Friday, 5 February 2016

Exhibition: a Year in Sketchbooks


What a varied and interesting year I am having! Yesterday, I went to visit a gallery called Z-arts in central Manchester, where I am hoping to have an exhibition this summer. The plan is for it to be the culmination of my year as Artist-in-Residence at the Morgan Centre. 

The timing couldn't be better: the end of my residency coincides with the 7th International Urban Sketchers Symposium which, of all possible cities of the world, this year happens to be held in... yep, Manchester. Perfect. I have been accepted to do a lecture on the residency as part of the symposium, so everything seems to be falling into place. 


We are still in the process of getting the funding together. We are hopeful that the University will give us what we need (crossing fingers). In the meantime, we have booked the space for the end of July. It is a lovely big area, divided into two sections plus a screening room. Ignore the tables and chairs in the photos - there were just clearing up from an event. 

I hope to have created about 40-50 pieces of artwork by the end of my residency, so there should be no shortage of material. 



Any regular readers to the blog will know that each piece is created as a concertina sketchbook, recording some element of the life of the students and academics at the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives. The plan is to pick a selection of these sketchbooks to exhibit, and also to blow up details and have them printed on huge AO boards, as well as a few big photos, to show the process. 

The gallery has an outside covered-balcony area too, which will be perfect for a July private view:



We have been wondering how best to mount my artwork. Each piece of my sketchbook artwork is 2 metres long, which is not something you want to glaze. I originally envisaged them opened out and flattened to the wall, but now it seems a shame to entirely flatten them out - I'd like to keep some sense of how they were created. 

I researched different possibilities and sought lots of advice. In the end, I found a really low-tech solution. Very cheap, but extremely effective - using tiny clips:


The idea is the have the clips top and bottom, running along the length of the book, nipping the artwork to the wall at the sketchbook creases. I pressed my handy technician into service and we tested the system in the studio:


We needed to be certain it would work and also that the clips would stay up. It looks great and has been up on the wall for 2 weeks now, with so sign of problems - success!


All being well, the show will go up during the last week of July, with an opening event on the evening of Friday July 29th. I'll keep you posted, but mark your diaries - everyone is welcome!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Recording How we Move Through Familiar Spaces


I have done lots and lots of drawings of people for my residency. There are, of course, no end of meetings to document. I am in my element there, but I have been trying to think of ways to make sure the sketchbooks don't look too samey.

I am interested in the way we move through familiar spaces. After a while, a home or a workplace can become so commonplace for us, that we no longer really notice it. I thought it might be fun to get people to re-engage with the intimate elements of the building they work in and to show the spaces through an outsider's eyes. 


I began this book back on December 1st and have been adding to it here and there, when I have spare pockets of time. I wanted to focus in, so I began with the big revolving doors which everyone has to go through every single day. To give this context, you can see the relevant section of the university map and the local Oxford Road station most people use.


When you get inside the doors, you are faced with two alternatives: stairs or lifts. I had to borrow a chair and sit in the middle of the foyer to do these two sketches, which was great, as lots of people stopped to talk to me in their way in and out of the building. Someone bought me a coffee. 


I needed to include the little coffee shop beside the lifts, as stopping off there, to pick up a drink or something to eat, is an important part of many people's journey to their work area. I got into conversation with the lovely Elenor who mans the cafe every day. She was delighted to be featured and I got another free coffee. Excellent.


I made my way up to the 3rd floor, where the Morgan Centre people are based. There is a loo just behind the lifts, another important feature. I toyed with drawing inside, but decided to be more discrete. The area outside reception is where students wait to be met for tutorials. This one looks a bit nervous I think. The water-cooler seemed a key feature too, as it's well-used.


I really zoomed in next, on the area in the centre of the reception drawing, to capture Martine, the Sociology receptionist, who is really friendly and much loved. Her pink hair is a great visual indicator of her radiant personality. I just caught her Christmas trimmings in time, before they came down at the end of term.


There is a bookswap shelf just inside the security doors. I borrowed Gone Girl over the Christmas holidays - a great page-turner. I was interested in the nature of the books, which wasn't quite what I expected. I simply had to record the juxtaposition of Feminist Review and Victoria Holt, as it was too perfect!


