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1. Plein-Air Painting in the Lake District

While I am away on my Denver adventure, I thought you might like to see some more of the sketching I did on my week off in the Lake District. With everything that I have had going on recently, I haven't had time to scan anything, but luckily I remembered to take photos of quite a few, in-situ. It is fun anyway, to see the sketch against the subject matter.

The whole time I was there, I was struggling against what I considered to be too much like realism:

...as opposed to my attempt at a more expressive abstraction of what was in front of me. It swung back and forth, often to do with how warmed up I was (in both senses of the word - it got jolly nippy up on some of those hills!)

I took some charcoal and a hardback, A3 cartridge pad as well as my paints. It was a welcome rest in some ways, to be back in my comfort-zone a little more, drawing, rather than painting. Very messy business though!

I tried the same view in paint, with a touch of watercolour pencil, for definition. This is in an A4 pad:

We finished the trip at Wastwater, which is my favourite lake. It's possibly my favourite place ever. There's such wild and windswept drama to it, with a thrilling atmosphere of foreboding created by the ridiculously high scree-sloped which plunge down into the dark, deep water. We didn't get there until our final afternoon, as you have to go a very long way round to access the valley - there's just the one road in, which grinds to a halt when it hits the mountain at the end of the lake. It's partly that remoteness though, which keeps it a bit special. 

I had never seen Wastwater as beautiful though, with the low sun picking out all the contours and lighting up great patches of purple heather. I wanted to stay forever, but we had to start our drive home...

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2. 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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3. Portrait outside Pentonville Prison

I need a photo of me to go in my sketching book: I always think it's more friendly to be able to see the person who is 'talking' to you in a book of this kind. I have loads of publicity shots (I've never been a shrinking violet), but the more perceptive amongst you might have noticed that I changed my hairstyle about a year ago: my spikes have given way to a quiff. Which means older photos are not so good. 

So, while I was visiting my publisher, all kitted out in my best frock and with photographer Phil Wilkins on hand, I suggested we take a picture of me 'in action' with my sketchbook. I thought we would do something in the street, but my designer thought the local cafe, where we had just had our lunch, might be fun.

Quarto's offices are 100 yards from Pentonville Prison and the cafe is literally opposite the prison's main gate, which is why it's called the Breakout:

We went just before closing, so we wouldn't be disturbing any punters, and I sat at a table in the window on the far right of this photo. We shot loads of subtle variations on the theme. We tried a serious 'I'm concentrating on sketching' pose:

...and an 'I'm just sketching whatever is outside this window' one:

We also of course did the standard 'smiling at the camera' pose:

At one point a man came rushing in from the street, said: 'Don't take my picture, I just escaped!' then ran off again.

I am not sure yet which picture we are going to use in the book. They are all nice (thanks Phil), but I think the last one is the most friendly and welcoming. What do you think?

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4. 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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5. Photographed in Action: a Trip to London

As regular readers will know, I am very close now to the deadline for my book, the full title of which is now decided: Sketching People, an Urban Sketchers Manual for Drawing Figures and Faces.  All the scans from my archive of sketchbooks are done, as well as various additional drawings, created specifically for the book (like for how to draw hands and using colour as a framework instead of pencil). 

But one BIG ELEMENT has been waiting until the end... the photographed sequences. These are needed to show how sketches are built up: 

But that's really not something that can easily be done at home, so I took the train down to London and spent two days with my publisher and with Phil Wilkins, a freelance photographer. 

To better explain how I draw different elements of people and how I tackle specific tricky situations, we wanted to show my sketches in stages. But for my style of working, where a sketch is done very fast, stopping at various stages was a problem. Which is why we got Phil to stand behind me, capturing the work in progress. 

I was rather excited and looking forward to the adventure, but also a bit nervous: I wasn't sure how well I would perform under that kind of pressure. 

