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1. Tales from the Lead-Up to the Symposium


Today is my last day in the studio for nearly 2 weeks: I am off on a book-tour trip to Spain. There is so much exciting stuff happening at the moment! I will of course tell you all about that when I get back but, in the meantime, I still have plenty to tell you about my extraordinary time in Brazil.

The historical centre of Paraty, where this year's Usk Symposium was based, was a lovely, calm place and very pretty, so perfect for sketching. 


There was quite a lot of variety to draw too. I had a full day to get my bearings before the symposium, so I decided to use one of the concertina sketchbooks I made recently to record my day and what I could see as I walked around.

 

You can see the first couple of sections more clearly - the sketches of the church and the vultures - in my first symposium post. That was my morning, pottering around, sitting down beside other sketchers, or wherever caught my interest. 

At lunchtime, we found a brilliant little self-service place, where you paid by the weight of food eaten - a rather novel and very handy idea. We ate there almost every day and more and more sketchers joined us each time until, on the last day, you couldn't move for urban sketchers:


In the afternoon, I sat on a doorstep to draw this wonderful church across the Praca da Matriz, half-obscured by trees dripping with vines and covered in epiphytes. Unfortunately for me, the woman in the house behind me was doing her cleaning... 


I was suddenly enveloped in a cloud of dust and muck that she swept through a gap under her front door. Bits in my eyes, bits in my mouth... it also filled my paint palette. And then, just a few minutes later, I was sprayed with water from a passing van's windscreen washer. A rather eventful half hour! 


There were quite a few work-horses in Paraty. Some were pulling carts, but this one was for tourists, with a trap. He was unsure of me, because of the eye-flaps, which meant he could hear and smell me, but not see what I was up to, so I tried to be as quick as I could. 


In the evening we did 'drink and draw' sessions, first in a little bar and then at a restaurant. These are a regular feature at symposiums. We all go out together and draw each other across the table. It's great fun and much better than photos when you are looking back. We often pass the books round, so people can add their names to the drawings of themselves - it's a good way of remembering people's names:


Okay, that's all for now, but I have plenty more, which I will set up to publish while I am away. I still haven't told you about my workshops, the flood (!) or my trip to Rio. Watch this space!

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2. Travel Madness

It has been a CRAZY summer! I am REALLY behind on posting here.

I went to Portland in July for ICON the illustration conference and just got back from 2 weeks in Romania. I am now digging out from under a TON of work.

So, enjoy these ICON and Portland sketches.

ICON was a great time. I met a lot of cool artists and got to visit LAIKA studios.

I do wish they had a set up that involved smaller groups rather than a lecture hall for all the presentations one after the other. I know there are a lot of challenges putting up an event like this, but there was an impersonal, lecture hall freshmen 101 feeling to it that would have probably been helped by everyone picking 3 or 4 smaller sessions a day to see.

It would have also been less overwhelming.

The speakers were very good for the most part; there was just a fatigue that set in when you watched so many in a day.

The workshops were set up more in that way and were excellent.

More soon!





Chinese Gardens









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3. No Teeth but an Eye for Art


I spent last Sunday painting in Sheffield with my Urban Sketchers Yorkshire chums. I ought to say right up front that, as far as I am aware, they all have plenty of teeth. It was our unexpected companions for the first draw of the day, in Fitzalan Square, who were dentally-challenged. I was warned that the area was wino-land, but I wanted to have a go at sketching the old, disused Post Office building:


To be fair, all three of the men were friendly, possibly too friendly. I was forcefully engaged in a very hands-on critique session with a man with matted dredlocks, beer-breath and, for some reason, wearing a paper hula-garland. I'd just finished the painting of the Post Office and the sketch was very wet. My new friend kept poking it, pointing out places in the sky where I should add in some birds, while I, in typical British style, tried subtly to wrest the sketchbook from him, without seeming rude.


We moved round the corner for sketch number two and left our companions behind. I loved this view from the traffic island, looking across the road to the tram stop. I was surprised though, it being Sunday, how many trams came through. And they stopped for annoyingly long periods, entirely blotting out my view. As soon as one going downhill had moved on, another coming uphill would arrive. I spent an hour doing the painting, but was only actually painting for 30 minutes, gritting my teeth and muttering for the other 30.


