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The end of April marks the end of the teaching period at the University of Manchester, so each of the academics I have been shadowing for my residency has been doing final lectures in their modules, preparing their students for end of year exams. As this also means that my chance to sit in on lectures has therefore come to an end, I wanted to make sure I sketched what was left.
So, both last Tuesday and Wednesday, I sketched a 2-hour session, filling up another book. I have had so much practise now at speed-painting people, I have got more and more confident at just diving in. Most of the work I am doing at the moment involves 'drawing' with paint, only using line-tools after some watercolour is down, to pull things into focus and define details where necessary.
My added confidence proved very handy on Wednesday as, to add an extra frisson of pressure to the lecture, I also had a professional film-maker there, recording me in action. Earlier this year, we put in a bid to the university, asking for some money to make a film about the project, both to show at the July exhibition and at various subsequent academic presentations. We just found out a couple of weeks ago that we got all the money (hurrah!), but of course, we now have a very short time to get all the necessary filming done, not to mention all the time it will take to edit things together.
Anyway, we have now made a start. And luckily nothing went embarrassingly wrong with the sketches from the session!
As well as footage of me in action, we are going to be filming interviews with lots of the other academics who have been involved, getting the sociological perspective on the value and interest of the work. We began though, with a quick interview with me after the Wednesday morning lecture had finished, talking about how I choose what to include in the sketches, how I decide where to place things on the page, the degree to which I incorporate the verbal content of the lecture etc.
Here's how the sketchbook looks as one continuous piece:
Those kind folks at Derwent have been in touch again and sent me another parcel: a pressie of art materials play with. It came almost on my birthday too! I got all sorts of bits and bobs, some familiar, some new things to try...
They sent me another set of my all-time favourite tool: the Inktense watercolour pencils.
This 12 set is really all you need. I once went to their shop in the Lake District and bought lots of other colours to add to my kit, but have taken most of them out again, because these colours are so well chosen.
Inktense pencils are absolutely perfect for sketching on the go. I just love the way you can combine dynamic drawing with painterly mark-making and fill the page with vibrant colour, while carrying almost no kit - just a handful of pencils and a waterbrush.
Derwent also sent me some pastels and pastel pencils, knowing how I create my picture book artwork.
The pastel pencils were the perfect thing: really lovely quality of course, richer and softer than a lot of brands, but also very timely, providing me with some new and useful colours which I have already pressed into service, working on Class One Farmyard Fun. You need the pastel pencils for all the fiddly detail which is impossible to achieve otherwise: like all those itsy bitsy outfits the children wear, and tiny animals in the background. The Derwent pastel bars are just slightly harder than I like for my illustrations, but that will make them ideal for outdoor sketching, as soft pastels are a bit of a messy nightmare when you are out and about, so I shall save them to use for landscapes, when the weather is a bit warmer.
For the last 2 years running, John and I have enjoyed a week's caravan holiday in the Lake District, where I have spent my time sitting on top of hills, or down by the water, sketching every day, while John goes off walking. Once my busy period is over, I'm sure we'll be off to do it again, and I shall take my new Derwent pastels with me. Can't wait.
Most exciting of all, Derwent sent me something I haven't tried before: a set of water-soluble, tinted, graphite pencils:
I tried them out on a recent sketchcrawl. It was one if my residency days, taking my volunteer group of academic newbie-sketchers out of the safety of the university, to draw in the big wide world for the first time. We didn't go far, just down the road to the Manchester Museum, the same place I took my Urban Sketchers last week.
I thought I would document the occasion by drawing them sketching, rather than focusing on the exhibits, and I used my new pencils to sketch Vanessa and Andy.
The Graphitint are similar to my Inktense pencils, because of being soluble, so I used the same technique - vigorous mark-making followed by quick, understated gestures with a waterbrush - but the Graphitint pencils were different to use in three important ways.
Firstly, the lead is softer than either Inktense or any regular watercolour pencils I have tried before, giving a thicker line which you can see really picked up the grainy surface of the watercolour paper, creating a slightly looser, more textured result:
Secondly, whereas the Inktense are extremely vibrant and explode into colour when you add the water, the Graphitint are far more understated: certainly the set I was given were slightly muted shades, which work well together to create a softer overall effect, whereas the Inktense tend to be more contrasting and zingy.
