Holiday sketching: Zante in a sketchbook


As promised, this is the second post of my holiday sketches from Zante, the first, arguably more polished sketches, can be found here.  I am so pleased that I decided to take a small portable A5 moleskin watercolour sketchbook as well as working on loose paper.  The sketchbook enabled me to record my visual diary, in parallel with the finished pieces on paper and importantly, it allowed me to be looser, more experimental, less polished and to have fun!    Continue reading

Holiday sketching: Zante on Paper


For a while I have been torn between using loose watercolour paper to create my sketches and recording in sketchbooks.  There are pros and cons and as an urban sketcher with an interest in telling chronological stories through drawing,  I have often worked in sketchbooks (moleskine, Stillman and Birn, SeaWhite, Handbook) and most often at A5 size for its portability.  For me, the issue with using that approach alone is three-fold: one is the size is arguably a little small (although of course you can buy larger size sketchbooks, but then there is the size and weight!) ; secondly  creating prints from them is not always straightforward.  The third is that because work for prints was in my sketchbook, I was getting tighter and more precious with my sketchbook work (which is the opposite of what I want!).   Continue reading

Moving On: Hooray for heroes but don’t be a sheep!

It has taken me longer to move on from the urban sketching symposium in Manchester than I had expected although I wasn’t sure what I expected really!  You can hear about some of my takeaway lessons from my role as correspondent here.  The olympics has certainly helped me to move on over the last two weeks and I don’t mean because it was a diversion or that I sat and sketched the activities ( although that may have been a good idea! ) but that the athletes talked so passionately of this concept of just keeping practicing and going on to improve skill- just keep on going… It’s a point well made.  

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After the dust has settled :What I learnt from my correspondent role at #USkManchester2016

What an absolutely amazing week at the Manchester Urban SketchersSymposium  (27th-30th July 2016)!  I don’t think anything would have fully prepared me for the incredible experience of meeting and sketching with like-minded artists from around the world! It was just magical to see the city I have come to know and love being portrayed by skilled sketchers from near and far.  It was also a wonderful sight to see the streets lined with people drawing together, old-friends and new friends.  It is a little hard to settle now that it is over so, as a kind of wrap-up from me, an attempt to collect some thoughts and learnings, this blog summarises my role as local correspondent, what I learnt from it and what next!  The images are a mix of sketches done post-symposium, they are not necessarily with a specific theme or purpose, other than to get me back into sketching!

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Preparing for #USkManchester 2016: context, Colour and Kit

My goodness time is getting short before the start of the International Urban sketching here in Manchester next week (from July 27th) although really, it begins when people start arriving this coming weekend!  This is the second blog about my preparation for my role as correspondent at the symposium.  In this blog, having addressed some of my people practice in the previous preparation blog I am going to be talking about context and colour  before finishing with a quick summary of my sketch kit for the occasion! Continue reading

Preparing for #USkManchester2016: People Practice

In my last blog: A change is as good as a rest, I mentioned that I would be posting something of my actual sketching practice in the lead up to the Urban sketching symposium in Manchester at the end of the month.  This is the first of a couple of posts I hope to do and reflects some of my people drawing sketching practice.  In preparation, I have been looking at several books, blogs, Craftsy and other on line video courses so particular thanks to  James Richards, Suhita Shirodkar, Marc Taro Holmes, Melanie Reim, Lynnne Chapman and Gabi Campanario for their inspiration and direction.  I’ve also been doing some sketching!  All I can say is, its work in progress for me!! Continue reading

What’s your Story?