There was a bit of a spanner in the works too - a tube strike. This meant we had no models, so had to press-gang various people from the surrounding offices to come and sit for me. We started off by drawing the Senior Editor Kate. She was very unsure about the whole thing, but reassured when she saw it was just her hair I was focussing on:

I did someone's ear, as you can see at the top, then someone else's nose and mouth. We scoured the building for someone glam enough to be wearing high heels, then got her to clamber up on a table so I could draw her legs and feet:

The most scary sketch I had to do was left to day 2: to demonstrate a technique for drawing movement, by superimposing different elements over the top of one another. I thought a violinist would be a good option. Luckily, my editor Lily could play. Unluckily, the only violin we could lay our hands on was a child's one which had been gathering dust in someone's attic, so it's slightly smaller than it should be in the sketches. Hey ho. Probably nobody but another violinist would notice.

Once again, Phil set up over my shoulder so he could take pictures all the way through, from first marks to finished drawing. I did two different versions, first with my Koh-i-Noor rainbow pencil, so Lily ended up with lots of arms:

Then I tried again with my Inktense pencils, using different colours for the different overlaid arms. I think it's this one I like best as it's a more interesting teaching technique:

We finished off with a long pose. I wanted to do something on how to plan out a more complex situation, where you have more than one characters and a bit of background. We mocked up a meeting with 
Lily and one of the interns. I sketched a little thumbnail first, to plan the composition, which Phil photographed for the book, then I used this plan to create an under-drawing in my sketchbook, in lilac coloured pencil, before beginning in ink with my trusty Sailor pen:

Every minute or so I paused for a photo. It was really quite an odd way to sketch! 

Once the line drawing was complete, I used watercolour to pull out the light and shade and give splashes of colour. It's not the way that I would normally work, but it's a good technique to demonstrate for beginners and so something that needed to be covered in the book:

The final sketch is not as exciting as I personally like - it's interesting how the more formalised approach made it harder for me to be expressive - but it will do the job. I gave it as a present to the intern, as a reminder of her time at Quarto, as she is heading home to new Zealand shortly. I also gave individuals the pictures of their ears, noses and legs etc.

We had some other jobs to do while I was in London, bit I'll talk about them next time, or we'll be here forever. See you in a few days...

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6. Foreign Translations - Issues with Text

The final, must-have-it-all-done deadline for my urban sketching people book is August 21st and I am delighted (and relieved) to say that everything is on track to be ready in plenty of time. Cue round of applause...

The whole timing thing has been a tad tricky though. I am used to the world of picture book publishing, where I can predict pretty accurately how long things will take me at each stage, but the planning, writing and illustration of this book has been totally different. With no previous experience, it was impossible to know how long I'd need for any of it, which has made it very hard for me to plan my time this year, particularly with weaving it around other projects. 

All a wee bit stressful, especially as, I must confess, I am a bit of a control-freak (ask John). 

One last-minute job I've just sorted, was to find some extra images from European sketchers. This is an interesting ploy by my publisher. Other sketchers who have done books will tell you that there is a big issue with having text on your drawings: it creates problems with foreign co-editions, because the handwritten text can't be translated. Now, if you know my work, you will know I use quite a lot of text...

The discussion started early on, when I wrote a section on how to add value to your drawings by writing snippets of overheard conversation, or any other elements which seem pertinent to the moment. I often like to record incidents (see above), sounds and smells (see below) as an intrinsic part of the image, to better conjure the slice of time, or the place I am recording. 

It was obvious the text needed to stay in place for sketches in this chapter of the book, but then I realised that it would look slightly odd if, having recommended the technique, there was no hand-written text to be seen anywhere else.

My team at Quarto had a bit of a think. My editor said we might be able to get away with keeping English text on my sketches, if we also had lots of other work with handwritten text in a range of other languages. I had already included some foreign language text on the work of guest sketchers - one of my all-time favourite people-sketchers is Marina Grechanik from Israel, who uses loads of text:

But the foreign sales team said that the translation issue is more to do with Europe than anywhere else. So I went on the hunt. It was not easy: most urban sketchers don't feature people much and those who do, don't usually use text. I found several brilliant music ones from a website link someone sent me, like this one by Nicolas Barberon:

But I needed more variety of subject matter. In desperation, I put up messages on various Facebook groups. It worked! 