Lastly, the Graphitint colour doesn't change when wet, it just dissolves. Though less exciting than the Inktense, this makes them more predictable and so slightly easier to manage. It is less easy to 'overdo it' - with the Inktense pencils, if you apply too much pencil work before the water, you can quickly get into a mess. It just depends what you are after.
I think these are going to be great for life drawing, although I have not had time to go in ages. Perhaps this will give me the push I need to make some time.
In the meantime, thank you Derwent, for my gorgeous pressies. Much appreciated.
I spent one of my residency days sketching at home last week, because I am still not 100% over my cold, even now. Do you remember the fascinating Dormant Things project, looking at the various bits and bobs we have tucked away in corners, stuff we have no actual use for, but can't quite bring ourselves to throw away? I sketched some examples a while ago. last week, I decided it was time to drag some more of my personal clutter out into the limelight.
I have been meaning to record my various pairs of old glasses for a while. They are all old prescriptions, so no use to me, but they were so expensive and are still in perfect condition, which makes it impossible for me to dump them. I tried to give them to charity but, because they are varifocals, matched specifically to my eyes, they are no use to them either. So they sit in a drawer in my bedroom. Probably be there forever, slowly growing in number. they are a little like a collection of stuffed birds or pinned butterflies: delicate and colourful, but gone beyond their moment.
Another object which I don't use, but can't part with, is my tenor recorder from primary school. When my parents bought me this, I felt very grown up, because it felt like a REAL musical instrument, whereas the boring old descants were commonplace and without any status. I was particularly impressed by the brass tab for the little finger - very special. It got lots of use at the time. I'm sure I could still play it, but I don't. I feel a bit guilty, as instruments exist to be played. A bit of my heart still loves it though, in its posh case. That's going back into storage too. Shame on you Lynne!
Finally, I thought I ought to have a go at sketching the obligatory drawer of anonymous cables. We now have 3 of these drawers, in 3 different rooms. There is no logic to this, as we have scant idea what the vast majority of them are for. But you know that, if you throw them out, you are bound to need them. Not that I would know which one you needed, even if I did. I wrote on the sketch that they scare me. They do, in the way that maths equations scare some people: I feel I should make the effort to look through them, but really, really don't want to go there.
So, spring is pretty much here (in the UK, it has been trying to be here all winter) and while the birds and bees are starting to get creative, it seems a good time for the rest of us to do the same. No... I don't mean THAT (although I don't want to be a party-pooper if you're in the mood), I mean arty stuff!
With that in mind, and in honor of National Craft Month, a little group of Craftsy instructors, who are also Urban Sketchers, are banding together to share an arty opportunity with you...
If you register for any of the 13 classes below, between Feb 29th and March 13th (using the special links here), you will not only receive a HUGE discount, but be entered into a prize draw, where you could win the chance to donate $1000 - $2000 to the 'craft' charity of your choice (Urban Sketchers is one possibility, if you don't have anything in mind. Did you know they were a charity?)
So, what makes a Craftsy class so special?
Well, Craftsy offers high quality, online courses which you can watch whenever you want, as many times as you want, and from any device.
You can ask questions of your instructor, post comments and pictures you create, plus you can see the work posted by other participants in the class from all around the world.
Each class consists of 6-7 short lessons, with homework exercises, and runs for about 1.5 - 2 hours. We are all experienced teachers and, between us, we Urban Sketchers correspondents offer 13 sketching classes - hurrah!
Several people have asked if I am planning to do a Craftsy class on 'sketching people', to go with my book. For the moment I'm not, partly because I have so much on right now. Also, I think the next class I do probably ought to be a follow-up to my existing, illustration workshop. But also, there are already two really good workshops on sketching people. One is by my good friend (and excellent sketcher) Suhita Shirodkar:
The second is by Marc Holmes, who really needs no introduction if you follow Urban Sketchers:
I can't recommend these classes enough. They are very professionally put together and delivered by experts in the field. Each one takes you through the subject carefully, with lots of demonstrations, which are all beautifully filmed, so you can see what you need to, unlike your average YouTube videos.
My class is a wee bit different to all the others, as mine is the only one on sketching for book illustration, whereas the other classes are all about drawing and painting as an urban sketcher.
This promotion is only offered via the actual instructors, so you need to use these special discount links for it to kick in. If you do, you help us instructors as well because, if we attract new people to Craftsy and they register during National Craft Week, we instructors get entered into a prize draw too. Everyone's a winner!
