Does it Tell A Story Now?

Here, for the first time ever, I have worked with a drawing done in-situ’ and used it to create an ‘illustration’. By that I mean a drawing that tells you something about the situation. I think this is a bit of a breakthrough moment for me and it’s soooo exciting!!

Does it tell a story now?
Does it tell a story now?

Drawing at The Curious Menagerie

Acting on something I’ve learnt on the MA, I arrived at the workshop and immediately began to do a few thumbnails. The idea was to get to know the space a little bit and to consider composition, this is the result:

CMThumbnails_01 CMThumbnails_02 CMThumbnails_03 CMThumbnails_04 CuriousMenagerie_01

Then concious of time I thought l’d start a bigger, more ambitious drawing. When the taxidermists went to lunch I got another chair to rest against and began to measure and lay out the general space. When they all came back I tried to get a feel for the group, all intently working on their squirrels with concentration. There were quite a few tissues, bits and bobs and ‘body-forms’ (that go in the squirrels when they are re-constructed), adding up to a lot of generic shapes that were frequently moved around the tables, so they ended up being just suggested in the drawing. And the space was quite small, so there wasn’t a lot of space to move back from the figures, to get them all in.

The windows and walls are full of interesting vintage objects that would be so good to draw in their own right – I had to try to not get distracted by those! Anyway, although I am concious of it’s myriad of faults – I like the overall feel of this drawing, for the sense of the space and for the figures.


As it was growing dark, I took the opportunity to produce a tonal study of a woman working quietly by a lamp. And another quick study of two figures working with the vintage lamps in the background.

CuriousMenagerie_02 CuriousMenagerie_03

Then, before I had to go I did a few quick studies of the animals and the taxidermists’ hands; moving the animals left right and all over the place, quite rapidly, to get the right amount of stuffing, and to recreate the squirrel with care and precision. Here are a few quick sketches…

CuriousMenagerie_04 CuriousMenagerie_05And this is where I am beginning to think that I am getting an illustrator’s head. You see, as a fine artist I’d say that drawing came out well, or not, that bit worked or that bit didn’t – but as an illustrator I am interested in what this image is telling me.

The larger, more worked drawing tells me that a group of people are sat around and concentrating on doing something with their hands, some craft or other. But it does not tell me that they are creating their first taxidermy squirrel. To do that would require detail at the point of the hands and the squirrels. hard to do when they are moving all the time. So I took some photos and I am going to work on this – see if I can produce an ‘illustration’ of this event. And I am going to try a method that is in part inspired by Quentin Blake (at a lecture he gave as part of Cambridge’s Ideas Festival)…so watch this space….

Drawing on Location 4

I went out to draw at Writtle duck pond. I hoped to get the opportunity to draw people, children and their adults especially, and ducks. I sort of got to do that, but it was cold. And you can tell – which just goes to show how the truth comes out through drawing. You can tell if an artist has enjoyed making a drawing, or if it’s laboured and forced, or if they were simply bored. This one was a tense struggle to capture the light, and the cold came out in it too!

Drawn with a stick dipped in ink, and some brush work too.
Challenging to draw – the beasts never stay still and all that bathing in the cold water made me feel even colder!
Writtle duck pond in the cold winter sun
Writtle duck pond in the cold winter sun

Indoors with the children…. Sam sat at my desk to draw the scene out of the window. I drew him drawing.

An impromptu tonal study of Sam sitting at my desk.
An impromptu tonal study of Sam sitting at my desk.


The drawing that Sam did whilst I was drawing him…











A few weeks ago I hit upon the idea of drawing at the shoe shop round the corner from me. It has been in the same location since 1951 when the estate was built. It seems pretty unchanged since then and I love the ceiling to floor stacks of shoe boxes. It’s quite a small space so there’s a real challenge of perspective and line here. Also it’d be nice to have a few small customers to draw…. well, when they have some!