The wonderful thing was that they came in from lots of sketchers who weren't necessarily well known outside their own country. From the outset, I wanted to feature less high-profile sketchers in the book, alongside the old favourites like Marc Holmes and Inma Serrano. The sketch above is by Enrique Flores, the one below is one by Juan Linares and the bottom one is by Ana Rafful.

The only remaining difficulty was finding space to fit these extra images in, when the book is already pretty much written and the sketches for inclusion already chosen. A bit of last-minute jiggery-pokery was needed. 

Some of the European sketches have been substituted for guest ones I chose previously, some have been squeezed into relevant chapters. We also dropped an idea I was going to include and instead created a new spread, looking more generally at how urban sketching works, where I can talk about the brilliant way the movement has pulled together people from around the globe. 

I am expecting another batch of layouts any day, the latest version of the whole book, which will help me to see any holes, where bits of text are needed, and give me the chance to make any amends before we go to proofing stage. I've seen most of it already, in bits and bobs, but this is the first time I have seen the whole thing together. 

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7. 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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8. Step-by-Step: How to Draw Hands

I have finally tackled the remaining teaching-drawings for the book. The publisher calls them step-by-steps and some of them are exactly that, like the one I did on using colour as a framework. There's also one on 3 stages of drawing eyes. 

However, quite a few of the so-called step-by-steps are not actually a series of stages, but sets of little graphic features, to help explain how to draw certain aspects. Since hands are always so tricky, I thought I would do some teaching-drawings, looking at how you can use the position of the knuckles to help judge whether you are getting things right or not.

It's a trick I always use. Though the knuckles are staggered, rather than in line, the shape you get when you join them up is echoed in the next set of knuckles, as well as the finger ends. This helps you get finger length right - another thing that is easy to misjudge.

I sketched three line-drawings, (actually, I drew 5: the other 2 were a bit rubbish). I tried to get really different poses. Then I placed a bit of tracing paper over each sketch and circled the knuckles in a coloured pencil. As soon as I joined them up and then drew in the finger-end line, I knew the drawings would work really well.

I scanned both drawings and tracings, then put them together in Photoshop. 

Job done.

The rest of the spread on How to Sketch Hands uses drawings from my archive of sketchbooks to talk through some other ways of thinking about the various problems, including creating montage sheets, drawing just hands, over and over for practice. This is useful for stopping you getting frustrated when people move. It's also good for making the individual sketches seem less 'precious', so you are less inclined to worry if they go a bit skew-whiff here and there:

It's a great way to pass the time on a train. Try using a couple of different coloured pencils, to stop things getting too confused. 

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9. Weather, Weather, Weather... SketchCrawling in Edale

The weather forecast for last Sunday - SketchCrawl day - was for it to rain overnight, but be dry all day. It was raining when I got up and still raining at 9 o'clock, when I got to the station. Hmmmm... 

I met Oliver, another sketcher, on the train. We both agreed it would clear up soon. Our optimism was rewarded on our arrival at Edale Station, where we also met two new members, Katie and Isabel, along with Archie, the dog. Undeterred by the low turn-out, our compact band of four set off for the hills. We got 100 yards and it started to rain.

Luckily, because we hadn't got far, a little cafe presented itself and we dived in. With huge self-control, we ordered tea, but none of the home-baked scones or flapjacks. It was still warm, so we took Archie out into the covered garden at the back, where I christened a brand new concertina book I had made the day before, by quickly painting the trees you can see above. 

The sun came out, so we ventured forth once more. Guess what? Yep. It was only spitting though. We were intrepid, we didn't care! But the trouble with Edale, is that it is mostly bare hills and no matter how intrepid you are, you can't use a sketchbook in the wet. After a while though, we found a couple of twisty trees, which gave some shelter, and set up camp. 

