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1. A Sunny SketchCrawl in Manchester


Last weekend, we had another SketchCrawl day, but this time it was a bit different. 


Simone Ridyard (in the centre of the photo) is my counterpart in Manchester Urban Sketchers. She set up a street-sketching day with the Society of Architectural Illustration. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so sketchers from both the Usk Yorkshire and Birmingham Urban Sketchers groups also joined in.

The event didn't kick off until 11am, but I got a slightly early train and so managed to squeeze in an extra sketch at the beginning of the day. 


The Palace Hotel, just round the corner from Oxford Road Station, is a stunning colour, especially with the sun on its red bricks. Better still, you can get a great view of it from the warmth and comfort of the Corner House cafe, on the opposite side of the road. I passed a very relaxed 45 minutes with a sketch-buddy, then we had to hot-foot it across town to the meeting place for the official start. 

A group of 20 or so people were milling about when we got there: some familiar faces, some people I had so far only met on Facebook, some new introductions. After the hellos, we split into two groups, with half of us drawing the buildings visible from Bridge Street and the others venturing down to Chapel Wharf. The modern architecture provided an exciting interplay of shapes, especially with the sweep of this suspension bridge:


I sat myself in the sun but, unfortunately, my spot quickly got swallowed up by the shade of a tall building behind me. Once out of the sunshine, is was FREEZING but I couldn't move until I had finished my painting. Just five minutes before I stopped, the sun taunted me by working it's way back round. Typical. I was very pleased with the results though, so it was worth the pain. 


I had decided to take one of my new concertina books for a trial run. You might remember that I made a test book, to perfect the technique, so I sketched in that throughout Saturday, running my sketches together. I love that the concertina format lets me keep unfolding new pages, so I can add more space as I go along. Everything worked a treat, so that's good news after all my cutting and folding and sticking (although I had a major water-bottle leak in my bag, which was nearly a disaster).

Everyone regrouped before lunch, to share the work so far, because some people had to head off. That's when we took the photo at the top. Then it was reward-time. We were too big a group to eat as one, but I went with 10 people for lunch at a fantastic Greek self-service restaurant. We were all too busy scoffing to sketch. Gorgeous food (and cheap too!).


The afternoon's sketch-venue was the area around Albert Square. I have wanted to sketch the Town Hall for a while, but until recently it has been surrounded by builder's barriers. It's a monster of a building, so I tackled one tiny section, being very careful this time to pick a truly sunny spot.

At 4pm, we regrouped again at a pub, where we looked through each other's sketches and got the chance to chat to some of the people from other groups. It was all too short unfortunately, as I had to dash for a train home. 


It was still sunny though and there is one section of the journey across the Pennines to Sheffield, which is especially lovely in good weather. It's only visible for a very short time, so I had my sketchbook ready - this time a ready-made, mini Moleskin concertina, just A6. 

A thoroughly lovely day. Thanks so much to Simone for organising things.

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2. Museum Week

 If you've followed my work in the past, you may know that a favourite subject matter of mine is collections. I've drawn collections of keys, badges, matchboxes, pens, buttons and souvenirs to name but a few. I've drawn souvenirs of all kinds, like in the drawing above, which comes from an entire sketchbook of collection drawings. Well, recently I've been commissioned by Greater Manchester Museum Group to create four drawings based on their collections from four of their museums.
I'm so thrilled about getting this gig. I've always wanted to draw museums' collections. I used to dream that I'd get a job cataloguing them all. It would be my perfect job, but unfortunately photography happened and then computers and so the call for museum collection illustrators and cataloguers waned. But, anyway, now I have the opportunity. My problem is how do you make just one drawing from each museum?
Well, firstly we narrowed it down by choosing the four museums from Greater Manchester's 21 venues. The first was Stockport's Hat Works Museum which is the building in the picture above. I already knew of, and love, this place. In fact we did a sketchcrawl there just a few weeks ago. It contains everything you need to know about hat making and the most amazing hats. But, not only do I get to visit the museums, but I also got the opportunity of looking through their archives and storage. This has been such a privilege, rooting through the stores, holding history (and antique top hats) in my hands.
 The second collection I'll be drawing is the Egyptology collection from Bolton Museum. They have an impressive collection of  Egyptology artefacts. Unfortunately, I didn't get the best photos from that trip but I did get a sketch of a dinosaur before I left the building!
 My third collection is from the natural History collections of Oldham Museum. I spent the best few hours with the curator, down in the cellar archives, surrounded by so many treasures of nature, whilst being educated on bugs and butterflies and birds nest. Actually, that too has been another joy and privilege of this whole experience, learning about, not just Natural History, the social history of this region and about the collectors. Learning from passionate people.
Again, I managed to sneak some sketching in before leaving the building. Well, what else do you do when waiting for the rain to stop?
 Today was my final visit and final collection. For that I went to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment to view their medal collections. I wasn't quite prepared by how touching an experience that would be. I shed a tear or two reading the heart breaking stories of the soldiers who lost their lives.
So, that's what I'm working on right now. My drawings were commissioned by the Museum Group for a new online shop they are building, which is coming soon. Very soon. Which reminds me, I don't have time to sit here blogging, I've got (a lot of) work to do.....
 
Oh, and unbeknownst to me, and quite coincidentally, this is actually Museum Week 2015. So Happy #MuseumWeek one and all. Go visit a museum because museums are great places. 

