Sketchbook Sketching -what’s the point?

Sketchbook sketching_reportage

Until earlier this year, most of my urban sketching was done in a sketchbook.  Sketchbooks of all shapes (landscape, portrait, concertina), sizes (pocket, A5, A4, A3) and brands.  Moleskine, Stillman and Birn, Handbook and Seawhite of Brighton are a few of the brands I’ve used.  However, as I increased my sales of sketches and prints, it seemed sensible to create more of my sketches on loose paper.  You can read about my #ThisPlace series of original drawings and limited edition prints here.  These images were saleable and easier to scan.  This in turn resulted in a dramatic reduction in my sketchbook work and a rather haphazard use of sketchbooks in the following months.  This blog is about the impact that I believe reducing my sketchbook sketching has had on my drawing practice and how I propose to move forward.

 

My sketchbook sketching practice

Earlier in the year I was using an A4 moleskine watercolour sketchbook much like a visual diary. I sketched in this sketchbook very regularly using a variety of approaches and often wrote notes of explanation about the scene.  Sometimes I divided the page into a series of smaller thumbnail sketches.  Subject matter was varied.  I also had different sketchbooks for different subject matter eg. people sketching notebooks.

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My Sketchbook sketching alternative loose paper work

For some reason as I started to do more loose paper work I did less sketchbook work.  The loose paper works tended to be whole scenes with very little in the way of descriptive text.  A title and date were the norm for these sketches.  Often, they were colour first and they would take longer than my average sketchbook sketch: perhaps 2 plus hours.  Because they were to be prints there was also a tendency to be more precious about them.   I enjoyed these pieces and there are strong benefits to creating them.  However, I do feel that my sketchbook sketching work took a back seat.  This in turn had an impact on the variety of things I was sketching.  In hindsight, I think I should have put more effort into creating both types of drawing in parallel.

This Place urban sketches

Sketchbook sketching-The benefits

Here are what I consider to be some of my key benefits of sketchbook sketching  and the reason why I need to do more of it!:

  • I am creating a visual diary, something to look back on, a chronology of events and ideas.
  • The sketchbook automatically provides stories: of places, of occasions, of objects, through the visuals and narrative.
  • It keeps me observing and recording: anything that catches my eye, so increasing the variety of subjects that I sketch. Inside, outside, from the car, waiting for a bus etc (this seems less likely with a loose piece of paper!).
  • Everything is in one place so it becomes a toolbox of ideas about subjects, sketching process etc.
  • Because it is always to hand, it keeps me sketching daily.  I have to say that by not keeping a regular sketchbook, it is easy to slip into bad habits of not sketching very regularly.
  • Its not as precious as a piece of loose paper (for me anyway!) so there is a greater tendency to try different approaches.
  • Sketchbooking keeps me thinking about presentation of the pages and layout and therefore storytelling.  It goes beyond the composition of the drawing itself.

Sketching in sketchbooks gets me out with other like-minded urban sketchers and sketching friends.  Of course it doesn’t matter whether you are doing this in a sketchbook or on loose paper!  However, when using loose paper I often go on a specific ‘mission’ to do a sketch and this is often alone rather than with a group.

Getting back on track with Sketchbook Sketching

Last weekend I attended one of the Urban sketchers 10 x 10 workshops at Salford Quays.  The session meant that I took a sketchbook with me (I chose an A5 moleskine that had remained half full for sometime!). I subsequently created a number of sketches over the bank holiday weekend in this small book.  It got me thinking about getting back into a regular sketchbook sketching which I plan to do in the coming days.  In order for me to feel the benefit I am going to use a main sketchbook rather than several at once.  I will try to use different approaches depending upon the subject, time available and materials.  These are likely to include pen and ink work, watercolour, collage and perhaps coloured pencil/crayon/pastel.  Given that my key interest in sketching is driven by the reportage storytelling aspects, it is that which I need to focus upon in my sketchbook work.

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I am also going to think about ways of overcoming the endless searching for a perfect sketchbook!  There are always pros and cons with any type of sketchbook so I am going to try to live with this and stop using this as an excuse for not progressing!  What have been your main sketchbook sketching dilemmas?  I’d love to hear about them!

