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Sit on the shoulder of a children's book illustrator and nosy into the ups and downs of my world. Find out how my books are created from your spy-hole inside my studio, see sneak previews of all my new projects, celebrate with me when books are published, and help me tear my hair when it's not going to plan!
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1. Rain, Hula-Hoops, Music, Muffins and Mud...

John and I bought a new tent recently, and a little one-ring stove. We were getting ready for last weekend. Like half the residents of Nether Edge, we were all excited, because our favourite music venue, Café #9, had decided to put on a mini music festival!

It was very do-it-yourself: Jonny hired a field, a generator, a couple of portaloos and some hay bales, bought a big star-shaped marque, then divvied up the cost between about 40 participants and everyone else mucked in to make it happen. Various people offered their different skills and we had a bunting-making evening at the café. 

On the Friday afternoon, John and I helped to get things set up.

The sun was shining and the reservoir was glinting behind tall pine trees. Jonny's wife India unpacked buckets of beautiful things and turned our little encampment into a colourful paradise of flowers and lights, pom-poms and cushions. The stage was set!

The music was mainly in the evenings, but people had offered to run different activities during the day. John organised a Saturday morning walk. I offered a sketching session for Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately the rain put paid to most of that... Yes, there was rain. Then more rain.

At least we got our tent up before it hit. By Friday night though, it was pouring down and those coming after work weren't so lucky.

It poured and poured. India's paper stars dissolved. The wind blew the rain in and her cushions and throws wicked up water. It put out the fires. The rain might have dampened everything in sight, but it didn't dampen our spirits. Oh no. We Nether-Edgers are a tough lot.

We huddled under our marquee and ate and drank and chatted and sang. People played guitars, someone brought out a mandolin. Someone arrived with home-baked cheese muffins. someone else brought out a wind-up gramophone and a pile of old 78 records:

In moments when the deluge slowed to a drizzle, kids ran around and people hula-hooped:

Somehow the time became half past two in the morning and we dashed back through the rain to our tents.

Next day started dry, so John's walk went ahead. It was great to see where we actually were. We walked up onto the moors and around the reservoir. We were out for two and a half hours and only got rained on once. It was saving itself...

Yep. Saturday afternoon and evening were EVEN WETTER! Was this possible? John described it best: the rain was biblical. The thing was, even though we couldn't do all the dancing, painting, yoga and star-gazing we had planned, the weather almost did us a favour. Because we spent the whole time together in the marquee, sitting on our hay bales, we really got to know each other and I made so many new friends.

Then in the evening, when the bands arrived the wonderful music totally eclipsed the rain. The main act were the fabulous Goat Ropers Rodeo Band, all the way from Rhyl. Fantastic.

As you can see, I did plenty of painting, though it got tricky as it got dark and we were operating with decorative lights alone.

Some time around midnight the rain stopped. Dan, who had set up a cocktail bar from the back of his van, brought out a record player and a massive pile of LPs. We danced in the mud, in wellies and walking boots, cocktails in hand, to hits from the 70 and 80s mostly. The best boogie I've had in a long while. Numbers dwindled gradually. At half three, John and I gave it up, but apparently the last few stopped up until 5.30!

Sunday was glorious. While those who had to get home packed up their stuff,  we put on the kettle for constant tea and a small encampment of 'morning-afters' lounged around our tent.

There was some guitar playing, a bit more hula-hooping, but mostly we just wanted to chill. The Café #9 bus served coffees.

A bass player was discovered asleep under a hay bale. 

And then it was time to pack up ourselves. The stragglers mucked in to help clear up and ferry things back into Jonny's van and we said our final goodbyes. not that final though - Jonny is already planning another one for mid summer!

Thanks to various people for taking such great photos, especially Charlie Osguthorpe. And of course thanks to Jonny, for such a brilliant idea and having the energy to make it happen.

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2. Enjoying the Sunshine

One of the many fun things about my artist-in-residence work with the Morgan Centre, is that I have an excuse to sit outside on a sunny day. I love to be outdoors, so often get frustrated when all is glorious outside my window, but I'm stuck on the wrong side of the glass.

When I'm sketching in Manchester, not only can I legitimately sit out on the grass but, since the days I work are completely flexible, I can check out the weather forecast and actually target sunny days. Yeh!

The sketch at the bottom is outside the Arthur Lewis building, where I am based, a patch of grass where students like to spend sunny lunchtimes. The one above is the main quad though: definitely most student's first choice on a really nice day. I spent a very relaxing afternoon sitting amongst them. I was trying to listen in to their chatter while I worked, but the building works in front of the old building was so noisy, it was more or less impossible.

