Sunday, 12 April 2015

How to Sketch People Who Move


I'm still working hard on my book. I'm currently writing a chapter about the complications of sketching people, who are, of course, inclined to move about. 


It's a problem. Even if they are pretending to be still, it never lasts. People are basically fidgets (read the text on the sketch above...). 

Even when they are asleep they snuffle and slide and change position to get more comfortable. Honestly. The worst ones are those who have been still as a statue for the last ten minutes, so you finally decide that they would be good to draw, but then, just when you have made your first, indelibly black mark right in the middle of the page, their friend arrives and they leave.


So, what's the answer? Well, there are actually lots of different answers. None of them make people keep still, but I am looking at all the different techniques I use to get over the frustrations. For instance: don't try and create a single 'picture' but a spread which tells the story of a changing moment of time. That way, a page with lots of half-drawn sketches has a different kind of value. Like these musician drawings I was doing a couple of weeks ago in an overcrowded pub:


I'm also looking at the ways in which you can make life easier for yourself. If you might have less than 5 minutes before someone moves off, you need to have instantly accessible and easy tools. A small sketchbook can be whipped out in a moment and is comfortable to use if you are standing up. Similarly, 2 or 3 coloured pencils might not seem much, but a set of 12 is no use at all to a speed-sketcher: you'll waste half your time choosing colours and the other half picking the dropped ones up off the floor.


One counter-intuitive tool tip is that, even though a pencil might feel safer when the job is tricky, as it pretty much always is with people, since there's no time for rubbing out, you might just as well use ink and get the benefit of a bold mark.


Another tip is that composite characters are not cheating. Whether you are drawing people buying apples at the market, paddling in the sea, or standing at a bar, you can more or less guarantee that you will have a steady supply of people turning up to strike similar poses, standing in more or less the same place. 


Grafting one person's legs onto someone else's torso might be a bit Silence-of-the-Lambs in real life, but in a sketchbook it's fine. That's the technique I used in the National Portrait Gallery sketch above and how I managed to capture what I did of these skater-boys:


I am creating eight different spreads for the People Move! chapter of my urban sketching book, each concentrating on a different technique for dealing with movement. Some tips, like those above, deal with the problem of drawing basically stationary people who fidget or move position, other sections look at the special challenge of trying to sketch people in constant motion. 


I've finished half the spreads now, but still plenty to do, so I suppose I'd better stop chatting to you and get on with it!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

My Personal Sketching Kit: What I Carry and Why


I have been writing a section from the beginning of my book, discussing different art materials and looking in detail at the kit which I carry and why. Getting your personal kit-bag sorted is important, because you don't want to be fussing about what to take or leave behind, each time you go out. It's difficult, because we all know what it's like to want the very thing you left at home.


Nevertheless, you need to make decisions and pare things down. It's good to travel light, otherwise you aren't able to carry your kit with you 'just in case'. I have 3 versions of my kit. The slim-line version is just my trusty Sailor pen and an A5 - A6 book, which you don't even notice you're carrying. I tend to have these in a pocket most of the time, because you never know. 


The next step up is to add my watercolour pencils, a waterbrush, a sweat-wristband (for cleaning the brush) and a knife. That's my medium kit and a good on-the-train kind of size: enough to see me though the odd hour here and there.


My full kit, for sketching day's out, is still pretty compact as I hate being loaded down. All the art equipment packs up into a zipper bag, the size of the average toiletries bag, which slips easily into a large handbag, along with a sketchbook or two. 



If it's an urban day, I usually pop my mini-stool in my bag too, so I don't have to look for benches or doorsteps. It weighs nothing and fits in a large handbag:



If I'm going rural, this foldaway sitting-mat from a camping shop is way better, because of uneven ground:


I have had to unpack my full kit this week and photograph every individual element for the book. This is because I want to dedicate a spread to peering inside my kit-bag, with pictures of everything and annotations, telling people exactly what each item is and why I have chosen it. I photographed 28 different items like this:


My snaps are not the photos we will end up using, but the designers need to know what everything looks like, so they can design suitable graphics for the page. Once that's done, the publisher will commission a proper photographer to take the pictures they need. In the meantime, I have been writing all the text.

If you are interested in getting some of the specific items like the Sailor or the stool, I have put together some links to where I got them. It's on Facebook here, as part of the Usk Yorkshire website.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A Sunny SketchCrawl in Manchester


Last weekend, we had another SketchCrawl day, but this time it was a bit different. 