It was quite chilly (oh to be back in Brazil...), so we were all grateful for a lunch break at Zooby's cafe in the Winter Gardens. I was looking forward to a nice, hot coffee, but it was then that I discovered I had left my purse at home. There was an outside chance I had remembered it, but had it stolen, so I texted John at home and asked him to check. Being the sweetie that he is, he came all the way into town to bring it for me, so I wouldn't have to go without lunch.

For the next sketch-site we sat outside the Crucible Theatre. I was interested in the jumble of spires over this lovely old building:


It was getting pretty cold though. Various people peeled off. The remaining knot of us decided to go the the pub to draw and walked down to The Sheffield Tap at the station. It's an amazing pub. We've been sketching there before. It has one room with a really high-ceilinged and lovely, Victorian tiles, not to mention the massive mirrors, and the chandeliers, as well as all the shiny, copper, micro-brewing kit on display. You can even watch trains out of the windows - a visual feast.


I was experimenting with paint, trying to keep things wet and loose: lots of water and not too many colours - stuff I learned from sketching alongside people like Liz Steel in Paraty. No pre-drawing, no line at all. Quite a challenge, but I was pleased with the results, which seemed to conjure the atmosphere. 

We stayed quite a while in the pub (only drinking tea, honest...), sketching until nearly 5 o'clock so, when it came to the sharing at the end, we were whittled down to just 4 of us. I think we had at least 12 at lunch.


It was another fun day and actually dry for once. All that concentration takes it out of you though - by the time I got home, I was exhausted. 

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4. Photo





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5. Hot Chicks!

Hot chicks new2 450So, I think I can safely say that today, I was one hot chick!

Anything over 75 degrees is too hot for me. So let’s just say today’s weather topping off at 109 really ruffled my feathers!

I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched, but IS IT FALL YET?!!


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6. Tokyo Sketchbook Part 2

Here are some more pages from my sketchbook in Tokyo this summer. I already posted this selection on Facebook, so apologies to my friends who've already seen them!


 








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7. Ants In My Pants!

ant in pants final 450

EXCUSE ME, BUT I DO BELIEVE AN ANT’S IN MY PANTS!

There is an excellent chance that a situation such as this could cause a wee bit of anxiety and might even make a person feel, ahem, well… darn right antsy.

So one must remember to remain calm. You see, the attention span of an ant is quite short so feigning nonchalance is best. In roughly 10 to 15 minutes the novelty of wearing  your jeans will have warn off. The bored ant will soon run along to find spilt milk or some sugar to walk through.

Possession of your pants and your sanity, regained!

Maybe.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Reworked an old bit of silliness in honor of the ant trails now taking over our home. They might as well be giant, as intrusive as they are.

Oh well, at least the flies (Amityville Horror) are gone.

Bugs, eh? So rude!


1 Comments on Ants In My Pants!, last added: 9/12/2014
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8. Back in the Real World


Hello! Yes, I am back from my adventures (sigh). There is no way I can put into words the amount of fun, fellowship and inspiration that was packed into the 10 days I was in Brazil. 


The atmosphere at Urban Sketchers symposiums is always electric with excitement and creativity, but this year was definitely something extra special. Maybe it was that the Brazilians were such lovely, friendly, fun-loving hosts (we partied hard - it was GREAT!). 


Maybe it was because Paraty was the perfect location: small enough that we took it over, so that sketchers were peppered through every street, literally from dawn until dusk most days. 


Maybe it was also partly because this was my 4th time and, each year I go, I revisit more friendships from previous years and feel more at home as an instructor and correspondent. Also, I got to sandwich the symposium itself between extra 'bonding' days with smaller groups of my fellow-sketchers. A dozen of us went out on a boat trip together the day before it all kicked off - when I opened this sketch onto my scanner, a scattering of sand spilled out:


I filled 5 sketchbooks, so there's no way I am going to be able to show them all here, even spread over a few posts, but I will be gradually adding them to an Usk album on my Flickr page as I scan them. I've done a few already. You can see lots of photos on my Facebook page too.


The workshops all went really well although, on the two sessions I did on Thursday, we encountered some rather surreal and unexpected circumstances, which I will tell you about next time. This is a photo from the final workshop on Saturday:



It's been really hard trying to settle down to normality again. I think today is the first day when I have not felt that at least 20% of my brain was still in Brazil with my chums. I didn't expect to miss everyone so much!


