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

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

Let me tell you a story…

It has been just under two weeks since I last posted a blog on here and I have to say that I have been thinking about several different aspects of drawing, going off in all directions and getting myself in a bit of a spin!  I have been starting to incorporate more people drawing into my sketchbook drawings, but at the same time, have started Sketchbook skool Storytelling and have additionally been exploring some different approaches to my watercolour work.  Further to all this, I read a very thought proving blog by Fred Lynch entitled : Pictures of Pictures on the Urban Sketchers site.  It got me really thinking about the purpose of my sketch book scribbles and how I wanted to be able to tell stories through my drawings, not just produce pictures of well known landmarks and buildings!  In the words of Fred Lynch in his blog:  ‘We can’t just show things, we have to say things’.  I have always maintained that my interest in urban sketching is related to reportage and being able to tell stories of Urban Life, however, until recently, I think I have been a little caught up with the mechanics of drawing as opposed to using the drawing to describe and illustrate: something that I have an enthusiasm for and a unique angle upon.  I am starting to think quite differently about my drawings now, although it is probably true to say that I need much more practice in exploring how I communicate most effectively in my sketches.  Here is a somewhat eclectic mix of some of my drawings from the week.

A visit to Stockport Vintage Fair

Last weekend I attended the Fair alongside other Manchester Urban Sketchers.  What a fabulous building to sketch and what an extraordinary and electic mix of stalls, from clothes to pictures, to household items: a real step  back in time.  A central stall caught my eye with its flurry of activity and I just managed to catch a little girl buying an old wooden dolls house.  The building itself is stunning too, inside and out but I found it lovely to capture the look of the building, having already documented activities going on inside.


A theatre trip in Cheshire

Another trip back in time with a small local production of ‘An Ideal Husband’ by Oscar Wilde.  Fortunately, I have an ideal husband who doesn’t mind me sitting drawing whilst we watched the production!  I found it hard to capture all the changing costumes and scenery but feel that what was captured does give a flavour of the play although it would have been better to include captions and narrative.


Our boutique allotment

This is a great time of year on the allotment site with everything growing well and much in the way of structures : bean canes, pea sticks, wigwams.  I am aware that telling the story of the allotment can be a challenging one: a sea of green!  I wanted to create a narrative with the canes and with simple, bold colour and strong contrast.


A quick trip to the Trafford Centre

An eclectic mix of elements!  This is the entranceway into the restaurant area and China Town.  The car adds another slightly surreal prop in a somewhat ostentatious space that is this well known shopping centre!  Of course there were plenty of people moving through the space at a steady rate!


Dilapidated garages

I have wanted to capture these garages and their surroundings for a while!  They are rather attractive in their dishevelled state and it is fascinating that they are almost invisible, on the edge of activities which you might think would ensure their repair/change.  The wood, pipes and barbed wire make for an interesting image!


I look forward to sharing more of my storytelling adventures in future blogs.

The wonder of windows!

Last week we were challenged to draw our view through a window by Roz Stendahl of Sketchbook skool and it got me thinking.  Of course views through windows of the house is a great one in the winter time: you can draw from life but in the comfort of your own home but it got me thinking about drawing in the car and how much I have found this of use throughout the winter.  Often times, you can get quite a prime spot at a particular location and can draw in the comfort of a warm car with a ready seat too!   At this time of year in the UK, it may well be lovely and sunny but the cold of winter is still with us and it makes for some very cold drawing if you are doing it outside!  I know because I tried it on a Manchester Sketchcrawl yesterday!  There comes a point where you can no longer feel your fingers and so control your pen-not a good recipe for fine urban sketching.

Last week whilst out and about in my landscape designer role, I was fortunate to drive through a number of great city locations, from Didsbury to Ancoats in Manchester.  The first of these out-and-about sketches was done of an amazing old Fire Station building:  London Road Fire Station in Manchester.  This is a grade II listed fire station and from my car window, I had an great view of a small portion of the building; on other days I was equally lucky to be able to be close to other interesting buildings  and with the opportunity to stop for an hour or so to draw.  On one occasion, the traffic warden was about to move me on, but on seeing what I was doing, told me I could stay to finish my drawing!


Of course as I mentioned at the beginning, drawing views form the house is also very useful and this final windows drawing of the week shows the rich old bricks of a row of quirky cottages visible from the rear of our home.


Thanks for reading and looking forward to updating you on more of my sketchbook adventures soon!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 6: Make it you (not literally, this is not a selfie week!)

