As 2016 draws (get it!) to a close, I thought I’d capture my year in sketches ( some but not all of them!), partly as an aide memoire (those of you that read my blog know how I like to document my drawing adventures!) and partly to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. Its been quite a year in many respects and those of you that have followed my #scribblescompilations on social media in my 12 days of Christmas countdown, will be familiar with most of the combinations below. However, this blog puts a narrative to the visuals and I have tried to group things so that you can see more of the approaches and types of things that I am interested in recording and the approaches I’ve taken to drawing.
As you’d expect for any committed Urban Sketcher, I’ve been out and about in Manchester this year , urban sketching as part of the Manchester group but also on my own and with sketching friends (not to mention my role as local correspondent at the 7th International Urban Sketching Symposium here in Manchester in July!-more on that below). Getting out and sketching with others is great way of learning about different approaches and ideas for drawing that might be outside of your own experience base. These ideas range from what to draw to how to draw. I believe that drawing well is a combination of skill brought about through experience but also by knowledge and knowing some of the many useful tricks of the trade. Several of my sketches shown below have been published in a new book called The Manchester Sketchbook.
Public and private illustration commissions
I have been fortunate enough to have been commissioned by a number of both private and commercial clients in 2016 that have focused upon the place and the architecture. Commissions include an estate agent in Monton, a private house commission in South Manchester, A series of drawings for Manchester Histories Festival for use in their Greater Manchester Festival Brochure for 2016 and also for their invites to the opening ceremony; The Cities of Hope Street Art convention 2016 (capturing the 10 headline street art pieces in the context of the urban environmnent, prints of these drawings were then sold for social justice charities); drawings for Elizabeth Gaskell house (one of which was used to create their 2016 Christmas card) and a commission for Bury Venues, drawing key inside and outside locations for their new Wedding Venues brochure. In all of these drawings series I have been aiming to capture that Sense of Place and the character of the architecture, whether through colour, texture or detail (often a combination). As a non- architect I’ve been trying to improve my ability to catch architecture and to simplify it in meaningful ways for my sketching work. I’ve been trying to synthesise the idea of line, shape and volume to create more meaningful architectural sketches so that they appear more 3-dimensional and real but without becoming a detailed architectural illustration. Recently I reviewed my learnings from Liz Steel’s building course and you can read them here.
Reportage illustration commissions
Three main projects have enabled me to develop my ‘fast-paced’ storytelling approaches through drawing this year: The Manchester Histories Festival 2016 (capturing the opening event and the celebration day); ; The Bridgewater Weekender 2016 and The International Urban sketchers Symposium here in Manchester 27-30th July 2016. This quick capture approach necessitates being able to capture people but to do it in ways that also captures the movement and the character of the people and their activities. These drawings also aim to capture the sense of occasion so a an almost shorthand notation is required and an ability to read a scene and only capture the essential elements to tell the story. I did a lot of preparation to help me with this work and you can read some of my blogs about it. I have also followed several Crafty courses on people in motion including that of Marc Taro Holmes and Suhita Shirodkar. These provide excellent frameworks for continued people-drawing practice but it is all very much ‘work in progress’. All sorts of people-drawing practice is required ongoing including life drawing; drawing of clothed models and any our-and-about people drawing opportunities available! E.g. Drawing on buses and trains, cafes, crowded environments etc.
Workshops and teaching
This year I have been fortunate enough to lead several introductory sessions about urban sketching, discussing the approach and some initial top tips from my experiences. I also led some pilot sessions with The Manchester Creative and Media Academy introducing some young people to the ideas of telling their own personal stories by drawing what they see from life and recording in a sketchbook. 3 different locations were chosen and groups were located at the scene and provided with guidance on how to capture what they saw. I was amazed by the amount or work produced in the sessions and the interest in grappling with some of the challenges of drawing on location!
When you sketch so much in a place it’s also inspiring to travel to other places for contrast and to develop abilities to capture that Sense Of Place no matter where it is. This year I’ve gone out of Manchester to Yorkshire, Liverpool the Lakes and Wales in the U.K. although these were relatively quick day visits. I also spent a week in Zante, Greece. I’ve loved the contrasts that these places provide and love the opportunity for sketching rather than just photographing, as a visual diary. The memories are all the more vibrant and detailed by having recorded them in a sketchbook and with my own hand.