The great thing about dodgy weather is the sky. I had chosen a spot which gave us a panoramic view of the hills on either side on the valley. The light was constantly changing as huge, threatening clouds slid along the horizon. It was all very dramatic. The rain stopped again. Despite the very ominous skies that came and went, it remained dry for the rest of the morning. I painted like a demon. I love it up there.

Unfortunately, it was getting quite windy and we were all getting rather chilly. We gobbled our packed lunches, managed one last quick sketch, then headed back down. Close to the station there is a pub. It was raining again as we queued at the bar, but had stopped by the time we got our coffees, so we braved the beer garden with its lovely views. It was much warmer down in the valley. 

Lucy and Isabel headed home mid afternoon, but Oliver and I were back in the groove and kept scribbling. Oliver caught the 4.30 train back to Sheffield, but by then the sun was out, so I stayed another hour and drew some houses behind the pub:

I walked up to the station for the 5.30 train, but the views from the platform were even better than the views from the pub. The train pulled in. The hills looked at me with their gorgeous end-of-day shadows...

What's a sketcher to do? I let the train go and got out my paints again. I stood on the platform for the rest of the hour, painting the one above. I had to start a new book as I had filled the forts one. I finally heading back to Sheffield on the 6.30 train. 

When I got home, I laid out everything I had done and was astonished at how much I had managed: 

As you can see, the largest of my concertina's fell in half - it didn't like the dampness and, more than that, didn't like the fact that I had made it at speed and so used Pritt-Stick instead of PVA for the joins (note to self). 

Phew. I need a lie-down just looking at all that work!

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10. School visits

I had a few wonderful school visits recently...

In St Christopher's School I helped with a project where the kids made their own picture books. I did a day of tutorials, some sketching and in the end made a whole dummy book on stage.
They had a biology lesson in the gym, handling exotic animals, which was great fun to draw.

 In the Haberdasher's Aske's School for Girls I visited for a day with Alexis. We read them our books and drew monsters together.

Very important to have a party stomach. 
modular beasts.

It was awesome.
Thanks everyone!

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11. ELCAF: Catifying The Public!

I did portraits of people coming to ELCAF today.
Here are some cool cats who turned up:

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12. Anti Austerity Protest: SKETCHES

I went to the Anti Austerity Protest today and took my sketchbook.
The march started at Bank. Here are some people assembling and wondering if they are in the right place.

Here they worked out that they are in the right place. 

Still at Bank. The streets are closed. The athmosphere is friendly. Drumming, chanting, leafletting.  Every few minutes a sudden cheer goes through the crowd, not sure why.

Lots of families here. The crowd is starting to move.

There's not much police, surprisingly. Much less than I expected. A lot more protesters than I expected... really a lot.

Some surreptitious tagging going on at Bank. There's the first helicopter.
The chap in the background is inviting people to join the Socialist Party, I think.

Moving into Fleet Street.
There's an overwhelming amount of groups. Goths against austerity, Chefs against austerity (here in the foreground). The blimp is tethered to a fire engine crewed by the Fire Fighter's Union. Lots of local groups turned up to protest about hospitals, council housing and assorted public services (there's Haringey).

Here's a cluster of artists, mostly.
And some music.

Someone was asking "why don't they chant back?" Because they are the National Union of Sign Language Interpreters. They are chanting, look.

The Strand is packed. There's a tired child with a CUTS KILL paper hat, she perked up afetr a few minutes of being carried.
Sisters Uncut had an impressive presence, their crowd spanned the width of the road.

Some masked people. Most wore their masks on the back of their heads, like this girl with the princess backpack and the YOUTH FIGHT AUSTERITY placard, and her mum.
That dragon statue is quite alarming from the back.

I've never seen so many people marching together, and I didn't see anyone being aggressive to anyone else. I just watched the news, they did get some footage of "fireworks" (smoke bombs, the colourful sort, I stepped over a pretty bright purple one in passing) and people dressed in black with masks trying to block a road. They didn't try very hard. No point anyway, the city was full of people peacefully protesting.