Wow, what a great time this last week on Sketchbook Skool Seeing has been with Liz Steel, an urban sketcher and tea cup addict!   Liz has a robust structure to the way that she works and teaches and offered some great advice on how to progress and think about our own drawing work, both in terms of the ways we make the marks on the page, as well as the philosophy behind our work. Rather than just summarise her own approaches, what I am going to do here is summarise what I took away from the sessions and the approaches that I want to take forward from the week. These are not necessarily the same as the specifics that Liz mentioned, but they are derived from them : One of Liz’s sound pieces of advice was: ‘Make it You’.   So here goes!

A strategic approach to sketching: Preparation through thumbnails and analysis

Liz took us through a thumbnail approach to observing patterns and shapes before working on the main sketch. This can work for any object, especially those with complex patterns like buildings (or cups of tea!). I don’t currently do this and it reminded me to be a little bit more strategic about my work and to spend time looking and assessing before launching forth on the drawing! (I think I have mentioned this before once or twice)!  I think I may well do more of what I call a simplified framework approach. Maybe it could even be combined with the main sketch. Food for thought! It’s a good idea to use a watercolour pencil for this, so it dissolves when you add water. The more definitive confident lines can then be put in later.

 Never mind the tea cups!

As delightful as tea cups and saucers are, I don’t have any at home so it is not something that I am particularly drawn to draw! That said, we were not asked to draw tea cups per se, but objects with patterns that were a particular interest of ours with some emotional attachments. I chose glasswork as it is something I have a particular interest in. I am not talking ornate traditional glasswork but more contemporary pieces and I have had several commissioned over the years, including our own front door panels. I chose these 4 coasters (amongst the first ‘home’ pieces that my husband and I bought together) because they forced me to think about a variety of aspects of the form and the pattern and to compare and contrast as I sketched, since each are similar but different! I am sure that I will share other pieces of my glasswork in future blogs.

 LizAckerley_GlassCoasters copy_2

Why buildings? A sense of place

Whilst the tea cups aren’t necessarily my thing, buildings and urban sketching certainly is, hence the name: ScribbleMyStreet! (I am a member of Manchester Urban Sketchers in the UK). That said, it takes a lot of work and practice to create meaningful urban sketches that combine aspects of linework, perspective and colour, to illustrate that sense of place! As a landscape architect I am drawn to the urban environment and the elements that create that sense of place and my interest is in striving to create that in my sketches. At the moment, this is not necessarily achieved, but it is what I strive towards! Here I have chosen a fascinating regeneration area in Manchester called Ancoats , that is steeped in history: it is often known as the world’s first industrial suburb. I purposely chose relatively complex buildings to try to practice patterns and angles as well as those that formed a good composition.


And here is one from the other side of Manchester, again, the complexity of pattern is clear:


Process and Product

I get the fact that it is all about seeing the subject and trying to record that on a page, I get the fact that we need to not beat ourselves up and constantly strive to learn and improve our eye-hand coordination but I don’t get it when people say (or I think they say) that the actual sketch on the page is not important. To me, the look of the sketchbook IS important; it’s our shop window for the world, the things that others see, the outcomes of our process. For me, if it weren’t important, I wouldn’t want to improve the layout and composition of my page, the text in-between the images etc. I guess for me its about getting that balance right and not overly focusing upon the sketch and page itself, whilst at the same time recognizing that there is a value to the product as well as the process. I am sure that I will be coming back to this topic in future blogs!

The tools of the trade

Liz is a skilled watercolourist and ink user who is constantly assessing and evaluating materials. Her words of wisdom in the videos were incredibly helpful for me. She mentions needing to know and work with (as opposed to against) your materials. How do they mix best? What are their redeeming properties? What are their limits?. It sounds obvious but I have a tendency to forget this and then wonder why things aren’t working! A while ago I decided to stick to waterproof ink (although I didn’t restrict the colour!) and watercolour as my main media of choice (although you may have to add Biro to that list now, thanks to Andrea Joseph!). I now have a lot of exploration to do. Here are some of the questions/areas of exploration that will help me get to know the media better.


  • Colour mixing and learning what works well with what; the best greens and other selective colours not easily derived by mixing, to include in my palette (my main palette at present is shown in the image). I have made a concertina sketchbook for this exploration but not got any further yet!
  • How to leave the whites and have it look right!
  • Colours to use for shade and shadow
  • Use of De Atramentis coloured document inks
  • Selective use of colour-I am not aspiring to be a traditional watercolour artist, but to use colour selectively to bring my works alive and to create a sense of place and identity.
  • Applying colour: wet on wet vs. glazes

Thanks to Liz Steel for a thought provoking and powerful last week on Sketchbook Skool ‘Seeing’. Please do keep reading my blog here each week, I will be posting regularly about my progress, processes and all manner of other aspects of my scribble-making!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 5: Brilliant Biro!