Initial studies in sketchbook, considering composition and scale. These are done in Biro.
I’m still not quick enough! But at least it’s fun, because I can ask the parents if they mind and I don’t have to feel surreptitious about it!
Sketching the small customers of JB Stean
Sketching the small customers of JB Stean
A more sustained and committed tonal study using pencil and ink. I love those shoe boxes!
A more sustained and committed tonal study using pencil and ink. I love those shoe boxes!

Well that’s about it for now. I am wrestling between drawing in the shoe shop again, the college canteen (so busy!) and the railway station…

Oh just one more, drawn out of my window at night. It is necessary to shine a torch on the drawing as you draw, so that I can still see out of the window. Nice to draw at night though, strange colours. First time I’ve really enjoyed using colour maybe… I definitely have more confidence with colour since the workshop with Jane Human. The actual image is a little bigger – this is all that can fit on my scanner.

The view from my room, at night.
The view from my room, at night.

Drawing on Location 3

This couple sat opposite me whilst I waited for my dentist appointment. I liked the way they comfortably shared the puzzle on her iPad.

I’m a little bit more on the look out for narrative, for the ‘story’ in what I am drawing. It’s no longer enough to just start drawing stuff, any stuff – I mean that’s fine and all – but I want to be a bit more selective. Sort out the really nice moments, interesting places, dynamic angles or whatever. When I began this drawing, the first chap was called and I could have just continued to draw along the wall of waiting figures (it would look as if the people had all been sitting there together when in fact they had come and gone at different times) but that would have meant new man would have been appearing to stare into first man’s lap. That would have said something completely different (and perhaps a bit odd). Therefore I had to draw new man’s wife/sister and the way they were sharing a puzzle (looking at her iPad, not into first man’s lap). It meant having to draw over the previous man; that’s why I chose to draw her in Biro, as I planned to keep the previous man in hoping it would create a sense of the people coming and going. However to see what I was doing I had to rub a lot of first chap out.

Little girl opposite me whilst I was waiting for my son to do gymnastics. I’m getting better at asking people if they mind me drawing their children.

Drawing ‘on location’ with Hannah Webb and Jane Human (two of our tutors). I had some interesting feedback from most awesome ‘sketcher’ of stuff and people and places, Hannah Webb.

ThumbnailsAtFitzWilliam_01Firstly our objective was to go into the museum and produce a few thumbnails sketches to consider composition and tone. I did this, and was loving it – then this ‘guardian of antiquities’ sat down, and boy he must feel the cold because he had scarf and gloves on – I decided to draw him, and did this (very) quick thumbnail:

ThumbnailsAtFitzWilliam_02The thumbnail on the right – the figure on the left studying the map was an incidental sketch because she just arrived in my sight. So, after thumbnail I produced this:

FitzWilliamMan_UncroppedBut Hannah pointed out that it had lost the dynamic composition that the thumbnail had. You know, the Golden Section and the ‘rule of thirds’ (this came up in the ‘Shadow of terror’ sketch)… considering I trained as a ‘Fine Artist’ it didn’t get mentioned a lot. So I’ve cropped it here:

FitzWilliamMan_CroppedIt’s maybe not better in this sketch because the thumbnail was so hurried, it kind of took liberties with actual space and made the contrast of scale more extreme. I suppose that that’s the beauty of illustration, if I was making the image up I would use the more dynamic composition (commonly referred to as Artistic Licence).

You may also notice I loved drawing the shadows of all those pots in the cabinets!

So on my return to Chelmsford I drew in our local museum, which although delightful and beautifully presented throughout, is not the Fitzwilliam. This is what I drew – there wasn’t a soul in the museum (unless you count the stuffed bear).

The bear sketch as it appears in my sketchbook
The bear sketch after a bit of flibberty-gibberting on my computer to lighten him and make him appear to recede away from the stair (how I should have drawn it).
What excuse does one need to draw a Buffalo head?

Right now I have to go…. but there’s more to follow so watch this space, another update soon (it’s been a while and I realise there is a fair bit of work since my last post, now I start to scan it all in and take stock!).