The sketch below is the Oxford Road, from earlier that morning. I hadn't intended to sketch there. I was on my way to the quad, when I was struck by the sudden appearance of a ferris wheel. It wasn't there the previous week and seemed to have sprouted out of the pavement in the most unlikely place, right outside one of the main university buildings. It seemed like it needed recording. Trouble was, the Oxford Road is very busy and the only place where I could get a decent view, without being in everyone's way, was right at the kerbside. So I set up my tiny stool, about two feet from the passing traffic.

I'm glad I was only there a couple of hours, as my face was nicely level with the exhaust of passing buses. Yum, diesel: my favourite.

I was about half way through the sketch, when the wind got up. It kept gusting at me and trying to grab my sketchbook (it is a bit like a sail...). Once it succeeded, but I managed to snatch it back, just before the traffic ate my work. The wind blew over my pencil case too, twice, scattering pencils into the kerb. I was really pleased to be done in the end.

I packed everything up and then finished my walk down the road to the university quad, by which time I figured I had earned some lunch. Then I sat on a bench, much more sheltered from the wind, and enjoyed a far less challenging afternoon of weather. No buses in sight either. That's better.

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3. The Stress of Getting Behind Schedule...

I've not reported on my picture book artwork recently, but it's going really well. I'm not used to the slow pace though: normally I would be head-down every day, so things would move along at a reasonable pace. It generally me takes 6 - 8 weeks to complete the pastel stage of my artwork, but this year I am getting 2 days a week instead of 5, so it's taking more than twice as long as normal, which feels like an eternity!

There's a worse snag though. Back at the outset, when I calculated how long it would take, I worked on having 3 days a week, since my residency project is only 2 days, but the extra admin of juggling both projects, plus all the back and forth emails setting up my various educational visits, not to mention writing this blog of course - all that stuff wipes out at least one day a week. Which means that I have been slowly creeping more and more behind schedule.

So, I've been pretty stressed, working late most nights to try and keep up, worrying about how to break the news to my publisher. In the end though, when I finally plucked up courage, they were great. My editor not only extended my deadline to fit the new timescale, but added a couple of extra weeks, to give me wriggle-room. HUGE sigh of relief! In all my years as an illustrator, I've never missed a deadline, so I'm delighted and feeling much better.

As you can see, I have been working recently on some of the single pages. This is because all the double page spreads are now done (hurrah!), all EXCEPT one of the most complex of all - the final spread, which I have been putting off:

The two illustrations above are from the middle of the book, where the bull is loose and stalking various children, prior to tossing them into the air. Oh no! Oh yes... You wicked author Julia Jarman!

The one below is from quite early on, before things go pear-shaped on the farm. Julia's text says:

They saw ducks dabbling in the lake,
And cows vibrating - making milk shakes.

Tee hee.

When I finished the last of these three pieces yesterday, I suddenly realised that everything was done, all except - yes - that final spread. So I'm nearly there.

Before I can even start colouring that last piece though, I have to trace it up onto my pink paper, which will take ages because it's so detailed, and be VERY boring. Unfortunately (fortunately?), I am going to struggle to get that job done at all next week, as I have a pretty full schedule, with my usual two days residency at the Morgan Centre, plus a lecture in Sheffield, then a school visit entailing an overnight stop in London... Good grief. it's all go. 

No excuse the following week though. I'm guessing it will take me 3 - 4 days to pastel up the last piece, instead of the two I generally allow. Then, finally, the last job is to cut lots of card and paper, ready to mount everything up for sending off to the publisher. Another boring but necessary task.

Or maybe I can twist John's arm to do that bit for me...

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4. People-Sketching Workshops for Undergraduates

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5. Beijing Here I Come!!!!

Ages and ages ago, I was chatting via email with author Julia Jarman. We talked about this and that, then she mentioned that she had been invited to Beijing, to visit an International School, but she wasn't very keen to go. She thought it might be a little scary in China on her own, so she was thinking of turning them down. Purely as a joke, I quipped that she should ask the school if they wanted an illustrator too, then we could go together. Which is how it began.

Over a year later, Julia and I have visits booked at 4 different Beijing schools - 7 day's work - and we will be there for just over two weeks. Quite an adventure. I imagine that it will be very hard work, a bit like World Book Day week with knobs on, but I do like new and interesting experiences, plus we will get a few days at the end to explore. Of course, I'm hoping I'll have enough energy left over to sketch a bit too.

I have been to China before, but a very long time ago. In 1988, I back-packed around the north of China for 6 weeks, with a friend. It is probably the single most challenging, but also exciting thing I have ever done. That's when these sketches were done.

Apart from sights like The Forbidden City, I can't imagine that there will be much that is recognisable about Beijing now. Things were still very traditional at that time and there were certainly no gleaming, glass structures. It will certainly be fascinating to see the changes for myself.

We are due to fly out mid September, which I fully expect to be here before I know it. Yeehah!

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6. Students, students, students...