(This is all scanned with my handheld scanner, excuse any wobbles.)

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13. More Painting and Drawing - In My Element!

I thought you might like to see some more of the work I have been doing out in gorgeous Derbyshire landscape. 

Yes, I went back to Winnats Pass a week after my last excursion, to have another go. I started with the drawing above, warming up with good old charcoal and a skinny stick of black conte, for the finer mark-making.

It wasn't an official SketchCrawl day, but I let people know that I was going, so was joined by a handful of other sketchers, who popped in and out during the day. Nice to have the company. We were all taken by this particular view - stunning stuff! 

After lunch, once familiar with the lie of the land, I tried the same view again as an experiment, using Platignum writing ink (very water soluble), lots of water sploshing and then a wee bit of watercolour. The light had changed a bit by then though and we had lost those lovely long stripes of shadow:

I was interested in keeping the view basically representational, but creating a more abstracted and expressive interpretation of the shapes than the more literal drawing at the top. I got ink everywhere though, especially since the plastic pot I'd put it in had leaked. Black fingers again.

I did a watercolour next, from slightly further into the valley. I am still not entirely happy with the watercolours and very much still learning. The Peak District is the perfect place to practise though. So many beautiful shapes:

I was looking for a different view to finish, but didn't have time to climb to the far end of the valley and look back down, like I did last time, so I scaled the left side, to higher ground. There wasn't anywhere even vaguely flat to sit though and I had my work cut out, just stopping myself from sliding back down the steep slope! My rucksack kept trying to tip over and roll back down into the valley and I was sure that at any moment my brushes, water or palette would tumble away from me. 

I managed to get a painting done before any mishap, though my poor bottom was totally dead by the end:

I am still learning how the watercolours work at this scale - it's very different to using them for the smaller urban sketches I am more used to. It was the patterns in the landscape which I was excited by. For me it is all about exaggerating shapes and pulling out colours, playing with marks and textures. Perhaps my early textiles training is still in there somewhere, trying to get out! 

Here's how this one looks against the reality:

John had dropped me off in the morning and then spent the day hiking around the hills in the area. He arrived back in the valley while I was half way through this last painting, at the end of the afternoon, ready to take me to the pub for a well-earned dinner.

Another lovely and very productive day.  

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14. SketchCrawl Event at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Do you fancy doing a bit of sketching with me in the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Well, why not book into the event I am running on August 9th. It's all free, but you need to register, as we have capped it at 40 participants and it is already filling up fast. Last time I looked there were just 11 places left! 

Just like with a regular SketchCrawl, there will be no tuition: it's more about getting fresh inspiration by working alongside other sketchers and empowering one another to feel comfortable about drawing in public. We will be working our way around the park, drawing and painting together, with a couple of 1 hour sketch-stops both before and after lunch, hopefully all in the sunshine. 

Just grab a sketchbook and whatever materials you like using and come along. Don't forget to book your place first though.

If you want to learn more about either SketchCrawling, or get a preview of the YSP, take a look at this lovely little film we made on one of our previous visits:

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15. An Amazing Day: Plein-Air in Winnats Pass

I have been more or less padlocked to the computer during the week, which is really frustrating on sunny days. So, when I saw a forecast for particularly lovely weather, I decided to sneak a day off to go out sketching in the landscape. I knew exactly where I wanted to go:

Well wouldn't you? Isn't this an amazing photo by the way? The sky doesn't look real, does it?

John and I had already hiked through Winnats Pass, in Derbyshire, one Saturday afternoon recently. 
It was windy and cold that day, but the light and the shapes were so extraordinary, I had to sit down on the spot and do a quick sketch:

This time though, I could relax and luxuriate in the sunshine. John dropped me off and went on a long walk while I settled down to try and capture the fabulous sharp shadows. I took A3 sketchbooks, because it's such a massive landscape. It's very unusual too, because the really rugged crags are up close on both sides, giving you the ability to see detail and grandeur all at once.

