Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Urban Sketching Workshops: Scary Buildings!

Remember the 10th anniversary celebration workshops for Urban Sketchers I'm involved in? The first two I ran were in June; the 2nd pair were just recently.

The morning's session was about finding ways to tackle big, scary buildings: sort of coincidental, given my last post about Chicago. I can remember when I used to be put off anything with fancy arches or lots of windows, so I thought I'd share what I've learned since then, about ways to make such things more manageable.

We started off at a coffee shop, for a bit of an intro to what we would be doing. I brought lots of examples of my sketches to show, to help to convey what I meant and hopefully to inspire people.

Then we walked down the road to Upper Chapel, tucked away from all the people on the main roads, with it's own courtyard garden. We even had benches to sit on. I chose it because, apart from the handy setting, the building is only a little bit 'nasty', so not too challenging as a 1st exercise.

I got people to use collage to approximate the overall shape, before sketching and then asked them to try and underplay the amount of details added on top. I did a very quick demo first, as I personally find that is very helpful when I'm trying to learn new techniques. Then they had a go:

I took this little video of them, because they looked so great as a set:


I stepped it up next, with the Victoria Hall. There was a bit more to go at with a tower and different shaped windows. I liked that the building had two basic colours: the brick and the stone, which helped with the technique I wanted to share. I showed them how to use watercolour as a first stage, to help you to simplify what's there before you draw:

I also wanted to demo how to actually use watercolour, showing people the quantities you need to mix up and how to apply the paint: confident, powerful marks, but applied with a light touch, good and wet, so the paint flows about. The idea is to say all the basics in paint and only add the line-work you really need.

Nobody was allowed to plan first in pencil but, as you can see, everyone did great work and people were forced to work in a much looser way than they normally would, when faced with such a building. This is a piece by one of the participants, Lynne McPeake, who took just a section to concentrate on, but used the technique well:

Although I don't run sketching workshops very often, by coincidence there are another couple in a few weeks. As part of my new residency at Orchard Square in Sheffield, I will be running 2 workshops on September 16th - the morning is for relative beginners, which can include families with children, then in the afternoon there's one for adults with at least a little previous sketching experience, which will in fact be a repeat of the workshop that I ran in Chicago. Everyone booking for this event will get a copy of the fully illustrated handout I created (as a PDF).

Email me if you want to book a place on either of these workshops.

I'll also be doing an informal talk about my residency work on the morning of September 23rd. For details of this and other future events you can join my new mailing list.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Want to Own My Painting?

THIS WEEKEND ONLY, I am auctioning off my watercolour of the threatened Chelsea Elm tree, which stands in Nether Edge, near to where I live, proud and defiant.

All proceeds go to Sheffield Trees Action Group, as we are raising funds to fight off the council, who want to chop down this rare and special tree, along with many, many others in my area, most of which are over 100 years old. It's all about cheaper road surfacing, which makes my blood boil. But that's another story...

The painting is approximately A3, on heavy watercolour paper. If you want to buy it, you need to type your bid on this Facebook post. Bidding ends at 1pm GMT on Monday 21st August.

This is unfortunately only open to people who are on Facebook (and you will need to temporarily join the STAG Facebook group to be able to post your bid - sorry it's a bit complicated).

Please be generous and help me save this gorgeous tree!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

How to tackle BIG Buildings!

It took me a while to get my head round the scale of the architecture in Chicago. It was not just that everything is so incredibly tall, although that was tricky enough: how on earth do you fit all that stuff onto your page?

It was also the relative sizes of the skyscrapers. You think one building is high, then you realise the one beside it is nearly twice as high. So, if you fit the tallest one in your book, the slightly less enormous ones become pretty small, which of course means you have to draw everything else super-diddy size!

And then there's the problem of all the windows. SO many windows. Hundreds, thousands... I wouldn't want to laboriously draw them all. Apart from anything else, it generally makes your work look terribly fussy if you do. And who has that kind of time?

So, I spent my time in Chicago gradually learning how best to 'code' the architecture, how to say more with less, to give the impression of all those windows with different marks and patterns.

Plus, I learned to come to terms with the fact that sometimes you have to cheat, as I did here, and make very different height buildings much nearer in size, so they'll all fit in...

Or you have to just get used to the idea that you quite often have to chop stuff off. Hey ho.

Once I loosened up a bit, I had a lot of fun with this more playful approach. It reminded me of when I first discovered that I could take incredible liberties with scary buildings, during a workshop with the brilliant Inma Serrano, at the symposium in Barcelona.

I got quite carried away with the this looser freedom, when trying to capture the ENORMOUS Buckingham Fountain against the impossible Chicago skyline:

It was much the same at the Talking Heads, filmed-concert evening I spent with ace sketcher and fellow instructor Stephanie Bower at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (which looked like nothing so much as an exploding, metal monster). We had a picnic and a bottle of red wine and all was well with the world. We both love Stop Making Sense and whooped and sang as we painted (the red wine may have helped with that):

The whole 'coded windows' approach fed well into my workshop too. Since I was already teaching about mark-making, I incorporated the idea of giving an 'impression' of what you see, rather than drawing the reality. This was a demo sketch I did for one of my groups in Lurie Garden, exploring just how little you can get away with saying:

Next time: working up the courage to paint Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, more commonly known as The Bean!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Experiments in Collage...

 I had a very nice email last week from a lady I met briefly in Chicago. Susan Cornelis is an artist from California. She had been at the symposium with her friend Cathy and Cathy had taken my workshop

Cathy so enjoyed the collage element of the workshop, that she shared the technique with Susan and they both went out on a sketching day together as soon as they got home, to try it out.

They were so excited by their results that they sent them to me. How lovely is that? I though you might like to see them too.

Try it - get some coloured paper and rip a couple of random shapes. Stick them into your sketchbook before you go out to sketch. they can overlap, or not, up to you. Then do whatever drawing takes your fancy over the top.

The results are often very effective and all the more interesting because the relationship between the colour and the line is so random.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Class One Farmyard Fun - My Final Picture Book

Class One Farmyard Fun is out in paperback at last - hurrah!

There's generally about a 6 month delay after the hardback, which always feels like forever. Plus of course it's AGES since I was creating the artwork.

This is, of course, another book I've created in partnership with the amazing Julia Jarman. I always enjoy bringing her fabulous, crazy stories to life. They absolutely explode with fun, so that wonderfully silly pictures burst into my head as soon as I read them.  

This particular title is the third in the series about school trips which stray somewhat off-piste. It's a great idea and, of course, kids love the way the teachers are never quite equal to the situation (and get eaten, tossed into the air, seduced by pirates...)

I have a bit of sad news to share with you all too: this is the very last picture book that I will be illustrating. I have been a freelance illustrator, working in pastels, since 1987. Wow, that's 30 years. How scary. I worked in editorial initially - my first children's book was published in 2000: anyone remember the Show at Rickety Barn?

It's not that I am retiring, it's just that 30 years is long enough to do a job where you spend all day every day on your own at a desk. I am having so much fun now, with my new reportage work, getting out and about with my drawing, meeting new people all the time and learning new things, illustrating the world as I find it. And of course, it is increasingly taking me to new exciting places, like Australia next year!

So, though it is quite sad to be at the end of an era, after over 30 picture books, it's also very invigorating to be at the beginning of something new, especially given that I am getting so excited about my new textile artwork too.

Wish me luck!