I cannot believe that I have not posted a blog on here for nearly 3 weeks.  But I have a few excuses: firstly I have had a pretty hectic time with a few big commissions, including #citiesofhope and The Manchester Histories Festival.  Also, I have been writing blog posts as part of those commissions as well as posting on the Urban Sketchers blog on a weekly basis with my countdown to the Symposium sketches.  Am I forgiven yet?   The other thing that has been taking my time is that I have been running some Urban Sketching workshops, some for the Manchester Histories Festival and then this week I have had two days running two workshops at the Creative and Media Academy here in Manchester (MCMA).  It is this week’s workshops that I am going to talk about in this blog. Continue reading

#Citiesofhope: A day in the life of a reportage piece

This is my second blog about my involvement in #citiesofhope.  You can read my first blog about it here.  The convention of CitiesOfHope 21-29th May has now finished, but the incredible legacy of these amazing pieces of wall art prevails.    Their impact across walls in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, UK has been and continues to be amazing, prompting much in the way of discussion, photography and a stop, stare (and think) moment.   The difference between these and other street art is that each of the pieces of art are reflecting and communicating about a key social justice cause from Homelessness to Child war and globalisation. Furthermore, each of the 10 main pieces is linked to a local charity reflecting aspects of that social justice issue.   The intention is that for each wall, monies will be raised through various means, including the selling of artworks. In this blog I am going to focus on the production of my urbansketching reportage artworks of each of the 10 main pieces, for which I was commissioned a few weeks ago and which were completed from 21 May-8th June 2016. Continue reading

Aussie Adventures 4: Back to Perth

For the final leg of the trip, between Christmas and New Year, it was back to Perth to stay at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Subiaco . Arguably, because it was a more city-based experience, it was the time of the most concentrated urban sketching and I sketched to capture some key places within Subiaco as well as further afield, as a way of embedding the place in my mind.  My mum also had her birthday on 27th so I was able to capture in a sketch,her tea party at my sister’s house.



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The beach and the cinema-but not as we know it!

Two of the things that I loved the most were the fact that you go to the beach to take a dip as simply as you would put your umbrella up in the UK! and the arts cinema is an outside venue, surrounded by huge pine trees and everyone has a picnic!! How fab is that! Both these instances were not so easy to take part in and sketch at the same time: there was no way I could stand and do a sketch breakfast on the beach on Christmas morning for example!   The Cottesloe Beach sketch is therefore a drawing of the most famous building on the beach done at 7 am one morning, sitting on rocks amongst local fishermen and the cinema sketch shows the scale of the trees relative to the theatre itself done as I sat in my seat and just before the light faded and the film: Blind Date started!


Kings Park

Being down the road from the most wonderful diverse park is another advantage of the Subiaco location. Kings Park affords wonderful views down across Perth from a vantage point lined with gum trees (what else!).  Kings park is one of the largest inner city parks in the world and at 4 km2 it is larger than New York’s Central park and is the most popular destination in Western Australia.  Come to think of it, I could have spent the whole of my time recording aspects and views of this park-there’s a thought!  The park is a mixture of grassed parkland, botanical gardens and natural bushland with two-thirds of the grounds conserved as native bushland.



We walked a couple of miles or so over to this interesting little place (reminded me of Camden, UK) for a drink or two and some Tapas one evening.  I loved this place!  This is the view from the window of the bar.



No set of sketches from this place would be complete without mentioning the accent and language! Everything here seems to be shortened! So seeing the port of Fremantle shortened by all the locals to Freo was an ideal opportunity to get that one into the story! The streets have that nautical feel and there is a fantastic little brewery and eatery on the shore, not to mention fishing boats….


Flying out of Perth on New Year’s day, it is hard to leave this much blue, to return to grey. At the airport I was able to draw the plane from the gate. On the aircraft I added watercolour and received much interest from the cabin staff, who kindly got the sketch signed by the pilot.. A nice way to end an eventful and inspiring trip.


With thanks especially to my sister and brother in law for all they did to make this a special family trip as well as to my niece and her partner and nephew and his new wife-Hey look, thanks guys! xx


I hope that you have enjoyed my 4 part Aussie Adventures and I look forward to sharing more sketching adventures soon!