IMG_2083I can’t believe that I have just completed week 5 of 6 for Sketchbook Skool Seeing Klass!  Doesn’t time fly when you are having fun, its enough to make me want to scribble (or should I say skribble!) furiously, which came in very handy for Andrea Joseph‘s inspiring week, encouraging us to use our cheap biros to create our artwork-Indeed Andrea really is the Queen of Biro, creating amazing artworks with different coloured ball pens, some single coloured, others with multicolours and always with extreme care and attention to detail, patterning, shading and lettering extraordinaire!  Actually, I have not used biro recently.  I remember as a child I used to create patterns using biro but I have certainly not used it for any other of my art pieces in my sketchbooks, instead preferring to use permanent ink with watercolour overlay.   So this week was an absolute revelation, the only frustration being that I was also very busy with other things but really wanted to spend many more hours (I spent a few!) creating my biro images.

Writing and lettering

As a coincidence, I had been starting to think about my writing style in my sketchbooks as it is something that is lagging behind in my skills tools box! I am looking at my drawings and feeling that the lettering and detail is letting the images down; perhaps it needs to be clearer, more quirky, more styled, I don’t know, but I need to think more about it for sure!  As a child, I was taught italic writing at school, but this has now deteriorated into a hybrid scrawly non-descript writing that I need to work on for my sketchbooks.  In Andrea’s class she talked all about her interest in developing creative lettering for her works (mentioning that she would spend time developing and creating written words before she returned to drawing).  Here are some of my practices (the first two are a style Andrea uses where you keep your pen on the paper-all using biro).  My conclusion here is that I want to spend much more time exploring and developing the writing styles in my sketchbook.  Last week, I thought I wanted to return to Italic writing and create my own single style.  Following Andrea’s class and learning a little more about the diversity of styles available,  I am not quite sure!  There are plenty of books on the subject to start exploring!


Single colour drawings and collection drawings

This week with Andrea was all about getting into the detail and seeing all those things that you wouldn’t see unless you were really looking and studying the subject, then using biro to create them on paper.  We were encouraged to try a couple of techniques including collecting up objects of a single colour and drawing those (in biro of course!) as well as creating collection drawings.  The later means collecting up similar objects, e.g. books, bottles, jewellery, stones, pens etc.   and then creating a kind of collage of them.  The green is my first attempt at using biro for drawing to create a single colour composition; the other two are collection drawings I went on to create.

2015-03-01_0003 2015-03-01_00022015-03-01_0001 IMG_0258

My thoughts on biro

This is definitely a medium that I will return to and use on a more regular basis although it is one that takes practice and perseverance!  Here are the things I love about the medium so far and those things I find more challenging!:

  • You can create a work of art with paper and a single pen which is inexpensive (note I used a multicolour biro from a supermarket for all the images here).
  • Biro is incredibly versatile and you can build up amazing shading and hatching effects by layering.
  • It takes practice, skill, time(and lots of patience!) to create a great drawing.  Andrea mentioned some of her drawings taking hours and hours to create so its not a medium I would use for a quick scribble as it would leave me feeling frustrated!
  • The richness of the drawing created is very satisfying to see.  It has a depth, vibrancy and clarity, especially these clever collection drawings and single colour drawings
  • Blobs of ink are created and these can transfer onto your drawing; there doesn’t seem to be a way around this.  Andrea mentions wiping the nib regularly.
  • I found that the flow of ink isn’t consistent and they would often run out of ink for a few minutes at a time and I would have to scribble on a piece of paper to get them going again
  • Some of the colours are not light fast and they do fade.
  • I found them difficult to use for careful lettering work and if I used pencil to create straight lines for writing, when I rubbed it out, the biro would smudge!

Watch out for my final blog about my Sketchbook Skool Seeing adventures after my last week with Liz Steel!


Sketchbook Skool Seeing 4: Being drawn to what you draw

The last week’s Sketchbook Skool tutor was the legendary Cathy Johnson and what great advice and input we were given with demonstration videos not to mention useful give-away documents on how to create nature documentation.  To be honest, as a predominantly urban sketcher, nature drawing isn’t necessarily my thing but I was up for a challenge and thinking outside of my usual comfort zone.  That said, it was a challenging week!

