Friday, 12 February 2016

Watercolour Workshop: Less is More!


As part of my residency, I ran another of my empowerment workshops recently, working with the academics at the Morgan Centre. My merry band of would-be sketchers were all given a free set of watercolours at the outset and, although we did do some playing around with them during our very first meeting, I have noticed that most people aren't really using them. Not surprising - I know some very seasoned sketchers who are still terrified of watercolour.


So, I thought we would do some work with paint, to get them more familiar with how it feels and to discover some of the simple but effective things you can do. 

For people to feel comfortable, it is vital that these workshops are fun and that results are acheivable. I need people to not only learn useful techniques, but to enjoy the session sufficiently that they are inspired to give things a go when they are on their own, with the SCARY blank page.



First of all, we used wet paper and explored simple mark-making methods, introducing watercolour to the page, but then leaving it alone, letting the water take it off to interesting places, resisting the urge to scrub and mix. 

Then I asked people to see if they could see an image in the blobs and squiggles. The challenge was to use as few drawn marks as possible to turn the splodges into something. Love these funky birds:


Next, we played a game in pairs, where people took it in turns to add a mark to a shared painting, building up images which were initially abstract, but waiting for the suggestion of something representational to emerge. It's fun because people sometimes have different ideas of where it's going. You can choose to cooperate with your partner, or you can subvert their ideas as you see them emerging and deliberately take it off on a different track.


The idea of the exercise was to get people painting freely, but to keep it light-hearted and devoid of expectation. I wanted them to learn how the paint worked - what consistency to use, which colours reacted together well, the difference between working onto wet and dry paper - all this, without any pressure to create something successful.


Finally, I asked them to use the techniques we had learnt, to do a very quick watercolour sketch of an item of fruit or veg that I'd asked everyone to bring. I showed them how you can restrict where the wet paint is going to go, by creating the shape of your object in water first, then quickly introducing the paint while it's wet. This is my 10-second mango:



I asked people to use only 2 or 3 colours and to let the paint settle on its own, as before. Finally, to finish off with the minimal amount of line-work needed to make the object identifiable. This is my example apple and satsuma:



We suddenly ran out of time and everyone had to rush off, so I only got a photo of one person's painting, this gorgeous garlic. Quite a tricky thing to choose, particularly as an absolute beginner, but she did a fantastic job:


Everyone did really well. Their 'homework' was to go away and use the techniques in their sketchbooks over the next few weeks. My hope is that the workshop demonstrated that you can be quite free and easy with watercolour and still get quite dramatic results, by sticking to a few simple rules:

* Use water first to tell the paint where to go and to give you lovely marks
* Limit yourself to 2 or 3 colours
* Let the paint do its thing - don't fiddle and scrub!
* Less is more: you often don't need outlines


If you are afraid of watercolour, give it a whirl. You need plenty of clean water, a hairdryer to encourage the drying along and a good size brush, so you get enough paint down. Watercolour paper is ideal, but we only had ordinary cartridge paper books to work in and, as you can see, it was fine. So long as it isn't too flimsy. Have fun!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sketching People: Publication Day!!!


Yep, today is the official publication day for my new book Sketching People: an Urban Sketcher's Guide. Hurrah!


So, if you have pre-ordered a copy, it should be with you today or tomorrow. If this is the first you have heard about it (though that would be hard, the way I have been banging on about it...), you can read all about it and see lots of sample pages here.

Copies can be ordered from any bookshop or through Amazon

If you are in the US, your co-edition isn't quite published yet, I'm afraid, but you only have to wait another 3 weeks. This is where you pre-order the American edition.


Happy sketching everyone! Don't forget to leave me some lovely reviews on Amazon :-)

Friday, 5 February 2016

Exhibition: a Year in Sketchbooks


What a varied and interesting year I am having! Yesterday, I went to visit a gallery called Z-arts in central Manchester, where I am hoping to have an exhibition this summer. The plan is for it to be the culmination of my year as Artist-in-Residence at the Morgan Centre. 

The timing couldn't be better: the end of my residency coincides with the 7th International Urban Sketchers Symposium which, of all possible cities of the world, this year happens to be held in... yep, Manchester. Perfect. I have been accepted to do a lecture on the residency as part of the symposium, so everything seems to be falling into place. 