Selling my work
As you can see from the above, commissioned works particularly that involving reportage illustration is my main source of works. However, I also produce much of my own work as a way of constantly improving and honing skills providing me with a body of work for sale as originals or prints. I had been asked on several occasions whether I wanted to sell my works and therefore, this Christmas (end November 2016) I exhibited for the first time at SaleArtsTrail Christmas Bazaar. I had a stall and sold prints and calendars. This was a great initial experience for me as I had a very busy stall and much of my business appeared to be coming from those that already knew me from social media. Its a steep learning curve for the things that you need to organise and put in place but I really enjoyed the experience of meeting both the customers that bought my work but also the other artists exhibiting.
The Year Ahead
I’m really looking forward to a full year of drawing in 2017 and over the last few weeks I have been thinking about what I want to concentrate my efforts upon in the context of drawing specifically and also what types of drawing work I want to progress. The following summarise my directions.
- Greater flexibility in medium and tools
I have tended to use fountain pens extensively ( mainly Lamy ( various nibs including Italic); pelican M200; kuretake brush pen and sailor fude ( I really need to get to grips with how to hold this last pen as it keeps appearing to run out of ink ) with watercolour for colour ( including pencils)and only dipping into other media occasionally. I now intend to explore alternative ‘fast’ media in more detail including : Tombrow pens; posca markers; coloured pencils; gel pens and pastels. I need to go back to basics to really understand how I can use these materials to best effect; coupled with that I want to develop my watercolour experience and test different papers including toned papers and pastel paper.
- A focus on quality of line
A massive subject area related to how we make lines on the page and what that quality conveys within the drawing: thick, thin, sensitive, wiggly, confident etc. Of course this quality of line is also important for lettering and writing (something I am keen on within the drawing) and i’m particularly interested in improving the quality of my line in my people drawing. In all of this work I want to try to feel the line more and carry more emotion into the lines and mark making to make it a more intuitive process.
- Ongoing learning and practice of people and people-in-motion capture
This is an ongoing improvement area and I intend to keep up some sort of daily people practice either through my small notebook when out and about or through some specific exercise/ approach such as portrait drawing at art club; drink and draw etc. Specific types of movement and capturing it with few lines is another area of interest.
- Colour and light vs.dark
Another huge area to work on! Within this I will be looking more at selective colour (something I do a lot in my work, ie not colour everything), colour combinations and then the idea of layering of media to create mixed media pieces. This will include the use of watercolour, coloured pencils, markers, gel pens etc, to layer colour and therefore create more textured, subtle and interesting effects. I’m also keen to develop my light/dark approaches in simple ways within a sketch.
- Applying my design-specific skills and understanding to my drawings
As a trained designer ( garden design & landscape architecture) I want to be more conscious of the design specific ideas that I’m applying to my drawings rather than doing this subconsciously!! This in turn will help to create compositions that are more robust and sketchbook pages that hang together better. Applying ideas related to unity; simplicity and rhythm and repetition for example but as a way of nailing the composition and deciding upon key elements to include (and what to leave out).
- One of my main aims is to develop my reportage illustration/story telling approaches with drawings and text but with larger projects that are captured over multiple occasions and therefore, with more detail and information. I am interested in doing this in the context of arts events but also potentially within a medical/research or building development projects that are fitting with my background and experiences. I believe that the reportage illustration experiences I have gained this year put me in a good position to progress in these directions.
- Another exciting area I want to develop is the delivery of workshops which focus on participants use of sketchbooks to create their own stories and recordings. These teachings will be based on drawing from life and an urban sketching approach. A new course is in development for the spring. Watch this space!
- Wedding reportage illustration is an exciting area of work that I have started to develop and will continue to progress. My wedding venues commission for Bury Venues has provided further interest in this. The intention is to offer a wedding reportage illustrations package that includes capturing the venue and the occasion in sketches for the wedding couple and their guests.
- Selling prints and originals Finally, I intend to continue to sell some of my work in addition to my main commissioned works. This will be focused on a few key events across the year. The work I will sell will be a combination of original works and high quality prints. The first date for the diaries is: Sunday 28th February 2017 and will be held in Prestwich, Bury, Greater Manchester where I will be exhibiting as part of The Prestwich Artisan Market.
Thank you for reading my blogs in 2016 and I look forward to continuing to share my drawing adventures in the new year!