Thursday, 8 December 2016

Steam Punk: Dr Sketchy Strikes Again!

I thought you might like to see the slightly crazy paintings I did at Dr Sketchy the other day.

Dr Sketchy is a sort of wacky spin-off from life drawing. Instead of naked people, it is all about dressing up. Each event has a theme. I have been to loads, including a Moulin-Rouge one, Fairytales, a circus theme, roller-blading, even char-ladies and once, for Halloween, a zombie event!

It's always good fun, but it's also quite a challenge. This time it was Steam Punk. There were two models to draw. Sometimes you have five or six on stage at the same time, so it can be even more tricky. I wimped out when they were both on stage together and concentrated on one model per pose.

There is so much to draw and only quite short periods of time to work in. Actually, this latest event was slightly different to usual, in that they didn't do any really short poses; the shortest we had was 15 minutes, but the longest was still only 25 minutes, so no time to rest on your laurels.

These days I concentrate on using watercolours, adding in a bit of detail and definition with my Inktense watercolour pencils, where needed. I find painting is the best way to get colour in when time is short. It's also the easiest way to get across the flavour of the occasion, especially when there is interesting lighting.

I took an A3 sketchbook, so I could really go for it. It was a bit chaotic, trying to juggle the big book, paints, water, pencil case etc on a little pub table. Each painting was still really wet when we started the next pose, so I had to tear them from my book and lay them out on the floor. It was also fairly frantic, getting the watercolour mixed and down in time, while still finding time to change water and sharpen pencils, but all that is definitely part of the fun for me.

Thanks to Stan for the photo at the top!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Nearly Forgot: Endpapers and Text Overlays

Yes, I know I said Class One Farmyard Fun was done, but I forgot one last job: the text overlays.

My publisher emailed last week to remind me that I hadn't done them, so I had to stop everything and get them sorted straight away. For those who don't know, text overlays are needed for those occasions where I have writing as part of my actual illustration. For example, the sign on the farm gate, warning about You-Know-Who:

This sign appeared several times throughout the book, as well as another sign, on a different gate, which the teacher ends up flying over:

I create my pastel drawings without any text drawn on them, to allow for any translations of the book. But, because of the pastels, if the designer just drops a regular font on, it doesn't look like part of the picture, so I hand-draw text digitally, which looks more like it has been created in pastels. This 'sits' better into the picture, rather than appearing to float above the artwork. Plus, I think hand-written text works better, making it look like I did it on the artwork:

My art director also realised there was something she had forgotten. Ages ago, I had suggested using one of the earlier sketches for the endpapers. I sent her a low-res scan of this sketch, which is an early draft of the illustration at the top, to see what she thought:

She never got back to me for the high-res scan. So, another last-minute job was rooting through my plans chest, trying to locate the sketch again and rescanning it. This is a mock-up of what she has in mind to do with it:

Unfortunately, I got an email the very next day, saying that they had changed their minds and the endpapers are going to be plain red instead. Bit disappointing, but nothing to be done.

Now I think I really am done. Proofs should be back in a couple of weeks. Then publication is in March. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Knickers and Cakes

Last Saturday was SketchCrawl Day and we went on a day-trip to Huddersfield: yeh! Only problem: I don't know Huddersfield, so Sam, one of the other members of Urban Sketchers Yorkshire, scouted out some venues and organised the day for me. Even better!

We started of in St Peter's Church, where they were having a Christmas fayre. This was perfect: lots of stalls and colourful goings on to sketch. There were 27 of us, so we might have been in the way, except the vicar let us up into the gallery, which gave brilliant views down over everything. It was a tad daunting though, because it was extremely visually busy. I started with the cake stall. The smells wafting from it as we entered the church were GORGEOUS, but I was very good and resisted. Trouble was, lots of punters didn't resist, so the cakes were disappearing as fast as I could paint them!

My concertina was great, as I could just follow things along. I was very keen to get the TOMBOLA sign. It was a really cold day, so everyone coming in was bundled up in big coats and warm hats. Despite this, while I was in the warm drawing this soft-toy stall, one or two brave members stayed outside, to paint the church's exterior. Brrrrrrrr....

Sam booked us an area in a local café / bar for lunch, which was lovely, as everyone got to know each other, showing their sketchbooks to their neighbour. Then we were off again, this time to the covered market. It was not an attractive building, so I concentrated on stallholders. I was first drawn to this stall of big, sensible knickers:

Opposite was a kiosk where a woman was doing alterations to clothes. I loved the sewing machines, with the big cotton reels and there was a handy counter to rest on. I asked if she minded me painting her while she sewed. We had a lovely chat, working away together. It turned out she had an Art & Design background and she was really interested in joining our group.

There was a little girl hanging around: the daughter of the woman who ran the nearby nail bar and I got chatting to her too. She was 8 years old and her face was just level with my sketchbook. She watched eagerly as the painting progressed. She was asking lots of questions about my art materials, so I demonstrated how the Inktense pencils worked, explained my waterbrush and travel paintbrush, then gave her a Magic Pencil to experiment with on the back of my spare sketchbook. She was so good, I let her colour in with my Inktense. It was another of those really lovely moments, both of us drawing away side by side, chatting with Megan the seamstress.