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3. Fish Fingers and Custard


A sketch of the 11th Doctor, because I finally worked my way through all the David Tennant  (SOB! WAIL!) episodes of "Dr Who."

Geronimo!

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4. one of the issues of working with marker pens

That is all.
Bugger.

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5. Concertina Sketchbooks: the Clever Details


I have now finished my 35 sketchbooks, ready for my residency at Manchester's Morgan Centre. I don't know if anyone out there is going to have a go at making the books for themselves, but in case you are, here's the final stage of the process.


The cover is more or less done, but two things are missing - we need the card insert, to hold the paper concertinas we created in place, and we need a way of fastening the book closed, because the paper will try to escape and inevitably unravel itself in the most inconvenient places you can imagine.

The insert is very straight forward. I bought a pack of A4 black card from WH Smith, 240g, which was perfect. The insert width needs to be approx 10mm narrower than your back cover board. The height, needs an excess of 30 - 40mm to fold over, both top and bottom. The centre between the folds should measure 5mm more than your concertina-paper height (which should also be about 10mm less than the height of the book cover). Score the excess and fold (gently, rather than tightly):


Test that this does in fact sit neatly into your back cover (I made lots of measuring errors during the course of making the books - it's best to double-check everything).

I tried using double-sided tape to stick the insert into the book at first. I figured that it would be less messy than PVA when trying to position the folded card, but it started to peel up after just a couple of hours, so I went back to PVA. 


I glued the top flap first, positioned it (folded under) on the inside back cover - 5mm from the top and outside edge - then put it under a couple of books to dry (squeeze out and wipe any excess glue first!)

I did the bottom flap once the top was secure. One trick: I was aware of the potential for excess glue to squeeze out underneath at this stage, unseen, and accidentally glue the insert shut, so I slipped a strip of waste card in between, before pressing the glued flap down. 


Again, put books on top to dry, or it springs up.

The end of the concertina-paper can now be slipped under the card and slipped out again when you want to replace your paper. Ingeniously simple solution for refills. I can't take the credit I'm afraid: my clever friend Lucie Golton designed it.


Many people use ribbon to fasten books. I didn't want to drill holes in the cover through, as it acts as a mini drawing board when I am using the book, so I wanted it unsullied. John came up with the Velcro system. I was going to buy Velcro tape, then discovered these nifty little guys:


Perfect. You pop one fuzzy spot onto the book, back and front, then attach the loopy halves onto a short strap, which I made from vinyl to match the spine. 


I just cut a piece of vinyl twice as wide as needed and 10mm longer each end, cut across the corners, then folded it in on itself, using PVA again. 

The beauty of the Velcro is that, when the book is in use, if the unfastened strap gets in the way, you can detach it and stick it back on at 90 degrees. You don't lose it, but it doesn't keep flapping and springing around the edges your paper.

If you found this project useful and want to check out other handy posts, try using the Hot Tips label on the right. I add the label to anything I think might be helpful to other people. It's a bit of a mix, with other ways of home-binding sketchbooks, but also tips for building up an illustration folio, how to do a school visit, create a 'Flat Plan' to plan out a book, or how to use  / where to buy particular art materials. All sorts. 

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6. Concertina Sketchbooks: Making Detachable Covers


The covers are done - hurrah! Making them isn't as tricky as you think, honest. You need:

Book board: warps less, but any thick board could be substituted I guess. 
PVA glue and a biggish brush (don't let it dry on the brush!).
Cloth: I've used regular cotton before, but book cloth is stiff and paper-backed, so easier.
Book vinyl: for the spine (though again you could try other materials).
Endpapers: any thickish, patterned paper works.
Medium weight card: a small piece to create a flap, to hold the folded paper in place.

You also need lots of scrap paper, to help create both a clean and a 'gluey' work area, side by side.


I started by cutting 2 pieces of book board: you need to allow 5mm more than your folded paper inner all round. I then cut 2 pieces of book cloth, allowing about 20mm overlap on three sides, but cutting it 20mm short on the spine edge. You stick the book cloth pieces to the boards (it's easier to apply the glue to the board, rather than the book cloth):


You turn it over and cut off the corners, snipping within 2mm of the board corners:


Then you glue all the excess cloth edges and stick them down, making sure to pull the cloth tight over the board edges (sorry, just realised this photo is up the other way - bit confusing, but you get the idea):


The corners are slightly tricky (this is where the book cloth really helps). You use your thumbnail to tuck the cloth into the corner on one side, then fold the other edge over to seal a neat corner:


Next comes the spine. I measured the width of my folded-up paper inner at 15mm. I didn't squeeze the paper too tight, so it wouldn't be under too much pressure and the book would close more easily. 

This is where the vinyl comes in: you need a piece to join the two boards together and create a strong spine. Book vinyl is great as it's very strong but also takes pencil on the reverse, so it's easy to measure and cut to size. 


I measured 35mm, to stick to each board, plus the 15mm spine, so 85mm wide. It needed to be as long as the board height, plus an extra 20mm top and bottom to fold over. I drew all this onto the vinyl, so it was easier to line things up when sticking on the boards: 


I put PVA glue onto the vinyl one half at a time, placing each board so it sat within my pencil lines, until it all looked like this:


Then I glued the excess vinyl top and bottom and folded it over, making sure it was pushed well into the spine. 

