Monday, 18 July 2016

My Exhibition is NEXT WEEK!

My big exhibition of sketchbooks from my year's residency is being hung this time next week! I can't believe it's so close now. I am still frantically trying to sort things out. I designed a logo to be printed onto a vinyl stencil and pasted along the gallery wall. It'll be about 2m long:

It works really well on the poster I designed too:

I've also designed postcards with maps on the back so people can find the gallery. Luckily it's very easy from Manchester Oxford Road station and only takes about 15 minutes to walk:

The postcards will have various different pictures on the front. I've done 6 different versions, because each of the 500 delegates at the Urban Sketchers Symposium will get one of these in their goody-bags and I'm hoping that them all being different will make them more of a talking point. There's another 1000 postcards to be distributed by the university's marketing department too, so hopefully we'll get at least a few people turning up!

I have even designed a street banner to go outside the gallery to entice people in. It's just over 2m high and will be one of those that's like a flag, with a post going into a floor weight, which you fill up with water, so it doesn't take off halfway through the exhibition!

Inside the gallery, I am exhibiting 27 of the 2m long sketchbooks I have been creating over the year. Because they are relatively small in such a big space, I was worried about visual impact, so have created eight A0 size boards, with details from the sketches blown up HUGE. There are also a couple of AO boards telling people what it's all about: one from my perspective and one written by Professor Heath. I sploshed them with watercolour, to make them more groovy:.

Today I am working on workshop sheets. I am going to be running actual workshops on the mornings of both 26th July and 1st August, but we are also going to have an area with art materials supplied, so visitors can have a go, if they feel inspired. To give them some starting points, I have written 5 workshop sheets, which we will have laminated on the art table.

It's all going to be brilliant, but everything takes so long to prepare. It all has to be written, illustrated, designed then prepared for print. I think I am going to get it all sorted in time, but only just. I've left the least vital things until last, just in case!

Wish me luck...

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Picture Book Retreat - Getting Paid to Have Fun!

I was booked to teach at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators retreat a whole year ago, when I could not have known how tricky it would be to take 4 days out of the studio at this particular time. In actual fact though, the weekend was exactly what I needed: a rest from organising my exhibition and a chance to escape my computer for a while.

I taught at last year's retreat, so I knew it would be a lot of fun. Picture book folk are so lovely to spend time with. The event attracts a mix of authors and illustrators, with people at various levels of experience. The time is packed with workshops, talks and work crits. It all happens in a beautiful old house near Worcester, with gorgeous grounds too. What's not to like?

We kicked off on Friday afternoon with some silly get-to-know-you games. One involved working in pairs, telling your partner about the death of a childhood pet, while they did a drawing. This is my sketch of illustrator Paul Morton's multiple attempts on the life of his goldfish. He seemed so nice too and really not that much of a psycho...

I told him about our rabbits, one of whom did indeed turn out to be a psycho and ripped out the throat of his companion in the night. This is Paul's drawing:

After a lovely dinner, I did my first workshop: creating concertina sketchbooks. This was so popular last year that they asked me to do it again. We were making the books which we would be using in my Saturday afternoon workshop, another repeat request from last year. 

SCBWI provided all the materials. Luckily there is a 'messy' studio building at the end of the garden. A bit of cutting and sticking was good fun, although the measuring and folding foxed those who had started on the wine over dinner!

Next day began with a writing workshop with my counterpart: author/illustrator David Lucas. He talked about the story behind his work and read us his beautiful book The Robot and the Bluebird. It was partly autobiographical, written early in his career, when he felt at sea and was trying to find his direction and purpose. I couldn't resist starting on my concertina book while he talked:

After coffee and cake to fortify our creativity, David talked about the structure of a picture book, then used a technique of random words to get us to come up with story ideas. I started one about a pencil who wrote messages to its owner. I couldn't think of an end though (what's new), so was glad to be saved by the lunch gong!

Then we had a talk by Kristina Coates, Art Director at Bloomsbury. She talked about what makes a good book and showed us some of her favourites. She gave advice too about how to submit work and what she looks for.