Anyway, as you can imagine, there's lots to catch up on back home, so I'd better get on. I will come back and tell you more in a couple of days.


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9. Tokyo Sketchbook Part 1

Over the summer in Tokyo I filled a sketchbook with pen drawings. I always sketch a lot when I'm in Japan, but it was particularly so on this trip, perhaps I was driven by the shear joy of being back in the city, it was as if something had been unlocked.

Some of these drawings were the kind of fantasy ideas and escapist shenanigans I regularly doodle. One or two were observed sketches inside restaurants...

Gonpachi Soba-ya, Azamino, Yokohama. 3rd Aug
But a very large number were observed drawings of people on trains, especially the Denentoshi line, which runs from Chuo-Rinkan through the northern Yokohama suburbs, across the Tama river into Shibuya, from where it continues through the middle of Tokyo as the Hanzomon line.



It's a long, snaking line and very busy, on the evening trains out of Tokyo to the suburbs its very difficult to find a seat nowadays, even outside the peak times. Compared to a few years ago the passenger dip between the rush hour and the late trains has become much shallower, there's very little difference between 7pm and 9pm. Waiting for a later train might be fractionally less crowded, but it still doesn't mean you'll be able to sit down.



Thus, many of my sketching chances were on journeys into town at midday, often on the slower local trains.

 Whenever opportunity allowed, I'd commandeer a seat and discretely draw those around me in my small pocket sketchbook. Curiously, despite standing out like a sore thumb as the only non-Japanese on the carriage, few people ever noticed that I was drawing, and I'm pretty certain none of the subjects were ever aware.







I think this is because many commuters simply shut off when they're on the train, they close their eyes in either real or feigned sleep, or fix their gaze on smart phones.



People effectively wrap themselves in their own worlds, oblivious to the rest of what goes on in the carriage. It's a gift of the Japanese commuter to be able to do this, perhaps due to the nature of Tokyo itself - in the neon drenched street of the urban centres so much is going on around, the noise, the flashing kanban, most people develop a selective awareness of the environment around them - they filter out the unwanted "noise" of the city, and thus preserve their sanity.

There is an art to survival in the metropolis - people concern themselves with details that interest them and are able to largely ignore the rest, train journeys can be meditative affairs, and if you want to escape entirely technology provides you with music, game apps or a read.


So I'm able to blithely sketch away on Tokyo trains undisturbed in a way I'd find difficult in the UK, not least because my train journeys in the UK are much rarer, with seat layouts that make it difficult to draw other passengers. Tokyo trains, with seats facing opposite, are the perfect life drawing class.


Another thing I noticed during this trip though, compared to former years - the poses are largely the same. In the past people would read books, talk, or whatever. Now, almost everyone who gets a seat on Tokyo trains does exactly the same thing - they sit, bag on knee, smart phone in hand, headphones in ears, and close their eyes.




My task is to unlock their thoughts and character through a lightning sketch, before they move or are blocked from view. It's one of the exciting things about sketching people on trains, the knowledge that you might only have a few fleeting minutes of opportunity.



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10. Chelidonium

 
I'm a seasonal curmudgeon, wincing whenever the praises of autumn are sung too early (read: August). I like fall as much as the next person. But I like summer too, even the scraggly, overgrown bits that are everywhere right now. So I'm forgoing pumpkin-flavored everything to soak up the last of the season (read: swimming, flip flops, open windows at night and the end of the blackberries).

And speaking of summer, one thing I've been working on over the course of the past few weeks is painting a New England wildflower a day. I'm hoping to make a print when I've finished up, so let's see how long the blooms last. And while we're on the topic of prints, I just popped "The Bibliophiles" into the shop this afternoon.

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11. i wanna say, i wanna tell you

 On Saturday I got to be part of a lovely event in Covent Garden, which was brought about by Moleskine in collaboration with Urban Sketchers. I was absolutely stoked to be asked to contribute, to the event, in way of presenting a 'learning session' to anyone interested in Urban Sketching. I was surprised, to be asked, too, as I'm not normally recognised for that kind of sketching - although I am an active member of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire - I suspect I was invited because I am a prolific Moleskine user and fan.