As part of my residency, I ran another of my empowerment workshops recently, working with the academics at the Morgan Centre. My merry band of would-be sketchers were all given a free set of watercolours at the outset and, although we did do some playing around with them during our very first meeting, I have noticed that most people aren't really using them. Not surprising - I know some very seasoned sketchers who are still terrified of watercolour.
So, I thought we would do some work with paint, to get them more familiar with how it feels and to discover some of the simple but effective things you can do.
For people to feel comfortable, it is vital that these workshops are fun and that results are acheivable. I need people to not only learn useful techniques, but to enjoy the session sufficiently that they are inspired to give things a go when they are on their own, with the SCARY blank page.
First of all, we used wet paper and explored simple mark-making methods, introducing watercolour to the page, but then leaving it alone, letting the water take it off to interesting places, resisting the urge to scrub and mix.
Then I asked people to see if they could see an image in the blobs and squiggles. The challenge was to use as few drawn marks as possible to turn the splodges into something. Love these funky birds:
Next, we played a game in pairs, where people took it in turns to add a mark to a shared painting, building up images which were initially abstract, but waiting for the suggestion of something representational to emerge. It's fun because people sometimes have different ideas of where it's going. You can choose to cooperate with your partner, or you can subvert their ideas as you see them emerging and deliberately take it off on a different track.
The idea of the exercise was to get people painting freely, but to keep it light-hearted and devoid of expectation. I wanted them to learn how the paint worked - what consistency to use, which colours reacted together well, the difference between working onto wet and dry paper - all this, without any pressure to create something successful.
Finally, I asked them to use the techniques we had learnt, to do a very quick watercolour sketch of an item of fruit or veg that I'd asked everyone to bring. I showed them how you can restrict where the wet paint is going to go, by creating the shape of your object in water first, then quickly introducing the paint while it's wet. This is my 10-second mango:
I asked people to use only 2 or 3 colours and to let the paint settle on its own, as before. Finally, to finish off with the minimal amount of line-work needed to make the object identifiable. This is my example apple and satsuma:
We suddenly ran out of time and everyone had to rush off, so I only got a photo of one person's painting, this gorgeous garlic. Quite a tricky thing to choose, particularly as an absolute beginner, but she did a fantastic job:
Everyone did really well. Their 'homework' was to go away and use the techniques in their sketchbooks over the next few weeks. My hope is that the workshop demonstrated that you can be quite free and easy with watercolour and still get quite dramatic results, by sticking to a few simple rules:
* Use water first to tell the paint where to go and to give you lovely marks
* Limit yourself to 2 or 3 colours
* Let the paint do its thing - don't fiddle and scrub!
* Less is more: you often don't need outlines
If you are afraid of watercolour, give it a whirl. You need plenty of clean water, a hairdryer to encourage the drying along and a good size brush, so you get enough paint down. Watercolour paper is ideal, but we only had ordinary cartridge paper books to work in and, as you can see, it was fine. So long as it isn't too flimsy. Have fun!
Yep, today is the official publication day for my new book Sketching People: an Urban Sketcher's Guide. Hurrah!
So, if you have pre-ordered a copy, it should be with you today or tomorrow. If this is the first you have heard about it (though that would be hard, the way I have been banging on about it...), you can read all about it and see lots of sample pages here. If you are in the US, your co-edition isn't quite published yet, I'm afraid, but you only have to wait another 3 weeks. This is where you pre-order the American edition.
Happy sketching everyone! Don't forget to leave me some lovely reviews on Amazon :-)
I have done lots and lots of drawings of people for my residency. There are, of course, no end of meetings to document. I am in my element there, but I have been trying to think of ways to make sure the sketchbooks don't look too samey.
I am interested in the way we move through familiar spaces. After a while, a home or a workplace can become so commonplace for us, that we no longer really notice it. I thought it might be fun to get people to re-engage with the intimate elements of the building they work in and to show the spaces through an outsider's eyes.
I began this book back on December 1st and have been adding to it here and there, when I have spare pockets of time. I wanted to focus in, so I began with the big revolving doors which everyone has to go through every single day. To give this context, you can see the relevant section of the university map and the local Oxford Road station most people use.
