Time for change (snappy sketching)!

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I can’t believe that its been so long since I posted on here, the topic of this blog will give you a better understanding of why!

I have never been a very fast sketcher so snappy sketching has not been a particular focus.  This is despite the fact  that I do a lot of capturing things as they are happening in my drawings!- my subjects are very varied from weddings to events and special occasions to the development of places and capturing aspects of scientific research.  You can check out some of my #reportage projects here.

In order to manage my time better and achieve a finished sketch more quickly I have historically turned to colour first.  I love this approach but with an A4 size or more it still takes hours rather than minutes.  Then a few months ago lots of things started to change.  Well they say that a change is as good as a rest!  I got a small studio; an additional job; I was travelling more.. You get the picture!  Sketching every day was not going to be easy and pretty much impossible in the way I had been sketching.  I started to take my trusted Duke Fude and notebook in the car and spend 15 – 20 min maximum ( often no more than 10) sketching before work.    Under these circumstances, colour wasn’t an option and I wanted to create illustrations that had at least some identity with the place/people!

A preferred approach to snappy sketching :

  • My sketchbook is anything that has good quality cartridge paper (that doesn’t have to take watercolour) and is no bigger than A5 size. My current sketchbook for this type of drawing is an A6-size handbook with a hard cover.
  • I use only one drawing implement.  My current preference, virtually exclusively is the Confucius Duke 55 fude with black ink.  This wonderful pen enables me to vary my line width and add darks easily.
  • My preferred drawing approach is single line contour (at least in principle!).   That way, even though I don’t have time for endless measuring, I can use the contour approach to get a reasonably proportional sketch.  Sometimes, when I am in a hurry, I try to cut corners and it really doesn’t work very well!
  • Most of these sketches are done from the warmth and comfort of the car.  Although people sketches tend to be on a bus or cafe.  Busy street scenes have also been captured standing in the street.
  • I try to use simple texture and darks to add depth and interest to the sketch.  This is even more essential in a black and white drawing.
  • I’m still keen to have a layering of foreground, middle ground and background to create depth in the sketch, using weight of line and detail to try to convey this.
  • Simplification is critical at this scale and I try to fade the detail out towards the edges of the sketch.

Recent Snappy Sketching examples

On the way to work

Top and Middle Mossley

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Bottom Mossley (Manchester Road)

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Around Woodend Mill, Mossley

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Sketching from the street :

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People

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As you can see, there is nothing particularly new about the approaches I am using.   But I haven’t done this type of sketching routinely before.  It’s useful to have a range of approaches for different situations and this simple quick technique means that however time-poor I am, there is always a sketch to be done!.

Sketching the King Street Festival in Manchester

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Manchester’s King Street Festival is now in its 3rd year and it is the first year it has included the top area of King Street, with parking bays turned into mini parklets for the duration! All along this iconic and historic shopping street there was al fresco dining, free fizz, gifts and goodiebags, a bandstand, a grand piano, pop-up parks, an art garden together with heritage tours and events from Manchester’s premium names in shopping, food and drink. The festival was also supporting The British Red Cross We Love MCR emergency fund for those affected by the Manchester arena attack.   This year I sensed, amongst the sadness and quiet reflection of the St Ann’s Square flower memorial, togetherness and a feeling of Manchester pulling together in solidarity. This is what makes Manchester special: its people and its places. Continue reading

Liz Steel’s Buildings Course: My takeaway messages

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This blog is not really a review of the course as much as a brief summary of my results and key learnings, so it’s something for me that I can return to as an aide memoire. I try to do this for all the drawing courses I take as a way of making the most from them.  The course was, as usual for Liz Steel’s courses, packed full of useful examples and tips about drawing architecture not to mention some excellent demos and incredible handouts so its well worth checking it out when she runs it again. 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

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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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

Colouring in 2

A year ago (doesn’t time fly when you are having fun!) I wrote two blog posts related to colour, the first: Colouring in 1 introduced my initial experiences with watercolour and the approaches I was taking to add colour in terms of media and tools, in the second blog: ‘Then don’t use brown’ I introduced the approaches I was taking to selective colouring.  During the last year colour has come up as a question in my mind in virtually every drawing I have done, but I haven’t devoted another a whole blog to it again until now.  Here are the questions I go through as I am drawing: 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.

People Drawing in the little red book: Part 1

At the beginning of the month I set myself a challenge to draw people, in some form, every day- I need the practice and to be honest there’s only one way of improving and that is by constant practice; together with guidance.  The main place I’m drawing these is in a small square sketchbook ( handbook; not watercolour paper, just an everyday sketchbook )  but I’m also using my everyday sketchbook for some and this is a moleskin watercolour.  I’m using four pens: a Lamy Safari; a carbon platinum, a Pentel brush pen and and a green safari pen; all with waterproof ink.   Now, we are over half way through the month, I thought I’d share some of the drawings so far.
Approaches
In order to develop my people drawing skills I’m doing a variety of things to help me.  These include:
People in the context of the urban environment – crowds and groups
As an Urban sketcher and reportage enthusiast it’s important for me to be able to capture people in the context of there surroundings and actions.  Therefore over the last couple of weeks I have tried to capture this in meetings; at venues like library and theatre; markets  and cafes.  Here are some of the results.  In all of these images I tend to put the framework of the background in first and then superimpose the people on top or I work them both in parallel :
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Buses and cafes – individuals
Now when you are practicing people regularly it’s important to be able to fit these into your everyday life tasks – over the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing this on the bus and in fast food cafes.  Here are some of the results.  In general, I added colour afterwards due to the practicalities of doing this in situ :
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At the end of the month I’ll post more of these sketches from November; some with the emphasis on fast people and gesture – it’s a hard task but someone has to do it!
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Thank you and happy sketching!