Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Experiments in Collage...

 I had a very nice email last week from a lady I met briefly in Chicago. Susan Cornelis is an artist from California. She had been at the symposium with her friend Cathy and Cathy had taken my workshop

Cathy so enjoyed the collage element of the workshop, that she shared the technique with Susan and they both went out on a sketching day together as soon as they got home, to try it out.

They were so excited by their results that they sent them to me. How lovely is that? I though you might like to see them too.

Try it - get some coloured paper and rip a couple of random shapes. Stick them into your sketchbook before you go out to sketch. they can overlap, or not, up to you. Then do whatever drawing takes your fancy over the top.

The results are often very effective and all the more interesting because the relationship between the colour and the line is so random.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Class One Farmyard Fun - My Final Picture Book

Class One Farmyard Fun is out in paperback at last - hurrah!

There's generally about a 6 month delay after the hardback, which always feels like forever. Plus of course it's AGES since I was creating the artwork.

This is, of course, another book I've created in partnership with the amazing Julia Jarman. I always enjoy bringing her fabulous, crazy stories to life. They absolutely explode with fun, so that wonderfully silly pictures burst into my head as soon as I read them.  

This particular title is the third in the series about school trips which stray somewhat off-piste. It's a great idea and, of course, kids love the way the teachers are never quite equal to the situation (and get eaten, tossed into the air, seduced by pirates...)

I have a bit of sad news to share with you all too: this is the very last picture book that I will be illustrating. I have been a freelance illustrator, working in pastels, since 1987. Wow, that's 30 years. How scary. I worked in editorial initially - my first children's book was published in 2000: anyone remember the Show at Rickety Barn?

It's not that I am retiring, it's just that 30 years is long enough to do a job where you spend all day every day on your own at a desk. I am having so much fun now, with my new reportage work, getting out and about with my drawing, meeting new people all the time and learning new things, illustrating the world as I find it. And of course, it is increasingly taking me to new exciting places, like Australia next year!

So, though it is quite sad to be at the end of an era, after over 30 picture books, it's also very invigorating to be at the beginning of something new, especially given that I am getting so excited about my new textile artwork too.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

An Extraordinary Coincidence...

A truly weird and amazing thing happened to me, while I was in Chicago...

I was out and about one afternoon, with fellow instructors Liz Steel (from Sydney) and Rob Sketcherman (from Hong Kong). We had just stopped to do a quick sketch of three street musicians who took our fancy:

I was sitting on the pavement, engrossed in my work, when a Chinese woman bent down to speak to me. I assumed she was just going to comment on my sketch, but instead she asked, 'Are you a children's author and illustrator? Were you in Beijing?'

To be honest, this was so out of context, I was a bit taken aback and, for a spilt second, thought one of my friends was setting me up in some way. And then I registered the little boy, standing shy and silent a little way off.

Incredibly, I visited her son's school last autumn, as part of my Beijing tour of international schools. I recognised him too! I remember doing a workshop with his class and that he was really keen. I remember signing books for him after school. 

To make things even better, he was actually clutching a sketchbook under his arm too. Wonderful.

I was flabbergasted for the rest of the day. I just couldn't get over the incredible odds against such an encounter - both of us thousands of miles away from home, wandering in a city the size of Chicago, just happening to find ourselves on the same corner, at the same time, on the same day. Bonkers but brilliant.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Paint & Paddle: Urban Sketching in Chicago

I am back!

Sorry for going a bit off the radar. I have had a smashing couple of weeks, drawing and painting on the streets of Chicago with my Urban Sketchers chums.

For those who aren't aware of what it's all about, every year Urban Sketchers, which is an international charitable organisation, holds a symposium somewhere in the world. This year, 600 sketchers descended on Chicago! The event itself lasts for 3 days, but people often hang out and sketch together for quite a few days more.

Instructors, like myself, are flown in from around the globe to run workshops and do demonstrations. It's fairly hard work, especially in the heat, but I can't complain, since these symposiums have taken me to Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Portugal and Spain.  