Aussie Adventures 3: Up North: The orange and the blue

This trip took me up the coast from Perth, to Kalbarri and up to Denham and Monkey Mia. The total trip is about 9 hours (each way) so the itinery involved 3 stop overs: 3 nights in Kalbarri, 3 nights in Denham and a night on the way back to Perth, in Geraldton. For this trip I used a concertina Seabright sketchbook which, although it is not watercolour paper, is thick enough to manage the watercolour paint without buckling. It produces a lovely long story book of sketches but given the amount of windy weather, it was tricky to keep a hold of whilst drawing and this got very frustrating. Of course it could have been worse as I seemed to have arrived in the area 24 hours after a cyclone hit but it was still very windy!


The drive from Perth North is a monotonous one, lots of open landscape, few trees and very very limited habitation. There are a few cars and mostly large wagons transporting freight.  You get the picture! There were also bizarre snippets of information on the sat nav like turn left in 294 km!


It was sunny but windy for the whole 3 day stay. The B&B had a sweet little staffy dog called Butter (no idea why!). I captured her in one of my drawings! In many ways it is a typical sleepy seaside town, not so much going on but some breathtaking landscape. Oh, and there are pelicans, lots of pelicans and these are fed each morning on the beach by volunteers. There are two things of note here as far as I could see, firstly, the beaches are stunning, with creamy white sand and the most stunningly beautiful turqoises and blues in the sea. The other notable feature is the oranges, browns, beiges and pinks of the sandstone: in the form of the most amazing coastline and also in the form of gorges. The later are a half hour drive out of Kalbarri and up an approximately 20 km rough track but it is worth the trip! There are several rock formations, including the stunning Natures Window, a sandstone formation with a hole through which you see the landscape beyond. Oh and their fish and chips are good too , with locally caught fish.  I didn’t draw mine as I was keen to eat them hot! There are no trendy cafes here, unlike Perth and down south but you can’t have everything!



Denham and Monkey Mia, Shark Bay

Three days later saw a similarly monotonous drive from Kalbarri to Denham although at 4 plus hours this was a shorter trip than that from Perth to Kalbarri. Arriving early afternoon, it was a Sunday and the small town of Denham was even more deserted than that of Kalbarri! It was bright and sunny but very very windy! Even so I managed to sketch the accommodation and the views out to the sea. This place doesn’t appear to have much going on, but what is here is the stunning colours of the sea and amazing sea wildlife. Therefore, the next couple of days sought to explore that and make the most of it: snorkeling; visiting an aquarium run by marine biologists to hear about the sea life and importantly about the importance of shark conservation, going out in a catamaran to see dugongs, an endangered species, feeding on the sea grass, seeing dolphins and turtles being fed on the shoreline were all the things that made this a special place. Monkey Mia is essentially a resort from where the wildlife adventures go out from and is 20 minutes drive across from Denham.





The trip down from Denham to Perth started on the 23rd December with a nights stop at Geraldton. On first glance, this is a typical seaside town, perhaps busier and with quirkier shops and cafes than Kalbarri and Denham. However, after visiting and talking to some interesting boutique owners (one in particular who sold me a gorgeous pair of sandals!) I started to get a feel for the more interesting cafes and restaurants and of the drive to make this place trendier! On 24th December the next stop was Subiaco, Perth, for Christmas!


Concertina sketchbook

Here is a video that shows my concertina sketchbook and its layout

Please stay tuned for the last instalment of my Aussie Adventures which sees a return to Perth before flying back to the UK.


Aussie Adventures 2: Down South: Margaret River and a Wedding in a Winery

After the stopover it was a mere 7 hour flight from Singapore to Perth in Western Australia and a daytime flight, leaving at 9,30 am and arriving in the afternoon. Then, after a family reunion and  a single night in Perth, we  travelled, in several cars, armed with everything imaginable, drink, food, clothes, wedding dresses, Oh, you name it…….’down south’. Now this is difficult for us Northern Hemisphere habitants to get our heads around: In this part of the world it is cooler down south (mid 20’s so no worries on that score!) and warmer and drier up north (if only this were true in the UK!!). We were to stay for a week: Wednesday to Wednesday with the wedding on the Saturday. 2016-01-05_0002