Drawing Birds

This was a challenge for me because I didn’t have easy access to birds in close proximity. I went out on several mornings, armed with my camera and managed to capture some birds in the local neighbourhood, including pigeons, a robin and blackbirds; perched in trees, on chimney pots and in grass.  Holding my phone up into the air, and running around looking up into the air got me some pretty weird looks I can tell you!  Never the less I did manage to draw some of them and study aspects of posture and movement.


Drawing and painting scenes in nature

The intention here was to capture value differences and create depth in a watercolour sketch.  The other suggestion by Cathy was to look at creating the variety of greens in nature or other colours we may find particularly challenging.  Unfortunately, it is winter in the UK at the moment, so the variety of greens in the environment is very much restricted.  However, near to me is a small copse with a variety of woodland trees, grass and twiggy shrubs.  I was interested in capturing the muted hues of twigs, branches and vegetation, as well as the light.  These two pictures capture: a sunny afternoon  and early morning when just getting light.  I used a mix of pencil and waterproof ink to create value sketches and then overlaid with Daniel Smith watercolour.   The greens were created using Daniel Smith Hense yellow medium with cerulean blue chromium or ultramarine blue; browns using burnt sienna and ultramarine blue whilst purples were created using  mixes including quinacridone red.  I think I may well do more scenes of nature, but it did make me realise how much we are drawn to what we draw and whilst being out of your comfort zone has its benefits, I do believe there are subjects that just have more appeal and interest for us than others.  Because we are more interested in capturing those images we are drawn to, it is likely that we will explore more and perhaps even see more, with those subjects.


Only two weeks left of Sketchbook Skool Seeing and I do hope you will join me to hear more about those new adventures!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 3: Seeing is believing

I cannot believe that I am halfway through the Sketchbook Skool Seeing Course!  This third week has seen Barbara Swenson guide us through the technique of Continuous Line contour drawing as well as some watercolour painting tips but more of that in a minute!  As ever with this course, the Tutors are doing an amazing job of the reversal process that started over 30 years ago for me!  That is, the delight of being told by a ‘teacher’ that you are not one of the chosen ones, that your artwork is poor and that you better stick to something less creative!   Sketchbook skool takes a very different approach (phew!).  Tutors take a much more pragmatic stance; they tackle the issues we all have of self-belief head on.  They don’t pretend sketching  is a magic gift, they guide you through processes and approaches to develop personal and meaningful art and they are honest.  Like most things in life, it takes practice (lots of practice!), understanding,  hard work and determination to develop skills!  The other thing they do so well and this is where I can bring this back to Brenda’s piece specifically is to be firm but kind in their guidance and give you a window into their creative lives and processes.  Brenda mentions her response when people say they wish they had her talent for painting (she knows that this ‘talent’ has taken over 20 years of hard work and practice with many stumbles along the way!).  Here are some snippets from the week and some attempts from me at the tasks.

Continuous Contour Line Drawing

This is such a simple but challenging technique and made me realise how much I draw what I think I see and forget to look properly.  This is not unusual and Barbara mentions that people can generally be sloppy observers!  This technique forces you to slow down and look!  It is done with a pen (no rubbing out!) and involves  you assessing the overall shape with your eyes before starting at the top and drawing in a continual line, the perimeter of the object or group of objects taking note of proportions, edges, angles, lines.  I have a long way to go and hope to use this as a warm up when out sketching as a way of getting me into the right mindset.  Its harder than it looks!  Here I used De Atramentis waterproof Ink and my Lamy Safari pen.


Watercolour and continuous line

The approach above was then taken a step further, after drawing 3 objects with a water soluble pen (I used various colours of Tombow) we then used watercolour paint (I used a mix of Daniel Smith and Windsor and Newton tubes) to add colour to the drawings.  Here are the hints and tips which I will use as an aide memoire and which I learnt from Barbara along the way (applied with varying success to the images below!).

  • Keep the colours fresh, bright and juicy!  The recommendation here is to keep mixing to a minimum and that which is done, achieved on the paper itself.  Try working with pure transparent colours.
  • Start light and build up the darks-it is the contrast of light and darks that makes the colours sing.  The build up can be done in two ways: through glazes i.e. layering of colour, allowing the paint to dry in-between to give darker colours of the same hue. In addition, brighter, deeper colours can be used; don’t be afraid of doing this with watercolour.
  • White/light is best achieved through using uncoloured flecks on the surface-ie it is the white of the paper so leave these from the beginning.
  • The water and looseness of watercolour is its biggest asset; the water will do the work for you so try to let it!
  • Reserve any colour mixing until the end, where you can tone down using mixed colours that have more of a muddiness.

