Sunday, 4 October 2015

Sketchbook Exhibition at The Point

I've got a mini-exhibition of my sketchbooks this month at The Point gallery in Doncaster. On Tuesday, I travelled there for a meeting, to finalise which sketchbooks I am going to have on display and to install them. 

For now, it's only a small display: just 6 open books in neat glass cases, set into the wall of the gallery. I chose various contenders to show to the curator at the gallery. I also needed to test out which would fit best in the spaces, which are only 12 inches square, which meant neither small ones nor long ones would work. 

Luckily they were perfect for A5 books, of which I have quite a few. We chose a selection of different subjects, for visual impact, but also to get across the idea that you can sketch anything. I was keen to show work in various media too, because for me, sketchbooks are about experimentation and having fun, rather than creating predicable results.

It was lovely seeing the gallery. It's not somewhere I was aware of before they got in touch, which is shameful, given how close it is. The Georgian front belies a very modern interior. It's more than a gallery too: it's an arts centre, with music and dance studios, as well as a lovely cafe (which was very good value - lovely coffee for £1!)

If you are thinking of going to take a look, you have until October 21st.

There is also currently an Urban Sketching exhibition on, with drawings by artist Terry Chipp. There's free parking for 2 hours on the street outside the gallery too. What more could anyone want?

Monday, 28 September 2015

US Feedback for my Sketching Book

While I was away having my adventures in Denver, my Sketching People book went off to our US publisher, Barron's, for a pre-publication evaluation. It's standard procedure apparently. They have a list of questions they check against, to decide if they think the book needs any changes before they publish it in the States. 

The check-points cover quite fundamental quality issues. They include questions like:
Is the writing style, reading level, interest level, and level of detail appropriate for the intended audience?
What is the general quality of scholarship and accuracy of the text? 
Is the coverage of topics thorough and well balanced?

Under each question, the evaluator at Barron's writes a paragraph or two of feedback, before sending the report back to Quarto in the UK. Any problems then come back to me, via my editor, and changes need to be made to fit in with their requirements. 

I got the email this morning from my editor at Quarto. She was so delighted, she sent me a copy of the Barron's evaluation report. 

Turns out, they loved it. We passed with flying colours - no changes at all. The opinion was that everything was extremely clear, without being overly technical and that I had done 'an excellent job of offering many different approaches and techniques' with 'exactly the details that will help and inspire readers to draw people in urban settings', covering my subject 'well and completely'. 

They believe my audience will be find it a 'lively and colourful read'. Best of all was in the summing up at the end, where it says: 'I am ...very familiar with all of the books about onsite drawing that have been published in recent years. "Sketching People" is one of the best books on the subject of urban sketching that I have seen... I am sure (it) will be popular and will sell well.'

That's such a wonderful vote of confidence, especially from somebody as all-powerful and in-the-know as Barron's. Let's hope that you guys, my 'gentle readers' think the same.

The only bit of bad news is that, because Quarto got very behind with things, they have changed the publication date. Instead of being ready in time for Christmas, Sketching People is now not going to appear until around February. Oh well, something to brighten those long, winter evenings...

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Idea Development in Denver's Botanical Gardens

When I found out that I was going to be flown to Denver to shoot the on-line Designing Children's Book Characters workshop for Craftsy, I wrote a quick 'showing-off' post on my Facebook page (like you do). All my friends left lovely feedback, wishing me well, which was of course lovely. But I got another bit of feedback too, one that was rather unexpected...

I got a message from the person who runs the Botanical Illustration course in Denver. She asked if, while I was there, I would be interested in doing a real-life workshop for her students. My 1st thought was: that's odd - I am not a botanical illustrator. My 2nd thought was: wow, you never know who is looking in!

I got in touch, of course, and discovered that the course likes to invite visiting demonstrators to present different kinds of illustration workshops. Sometimes these visitors offer a wider take on Botanical Illustration (while I was there, someone from the Royal College of Embroidery was delivery a drawing-in-stitch workshop, producing wonderful rose embroideries). Sometimes though, they like to look at other kinds of illustration. Which is of course where I came in.

So, I finished shooting the Craftsy class on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning I was sitting opposite twelve very keen illustration students, in a teaching space which was situated bang in the middle of Denver's wonderful Botanical Gardens (hence my water-lily sketches).

It was a two-day workshop. On day one, I taught pretty much the same material as I had just been demonstrating for the Craftsy film, which was very handy, as I couldn't have been better up-to-speed if I'd tried. On the morning of day two, I concentrated on idea development: how you generate ideas and allow them to evolve, so they have time to get even better. We also looked a look at communication: ways to make the ideas in your illustrations come across clearly to the reader, as well as how you add humour and impact.  

