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!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

An Extraordinary Coincidence...


A truly weird and amazing thing happened to me, while I was in Chicago...

I was out and about one afternoon, with fellow instructors Liz Steel (from Sydney) and Rob Sketcherman (from Hong Kong). We had just stopped to do a quick sketch of three street musicians who took our fancy:


I was sitting on the pavement, engrossed in my work, when a Chinese woman bent down to speak to me. I assumed she was just going to comment on my sketch, but instead she asked, 'Are you a children's author and illustrator? Were you in Beijing?'

To be honest, this was so out of context, I was a bit taken aback and, for a spilt second, thought one of my friends was setting me up in some way. And then I registered the little boy, standing shy and silent a little way off.


Incredibly, I visited her son's school last autumn, as part of my Beijing tour of international schools. I recognised him too! I remember doing a workshop with his class and that he was really keen. I remember signing books for him after school. 

To make things even better, he was actually clutching a sketchbook under his arm too. Wonderful.

I was flabbergasted for the rest of the day. I just couldn't get over the incredible odds against such an encounter - both of us thousands of miles away from home, wandering in a city the size of Chicago, just happening to find ourselves on the same corner, at the same time, on the same day. Bonkers but brilliant.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Paint & Paddle: Urban Sketching in Chicago

I am back!


Sorry for going a bit off the radar. I have had a smashing couple of weeks, drawing and painting on the streets of Chicago with my Urban Sketchers chums.

For those who aren't aware of what it's all about, every year Urban Sketchers, which is an international charitable organisation, holds a symposium somewhere in the world. This year, 600 sketchers descended on Chicago! The event itself lasts for 3 days, but people often hang out and sketch together for quite a few days more.


Instructors, like myself, are flown in from around the globe to run workshops and do demonstrations. It's fairly hard work, especially in the heat, but I can't complain, since these symposiums have taken me to Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Portugal and Spain.  


I worked with 3 different workshop groups in Chicago: one group each day. I took them to the same location, Lurie Garden, which I had to choose before I left Sheffield, using Google Maps. It was a bit of a gamble, but it turned out to be ideal: a peaceful, 'secret', wild-flower garden in the centre of the city, with the visual contrast of massive skyscrapers all around the sky-line. I arrived a few days early and went to sketch there, to get a feel for it. Within seconds of settling myself down, huge rain splots started to fall and the sky turned purple! I had to scurry under a tree to finish while thunder boomed overhead.

Luckily the next day it was somewhat calmer:


One unique thing about Lurie Garden (which made the other instructors jealous) was the cool water channels you could dabble your feet in - spot the paddling student:


And, because we were really close to the park's big, open-air music pavilion, we were mostly painting to musical entertainment. One morning we had opera, another it was pop. Fantastic!


Like all the instructors, I was with each group for 3.5 hours. Each year I devise a different challenge for my students, something which either addresses key difficulties people have when sketching on location, or which helps them to think in a new way about how they sketch what they see.


This year I got people thinking laterally about the way they combine line and colour. I got them really experimenting with the way you can layer different kinds of mark-making. It was completely different to any workshop I'd run before and a large part of it involved using simple collage. Which meant that I had to find room in my suitcase for three A3 packets of coloured paper. I was also slightly anxious about doing paper collage out of doors in the 'windy city'...


It all went really well though and we only had one incident of having to chase down brightly coloured bits that flew off. We'll get more formal feedback soon, but people said they enjoyed themselves and that the level of challenge was good. They certainly did some gorgeous work:


I of course did lots of lots of personal sketching, in my spare time during the symposium, when I wasn't teaching, but also on the few days I tagged on either side. I was particularly excited by the fiendishly tricky El train, which runs above the street. I sketched it 3 or 4 times:


I'll post some more of my sketches in a few days. I'm still working my way through the various jobs that build up when you go away.

On the final day of the symposium, there is always is big announcement: where next year will be held. There are always rumours, but I didn't guess Next year we are going back to Portugal, this time to Porto. I went there on holiday years ago. I remember it as being extremely sketchable, with twisty, old streets, interesting cafes and of course the wide Douro river at its feet, with its massive iron bridge. Can't wait! 



By the way, I have decided to set up a mailing list for my urban sketching workshops. So, I know I don't do them very often, but sign up if you want to be contacted when I am running something, to get first refusal on any places available!