Friday, 16 September 2016

Everything is Ready: it Seems that I'm Off!

I can't believe how suddenly today has arrived. One minute it was weeks away, the next, it is now! Everything is as packed as it gets and last night I travelled down to a little village near Bedford, to meet up with Julia Jarman, so we can travel to China together. We don't fly until this afternoon, so I spent last night at Julia's house, then this morning we took the train to the airport.

We took this in Julia's garden on a visit last year. Hopefully there will be lots of sunny photos like this from Beijing to show you in a few weeks time:

If all is on time, we will be in the air in about half an hour. Yahoo!

So... I won't be posting again for 3 weeks! That's probably the longest gap I've ever had on the blog. If you miss me, perhaps it would be a good opportunity for you to use the labels (a bit lower down on the right hand side) to have a potter through some of the back posts. I looked it up: I have written 1177 posts since I began.

I am not sure how much sketching time I'll have, but I have of course taken all my kit and have made contact with Flora who runs Urban Sketchers Beijing, so I will definitely spend a day or two at the weekends with her and her team.

It's all very exciting: I am really looking forward to meeting hundreds and hundreds of Chinese children (and quite a few librarians!) during my two weeks in Beijing schools. I'll let you know how it all goes when I get back.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Doing Battle with Babies :-D

I did a day of family storytellings on Sunday, in Manchester Central Library. It's quite unusual for me to work on a Sunday, but they were having a special Sunday FunDay and there was lots going on. All the librarians were dressed up as book characters and the kids were sporting some of the best face-painting I have ever seen. I felt very under-dressed to be honest, especially when one little lad turned up to my event in a full, padded crocodile outfit (it was a really hot day - he must have been roasting, poor thing).

Anyway, we all had a fun time. I even enjoyed my trickiest session of the day, where I ended up with about ten 2 and 3 year olds on the mat. I say 'on the mat', but at any one time, at least three of them were wandering about, and one or two others had worked out that the mat came to pieces, pieces which slid on the floor if you pushed them... Getting the picture?

One very cute little guy loved the fact that I drew a crocodile on the flipchart (guess where I got the inspiration?) and was toddling up and down in front of me, waving his arms and shouting 'Croc! Croc!'. When I drew a bear next, he still shouted 'Croc!' until I corrected him, then he switched to 'Bear! Bear!'.

About half way through reading Bears on the Stairs, a couple of little ones found my felt pens on the windowsill and were really excited by the interesting noises they made when you banged them on the radiator, xylophone-style. Mum leapt to the rescue, but unfortunately, the even smaller baby in her arms got hold of one pen and instantly plugged it so firmly into her mouth that neither Mum nor I could pull it free.

I earned my fee for that hour, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I had gone in that morning via the 'tradesman's entrance', before the library was open to the public, but I left through the big front doors, which was when I saw the Funday banners. Do you recognise any of the characters?

When the library service asked, a couple of months ago, if they could use my work on a banner, I thought they meant the usual floor-standing kind of thing, about as tall as a person. I couldn't believe how MASSIVE it actually was. You can tell from the size of the people in the top photo. Brilliant!

It's to match the library cards which they designed last year, using characters from my books.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Filming for Sketchbook Skool

Okay, I promised to tell you about the day of filming we did in the studio last week. Sketchbook Skool is online art classes, somewhat like Craftsy, but with a very different feel: more about inspiration and ideas than step-by-step teaching.

Koosje from Sketchbook Skool contacted me ages ago about the project, but I was in the middle of my crazy time, working on the residency and Class One Farmyard Fun, and so we had to put things on hold until now.

Koosje is lovely. She flew over from Amsterdam to direct the film, but she employed a film crew from Manchester to do the rest. Sam, Judith and Joe were brilliant to work with, so everything went really smoothly. It was incredibly hard work, but great fun. They all arrived at 8.30 in the morning and we didn't finish until 7pm. Just to prove it, this was our filming schedule:

Apart from a 45 minute lunch, we actually didn't take any other breaks all day, as we inevitable got behind schedule. One other thing which made it even more tiring, was that it was a really hot day, but we couldn't have any windows open, because of noise. What with the lights and all 5 of us in the room all the time, it got hotter and hotter. Every time we cut for a minute or two, I zapped a fan on, which was heavenly, but made the heat even worse afterwards!