In the afternoon, I tried something a bit new: I quickly sketched out an image of Giddy Goat onto a couple of bits of paper, then got all the students to gather round, while I did a demonstration. I showed them two very different ways of colouring the same illustration: one using coloured pencils to get interesting colour blends and to shade 3-dimensionally (much as I do with my pastels); the other using watercolour, but with a soft, coloured pencil outline. 

The students spent the rest of the afternoon experimenting with colouring up one of the illustrations they had developed that morning. 

It went really well. I was so pleased. All the students were really nice and several of them gave me a big hug at the end, saying how much fun the weekend had been and how useful they had found it. I felt very loved.

Mervi, who ran the course, gave me a lovely thank you present of this beautifully illustrated book the students and staff had published of their sketchbook work (thank you Mervi!):

Possibly most exciting of all... she invited me to go back and do it all again sometime! 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Filming My Craftsy Workshop in Denver

Well, goodness me - what a fun, whirlwind week I had in the US! I got back last Tuesday evening and have been catching my breath (and catching up on emails) ever since.

Where to begin? Well, the 3 days I spent at the studios were so interesting. Craftsy are a lovely company to work with and really looked after me, including a chauffeur to pick me up from the airport, which was an excellent start. 

I arrived on Monday night and I had Tuesday off, to get over the jet-lag and altitude, although actually neither gave me much trouble (I think my excitement over-ruled them), so I enjoyed wandering about, exploring Denver city-centre (above) and I had a lovely visit to the art museum, which was fabulous both inside and out:

They had an exhibition on 'flower painting through the ages' and, when I spotted a bunch of easels and piles of oil-pastels in their activities room, I couldn't resist sitting down for an hour and giving it a go:

On Wednesday morning I was picked up by the lovely (and very pregnant) Danica, my make-up artist, and driven to the Craftsy studio complex, where I had my very own dressing-room:

I took a change of clothes for half-way through each day of filming, so four outfits in all, to create visual variety on screen. We had fun trying to find ways to hide the mike under my cardigans and collars. People who were doing classes about dressmaking took about 10 outfits, so I got off very lightly. 

I liked the personalised star on my dressing-room door (nice touch):

That first day was a rehearsal day. We ran through a couple of lessons, to get me warmed up and used to working with the teleprompter, but it was mostly a technical rehearsal. We spent the day setting up the cameras and the clever, computerised stuff, talking through the best way to achieve things and familiarising me with the process.

We were a team of four and we all got on like a house on fire, right from the beginning. There was Clif my producer, who was as familiar with the material as me and who also acted as director and general 'person-with-an-overview'. This is Clif and pretty much the view I had while we were filming:

Then there was Tim, the man behind the sound recording and the various cameras. There were three rolling all the time I was delivering my lessons. Firstly, there was camera A which was looking straight at me, then camera B which always pointed directly down at the paper in front of me. Lastly, looking over my shoulder, was camera C. Here is Tim getting camera B into position on Wednesday morning:

Finally, there was Nick (who sadly, I forgot to get a photo of). He spent the whole time behind 3 computer screens at the back of the studio. His principle job was to create a rough-cut of the footage as we went along, editing together the output from the three cameras, on-the-hoof. 

On Thursday and Friday, I was picked up at 7.30am (!), made to look gorgeous by Danica, before starting filming at around 9.00. We had such a laugh. All my team were great - they were very easy-going and good fun to banter with, but at the same time clearly knew exactly what they were doing. The attention to detail was very impressive.

We worked until 6.30 most nights, with me sitting at the desk, either explaining various elements of a lesson to camera, or doing my demo drawings of the many different characters I'm teaching people to create. I had practised the material quite a few times, so mostly I didn't need to actually 'read' it off the auto-cue, just use it as a prompt to keep me on track, but we still had to do a fair bit of stopping and starting, where I fluffed words or forgot what was coming next, because I was looking down at the drawing I was doing and so not at the prompt. That's where having 3 camera angles is really useful: you can always find an easy place to cut in again.

There are now about 5 weeks left before the class will be ready. Nick's rough-edit needs to be fine-tuned, plus lots of images from my books need to be spliced in, where I use them to illustrate various teaching points as we go through the lessons. Like with Nana Croc for instance, when I am talking about ways to add humour when you are designing outfits for your animal characters: 

There are all sorts of additional graphics to add too, as well as setting up the interface for the students - one of the great things about Craftsy classes is that you can ask me questions and can show me your work. 

Just before the workshop goes live, I will be running a competition, to give away a free subscription to the class, so watch this space. I will also be giving out special launch-week discounts.

I can't wait to see what the technical guys do between now and then. SO exciting!