When you get inside the doors, you are faced with two alternatives: stairs or lifts. I had to borrow a chair and sit in the middle of the foyer to do these two sketches, which was great, as lots of people stopped to talk to me in their way in and out of the building. Someone bought me a coffee.
I needed to include the little coffee shop beside the lifts, as stopping off there, to pick up a drink or something to eat, is an important part of many people's journey to their work area. I got into conversation with the lovely Elenor who mans the cafe every day. She was delighted to be featured and I got another free coffee. Excellent.
I made my way up to the 3rd floor, where the Morgan Centre people are based. There is a loo just behind the lifts, another important feature. I toyed with drawing inside, but decided to be more discrete. The area outside reception is where students wait to be met for tutorials. This one looks a bit nervous I think. The water-cooler seemed a key feature too, as it's well-used.
I really zoomed in next, on the area in the centre of the reception drawing, to capture Martine, the Sociology receptionist, who is really friendly and much loved. Her pink hair is a great visual indicator of her radiant personality. I just caught her Christmas trimmings in time, before they came down at the end of term.
There is a bookswap shelf just inside the security doors. I borrowed Gone Girl over the Christmas holidays - a great page-turner. I was interested in the nature of the books, which wasn't quite what I expected. I simply had to record the juxtaposition of Feminist Review and Victoria Holt, as it was too perfect!
Once you get inside properly, the space is mainly divided between offices, like the one with the pink window where Professor Heath is based, and open-plan work areas. The desks there are laid out in a way I thought could best be captured with a aerial, plan view.
And then I was at the end of my book.
I have just begun a new book with a conventional drawing of the open-plan space. In the meantime, this Wednesday we are having the next workshop, where I will be showing the academics more techniques to try in their own sketchbooks. We will be getting out the watercolours again this time. I will also get to see how they got on with following up on December's workshop, where we had fun with collage. Watch this space!
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The advance copies of my urban sketching book just arrived - hurrah! They should have been here a couple of weeks earlier it turns out, but they went astray in the mail and the publisher didn't realise I hadn't had them. It's been a bit fraught with technical hitches to be honest because, when they resent my package this week, someone put in the American edition and one by a Singapore publisher (below), but left out the UK one (above). Never mind - they look gorgeous and glossy and I am very pleased. The contents on the inside of the different editions are more or less the same, it's just odd words and grammatical variations - it's mainly the covers which look different.
It's lovely to see how all the content looks, in it's proper form. I spent so long putting it all together and now here it is, looking like a real book!
I thought I'd take some snaps to give you a sneak preview, though you probably have a pretty good idea by now, since I've talked about it in progress often enough (hit the Sketching People label on the right, if you're interested).
There a section which looks at art materials, with a specific eye on how you choose tools which are appropriate to the problems of drawing people out on location:
I look at how you choose your subject, which is hugely important. There are some locations and activities which are virtually impossible, but plenty of others which make things a lot easier for you, especially if you are cutting your teeth:
Then there are the different possible angles to tackle. I would rarely advise drawing people front-on. It's much more interesting and far easier on the whole, to tackle them in profile or in three-quarter view, particularly when you are concentrating on faces:
I write a fair bit on techniques to deal with the fact that people move about a lot, which is of course one of the main things which makes them so tricky. I can't stress enough the benefits of trying contour drawing, both for warming up your arm and eye and for tackling your subject as swiftly as possible:
Plus another technique, handy particularly if you are drawing groups of people or people passing by, is using composites - sketches made up of a little of one person and a bit of another, with maybe the head of someone else again!
There is a lot more too, of course. I tried to think of everything I know. It's hard when you have been doing something for so very many years. It all becomes second-nature. Writing the book has been really interesting, because it has helped to make me analyse what I know. Which has actually really helped for when I am teaching workshops, like the ones I am doing at the moment for the Morgan Centre as part of my Artist-in-Residence year, and of course the work I do with Urban Sketchers.
I've not posted any sketches to the blog for a while, for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I've just not been travelling very much lately, and it's on train journeys that I tend to find the time to sketch and doodle for the most part. Most of this past year has been spent in the studio every day, working on overdue picture books and other work tasks, no trip to Tokyo last year, (almost) no train journeys outside this area. The fact is I just don't sketch as much when I'm in the home/studio all the time. One of my New Year resolutions is to get out a lot more, it's important to refresh, exercise your legs ... and brain!
