Thursday, 31 March 2016

Interview with Artists & Illustrators Magazine

I had an email arrive out of the blue a while ago, from the editor of Artists and Illustrators magazine. He had noticed my new Sketching People book was out (well, that's great, before we start...) and he wondered if he might come to Sheffield to do an interview with me in the studio.

Well, I rarely turn down the opportunity to tell someone new all about what I'm up to, but also, the chance to appear in the UK's best selling magazine for artists was way too good to miss. I was flattered too that Steve was happy to come up to Sheffield in person. Turns out he was here as a student. Small world.

We spent a happy couple of hours chatting away and Steve took loads of photos. I talked about my Sketching People book of course, and showed him a copy, then I unpacked my urban sketching kit for him to photograph. Steve was very taken with my midget stool (and I notice that made it into the final article). 

I also told him all about my year as artist-in-residence at the Morgan Centre and showed him some of my sketchbooks. It was lucky that the one I mounted on the wall as a test for the exhibition, was still up, so he could see the full effect.

At that time, I hadn't yet started on my artwork for Class One Farmyard Fun, but I showed him the roughs and we talked about how I create my artwork. I had to do the obligatory photo, where I sit at my drawing desk, pretending to be working. It always looks good though, even though it feels a bit odd.

Last week, a copy of the magazine arrived with my double page spread. Hurrah! Steve has done a lovely job.

There's a great article about Wil Freeborn in this issue too. If you haven't come across his work, take a look. He is another UK Urban Sketcher, based up in Scotland:

I shall take my magazine on the train with me to Manchester: it's the only time at the moment when I get to indulge in reading magazines!

Monday, 28 March 2016

Oh No! The Bull is Waking Up...

Sorry I have not been blogging much lately about my work on Class One Farmyard Fun. It's ironic that, in periods when I have loads going on to tell you about, I have almost no time left to actually tell you.

Anyway, I have been working on a batch of spreads towards the end of the book, when the children try to catch the escaped bull. The bull has been running amok, biffing children here there and everywhere, but has managed to knock himself out. This illustration follows on from a near-miss with the lad in the red trousers:
   Now the bull went after Paul
   But - phew! - he missed and bashed a wall.

Julia Jarman's text for this actual page is:
   Meanwhile Miss and a duck had landed in the farmer's truck (they were previously biffed)
   Miss hissed, 'Children hide in here! The bull is waking up I fear.'
   She was right - his eye-lids flickered, enraged by a pair of bright red knickers.

I don't generally do artwork for the spreads in order, but I tackled this sequence of illustrations one after the other, as they have a lot of the same items in: the bull, the truck, the washing etc. I needed to use each illustration as colour reference for the next, so kept them on the drawing board as I finished them. It's very handy having a nice big board: 

The text for the next page is:
Then suddenly Sam had a plan:
'Miss, quick, drive as fast as you can,
Past that washing and down the track.
With luck we'll get that bad bull back
In the field from where he came
and lock him safely up again.'

I had problems at the rough stage with this sequence of spreads and it was this that Julia and I were discussing when we met up at the Northern Children's Book Festival. In her original text, the bull sees the red knickers hanging on the washing line. But I was having trouble making that work when I got the idea to tangle the knickers onto the bull's horns. Unfortunately, that created a knock-on problem, because Sam next needs to grab the knickers to wave at the bull. Taking the knickers from the bulls horns was obviously too dangerous and scary for him. So I got the idea of him using the prop from the washing line to hook them off without getting too near. Julia agreed with my ideas and changed her text to fit. She is absolutely lovely to work with - she is always open to ideas and never 'precious' about her text. This is her altered text, which goes with the spread below:

But could they do it?
Sam got the prop... and took the pants off that bull in a strop.
Waving them, he yelled, 'Ole! Catch us if you can! Okay?'
The bull charged on, enraged by red
As Miss drove the truck, straight ahead...

I am now working on a spread from earlier on, where several of the children have been tossed into a smelly heap of manure, and the bull is creeping up on Miss... Watch this space!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A Very Political Painting!

Yesterday, I was at the Morgan Centre again, looking for things to sketch. There was nothing specific going on,  so I thought I would spend the day in the Learning Centre, capturing the way people use the space and drawing students at work. It seemed logical to begin with the reception area, so I got myself a chair and started to get out my kit.

"Can I help you?" called a woman from a few yards away, across the foyer. I explained about being Artist-in-Residence and what I wanted to do, but there was a worrying pause. She came out from behind her counter. "I'm sorry, but you need to apply in advance to get permission to do anything of that nature." I showed her a sketchbook and my university ID,  but it was no good. Best laid plans...