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:

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7. Painting Live Music

We are so lucky to have the excellent Cafe#9 just 5 minutes walk away from our house. It's only small but it has such a lovely atmosphere. Very bohemian, very relaxed, very friendly.

Any regular readers will know though, that what makes it even more perfect, is the music. I have been spending more and more evenings there, sketching the performances and, recently was invited to take part in a couple of recording sessions.

This was of course, rather exciting. Jonny, owner of the café, thought it would be fun to record albums for up and coming bands who he is impressed with. Having watched me paint and draw my way through so many gigs, he commissioned me to sit in on the recording sessions with my sketchbook.

The idea was for me to just do what I normally do, but the extra challenge was for me to create a piece of artwork which could be used as an album cover. I might once have found this a little daunting but, having sketched so many events during my residency, knowing with each that the results would need to work, being part of a larger piece of artwork, I felt pretty brave about the idea.

All these sketches are from those sessions. The first session was with Liam Walker, with session musicians making up the band. The second one was recording Gregory S. Davies above. He was again performing with the local session musicians: the person below on the piano, Finn, is also on a guitar at the top, the glockenspiel at the bottom and playing the red double-base. Talented fella!

We haven't actually had any finished CDs out the other end yet. The illustrations are with the designer. I'll show you when they're done.

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8. Knitting Sheep and Throwing Muck!

Here is the latest piece of artwork from Class One Farmyard Fun!, hot off the press:

I am gradually creeping forwards, though it's taking longer than I would like. So many fiddly bits! I am rather pleased with the effect of the muck heap though. My favourite bit on this one is the knitting sheep though. And I really like how the cockerel colours contrast so well against the background:

This is spread 3, coming directly after the artwork I showed you last. You can see Julia's text on the rough which, as usual, was tacked to my drawing board directly above the artwork as I worked, to allow me to keep checking the details of what I was creating, because of course, when you use pastels, a lot of that detail from the pencil drawing gets obliterated:

It's useful, taking a photo of the artwork once it's done. I hadn't realised this before but, seeing it reduced like this really helps me to spot things I've missed. A book like this is a bit of a nightmare, making sure I have coloured every tiny shoe, not missed out any hands, left off any freckles etc. I can see, looking at this artwork, I have forgotten the eyebrows on the lad throwing the muck at his classmate, so he doesn't look quite naughty enough. I'll just go and fix that...

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9. Serendipity: a Mistake Makes Things Better!

As you probably already know, I am working on my artwork in a rather random order. Actually, it's not random to me: it's about content on the page, rather than story progression, but it probably looks random from the outside. Having drawn the smelly muck heap spreads, I went back a bit and tackled the farmer and the prickly haystack. I wanted to get the look of the muck heap under my belt first, then I could ensure that the haystack looked sufficiently different.

This was a lovely bold spread, so much easier to tackle in pastels. It another one where the background will be dropped in later, in a nice, bold colour, which is why there is so much of my pink paper visible. I have already established the look of both the farmer and the bull in earlier spreads, which made things even easier.

When that was finished, I thought I would go back to the other spread where that same gate appears: spread 2. As you can see, the muck heap is just being delivered to the field, complete with stowaway piglet. At this stage, Class One are still oblivious to the bull, though the reader can't fail to notice him glaring through the gate bars:

Of course, this was a much fiddlier piece to do and, in the end, it took nearly 3 days to get all the detail in. The pastel 'clogs' after a while: you can only build it up so much, then you have to use fixative, which allows you to continue to layer over the top. Having fixed it when it was 2/3rds finished, I had to more or less rework everything, to bring back the brightness of the colour. A bit of a nightmare, especially when there is this much going on. Fixative has always been an unfortunately necessary evil.

Here it is on my desk, with the rough I always mount alongside, for guidance. That will allow you to read Julia Jarman's text:

Before people send me messages pointing out that I've 'missed a bit', the writing has been left off the sign on the gate deliberately - you always leave text off picture book artwork, so it will work for foreign editions. I will create the 'Beware of the Bull' text separately, so it can be taken off for any translations.

You might also notice another little anomaly in that area of the illustration. In my rough, there is more of the bull showing. Actually, on my very first drawing, it was just a tail visible, as a teaser, but my art director thought we should see a bit more of him. My re-work of that rough is the one above. However, when I was preparing to start the artwork, tracing the image onto the pink paper, using my lightbox, I forgot to trace the bull's body! I noticed my error in plenty of time, but thought it actually looked better. With just his face, it looks like he's hiding, and yet he's perilously near to the boy, which I think will amuse my young readers.

So, I coloured up the spread with just the bull's head showing and have sent the photo to my art director to see if they agree. I can easily add the body back in if they would rather. Cross fingers they like it as it is!

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10. Head First into a Muck Heap!