Looking forward to sharing more about my Sketchbook Skool ‘Seeing’ adventures next week.  In the mean time, happy sketching!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 2: Scary Selfies

This week has been the second week of Sketchbook Skool ‘Seeing’ and, to be honest, something that I have been a little worried about: the famous Selfies!  Koosje Koene a skilled Selfie creator and one of the founders of Sketchbook Skool was our tutor for this week.  Her straightforward teaching and illustration of how to approach Selfies, in different ways, from drawing using photos to contour drawings to mirror selfies was really helpful.  For me, the week has not only enabled me to begin  develop my ‘seeing’ skills in the context of selfies, but also helped to demystify the process of drawing myself!  Each new drawing provides further learning: about shadows on the nose, how to capture hair, facial proportions etc.  There is a lot to learn but the progress is clear-as with all other types of drawing, the more you look and see, the more life-like and improved the drawings become.  That said, Rome wasn’t built in a day  as the saying goes so my current selfies, as a newby selfie creator, have a long way to go!

Selfies from photos

There as been much discussion about whether this is somehow cheating!  To my mind, this is just a place to start.  The image is flat (some seem to think that because a photo has created the 2D from 3 D this helps but I, like a lot of urban sketchers for example, find the 3D more alive and satisfying!), there is no opportunity to walk around your subject matter or to adjust the light!  I found it useful because for me, I need glasses to see my page so it gave me the opportunity to do a selfie  that didn’t have me wearing glasses!  The first of the images is me on my wedding day whilst the one on the right is a recent christmas photo.


Quick contour selfies

These, as the name implies are relatively fast drawings (mine took 15 minutes.  You don’t take the pen off the page and most are looking at yourself in the mirror as opposed to the page!  Its harder than it looks, although can be a little addictive.  Here are 3 I did later on in the week.  These are useful to quickly capture a mood or expression.


Mirror selfies 

These are drawings that take a little longer than the contour selfies and similarly are done looking into a mirror but this time using light is key.  You are using a light coming from one side onto the face using a lamp.  The casting of shadows is really helpful and here you are trying to draw the shapes of the shadows rather than the features themselves.   Although these initial drawings are not very accomplished, I can see the value of the technique in developing my selfie skills!  Perhaps taking more time and trying different media will produce better results next time!


I really enjoyed this week of Sketchbook skool even though looking in the mirror at every detail of your face and trying to portray that on paper is quite scary!- both from a skills in seeing and an ‘exposure of self’ point of view!  I can see that progressing these selfies  in the future as a way of capturing moods, expressions, feelings, will be part of my process and approach I will take and it fits well with trying to improve techniques in people drawing for my urban sketching work.  To end, here a couple of sketchbook people pages from my week.

LizAckerley_People in cafes

Looking forward to sharing more of my sketchbook skool ‘Seeing’ adventures next week!

Sketchbook Skool Seeing 1: Drawing as meditation

I am thrilled to be back on Sketchbook skool and this time I am enrolled in the 6 week programme: Seeing.  (You will recall my ramblings about the first course: Beginnings ).   As I have come to expect with this programme, we hit the ground running with Danny Gregory this first week with some discussions about the process of seeing before turning to a couple of really useful exercises related to the process of seeing and recording our subject matter.  Its these exercises that I am going to focus upon in this piece.  I will be charting my progress and insights/ramblings about the skool  over the 6 weeks in my blog here.

Sketching as meditation

First up and this approach of ‘zooming in’ on the subject matter and drilling into the detail.  It felt akin to a previous life where I was a research scientist spending time looking down a high resolution microscope but this time I was using just my eyes, albeit at a slightly different resolution!  The subject matter was toast which has enough fine detail that you can really get lost in the process of drilling down into the holes, craters and crumbs!  a sort of lunar landscape!  It feels a bit like unpeeling the layers and seeing it different resolutions (much like looking down a microscope).  The point of these studies is to learn to see, its not about composition or producing a finished piece to hang on the wall (not sure I’d want a piece of toast on the wall, no matter how good the composition!), its about the process.Liz Ackerley Toast