Simone Ridyard (in the centre of the photo) is my counterpart in Manchester Urban Sketchers. She set up a street-sketching day with the Society of Architectural Illustration. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so sketchers from both the Usk Yorkshire and Birmingham Urban Sketchers groups also joined in.

The event didn't kick off until 11am, but I got a slightly early train and so managed to squeeze in an extra sketch at the beginning of the day. 


The Palace Hotel, just round the corner from Oxford Road Station, is a stunning colour, especially with the sun on its red bricks. Better still, you can get a great view of it from the warmth and comfort of the Corner House cafe, on the opposite side of the road. I passed a very relaxed 45 minutes with a sketch-buddy, then we had to hot-foot it across town to the meeting place for the official start. 

A group of 20 or so people were milling about when we got there: some familiar faces, some people I had so far only met on Facebook, some new introductions. After the hellos, we split into two groups, with half of us drawing the buildings visible from Bridge Street and the others venturing down to Chapel Wharf. The modern architecture provided an exciting interplay of shapes, especially with the sweep of this suspension bridge:


I sat myself in the sun but, unfortunately, my spot quickly got swallowed up by the shade of a tall building behind me. Once out of the sunshine, is was FREEZING but I couldn't move until I had finished my painting. Just five minutes before I stopped, the sun taunted me by working it's way back round. Typical. I was very pleased with the results though, so it was worth the pain. 


I had decided to take one of my new concertina books for a trial run. You might remember that I made a test book, to perfect the technique, so I sketched in that throughout Saturday, running my sketches together. I love that the concertina format lets me keep unfolding new pages, so I can add more space as I go along. Everything worked a treat, so that's good news after all my cutting and folding and sticking (although I had a major water-bottle leak in my bag, which was nearly a disaster).

Everyone regrouped before lunch, to share the work so far, because some people had to head off. That's when we took the photo at the top. Then it was reward-time. We were too big a group to eat as one, but I went with 10 people for lunch at a fantastic Greek self-service restaurant. We were all too busy scoffing to sketch. Gorgeous food (and cheap too!).


The afternoon's sketch-venue was the area around Albert Square. I have wanted to sketch the Town Hall for a while, but until recently it has been surrounded by builder's barriers. It's a monster of a building, so I tackled one tiny section, being very careful this time to pick a truly sunny spot.

At 4pm, we regrouped again at a pub, where we looked through each other's sketches and got the chance to chat to some of the people from other groups. It was all too short unfortunately, as I had to dash for a train home. 


It was still sunny though and there is one section of the journey across the Pennines to Sheffield, which is especially lovely in good weather. It's only visible for a very short time, so I had my sketchbook ready - this time a ready-made, mini Moleskin concertina, just A6. 

A thoroughly lovely day. Thanks so much to Simone for organising things.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Back to My 'Urban Sketching People' Book


Now the mural artwork is done (phew) and I have got my concertina sketchbooks sorted, I have cleared my schedule to concentrate purely on my 'sketching people' book. 

If you have been following the project, you will remember that I have a handful of spreads which are more or less finished - the ones we did as samples, to get the US edition signed up, including this painting before you draw spread:


Then, at the start of the year, I sent off a good chunk of the text, along with all the images that will go with it (just photos of my sketchbook pages for now). My publisher has been working on it while I have been doing other things. About two thirds of what I submitted has now been set into very rough spreads and sent back with some suggestions for changes. I had an long phone call with my editor, where we went through everything in fine detail and I scribbled notes all over the spreads:


It's not too bad at all actually. All the text is intact without changes, it's pretty much all suggestions for either squeezing in more images or adding step-by-step breakdowns here and there. 

The publisher also sent out a call for other sketchers to submit work for possible inclusion and I have sheets and sheets of gorgeous guest work to choose from. That's going to make things easier. So far, I have been trying to collect potential guest images by trawling Flickr and saving things into Pinterest.


I have mostly addressed the changes now. I just have some captions and annotations to write, to go with the added images, but I'm waiting until my suggestions have been given the green light before I do that. 

For now, I have moved on and begun writing a new section of the book. This one looks in detail at how to draw specific parts of the body. We did sketching the eyes as one of the sample spreads. I took a couple of days to get my head back into things, after such a lengthy pause, but I am motoring nicely now and have already written 'feet', 'hair' and 'ears'. Still got mouths, hands and noses to do. Better get on...