I have been working on a couple of illustrations from the middle of the Class One Farmyard Fun. This is the bit where the bull is free and biffing people into the air, left right and centre. He tosses a whole bunch of children into a smelly muck heap and is then creeping up on the teacher...

As usual, I stuck other previously finished pieces onto the drawing board, to use as colour reference for the characters:

Perversely, I tackled the muck heap illustrations in reverse order. This is the one I did least week, where the children are already in the muck. Teacher is too busy wiping muck from her wellies to notice the bull behind her...

The background on this one has been left blank (the pink is just my pink paper), because I intend it to be cut away to a block colour, which we will drop in digitally. Or rather, 2 colours (which is what the diagonal line on the rough is about).

This digital background technique is firstly to create additional visual variety as the reader works through the book. I hit on the idea of the two-coloured background because, when doing the original rough, I had trouble with the scale of the children against the teacher / bull scenario. The kids should really be much bigger, if they are in front, but this didn't work, because they eclipsed too much of the page and didn't allow teacher and the bull enough impact. But I wanted a spread, for added drama. Hmmmm.... problem! By slicing the background into two colours, I am hoping to create a half-way house between two separate illustrations side-by-side, and a single spread.

I have just this morning finished the artwork for the spread before the one above: one of my favourites:

The children are flying through the air and landing in the muck heap. I created a stowaway piglet in the muck heap earlier on in the story, so it was fun to have him here, worrying about children landing on his head!

Next, I'm going to tackle a spread with the bull up close, a nice simple illustration for once, with the poor farmer flying through the air, about to land in a prickly haystack. Hee hee. Thanks for the great subject matter Julia.

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11. Test-Driving Derwent Pencils: Graphitint Review

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.

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12. Interview with Artists & Illustrators Magazine

I had an email arrive out of the blue a while ago, from the editor of Artists and Illustrators magazine. He had noticed my new Sketching People book was out (well, that's great, before we start...) and he wondered if he might come to Sheffield to do an interview with me in the studio.

Well, I rarely turn down the opportunity to tell someone new all about what I'm up to, but also, the chance to appear in the UK's best selling magazine for artists was way too good to miss. I was flattered too that Steve was happy to come up to Sheffield in person. Turns out he was here as a student. Small world.

We spent a happy couple of hours chatting away and Steve took loads of photos. I talked about my Sketching People book of course, and showed him a copy, then I unpacked my urban sketching kit for him to photograph. Steve was very taken with my midget stool (and I notice that made it into the final article). 

I also told him all about my year as artist-in-residence at the Morgan Centre and showed him some of my sketchbooks. It was lucky that the one I mounted on the wall as a test for the exhibition, was still up, so he could see the full effect.

At that time, I hadn't yet started on my artwork for Class One Farmyard Fun, but I showed him the roughs and we talked about how I create my artwork. I had to do the obligatory photo, where I sit at my drawing desk, pretending to be working. It always looks good though, even though it feels a bit odd.

Last week, a copy of the magazine arrived with my double page spread. Hurrah! Steve has done a lovely job.

There's a great article about Will Freeborn in this issue too. If you haven't come across his work, take a look. He is another UK Urban Sketcher, based up in Scotland:

I shall take my magazine on the train with me to Manchester: it's the only time at the moment when I get to indulge in reading magazines!

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13. Oh No! The Bull is Waking Up...

Sorry I have not been blogging much lately about my work on Class One Farmyard Fun. It's ironic that, in periods when I have loads going on to tell you about, I have almost no time left to actually tell you.

Anyway, I have been working on a batch of spreads towards the end of the book, when the children try to catch the escaped bull. The bull has been running amok, biffing children here there and everywhere, but has managed to knock himself out. This illustration follows on from a near-miss with the lad in the red trousers:
   Now the bull went after Paul
   But - phew! - he missed and bashed a wall.

Julia Jarman's text for this actual page is:
   Meanwhile Miss and a duck had landed in the farmer's truck (they were previously biffed)
   Miss hissed, 'Children hide in here! The bull is waking up I fear.'
   She was right - his eye-lids flickered, enraged by a pair of bright red knickers.

I don't generally do artwork for the spreads in order, but I tackled this sequence of illustrations one after the other, as they have a lot of the same items in: the bull, the truck, the washing etc. I needed to use each illustration as colour reference for the next, so kept them on the drawing board as I finished them. It's very handy having a nice big board: 

The text for the next page is:
Then suddenly Sam had a plan:
'Miss, quick, drive as fast as you can,
Past that washing and down the track.
With luck we'll get that bad bull back
In the field from where he came
and lock him safely up again.'