The place

The Margaret River region is awash with many wineries and in the summer many people travel there to get married on one of the vineyard estates. My nephew and his bride to be were to be married on Aravina Estate in Yallingup , 266 km from Perth. Yallingup is named after an Australian Aboriginal word that means ‘Place of Love’. It is a popular tourist destination because of its beaches and limestone caves, as well as its proximity to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.   We stayed in a large rented house 10 minutes drive from the venue that could accommodate the numerous people staying! It was like an episode from the Waltons (but with Australian accents!). In the couple of days before the wedding, I managed several sketches, I even managed to get over to Aravina to draw the actual venue (I knew there would be little time for this on the day!):

Places visited before the wedding2016-01-06_0001 Our accommodation in Yallingup2016-01-05_0005The Weddding Venue:  Aravina Estate



The wedding

Of course most of you know that I had been ‘building up’ in sketching terms, for several months, for the wedding because I was going to be sketching it! This was scary, but once you are into the day, you have no chance to think about it, just to draw.   So that is just what I did!

Because my nephew and all the Grooms Men and Grooms maid (? Who has ever heard of this: it was my niece so pretty much everything got organized by her!), were at our accommodation on the morning of the wedding, I was able to start sketching (and thinking about just what materials I would use) then. I had an idea I would use watercolour pencil and ink later but the first sketches showed that this wasn’t a great idea-the pencil blunted quickly and the relative permanence meant that I may as well go straight to ink if I was going that route! I therefore did most of the drawings in pencil (a 0.7 mm rotring 2B lead, propelling pencil) and or ink (lamy fountain pen and a carbon platinum pen_ and added colour later. All of the sketches were done in situ, at the venue. None were done from photographs and the work done afterwards was just watercolour and some line (going over existing marks). I found the pencil easier, especially for the larger crowd scenes as it was quicker, enabling me to put figures into the scheme quicker. At the same time, it was not so blunt as to prevent the drawing of facial features. All of the drawings were done in a Moleskine watercolour album (13 x 21 cm) and the completed book was handed over to the happy couple when we left Margaret River.




2016-01-05_0010Having experienced the process, I think in future I would seek to do all the line work in pen, on the day and then add watercolour pencil and colour later if necessary. I would also seek to jot down key phrases and thoughts rather than try and remember them!   As for the book, I like the idea of giving a book but perhaps a bigger book or loose pages may work better, especially if prints are to be made, since several of my sketches were drawn over the double page.


With family altogether and plenty going on, it was hard to do more than a sketch or two each day (apart from the wedding day!). After the wedding, we did have a formal lunch at one of the more formal wineries and visited local towns along the coast.



Next up, for something completely different. Having returned to Perth, the next day was a long trip ‘Up North’ for a week. The next blog documents that trip, this time, in a concertina sketchbook.

My inktober 2015

Phew, what a month of drawing for Inktober. Now I can’t say I did an ink drawing everyday but I certainly did do quite a few!  It has been great to think about line in isolation and although I did add watercolour to most of my drawings, the focus on ink did make me think more about my line and the way in which I was using the line to convey a range of elements: depth (through line weight), detail, shadow through hatching, movement etc.  All of these have a valuable part to play in the build up of a drawing and tie in well with a previous blog that I produced about Edges following Liz Steel’s course.   It also made me think about the way in which I used different pens for different effects, from the carbon platinum pen which gives a very clean fine line for facial features, to the pentel brush pen for solid darks, to the Lamy safari with a 1.1 italic nib pen for text and the green Sailor pen which can produce a range of line thickness depending upon the angle you are holding the pen.


Initially, my intention had been to focus on people exclusively this month for inktober but in the end, I chose to draw a range of subject matter, often the urban environment but also other objects and activities.  As this is my first inktober, there will be plenty of others where I can chose one theme!  In addition, there were plenty of activities and things going on in October, so it was nice to be able to capture a range of them.

