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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: sketchbook, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Sketchbook Ravens

I've been trying to work out of that box, to leap from my safe comfort zone. Not an easy thing let me tell you, despite the fact that I'm a huge fan of change and of learning new things in life and of fearlessly (ahem) exploring the unknown.

I've also been known to dip my toe in the water, scream "argh it's freezing!!" (slightly colder than tepid) and dash wimpily off across the sand as fast as I can manage. So. Not as easy as it seems. Still, here are my (artistic) attempts at leaping into that crazily unsafe unfamiliar space ... first, in painting as loosely as possible, and second, at carving rather than drawing ...





I'll admit that they aren't what I'd call works of art (or vastly different from my norm) but that's not what I was trying to achieve. I'm just experimenting, enjoying something new. I'll get there, bit by bit.

These were done as part of my college course, and will be reblogged over at my children's illustration blog, so to take a peek at that, just click HERE.

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2. water portraits

I once saw comics artist Emmanuel Guibert at the French Institute, drawing like this in book dedications. It looked amazing, but people had to stand there for at least an hour, waiting for their book to dry before they could close it. It's fun, though; adding the ink looks like magic. (Here's a six-second video.)

Direct YouTube link

Here's the finished picture, and a few more I made:

I like how the green one came out. Sort of a mixture of Paddington Bear, Toad from Toad Hall and immigrant me.

Here's a video of Guibert, up to his tricks for Alan's War:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. Novemberings

Life lately has included illustrating book covers, a Tweed Ride, a whole lot of The Great British Baking Show (see above) and rose tea. So that's that.
Also, goodbye foliage. You outdid yourself, Mother Nature. Fist bump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6. Someday Cafe

There's something about revisiting a space that was a part of a pivotal time in your life—even when that space is now a completely different space. In the fall of 1999, I found myself in Somerville, MA after graduating RISD. I would walk to Davis Square and spend time sketching in The Someday Cafe. What a great name, right? The Someday Cafe. It was apt, as I spent time sketching on the cafe's old, used couches while I dreamt of the future I wanted for myself. I sipped hot chocolate (I didn't drink coffee) as I filled sketchbooks with early incarnations of Monkey Boy, Baghead and Punk Farm. It was also at this cafe where my friend Grace Lin gave me a key piece of advice. While Grace and I lived on the same street, we met on a Yahoo Groups for RISD Illustration alum. Grace's first book, The Ugly Vegetables, had just published. She encouraged me to send my promotional postcards to editors, not just the art directors that were on my mailing list. I took her advice and that next Monday sent a mailing to editors. That Thursday I received an email from an editor at Random House, and that next week I traveled down to New York City to show my work in person. And it was that meeting that led to my first book contract. 
My someday became my actual day. And serendipitously, Grace and I know live in the same neighborhood once again. I drink coffee now, but wasn't able to get one at my old haunt—it's now Mr. Crepe. And while delicious, it just doesn't hold the same mystique as The Someday Cafe...

From pages of a sketchbook circa fall 1999....Someday Cafe's interior.

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7. 'Living the Weather' SketchCrawl in Hebden Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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8. the perfect (drawing) equation

You know when you find one of those places that is just perfect to draw? Perfect for you.
I found one a little while ago.
Actually a drawing buddy found it for me. Illustrator Matthew Midgley found this place, the Carding Shed and Oil Can Café, and he said the first thing he thought, on walking in was "Andrea would love this". And I did.
Why so perfect? Well, it had all the elements of a perfect place for me. And it got me thinking about what was the perfect place to draw (for me) and I came up with this equation;
 perfect drawing place = stuff x vintage (old stuff) + people - cold/rain (nice venue + good coffee + food)
Anyone who has ever urban sketched in the UK, specifically in the North of the UK, will know how important that last bit of the equation is. There always needs to be a Plan B. With a roof and hot drinks. Warning for all the Urban Sketchers descending on Manchester next year.
Anyway the Carding Shed had it all.
It even had bikes. Hanging from the ceiling. Perfect.
What's your perfect equation?