At 3.30, all the group returned to the café for our sharing session and a cuppa. We pushed lots of tables together, as there were so many of us. There was some really fantastic work. A couple of the new members were exceptional too. Really inspiring! Unfortunately, by the time we remembered to take this photo, half the group had left. Still a good pic though:

Then it was time for me to dash off for my train home at 5.00. It's a very, very slow train to Sheffield from Huddersfield: as noisy as a cattle truck and it stops everywhere. We didn't mind though - the small group of us going back together chatted away all the way home.

What a lovely day out.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Dementia and Creativity: Sketching Workshops

This week I got some great news! I am going to be doing more research sketching with one of the Morgan Centre team at the University of Manchester.

Do you remember that I did some work with Dr Andrew Balmer on dementia research (that's him above, with the beard), as part of my residency? Well, though that was only one day of the whole 10 month residency, he was so pleased with how it went, that he included me in a bid for some new funding. He wants to explore further the idea of dementia and creativity, running six workshops next year, which I will be sketching.

We are then going to produce a digital art book to showcase the workshops and sketches. I don't know yet exactly what I'll be recording, but I am assuming it will be similar to the activities we did previously. These are the sketches I did on the day we spent together with Alzheimer's carers.

This is just one of various spin-off work offers as a result of my Morgan Centre residency. Some are with the researchers there, but I've also had interest from other institutions. 

It's been a week of ups and downs as this Friday I also heard the disappointing news that York University didn't get the funding for a year-long residency they were keen to do with me, looking at the architecture of care homes. Hey-ho: all the things in the pipeline rely on bids for funding, so ultimately none of the rest may come off. I'm still really excited to discover that there are more research sketching-projects to be had though. It's such interesting work and, of course, I get paid for sketching!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Day I Dropped my Sketchbook (and Other Things) into the Sea!

On Friday night, John and I got back from a lovely week away at Robin Hood's Bay, where we rented a house with a group of friends, celebrating John's big, scary birthday. It was great fun, but our friends all went home after a few days and we spent the last half of the week on our own. So, when the sun showed up, I wrapped up warm and went down onto the beach to do a bit of painting.

I especially get excited by the shadow shapes created on the cliffs along the East Coast, because of the extreme erosion. It makes for an interestingly ragged skyline too, where the top and edges sink and crumble. Despite a completely dry forecast, as I came to the end of my painting, it started to spit and a big cloud appeared, so we retreated back to civilisation for a warming pot of tea and a sandwich.

After lunch, things brightened up again, though I had to battle increasingly strong winds trying to snatch the sketchbook from my hand. The disaster struck when I was half way through a painting at the very end of one of my concertinas (I was trying to fill up the final book I did in China). While I was waiting for the paint to dry, I thought I'd start another sketch, so I carefully wedged the drying book between my rucksack and the boulder I was sitting on and got out a new sketchbook.

I had just made the first paint mark, when there was a particularly violent gust of wind. I just managed to keep hold of the book in my hand, but the wedged book wasn't so lucky. The leverage of the wind against the book toppled the rucksack forward. Both book and rucksack landed in the deep rock pool.

Panic. The trouble was, my hands were full and anything I put down would be flung down the beach in the crazy wind. I sacrificed the rucksack to the water and just managed to grab one end of the sketchbook as it went in, whisking it out really fast. I was left trying to juggle the crazy-flapping, dripping concertina, a loaded paintbrush and paint-filled pallet, as well as the other sketchbook. The wet sketchbook was trying to rip itself in half. Paint, sea and sand went everywhere.

I yelled 'HELP! HELP!!!' 

Luckily John was not far away and leapt to the rescue. He pulled out the rucksack and took the wet sketchbook off me. Miraculously, the bulk of the work was unharmed: amazing given it was all watercolour or watercolour pencil sketches. Some of the paint on the final sketch had still been wet when it was dunked though, so that image got partially washed away, as you can see above. 

I was never able to finish it off because of what happened next...  

While John chivalrously stood with the length of unfolded, wet sketchbook flapping dry in the wind, I finished off the other painting I'd started. You can see the moment of drama recorded in the sharp ochre line which runs up into the sky on the far right in the final sketch above.

We were just breathing a sigh of relief. Things were more or less dry (apart from the rucksack, which I realised contained my phone: also a lucky escape). I'd finished off my painting and we had not quite frozen solid yet. Then I looked round. The sea had come in behind me. The very second I realised, it swirled around the boulder I was sitting on and covered my boots!

The panic, the scrambling with paint, sea and sand, trying to lift all our bits out of the advancing water with our hands already full of sketchbooks, was an almost exact replica of the first time, except there were two of us yelling this time. We avoided a repeat of the sketchbook dunking, but it was a close thing. 

Back on terra-firma, I had to wash sand out of my palette and paint off my face. I was crunching sand between my teeth for the next hour (from putting the brush into my mouth that I'd previously poked into the sand. Duh). We retreated to the house to warm up and dried out the rucksack and it's contents with no harm done. Phew.