This is my favourite from the day I think. I tried all different media, but compressed charcoal seemed to really get across the contrasts:

I tried watercolour, but couldn't seem to get the results I wanted. I am really still learning how to use paint, whereas I am totally comfortable when I am drawing. This is my first attempt. It started out quite interesting, but got a bit flat as I worked into it:

I tried again. The second one has kept more spontaneity, but still doesn't do interesting enough things or properly exploit the effects of the watercolour:

I did various other sketches in charcoal, getting black ingrained into my fingers and fingernails...

...but I also tried experimenting with watercolour pencil to add definition to the paint and combine the different sorts of mark-making:

I tried using my Sailor pen, but the line variation which I love so much is not as powerful at A3, so it couldn't hold the page without colour, which definitely helped:

It was a really enjoyable day. Even when things weren't going quite right, it was impossible to get grumpy! It is such a magical place, I will have to go back again. I've really only scratched the surface.

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16. Reasonable Art Materials Review: BIC easy click fountain pen

Here's a little review for those of you who are considering trying out fountain pens but don't want to spend much: an OK pen for under a fiver.

I needed a new cheap fountain pen to write with - I always write with fountain pens, it helps my handwriting. Ballpoint pens tend to run away and scrawl when I use them. I don't like writing with my sketching pens, they aren't designed to move that quickly.

I wanted a pen that uses standard cartridges - normally I like writing with LAMY pens, but the cartridges are expensive, and although converters are available I don't want to carry a pot of ink around to refill it.
I had to climb up a ladder at the stationer's to get to this one, they put it out of reach, probably because it's so very cheap. Anyway, it's surprisingly nice to use: it's got a chunky grip, so it would be good for school children to use and it won't give you writing cramp as quickly as a slim pen.

It's got a very pleasing mechanism that grabs the cartridge and clicks it into place, so no accidental messy unscrewing.

You can write quickly with it, it's not the smoothest but it doesn't scratch - a good everyday writing pen.

If you want a fine line to scribble with, you can turn it upside down - that means that the grip isn't as grippy, but it's a nice line, good enough for a quick sketch when you didn't take any fancier equipment along.

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17. Rediscovering the Archive

One of the very pleasing by-products of the drudgery of all the scanning I have to do at the moment, is that I am getting to look back over all my favourite sketches of past years - well, the ones of people anyway. It's been an interesting journey. Every image is imbued with memories. Some are a record of an important or touching occasion, like the day I came across this little girl and her brother fishing for their dinner in Kerala and ended up in their home, singing carols with their family:

Some are interesting because I tend not to work in the same techniques any more. Some are just old favourites that make me feel good about myself. It's never a bad thing to look back at work you are proud of: it's great for the confidence, which is in turn good for feeding back into new creativity.

It's rather ironic but, since I have been working on this book, I seem to have been drawing people far less. I don't know if you have noticed, but I have got rather into architecture this last year and have been far less prolific on train journeys than I was in 2013/14. I'm not sure why. Anyway, looking back through the archive has inspired me to get back to it. 

I need to get some people-practise in to be honest. I have a 2-day job coming up next month, as Artist-in-Residence at a conference, at Manchester University. There'll be nothing but people to draw and I have volunteered to do a short presentation of my work at the end, to show the delegates what I have been up to. No pressure... 

It's a good job that I am a show-off! 

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18. SketchCrawling in Doncaster: Great Architecture!

I can't believe that I have lived in Sheffield for so many years and yet never before visited Doncaster, which is just half an hour away on the train. 

I discovered by chance that there was a lovely Minster there, so did a quick search to see what else there was to draw. That's how I found out about the gorgeous Corn Exchange, which made my mind up to go there, for the next meeting of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire.

