Friday, 29 May 2015

My Furry Companion is Back!


No, I don't mean John (who is actually getting less furry every year, though don't tell him I said that), but Maddy, my friend's cat. We have been 'babysitting' her for years, including on the occasion of my friend's honeymoon, when Maddy nearly plunged to her death by trying to jump out of the velux in the studio. I only just grabbed her back legs in time.

These days she is a very old lady, so is far less trouble. She is not above stealing my chair as soon as I get up to make a cuppa though:


Even though she just sleeps all day, it's kind of nice to have her in the room with me. I do miss having an animal, but John and I are too keen on gadding about, so it wouldn't be fair. 

Our friends all know we are a soft touch with pets though, so don't need much persuading to act as kennels. One friend got stuck in temporary accommodation some years back, so we had her two cats for months. That turned into quite a challenge: poor Clyde expressed his disorientation in pee, on almost every carpet in the house. I expressed my feelings about this in an illustration:


We did have our own cat once. We stole Smudge from a neighbour. Well, not quite literally, but she came into our house more and more, so we put a collar on her with a message, asking who owned her. The man round the corner turned out to be allergic to cats (Smudge had been his wife's, who had moved to Ireland), so he was very pleased to officially hand Smudge over.

Unfortunately she wasn't an ideal addition to the studio. She once nearly ruined one of my pastel illustrations, by jumping up on my desk. I think Maddy's days of leaping across the room are behind her, so that's reassuring.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

SketchCrawling in Doncaster: Great Architecture!


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Mural Installation ...Problems!


You are probably wondering why I haven't posted to tell you about how it all went at Castleford Library, since I said back at the beginning of the month that the installation was imminent. Well, there was some major problem with the person who was booked to do the installation (remember, the mural has been printed onto a wallpaper, which needs sticking up around the room). He just disappeared off the radar for a while, so it was all a bit concerning.


Anyway, whatever it was all about, the library has told me that things are now back on track and we have a new installation slot of June 3rd - 5th. Phew. 


We also now have a date booked for the Grand Opening Ceremony: June 26th (incorporating a comfortable buffer-time from installation, just in case!). We will be inviting all the children who worked on the mural drawings to come back to the library and see the result. There will be local dignitaries, funding bodies, the press and, of course, Yours Truly. I am going to be running a couple of short workshops for the children too, to help to really make the day memorable for them, like we did last time:


Can't wait to see it!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

High-Res Scanning - Grappling a Monster


Yes, it's definitely a bit of a monster, scanning all the artwork which I have selected from my archive of sketchbooks. I haven't counted how many individual sketches I have picked out to go into my urban sketching people book, but it's quite enough to keep John and I busy.

Originally, we had thought that John would do all the scanning for me, but I am working on the computer so much at the moment that he's having trouble getting sufficient time on the scanner. 



So we tried a bit of teamwork this week, which really speeded things up. I found the low res version of each of the images on the computer, which was tagged with a reference number to remind me which sketchbook it was in, then John ferreted through the sketchbook piles to find the right book...



...then he flicked through the book to find the sketch. We had marked the possibles with post-its right back at the beginning of the project, so that helped too:



John held the sketchbook down flat on the scanner bed for me, while I set the scan parameters, then saved and filed the final file, while he was trying to find the next one in the sketchbook piles. All very dull, but it's got to be done (and over 400 times...).

Then of course, I still had to spend a while on each of the images later, correcting the tonal balance and touching up anomalies, like unwanted marks which had transferred from the opposite page or other sketches showing through from the reverse, like this:


I also have to get rid of unwanted text  - my publisher is keen to remove any text that is not essential, so it doesn't create problems with co-editions.



We've made a fair old hole in the job now and I feel much better for it. I was originally going to wait until all the layouts were back, so I would know for certain that all the sketches I have chosen are in fact going into the book. It's possible that, by doing the scanning early, we have scanned some artwork unnecessarily, but I was getting a bit concerned, as time is passing and the deadline is looming. It's one of those tasks - very hard to know if you've allowed enough time for it, because it's impossible to judge how long you'll need. At least this way, hopefully I won't get caught out!