I then cut another strip of vinyl to go on the spine's inside. That needs to be just 1mm shorter than the book height, both top and bottom, and roughly the same 85mm width. When you glue that on, you need to really push it into the spine edges, so it's snug against the board and stuck tight to the other piece of vinyl:


There is a book-binder's tool which is designed for that job, but there are plenty of things which will do the trick, including a thumbnail.


Then you do the endpapers. You would normally stick the paper to both sides but, in this case, the inside back cover is going to be completely obscured by the flap we need to make, to slip the paper insert into. You just need to cover the front. Measure a piece that is 4 - 5mm smaller than the front cover all round and stick it on.


You're nearly there now. I'll tell you how to make the card insert next time, as this is turning into a very long post.

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7. Concertina Sketchbooks - Folding and Sticking!


Yesterday afternoon, John and I cut up the very last section of the huge roll of paper for my concertina-format sketchbooks. It's been quite a marathon task, but I now have sketchbook paper coming out of my ears. It has mostly landed on my already full desk, where it is perched on top of all the tagged and numbered sketchbooks, which are still waiting to be scanned for my Urban Sketching book


So, now I have to gird my lions for all the folding. The ones I folded on Wednesday have been sitting under piles of heavy books ever since. They do seem a little tamer for it:


I have folded 10 so far, so still another 25 to go. 

I have made a start on the detachable covers too. There are two to make, as there are two different sizes of paper. This was because the size I wanted to create didn't fit exactly into the width of the roll. Which meant that I got 30 sketchbooks at the 21.5 x 14 size, then another 5 from the 'excess' edge of the roll which were squarer, at 17.5 x 14. 

I made a test one first, to fit a Moleskin-size, just to get the technique right. It worked really well. I bought some proper book-cloth specifically for this project, which was a great idea, as it cuts and sticks down very much easier than regular cloth. I also chose a snazzy print for the endpapers. This time, because I had a budget, I bought the proper stuff, rather than using gift-wrap, like I did for the Japanese bound ones:


Because the 300gsm paper folds up into quite a thick book, I had to create a reasonable sized spine for my covers, which I have done with a book vinyl. This is the inside of one of the covers so far:


In case people want to try making some for themselves, I have taking photos at the various stages to show you, but that's for next time.

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8. Spring Fairies

Unleashing the last spirits of winter
Something about spring makes you think of fairies. I think it is all of the new life that emerges. So, I have been doing a lot of them in my sketchbook lately.

The council is in session...
We also just saw Song of the Sea, a wonderful film by the folks who did The Secret of Kells. It was a beautiful film with a bit of a Spirited Away vibe with a dash of Tolkien's Silmarillion (he was greatly influenced by Celtic and other European mythology). I loved the design and the concept.

It is common mythology around the world of spirits being a part of everything... The world does awaken this time of year from a dormant state.

I can hardly wait to get outside to sketch!

The Leaf Litter...
Even at the Krohn Conservatory!

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9. How to Make 35 Concertina Sketchbooks!


Although my residency doesn't start until the autumn, I wanted to get the sketchbooks made well in advance, in case of difficulties. So, a couple of weeks ago, a HUGE roll of watercolour paper arrived in the post. It was 10m long and over 1.5m wide: a bit of a nightmare to manoeuvre, but perfect for making concertina books, as you don't need any joins (usually the trickiest bit).

This morning we got stuck in!

We had to pull a 6ft table up alongside my work bench, just to have somewhere big enough to cope with rolling the paper out so we could work with it. Everything had to be scrupulously clean too - another nightmare.


I had worked out that I would get 7 sketchbooks out of the roll's width, each a max of 2m long (so they would not be too unwieldy to exhibit at the university, when I'm done at the end of the residency). Given the roll's 10m length, that meant 5 sets of 7, so 35 books in total.

I decided to cut a couple of the 2m lengths from the roll first, to make things more manageable. I had intended to get the lighter weight paper I usually work on, but at the last minute went for the 140lb instead, so the finished lengths will be more sturdy. Trouble is, that weight means the paper is really springy, so absolutely everything was a two-man job. Thank goodness for John!


I thought long and hard about the order of things and realised that it made sense to do all the scoring (for the folds) before cutting the paper into the separate books. That way I could score across all 7 books at the same time, with only one lot of measuring. The books are going to be 14cm x 21.5cm, but you only need scores for alternate folds (because the folds go in 2 different directions), so we began by measuring out 28cm intervals down each of the 2m lengths.




The book-binder's devise I used on my last sketchbook experiment seemed a bit thick to be accurate enough for a long concertina (where any errors quickly multiply), so I sanded the sharpness off a bamboo pen, which was perfect. We didn't have a ruler long enough to straddle the complete 1.5m width, but John dug out a really long spirit level: 


That too needed a jolly good wash but, once clean enough, it saved a lot of time at the scoring stage, as we only had to measure up each edge of the paper and not in the middle too.


I had tried to use the spirit-level as a straight-edge for cutting across the width, but that was a BIG MISTAKE. It's depth interfered with the handle of the knife and so I have one rather raggedy cut, before I realised the problem. Ah well - it's a learning process.

