skype rehearsal of my 'how to design picture book characters' workshop this afternoon. This time at least I have the chance to spend a bit of time going through it in advance, reading it aloud. It's amazing what a different that makes - lots of last minute jiggery-pokery is needed to make things flow naturally.

The Skype practices are a bit of a performance logistically. I have to use our laptop to deliver the face-to-face lesson, for my producer Clif, in Denver. I need prompt notes though, which will be on the main computer, by the side. So far so good, but I also regularly use examples of my finished illustrations (scans of which will ultimately be edited into the lessons, so the student will see them on screen). Trouble is, for me to see what I'm talking about during the rehearsal, each illustration needs to be brought up on the computer as I go along, squeezed in alongside the prompt notes. It doesn't make for easy, uninterrupted flow.

We haven't time to run though everything (7 lessons at 20-25 minutes each is a long time), so I will perform a single lesson, as a test, which will also give us an idea of how accurate my original timings were. I am either going to choose a lesson on facial expressions...

...or on creating movement, as those lessons refer less to my archive illustrations, which will definitely help. One other snag though, is that I will be drawing lots and lots of demonstration sketches (I also need to make room for paper, in front of 2 computers squeezed onto one desk), but Clif won't be able to see my sketching at all - just me talking away about what I am doing.

There's no way round that really, but Clif says he is mostly interested in the flow of me talking and the timing - he trusts that the drawing demo side will be fine. It's making the talking bit run quite naturally from one teaching point to another, as if I'm just chatting to a friend.  I've got to get good enough at it that I don't ramble, so we can see more clearly how long each lesson will take.

Better get back to it then!

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20. Packing for Denver: all Jolly Exciting!

Today is my day for getting everything together to take to Denver. I fly tomorrow!

I don't really enjoy packing at the best of times, but it's hard choosing clothes when you are working for a week and have to look good every day - no place for jeans and skanky T-shirts! 

Luckily, I haven't got to take any picture books or artwork, because I posted a package a couple of weeks ago with all that. It always makes me a bit nervous when I post actual artwork, but I crossed my fingers and sent a big piece from Bears on the Stairs: 

...along with various sheets of roughs and a load of my books.

I have been working really long days all this week, trying to get everything prepared, not just for the 3-day film shoot, but also for the 2-day, real-life, illustration workshop I am running for Denver University, straight after the Craftsy filming (I can't remember if I told you about that?). The university's weekend workshop has been rather tucked into the background of my head, with everything else that has been going on lately. Goodness me.

Anyway, I am as prepared as I am ever going to be - no more time to worry about it!

Wish me luck...

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21. Plein-Air Painting in the Lake District

While I am away on my Denver adventure, I thought you might like to see some more of the sketching I did on my week off in the Lake District. With everything that I have had going on recently, I haven't had time to scan anything, but luckily I remembered to take photos of quite a few, in-situ. It is fun anyway, to see the sketch against the subject matter.

The whole time I was there, I was struggling against what I considered to be too much like realism:

...as opposed to my attempt at a more expressive abstraction of what was in front of me. It swung back and forth, often to do with how warmed up I was (in both senses of the word - it got jolly nippy up on some of those hills!)

I took some charcoal and a hardback, A3 cartridge pad as well as my paints. It was a welcome rest in some ways, to be back in my comfort-zone a little more, drawing, rather than painting. Very messy business though!

I tried the same view in paint, with a touch of watercolour pencil, for definition. This is in an A4 pad:

We finished the trip at Wastwater, which is my favourite lake. It's possibly my favourite place ever. There's such wild and windswept drama to it, with a thrilling atmosphere of foreboding created by the ridiculously high scree-sloped which plunge down into the dark, deep water. We didn't get there until our final afternoon, as you have to go a very long way round to access the valley - there's just the one road in, which grinds to a halt when it hits the mountain at the end of the lake. It's partly that remoteness though, which keeps it a bit special. 

I had never seen Wastwater as beautiful though, with the low sun picking out all the contours and lighting up great patches of purple heather. I wanted to stay forever, but we had to start our drive home...

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22. "She Flies Like a Bird through the Sky..."

Yep: if all is going to plan, that'll be me, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as we speak. I will have finished all my filming in Denver (can't wait to tell you all about it - hope it went well...), done my weekend workshop for the university there and be at this very moment winging my way back home to Blighty. Though perhaps it's tempting fate to point it out. We'll see!