I've not posted any doodles from my sketchbook pages either recently, partly for the same reason. But also I made a conscience decision last year not to post idea drawings to social media, for once a drawing is "out there" it's shared, it's somehow "finished" so I thought I'd be less likely to do anything else with it, like re-work it as a finished illustration/exhibition piece, or develop it into a story. I also wondered what my patient editors may think of it all - are they not worrying "why does he have time to doodle and post things on social media? What about my deadline?" If you're in your work studio (as opposed to time off on a train journey) is doodling simply a form of procrastination, distracting you from the real job in hand?
And there's the dilemma.
Drawing for yourself is good for you, sketching and doodling is very important for illustrators, without it we become stale, we need to sketch and doodle to explore and express our creativity outside the confines of commissions. Sharing encourages you to draw more and create new ideas - one drawing shared makes you want to create another. But you still have to work and earn a crust!
Getting the balance right is the key thing, everyone has 'time-off' from work, whether you realise it or not, no artist works from early morning until late at night without break, seven days a week. The challenge is to identify those transient time-off moments and focus on using them in a creative way, though it may be difficult to differentiate between time "on" and time "off" when your studio is a room in your domestic home. Switching between work and non-work is tough, work and home life, everything blends together. You can try placing a sketchbook in every room in the house, so that when the urge to sketch hits you the materials are always at the ready, however there no guarantee you'll use them. It's not about the convenience of materials, it's focusing the brain on using time-off to sketch, and that's very tough in a home studio.
So this is another reason it's important to just get out, get away from the studio for a change of scene, "sketching lunches" in cafe's etc..... if only there was a decent cafe near where I live!
On Friday night, John and I went to a wonderfully intimate evening of music at Cafe#9 in Sheffield. You can just spot us at the back. The photo was taken through the goldfish tank above the piano, hence the ghostly floating fish: I was with friends, so I didn't spent the whole evening sketching, but I couldn't resist whipping my book out for a quick spurt, when the totally brilliant Goat Roper Rodeo Band did their set. They describe their music as 'cosmic country blues' - great harmonies but also very lively stuff, which made them very tricky to draw, as they were jumping around most of the time.
I used watercolour and white chalk in a Strathmore tinted sketchbook, to try and capture the flavour and movement:
Cafe#9 is a favourite place of ours, both for just hanging out and for its music nights. Because the place can only take about 25 people, there is a unique atmosphere. It's like the artists are performing in your sitting room.
In fact, there is an occasional event there called Gig in Me Lounge, which originally started with a bunch of friends playing for each other in their lounge but, in recent times, they have progressed to using Cafe#9. These two sketches were done for the last Gig in Me Lounge evening.
Whoever is playing at the cafe, the music is always really good and there is always the same relaxed, informal atmosphere. We are so lucky to have it just round the corner. I only have to walk 5 minutes to get there - the poor Goat Roper Rodeo Band had to drive all the way from Wales to play for me!
Last Saturday, Urban Sketchers Yorkshire had their January SketchCrawl. I have been a bit busy lately, so I thought I would do an easy one and get people together for a coffee-house crawl, always nice and cosy at this time of year.
There is a particular stretch of road not far from me, with loads of little places but, as usual, I didn't know how many would turn up, so we met in a big Wetherspoons nearby first. Good job we did, as over 30 people showed up!
We filled one whole section - pretty much everyone you can see above is a sketcher. It's a good place to draw, as the glass walls give easy views out all round. I was doing a lot of meeting and greeting, as about half a dozen new members arrived too, which meant not much time for sketching, but I managed this one painting. The highlights are white chalk:
We decided to split into smaller groups when we got to the smaller coffee-shops, although we were lucky with timing and about half the group fitted into The Rude Shipyard, again, more or less filling the place on both floors.
They too have great window views. They also do AMAZING food, so I spent half my time gorging not sketching. Actually, I spent at least half the remaining time chatting, so I went for a quick watercolour impression of the street outside:
We were intending to work our way down the Abbeydale Road, popping into various cafes, fitting in where we could, but something rather exciting came up instead. It turns out that one of our members knows the man who has taken on the considerable challenge of renovating the old Abbeydale Picture House, a huge, badly decaying cinema from 1922. It was once a very grand place, the largest in Sheffield, with a ballroom and a billiard hall inside as well. I painted it last year, but from the outside:
It's been closed to the public since 1975, when it went rather down in the world and was used as an office furniture showroom. Things got worse though, and it was boarded up in 1991.