And so, I found myself up at an ungodly hour and on the six o'clock train down to London.
Which is, of course, when I started drawing.

 My first stop, on arrival in the city, was a Timberyard café in Covent Garden, where I met the Moleskine team and the other three sketchers, Adebanji Alade, James Hobbs and Olha Pryymak, taking part in the event. This, too, was a privilege as I have admired these guys work, from afar, for years. Then we were joined by members of the press and bloggers to discuss all things Urban Sketching, before moving on to our venues.
James and I were based at the wonderful London Graphic Centre for the day. I'd never visited before, but it really is a must for pen/stationery/notebook geeks (you know who you are). If you're in London, and you are such a geek, don't miss this place. Three or four stories of awesomeness, I have no idea how I didn't spend a fortune. Well, I do; I was kept busy, drawing the day.

In the afternoon it was time for my Learning Session, in which I talked about my journey from being a secret private drawer to taking that leap, joining an Urban Sketchers group, and drawing outdoors and in public. I also discussed some of my coping strategies for making that move, how it has changed my drawing and how it's changed how I view the world (now EVERYTHING is a drawing opportunity). Then we took to the streets for some more sketching.

It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon. And, again, it is another reason I love 'sketchcrawling' - just getting in that zone with a bunch of people who are passionate about drawing, talking, not talking, but always sketching. There were sketchers of all ages, too. Above are a couple of my sketches of the youngest sketchers.

Now, I know what you're thinking, and, no, there aren't that many moose roaming the streets of London. This one was on the wall of a flower shop - the one that Emily is drawing above. I know it's not what you might expect of Urban Sketching, but that was part of my class; there are no rules when it comes to creating. Just get out and draw.

If you feel intimidated by the big picture, by drawing a whole scene or street or building, then start by drawing little bits of it. Just draw the signs, or the bins, or the windows, or the people. The rest will come. You can add the rest of the scene in later. If you want. But, if you are curious about drawing outside, stop putting things in your way. I speak from experience. I came up with so many excuses for not doing what I wanted to do, but finally letting go of that was the best thing.

I don't have all the drawings that I made, to share, here, as at the end of the day we tore them out of our books and hung them at the London Graphic Centre and the Moleskine shop. We didn't just tear up our sketchbooks though. No siree, we'd been drawing in Moleskine's new square Sketch Album which has perforated pages. Another great idea from Moleskine. Above are a couple of drawings by James and myself.

And, finally our day was finished. It was exhausting but exhilarating. There is nothing I enjoy more than talking about and sharing my love for drawing. I wish I could do this every day of the week. I guess I, kind of, do that online - which is great and all well and good - but, there is something about doing it with real live actual people!

As Adebanji finished his last sketch of the day, James and I went for a final coffee before I got my train home. But, as always with obsessive sketchers, a view from the window of Stanfords bookshop café proved to be too tempting. So, I squeezed one last drawing in before departing.

A big thanks to Moleskine and to Urban Sketchers for letting me be a part of this Moleskine Story, to the other artists and everyone who came along to sketch on the day. I enjoyed it immensely. Thanks y'all.

 Did, I say that was my last sketch of the day? I was lying. What else do you do on a train journey?

One observation I will have; if you are on the same train, in the same carriage, as a VERY drunk man then it's very comforting to be sat at the same table as a huge tattooed body builder. Even if he is wearing pink. Just saying.

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12. Amityville Horror


fly_amityville horror 450

At this time, every year our house becomes housefly central for a day or two and is affectionately referred to by my husband, Tom and myself as “Amityville Horror”. Those who have seen the movie will know what I’m referring to. If you don’t know what I mean, well, Rod Steiger plays this priest, he’s in this haunted house and he gets attacked by flies and, well you really need to check this out, man.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adFRKm9ezw4

But, I digress.

So, while attempting to prepare a meal today, several flies circled my head in this dreadful holding pattern, while many more of their creepy little comrades paced shamelessly across the cutting board with their nasty little bug feet. At least 50 or A MILLION flies crawled, flitted or buzzed over every inch of our kitchen. One poor unfortunate got himself stuck in the butter.

Gross! That does it!