On the way back, I was stopped in my tracks by the glorious display of daffodils outside University Place, so I stopped to do a quick painting of that instead. It was reasonably mild, but the stone wall I was perched on was cold on my bum.

By the time I was done, I was well ready to get back indoors, so I returned to my desk to think of a new plan for the rest of the day. I made a cup of tea to warm myself up, then it hit me - I hadn't yet sketched the kitchen area.

It's a little hub at the centre of the open-plan work space. It has all the essentials but, like many communal kitchens, it can be rather unloved. All the better for sketching!

It wasn't actually too bad but, as I sat painting, lots of people came and went, fixing drinks, and almost every one commented on what a contentious space the kitchen had become. "That's a very political painting," said one academic and gave me the story. As is often the case, one (female) member of staff had been keeping it clean, but then she left and chaos reigned. Things got so bad that a stiffly worded email about washing up after yourself was sent out to all the department. That email must have been a bit scary, as it has obviously done the trick, for now at least, because the sink was empty: just one teaspoon!

Interestingly, this sketch demonstrates rather well the difference in outcome between my using watercolour before any drawing (the sink and stuff on the side) and my sketching a few guidelines first, then painting (dishwasher). There's a loss of accuracy and detail when you splosh paint in first, but the dishwasher is definitely less exciting.

I only got half the kitchen painted before home time. There's still the opposite side, with the fridge and the bin. One PHD student asked me if I had opened the fridge. I hadn't. "It smells really bad," he said. "More like a bin than a fridge. I'm not sure I fancy using it any more." Okay, maybe that email wasn't so effective after all. Never mind, it's all good stuff as far as I'm concerned. The more 'story' the better. I might have to draw the contents of the fridge next time. If I can bare it!

I'm rather glad now, I was turned away from the Learning Centre.

I should have taken this photo in the kitchen itself, rather than back at home, but I suddenly realised it was quarter past five: just enough time to scrabble all my stuff together and still make my train. Just made it!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Dormant Things: My Story

I spent one of my residency days sketching at home last week, because I am still not 100% over my cold, even now. Do you remember the fascinating Dormant Things project, looking at the various bits and bobs we have tucked away in corners, stuff we have no actual use for, but can't quite bring ourselves to throw away? I sketched some examples a while ago. last week, I decided it was time to drag some more of my personal clutter out into the limelight.

I have been meaning to record my various pairs of old glasses for a while. They are all old prescriptions, so no use to me, but they were so expensive and are still in perfect condition, which makes it impossible for me to dump them. I tried to give them to charity but, because they are varifocals, matched specifically to my eyes, they are no use to them either. So they sit in a drawer in my bedroom. Probably be there forever, slowly growing in number. they are a little like a collection of stuffed birds or pinned butterflies: delicate and colourful, but gone beyond their moment.

Another object which I don't use, but can't part with, is my tenor recorder from primary school. When my parents bought me this, I felt very grown up, because it felt like a REAL musical instrument, whereas the boring old descants were commonplace and without any status. I was particularly impressed by the brass tab for the little finger - very special. It got lots of use at the time. I'm sure I could still play it, but I don't. I feel a bit guilty, as instruments exist to be played. A bit of my heart still loves it though, in its posh case. That's going back into storage too. Shame on you Lynne!

Finally, I thought I ought to have a go at sketching the obligatory drawer of anonymous cables. We now have 3 of these drawers, in 3 different rooms. There is no logic to this, as we have scant idea what the vast majority of them are for. But you know that, if you throw them out, you are bound to need them. Not that I would know which one you needed, even if I did. I wrote on the sketch that they scare me. They do, in the way that maths equations scare some people: I feel I should make the effort to look through them, but really, really don't want to go there.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Drawing Dead Stuff - Manchester Museum

It was Urban Sketchers Yorkshire's sketchcrawl day on Sunday. We went across the hills to Manchester, to join up with some of their local group and visit the natural history museum on Oxford Road which, by coincidence, is next door to the building where I am based for my residency.

I probably wasn't really well enough to go, as I am still not well now after my Book Week experience. My head was still full of gunk on Sunday and I still very little voice, but I thought I would risk it, as so many people were due to turn up for it, some of whom I'd not seen for ages. I figured that, at least I would be indoors and sitting down, so how much harm could I come to?

The museum has got quite a varied collection, but is not so massive that you can't get a handle on it, so perfect for drawing purposes. As you can see, I concentrated mainly on the animals and skeletons, though there was a lot of anthropological stuff too, as well as rooms of rocks and crystals. 