I had problems at the rough stage with this sequence of spreads and it was this that Julia and I were discussing when we met up at the Northern Children's Book Festival. In her original text, the bull sees the red knickers hanging on the washing line. But I was having trouble making that work when I got the idea to tangle the knickers onto the bull's horns. Unfortunately, that created a knock-on problem, because Sam next needs to grab the knickers to wave at the bull. Taking the knickers from the bulls horns was obviously too dangerous and scary for him. So I got the idea of him using the prop from the washing line to hook them off without getting too near. Julia agreed with my ideas and changed her text to fit. She is absolutely lovely to work with - she is always open to ideas and never 'precious' about her text. This is her altered text, which goes with the spread below:

But could they do it?
Sam got the prop... and took the pants off that bull in a strop.
Waving them, he yelled, 'Ole! Catch us if you can! Okay?'
The bull charged on, enraged by red
As Miss drove the truck, straight ahead...

I am now working on a spread from earlier on, where several of the children have been tossed into a smelly heap of manure, and the bull is creeping up on Miss... Watch this space!

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14. A Very Political Painting!

Yesterday, I was at the Morgan Centre again, looking for things to sketch. There was nothing specific going on,  so I thought I would spend the day in the Learning Centre, capturing the way people use the space and drawing students at work. It seemed logical to begin with the reception area, so I got myself a chair and started to get out my kit.

"Can I help you?" called a woman from a few yards away, across the foyer. I explained about being Artist-in-Residence and what I wanted to do, but there was a worrying pause. She came out from behind her counter. "I'm sorry, but you need to apply in advance to get permission to do anything of that nature." I showed her a sketchbook and my university ID,  but it was no good. Best laid plans...

On the way back, I was stopped in my tracks by the glorious display of daffodils outside University Place, so I stopped to do a quick painting of that instead. It was reasonably mild, but the stone wall I was perched on was cold on my bum.

By the time I was done, I was well ready to get back indoors, so I returned to my desk to think of a new plan for the rest of the day. I made a cup of tea to warm myself up, then it hit me - I hadn't yet sketched the kitchen area.

It's a little hub at the centre of the open-plan work space. It has all the essentials but, like many communal kitchens, it can be rather unloved. All the better for sketching!

It wasn't actually too bad but, as I sat painting, lots of people came and went, fixing drinks, and almost every one commented on what a contentious space the kitchen had become. "That's a very political painting," said one academic and gave me the story. As is often the case, one (female) member of staff had been keeping it clean, but then she left and chaos reigned. Things got so bad that a stiffly worded email about washing up after yourself was sent out to all the department. That email must have been a bit scary, as it has obviously done the trick, for now at least, because the sink was empty: just one teaspoon!

Interestingly, this sketch demonstrates rather well the difference in outcome between my using watercolour before any drawing (the sink and stuff on the side) and my sketching a few guidelines first, then painting (dishwasher). There's a loss of accuracy and detail when you splosh paint in first, but the dishwasher is definitely less exciting.

I only got half the kitchen painted before home time. There's still the opposite side, with the fridge and the bin. One PHD student asked me if I had opened the fridge. I hadn't. "It smells really bad," he said. "More like a bin than a fridge. I'm not sure I fancy using it any more." Okay, maybe that email wasn't so effective after all. Never mind, it's all good stuff as far as I'm concerned. The more 'story' the better. I might have to draw the contents of the fridge next time. If I can bare it!

I'm rather glad now, I was turned away from the Learning Centre.

I should have taken this photo in the kitchen itself, rather than back at home, but I suddenly realised it was quarter past five: just enough time to scrabble all my stuff together and still make my train. Just made it!

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15. Dormant Things: My Story

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.

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16. Drawing Dead Stuff - Manchester Museum

It was Urban Sketchers Yorkshire's sketchcrawl day on Sunday. We went across the hills to Manchester, to join up with some of their local group and visit the natural history museum on Oxford Road which, by coincidence, is next door to the building where I am based for my residency.

I probably wasn't really well enough to go, as I am still not well now after my Book Week experience. My head was still full of gunk on Sunday and I still very little voice, but I thought I would risk it, as so many people were due to turn up for it, some of whom I'd not seen for ages. I figured that, at least I would be indoors and sitting down, so how much harm could I come to?

The museum has got quite a varied collection, but is not so massive that you can't get a handle on it, so perfect for drawing purposes. As you can see, I concentrated mainly on the animals and skeletons, though there was a lot of anthropological stuff too, as well as rooms of rocks and crystals. 

I had a lovely time and was very pleased I went, although it was a mistake on the voice front, because of course everyone was chatting away to me and I ended up unable to keep quiet for very long at a time (never one of my strong points at the best of times, ask John). Which means that, though I was getting better, I am back to where I was again now. No voice at all. Duh.