Next job was to mark the width with the 12.5cm intervals, ready to cut the paper into strips for the separate books. It would have been really easy to mis-measure, so again I was glad to have my man-servant with me, double-checking as we went along. I was still rather nervous when I actually began cutting: 


We had to get 3 separate cutting mats lined up along the bench, because of the ridiculous size of the paper. It worked a treat though. By mid afternoon, we had curls of watercolour paper perched all over the studio, ready for folding:


I worked down the length of each book, folding at the scored lines we had created every 28cm: 


I lined up the in-between folds by eye, working without pre-measured scores, so that I could try and make sure the concertina didn't wander too far off square: 


The thicker paper took a bit more man-handling and got chunky quite quickly, which was another reason I limited the length to 2m: 14 'pages' of 14cm. 300gsm paper certainly has very strong opinions of its own, so the experience was a bit like wrestling an octopus at times. The folded books are still pretty springy and rather keen to explode - I have put them under heavy books to see if that tames them at all.


So that's the papers for 14 books done so far. I'll tackle another batch tomorrow, while I remember how we did it (and while the studio is clean). Although I must also get on with my book. Eek!

Plus I also have to make a cover for the sketchbooks. Instead of individual covers for each book, which would take ages, I was given a great idea by my sketch-buddy Lucie Golton: a detachable cover which you use again and again. She made me one as a present a while back, so I can copy her system. Thanks so much Lucie! 


I'll take some pictures as I make the cover, as well as showing you the finished item, but that's for next time.

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10. Écoutez!

 
Things I'm listening to while working on book edits. Got Spotify? You can listen here.

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11. Cafe de Sketchy



John and I had another fun evening recently with Dr Sketchy Sheffield. The theme was a Toulouse Lautrec style cafe. Some great costumes. We had a fabulous cancan dance half way though too:


For some reason, I didn't feel much in the mood for drawing with my watercolour pencils, so worked the whole evening in watercolour, using a paintbrush instead of a pencil. Luckily, I had brought pretty big sketchbooks with me, which made it easier. 

I ended up giving this painting to the model, as she was so taken with it:


Luckily, I had a 2nd opportunity to sketch the dancing girls in their extraordinary costumes. I just love those huge turquoise feathers:



I had been working at a school in Scunthorpe during the day, so unfortunately we were a bit late getting to the pub where the Dr Sketchy events are held. I like to get there first, so I can get a seat at the front, where you can see better. The organisers do allow for that problem though, by having the models roam the audience, posing around the room, often sitting at the tables amongst us: 


The pose of the three dancing girls in the photo above was sideways on to the audience, with the girls leaning on the bar. I was sneaky and quickly slipped onto the other end of the bar, which gave me a clear view and more room for my paints:


The rest of the time I sat myself on the floor at the front, so I could spread out. When you are working quickly in paint, you have to have somewhere to put the ones which are still wet, while you work on the next pose. I put my lager on the stage, to stop me accidentally using it to wash my paintbrush!


There were fellas modelling too. I was very taken with this man's waxed moustache. This was another sketch I gave away, which is why it's signed. I was having a rare generous moment! The model kindly did a scan of it for me before he got it framed:



I love the challenge of Dr Sketchy - so much to do in so little time. You can feel the concentration humming in the room. With multiple models at once, you often only get part done:


I really enjoyed the paint-drawing. I think I need to get a better brush though. I know Liz Steel works a lot with a dagger shape, which gives a good range of fluid marks. I've got to get one, but I am having trouble getting a wide enough one from a UK seller that isn't also really long. 


Thanks so much to Eric Murphy for the use of these great photos. He even managed to capture me without the usual sketcher's double-chin, so an extra thanks for that!



If you like the idea of Dr Sketchy and live in or near either Sheffield of Buxton, check out their Facebook page for future events. If you live further afield, try a bit of Google searching, as Dr Sketchy is a franchise, with groups around the UK and USA I believe.

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12. SketchCrawl in Nottingham


Sorry it's been a week since I last looked in. I am working hard every day on my mural. I did get to escape the computer on Saturday though - everything stops for SketchCrawl day!

This month, Urban Sketchers Yorkshire met up with our counterparts in Nottingham, for a drawing day at Nottingham Castle. There were a few sketchers from the Manchester and Birmingham groups too, so it was really lovely to meet lots of new people.



The train from Sheffield arrived half an hour before the one from Manchester, so I did this quickie of the station front, while we waited. By the time I got underway, I only had 20 minutes, so I was really pleased with the results. I think, because of the silly amount of time, I had such low expectations that I was really relaxed. No time to think either, so I was working on instinct, by-passing my brain (often a good thing with my brain).


Fired up with this success, I decided to brave the cold at the castle and draw outside. Several people did the same as the views across Nottingham were spectacular. I avoided the really long views and drew the interesting aerial view down over the surrounding streets, continuing in my concertina sketchbook with the tinted paper, flowing on from the drawing I did on Castleford.

Nottingham Castle isn't a real castle - the real one was blown up hundreds of years ago. The new one is a museum and art gallery, so I headed inside and had a quick whizz round to warm up my fingers and toes. Then it was time for some lunch and chin-wagging with my new chums.


After lunch I was sufficiently thawed to try again outside. It was cold, but there was very little wind, so it was possible to stand it for about an hour. I did this view of the front entrance.


Once more chilled to the bone, it was wonderful to walk through the automatic doors and feel the wall of heat kick in! The gallery was a really lovely space, so I sat in there for my last sketch of the day, working with my Koh-i-Noor rainbow pencil and some white pastel:


This was a continuation in the concertina sketchbook and flowed on from the earlier drawing:


It also filled the very last section of the book - a rather satisfying end to the day - so it's now complete: 


You can't really see the drawings properly here but, if you are interested, you can enlarge it sufficiently for a good look on my Flickr page.