Holiday sketching: Zante in a sketchbook

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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

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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

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

Ready Steady…Sketch

Over the last few weeks I have started to think more about quick capture and how best to produce the best sketches when I have limited time.  Of course I am thinking about my forthcoming role as correspondent at the 7Th Urban Sketchers Symposium (#USkManchester2016) here in Manchester in the summer and wondering how I best adapt my current approaches to be able to deliver!   With this in mind I have been trying a few sketches using watercolour first and here are the results. Continue reading

The Writing’s on the wall…..The importance of lettering in a drawing

In the beginning

I have long been an admirer of elegant beautiful writing and lettering. When I started drawing very regularly, I didn’t make much of my writing. Over the years it had become scrawly and non-descript although I had originally been taught italic writing at school (yep, italic dip pen and ink, wooden desks, lines of letters, you get the picture). I realized that I wanted to be able to write more on my journal pages, but not in that scatchy sloppy writing.   Sometimes I want to just add a title, but it is is often a longer narrative, about the place, the people, the conversations.   The storytelling in words needed to become a part of the drawing and so I began thinking about my handwriting and about making my pages distinctive and attractive. I returned to practicing handwriting and to thinking about italic writing and how to use it more stylishly on my journal pages. In conjunction, I was interested in lettering such as that of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and by studying this and watching artists like Pat Southern-Pearce I started to develop my own combination. It has been evolving now for about a year or so. Here are some examples: 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!

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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.

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Leederville

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.

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‘Freo’

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….

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Geraldton

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!

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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

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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.

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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.

Lastly….

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.

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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.

Aussie Adventures: 1: A short stop-off in Singapore on the way to Western Australia

Most of you reading this will already be aware that I spent much of December 2015 travelling (5th December 2015-2nd January 2016). I visited my sister and family in Perth on the West Coast of Australia, travelling from there south to the Wine region: Margaret River for my nephew’s wedding and North from Perth up the coast before returning to Perth for Christmas.   This first of four blogs shares the sketches from my whistle-stop tour of Singapore. Actually, I hardly touched the surface in the couple of days we stopped over there on the way to Perth, but I wanted to share my sketches to show the contrast between this place and Australia as well as to show sketches done rather fast, in hot humid conditions which made it very difficult to dry the paint! This is rainy season so dodging the heavy showers was also a challenge!

The travel was made more exotic by the rather elegant dresses of the Singapore airlines staff so this was an obvious thing to capture in a sketch. The constant movement and bustle made them difficult to capture but good practice nevertheless!

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Of course with only two days and feeling a bit exhausted, all I was able to do was capture a few impressions of this amazing city. The top map just gives a flavor of the different areas of the city, with Little India and Kampong Glam the two main areas visited. The bottom image is the street where we stayed and was very much a typical shopping street although the number of malls of the main street was somewhat amazing: so many shops. The Christmas decorations here were also rather stunning. The Gardens by the Bay visit was really just to see the superstructure trees which are such a photographed, iconic aspect of the gardens. As a landscape architect, I am fascinated by the development of this city and the concept of a City in a Garden. The greenery everywhere is notable and shows the validity of the ideal.

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2016-01-05_0019Temples in Little India and Kampong Glam are elaborate and challenging to capture. There are over 35 Hindu temples in Singapore, here are just a couple from the Little India area. The first: Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is one of the key attractions in the area, with ornate carvings of gods forming the central tower. For more information on the Hindu temples of Singapore, here is a link.

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Little India was a great place to get some fast food in the form of Southern Indian cuisine. Masala Dosa with all the usual lovely lentil and spice based accompaniments together with fresh lemonade and all home made! I didn’t manage to sketch the food, but I did sketch the café!

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The streets of Little India and Kampong Glam are teaming with life and I tried to capture this quickly in these two sketches:

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Of course no visit to Singapore would be complete without a trip to the famous Raffles Hotel. As it happened, there was a restaurant bar across the road with outside seats, enabling these sketches to be created:

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So as I said, a real fast track though Singapore but next up my Aussie Adventures 2 to include reportage of my nephew’s wedding as well as my general Margaret River sketches.

I packed my bag and in it I put……

As I am soon going to be travelling, I thought I would share the kit I will be taking and how I will be packing it!  As an urban sketcher, having  portable kit that enables me to create sketches on the go is very important and I have to admit to having a little bit of a panic at how and what I was going to pack!  I have sought views of others from Urban sketchers, so what I am going to say here is based on a combination of my own thoughts and practices  as well as the tips and hints I have learnt from others, including some of the practicalities of travelling across the globe.

Main bag

I am using a Troop canvas bag for my kit that will hold all my sketching kit as well as an iPad.  I don’t need anything too huge and wanted to have a  shoulder bag with enough pockets to hold everything without being bulky.  So far so good, it looks really well made and with a great array of pockets for all the various items.  This is going to be used as part of my hand luggage.2015-11-30_0003

Sketch books

Because my chosen colour medium is watercolour, I usually use sketchbooks with watercolour paper.  A5 moleskines (13 x 21 cm) are my sketchbooks of choice for this trip, together with one seabright A5 concertina sketchbook.  We will see how I get on with the later as I have not used these for travelling before and apparently they can be difficult to handle!  I shall take one of the sketchbooks as hand luggage to sketch on the plane and in the airport; the others will go in the main case.

