Monday, 26 January 2015

I've Started Work on My New Mural



Regular readers will remember the excitement of the 13m long mural I created for the shiny, new Wakefield Library, working with local school kids. To be completely honest, I was really apprehensive about taking on the project, as I had never done anything at all like it before, but the results far exceeded my expectations, so I'm really glad now that I took the plunge.


Wakefield have had such amazing feedback (hurrah!) that they want me to do another mural, this time in Castleford Library, which is having a refurb. Again, I am a little nervous. This time it is even more complicated, as it is a whole room. Also, instead of a simple (albeit BIG) panel, I have to work on the whole space, designing around bookshelves and windows etc. 

How to begin?! 



Well, I started by taking photos of the various walls in the space then, with a bit of jiggery-pokery in Photoshop, montaged them together to create a single flattened-out view:


So far so good. 

I then asked the caretaker at the library to take his tape measure and note down every dimension. This was more complex than you might think, as I needed to know the exact size of obvious things like windows and bookshelves, but also the exact positions of objects like the alarm on the wall, the depth and width of the wall pillars, the height of the book-bag rail, the desk...

To organise that information into something that made sense, and thereby minimise the number of mistakes I was likely to make, I plotted all this information on top of the photo in Photoshop:


Then the even more fun job: I had to create a scale drawing of the space to act as a template: the shape to design the illustration into. 

This is where it gets complicated, because the space is obviously VERY big. Eventually, I will create the high-res, digital artwork at 25%, but that's still going to mean working with massive files and, to stop the computer taking it's ball home, I will chop it up into 6 sections. Designing something in 6 bits is near impossible, so I am doing the designing at 10th size, so I only have to work in 3 sections.

This is what the template for section 1 looks like (the left third). You can see the pillar between the first 2 bookcases, the alarm and the first computer desk:


The next step is a bit more fun - a couple of illustration workshops with Y4 classes from local schools, to generate the children's drawings which I am going to build the design around. The workshops are tomorrow and the theme is: tigers loose in the library! 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Bears on the Stairs: Lights, Camera... Action!


When I read my picture books to children, I always add at least one fun activity, to make the experience even more memorable for them. Bears on the Stairs, written by my favourite partner, Julia Jarman, is the perfect book for all sorts of added-value fun, so I almost always read it at least once during a school visit. 

I read it to a KS1 class in the lovely St Andrews Infant School in Brighouse last week. When we got to the end of the story, I asked the children if it was okay for me to be a bit silly. Luckily, they said yes. Even more luckily, one of the teachers filmed the next part of the session on her iPad, so I can show you exactly what I mean by 'added-value' and just how silly we can get!

I wrote the poem 'The Bear on the Stair' to fit with Julia's story and the whole class performs it together. Before we start though, I ask for volunteers. First, I need someone to be the bear: to roar and eat the children at the end of the poem. Then I need a volunteer to do a big burp (I once had a Head Teacher volunteer for this role!), so I asked the class at St Andrews what noise you might make if your belly was really, really full of children. Instead of a burp, one little boy rubbed his tummy and made a fabulously deep, bear-like 'Mmmmmmmm....' sound. So, as well as the burper, I added him to the mix.



I was delighted that it was this particular session which was filmed, because it was an especially good one. The children were so engaged and the 3 guys at the front really went for it. It makes me laugh every time I watch it, to see them making up all the actions to go with the poem. Watch for yourself and see.


After all the noise and silliness of the poem, I quieten things down with a mock-serious award ceremony, giving a little Bears on the Stairs badge to each of my volunteers. Unfortunately, I have almost used up all the badges that the publisher gave me - just a handful left. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Playing the Celeb in Brighouse:


The school visits kicked off really early this year. My first event was immediately after New Year: I was the guest of honour, opening the gorgeous new library at St Andrew's C of E Infants. I got to cut the ribbon and everything. 


I hope you're impressed by how well my dress coordinates with the school colours!

The children in the photo are members of the School Council, so also rather important. After the ceremony, I sat and signed some books for the library and they gathered round to watch. They were so excited and amazingly cute. Listen to them chatting to me while I draw a warthog in a copy of Stinky!:




The rest of the day was a series of storytelling sessions. It was such a lovely school. The children were a delight and lots of parents came along to sit in. 

Teachers filmed a lot of the sessions. Here I am playing my usual flipchart guessing game with one class, seeing how long it takes them to work out what I am drawing:



It's a shame that the teacher is filming from the wrong side really, but you can still tell how great the kids were. There is another, really brilliant film of me doing my Bears on the Stairs poem with another group, but it was emailed in two halves, so I'll post it up a bit later, once we have stitched it back together. It's really funny, so well worth waiting for.

Another fun game I play at the flipchart is drawing the anaconda from Class Two at the Zoo, and letting the children decide who will be in the snake's mouth. Sometimes they nominate a teacher, sometimes I get volunteers. This time it was Namory who got gobbled up: 


I am so lucky to have a job which lets me share such lovely times with children (and then pays me for the privilege!) 

Friday, 16 January 2015

'3-a-day' Sketch Challenge


There is a fun game going round at the moment on Facebook, where people are nominating sketchers whose work they admire to take part in a posting project. You have to choose 3 sketches to post each day for 5 days. Every day you also choose a favourite sketcher of your own to nominate.


I was nominated by an Urban Sketchers friend, Beliza Mendes, from Luxembourg, who did the sketch above. I'm a bit busy right now (you have probably noticed that I am blogging a little less often than usual), but luckily I have so many pre-scanned sketches that it wasn't a problem to take part. 


I started the challenge on Sunday, with my favourite 3 sketches from the SketchCrawl at the Hat Works. I nominated a member of our Usk Yorkshire group, Paul Gent, who does really beautiful sketches, mostly of the Derbyshire area, where he lives: 



Unfortunately, there was a bit of a hiccough the very next day and I didn't get my 2nd set of sketches posted. John and I had a horrendous drive to and from a school in Telford - over 3 hours each way. Because of the traffic, I was late, so I worked half my lunch break to catch up. Then I signed books for an hour before the long drive back and was simply too shattered to go near the computer when we got home. Not a good start!


I did two posts on Tuesday to make up for it. I thought it would be fun to compare 3 of my older train sketches, from when I used to draw with just a 3B pencil (no colour at all, which seems incredible now) with 3 more recent train sketches, after colour became really important to me and I got so excited by my Inktense watercolour pencils: 


Tuesday's nomination from my fellow sketchers was Rolf Schroeter, from Berlin. He's someone else who often draws people and in a really exciting and dynamic way:



Next up for my 3-a-day: my passion for landscape sketching. A few years ago, when I began exploring all different media, I discovered that I love applying the same kind of expressive mark-making to hills, valleys and skies. There are so many interesting shapes and patterns to explore:


On Wednesday I was delighted to nominate Melanie Riem, who does wonderfully evocative landscapes, but can draw pretty much anything and make it equally enticing: 



For the final day, I decided to feature sketches of architecture. I used to draw buildings years ago, before I felt confident about sketching people. I went off them and avoided architecture for years, but got back into it a couple of years ago, when I realised that I could bring the same expressive style to bear and didn't have to worry about accurate measuring and perspective. Now I forget all that and just have fun:



On my final day, I nominated Nina Johansson from Sweden, who does the most exquisite drawings and paintings, often in very cold conditions. It might have been her that once told me that Vodka stops your watercolours freezing (!):