Anyway, a quick phone call and we suddenly had permission to go and draw inside for the rest of the afternoon. It is in a bad state, but the original splendour is still there, clinging on to the crumbling walls. We spread out all over the cinema, with some people up on the balcony, with great views down.
It was hard to know where to start, so I just sat in front of the screen and painted the view back across the stalls. I loved the time-scourged glamour.
It was slightly spooky. It was also freezing cold. I think everyone would have liked to stay longer, but our fingers were giving up the ghost, so we walked a bit further down the road to the Broadfield pub, where we warmed up while sharing the work. There were still so many of us that we had to sit at two separate tables.
These are just some of the sketchbooks from the day:
I wonder if the brilliant turn-out was a result of all those New Year resolutions. If so, that's great - it was lovely to see new faces and to re-meet some people who'd not been for a good while. Come again next time everyone! Not sure what we are doing yet, but the date is Feb 13th, so mark it in your diary and join our Facebook group to get updates. It's all free!
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so sometime this winter, i'd really love to see some snow...until then, i'll have to paint myself a beautiful winter muse. and that's exactly what i've been working on....
Quiz question for the day: what do these objects have in common?
Answer: they are all examples of Dormant Things, yet more objects of limited use, pulled from their hiding places in my attic and in the nooks and crannies of the studio.
Apart from a rather lovely visit to Pye Bank Primary School on Tuesday, I have been working at home this week. There have been a lot of back emails to plough through (groan) but, in between, I have been working on the Dormant Things project, filling the rest of the sketchbook I started before Christmas.
Posting some of this work on social media has brought out many interesting points. Should we be working towards getting rid of much of the clutter we gather around ourselves, or are our personal reasons for keeping things of dubious value justification enough, no matter how daft they might seem? I have managed to dump some truly pointless items, like the half a tea strainer above (kept in case it came in handy) and the anonymous key in the bottom sketch. Objects with symbolic or sentimental significance are mostly staying put.
Sentimental objects have given rise to another interesting discussion: items like the candle-sticks below, which John and I found on our honeymoon, are often the guardians and triggers of important memories. We tend to take photographs of significant people and places, but not significant objects. But, if you sketch the object, does the sketch take over the role of memory-guardian and allow you to release the object into the wild? I think for me, the answer is 'sometimes'. I am more likely to let go, if the object could be loved by a new owner and have another life, instead of sitting in the dark forever.
I'm having a lot of fun with this project and, as you can see, it's provoking a lot of thought. I've now completed the whole of this concertina book, but I have of course only scratched the surface and will continue to reveal the dark underbelly of my hoarded clutter...
Happy New Year all! I'm 3 months into my residency now and have so far mostly been painting a general picture of university life. I have been really looking forward to this next bit though, as I will be getting increasingly involved in the research projects of the various academics at the Morgan Centre.
Just before Christmas, I got a sneak preview or what is to come. I took my sketchbook to my very first research interview, for the Dormant Things project. It looks at the way in which almost all of us has a weakness when it comes to throwing certain objects away. We don't actually need them though, so we shove them under the bed, in a drawer, or shoehorn them into the already chocka cupboard under the stairs. Even better, we stash them conveniently out of sight and mind, up in an attic or down in the cellar. Unless you are a rare creature indeed, you will know that I mean. Yep? Thought so.
Our reasons for hanging onto these unneeded objects vary. Often they carry important memories or mark significant moments in our life. They might be 'things that could come in handy one day'. Some are unwanted gifts, or objects whose use we have forgotten but don't like to throw away, 'just in case'. I have hung onto my cut-off hair, because it is a part of me, a part of the younger me who had long hair all through senior school and university. I don't need it, I don't even need to see it, it just feels wrong to part with it.The research interview was with a woman in Stretford. All interviewees need to remain anonymous, so we called her Margaret for the day. The researcher, Sophie Woodward, had already explained about my Artist-in-Residence role and so Margaret was expected me. We had a cup of tea and she chatted generally about her personal clutter, then the three of us when into the hall, where Margaret spent about 40 minutes 'unpacking' the contents of her hall cupboard for us. I sat on the floor, a fly-on-the-wall, while she took out one thing at a time, explaining to Sophie why she had decided to store it in there, rather than get rid of it.