We take up arms. Flyswatters and rolled up newspapers are picked up and waved wildly at the air in hopes of sending the tiny, vile vermin back from whence they came. The wild waving and syncopated swatting, followed by loud intermittent thwaps and kersplats, predictably sends our two kitties vaulting out of kitchen and into farther reaches of the house, each heading for their own piece of furniture to hide under and wait for saner times. Clearly the humans, usually such pacifists, have gone to a deep, dark place.

The carnage can go on for hours, sometimes days. But eventually this slaughter, the stuff of horror films, ends as abruptly as it began. Feeling spent, yet flush with cathartic relief, we turn to each other, blow the fly guts off our swatters and announce…

“This house is clean.”


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13. Zoot Suit Newt

Zoot Suit Newt 2 450

A snazzy, jazzy daddy and no grander salamander than Zoot Suit Newt!


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14. "The Ghost is Me"

 
 Listening to this made me draw that.

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15. I'm in Brazil!!! (I Hope)



Yes, if everything has gone to plan (pleeeease...), I arrived in Sao Paulo on Monday, in the early morning, where I met up with a handful of other sketchers and we took a bus together, down the coast to the lovely, historic city of Paraty. It's a long way and takes several hours, so much better with company.


Don't be confused by these sketches btw: your instincts are right - they are not Brazil. All will be explained...


Anyway, today I will be chilling in Paraty, trying to get over my jet-lag before the symposium starts tomorrow afternoon. I suspect I will already have started SketchCrawling though, with the others who have arrived early. There are lots of drawing events arranged around the edges of the symposium this year, so as many people as possible can take part. 


If I can work out how to do it from my phone, I will share some photos and sketches with you via the hotel's wi-fi, but I am not great at phone stuff, so no promises. If you are into such things, I think people will be sharing their work this year through a new app: PEN.UP, as they are one of the sponsors of this year's symposium (if it turns out to be user-friendly that is, otherwise it'll be Instagram).


In the meantime, these are sketches done earlier this month, on our wedding anniversary, when we took off to the east coast for a couple of days. It's one of our favourite places, especially Robin Hood's Bay, where we went for our first weekend away together (around 22 years ago!), which was why we chose it as the venue to get engaged and also stayed there for the first night of our honeymoon. 


Aren't we soppy? 

Have you spotted the helicopter by the way?

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16. How to Make Sketchbook with No Sewing!



Concertina-format sketchbooks are a bit intimidating: I had one on my shelf for a whole year before I finally got up the courage to use it at last year's Urban Sketcher's symposium in Barcelona


The trick is just to start. Once I did, I was away. I have filled two, on both sides, and am keen to keep going. There's something really exciting about the ability to create an on-going image - maybe one long landscape like the one at the top, done in Wales last summer, or combining sketches in creative ways like the Manchester one I did recently:


Trouble is, the nice watercolour paper ones are hard to come by and a bit pricey. So, I decided to try my hand at making my own to take with me to this year's symposium. How hard could it be? Well, a wee bit trickier than I thought, to be honest, but I got there.


I cut 2 big sheets of watercolour paper into 3 strips each, enough for 3 books: one slightly smaller one, like the Manchester one, and two medium, Moleskin-sized books. Working out the best page width was the first tricky bit. I then scored across the paper strips with a special device, ready for folding (you get it from book-binder's outlets):


The width of one paper sheet wasn't enough on its own: there had to be a join to get a decent length of concertina. This was the next tricky bit - if you don't get the two strips exactly in line, the error accumulates with each fold. My first attempt was a bit wonky, because I didn't realise that. You can just make out the fold below. I allowed a 10mm overlap and joined the the 2 strips with double-sided tape:


The really exciting bit is the binding. The little book I took to Manchester has no binding at all - no, really - just a board attached at each end. No sewing or making covers with spines: easy-peasy (ish). 


The finished book folds up into itself and all you need is a rubber band to stop it unfolding. It's the perfect method. I covered the end boards with fabric from a dead pair of walking trousers, stuck on with PVA. The fabric didn't want to do what it was told, so the corners are a bit dodgy, but, all in all, it looks very smart and cost very little. Have a go!

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17. Floaty Boy

floaty boy 450

FRANKY IS VERY ATTACHED TO HIS POOL FLOATY.

Revisiting a character from last year, based on my grand-neffy.

Feeling the need to make time for playing with personal projects again.


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18. Happy Monday

There are a lot of things on my plate this week - and back to school tomorrow.
Here's a peek at my luxurious end of summer snack, and today's warmup drawing.

