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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. '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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5. Illustrator Submission :: Daniel Arriaga

Post by Chloe


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Daniel Arriaga is an illustrator based in the USA whose work often tells a narrative, depicting fun characters. He has worked in various departments at Pixar, and also Disney. He has helped to produce films such as Wall-E, Up!, and Wreck-It-Ralph. Arriaga combines digital art with a subtle painterly style to bring his work to life, and his clever colour palettes create a nice ambiance in all his work.

If you’d like to see more illustrations by Daniel Arriaga, please visit his portfolio.

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6. Impressionable Portraits

Long ago, in a land far, far away (okay, like a few streets away...literally) I used to sit and draw conté portraits in a mall. My boyfriend at the time worked for a shop, who allowed me to sit right in front offering my services. At the time I did it because I could and it made me a little money during high school. But to be honest, I didn't see it as something to rave about or be excited about.

c. 1999

Fast forward almost 20 years, and I can tell you that my view on portraiture has changed...dramatically.

Hand drawn portraiture brings a perspective, quality, and etherial impression a photograph lacks without professional editing. And this is exactly what I hope to bring to you. The act of drawing a portrait is very personal, challenging, and a HUGE honor and gift given to me as the artist.

I have this daydream to hand draw children, friends, and family into fairies and angels. I am starting this new service using colored pencil while I build my watercolor techniques in this subject matter. The idea behind Impressionable Portraits is they are lifelike, and look very close to the realistic photo, but with a hint of whimsy and sketchiness found only in drawing. They are not intended to be photo realistic, but definitely to look a lot like the person being drawn.

c. 2015

I am currently taking commission requests for these portraits, and still have room to get some done before the Christmas holiday. They take about a week to create. Please visit my request page, fill out the information form, and in the subject line write "Impressionable Portrait".

These are 5x7 inch colored pencil drawings for a flat fee of $200. Sprayed and matted in a white mat, ready to be placed in an 8x10 frame.

All I need is the photo, if it's fairy or angel wings, color palette, and something of interest to the individual. 

It's my wish to provide an image filled with wonder, joy, and light around a person you love dearly. As a gift, or for yourself.

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7. 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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8. Three years on Squiggles, poetry, Welcome to the Family

Why don’t I blog?
Because I’m too busy staring into space.
But had a lovely time at the Guardian’s Big Draw with such a fine and varied group of illustrators. I did Squiggles, where you can turn a squiggle into anything. Here (above) are some of yours.

On October 27th I’ll be at the  Wantage Betjeman Festival doing more Squiggles and reading from ‘It’s Not Fairy’ and my new book of poetry, ‘Vanishing Trick’.

And ‘Welcome to the Family’ by the splendid Mary Hoffman (with my pictures) is shortlisted for the School Libraries Asociation Award.

Here’s what kind Rhino Reads had to say about it:

By the inclusion dream team of Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith … Perhaps Gove should scrap all his education reform and, instead of donating a King James Bible to every school, he could put a set of the Hoffman/Asquith books in every school library. He could change the world.’ – 9th July Rhino Reads


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9. 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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10. 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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11. The Story I’ll Paint: Part 3 – Devil’s in the Details

Eventually there comes a time when the artist must figure out all the things that are happily ignored during the thumbnail phase: perspective, anatomy, facial expression, and the nitty-gritty details that fill the world of the picture book. This can seem daunting, but there are plenty of steps one can take in order to make this easier.

1. Reference images

I’ve found that it’s well worth my time to make reference photos or sketches for the poses of my characters. Sometimes I had to be pretty creative to get the right angle and pose. For the balloon page, I needed to draw the mother from above, running and dropping firewood at the same time. I put on a dress, bought some firewood, and made my husband photograph me from the second story of our house. It took quite a few tries and a lot of yelling through the window before we got it right. I’m sure the neighbors thought I was crazy.

Yes, I'm wearing jeans under the dress. But it was snowing.

Yes, I'm wearing jeans under the dress. But it was snowing.

Models are another useful tool. They can be elaborate or simple. Sometimes a bit of modeling clay and a scrap of cloth was enough to get the right position:

balloon-baby clay model and final drawing

Fabric scrap + modeling clay + bowl = hot air balloon baby. Please pardon my dirty window in the background.

2. Perspective

If you’re working with perspective, it’s important to get it right. A few errors can throw the whole illustration off. I often find that my vanishing points are inconveniently distant. There are more traditional ways to deal with this problem, but since I’m a modern gal I’ve taken to using Adobe Illustrator to figure it all out.

The simple and quick method is to open the rough sketch and draw lines for your horizon and vanishing points manually with the line tool. If you have something fancy going on like a wacky three-point perspective or lots of round objects, you can take advantage of the built in perspective tool. I used this for my balloon page, making sure that all the round objects were correctly proportioned:

Perspective drawing for hot air balloon illustration

It looks chaotic, but somehow made sense at the time.

3. Putting it all together

With the perspective lines overlaid on the rough sketch, I projected the whole thing onto a larger piece of paper as my guide for the final drawing, keeping the other reference images nearby. Here you can see the transition from thumbnail to final drawing to final art:

thumbnail, drawing and final illustration of hot air balloon

As you can see, the cat transformed into dad at some point along the way.

For more on this subject, I recommend the wonderful reference book by Dinotopia artist James Gurney, Imaginative Realism. If you’re not familiar with Gurney’s work, he is truly a master of his craft. The book worth a read for everyone, but is especially useful for illustrators working in more realistic styles. (No, I’m not cool enough to actually know Gurney personally and he did not ask me to promote his book. It’s just one of my favorite references.)