Given this outcome, I have chosen to group my drawings into some key themes: People, buildings, miscellaneous (a mix of individual items) and  to end with, captured for on last day of the month, a couple of reportage pieces!  Here they are:








I have really enjoyed participating in Inktober and do hope you have enjoyed following the journey.  Please do continue to follow my adventures on here and if you’d like to check out these images individually then don’t forget that they are all on my instagram site here:

You have been invited…….Reportage of an event about Human trafficking

You will probably already know by now if you look at my blog regularly or follow me on any of my social media platforms that Reportage, storytelling through drawing, is my thing!  My sketchbook is full of annotated drawings and stories.   I seek out projects that enable me to produce reportage work, be it a festival like the Dig The City, a single event or a longer term project such as the development of a building.  This week was an exciting ‘first’ for me because I was invited by Greater Manchester Police and Manchester Cathedral to attend a public meeting at the Cathedral On The Street to mark a week of activity associated with Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery and to produce a piece of artwork that reflected the event.  The meeting brought together senior officers from Greater Manchester Police, including Sir Peter Fahy (on his last week on office as Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable) and the Dean of the cathedral, as well as Manchester-based  Rhema Theatre Group,  Stop The Traffick, International Justice Mission and members of the public.  It was a well-attended meeting and made for interesting debate and discussion about how as citizens of the city, we can all do our bit to help Stop Human Trafficking.   This blog documents my process for producing the finished reportage piece and what I learnt along the way.


Getting Started

I arrived at the event early so that I could work out where best to draw from and set myself up.  It was a relatively large room, with rows of chairs and a stage in front of glass panels, making for an interesting and light space.  I soon realised that there was no optimum location!  drawing from the back I was unlikely to see the stage and front action, whereas drawing from the front would mean that not only was I conspicuous, I didn’t have good views of the audience either!  In the end I chose to sit to the side of the rows, halfway down.  That way, I was relatively out of the way and wasn’t going to nudge and annoy people!  Standing up wasn’t really going to be a viable option for the whole session, although it was useful at certain points, so that I could see more.

I was made very welcome by the cathedral staff and was told I could sit where I wanted and move around as I needed to which made me feel a little less awkward although I was vary aware that I didn’t want to appear to obvious or make a commotion!  That said, I was introduced by the Dean at the beginning of the meeting and towards the end was invited to share what I had drawn and what I was going to produce!  This was a little nerve wracking but because I didn’t know I was going to be asked, there was no time to think about it too much!

My media of choice was a Moleskine A4 watercolour sketchbook, landscape format which I perched on my knee.  In hindsight, I would probably not choose to work like this in this type of setting again.  A board with paper taped on may well be a lot more manageable.  As it was, I ended up with a series of disjointed pages which I then needed to put together afterwards.   I used a combination of 0.7 mm 2B pencil and fountain ink (Pelikan M200, fine nib with black desatramentis documents ink and a Carbon platinum pen).

Drawing the Action

I was able to sketch out the backdrop ahead of the meeting starting so that I could focus on people drawing during the actual session itself.  This was very handy as I was keen to provide quite a bit of detail of the backdrop given the uniqueness and interest of the setting.  What I didn’t do however was decide on the exact layout of the piece.  In hindsight I could have spent time thinking about this but as it was, the layout of the sketchbook didn’t really enable me to do that effectively.


When drawing the audience and the individual speakers, this was reasonably achievable given the timings.  Each speaker was talking for about 10 minutes or more, so enough time to do an outline sketch and to write notes as an aide memoire.  What was more difficult however was the recording of the 3 theatre pieces.  This was because of the rapid changes in movement and angles etc.  Because the pieces were shortened forms of a longer play, the amount of changes of pose and action was considerable necessitating a much more shorthand form of recording than usual.  I need to get so much better at this!  -lots of practice is needed!  This type of drawing is not for the feint hearted!  As it was I think it would have been better to use ink rather than pencil-the pencil is great for initial gesture but not more.