My job was to deliver a series of talks on different aspects of my work. I did one all about confidence and creative anxieties, another about the various kinds of drawing, painting and illustration I do, I talked about using sketchbooks to record passing time, about people sketching, about the sketching materials I use... plus loads more. Now you can see why we needed all day! 

We did a 'sketchbook-tour': filming one of my sketchbooks, as I slowly turn the pages. We also did a tour of my studio. This inspired me to tidy up! And I don't just mean put a few things away and go round with a damp cloth. I went bonkers. I realised that I had so much stuff cluttering the room which was years and years old and just needed throwing out. I spent an entire day at it the week before they came and I felt amazing afterwards - so purged! It has made the studio a much more efficient space again, more like it was when we first set it up.

We finished the day with an on-location sketching demo. Because we were so lucky with the weather, it was still really warm for me to sit on the street, even at 6pm. I painted a pizza man who parks up every Wednesday outside my favourite cafĂ©. I don't particularly enjoy being filmed why I work as it piles on the pressure, but it came out fairly ok. That's John watching me on the far left hand side by the way.

The edited films will be available sometime between December and Spring: Koosje is not sure yet, as I will be packaged together with other artists. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Experimentation: Drawing in Stitch

I have been getting really excited about stitching lately. I do have a degree in Printed Textiles, but have not really had textiles on my radar since leaving university, as I moved straight into illustration.

This new interest started because I have been trying to think about new ways to progress my sketch work. I have all these sketchbooks heaving with drawings and paintings that go nowhere once they are done.

This is because I find it a boring and pointless idea, just replicating sketches larger, as artwork and, up to now, anything I have tried to do which uses the sketches as a starting point has only ever been less interesting than the originals. I think this is because the originals are so instinctive and the dynamism gets lost in translation.

Anyway, I suddenly got one of those light bulb moments. By working in a totally different medium, I am exploring ways to rework sketches by drawing in stitch. Because it is a translation process, it remains a totally creative adventure.

I have no experience in this area, so I am having great fun learning embroidery stitches and seeing what I can do with them. I bought a sheet from the charity shop, so I wouldn't be precious about things. I tore a section of it into strips, then sewed them back together again, deliberately roughly, to get some texture and see what would happen. Ultimately, I want to play around with layers of applique to create areas of colour, but for now I just painted onto the fabric. I like how it responds to the paint very differently to paper. 

I want to hand-sew, partly because I like the contemplative nature of sewing, but also because my old Singer sewing machine won't allow me to do free machine-embroidery. Luckily John Lewis had a sale on their embroidery silks, so I got lots of different colours for 10p each - great starter-pack!

I thought a contour drawing would be interesting, so I am working on an enlargement of a contour sketch I did on a train a few months ago. The piece will be about A2. It's not finished yet, but the close-up images here are all details from it as it is at the moment.

I am going to embroider text onto it too. I don't know if it will work, but I am having fun and learning loads.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Ooo look: Another Film!

I had a lovely surprise when I looked at my emails this morning. There was a link to a little film of me, posted yesterday, by Urban Sketchers. It was created at the Urban sketchers Symposium, in Manchester. I am talking about some of things which drive my sketching and the techniques I get most excited by.

They made short films of all the symposium instructors and I had completely forgotten about it, with everything else that's happening.

The really funny thing is, I had a film crew in the studio all day yesterday, but it was nothing at all to do with this film, just a peculiar coincidence.

I'll tell you all about that next time. In the meantime, hope you enjoy my little interview. If you want to find out how to make concertina sketchbooks like the one I demonstrate, there are step-by-step blog posts about it, along with other useful sketching tips, on the blog page of my new website.