We are still in the process of getting the funding together. We are hopeful that the University will give us what we need (crossing fingers). In the meantime, we have booked the space for the end of July. It is a lovely big area, divided into two sections plus a screening room. Ignore the tables and chairs in the photos - there were just clearing up from an event. 

I hope to have created about 40-50 pieces of artwork by the end of my residency, so there should be no shortage of material. 



Any regular readers to the blog will know that each piece is created as a concertina sketchbook, recording some element of the life of the students and academics at the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives. The plan is to pick a selection of these sketchbooks to exhibit, and also to blow up details and have them printed on huge AO boards, as well as a few big photos, to show the process. 

The gallery has an outside covered-balcony area too, which will be perfect for a July private view:



We have been wondering how best to mount my artwork. Each piece of my sketchbook artwork is 2 metres long, which is not something you want to glaze. I originally envisaged them opened out and flattened to the wall, but now it seems a shame to entirely flatten them out - I'd like to keep some sense of how they were created. 

I researched different possibilities and sought lots of advice. In the end, I found a really low-tech solution. Very cheap, but extremely effective - using tiny clips:


The idea is the have the clips top and bottom, running along the length of the book, nipping the artwork to the wall at the sketchbook creases. I pressed my handy technician into service and we tested the system in the studio:


We needed to be certain it would work and also that the clips would stay up. It looks great and has been up on the wall for 2 weeks now, with so sign of problems - success!


All being well, the show will go up during the last week of July, with an opening event on the evening of Friday July 29th. I'll keep you posted, but mark your diaries - everyone is welcome!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Recording How we Move Through Familiar Spaces


I have done lots and lots of drawings of people for my residency. There are, of course, no end of meetings to document. I am in my element there, but I have been trying to think of ways to make sure the sketchbooks don't look too samey.

I am interested in the way we move through familiar spaces. After a while, a home or a workplace can become so commonplace for us, that we no longer really notice it. I thought it might be fun to get people to re-engage with the intimate elements of the building they work in and to show the spaces through an outsider's eyes. 


I began this book back on December 1st and have been adding to it here and there, when I have spare pockets of time. I wanted to focus in, so I began with the big revolving doors which everyone has to go through every single day. To give this context, you can see the relevant section of the university map and the local Oxford Road station most people use.


When you get inside the doors, you are faced with two alternatives: stairs or lifts. I had to borrow a chair and sit in the middle of the foyer to do these two sketches, which was great, as lots of people stopped to talk to me in their way in and out of the building. Someone bought me a coffee. 


I needed to include the little coffee shop beside the lifts, as stopping off there, to pick up a drink or something to eat, is an important part of many people's journey to their work area. I got into conversation with the lovely Elenor who mans the cafe every day. She was delighted to be featured and I got another free coffee. Excellent.


I made my way up to the 3rd floor, where the Morgan Centre people are based. There is a loo just behind the lifts, another important feature. I toyed with drawing inside, but decided to be more discrete. The area outside reception is where students wait to be met for tutorials. This one looks a bit nervous I think. The water-cooler seemed a key feature too, as it's well-used.


I really zoomed in next, on the area in the centre of the reception drawing, to capture Martine, the Sociology receptionist, who is really friendly and much loved. Her pink hair is a great visual indicator of her radiant personality. I just caught her Christmas trimmings in time, before they came down at the end of term.


There is a bookswap shelf just inside the security doors. I borrowed Gone Girl over the Christmas holidays - a great page-turner. I was interested in the nature of the books, which wasn't quite what I expected. I simply had to record the juxtaposition of Feminist Review and Victoria Holt, as it was too perfect!


Once you get inside properly, the space is mainly divided between offices, like the one with the pink window where Professor Heath is based, and open-plan work areas. The desks there are laid out in a way I thought could best be captured with a aerial, plan view. 

And then I was at the end of my book. 


I have just begun a new book with a conventional drawing of the open-plan space. In the meantime, this Wednesday we are having the next workshop, where I will be showing the academics more techniques to try in their own sketchbooks. We will be getting out the watercolours again this time. I will also get to see how they got on with following up on December's workshop, where we had fun with collage. Watch this space!