That was last Saturday and, at last, we had a lovely day with NO RAIN - hurrah! It was so relaxing, sitting on the grass, peacefully drawing the Minster in the sunshine. It was very gnarly, with loads of gargoyles and a fabulous rose window. I intended to do various sketches, inside and out, but got very into one complex drawing, so ended up spending the entire morning on just that. I used my Koh-i-Noor 'Magic' pencil to get the multi-coloured line, which gives a softer finish than black and doesn't overpower the subtlety of watercolour:

I'd made yet another concertina book before the visit (I can't use the 35 I made recently, as they are to be saved for my residency). The concertina format was perfect, because it could expand with me as I worked my way up the building. I like to draw big enough to explore the nooks and crannies, so would never have been able to fit it in otherwise.

We had lunch at The Red Lion, which looked from the outside like a little, traditional pub, but unfolded like a tardis once you got inside. Wetherspoons had recently spent millions on it. The indoor restaurant was a bit busy, but there was a lovely courtyard garden: a real suntrap. We pulled 4 tables together and spent a very enjoyable hour chatting, eating and, of course, doing quick sketches of one another. This is me, between two newbies sketchcrawlers, Richard and Alec, sketched by another first-timer, Steve Beadle:

We had about 6 new members this time, so there was loads to talk about. As we were leaving, one of our first-timers, from Doncaster, pointed out two enormous paintings on the wall of the restaurant, one of Doncaster Market and another of the race course. He had been commissioned to do them by Wetherspoons. We were all suitably impressed!

The Corn Exchange had the sun behind it. I could tell that squinting at it all afternoon would give me a headache, so I wandered around the adjacent market for a while, looking for other things to sketch. It was no good though - the grandiose building pulled me back. 

Again, I got caught up and so spent all my time on the one drawing and never even got to see the inside. The concertina did its work again: this time expanding sideways. The building was huge (I had to work really hard to make myself fit it into the height of the book). There was a lot of fiddly detail, so I worked in pen this time, tinting it right at the end.

Here's a photo I remembered to take (for once) of some of the group in action:

We went back to The Red Lion for the sharing. There was some amazing work done - really inspiring stuff. I always enjoy nosying through people's sketchbooks. Having so many new members gave me plenty to look at and there was lots of 'wow'ing.

It was quite late by the time we started for home. I ended up on the train by myself, and was lucky enough to have a 'snoozer' opposite, so got out my rainbow pencil again. I showed it to him as I got off.

I had a really smashing day and I met some lovely people. I've got to go back some time though, and have another go at some of the other views of that Minster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a fun job. Can't wait.

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20. FB Sketch Challenge....

Day One: FB Sketch Challenge

Day Two

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21. Birth of a Morning Glory - Sketch

Slowing getting the hang of these videos. :)

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22. My Personal Sketching Kit: What I Carry and Why

I have been writing a section from the beginning of my book, discussing different art materials and looking in detail at the kit which I carry and why. Getting your personal kit-bag sorted is important, because you don't want to be fussing about what to take or leave behind, each time you go out. It's difficult, because we all know what it's like to want the very thing you left at home.

Nevertheless, you need to make decisions and pare things down. It's good to travel light, otherwise you aren't able to carry your kit with you 'just in case'. I have 3 versions of my kit. The slim-line version is just my trusty Sailor pen and an A5 - A6 book, which you don't even notice you're carrying. I tend to have these in a pocket most of the time, because you never know. 

The next step up is to add my watercolour pencils, a waterbrush, a sweat-wristband (for cleaning the brush) and a knife. That's my medium kit and a good on-the-train kind of size: enough to see me though the odd hour here and there.

My full kit, for sketching day's out, is still pretty compact as I hate being loaded down. All the art equipment packs up into a zipper bag, the size of the average toiletries bag, which slips easily into a large handbag, along with a sketchbook or two. 