After our sandwich break, I went up to the top of the building and did a sketch of the view from one of the windows, out over the old university buildings, just for a change. By now it was getting quite busy in the museum and kids were everywhere. I thought it would be peaceful up there, but somewhere an overexcited screamer was bouncing off the walls and making my ears ring...
Then the sun decided to come out and was directly shining in my eyes, so I gave it up and found a dark corner with some cute penguin skeletons:

As usual, there was some amazing work done by everyone and the sharing session at the end was fascinating. By the time we took this photo, we were down to about half the original group, so you can see that the turn-out was great too. Once again, we had at least two complete newcomers, which was lovely:

On the train home, I did a quick drawing of the woman opposite. She woke up half way through and luckily, was really pleased to be drawn. She took my photo, holding up the sketch. A nice encounter.

Sorry for the slightly less crisp and zingy pics this time round - I've no time to scan anything properly at the moment, as I have to crack on with Class One Farmyard Fun, so these are just phone snaps.

Right, back to work!

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17. Dressing Up for World Book Day

As you know, I have been sitting at home since yesterday morning, nursing my cold and feeling a bit sorry for myself. How lovely then, to be cheered up with a lovely email last night, sent from a proud parent, whose little girl, Amelie, had chosen to go to school on World Book Day dressed at little Stinky, the baby warthog. 

They made the costume all themselves. Isn't it just brilliant? Check out the little flies!

Thank you so much for choosing Stinky Amelie - he's one of my favourites too. You looked fantastic. I bet you were the star of the day!

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18. House of Pestilence!

Gosh, it's been a hectic Book Week. Up early and off to different schools up and down the country every day. Lots and lots of excited little faces!

Unfortunately, that cold I was struggling against on Saturday, as I was battling to finish my artwork, didn't go away, but stuck fast all week. Plus, because I was working such long days and pushing things so relentlessly, I got worse. Yesterday, at Broadoak Primary School, I tipped things too far. I had very little voice when I arrived, but by the time I had done 4 storytellings, plus a long book signing, then (rather stupidly) finished it all off with a bonus, after-school drawing workshop for 30 kids and their parents, in a hall loud with excited little people, it was no surprise that I had no voice at all. 

Luckily the kids still seemed to have a great time. Thursday was World Book Day itself, with them all dressed up as characters from books. Very cute. I coughed and spluttered and did my bit as a character from The Black Death. All I needed was a few nice boils.

So, finally silenced and therefore grounded, today was spent at home, cradling my box of tissues. Even worse - John has it too, so I didn't even have my handy serf to wait on me and stroke my fevered brow. 

Feeling sorry for me yet? Please send grapes and chocolates!

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19. A week in Aberdeen

I had a bit of an adventure recently...

It began with me getting a plane to Scotland on a Sunday afternoon. Things got off to a dodgy start though - I nearly missed my flight. I had bags of time, right up to the point where, approaching the departure gate, I realised I'd left my watch in the tray at the security bit, so had to try and get back through. It's not so easy in the other direction. 'Last call for Lynne Chapman...' Luckily someone had handed my watch in. Thank goodness I noticed before I got on the plane.

I had been invited to spend 4 days at the International School of Aberdeen: the longest school visit I think I've ever done. I was put up in a rather nice hotel and had a big, if VERY taupe room: not a whisper of colour anywhere!

Bizarrely, on that Sunday night, I was the only person staying in the entire hotel. I could have run naked through the corridors at midnight. Instead I was very boring and went to bed. Well, I needed to be up bright and early for my first day at school. 

The excitement was at a pretty high level before I even got there but, as the days went by, it got better and better. I moved around the school to a constant soundtrack of 'There she is!' and 'Look, it's Lynne Chapman!' with children waving and calling hello. I was nipping to the loo one lunchtime when I overheard an excited whisper: 'Look, she's going to the toilet!', as if it was a shock that I actually needed to.

I kicked off that first Monday morning with a lecture about how picture books are created. They had a totally gorgeous theatre. It was packed tight with all the kids and quite a few parents. I immediately felt very welcome. Everyone was obviously really keen and the talk went down extremely well. Good start!

I read stories and larked about with the younger ones as usual. I read Rocky and the Lamb for the first time in ages and we designed monsters. These are some of the children's monster drawings. Very inventive - I love how they often come up with elaborate stories about their invented creature:

At the end of the session, I got them all to hold them up and make a monster noise:

With the slightly older ones, I had time for 2 different workshops for each group, which is very unusual - normally it's a squeeze to see everyone once. This meant I could try a couple of new things. After passing on all my hot tips for creating characters (basically the 'best of' my Craftsy class), I tried demo sessions, showing them how to colour artwork. Some classes experimented with the Inktense watercolour pencils I love so much and others used pastels.