In the meantime, how many of you clever folks got the musical reference in the title? I suspect only those over a certain age (the precise details of which shall not be mentioned, to protect the innocent). If you were around in the 70s, you might remember the iconic Nimble Bread adverts:

It was revolting stuff - about as far from healthy wholemeal as it's possible to get - but the ad used a great old song by the Honeybus, I Can't Let Maggie Go:

Okay, so hands up who remembers that far back..? 

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23. Filming My Craftsy Workshop in Denver

Well, goodness me - what a fun, whirlwind week I had in the US! I got back last Tuesday evening and have been catching my breath (and catching up on emails) ever since.

Where to begin? Well, the 3 days I spent at the studios were so interesting. Craftsy are a lovely company to work with and really looked after me, including a chauffeur to pick me up from the airport, which was an excellent start. 

I arrived on Monday night and I had Tuesday off, to get over the jet-lag and altitude, although actually neither gave me much trouble (I think my excitement over-ruled them), so I enjoyed wandering about, exploring Denver city-centre (above) and I had a lovely visit to the art museum, which was fabulous both inside and out:

They had an exhibition on 'flower painting through the ages' and, when I spotted a bunch of easels and piles of oil-pastels in their activities room, I couldn't resist sitting down for an hour and giving it a go:

On Wednesday morning I was picked up by the lovely (and very pregnant) Danica, my make-up artist, and driven to the Craftsy studio complex, where I had my very own dressing-room:

I took a change of clothes for half-way through each day of filming, so four outfits in all, to create visual variety on screen. We had fun trying to find ways to hide the mike under my cardigans and collars. People who were doing classes about dressmaking took about 10 outfits, so I got off very lightly. 

I liked the personalised star on my dressing-room door (nice touch):

That first day was a rehearsal day. We ran through a couple of lessons, to get me warmed up and used to working with the teleprompter, but it was mostly a technical rehearsal. We spent the day setting up the cameras and the clever, computerised stuff, talking through the best way to achieve things and familiarising me with the process.

We were a team of four and we all got on like a house on fire, right from the beginning. There was Clif my producer, who was as familiar with the material as me and who also acted as director and general 'person-with-an-overview'. This is Clif and pretty much the view I had while we were filming:

Then there was Tim, the man behind the sound recording and the various cameras. There were three rolling all the time I was delivering my lessons. Firstly, there was camera A which was looking straight at me, then camera B which always pointed directly down at the paper in front of me. Lastly, looking over my shoulder, was camera C. Here is Tim getting camera B into position on Wednesday morning:

Finally, there was Nick (who sadly, I forgot to get a photo of). He spent the whole time behind 3 computer screens at the back of the studio. His principle job was to create a rough-cut of the footage as we went along, editing together the output from the three cameras, on-the-hoof. 

On Thursday and Friday, I was picked up at 7.30am (!), made to look gorgeous by Danica, before starting filming at around 9.00. We had such a laugh. All my team were great - they were very easy-going and good fun to banter with, but at the same time clearly knew exactly what they were doing. The attention to detail was very impressive.

We worked until 6.30 most nights, with me sitting at the desk, either explaining various elements of a lesson to camera, or doing my demo drawings of the many different characters I'm teaching people to create. I had practised the material quite a few times, so mostly I didn't need to actually 'read' it off the auto-cue, just use it as a prompt to keep me on track, but we still had to do a fair bit of stopping and starting, where I fluffed words or forgot what was coming next, because I was looking down at the drawing I was doing and so not at the prompt. That's where having 3 camera angles is really useful: you can always find an easy place to cut in again.

There are now about 5 weeks left before the class will be ready. Nick's rough-edit needs to be fine-tuned, plus lots of images from my books need to be spliced in, where I use them to illustrate various teaching points as we go through the lessons. Like with Nana Croc for instance, when I am talking about ways to add humour when you are designing outfits for your animal characters: 

There are all sorts of additional graphics to add too, as well as setting up the interface for the students - one of the great things about Craftsy classes is that you can ask me questions and can show me your work. 

Just before the workshop goes live, I will be running a competition, to give away a free subscription to the class, so watch this space. I will also be giving out special launch-week discounts.