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Pens, pencils and brushes

I am a keen fountain pen user and so will be taking a set of 5 ink pens:  A lamy safari with a fine nib for drawing; a green Sailor pen with the facility to draw a range of line thicknesses; a carbon platinum pen for very fine lines; a pentel brush pen for black highlights and finally a lamy pen with a 1.1 italic nib for writing.  It will be interesting to see whether I use all of these pens or whether I end up using just a couple of them!  I will also be using a rotring propelling pencil (0.7 mm as I find that this is softer and doesn’t keep breaking like the 0.5 mm does); sometimes I use pencil before ink (sometimes its a watercolour pencil as opposed to graphite).  I have a wallet for all these pens together with 3 watercolour brushes (I use Da Vinci 2, 6 and 8 although to be honest these are probably a bit small, Ok for this size sketchbook but a size 10 is probably required).  In addition, I have a half inch Rosemary sable blend dagger brush.  I also have 3 gel pens in white, gold and silver (well I am going to a wedding!).   Finally, a soft putty rubber is definitely required, together with a ruler for lines for text (I hate it when I write wonky).

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Inks

I am usually using deatramentis document ink for my lamy pens and so will be taking a bottle of black ink that I will be packing in the main luggage.  Needless to say I will be wrapping it in several plastic bags and burying it in a soft corner of the case!   I will be using cartridges for all of my other ink pens and will likely pack some in hand luggage and some in the main case. Anything with liquid in it that goes into the hand luggage will be put into that zippy plastic bag thingy and I will probably have ink in one of my pens for travelling.

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Watercolour

I am using a combination of mainly Daniel Smith watercolour (with a couple of exceptions) and Albrecht Durrer Faber Castell watercolour pencils.  I use tube paint rather than pans and have decanted these into 1/2 pans over a period of 3 weeks.  After a week of filling them I found they had shrunk in their pans and then topped them up; I used plastic cotton buds with the ends cut off to ensure that the paint was well packed into the pans.  When I use the paints I spray them to wet them so that lifting the paint is easier; I also use portable 100 ml bottles for use on location.  All of these elements of the kit (minus the water) will be taken on in the hand luggage.

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Lets hope that after all this preparation I don’t forget anything crucial and that I manage to produce some drawings!

 

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.

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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:

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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:

The world isn’t flat: Creating Depth in a Drawing through layering

I have been trying to create a greater depth in my drawings and sketches through a variety of approaches. In my mind, it’s all about layering. In a typical scene you have the distant view (the background), the middle view and then the near foreground, which is the closest.  Especially for very complex views, I am trying to depict that depth in my drawings and I find that its not always as easy as it sounds!  Layering is found in a street scene, café scene or individual buildings or objects-anything really. How then is it best to create that depth? This week I have approached 3 different scenarios in different ways. Whilst a lot of this maybe obvious, unless you think about it as you are drawing, I find that it is easy to forget simple ways of creating depth and so miss the opportunity to create a 3D effect.

Distant views

This week I was able to sketch two scenes that you might describe as the typical layered views with notable near ground (foreground), middle ground and background.  The first of these was the Runway Park, Manchester airport with Manchester Urban Sketchers. I sketched the distant airport terminal with planes ready to take off in the background; the middle ground was runway/holding areas, grass, tarmac etc whilst the foreground was planting and a dividing fence.

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The second was a typical industrial hinterland scene here in Manchester. I sat in a car park with railings (the foreround) and planting; beyond was more planting and industrial manufacturing plants.

CCI10102015_6 (1)In both scenes, I used a combination of line weight, (thicker and solid closer; thinner and broken, in the distance ) detail (depicting detail in the foreground and fading out) and colour (intensity fading), to try to show the layering and depth of the scene.

An individual building

I also spent a couple of separate sessions sketching an interesting historic grade II listed building in Manchester: Ancoats Dispensary. I was close up to the building as it was the focus of my drawing. In all these sketches, my intention was to shows depth and layering of elements of the scene with the building essentially representing the background whilst the scaffolding and boarding represented the foreground/middleground.

Because of the scaffolding and the fact that these metal poles and wooden planks were essentially on top of the building from a layering point of view, this meant that I had to build the drawing up in layers on top of each other. The building needed to be more distant so it didn’t seem right to outline it in ink first. I used watercolour pencil to form a softer edge and then added watercolour paint directly. I then added more watercolour pencil as well as working in with ink pen. This is almost impossible to do with damp paper as the ink won’t flow!   Once dry, I then added the scaffolding poles using a mix of gel pen and fountain pen (Lamy Safari, Desatramentis documents ink in Fog grey).   (Note the planks and wood were done with the building). I found this approach a little difficult as I am quite impatient! Just using gel pen I found wasn’t enough to show it as the top layer so the outlining with a harder ink edge worked better.