I did a big demo-drawing of Giddy Goat in pastels to show them specific techniques. I added to it over the days until it was finished and left it with the school as a present. These are a few of the pastel drawings the children created:

It was a bit scary doing something I've not tried before, but the children were great and absolutely loved the Inktense watercolour pencils. Both children and teachers were all so enthusiastic about everything I shared, I walked around in a warm glow all week.

I was looked after really well too. I was taken out a couple of times for meals in the evenings with the school librarian who had booked me (Thai and Lebanese - yum). I even got to try my hand at an after-school yoga class (oh dear: lots of creaky bits). Come Thursday afternoon, I was almost sad to be going home. 

Luckily, the flight back home went without incident or recourse to stupidity.

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20. Boring Meeting? Not When You're Sketching!

As part of being Artist-in-Residence, I have more than once asked of I want to attend a meeting, some of them lasting an entire day. I don't know about you, but in my world, that's not normally something you would volunteer for, not when you don't need to. It's a very different story though, when you're there to create a visual record.

I have really enjoyed the challenge of trying to capture every speaker, with a little of what they were trying to get across:

If it's a full-day event, I set myself the additional target of filling an entire book before the end. This was a day-long meeting about Research Bids. I was very pleased with myself indeed, for getting it to fit perfectly on one concertina: 

Actually, I am finding the meetings themselves quite interesting. They are surprisingly varied. My difficulty is that, because I am deep in academia, a lot of the phrasing and terminology people use is hard to retain for long enough to get it written down. I think to myself 'That's a good sound-bite' and start to weave words around the images but then, 4 words in, the end of the sentence is already dissolving away! 

I've more and more been using paint to 'draw' with, or to splosh in as a coloured foundation, before I use a pencil or ink to refine things. It's so fast and so much easier if my subject is moving.

One of the other things that I enjoy about these meetings is that, although the Morgan Centre team are quite familiar now with what I'm up to, the wider community of the School of Sociology has a much vaguer idea, since many of them haven't seem me in action before. So, it's really good fun to scribble away in a corner all day then, at the end of a meeting, just before everyone leaves, to open my sketchbook out along a table., then watch people's faces. It's a sort of a ta-da! moment.

Remember the sketchbook that I mounted on the wall in the studio a while ago out, as a test? Well, it was still up there, so I carefully slid it out of its little hooks and popped this new one in, just for fun:

It was surprisingly easy to do, which is very handy. I am so pleased with how they look when you mount them.

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21. SketchCrawl Day: Coffee and Egyptians

This time last week I was out again with Urban Sketchers Yorkshire. We were in Broomhill, in Sheffield, this month: only a 15 minute drive from where I live, so nice and easy. We started off at this great coffee shop I know - the coffee is pretty standard stuff and the ambiance is nothing special, but the views are BRILLIANT if you are a sketcher. It's on a corner and the upstairs has big windows running round both sides, looking down over the high street. 

We met at 10am. As 'normal people vacated tables, we spread and spread until we were taking up half the upstairs and most of the window seats. It was lovely to have such a brilliant turn-out again. I spent about 2 hours doing the watercolour above in a slightly smaller version of the concertina books I use for my residency. I was really pleased with it. 

Some people might recognise the corner on the left as the subject of a drawing demo I filmed a couple of years ago, showing you how to use the Inktense watercolour pencils. 

We spent the afternoon at the local Weston Park Museum - a short walk down the hill. It was a really COLD walk, with an icy wind, but one or two brave souls actually sketched outside the museum. Not me! I started with another cuppa and my sandwiches and did this 5 minute quickie while we were chatting:

Then it was down to work. There was a visiting exhibition on ancient Egypt, with some very beautiful bits and bobs. I decided to paint these rather than the mummy (slightly unravelling, so you could clearly see his toenails...). 

I finished off in the section with various stuffed animals. The goldfinch above caught my eye. While I was painting him, various families and kids came up to look and chat. It meant I got less done, but I don't mind; I really enjoy engaging people in conversation and showing them my little art-kit tricks. 

We started our sharing session back in the museum cafe, but they threw us out at 5pm, so we popped to yet another coffee shop across the road for another half an hour before they too shut up shop. A very successful day: very sociable, good fun and some lovely work as usual by everyone - really varies and interesting.

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22. Class One: Getting Going on my Artwork!

It has taken absolutely ages to get the go-ahead on my roughs for Class One Farmyard Fun. I was beginning to be concerned... Perhaps the publisher hated them. Maybe there would be loads of redraws to do...

I needn't have worried. They finally came back and there was less than a day's worth of changes needed. Phew! I don't know what the delay was, but at least it's sorted now and I am up and running at last.

The first job was really really boring: working out what dimensions to do the artwork (based mostly on how big the final package will be, for posting), enlarging all my roughs to that size, printing them out and then tracing them up onto pastel paper on the lightbox (with all the blinds drawn). Tedious. At least John helped out by cutting all the pastel paper to size, so that was one less boring job.