Have a great week!

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19. Impromptu Sketch-Moment: Preparing for the Symposium


I was walking home across the centre of Sheffield the other day, when I was struck by this view. You mostly don't get such a broad open vista in the city centre, because there are usually buildings in front of you. 

It's not the sort of thing I would normally choose to sketch, but I was in the mood for experimentation, so I sat down on the pavement.


I decided to try out a technique I want to use for part of my workshop at the Urban Sketchers Symposium next month. I am trying to find unusual ways of using colour, so thought coloured line might be interesting. It's always a good idea to do the exercise yourself first though, to check how well it works. I allowed myself 3 coloured pencils to interpret the view and applied the 'negative space' in watercolour, at the end.


It's typical of me that I managed to draw everything just slightly too big, so I cropped off the top of the building and made it way too tight at the bottom too. Hey ho. That's the price of not planning anything out first!

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20. SketchCrawling in Leeds



Yes, I know we only just had an Urban Sketchers Yorkshire drawing day, in Manchester, but a fellow-sketcher had organised an event last Sunday and, since the sun was shining and John was off doing something else, I jumped on a train and tagged along.


We had a lovely time, strolling round the city centre in the area near the museum, sketching all the gorgeous architecture. At last, I have actually managed to get outside and do a day of drawing buildings! 


I started with the civic hall and managed a couple of views of that from different sketching points. I did the one above before everyone else arrived, when the sun was still shining (my train was a bit early), then we all sat down for coffee at the museum cafe and I did another, while we waited for the rain:


It got really cold and windy (and I was in a skimpy sundress - brrrrrr). We thought it must surely pour down at any second, but somehow the black clouds didn't quite let go of their load and we got away with it. 

There was a church round the corner, with a great rose window I had to have a go at next:  



I fancied a change from my pen and got out my rainbow pencil. I really wished I had brought a bigger sketchbook though. I was struggling all day to fit things in.


There was an odd bit of time left before lunch: just enough for a 20 minute quickie of the museum itself. I grabbed my Inktense pencils. This is so very different to the last sketch I did of it, when I took my group there a couple of years ago.


We walked to the art gallery for lunch in their fabulous tiled hall cafe. That is well worth a sketch too, but we were too busy scoffing. Then it was off to George Street, where there is the most sketchable hospital ever. I loved the Gothic feel and the way it was so decorated:


This is just a tiny bit of it - it's a huge building with several of these towers. Unfortunately, I was sitting on the shady side of the road to get this vantage point and got quite chilly again. All my chums were sitting in a little garden outside the hospital itself, in the sunshine:


I joined them to warm up. It was lovely to sit together for our last sketch of the day too. 

I tried a quickie of our youngest sketcher, little Katie. Unfortunately, like most 3 years olds do, she got up and went to investigate something else, just as I started to draw, but I caught her pose with paint and did the line from memory (a perfect example of the usefulness of the colour-before-line technique):


There was a good view of the Town Hall clock tower from where I was sitting. It was peaking above the roofs:


Unfortunately, those black clouds were never far away and as you can see, by the time I was done and taking the photo, it was looking decidedly dodgy again:


We went to a cafe to share our work as usual and, as usual, we had a great time, nosying through each other's sketchbooks. After that, everyone else went home, but the sun had come out again, so I hung around for one last sketch of the hospital. 

There is a very heavily decorated entrance porch I wanted to try. I was disappointed though, as I overworked it. I should have stuck with a coloured line and kept more white paper in the front section I think:


I didn't really want to end on one I wasn't really happy with, but time was getting on and I was starving, so I headed back to the station and home, ironically, in glorious sunshine with almost entirely blue skies. Buxton all over again! 


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21. A VERY Interesting Meeting about a VERY Exciting Opportunity...


On Wednesday, I took the train to Manchester again. This time I was headed for Manchester University. I was very excited to meet the Sociology team at the Morgen Centre...

It began with an email a few weeks back, asking if I would give one of the professors there a ring, to chat about an idea. Intrigued, I rang. She explained about a grant she would like to apply for, to fund a year-long project. Guess who would be at the centre of the project? Yep - little me!