Getting better at the detail

In a series of studies, we were encouraged to create fast-slow drawings in which an outline of the subject matter is painted/drawn in a minute or two (an impression and quick ‘getting your eye’ in to proportion and relative positions of elements of the subject matter) followed by a half hour or more detailed pen drawing over the top, using nibs of a variety of thicknesses to convey the difference in detail (I used my Lamy Safari fine nib plus some unpin pens 0.2 and 0.5 nib although I confess that I did forget to change pens during this part of the exercise!).  This simple exercise was a revelation to me!  A bit like doing some quick thumbnails when out and about Urban Sketching prior to a larger more detailed drawing, the quick line drawing seems to help focus initially and also somehow enables a more accurately proportioned piece subsequently.  Whether the minute drawing is a bit like calibrating your eyes, I have no idea, but it certainly seems to help me.  Throughout the week I did several of these (they need to be fairly complex subject matters!); here are a few of mine:  Keys (different bunches!), the car, my greyhound.


The later, although not necessarily a good subject for these types of drawings, I did because I have previous experience of drawing her without this technique.  What I found was that the quick line drawing initially, really helped with the proportions and shapes of the detailed drawing afterwards.    Give it a try if you haven’t already used this technique and it doesn’t matter that the detailed lines are at odds with the initial marks-this all adds to the energy and quality of the piece!  I will certainly be using this approach in other drawings that I do.  Maybe the initial line is a bit like filling that first page in your sketchbook, it gives you the permission to progress, undeterred!


Please keep an eye open for future articles on my Sketchbook Skool adventures!  See you next time and thanks for reading!



New Years Scribbles Resolutions

Hello & welcome to my last blog of 2014!  Having only started my blog in September I am thrilled with the interest received so far – thank you so much for all your support.  I didn’t want the day to go past without a final post of the year so here are my scribbling resolutions for 2015:

  • Wear my glasses! Oh you wouldn’t believe the number of times I have spent up to half an hour getting frustrated  with my drawing before realising that the blurry view is because I am not wearing my reading glasses rather than having an ‘off’ day.  Here’s a recent scribble started for 30 mins before realising:


And here is the finished image after another couple of hours wearing my glasses:


  • Scribble every day  I have attempted this habit in the past weeks with some success but there has always been the odd day when I don’t.  Even if it means sketching a random everyday item it’s worth actively trying to attain this one.  The fact is that practice really does improve my scribbles as long as the practice is accompanied by other learning.


  • Read  Perhaps this sounds odd for a drawing blog but i know I won’t improve just by practicing!!  I need to learn techniques & different ways of doing things and be inspired by others and… Well you get the picture!!  Fortunately there are a number of great books about urban sketching & illustration.  I guess the trick for me is to try to get those I will get the most from rather than just getting them & leaving them to gather dust.  It’s all about balance – learning & practice; repeating similar scenes & trying new subjects etc. Here’s a book I have been reading & reviewed in a previous blog


  • Continue with Sketchbook school  This October I took the first of the Sketchbook Skool courses: Beginnings and I’ve been charting my progress on here.  I found it to be a wonderful way of expanding my drawing knowledge  and also a way of pushing me forward & linking up with new drawing buddies.  Although I worry about fitting it into my schedule, I will do my utmost to keep going- there will always be excuses!


  • Feel the fear & do it anyway Like I suspect most people, I have lots of insecurities about my scribbles but am happy to say that my enjoyment of the doing outweighs those feelings – to call myself an Artist is a whole other mountain to climb!

wishing you all a very happy, creative & sketch-filled New Year!

Sketchbook Skool Beginnings 6: Details rule OK

Phew, this week has been the 6th and final week of Beginnings and a great week it’s been with Tommy Kane.  From kitchens to Kross Hatching and with more detail than you can shake a stick at, its been fun!  Tommy is most generous in his sharing of tips and techniques, taking us through several videos of how he develops a sketch (out on location, from a view within his house and of  a lemon (why have I never thought of rounded Kross hatch lines!) and also, as a parting gift, provided us with some previews from his book: An excuse to draw (its on my list!).

Since starting to scribble on a very regular basis, I have worried about my interest in the details.  Often, there has been a sense that I should be cleverly producing 20 minute sketches that are works of art and convey the detail magically without drawing it!  Well, you won’t be surprised to realise that I’ve not been very successful on that score!  Quick scribbles, unless purely as a warm up don’t really do it for me, I feel frustrated, unfullfilled! (a bit like going outside with your hair not done and looking scruffy).  When I go sketching with a group, I only ever manage 1 sketch and that often unfinished in a 2 hour period.  So what a relief and a hugely beneficial experience to hear the well respected Tommy Kane talking to us about the importance of details!  Of spending time on a drawing (yep, actually encouraging us to spend more time and I don’t mean being slow, you still have to try to speed up, if only for practical reasons; but spending time trying to capture the details and ‘nitty gritty’ of a place: texture, colour,  shadow, the things that make the place special, unique.