I worked with 3 different workshop groups in Chicago: one group each day. I took them to the same location, Lurie Garden, which I had to choose before I left Sheffield, using Google Maps. It was a bit of a gamble, but it turned out to be ideal: a peaceful, 'secret', wild-flower garden in the centre of the city, with the visual contrast of massive skyscrapers all around the sky-line. I arrived a few days early and went to sketch there, to get a feel for it. Within seconds of settling myself down, huge rain splots started to fall and the sky turned purple! I had to scurry under a tree to finish while thunder boomed overhead.

Luckily the next day it was somewhat calmer:

One unique thing about Lurie Garden (which made the other instructors jealous) was the cool water channels you could dabble your feet in - spot the paddling student:

And, because we were really close to the park's big, open-air music pavilion, we were mostly painting to musical entertainment. One morning we had opera, another it was pop. Fantastic!

Like all the instructors, I was with each group for 3.5 hours. Each year I devise a different challenge for my students, something which either addresses key difficulties people have when sketching on location, or which helps them to think in a new way about how they sketch what they see.

This year I got people thinking laterally about the way they combine line and colour. I got them really experimenting with the way you can layer different kinds of mark-making. It was completely different to any workshop I'd run before and a large part of it involved using simple collage. Which meant that I had to find room in my suitcase for three A3 packets of coloured paper. I was also slightly anxious about doing paper collage out of doors in the 'windy city'...

It all went really well though and we only had one incident of having to chase down brightly coloured bits that flew off. We'll get more formal feedback soon, but people said they enjoyed themselves and that the level of challenge was good. They certainly did some gorgeous work:

I of course did lots of lots of personal sketching, in my spare time during the symposium, when I wasn't teaching, but also on the few days I tagged on either side. I was particularly excited by the fiendishly tricky El train, which runs above the street. I sketched it 3 or 4 times:

I'll post some more of my sketches in a few days. I'm still working my way through the various jobs that build up when you go away.

On the final day of the symposium, there is always is big announcement: where next year will be held. There are always rumours, but I didn't guess Next year we are going back to Portugal, this time to Porto. I went there on holiday years ago. I remember it as being extremely sketchable, with twisty, old streets, interesting cafes and of course the wide Douro river at its feet, with its massive iron bridge. Can't wait! 

By the way, I have decided to set up a mailing list for my urban sketching workshops. So, I know I don't do them very often, but sign up if you want to be contacted when I am running something, to get first refusal on any places available!

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

New Residency in Sheffield City Centre!

This project is very different to anything I've done before and so is rather exciting. It is a completely new residency idea for Sheffield: four very different kinds of artist (including me!) have been chosen to take turns to work in a studio space bang in the middle of town, for a month at a time. My month is going to be September, so it's very soon.

What makes this a bit unusual is that, instead of us paying for the studio space, we are being paid to work in it. Good eh? We will also be given £500 each towards the materials we use during the month.

What makes it unusual for me is that, apart from this being the very first time I have ever worked in a studio space which is not at home, it is the very first time I have been paid to do my new textile work. The idea I pitched was to do urban sketching in the shopping area around the studio, then create interesting textile pieces based on the drawings - all very new and experimental.

I've not blogged any of my stitch work lately. I have been working with maps and this is an example of a recent piece, based on a walk through Lathkill Dale in Derbyshire:

What makes this studio project unusual for you folks out there, is that we will be working in a space which is open to anyone who wants to come and see what we are doing. The studio is in Orchard Square, tucked upstairs, next door to Waterstones. So you can come and have a chat about my work, or even buy some. All four artist will be running workshops too, but I'll tell you more about mine nearer my time, when I've worked out specifically what I'll be doing and when. 

The first artist, Zoyander Street, will be in the space throughout August. He is creating virtual pets which you can engage with in the studio. Apparently these pets will evolve, growing more and more like the people who visit. Sounds fascinating. I'm definitely going to visit him when I get back from Chicago.

You can follow the project or catch up at any time, using the hashtag #artistupstairs. I'll post more when it's my turn to be in the studio, of course.

Right, got to go - I am in the middle of packing for Chicago, for the Urban Sketchers Symposium. I fly in the morning - wish me luck!