My task was to try my best to record the objects and their significance. I obviously couldn't draw them all. Even scribbling away at super-lightning speed, I could only get the highlights and try to capture the flavour of the interview. When we were done, I showed Margaret what I had done and she got quite emotional. I was very pleased, since I felt it showed I had captured the poignancy of her saved objects.
Once we had left Margaret, I chatted to Sophie about some of my own Dormant Things and she thought I should record them too. Which is why I dug my old hair out of the attic. It was good fun, having a reason to rummage. I found lots of contenders and am going to enjoy sketching some of them this week. Here's the first one I did:
It was a wedding present from my mum and dad. Unfortunately, it never worked properly, so was eventually stored away: too beautiful and too significant to be parted with.
If you feel inspired and fancy a bit of personal rummaging, Sophie says that she would love to see your sketches, so please do send them to her by email.
I've had a couple of lovely Christmas presents arrive through the post in the run up to the holiday.
I received complimentary copies of both books and they look fabulous - packed with information as well as gorgeous artwork by sketchers from around the world. I am honoured to be in such glorious company. This is a spread from Archisketcher featuring my painting of my neighbour's house:
I have five pieces in Archisketcher. I was thrilled to bits that Simone used so many of my sketches. I am a big fan of her work, so am very happy to be included. She tackles complex architecture, but works very quickly, so her architecture is never stiff, but always vibrantly alive:
The two books are a little different in approach. Archisketcher concentrates on important aspects to consider when sketching architecture. It has detailed sections giving advice on perspective, style, choosing viewpoints, colour and composition. It is lavishly illustrated, both with Simone's own work and with a really diverse selection of top class artists.
This is a sketch I did when feel very brave in Brazil, in the section on perspective:
This one is in a section looking at how to tackle interiors. It's a sketch I did in The Sheffield Tap pub, while on a sketchcrawl with my group. I was experimenting with 'drawing' in paint:
Pete Scully's Creative Sketching Workshop covers all sorts of different subjects for sketching. It is divided into 4 sections: Indoor Scenes, Outdoor Scenes, Buildings and People & Pets. These are all sub-divided into more specific subjects, each of which is presented by a different sketcher in that field, setting the reader exercises to try.
So for instance, James Hobbs gives instruction on sketching waterside scenes. Pete himself does a section on sketching in bars, at which he is quite a master, and also on drawing objects which link into a series, like the delightful fire hydrant sketches for which he is so well known: I only have one sketch in Pete's book, in a section by Rita Sabler on drawing musicians, so I was quite surprised, and of course delighted, to get a freebie copy.
I have been so busy, I have not had time yet to give either book the attention it deserves, but they are clearly going to be very interesting and inspirational. At £12.99 each they seem really good value too, as they are both chunky at 160 and 176 pages each. So, if nobody you know was kind enough to buy you one of these gorgeous books for Christmas, I think you deserve to treat yourself, don't you?
On Saturday, we had our annual Urban Sketchers Yorkshire Christmas sketch-party. It is always a good laugh. Everyone brings food and drink, so I don't have lots of catering to do, which also helps with planning, because I never know how many are going to turn up. This time round, there were about 14 of us I think, though it's been as many as 40 on occasion.
It's a nice way to throw a do: I just had to deck out the house, lay the table, put some mulled wine on the stove and wait.
We always follow a similar format - people gather round our long dining table as they arrive and start to sketch the food. It's an unusual sort of party though: after the initial chatter and excitement, it eventual goes completely silent, with everyone concentrating on what they are drawing.
We nibble as we go along and then eventually give in and start to scoff and chatter again.
We took our puddings into the front room this year, for some silly drawing games. We started off with 1-minute portraits of each other, which is always quite funny. Then we played a sketching challenge: a sort if cross between I-Spy and The Twelve Days of Christmas.
You had to take a letter from a Scrabble bag and find something in the room beginning with that letter, then turn it into one of the gifts from The Twelve Days of Christmas song and draw it on your postcard - all within 5 minutes! Above are a few examples. I encouraged cheating, not least because it helped me: my letter was 'M' so I drew '...a much-decorated Christmas tree'.