Drawing on Location 2

An MA update:

More drawing on location. I think I am getting better, because I have actually produced a couple of drawings that I like. They’re not amazing, but I am getting back into the swing of drawing both people and the environment they inhabit – and not just as two separate drawings… actually that relates to the truly AWFUL drawing that I did last Monday at the train station. OK, I will include it…

Terrible drawing - drawn almost as two separate drawings, people 'plonked-on' in wrong place.
Terrible drawing – drawn almost as two separate drawings, people ‘plonked-on’ in wrong place.

Some people have said that they like this drawing, and I suppose there’s that one bit of railway ironwork that is quite likeable; the rest is truly hideous. I began by thinking ‘I must include the architecture’ (extreme perspective going on) but I just kept getting lost in all the white horizontal beams. And then annoyed and irritated. Time was running out and I hadn’t even begun drawing the people. So a few people sat down and I drew them! Hoorah, got some folk in before a chap came and stood directly in-between me and the people on the bench. When he’d gone and all my people had boarded the London train, I could see I’d drawn them in the wrong place. They should have been drawn lower down the page (they’d have appeared closer to the eye) and then they wouldn’t have taken up the entire platform.

Also, I have abandoned the POSCA pen that Hannah Webb employs because I can’t understand or seem to predict how it will interact with other pens used over the top. I don’t like it. I will go back to using pencil (see some of the other drawings below).

HylandsCourtyardCafe I like this sketch – it’s quite ‘graphic’ and I have used the white in a stylised way, but it has a soft and more integrated feel. The people look as if they belong, that they are not just an afterthought – or that the architecture has just been pencilled-in behind. I felt more comfortable drawing the people and the architecture. It didn’t feel like two separate drawings. It looks as if the people in the drawing were sitting like that, in that configuration; but of course my drawing is a record of the comings and goings of several people and not once were all those people actually arranged like that in one moment in time. The drawing is a record of the passing of time. I’m getting more confident at this, enjoying it more.

OctFolkSession_01 ACanteenCouple BertSingingCathPlaying FolkSession_FacesFastMusicFastHandsMusic sessions at The Compasses – not exactly ‘waiting’ but too good an opportunity to draw. A couple at ACanteen (best cafe in Chelmsford).

CoupleOnTheBus-Cambridge And then this couple on the bus, on the way home from Cambridge last Wednesday. They were great and I’ve caught something of them in this sketch even if the proportions are a bit all over the shop. I was drawing on a bus after all! Using my familiar, semi-continuous line style that I know and love.

LadInJobCentre LadsInJobCentre Job centre sketches – see separate post. I love the expression on the lad in the foreground of the trio (centre guy has a double face).

ShitSketch ‘Lonely’ pic (entitled ‘shit drawing’). Done with Biro in a few minutes before leaving train station last Monday with my awful drawing and feeling totally despondent about my abilities!

McDonald's Riverside, ChelmsfordDrawing in McDonald’s. Yes, there is a thin person in the queue.

I think this is the first drawing that I actually quite liked. It gave me hope.

Now it’s half term, so I expect the rest of my drawings this week will be of the boys…. hardly ‘waiting’, well – unless I call it ‘waiting to grow up’?

Drawings in the Job Centre

Three Lads in Job Centre
Three blokes looking fed up in the Job Centre – great mistake on the face of guy in the centre!

It’s good to go to the job centre with the purpose of drawing. It takes my mind off the fact that I am actually going there to sign on.

That’s the joy of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts but I mustn’t worry about that – I’m just going to the job centre to draw. Once a fortnight, at a set time.

Looking bored
A young fella looking very bored in the Job Centre
Form filling
Chap at the Job Centre completing a form

And they’ve been very decent to me at the job centre, not too much of a ‘grillling’… not yet, anyway.

Last week was a good one, the chap signing me on told me that I ‘should think about selling my drawings. Having an exhibition’.

I’d like to draw there more often, or stay there longer to draw, but it just doesn’t seem right, drawing people in that state of despair. And it kind of sucks away at your soul. But then I’m forgetting that everyone there is a work shy ‘scrounger’ who enjoys living off the state.