They want me to spent the equivalent of 2 days a week over a whole academic year as a fly-on-the-wall, illustrating their world in sketchbooks. How brilliant is that? My first question, well one of the first was: So, what do you do all day for me to draw?

There will be the usual meetings, teaching students, working at the computer of course, but the really exciting thing is, they spend a lot of time out and about, working on research projects. There are 3 projects in particular which they are keen for me to shadow, all of which involve interviewing people in their homes or out in the urban environment. 

One is about the 'rhythms of the city': what we notice, how we feel about the outside environment we pass through every day, how we use public spaces and how we interact, or not, with others.

Another is about our relationship with the things we own: specifically, why we all have objects in our houses which we don't use, maybe don't even really want, but somehow can't bring ourselves to throw away.

The third is about the Brits' relationship with the weather: how it defines what we are and what we do, the way it impacts on how we interact with others and our environment and how different types of weather conditions create an atmosphere which is the backdrop to our lives, effecting how we feel.


As you can probably imagine, I was immediately very interested and have been helping Professor Heath put together a bid for the grant ever since. The meeting this week was to finalise some of that paperwork, to meet some of the team I'd be working with and to find out more detail about each of the projects. 

They all knew about me and are all very keen, but got even more animated when I showed them real life examples of the sketchbooks and talked them through the kit I use. If we get the money, we will be involving the whole department, students and staff, in the project: I will be running workshops to empower everybody to sketch and setting up group sketchbooks that they will work on over the year. Oh, and of course we will have a huge SketchCrawl as a climax at the end of the year!


I am SO desperate to get this job and am crossing everything I have got, hoping that our bid is accepted. I will, of course, keep you posted, though we won't know until around Christmas. How will I survive until then?

These sketches are nothing to do with the meeting but, since I was in Manchester and it WASN'T RAINING, I spent the afternoon sitting on various benches outside the Town Hall with a few Manchester-based sketch-buddies, filling my time the way I know best. 


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22. and it all comes back to you

Drawing by Jeeda Barford
Phew! I've just wrapped up my time teaching at Sketchbook Skool for this semester. Thanks to everyone whose taken part in my classes - and been so kind about them! And, hello to everyone who has found my work via the Skool. Plus, a HUGE thanks for all the orders, of books and zines, from my shop. I am wading through them all. Please bear with me, I sign, wrap, package them all myself. And, wasn't expecting quite as many.

Here, in this drawing you can see a) the generosity shown to me by the students and b) some of the things that I talked about on my course, like, drawing room plans, making an illustrated letter and handwriting exercises. 

Big thanks to Jeeda for this lovely drawing. I feel a little embarrassed, and certainly overwhelmed, by the attention. It's quite surreal.

Thank you for having me Sketchbook Skool. It's been a blast!
And, if you'd like to enrol on my course, next time it comes around, you can do so HERE.

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23. How to Use Colour: a Dry-Run of My Workshop


It's less than 2 weeks before I am off to Brazil (yippee), to run some street-sketching workshops in the sunshine, as part of the Urban Sketchers annual symposium



My workshop is called Afraid of Colour?. I've noticed that a lot of sketchers are great in black and white, but totally intimidated by colour. I used to mainly use a 3B pencil myself, but since I got into watercolour and discovered my Inktense pencils, I am having so much more fun. 

With that in mind, I designed my workshop to share some ideas and pointers, to help others make that transition too.



I have 3 identical workshops to run, each of 3.5 hours, which sounds a lot, but there's so much I want to do, it's been a struggle fitting it in. I was a bit worried that things might feel too rushed, so I thought I'd do a dry-run in Sheffield. I did the same thing the very first time I was selected to run a symposium workshop, in Santo Domingo (my speed-sketching workshop Quick-on-the-Draw). It's really useful to test that everything works in advance.



I offered it as a freebie to my Urban Sketchers Yorkshire team and put together a group of a dozen guinea-pig sketchers. I chose a spot in the centre of Sheffield, where there is a grassy area surrounded on all sides by a good variety of architecture. I was a bit nervous about the UK weather though - Sheffield is not quite Brazil - but we were very lucky: it was a perfect day.


John told me that his main worry, when it comes to colour, is the likelihood of ruining a good sketch, so we started with a workshop aimed at getting lots of colour down on the page before we started any drawing. I created the sketch at the top a little while ago, to use as an example. Below is one of the sketches done on the day for this exercise, by Abi Goodman, and the one above was done by Peter Wadsworth. Good eh?