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Café scenes

Inevitably when drawing a busy scene of people there is overlapping and layering: The interior walls, and café detail are quite likely form the background, with layers of people forming the middle and foreground. In my scene here, I created the distance using mainly selective colour (as well as size and detail in the figures). Oddly enough, I also did something a little counter intuitive: the foreground colour is mainly blue and grey (which recedes) whereas I have added some red (which advances) to the background. However, the light application in the background vs the much stronger application in the foreground seems to have helped!

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Although these sketches varied in their success, thinking about the depth I was created as I was progressing these drawings and trying to apply techniques accordingly, certainly helped me to start develop more depth in my drawings.

Dig The City: A great story to tell

Dig the City is a garden event extraordinaire, with gardens galore, street food and fashion; a weeklong extravaganza of pop-up stalls, music, Show gardens and activities for all the family: Manchester’s summer garden festival. It’s a time when the city feels greener, fresher and generally a more vibrant place to be!   It takes place each year at around this time (31st July-6th August) and some of the cities main streets including Kings street, St Ann’s square and New Cathedral Street play centre stage.

With my interest in telling stories of urban life through drawing, (reportage) coupled with my landscape design background, this event is right up my street! So, armed with pens paint and sketchbooks I chose just a couple of days (3rd and 5th August) to get out there and record some of the happenings. Prior to getting out there to draw, I had been around the key streets, checking out my favourite vantage points and angles, places to perch and overhead shelters available should it rain (well, this is Manchester!) so that I could be more organized and productive; I even had a few plan B’s!

First up, I was keen to get a large drawing that showed some of the whole of Kings street but focused in on a particular stand: This one:50 Shades of Green really captured the fun and quirkiness of the festival but with a strong message to tell; this one all about food growing in Wythenshawe. I stood on the side of the street in a doorway to draw. The ladies managing the stand were fascinated by my activities and came to check on progress at regular intervals, I was offered a seat (although I preferred to stand for this one) and even provided with some fruit and vegetable smoothie-It was delicious! The stand was cleverly conceived as a handbag and shoe shop, with food growing in shoes (Jimmy Chews!) and handbags (all obtained from local charity shops). A bar provided somewhere to perch whilst your smoothie was prepared and there were some interesting fruit and vegetables to feast your eyes on, including a beautiful purpled leafed Peruvian Chili plant. This drawing was completed in an A4 moleskin landscape format sketchbook using brown waterproof ink and watercolour paint.

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Another stand that caught my eye was this one (left) encouraging people to green their neighbourhoods. This green roof on a bin-store is right up my street!   Walking further along towards St Ann’s square, this bright and quirky little space (right) was a contribution by the kitchen garden team, a group of volunteers at Turton Tower, near Bolton. The volunteers have restored the kitchen garden in this Grade I listed building. The idea of this Simply Scavenged Dig the City piece has come from working in the kitchen garden with little or no income and seeing what can be achieved for little cost. As I stood drawing the garden (trying a quicker and looser approach than the previous drawings), one of the volunteers came up and told me the story and whilst painting using a waterbrush, the young girl helping on the adjacent flower stall came up to see what I was doing, proceeding to tell me about her interest in drawing animals and making her own personalized greeting cards!

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I then moved onto St Ann’s square, a hive of activity with music and stalls as well as several Green groups including The National Trust and Friends of the Earth. This time I had the luxury of a stone bench to sit on and I took my chances by producing several drawings in this space. Interestingly, throughout the day, a had seen a man who had asked me how I was getting on and he hoped I was doing a good job.! He sat next to me on the stone bench so I was able to incorporate him into one of my drawings!

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The second day of my sketching, I was able to move onto New Cathedral street and, given rain was forecast, I decided to move to a smaller sketchbook (A5 landscape) and shelter under an overhead canopy of the shops. I needn’t have worried but it did provide a good view of the buildings and stalls.   Interestingly, The Landscape Institute North West created the performance garden in collaboration with The Bridgewater Hall who held a series of music recitals throughout the festival.

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And the other end of the street was home to the Bee Garden, a bee-friendly created by Andy Walker for the NSPCC and previously exhibited at RHS Tatton Park 2015, placed in front of Harvey Nichols, adjacent to the rather funny Apid Attack installation by Reeaseheath College!

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Finally, I headed back to St Ann’s square to record some of the activities of the National trust who were engaging with children to create mud pies and wild art . The National Trust also have s garden at the front of the Manchester Art Gallery celebrating the Lost Gardens of Manchester (right), which I was lucky enough to visit last week.

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It was a great couple of days sketching and I hope that my scribbles go some way to capturing the sense of activity and energy of the Dig The City festival. In the coming months I will be focusing more on this reportage angle of urban drawing and I do hope you can join me in these adventures.   Apart from a few spots, it didn’t even rain!