Once you get inside properly, the space is mainly divided between offices, like the one with the pink window where Professor Heath is based, and open-plan work areas. The desks there are laid out in a way I thought could best be captured with a aerial, plan view. 

And then I was at the end of my book. 


I have just begun a new book with a conventional drawing of the open-plan space. In the meantime, this Wednesday we are having the next workshop, where I will be showing the academics more techniques to try in their own sketchbooks. We will be getting out the watercolours again this time. I will also get to see how they got on with following up on December's workshop, where we had fun with collage. Watch this space!

Friday, 29 January 2016

Sketching People: My Book is Here!


The advance copies of my urban sketching book just arrived - hurrah! They should have been here a couple of weeks earlier it turns out, but they went astray in the mail and the publisher didn't realise I hadn't had them. 


It's been a bit fraught with technical hitches to be honest because, when they resent my package this week, someone put in the American edition and one by a Singapore publisher (below), but left out the UK one (above). Never mind - they look gorgeous and glossy and I am very pleased. The contents on the inside of the different editions are more or less the same, it's just odd words and grammatical variations - it's mainly the covers which look different.


It's lovely to see how all the content looks, in it's proper form. I spent so long putting it all together and now here it is, looking like a real book! 

I thought I'd take some snaps to give you a sneak preview, though you probably have a pretty good idea by now, since I've talked about it in progress often enough (hit the Sketching People label on the right, if you're interested). 

There a section which looks at art materials, with a specific eye on how you choose tools which are appropriate to the problems of drawing people out on location:


I look at how you choose your subject, which is hugely important. There are some locations and activities which are virtually impossible, but plenty of others which make things a lot easier for you, especially if you are cutting your teeth:


Then there are the different possible angles to tackle. I would rarely advise drawing people front-on. It's much more interesting and far easier on the whole, to tackle them in profile or in three-quarter view, particularly when you are concentrating on faces:


I write a fair bit on techniques to deal with the fact that people move about a lot, which is of course one of the main things which makes them so tricky. I can't stress enough the benefits of trying contour drawing, both for warming up your arm and eye and for tackling your subject as swiftly as possible:


Plus another technique, handy particularly if you are drawing groups of people or people passing by, is using composites - sketches made up of a little of one person and a bit of another, with maybe the head of someone else again!


There is a lot more too, of course. I tried to think of everything I know. It's hard when you have been doing something for so very many years. It all becomes second-nature. Writing the book has been really interesting, because it has helped to make me analyse what I know. Which has actually really helped for when I am teaching workshops, like the ones I am doing at the moment for the Morgan Centre as part of my Artist-in-Residence year, and of course the work I do with Urban Sketchers.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Sketching Live Music in Cafe#9



On Friday night, John and I went to a wonderfully intimate evening of music at Cafe#9 in Sheffield. You can just spot us at the back. The photo was taken through the goldfish tank above the piano, hence the ghostly floating fish


I was with friends, so I didn't spent the whole evening sketching, but I couldn't resist whipping my book out for a quick spurt, when the totally brilliant Goat Roper Rodeo Band did their set. They describe their music as 'cosmic country blues' - great harmonies but also very lively stuff, which made them very tricky to draw, as they were jumping around most of the time. 

I used watercolour and white chalk in a Strathmore tinted sketchbook, to try and capture the flavour and movement:


Cafe#9 is a favourite place of ours, both for just hanging out and for its music nights. Because the place can only take about 25 people, there is a unique atmosphere. It's like the artists are performing in your sitting room. 


In fact, there is an occasional event there called Gig in Me Lounge, which originally started with a bunch of friends playing for each other in their lounge but, in recent times, they have progressed to using Cafe#9. These two sketches were done for the last Gig in Me Lounge evening.


Whoever is playing at the cafe, the music is always really good and there is always the same relaxed, informal atmosphere. We are so lucky to have it just round the corner. I only have to walk 5 minutes to get there - the poor Goat Roper Rodeo Band had to drive all the way from Wales to play for me!