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9. Happy Halloween Spooky Raven




A quick painted sketch of a raven holding a dying flower (I think it's a rose but can't quite tell), just in time for me to wish you a Happy Halloween! Be safe and have fun. Cheers.


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10. On Henry Moore and stuff

A few weeks ago I visited the fabulous Yorkshire Sculpture Park with Urban Sketchers Yorkshire. I love this place, plus, even better, there was a Henry Moore exhibition. 
I came to Henry Moore later in life. In the last couple of years, actually, I'm pretty sure it was on my first ever trip out with the Urban Sketchers to the YSP. Anyway, wherever whenever, now I'm a big fan. 
It's just SO drawable.
Earlier this month, when I had a grip on #Inktober - before it ran off in all directions - and I was doing an ink drawing a day, I came across my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook.
It hadn't been used much at all. In fact I hadn't seen it for years. But when I opened it I found this wash (above). Now, I have no idea what I was thinking way back then when I put it on the page, but just looking at it with all that time between us, I could only see one thing. You're thinking the same, right?? You can see it too, yeah?
Yes, exactly. 
So I came up with my very own Henry Moore reclining nude. An Andrea Joseph inspired by Henry Moore for day nine of #inktober

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12. Elephant & Panda Sketches

This was originally posted up on my new illustration site, so I'm linking to it here: Mariana Black Illustration. I'm trying to find some way of being less repetitive with the blogs, and sharing illustrations over both without getting too annoying about it! I may end up putting different ones here and there and just carry on linking to both with different news on each blog ... let's hope that works!

Meanwhile, here are my latest sketches of elephants and pandas, as research for my children's illustrations. Just getting to know the animals a bit better ...




I'll be spending more time this week on my art and college work and posting all of that up here, so please do pop by soon for a peek. Cheers.


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13. Tree-Sketching Flash-Mob Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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14. 'Living the Weather' in Hebden Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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15. Starting my Residency: First Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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16. Sketchbook Exhibition at The Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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17. i got the blogging blues

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

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18. Vera

A quick sketch of DI Vera Stanhope to end the week. I'd tried watching the first episode of Vera a few years back, but ten minutes in, found it too bleak to go further. I recently gave it a second go with another episode, though, and am quite glad. Vera's fashion sense and policing are unorthodoxly delightful and I could stare at the Northumberland scenery all day.

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19. what a difference a day makes

 What a difference a day makes up here in these hills. Or Peaks to be specific. I made these two drawings over a weekend. I was participating in the Buxton Art Trail weekend - where artists take over the town. with their creativity, and use shops and cafes and homes to exhibit, and hopefully sell, their work.
 I was upstairs in the Old Clubhouse pub. A venue we use for our Dr Sketchy events. It has the best view in the town, looking right out at the beautiful Buxton Opera House. The Saturday was bright, blue skies, sunny and very quiet.
 The Sunday was throwing it down. A very wet and chilly Buxton in July. I'm not sure whether people just wanted to get out of the rain or see my work, but I don't mind either way. I had the loveliest afternoon and met loads of really nice people. Hello if you're one of them.
You never know how these events are going to go. But after doing my fair share of them, I've learnt it's never about how much work you sell. Of course, that's great, it's the best, but it's also about lots of other things you get out of them; meeting new people, sharing your work, talking about your work. Plus, I signed up two fabulous new models for my alternative life drawing sessions and got two sketches of the Opera House. And who knows what else may come.

Get yourself out there.

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20. Thank you, teachers and librarians!! We love you!

Thank you, 
teachers and librarians and others who put books in kids' hands.

We appreciate you.

Taken from my sketchbook, this is me greeting Travis Jonker 
at Nerd Camp 2015. (He's not really that much taller than I am, I don't think...)

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21. Urban Sketchers Yorkshire meet Henry Moore

There are always a few of Henry Moore's sculptures nestling in the gardens of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park but, this summer, these have been joined by many more. 