Coming up next: Adding the Magic –  Color and light!
Other posts in the series:

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12. '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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13. 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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14. 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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15. The Story I’ll Paint: Part 2 – Finding Harmony

Let’s talk about COMPOSITION! Yeah!

Have you ever noticed that some compositions feel awkward, while others just seem to flow? There are many strategies for creating interesting and easy-to-read compositions. In order to keep from writing a super long, rambling post, I’ll stick to discussing only one method for today. When a composition really isn’t working, sometimes I like to turn to math: the Golden Ratio.

The Golden Ratio is a geometric relationship that you probably learned about in high school, where the ratio of two quantities to each other is the same as the larger quantity’s ratio to the sum of the two quantities. That can sound a bit confusing when you write it out in English words, but it’s actually incredibly simple when you see it drawn. I’ll refer you to this informative Ted Talk about Fibonacci numbers. If you create a sequence of boxes using the Golden ratio, you get a spiral:

Golden Spiral

Image via the Wikimedia Commons

The Golden Ratio/Golden Spiral is ubiquitous in nature: it shows up in sunflowers, shells, the shape of your ears, the proportions of your body, and the form of galaxies and hurricanes. I could go on and on. The Golden Spiral also happens be a handy tool for creating interesting compositions. Sometimes all it takes are a few tweaks–moving something to the left, lining a few key elements up, to take your composition from “meh” to “aah.” This isn’t a new concept. Artists have been using the golden ratio pretty much ever since it was discovered.


As much fun as I have playing with the composition of my illustrations, I also have to remember that each image is NOT a work of art in and of itself. The book needed to work as a whole, so it was also important to find harmony between the pages as well. This is where my editor and art director were invaluable, never losing sight of the project in its entirety, and keeping me from getting too attached to compositions that were not quite right for the flow of the story. (And also making sure I kept enough space for the text to be placed.) I made several physical dummy books myself so that I could experience the page turn and see the images together in sequence.

If you have another favorite method for finding interesting compositions, I want to hear! Let me know in the comments.

Coming up next: The Devil’s in the Details
Other posts in the series:
  • Part 1 – Getting Started
  • Part 2 – Finding Harmony
  • Part 3 – Devil’s in the Details
  • Part 4 – Adding the Magic
  • Part 5 – Painting with Guts

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16. BTW @dog_opus thanks to you I’ve revived my lead holder,...

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17. Illustrator Submission :: Sarah McMenemy

Post by Chloe

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Sarah McMenemy is an illustrator based in London who began by illustrating many of the beautiful houses in the city. Her portfolio now contains an abundance of painterly work depicting stunning architectural works around the world. Sarah McMenemy’s work has appeared in a range of magazines which have covered finance, beauty, architecture and home decor. If you would like to see more of Sarah McMenemy’s sophisticated colour palettes and characterful illustrations, please visit her portfolio.

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18. Illustrator Submission :: Lea Taloc

Post by Chloe

leataloc leataloc2 leataloc3 leataloc4

Lea Taloc has combined her passion for the kitchen and illustration to create beautiful works which often appear in food blogs and magazines. Through her art and graphic design techniques she is able to convey emotions and add visual embellishments to every day life. Lea Taloc’s work has a bright and airy feel to it which is refreshing and cheerful. 

If you would like to see more of Lea’s work, please visit her portfolio.

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19. busy week ahead....

painting petals and tresses...

putting the finishing touches on a couple of  things as well as starting a new triptych of cute little woodland animals for a new mommy to be.

floral flourishes....
 {a very productive August, i might say....}
heads-up, little guy...

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My Anxiety web comic has a brand-new home.
I am reposting all the old episodes, edited and tidied a bit, and there are many new ones to come.

So: that's where the new stuff will happen. Go Look There.

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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. those who know me personally....

know that this little sketch needs NO explanation! 

{and for those who don't, well i think it's pretty self explanatory.}

football is BACK....but more importantly than that, PEYTON IS BACK...and that makes for a very happy girl, right here!!!

i have followed this man from his rookie days with the Colts (their loss) to his days with the Broncos (thank you, John Elway for the most wonderful addition your team). classy. humble. respectable. incredibly talented and just an all around awesome guy...and quarterback.

ironically we turned out to to have some unfortunate circumstances in common....like multiple neck surgeries/fusions which if you know anything about the cervical spine, well it certainly affects the use of your arm(s)/hand(s). to still be able to grasp a football and play as eloquently as he does, well that is nothing short of miraculous to me. i feel his pain everyday (literally) as holding a pencil/paintbrush has become somewhat of a challenge on some days...but as peyton says, "these nerves have a mind of their own." they surely do. however, i use that pain to fuel my passion even more. so...take THAT nerve pain! ;)

wishing peyton (and the broncos) a great season and may today be the first day on the journey to the Super Bowl...WIN! 

peyton, you are my hero!

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23. Activity Books: Drawing Tips and Techniques

Manga for the Beginner Kawaii, My Monster Bubblewriter Book and Photoplay! all seek to engage readers by providing prompts and tips to spark creativity.

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24. Illustrating “The Hole Story of Kirby the Sneak and Arlo the True”

Summary: This blog post covers a book project that I worked on from the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2105. I was hired to create a cover illustration and a number of black and white interior illustrations for the book The Hole Story of Kirby the Sneak and Arlo the True.

via Studio Bowes Art Blog at http://ift.tt/1h8AfKg

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25. i got the blogging blues

No matter how many good intentions I have, I just can't keep  my blogging up. I sometimes even forget it's here. I can Facebook, Tweet, Instagram and even Flickr, but I just can't get into a blogging habit. 
Here, I bring you some flowers to apologise. Thanks to those of you who still visit. I'm not sure why you would. I hardly ever seem to. For those of you who keep up with yours; HOW do you do it?
Flowers for sale HERE

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