I had a lovely time and was very pleased I went, although it was a mistake on the voice front, because of course everyone was chatting away to me and I ended up unable to keep quiet for very long at a time (never one of my strong points at the best of times, ask John). Which means that, though I was getting better, I am back to where I was again now. No voice at all. Duh.

After our sandwich break, I went up to the top of the building and did a sketch of the view from one of the windows, out over the old university buildings, just for a change. By now it was getting quite busy in the museum and kids were everywhere. I thought it would be peaceful up there, but somewhere an overexcited screamer was bouncing off the walls and making my ears ring...
Then the sun decided to come out and was directly shining in my eyes, so I gave it up and found a dark corner with some cute penguin skeletons:

As usual, there was some amazing work done by everyone and the sharing session at the end was fascinating. By the time we took this photo, we were down to about half the original group, so you can see that the turn-out was great too. Once again, we had at least two complete newcomers, which was lovely:

On the train home, I did a quick drawing of the woman opposite. She woke up half way through and luckily, was really pleased to be drawn. She took my photo, holding up the sketch. A nice encounter.

Sorry for the slightly less crisp and zingy pics this time round - I've no time to scan anything properly at the moment, as I have to crack on with Class One Farmyard Fun, so these are just phone snaps.

Right, back to work!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Dressing Up for World Book Day

As you know, I have been sitting at home since yesterday morning, nursing my cold and feeling a bit sorry for myself. How lovely then, to be cheered up with a lovely email last night, sent from a proud parent, whose little girl, Amelie, had chosen to go to school on World Book Day dressed at little Stinky, the baby warthog. 

They made the costume all themselves. Isn't it just brilliant? Check out the little flies!

Thank you so much for choosing Stinky Amelie - he's one of my favourites too. You looked fantastic. I bet you were the star of the day!

Friday, 4 March 2016

House of Pestilence!

Gosh, it's been a hectic Book Week. Up early and off to different schools up and down the country every day. Lots and lots of excited little faces!

Unfortunately, that cold I was struggling against on Saturday, as I was battling to finish my artwork, didn't go away, but stuck fast all week. Plus, because I was working such long days and pushing things so relentlessly, I got worse. Yesterday, at Broadoak Primary School, I tipped things too far. I had very little voice when I arrived, but by the time I had done 4 storytellings, plus a long book signing, then (rather stupidly) finished it all off with a bonus, after-school drawing workshop for 30 kids and their parents, in a hall loud with excited little people, it was no surprise that I had no voice at all. 

Luckily the kids still seemed to have a great time. Thursday was World Book Day itself, with them all dressed up as characters from books. Very cute. I coughed and spluttered and did my bit as a character from The Black Death. All I needed was a few nice boils.

So, finally silenced and therefore grounded, today was spent at home, cradling my box of tissues. Even worse - John has it too, so I didn't even have my handy serf to wait on me and stroke my fevered brow. 

Feeling sorry for me yet? Please send grapes and chocolates!

Finished my First Spread!

I had a bit of a time, trying to get the first spread of Class One Farmyard Fun finished off. It was SO fiddly. Unfortunately, there are quite a few spreads in the book with this level of complexity (I have only myself to blame, since I designed them!). Fiddly and pastels do not go very well together, so my pastel pencils had to be brought into the action quite a bit. The pencils are great for detail, but the colour is not as rich and dense as the pastel sticks, so I then have to go over the top of the pencil elements with regular pastel, to give it oomph, trying not to blob where I don't need it. 

Yep, a nightmare, and very slow, but worth it in the end: 

The other tricky thing is keeping track of who's who with the children in the class. There are so many of them, all with different complexions, hair colour and outfits, it will be very easy to get them mixed up along the way. So I added little colour swatches to my 'crib sheet' - the original sketch-sheet where I designed the various children. I can use this as an aide memoir on my desk, as I work my way through all the artwork.

I was working until 7pm on Saturday night, despite having a nasty cold (pause for violins...), because I was desperate to get this first spread finished, before I started Book Week and had to stop work until March 7th, because of being out every day in schools. 

I just got done in time and, on Sunday afternoon, I headed down to Bedford, ready for Monday's school event at Cotton End Primary. Since the school is near to where Julia Jarman lives, John and I drove down and stopped overnight with her, which was lovely (thanks Julia!). Every day of this week has been a different place - I've been zipping all over. It's always the busiest week of the year. Back to normal and making a start on my next spread on Monday.