This lovely book was made for me as a present by one of my group (thanks again Lucie!), but I have also made concertina books for myself. They are very easy. If you want to have a go, this post shows you how.

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13. 10 Ways to Cultivate a Family Art Habit

On Twitter, Kim asked if I had any advice for a family getting started with sketching and art journaling. Did I ever! I’ve Storified the conversation, if you’d like to see how it unfolded, but I’ll recap it here as well.

My replies below, expanded a bit. Points #6 and 7 are the most important.

Yes, lots!

1) Koosje Koene’s Draw Tip Tuesday videos. She also offers classes in drawing and art journaling. (Here’s a post I wrote about her videos in November.)

2) Sign up for a free two-week trial at Creativebug and take Dawn Devries Sokol’s Art Journaling class and Lisa Congdon’s Basic Line Drawing. I wrote about how much Lisa’s class inspired me in my “Learning in Public” post.

3) A bunch of books to inspire you: Lynda Barry’s wonderful Syllabus; Danny Gregory’s new Art Before Breakfast (it’s a delight; I’ll be reviewing it soon) and the much-beloved The Creative License; the Illustration School series; the “20 Ways to Draw a…” series; Claire Walker Leslie’s Keeping a Nature Journal; the Usborne “I Can Draw” series. And a few more recommendations in this older post.

4) Maybe try a Sketchbook Skool course! They offer a free sample class (I mean klass) so you can get a taste of the magic.

5) Cathy Johnson videos. Rilla loves Cathy’s art and her gentle delivery.

6) Most importantly! Really just dive in and do it—if you do it, the kids will follow. Mine truly love to see me working & playing in my sketchbook. Actually, Rose was just commenting on it today, before this Twitter conversation occurred. She said she has really enjoyed watching me start from scratch (so to speak) and work at learning to draw. They all seem to love to see me trying, making mistakes, learning, improving. My progress excites them almost as much as it does me. :)

7) The REALLY most important piece of advice I can give: Allow plenty of TIME and room for mess. Many parents say “I want my kids to be creative” but can’t tolerate mess. Art is messy. Creativity is messy. You need space to leave work out and return to it. Supplies in easy reach. And big spans of time for messing around, staring into space, doodling, doing things that look unproductive. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is to any creative process. Time and room.

When I’m writing a novel, my most intense work happens while I look like I’m doing nothing at all. Sitting and staring blankly, chewing my nails, or filling an entire page with tiny lines and spirals. This is my body getting out of the way so my brain can get down to the real work of creating.

And for the visual arts, these totally tactile pursuits, you’ve got to have a place to spread out your paints, your pencils, your small objects that make you itch to draw. You know what’s nice and tidy and doesn’t clutter a room? A cellphone. If you want them to spend less time staring at screens (I’m not knocking screens here, you know I love me some screen time), you’ve got to grant them some real estate.

With that in mind, I make a point of keeping art supplies in easy reach. We have a dedicated kitchen drawer for placemats, paper, paint supplies so even the youngest kids can help themselves. Jars of colored pencils & crayons on table, a sharpener on the kitchen counter, a stack of art books on the shelf nearby. I want them to have constant free access to art materials. It’s also a good idea to keep a bag packed for outings. I described ours in this old GeekMom post.

8) And what materials do I recommend? For littles: good paper, cheap paints. I elaborated on my reasons in this post from several years back:

When my older kids were little, I read lots and lots about the benefits of providing children with really high quality art supplies. In some cases, I still agree: Prismacolor colored pencils are worlds better than your drugstore variety. The lead is so creamy and blendable. They’re expensive but they last a long time—we’re on our second set of 72 colors in over ten years.

But watercolors? Real watercolor paper makes a huge difference, but it’s expensive; that’s one reason I was so taken with Jenn’s idea to cut it into smaller, postcard-sized pieces. But when it comes to the paints themselves, well, I’ve been the high-quality route, absorbed the persuasive literature that talks about rich pigments and translucent hues; bought the pricey tubes of red, yellow, blue; collected jars for mixing colors; watched my children squeeze out too much paint and gleefully swirl it into an expensive puddle of mud-colored glop.

Lesson learned. The 99 cent Roseart or Crayola sets work just fine. In fact, dare I say I think my preschoolers like them better? Mixing colors is fun, but there is nothing quite so appealing as that bright rainbow of pretty paint ovals all in a row. When Wonderboy and Rilla make a mess of their paints, Jane cleans them up with a rag and they’re practically good as new.

For older kids—and for yourself!—my advice is to skip the student-grade watercolors and go right to artist quality. More expensive but the difference is immense. You can use the money you saved buying cheap paints for the preschoolers. ;)

We’re still addicted to Prismacolor pencils—no other brand will do for me. And I like Micron pens for line drawing. The ink is waterfast so you can paint over it (like my pumpkins in yesterday’s post). I also picked up a few gel pens—white, silver, and gold—and Rilla has had unbelievable amounts of fun with them. I love the white one for writing on a dark surface, like on the tag of my pencil pouch here.

pens

The sketchbook I just filled up was a Canson Mixed Media, 7×10 spiral bound. The size worked really well for me. I also have a small Moleskine journal with watercolor paper, but it feels so special I find myself hesitant to use it and reaching for the mixed media book instead. (I’ve just started a new one, same as the one I filled up.) That’s my real playground, the place I’m not afraid to (in the words of my personal hero, Ms. Frizzle) “Take chances and make mistakes!” But I’m getting braver every day and the lovely paper in that Moleskine is calling to me.