As well several new monster pieces outside, the Underground Gallery is stuffed with drawings, prints and lots more sculptures. I visited a few weeks ago to plan a SketchCrawl and one look set me buzzing with inspiration. I couldn't wait to get back with my art gear.

Urban Sketchers Yorkshire did last Sunday's SketchCrawl in cahoots with the YSP, so we had lots of new people, as well as plenty of regulars. We started in the Moore gallery, as I thought that seeing how he tackled drawing monumental pieces might give people ideas. As you can see, his technique certainly inspired me:

I was pleased to have already seen the work once. With so much to see and only an hour to choose something to sketch, it was even then quite a challenge.

Our 2nd hour was spent sketching the Moores outside in the formal gardens. 

They work so incredibly well in the setting. The contrasts and colours are perfect. My friend Kerry sketched me sketching the watercolour at the top:

We had a spot of lunch, then headed down the hill to the Anthony Caro pieces. Most of the new Caros are a bit hard to sketch. They are big, fairly featureless pieces of red metal: interesting as a contrast with the soft landscape, but not much to get your pencil into. There was one though which had a bit more to offer:

It was quite a giant and I suddenly realised I had left my big sketchbook back at the lunch room. Disaster! A sketch-buddy came to my rescue and let me use her spare book (which was gorgeous 300gsm watercolour paper and much, much nicer than my scanky cartridge). Thank you Jo.

Our last stop was the bizarre field of Dennis Oppenheims: tubular steel trees growing from the long grass and sprouting mostly toilets and sinks.

It was tricky to know what to do with it, but I like the way the steel branches cut across the trees and sky. I sploshed in the background tones and colours then went in with more paint and watercolour pencil line. I was pleased that it seemed quite whimsical:

It seemed a shame to stop, as the sun was shining, but it was time to do the sharing. We headed up to the Hay Loft - a room the YSP had set aside for us. 

When I got there people were already in full swing: 

We passed then book round the table and had great fun looking at what everybody had done. There was some gorgeous work and, as usual, everyone tackled things differently.

Another fantastic day, made all the better by some lovely weather. Thanks to the team at the YSP, and especially Janette, for helping arrange things and giving us so much support on the day. We'll be back...

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22. Firefly Hollow development part 2: Curiosities.

This is part two of a short series of posts about the development of my most recent book, Firefly Hollow written by Alison McGhee. See my post from June 26th to read part one.

Putting a story together, or rather discovering one and unearthing it, is tricky business. Steven King describes it this way:

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth.” 

What parts of my story did I have? Not much. I had a few sketches that were resonating and some notes about the characters, but still no real sense of the story yet.
I tried asking myself questions about the characters: Who is this vole? Where does he live? I caught a few glimmers of things but any sort of narrative remained elusive.

So, I did what many illustrators do when they are stuck: Research. 

I started collecting images of voles, crickets and paintings of water that I really loved. I looked up rafts and boats, grabbing  anything that caught my eye. Some of the images I already had in a folder that is constantly updated called "curiosities".  In his book on creativity "Catching the Big Fish", David Lynch calls these collections "firewood". I love the term, and it is perfect the way he describes it, but I shied away from naming my folder likewise. I didn't want to burn through my material too quickly! I started putting things up and soon I had a wall of the shed covered in images. 
Writing is hard work, I happen to think that it is MUCH harder than illustrating though many of my writer friends disagree with me. Writing good picture books is particularly difficult, you will know this if you have ever tried. Trying, as I was, to write something like the final manuscript of Firefly Hollow Firefly...was....lets just say that it is like showing at Wimbledon and trying to compete because you beat everyone in your family at badminton. Nevertheless, I tried to write the picture book version of my story-numerous times. They were terrible; really, really bad. 