More coffee, more cake... Then it was time to do my 2nd workshop. This was about observational sketching as the means of capturing ideas and atmosphere. I talked about ways in which people could use their new concertina sketchbooks to record the multi-sensory experience of whatever space they were in, as inspiration or as research for their work.

I started with a demonstration using the various art materials in my kit bag, especially looking at how to use watercolours in a non-timid fashion.

Then I asked people to let their creativity rip and they took me at my word. People spread out around the room and in the garden. Even some authors gave it a go and said they had great fun.

Time flew of course and it was immediately dinnertime. Lots of chatter. More wine. Smashing.

We did group crits in the evening. People were asked to select their favourite 3 stories or illustrations from their folios and, in groups of 4 or 5, the other people chose which of the 3 they liked best and discussed why. Limiting it to 3 pieces was a great way of simplifying down the process. We still talked for hours. It was approaching midnight and I was finally on my way to bed, when I chanced upon a knot of people in the library who seemed to be having fun. Before I knew it, it was 2 o'clock in the morning!

It was my big workshop session next morning too. At least, being Sunday, I didn't have to start until 9.30. Like David, I used a technique to get people to come up with a series of ideas for stories. My approach focused on the story's lead character and on some task which they really ought not to be doing. I got people to work in pairs, because I find ideas progress much more quickly when you bounce them back and forth.

I had intended it to be just an ideas session, creating starting points to play with, but people got so carried away that, by the coffee-and-cake break, over half the group had developed complete stories, with good endings too. I was chuffed to bits that there was so much fun and laughter when people shared their ideas with the group:

After the break, we talked about timing. I wanted people to think about how to choose moments of focus. For authors, it might be the place where page-turns create dramatic tension, or for illustrators, it is the specific part of a moment of consequence which you choose to draw. I used the Roadrunner cartoons as an example. When the coyote runs off the cliff, the animators always stop the movement for a moment, to give him time to look down and register that he's about to fall. It's this moment of anticipation which is the most powerful, not the actual fall.

The after lunch publisher's talk was by Ellie Parkin, Commissioning Editor at Scholastic. She talked about themes: about how they are effected by trends and internationalism, about why some themes work so well and why others generally don't. One of the authors pitched the idea to Ellie which she had written in my workshop that morning. Ellie said she was extremely interested and wants to take it to show her team. What a result!

The rest of my afternoon was filled with 30-minute, one-to-one appointments, looking at portfolios or discussing people's picture book manuscripts. SCBWI is especially good at providing these kind of opportunities. As well as myself and David Lucas, there were also two other published author/illustrators there for people to make appointments with. Both Ellie and Kristina saw half a dozen people as well. It's so useful to get concentrated feedback on what you are doing.

David Lucus did another workshop after tea, about the role of pattern in illustration. He read us another story too. This time it was Grendel: a tale based on King Midas, only this time everything he touches turns to chocolate.

Then it was dinnertime again. Talking of pattern, are you getting the pattern of the weekend? Yep, everything was threaded through with lots of lovely food at every opportunity:

After dinner, we grouped up again for impromptu work-crits. A couple of people had asked me to take a look at their work. One person in particular was doing some fabulous illustration - really loose and gestural drawing, painting and printmaking. Gorgeous! Then it was wine and chatter again. I finally got to bed at midnight.

On our final morning, at breakfast, we did our last challenge of the retreat. Anne-Marie Perks always gives people a postcard (watercolour paper, so the illustrators can have fun painting it). Before you leave, you have to decide on three achievable goals for yourself, for the coming year. You write them on the postcard, address it to yourself and put a stamp on, then give it back to Anne-Marie. She puts them all away for about 9 months, then posts them all out. By the time you get them, you have completely forgotten about them, so it's interesting to see how many of your goals you've managed to achieve.

And then it was over. Time to pack and then do lots of hugging, before heading back to the station. It took ages to actually leave, as there were so many new friends to say goodbye to. Thanks so much to Anne-Marie and the SCBWI team for all the organisation. A really enjoyable and inspiring weekend, spent with a great bunch of people. Can't quite believe that I was paid as well. I love my job!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

So Busy, I Might Explode!