I’ve also found I love doing my first rough sketches with a brown watercolor pencil, very lightly. I go over it with ink afterward and then, when I paint, the pencil just blends in and becomes shadow. I don’t sketch this way every time, but for some reason it seems to free me up. I’m more daring with this pencil. It takes me to a confident place between graphite pencil—with its sometimes overly tempting eraser—and straight-to-ink, which is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying. The brown Aquarelle feels like my co-conspirator. I don’t know how else to describe it. I have even starting making some first tentative stabs at portrait drawing, thanks to this pencil. (I tried a selfie-a-day project for a week. None of them looked much like me, but this attempt on day seven could maybe be a cousin?)

my cousin me
Guys, I still feel so shy about posting my drawings! I mean, I have so many friends who make their livings as illustrators—heck, one of them even just won the Caldecott! (GO DAN! SO THRILLED!) Do you know how nerve-wracking it is to know pros are looking at your rookie work? Of course you do. Because what I’ve learned is everyone feels that way. Even my most brilliant artist friends look at some other person’s work and sigh wistfully, wishing they’d made that piece. I’ve seen it happen time and again. So bit by bit I’m getting brave enough to share my baby steps. 

9) Okay, so you have your lovely sketchbook and drawing implements, now what to draw?? Well, I guarantee Koosje Koene’s videos mentioned above will keep you and the kids busy for a good long while. There’s also this wonderful Everyday Matters Challenge list at Danny Gregory’s blog. 328 suggestions, so you’re just about good through 2016. And Kortney tipped me off to this most excellent Lynda Barry post (in Rilla’s words, I simply adore her) about keeping a visual diary.

10) And a last tidbit I almost forgot: A most beloved activity here (especially for Rilla and me) is to listen to audiobooks while sketching. Many of my happiest hours have been spent this way. We’re especially fond of Roald Dahl while drawing. Nobody brings on the whimsy like Dahl.

bfgjournal

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14. San Diego gardening is a quirky business

spring pumpkins

Remember those pumpkins I said might be ripe in time for Christmas? More like Valentine’s Day. We gave most of them away to a neighbor (who thanked us with pumpkin bread, so we came out ahead) but kept a couple to perpetuate the cycle. We’ll ignore these and let Nature do her thing, and maybe we’ll have some seeds sprouting earlier in the season this time around. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the jarring contrast of spring flowers and fall harvest.

Spotted two tiny caterpillars on the milkweed! Sadly, however, we also found a withered monarch chrysalis hanging on the fence with a pinprick hole in it. It looks like we’re raising caterpillars for something’s lunch. Not cool, Nature. Monarchs have enough to contend with these days.

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15. six weekend moments

pocketpalette

1. Leaving the house early yesterday morning, I spotted a pair of goldfinches feasting on the seeds of my basil—yes, another herb I forgot to pinch back, and now I’m glad

2. Pink milk and candy hearts

3. Saturday night ritual: art time with Rilla while the older girls watch TV with Scott (after the early-to-bed boys have conked out). This week, we binged on Cathy Johnson videos. Oh, I just love her, murmurs my girl.

4. Weeded the front-yard flower beds. Began, at any rate, and made good headway. After I mowed the other day, I discovered just how much is in bloom. Nasturtiums, coreopsis, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, viola, milkweed…Ellie said it’s okay to talk about my flowers, hope you don’t mind. ;)

5. Set up a new palette and spent a good while testing colors with Rilla.

6. This one’s a Big Happy: today I finished the last empty page in my very first complete sketchbook. I started it on August 30. Have drawn or painted almost every day since (even if only for a few minutes). Feeling pretty chuffed.

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16. at the junction


On Thursday evening I went to an Etsy team event in Manchester. For those, not in the know, if you have your own shop on Etsy you are also a part of a huge worldwide community of Etsy shop keepers. Amongst that community there are a whole host of teams - places where traders can connect and discuss what matters to them. And, sometimes events and meet-ups come out of those discussions. So, I went to see what goes on at these events - I've observed from the outskirts until now - and, to sketch the event - which, too, could be seen as observing from the outskirts.

The team in question is Etsy MCR. Based in Manchester (obviously), this is a really pro active team of Etsy traders. Over the evening we had talks from members, local creative businesses and a live Skype chat with Etsy UK HQ. It was really inspirational. I've very much come to realise the importance of getting our and about, networking and connecting with other creative folk and small businesses recently.
This realisation has become heightened, of late, now that I've finally, after all these years, taken the leap and given up my day job. Eeeeek. Woohooo. Arrrgh. YAY. Shit. Oh.Oh dear. Oh yes. Okay. Help. Yay. Eeeek. Woo-fecking-hoo. Yes, that's pretty much what's been going through my head since doing so. Anyway, more of that in another post.
Back to Thursday. And, back to the gorgeous setting of Sugar Junction, in the wonderful creative Northern Quarter of Manchester. And back to Etsy. I'll be honest, I've never made the most of the Etsy community, teams or the tools they have to offer (I've never really had to as I've always had that comfort of a monthly wage) so this has all been bit of a revelation.
It heartens me to know that there are so many people beavering away, turning their passion into a small business, and understanding all those issues and concerns that I too feel. I really do sense a sea change in the way people shop and they way people think about where, and why, they shop these days - since the recession. It's been a long time coming and I guess it takes something like a recession to question those things.
 This is the time, if we want it, for the whole shop local ethos to flourish. Shop local and shop independent that is. Shopping in a way that puts money and investment back into our communities - whether that be our local communities, and high streets, or the worldwide community of small independent businesses who are doing all they can to keep their head above water.
Actually, this, just might have, unintentionally, turned into a post about giving up the day job. Sorry about that.