As an illustrator, I respond to a text and then begin to add my own voice. Ultimately, I try to create a corresponding visual narrative that enhances and supports the written word-basically creating a parallel emotional narrative. That is a summarization, and I don't think about it that way when I am working, but its the closest I can come to describing the process. I had nothing to respond to so I continued on with what I felt right...the pictures. I sketched little visual "notes" about things that I thought would be fun to paint. 
I was still on hold for the project in my desk so I scanned a few of the sketches and painted them up in Photoshop (just for the fun of it) as a color studies. 

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23. On the Pavement outside St Pancras Station...

Actually, to get the best view (and still be on the sunny side of the street), I was sitting on the pavement outside the neighbouring Kings Cross Station, but it was St Pancras I was interested in. I've been desperate to have a go at sketching it for ages, but I am so rarely in London any more and, when I am, I'm normally rushing around, trying to fit loads in.

To be honest, my recent trip to my publisher was no exception. I thought I'd sketch it after work, but we carried in until quite late and, by the time I had got back to my hotel, it was already 7.30 and I realised I was exhausted (and hungry for dinner). So, I got up good and early the next morning. 

Luckily, I was staying at the Kings Cross Travel Lodge, just across the road. I gobbled my breakfast, got packed up, checked out of the hotel and was on the pavement ready to start at 8.30am. I didn't have time to tackle the whole building - it's huge - so set up where I had a nice view of the clock tower at one end.

I was fortunate that I wasn't needed at Quarto until 10.00, so had an hour to spare before I had to be on my way. I decided on my 'watercolour first' technique, as it's nice and speedy. Then I worked into it with watercolour pencils and, finally, white chalk for occasional highlights.

Kings Cross is very busy. There were lots of tourists but also lots of people rushing past me on the way to work. Several stopped to have a look, one or two stopped briefly to chat. I just about managed to get done in time, though as usual I chopped the top off! 

And then suddenly it was time to go. I shoved everything into my bag and scurried off with my wheely suitcase to join the other commuters and get the bus to Quarto's offices: 

Next time I'm in London, if I can steal another hour, I'll tackle the front entrance of St Pancras I think.

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24. A Well-Earned Rest (well sort of...)

John and just got back on Sunday, from a smashing week away. We rented a static caravan on a tiny farm in the Lake District, to coincide with the deadline for my sketching-people book. I thought it would be great to get it all done and then go away, feeling cleansed. 

Unfortunately, my publisher was behind schedule with the last stage of the book, so things didn't quite work out as planned. I was still getting pages coming through to work on, right up to the last minute. Even then, my designer didn't manage to get it all to me in time, so there were still a few spreads left hanging...

I felt okay about it though, because the delay was not my fault, so we went away on schedule and left it all behind. It was great actually, because there was no signal where we were, so I couldn't even get emails. Enforced relaxation.

Except, I don't really do relaxation, as such. I can't sit and chill: I have to be doing something. Which is why I had packed about 6 different sketchbooks and all my painting and drawing kit. The plan was for John to go out walking, while I sat on various hills and did my thing. Sometimes we went off for the day together, doing walks with lots of quickie sketching stops, where I whipped out my trusty Inktense watercolour pencils and waterbrush:

The weather forecast was pretty appalling (especially for a sketching week): torrential rain for at least half the time and some really gusty winds. In the end though, we were really lucky. Most of the torrents happened during the evening or overnight. 

We even got a couple of days of gorgeous sunshine. Much of the time though, I was wrapped up in layers, hunkered down against the wind. August in England! The dodgier days made for more dramatic skies though:

I never cease to be amazed by the Lake District - so gorgeous. It can be crazy-busy at peak period, but it depends where you go: we were tucked away in the western Lakes, near Coniston, and it was wonderfully peaceful:

I will show you some more later, but I really have to get back to work now as I am off to Denver VERY soon!

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25. Elephants Sketch

Just a quick glimpse at what I'm playing with right now ... more elephants of course. Though I shall be starting on a new animal soon as well. Experimenting, I love it.




Wishing you a wonderful week. Cheers.


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