I'm so sorry that I have been so off the radar. I like to post at least twice a week, and it's been too long, but I have literally had no time at all. It's all my own fault for setting things up so that so many different things are happening at the same time.

This week, amongst other things (!), I am:

1: Organising all the printing for my big exhibition at the end of the month;
2: Writing a 1 hour lecture, which I am giving at the Urban Sketchers Symposium (also the end of July);
3: Organising a talk and workshop about the residency which I am giving tomorrow, to visiting academics, at a University of Manchester showcase event;
4: Selecting all the images for a new website and sending them to my web designer;
5: Going to Manchester to view the rushes of the film we are making about the project;
6: Travelling to Worcester, to teach a 4-sday residential workshop for illustrators, for the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators.

Oh my goodness! It seems even more scary once you write it down. Now you can see why I have not been writing for you, Gentle Reader. It's been like this for the last fortnight. Juggling too many things at the same time really starts to hurt your head.

Anyway, providing I don't spontaneously combust, it should all be brilliant, by the time the end of the month gets here. I have decided - August is going to be one long holiday!!!

When I am slightly less frazzled, I will fill you in on the details of the exhibition etc. In the meantime, here are some sketches from the project, which you won't have seen yet. the top one was a shopping outing to charity shops with an interview subject, as part of a research project on 'thrift'. The middle is some students at the university and below is from the end of year meeting of Morgan centre staff.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Sorting out the Sketchbooks for my Exhibition

Now my latest picture book is finished, I have been spending most of my studio time organising my artist-in-residence exhibition for the end of July. What seemed ages away, is suddenly imminent and there is still SO much to be done. I am getting some help from the Morgan Centre, but most of it is things which only I can do.

At least now I have a bit of spare time to get on with it. I have been back to the gallery and re-measured all the space, then worked out exactly how much room I have and how best to lay everything out. The upshot is that I have space to exhibit 27 of the 40 plus sketchbooks I've created. The task of choosing which 27 was proving too daunting though - where to begin? So John and I laid them out on the dining room table, 3 at a time, and went through the lot together, creating in, out and maybe piles.

Some were in because they were part of specific projects, like the Dormant Things research I have been doing a fair bit of work on, the Sythesised Menthol project in the 3 images above, or the Dementia Carers Research below:

Then there were those which were just a bit different, like the book I filled over a few weeks, following the progress of the team of builders right outside the door to our building:

Some of them got really interested and I got quite chummy with this gang of workers:

The tricky ones were the books filled with meetings, seminars and lectures. They are all different, when you look at the text, and all had some lovely work I am very proud of, but because they are essentially people sitting about in rooms, they could look a bit samey. This put them top of the list when it came to culling. Very hard.

Reluctantly, I let some go, knowing that at least I have the projections on the far wall, where I can show any sections I don't want to go unseen. Plus we have 5 or 6 HUGE boards, where I can feature much-enlarged details. I might use some to show sketches from books which didn't make the grade, like these Chinese students, who were trying out their graduation gowns on a sunny afternoon:

These three piles are the final selection:

My Precioussss.....

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Little Lad and Puss are Visiting Manchester!

I had another of those nice surprise parcels this morning: something I had completely forgotten about. I couldn't think what it could be and the little package was sellotaped to within an inch of its life, so it took me several minutes, a craft knife and a pair of scissors to get into it to find out what was hiding in there!

It turned out to be some samples of this rather lovely leaflet, advertising all the wonderful things you can do in your library. And there, in the middle, peeped out the little boy from Bears on the Stairs, one of my favourite books I've done with Julia Jarman, along with his pet cat (who was modelled on my Mum's beautiful cat Emma by the way).

Do you remember that last year, Manchester Libraries redesigned all their children's library cards and used my illustrations on them? Well, they got back in touch a few months ago and asked if they could use this image too, so that everything tied in.

They've done a great job. I love the colours and the retro-style front, which of course makes you think of the lovely vintage Penguin Classic book jackets. Great idea guys!