What you can't see until you zoom in, is how clever Matthew Midgley's letter 'D' illustration is. Each of the 6 drawing pens is named after a reindeer, and Rudolph has red ends:
Finally, we did a reprise of last year's 'drawing on espresso cups' game.
Quite a few people had to go after that, but those left standing finished off back in the dining room, eating cake and drawing on the paper tablecloth. Because I was playing host, I didn't get to do much actually drawing during the party, so went to town on the tablecloth with my watercolours:
There were some fabulous sketches. I took photos, but of course ultimately had to clear it all away in the bin. You can see them all on the Urban Sketchers Yorkshire Facebook group.
Yesterday I went to Westminster for a debate at the House of Commons. The event was to mark the anniversary of Nancy Astor, the first women MP, taking her seat in the Common's 96 years ago.
The room was packed. The seat next to me was shared by two people, and there was a small standing crowd by the door. It was a diverse crowd, including some very eloquent minors.
This is the issue:
Of the 650 seats in the House of Commons 459 are occupied by men and 191 women.Here's the Petition
There are 32 million women in the UK,
51% of the population. They are a diverse majority.
But the House of Commons is 71% male.
for you to sign if you agree that this is a bad situation and must change sooner rather than later.
And here are my sketches! Enjoy. And click to see them big.
The Panel (can't see them all here, they had to run in and out to cast votes and debate elsewhere):
Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Jess Phillips MP, Angela Crawley MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Baroness Smith of Newnham, Callum McCaig MP, Wes Streeting MP, Ben Howlett MP and Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women's Equality Party.
"There are some awfully, awfully average men in here". Callum McCaig on Whitehall.
Ellan asked Maria Miller if her boss would introduce a quota for his party.
No, he won't.
Baroness Smith of Newnham and Ben Howlett.
Sophie Walker from the Women's Equality Party.
Many good questions asked.
The last question came from a child, to great applause, and was answered by every member of the panel (in the case of Maria Miller with s shrug - the rest gave firm estimates).
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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?
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.
Last week I met up again with my brave sketching group at The Morgan Centre. They are all academics and mostly people who have no drawing, painting or sketching experience. They have volunteered to keep sketchbooks during the year of my residency and I know that they were almost all pretty terrified at the prospect.
Despite this, we had a lot of fun when we first met up last month. I ran an empowerment workshop for them, introducing them to new ways of thinking about drawing and painting. A lot of people's worries centre around their perceived inability to draw. But everyone can draw. The block is created because people feel their drawings don't in any way match up to reality.
The important thing to realise, is that realism is just one benchmark of success and by no means the only or even the best one. I don't generally try to make my sketches look like what's actually there - I have the most fun when I free myself up to be expressive or think laterally.
My group all got a free kit of art materials which I chose for them, so I began by getting them to experiment with the various different marks you could get with them, so they were less afraid of the materials themselves, especially watercolour. I got them using lots of water and playing with mark-making techniques:
I also introduced them to some alternative approaches for getting across what we see. We started by drawing a simple 'drinking vessel' which I had asked each to bring in.
Instead of the generally frustrating 'realism' approach, we looked at the object from different perspectives and I asked the group to create interlocking line-drawings which explored alternative silhouettes of their object. We thought a lot about the spread as a 'design' too, letting the appearance of the open book become as important as the actual object itself.
Instead of worrying about conventional shading and colouring of the objects, individuals painted the negative spaces they had created, then enriched the spread further by adding pattern and text, to 'tell the story' of the object.
We also had a lot of fun with blind-contour and wrong-handed drawing.
If you've never done it before, it feels very strange, but is also incredibly liberating. Instead of the hesitant, spidery-fine marks which beginners usually feel trapped into using, the drawings were bold and dramatic. Plus, they were done in just 1 minute each!
This 2nd meeting of the group was partly to review the homework task I had set them at the end of the workshop. Everyone had done really well, but one person had gone bonkers. He had no previous experience, but had been so liberated and inspired by the workshop, he had not only done the task I'd set, but then produced lots of watercolour paintings (really good ones too). I couldn't have wanted for a better result.
At the end of the meeting, I set a new homework task, based on the Heart of a Humament project, by the artist Tom Phillips. He took a rather bad Victorian novel he'd found in a 2nd-hand book shop and pulled new meanings from each page of the text, which he then illustrated, sometimes figuratively, sometimes decoratively.
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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..?