He talked of having rules for ourselves and never throwing a drawing away.  This is his rule to himself, when a mistake is made, make something of it, incorporate it and let it work within the drawing.  I like this as it frees you up from being to precious and this is another issue for me!  I have a rule for myself now too, its to spend 5-10 minutes planning the drawing, thinking about what I want to capture and how, before launching forth!  I have this habit of doing it far to late into the drawing process.  In my eagerness to get going, I forget to take a step back and plan.

In the Klass this week, we had to develop a detailed drawing of somewhere at home that we could keep going back to.  Now this was right up my street.  Here’s my study space. Overall, about 3 hours in total.


Whilst out and about, I had time at the station whilst waiting for the train.  Here’s the view from the coffee shop.  About 1 1/2 hours all in.


Although this is the end of beginnings, I will continue to post very regularly about my sketching adventures so do please keep following.  I appreciate your interest in my blog.

With best wishes


Sketchbook Skool Beginnings 5: Journal keeping and animal antics


Wow what a week with the amazing artist Roz Stendahl for such an insight into journal creation and the sketching of animals! Roz is an inspirational teacher and is driven to record and understand the world through journaling, with the painstaking drawing of animals a particular focus (at least for this Klass). The videos on art making of animals were not only entertaining, especially the parrot! but also full of useful hints and tips; she presented art in an exploratory, accessible and no nonsense fashion that really helped me to think about my own practice. At the end of each artist’s week, they share a question and answers with you of common questions and their responses. I found Roz’s responses, in the form of a fully comprehensive ‘summation essay’ incredibly useful. Here are my 5 top tips/thoughts I took from Roz’s recommendations :

  • What do you want your journal to be for you? This is important, because once this is clear to you, it helps to ensure you keep at it and it is given importance in your life (I have mentioned before how important it is to make journaling part of my routine, but this forces me to think ‘why?’ and in turn, this helps me to keep going with it).
  • Find small bits of time. Don’t be prescriptive about the amount of time you need to sketch every day, but sketch every day, even if it’s for 15 minutes. Maybe getting up earlier, or going to bed later. This is really useful advice from Roz: ‘so the secret is: look at your life and see where you have open spaces, fill those spaces with the things you want to do. Think small increments, find them and use them. Don’t aim big and get derailed. Once the habit is built all sorts of possibilities open up’.
  • We aren’t required to entertain others. We are required to be true to ourselves and our goals. This is about your own privacy and not feeling that you have to share all your journals with someone, even if they ask!!  This is great because I am sure I am not the only one where a passer by has almost wrenched the sketchbook from my hand because they want to have a look!!  As if you would ask someone to read their diary!
  • If you are going to get serious about a particular medium, then use artist quality materials. I have some old Windsor and Newton watercolour pans but not the colours I would prefer. Having talked to people and read several blogs from others such as Liz Steel, I am going to invest in some Daniel Smith watercolours (6 in the first instance!). Roz mentions that trying to adjust to the imperfections of the products as well as trying to learn a medium makes things just too hard!  Now this all sounds very obvious but it is useful to be reminded of it sometimes!
  • Warming up by gesture and contour drawings are important ways of getting the hand and eye going. Even if it’s only a quick gesture (perhaps because the animal moves too quickly!), don’t get caught up in the ‘pretty page’ mentality! (I am!).   The warm up exercises help with focus and getting in touch with the subject.

Here are a selection my scribbles of our lovely greyhound Tanzi from the week, a mix of contour, gesture and shading. I will continue with my practice, particularly the detail of specific elements like the ears and paws; as this week has just been the start. She is such a lovely model and I am beginning to learn when I can draw her sleeping without moving and when she is in a more superficial sleep and so will wriggle and move when she senses I am watching her!!  Before taking the klass I have had several unsuccessful attempts at drawing Tanzi but I wasn’t thinking about it in the ways that Roz has encouraged, around contour, gesture and tone.

The first scribbles below are gesture and line drawings whilst the second group tries to depict tonal values.



I have a lot of work to do to progress but will probably keep a journal just for sketching this fascinating creature!  Next week is the last week of the Beginnings course in Sketchbook Skool but with Tommy Kane as mentor, it promises to be a fun last week.  Please do continue to follow my adventures.