If it's an urban day, I usually pop my mini-stool in my bag too, so I don't have to look for benches or doorsteps. It weighs nothing and fits in a large handbag:

If I'm going rural, this foldaway sitting-mat from a camping shop is way better, because of uneven ground:

I have had to unpack my full kit this week and photograph every individual element for the book. This is because I want to dedicate a spread to peering inside my kit-bag, with pictures of everything and annotations, telling people exactly what each item is and why I have chosen it. I photographed 28 different items like this:

My snaps are not the photos we will end up using, but the designers need to know what everything looks like, so they can design suitable graphics for the page. Once that's done, the publisher will commission a proper photographer to take the pictures they need. In the meantime, I have been writing all the text.

If you are interested in getting some of the specific items like the Sailor or the stool, I have put together some links to where I got them. It's on Facebook here, as part of the Usk Yorkshire website.

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23. Observational Sketches

Here are some of the sketches I've recently been doing.
I do a lot of observational drawing using a fountain pen and a portable watercolour set.
I tend to draw people as cats.

Icons of Elegance performing at Jamboree

Supporting act


Hot Dogs in Shoreditch

Posh birthday party at the World's End Pub

Piccadilly Line from Heathrow

Wapping, a cold Spring day
Board game testing

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24. Part 2 of the Creative Juice Podcast

Because practice makes perfect, part 2 of the podcast I did with Margot and Jeb on practice!


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25. Sketch Day No.3: My Visitor from Paris

One of the lovely things about the Urban Sketchers group is that we are like a family. If you are travelling, you can always look up any sketchers in the area and they will happily meet up with you for a bit of sketchcrawling.

Yves Damin is a fabulous sketcher. He lives in Paris, but has relatives in Sheffield. Which means that we have twice been lucky enough to have a visit from him. He came this time last year, so Urban Sketchers Yorkshire got together to spend a day sketching with him 
in Sheffield City Centre.  I was absolutely delighted when he told me that he was coming back this year.

We met up with half a dozen other members of Usk Yorkshire after lunch on a Friday afternoon and sketched into the early evening.  We started local to me at Nether Edge crossroads, drawing the shops. This is the sketch Yves did. He has really captured the feel of Nether Edge:

I got a bit cross with mine. I ploughed straight in with paint, the way I do, with no planning, which was a bit unwise with such a complex view, so the drawing underpinning the sketch doesn't bear close inspection. It's not quite as bad in hindsight as I thought at the time (often the way). 

Another sketcher who did a far better job of Nether Edge than me was my friend Sian Hughes, whose work is just gorgeous:

Next, we went to the Abbeydale Picture House: once a grand cinema, music hall and restaurant, now sadly out of action. It's been derelict for years, but is still beautiful. It's pretty enormous too, so this is just a tiny section:

Most people went closer to draw details, but I sat on the opposite side of the road with Yves and Justine. Justine is a fellow illustrator, who has lived round the corner to me for years, but neither of us knew until she came on Saturday's sketchcrawl - I love the way sketchcrawling has linked me up with so many like-minded people from my area (and well beyond). 

We were sitting outside a barber's shop which had a big front window, so the cutters and their customers were watching us in action. The lovely sketch on the wall is the one Yves did - he preferred the view down the street to the Picture House. 

It was a bit cold, so most people headed home at that point, but the three of us kept going. We wandered about for ages, looking for a cafe with a window so we could sketch from indoors, but everywhere was closed, as it was getting late. Eventually, we found a fish and chip shop who let us sit in their window. This was the view:

It was only when I was half way though the drawing that I realised that, by pure coincidence, I was sketching the very barber's shop where we had been sitting earlier:

As I finished off, I glanced at my watch and discovered to my horror that it had somehow become 7pm. I was going out to a dance at 8.00 (I still do my beloved jiving), so had one hour to get home, make and eat some dinner and change into my glad-rags! Yves took this quick photo and I was in such a rush that forgot to take one of him (so sorry Yves - what a rude host!). 

Despite the slightly undignified scurry at the end, it was a really nice afternoon. Yves is such a lovely person as well as being a super-talented sketcher and his visit was a great excuse to get out in my local area with a sketchbook (I almost always end up sketching elsewhere).

Needless to say, the glad-rags and the dance took preference over the dinner: that's what bananas are for :-D

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