I can't wait to see what the technical guys do between now and then. SO exciting!

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24. Idea Development in Denver's Botanical Gardens

When I found out that I was going to be flown to Denver to shoot the on-line Designing Children's Book Characters workshop for Craftsy, I wrote a quick 'showing-off' post on my Facebook page (like you do). All my friends left lovely feedback, wishing me well, which was of course lovely. But I got another bit of feedback too, one that was rather unexpected...

I got a message from the person who runs the Botanical Illustration course in Denver. She asked if, while I was there, I would be interested in doing a real-life workshop for her students. My 1st thought was: that's odd - I am not a botanical illustrator. My 2nd thought was: wow, you never know who is looking in!

I got in touch, of course, and discovered that the course likes to invite visiting demonstrators to present different kinds of illustration workshops. Sometimes these visitors offer a wider take on Botanical Illustration (while I was there, someone from the Royal College of Embroidery was delivery a drawing-in-stitch workshop, producing wonderful rose embroideries). Sometimes though, they like to look at other kinds of illustration. Which is of course where I came in.

So, I finished shooting the Craftsy class on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning I was sitting opposite twelve very keen illustration students, in a teaching space which was situated bang in the middle of Denver's wonderful Botanical Gardens (hence my water-lily sketches).

It was a two-day workshop. On day one, I taught pretty much the same material as I had just been demonstrating for the Craftsy film, which was very handy, as I couldn't have been better up-to-speed if I'd tried. On the morning of day two, I concentrated on idea development: how you generate ideas and allow them to evolve, so they have time to get even better. We also looked a look at communication: ways to make the ideas in your illustrations come across clearly to the reader, as well as how you add humour and impact.  

In the afternoon, I tried something a bit new: I quickly sketched out an image of Giddy Goat onto a couple of bits of paper, then got all the students to gather round, while I did a demonstration. I showed them two very different ways of colouring the same illustration: one using coloured pencils to get interesting colour blends and to shade 3-dimensionally (much as I do with my pastels); the other using watercolour, but with a soft, coloured pencil outline. 

The students spent the rest of the afternoon experimenting with colouring up one of the illustrations they had developed that morning. 

It went really well. I was so pleased. All the students were really nice and several of them gave me a big hug at the end, saying how much fun the weekend had been and how useful they had found it. I felt very loved.

Mervi, who ran the course, gave me a lovely thank you present of this beautifully illustrated book the students and staff had published of their sketchbook work (thank you Mervi!):

Possibly most exciting of all... she invited me to go back and do it all again sometime! 

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25. US Feedback for my Sketching Book

While I was away having my adventures in Denver, my Sketching People book went off to our US publisher, Barron's, for a pre-publication evaluation. It's standard procedure apparently. They have a list of questions they check against, to decide if they think the book needs any changes before they publish it in the States. 

The check-points cover quite fundamental quality issues. They include questions like:
Is the writing style, reading level, interest level, and level of detail appropriate for the intended audience?
What is the general quality of scholarship and accuracy of the text? 
Is the coverage of topics thorough and well balanced?

Under each question, the evaluator at Barron's writes a paragraph or two of feedback, before sending the report back to Quarto in the UK. Any problems then come back to me, via my editor, and changes need to be made to fit in with their requirements. 

I got the email this morning from my editor at Quarto. She was so delighted, she sent me a copy of the Barron's evaluation report. 

Turns out, they loved it. We passed with flying colours - no changes at all. The opinion was that everything was extremely clear, without being overly technical and that I had done 'an excellent job of offering many different approaches and techniques' with 'exactly the details that will help and inspire readers to draw people in urban settings', covering my subject 'well and completely'. 

They believe my audience will be find it a 'lively and colourful read'. Best of all was in the summing up at the end, where it says: 'I am ...very familiar with all of the books about onsite drawing that have been published in recent years. "Sketching People" is one of the best books on the subject of urban sketching that I have seen... I am sure (it) will be popular and will sell well.'

That's such a wonderful vote of confidence, especially from somebody as all-powerful and in-the-know as Barron's. Let's hope that you guys, my 'gentle readers' think the same.

The only bit of bad news is that, because Quarto got very behind with things, they have changed the publication date. Instead of being ready in time for Christmas, Sketching People is now not going to appear until around February. Oh well, something to brighten those long, winter evenings...

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