After the event

I could clearly picture what the finished piece needed to look like by the end of the afternoon but realised I didn’t have it in that format!  In addition, given the need for text and images, the A4 size really didn’t give me enough scope so I used an A3 piece of Bockingford, 300 g/m2 and transferred some, but not all of the artwork to it.  I just need to get to grips with doing all these steps in process, perhaps using quick thumbnails and then working on the actual piece in situ!  This is quite a tall order for me at the moment but hope that with practice the assimilation will come.  I also think it depends on the outcome you are trying to produce.  Because there were separate elements, it made layout more complicated than if say I was just trying to depict a single image with text.   Images were created with fountain pen (as above) and Daniel Smith watercolour applied.



Here is the finished piece.  I hope you area able to see how it relates to the original drawings.

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In the future I intend to have the finished piece at the end of the session, perhaps with the need to add text or some additional colour, but nothing more.  This is all work in progress for me so very much a steep learning curve.  This opportunity has taught me a lot and I am thrilled that the clients are delighted with the finished piece.  Watch this space for much more reportage work from me!

Leading you up the garden path

Those of you that read my blog here regularly are probably aware that one of my big loves of sketching is so-called reportage drawing, that is the process of reporting news or events or activities of general interest through drawing.  I was therefore thrilled to be able to visit the Imperial War museum towards the end of August, with the Manchester Urban Sketchers group, to draw at Salford Quays (the sun shone!) and to attend a talk by the talented George Butler, war reportage illustrator and journalist.


The basis of his talk and exhibition was the time he spent out in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of British troops at the end of 2014, recording, through exquisite ink and watercolour drawings, the everyday lives of the Iraq people.  Through his drawings, he offers a unique and extraordinary insight into the lives of those living with conflict.  Actually, I was doubly lucky as I was able to go one week to hear the talk and see George’s drawings (as slides) and then, the following week, to attend again and see the images themselves, displayed in frames, at the entrance to the cafe.  I was glad to get two ‘helpings’ of this experience.  It is powerful stuff.

George Butlers Talk at the Imperial War Museum North

Since I started urban sketching I have been interested in the curiosity and fascination that people have with those of us drawing out on the streets.  People will engage freely in conversation about what you are drawing and how you are going about it.  In his talk, George talks about the value of illustration, as a viable and powerful alternative to photography and film in recording today’s news.  He describes how the openness  and non-threatening nature of drawing, standing with a board and pen and drawing onto paper, where anyone can look over his shoulder, enables a unique insight and an opportunity to capture emotional subject matters.

George Butler images
George Butler images

In his talk,  and though study of his drawings, it is clear that there are a number of fundamentals that drive him in his reportage work and I am going to try to consider these in my own work too.  He mentions firstly that often what you leave out of a drawing is as important as what you leave in and he does seem to be a real expert at paring the scene down to the most important elements.  I need to get better at this and think more and draw less!  I probably need to be more disciplined perhaps using the idea of time constraint to force selection.  Here’s an image I did recently with only a short time frame.  You can see the focus and the selection, with windows just outlined and the lines of the buildings drifting away.  Similarly on the left hand side there is white space.  George seems to be a master at white space in his work too!


Another key comment related to the need to tell the story and to have something to say (and say it!).  I think this is quite critical for reportage work and its something that takes some exploration and development. It’s not just about recording what you see, its about an interpretation, an angle, a visual statement.  It is this, I believe, that holds people’s attention. Linked to this is the way in which the drawing is created.

It is fascinating to look at a number of his stunning drawings because they all seem to have this special way of leading you through and ‘up the garden path’!.  The line work together with the sensitive and selective painting are clearly very well thought through.  The eye is led through the drawing, either across or up or however the drawing is laid out.  Colours and the addition of colour is a very deliberate and carefully considered, albeit subtle and often muted and there are places to rest the eye before moving on through the scene.  I think I am going to have to study these types of painting much more to gain more insight and understanding of this approach.   Here is an image that I produced recently.  If we ignore the perhaps overly detailed nature of the scene and rather messy colour application, I have tried to use colour to pull you into the market place and through into the central area.2015-09-14_0004

Overall, this was an inspiring insight into the processes and approach of this Reportage illustrator whose images have given me much food for thought.