However it seems now, I have faith that the future for me must involve teaching, drawing and writing… some how, some way. It will happen. I so love drawing….

It’d kind of be really nice if it (eventually) involved living somewhere near the coast too.

Drawing On Location 1

One of the first drawings in my new 'MA' sketchbook
One of the first drawings in my new ‘MA’ sketchbook

So the first project of my MA is to explore and discover our personal visual language by ‘observation and experiment’.

The observation has to include the moving human figure in natural, everyday environments. That’s not how they choose to frame it, but that is more or less what it boils down to. I think this is going to be a bit of a doddle because it is what I have been doing for a while now. Except I discover it is not.

I have been making little focused-in studies. These are good, no one is disputing this, but it’s the larger context of the world of these figures inhabit that I realise is largely missing from my recent studies. This might be true of my life to a greater extent – motherhood and child-rearing has a way of focusing your life down to the domestic. Nothing wrong with that, but the fact remains that a ‘sense of place’ is largely absent from my recent work. A little torch has been shone on my artistic world.

So that’s a large part of the challenge I am facing in this project. To think more about ‘framing’ the picture, formally choosing the composition, and to include a sense of the space that the figures inhabit.

I tell you what, it has already made me realise how much my Fine Art degree lacked formal ‘teaching’. I’m not the only MA student to say this. And we’ve only attended twice!

Today I went out and managed just one sustained drawing in Liverpool street station – I wanted to draw above the main concourse. I hated the drawing at the time – the materials didn’t work together as planned because I think I bought the wrong kind of white paint-pen. However, I did manage to grapple with ‘framing’ the drawing, planning it’s composition and giving consideration to what I wanted to get on the page. I haven’t done this in a long, long time (maybe ever?). I even did some measuring, grappled with perspective (I say ‘grappled’ deliberately).

And even in my smaller drawings/studies made on the train, you can see I have started thinking about composition and the wider context of the figures. So even if I still haven’t produced a drawing that I am over the moon with, I am making progress. And I shouldn’t be doing beautiful drawings just yet – not if I am extending out of my comfort zone.

So better get on with showing you the drawings…

Oh. the theme, loosely, is ‘waiting’:

Beginning to put in some ‘context’
Old Man in Dentist
Very quick study, in dentist. Look no ‘context’ – nothing to say, visually, that he’s in a dentist.
Staying still – tonal study in pencil. I like it, but no ‘context’.


Glamour Granny
Not a great drawing (done with a fountain pen), but she was well worth drawing – fish nets and heels, picking up her grandson or daughter…
Legs and Coffee on Platform
Clearly considering composition here…
Big Belly Bloke on Train
Meat-hook hands and medicine-ball belly… had to be drawn. (And I put him on a train seat – context!).
Liverpool Street Drawing
Today’s drawing – influenced by illustrator Hannah Webb… but not as good as hers!

The Shadow of Terror

This whole thing began with my friend, Sam Norton (

First he explained a joke; a visual joke that had he the technical skill, he’d have like to have drawn. I could have drawn it because as he explained it a picture formed in ‘my mind’s eye’ – not that it in any way helped me to ‘get’ the joke (a religious ‘in-joke’ by all accounts). Anyway, after I expressed an interest in drawing this for him, as a kind of experiment to see if it would work, he quickly said ‘No not that one, I have a better idea’ and hence the image below and the ‘pecking order of terror’ cartoon began. Again, as Sam explained his idea, it was instantly visual in my head. Maybe that’s Sam’s eloquence, or simply my visual brain (do we all think in pictures?), but I liked the idea, visually as well as conceptually, so I was very excited to begin.

Here is a sketch made by Sam when he was explaining the idea:

Sketch that Sam drew
In Conversation with Sam (Sam’s drawing).

There followed a few initial sketches (that qualifies as Sam’s serve being returned rapidly):

First sketches to see how the figures might look
First sketches to see how the figures might look

His response (‘They’re the wrong way around. They must be unaware of the shadow they are creating’), Yep – I knew that. NB: They aren’t his actual words, he wasn’t quite that direct.