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17. The Wonder of Butterflies

"Maiden"

Do you ever find yourself sitting and watching a butterfly, and then realize minutes have passed, finding yourself wondering why they are just so magical?

I do... all. the. time.

I'm drawn to art with butterflies (especially collage), I'm drawn to the colors, the way the wings flutter, their gentleness, their life stages and how we make that into a metaphor for life, all of it! I love them so much I even have a butterfly, a painted lady, tattooed on my right shoulder in memory of my grandmother...who also loved the butterfly.

But I am still drawn to the question of....why?

"Danielle"

According to the light research I did from the Butterfly Conservation site, and other pages around the web, butterflies have two purposes in nature, aside from being beautiful.

They pollenate, and they are food.

Yep, they are at the bottom of the food chain. They're food for birds, mammals, and reptiles. Like, food for everyone. One of the most wondrous and beautiful visions on the planet get eaten more than anything else.

I'm not trying to depress you with this news. When you sit and think about it, here's what is concluded:

They are a source for life. They feed everyone protein, vitamins, and nourishment.
They pollenate flowers so that their seeds will spread and the earth can continue to give back.
They bring beauty and peace to us in our gardens.
They share color and pattern throughout a mostly green, brown, and blue environment.

And, they give us hope through their life stages of metamorphosis. A demonstration that we are all beautiful from the inside out, and if we are truly ourselves we will shine brightly.

They are a symbol of rebirth, to start anew because they do! They live two lives, one as a caterpillar, the other as a butterfly.

"Birth of Twilight"

You find so many butterflies in my work because of these thoughts. They will always make me wonder, but I think the simplest answer, they are BEAUTIFUL, is why God put them here. Yes, they have a purpose, to nourish, but that is part of the beauty.

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18. Rain, Fashion and the Contents of Bottom Drawers...


It's been a while since I got the fantastic news that I have been awarded a grant from The Leverhulme Trust, to spend a year working with The Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives at Manchester University, shadowing their research projects with my sketchbook in hand.


Unfortunately, because we wanted the project to span a single academic year, we set the start date as October 2015 - ages to wait when I'm so excited! In the meantime, we can at least start planning, so Professor Heath from The Morgan Centre came to the studio this week, for a meeting.


I have learnt that the main project I am working on is studying the effect the weather has on us Brits - more painting in the rain perhaps! Plus there is also a project around 'Dormant Things': objects we all own, which we don't need or even really want, but can't quite bear to throw away. Cellars, attics and bottom-drawers everywhere are packed with them.


Another couple of bits of research I might dip into are going to involve interviewing people on the streets of Manchester. One is about how people interact with public spaces and the other is looking at street fashion. That should be quite a challenge - my speed sketching will come into it's own!


I've also been commissioned separately to shadow their conference in July. The theme is 'Atmospheres' and they have some fantastic presentations booked in. It sounds like it is going to be fascinating, over and above the fun I am going to have recording it in my sketchbook. I will be co-delivering a presentation with Prof. Heath about our project and, as with the ASCEL conference, I will have a short slot on my own near the end, for showing what I have been drawing during the event and talking briefly about Urban Sketching.


Such a fun job. Can't wait.

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19. the silence of a falling star and other juicy quotes

Day Four of the post three drawings for five days challenge. Yes, it's taking longer than five days. Way longer.
Today, I chose these three drawings because they are all linked. Obviously, they are, but I thought I'd expand on how they are linked. And, how I work sometimes. So yes, of course, I've worked with the same palette here. Incidentally, blues and browns are my favourite colour combination. I just think they work so beautifully together. They also work great with the cream Moleskine paper which is the sketchbook I worked in here.
I often have a few sketchbooks on the go. Quite a few in fact. A lot are Moleskine, but not all. These days I'll draw on anything and everything. The top page is from what I call a 'spare sketchbook'. It's the kind of book that doesn't have a specific theme, it's just somewhere where I dump all of my thoughts, play around with images and compositions, practice my handwriting, file all those lovely juicy quotes and lyrics - that I happen upon - for future reference and make lists. Lots of lists. I love these kind of books. Everyone should have this sort of sketchbook. I can guarantee if I look through this book (this one is about seven years old now) I am reminded of and inspired by all sorts of things I'd forgotten.
At one time, when I was going through a drawing funk (they don't happen anymore by the way) and whining about it on my blog I was offered a piece of advice that I've never forgotten. I remember who gave me the advice too. It was Felicity Graces who some of you may know - although she doesn't draw, or at least, post her drawings anywhere near enough these days. Anyway, where as other people had been telling me to look through the work of my favourite artists or contemporaries, Felicity said definitely do not do that but look back through my own back catalogue of work. It was good advice. That's where you reconnect with what you love to do and the things you love to draw and why you love to draw.
So, that's why I recommend having a 'spare sketchbook'. You'll find so much in there too relight your fire. And, so to these drawings. Both of the two (bottom) drawings came about from developing themes I played around with in the top spread. By taking the notes and ideas and pushing and pulling them in all directions.