I've made a start on the pastel bit now. The first marks are a bit scary as I don;t really know what colours I am going to do things - I work it out as I go along, starting with the big 'givens', like blue sky, green grass etc, then making everything else coordinate and contrast. It's going to be a bit of a slow one, as there is such a lot of detail (all the kids in their little outfits...). Because of my Artist-in-Residence work though, I only have half each week, so that will make it twice as long as it would have been. 

A long haul. better get to it!

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23. Singing, Dancing, Drawing, Biscuits!

Last Sunday afternoon, I took the train to Cambridge. Actually, 3 trains - bit of a long haul. I nearly got stranded part way there too: overhead cables were down in Retford, all trains going south were suspended and, when I did get going, we spent so long sitting in the middle of nowhere that I had time to do this painting of the view:

It was worth the pain though, for several reasons:

1: I arrived to a home-cooked, Thai, veggie meal and a glass (actually 2 glasses) of wine with my hosts Mr and Mrs Clarke.
2: I was soon to sign squillions of books - hurrah!
3: Best of all, was the fantastic time I had in store next day, with the kids at St John's College School...

Yes, it's the Spring school-visits season and, as well as dancing the cancan with Y1, singing about dragons with Reception, rapping, burping and creating monsters with Y2 (plus of course, reading stories galore and drawing loads on the flip chart)...

... I was also called upon to judge 2 competitions. 

The first was the 'Extreme Reading' photo prize. It's something lots of schools do for book week: kids have to bring in pictures of themselves reading in weird and wonderful places. There were so many really imaginative ones, we gave a prize to each year group. My favourites were a girl and her book inserted into the shell of a giant tortoise (how?), a small boy atop a princess-and-the-pea style tower of cushions, pretty much to the ceiling, and a brilliant action-shot of someone reading while turning a cartwheel!

I was also the judge of a Class Two at the Zoo illustration competition. All the children took part. This was the display of some of the hot favourites. Mrs Clarke did a great job - notice how the letters of my name are cut out of sections of Class Two at the Zoo illustrations:

I couldn't possibly choose one winner, so again, we awarded a separate prize for each year. All the winners got a signed copy of the book (with a drawing of the anaconda inside, of course).

Throughout the day, every Rec - KS1 child in the school bought a book, so I worked my socks off, signing in every spare minute. 

I didn't mind at all though: it's great to sell so many, as it really helps to keep them in print. Plus, I was fed plenty of biscuits to keep my strength up. Posh ones too. I am a sucker for shortbread:

We finished the day with a PowerPoint talk to Y3 and Y4. 

Everyone was so appreciative, I felt very loved. Mrs Clarke, who booked me, said it was the best author visit they had ever had, and they have had a few big names,  so I came away glowing like the kid in the Readybrek commercial (remember that?). Here is Mrs Clarke in the library:

Fortunately my train journey home was a lot easier than the trip down. Plus, this time I had a stash of shortbread to keep me going!

A huge thank you to Mr and Mrs Clarke for their hospitality and to everyone at school, for making it such a fun day. 

Don't forget kids: keep practising your drawing, because it's like magic - the more you do it, the better you get, until eventually you get so brilliant that you explode (that last bit is a fib, but the rest is true).

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24. Urban Sketching Masterclasses Online - Special Offer!

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!

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25. Finished my First Spread!

I had a bit of a time, trying to get the first spread of Class One Farmyard Fun finished off. It was SO fiddly. Unfortunately, there are quite a few spreads in the book with this level of complexity (I have only myself to blame, since I designed them!). Fiddly and pastels do not go very well together, so my pastel pencils had to be brought into the action quite a bit. The pencils are great for detail, but the colour is not as rich and dense as the pastel sticks, so I then have to go over the top of the pencil elements with regular pastel, to give it oomph, trying not to blob where I don't need it. 

Yep, a nightmare, and very slow, but worth it in the end: 

The other tricky thing is keeping track of who's who with the children in the class. There are so many of them, all with different complexions, hair colour and outfits, it will be very easy to get them mixed up along the way. So I added little colour swatches to my 'crib sheet' - the original sketch-sheet where I designed the various children. I can use this as an aide memoir on my desk, as I work my way through all the artwork.

I was working until 7pm on Saturday night, despite having a nasty cold (pause for violins...), because I was desperate to get this first spread finished, before I started Book Week and had to stop work until March 7th, because of being out every day in schools. 

I just got done in time and, on Sunday afternoon, I headed down to Bedford, ready for Monday's school event at Cotton End Primary. Since the school is near to where Julia Jarman lives, John and I drove down and stopped overnight with her, which was lovely (thanks Julia!). Every day of this week has been a different place - I've been zipping all over. It's always the busiest week of the year. Back to normal and making a start on my next spread on Monday.

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