We followed that up with another slightly lateral idea: using coloured line-work. My idea was to make the colour intrinsic to the sketch, rather than just a way of tinting an existing drawing. 



I asked the group to choose 3 different colours for the line, based on the try-out I did a couple of weeks back. This is a sketch done by Lucie Golton:



The final exercise allowed people to start with a standard black and white line-drawing, but I asked them to use expressive methods to colour it up, in a variety of art materials. I did a little demo to give them some tips, using Inktense pencil, watercolour and oil pastels:




To help people further, I had also printed out a selection of my sketches and created a little folder of examples to give them ideas of different ways to tackle the different challenges:


One of the main secrets to success is having the confidence to be bold with both your colour choices and mark-making. Wishy-washy or dingy colours tend to feel safer, but they are not going to light up your sketch.



Between each exercise, we gathered to look at the results, laying the books out on the grass to give each other feedback, then I briefed in the next task. People worked really hard and, as you can see, some exciting sketching was done. It's hard to believe that these were done by people who are uncomfortable using colour. 



At the end we went for a coffee and I asked for feedback. Despite my worries, people seemed quite happy with the timings. Everyone said that they had found it challenging to be pushed so far out of their comfort-zone, but that is had been extremely useful and very interesting. Most importantly, they all enjoyed themselves. Phew. 

A week later, at our Derbyshire SketchCrawl last weekend (more of which later), I noticed that Andrea Josephwho usually works in biro, did a beautiful, loose and joyful watercolour - in full colour: 



Job done. Paraty, here I come... 

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24. … like a fish needs a bicycle

fish bike newer 450

Folks using the above saying have obviously never met Fiona Dorsal.

Fiona, unlike many of her species, may not NEED but absolutely prefers a bicycle as her main means of transportation.

 ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Because of abject laziness I am re-posting this lil gal from way back in 2007. In fact, I’m actually re-re-posting for about the third time.

You know, Fiona has evolved, not in a Darwinian way but as a drawing a few times since then.


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25. Urban Sketchers Yorkshire: Derbyshire Sketch-Walk


Last Saturday was Urban Sketchers Yorkshire's August SketchCrawl day. This time we were out in Derbyshire, doing a sketch-walk between village pubs.

I can't take any credit for the success of the day, as it was organised by Andrea and Paul, members who live in Derbyshire. It was nice for a change for me to be able to relax and follow orders, rather than be the boss.


We met up at the Pride of the Peaks pub in New Mills, where those of us who'd had an early start to get there, treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast (yum). Well, we needed to build up the strength in our drawing-arms, didn't we?

We then went out into the sunshine to do our first sketch of the day, while we waited for all the idlers, who couldn't quite drag themselves out of bed, to join us. There are some great views in that area, because of the depth of the valley and the old, disused mill buildings:


I was peering over a wall by the bus stop, but it looks as though I was hanging out of a hot-air balloon! The group has been sketching there once before - we did a sketchcrawl in New Mills last summer - and I doubt this is the last time we'll visit either.

We set off from the pub at 11.00, on a beautiful walk down into the valley and along the canal to our next stop, the Soldier Dick pub at Furness Vale. There were some scenic places to sketch along the canal, but many of us treated it as more of a drink stop. 


There were more canal views at the next stop anyway, looking down into Buxworth Canal Basin:


The Navigation Inn at Buxworth was a great lunch stop and the sun was mostly still shining, although it had got really windy and I struggled to hang on to my book while doing the sketch above - the wind kept trying to grab it and throw it into the canal!


My final stop of the day was half an hour further down the valley at White Hough. The Paper Mill pub had gardens at the front and back, with views of the lovely Cracken Edge. I did the painting below and then the one at the top, again peering over a wall.


Unfortunately, we Sheffield-based people had to leave after that, for a final walk to Chinley, to catch our train home, but the locals carried on to another pub at Whaley Bridge, and the more intrepid amongst them climbed up Eccles Pike. I was sad to miss that, but enjoyed the train journey back through the hills with my sketch-buddies, sharing our work.  

A huge thanks to Andrea Joseph and Paul Gent for sorting out all the logistics and herding us between pubs. Another lovely day!

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