Sketchbook Skool Beginnings 4: Collage and composition

This week has been another interesting opportunity to get a glimpse into the world of another artist: Jane Lafazio.  Jane seems to be inspired by all things nature, including organic fruits and vegetables, old materials including rusted metal objects. What I really enjoyed about this week’s snapshot was the experimental and creative nature of Jane’s making of art and receiving an insight into the use of sketchbooks in creating art other than sketches. As always, it also challenged me to think more about how I am creating my own art and how I may develop a unique style.

Demonstrations & sketchbook tours

Being able to see video demonstrations of how Jane creates pieces in her sketchbook, as well as having a tour of her sketchbooks and how her art is created from her sketchbooks was really useful. Jane uses pencil to create outlines before inking and painting. I have moved to using ink straightaway to stop me being so precious about my work, but I can see the advantages of sometimes adopting Jane’s approach. She also introduced some useful materials I hadn’t used before including Tombow watercolour fibre tip pens that can be wetted with a water brush. I have just bought a selection of these and will share how I progress with them in a separate post. As I mentioned before, I am keen to predominantly work with watercolour so that I can begin to develop an aptitude for it (and also because I love its organic unpredictable nature!); but these pens are also using a watercolour approach, just not with paint.


Jane showed us through her sketchbook tour, how she uses her drawn work in her sketchbook as a resource for other artwork especially stamp carving and creating art quilts using stitching onto fabric. These are amazing pieces in themselves and made me think more about texture and layering in my work. Jane also creates mixed media work and it is this, which probably has most resonance for me in terms of alternative approaches. Even relatively simple techniques including using printed form and cutting up of old images to create new ones as well as laying down paint and then using it as the base, can be really effective.



Whilst I am yet to try collage approaches, I am starting to develop more compositional pieces in my sketchbooks as opposed to ‘a drawing a page’ and we were asked to create a compositional piece using fruit and vegetables and a grid system. This can be a very useful way of ensuring consideration of layout, early on in the process. As for the sketchbook, observing from artists on sketchbook skool is kick-starting my thinking!


I look forward to sharing more about my Sketchbook Skool adventures on my last two weeks of Klass!

Sketchbook Skool Beginnings 3: Sketching as meditation

This last week has been sketchbook Skool ‘Beginnings’ week 3 with Prashant Miranda from India.  The thing I am beginning to really enjoy about Sketchbook Skool is learning about each artist’s individual sketching journey and seeing their sketchbooks and their art materials. It provides a window into their lives and somehow helps me to think about and develop my own techniques and practice.

The focus of this week’s journey with Prashant has been about the keeping of a sketchbook and the magic that this brings. He talks about the way in which keeping a daily record has transformed his life and I have to admit that I am feeling the same about my own practice. The sketchbook he keeps is rich with images, text, notes, songs, anything which helps him record and remember that moment. From simple everyday events to crazy adventures! He mentions that the more you do, the easier it gets. (I think this is true but still finding it hard to sketch every day).   He also mentions the 3Ps: Passion, Perseverance and Practice. This is now part of my personal mantra!

The great thing about a sketchbook is that it is a portable medium that you can easily take with you, wherever you go on your travels.   I usually take with me an A5 sketchbook and smaller (Handbook by global art materials and I have now started using their watercolour books specifically). Bigger gets awkward for me.


One of the key things about sketching that Prashant discussed is sketching as a kind of meditation: the act of putting pen to paper somehow calms you down, it changes your perception and helps put you into a different frame of mind. He mentioned that it makes him happy and I have to agree with him. Since starting to sketch on a very regular basis, I have found that it calms me and focuses me in a way that nothing else can. At the end of the week I had a really banging headache and nothing would shift it. Within half an hour of starting an afternoon’s sketching, the headache had lifted and I felt calmer, clearer and more positive. Linked to this is the use of sketching to aid memory-the act of sketching is a great memory keeper, it enables you to hold onto snippets of life that would otherwise be forgotten. Interestingly and related to this idea of sketching changing you, I recently read an article by the designer Milton Glaser who said he believes drawing changes the brain and makes you attentive: it changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist.

Prashant uses watercolour in his sketchbooks and demonstrated the use of wet on dry and wet on wet. Here are my sky images at different times during a 2 day period:


Some of my other watercolour sketches from the week:

Salford Royal Hospital and adjacent shops:




Piccadilly Train Station, Manchester:


Next week no doubt I will have had a chance to work with other formats and media with a new tutor.  Watch this space and see you soon!