Bit of fiddling with Photoshop to get them facing the right way:

IsraelFlipped copy ArabWorld-flipped copy

Now to make them look scared….


Good ‘scared-ness’ I think, but Sam tells me they’re in the wrong order. The Palestinian should be after the Israeli. “Oh”, I reply (via e-mail) “that is the ‘Muslim world’ (represented by the Arab figure) not the Palestinian”. Sam suggests a different look for the figure representing the Muslim world. I draw this:


Looks a bit like a Cossack/Russian – that will get ironed-out later. And then I draw this (visual) to help me get the order of the figures sorted.


Next comes the final figure in the sequence, the woman and child.

Woman holding a child wearing a niquab/bhurka

She gets a thumbs-up from Sam immediately (thank goodness, how I would have drawn a ‘gay Muslim/Palestinian/Arab man?).

Now I have all the figures, we’re onto quick Photoshop mock-ups to sort out scale, scale of shadows in relation to the figures, background, floor, sky?

TheOrderOfTerror-MOCKUP_01 copy

There were many versions, each with the figures and shadows in different proportions.

At this point I am not happy with the Arab character representing the Palestinian. I can see, that to most people, the way I’ve drawn the Arab here would just represent ‘Sheik/United Arab Emirates/Yemeni oil millionaire/Saudi Prince’ or something, I wanted something more obviously Palestinian. Hence this:


So he’s inserted into the mock up, and I like that better. Despite the fact that he has a left arm like a Baboon (yep – ironed out later).

TheOrderOfTerror-MOCKUP_02 copy

So I have a go at a final version (ish) as I want to get the technique and medium right, I know that I will be drawing it again. Wrong paper for a start.


The wall in this is a manipulated image from the internet. I reckon this means I will get away with not drawing a wall. In the end it doesn’t really meet with approval, so I do have to draw it (I agree this might be better but don’t actually know if it is the right decision until it’s drawn – after everything else in the drawing is completed!).

Sam power returns the ball and suggests the figures move up a tad. ‘Harumph!’ For someone who claims to not know much about art it’s a bit annoying that he’s right.

I find some watercolour paper – much better because I can use ink washes more evenly and my dip pen! Much better than a black pen/felt. The right materials are important.

So, below is the final image. As well as raising the figures to have a closer relationship to the shadows, there has been a slight change of hand position with our Palestinian and the wall is hand-drawn now.

I like it, I am pleased with it and even more pleased that Sam feels it is just as his ‘mind’s eye’ perceived it to be.

So collaboration has been fun, and maybe there will be less ‘dead ends’ to arrive at the ‘finishing’ point as I get better at this kind of thing (however these creative things are never really finished)…

Final Version  image (c) Natalie Eldred and Sam  Norton, 2013
Final Version
image (c) Natalie Eldred and Sam
Norton, 2013

You can read Sam Norton’s thoughts on this subject, and how his idea came about on his blog post:

Hopefully there’ll be a few more to come.

Roma (Aged 19)

These drawings, studies and sketchbook experiments are just a few of the many that I have in the sketchbook I took to Rome in 1989-90. It is possibly one of my most treasured possessions because, like a diary, it’s a glimpse back to my 19 year old self.

I love to see how passionate I was then about drawing. A child, yet still me.

There are so many drawings in this book that I like. I probably loathed many of them back when I drew them – but the passage of time has made me gentle towards them now. I was so experimental, so playful… and Rome is such a wonderful City to explore.


AirportBus AtTheAirport CafeStudies CampoDiFiori CharacterStudies ItalianMan OldWomaOnSpanishSteps PassportTheft Pepsi PiazzaNavona PiazzaNavona2 PiazzaNavonaCharacterStudies PiazzaNavonaCharacterStudies2 PiazzaNavona-LookingUp SpanishSteps-Legs SpanishStepsLovers TackyStall TheKitchen trees-lookingup