And, another thing, the envelope spread is what can happen when something goes wrong on a page; collage. The best way to cover all of your mistakes.

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20. The Daily Sketch - Day 17

In a moment of great tension and stress (while driving I might add), I come over a hill and in the far off distance something bright white catches my attention. They are pigeons taking flight, and their bellies shine brightly of the morning sun. 

I am immediately made aware of my tense and negative attitude, and at the same time made aware that peace is present. 

Today is the day for white doves, and of course white pigeons. We are both, I am both. 

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21. Sitting on the Stairs in Castleford Library



I took the train to Castleford yesterday, to work in the library for the day, running the drawing workshops I was telling you about, with local, Y4 school children. They did me proud and I'll show you some examples next time, once I've sorted through them all.

In my lunch break, I sat in the glass stairwell and sketched the view from the window, using my favourite Sailor Pen and some watercolour. I'm not much into drawing cars, but I liked the long view right across the car park, across the shopping street, towards a river and distant hills: 


I was using an A5, grey-paper, concertina sketchbook which a fellow member of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire, Lucie Golton, made for me as a present, because I loved my tinted-paper Strathmore so much and she noticed how I've recently been getting into the extendable space of the concertina format. How lovely is that? Concertinas are great for longer views like this, when there's loads to fit in, especially if you don't like drawing small.

Ignore the candlestick by the way: that was part of some sketching I did during a recent SketchCrawl day in Buxton.

I did everything but the white, pastel highlights on the spot, but ran out of time before I could get them added (white chalk really lifts things when you are sketching onto a tinted ground). I added the pastel on the train and so got into a lovely conversation with a young man and his mum who were sitting across the aisle. They had been talking about his baby daughter previously so, with an apology for ear-wigging, I signed him a copy of Baby Goes Baaaaa!, passing on the present vibe:


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22. A Sketch for Today

A sketch for today. May all of you out there creating, whatever form you choose, have a lovely day.

2015_01_29_sketch1

The post A Sketch for Today appeared first on Lita Judge.

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23. Dog likes to lay down on my #sketchbook because she wants to be...



Dog likes to lay down on my #sketchbook because she wants to be the centre of attention. #illustration #twelveprincesses #artstagram



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24. 46th World Wide SketchCrawl Day


This Saturday was wonderful. Good company, good food, good drawing...


I wasn't going to bother with World Wide SketchCrawl Day this time around, since Usk Yorkshire only recently had our January outing, at Stockport's Hat Museum. But I have been feeling a little bereft to be frank, because I have been spending all my working day at the computer just lately, either writing my book, working on the mural, or preparing lectures and events. Which means that I am not drawing. Hardly at all!


So, I advertised that I would be spending the day drawing in local, quirky coffee shops, if anyone fancied joining me for a spot of sketching to mark the day and guess what? Loads of my sketch-buddies came to keep me company. Perfect.


The inside of a cafe is not always the most inspiring subject matter: I would sooner be out in the street drawing buildings, or up in the hills painting landscapes but, with snow on the ground, it was a wee bit chilly out there. Okay, I know some of my Urban Sketchers cousins are sufficiently hardy that they sketch in temperatures so cold they have problems with their watercolour freezing (yes, really), but I kind of want to keep my fingers and toes. Call me a softy. 


In a coffee shop, you do get the added benefit of cake. Really nice cake actually. And a SUPERB goat's cheese tart for lunch at The Rude Shipyard (name from a quote in Cloud Atlas by the way - we looked it up). I actually got to sketch the street from there too, as there were good views from the windows:


After lunch we walked 100 yards to Strip the Willow, a great arts and crafts collective (where my aforementioned venture into the nice cake featured):


Then it was on to our final stop: the Electric Candlelight Cafe, with odd things on the walls:


There were cuckoo clocks too, but I couldn't fit them in. 

We had a really sociable, laid-back time and were enjoying ourselves so much that we didn't venture home until 5.30. Because I was the one who planned the day, I made sure we finished up just a short walk from my house too - clever or what?

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25. Best Friends Daily Sketch

I am so unbelievably blessed with some very open, honest, and funny girlfriends. I've always been one who struggles with friends, but as an adult, I believe I have some of the best and strongest relationships I never thought possible.

One of these friends is fellow illustrator and work from home mom, Candace Camling. We are so much a like, yet so very different, and I adore this about our relationship. We can be very honest, borderline offensive honest, and still want to talk to each other. I find this very special and I treasure it.

"Explore all the World" illustration by Candace Camling

She's on her way to New York today for a very important trip. She's attending the SCBWI conference where she will be presenting her top notch portfolio to directors, editors, and participating in the illustrator event (sorry, I don't know ALL the details). She's on her way to the top as a children's book illustrator.

I thought of her this morning as she's beginning this fun adventure. I've been able to help her out with printing her portfolio, and I am very honored to be there for her. She helps me out by being my soundboard for those really rough days and nights all about being mom or struggling artist.

She's my light for today, reminding myself that you get what you put in. She puts in long hours, money, perseverance, and hope for her career, and I'm inspired by that.


Visit Candace's blog and her portfolio!!!

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