Illustrator’s Group Brief, September – October 2013. 

I am a member of the Just Imagine Illustrator’s Group and we meet on the first Tuesday of the month and either discuss the progress of our own work, or look at the results of any project briefs we’ve been set. We quite often have visitors and talks from published illustrators, in which case they will set us a brief, (more will be posted on here regarding the outcomes of briefs set by published illustrators).

This month’s brief was to consider some birthday card designs for the Just Imagine shop – the brief from Nikki Gamble was to come up with something refreshing and different from the usual stuff you see out there for kids birthdays.

I quite like what I have done – especially after struggling for a fair bit with this brief. For the No 5 card design I have borrowed from Dr Seuss, and I think I have a few more ideas which will be inspired by his artwork. I love the way his characters are so animated and lively. When I try to draw ‘finished’ artworks I usually over-labour the drawing and this results in a lifeless, stagnant sort of image. Although I have been inspired by his characters I have treated them in my own way, using a different technique and materials to complete the final artwork.

Both these images with numbers have been created using tissue paper with pen outlines. The numbers are added afterwards using a software package.

The second card image, No 4, is influenced more by the drawing style of Judith Kerr or Shirley Hughes. Both of whom I admire for their observational skills.

The top, sketchbook image, has also been influenced by Dr Seuss – although trees stem directly from observational drawings of tomato tops and the monkey character is ‘mine’. Is this worth following up, do you think? Perhaps with a less languorous looking monkey character? Maybe a chameleon or a sloth instead? Your feedback, comments and ideas are welcomed on this (contact from to bottom of this post so you can do so).

Well, if I have time I may see what else I can do in the Dr Seuss vein… but are they too similar to be considered anything other than plagiarism? When does ‘being influenced by’ become ‘plagiarism’?

How does that quote go? “All artists borrow, great artists steal?”

Watch this space then for possible updates, more work – or simply feedback from the group when they see the work on October 15th…

Mad as a Box of Frogs

Pen and Ink studies of dried frogs
The shapes that they make fascinate me, and could be letter forms, or symbols, a coded message even ..?

I’ve been drawing frogs again. I have a bit of a history of drawing and painting dried frogs.

You can ask me why if you like, but I don’t much know an answer beyond that the shape of them fascinates me. That they are so frog-like and yet so not-frog. They preserve so well, and look as if frozen in the midst of some activity or other.

In their non-frogginess they make me think of scribbles; a letter form from an alien hand, Sanskrit, a new language not on the Rosetta Stone, doctor’s handwriting – indecipherable, full of some unfathomable wisdom.

Or it could simply be that I like drawing scrawny spiky things (I also have many drawings of tomato tops). But then why? Sometimes it’s just best not to think about these things too much and just get drawing….

More to be posted here because a few years ago I had an exhibition at Colchester Hospital, and the only thing that sold were three dried-frog paintings. I also have been commissioned to paint them by a friend – when I find the photos of these I’ll upload them here. I ought to say that I am not the only one who collects dried frogs – two of the four that I own were given to me by the same friend who commissioned the painting – (I got to keep them after, thanks Duncan – great gift!). Another was found over twenty years ago under the sofa of friend. I do not recall how I came about the other…  so, if anyone happens to have a dried frog, or find one soon, I’ll joyfully receive it to expand my collection of four. E-mail me for a postal address (and possibly a frog drawing as a means of payment for your trouble). They need to be relatively intact, by the way.

A line of dried frogs
A Line of Dried Frogs, a word, a sentence?

Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

An Acorn
….mighty oaks do grow (from such as these).

DiaryOfAnEdwardianLady_02 DiaryOfAnEdwardianLady_01 DeadBirdRIP-Froglet

Natural subjects. What’s wrong? They’re not all dead.

(Actually I think the juvenile starling might actually be a thrush).

Experiments With Technique or Media

Magic Marker Studies of Alex

Sam Watching Fish - Tissue Paper Collage
Watching Fish
Photo Collage - boys with pen and ink studies of their current 'precious things'
Photo Collage – boys with pen and ink studies of their current ‘precious things’
Nan's Pots: Watercolours over acrylic paint
Nan’s Pots: Watercolours over acrylic paint

This is a post to collect a lot of odds and ends really. Trying out different techniques and bits and bobs.

The photo-collage of my two boys with the pen and ink studies of their ‘precious things’; that’s just a nice thing to have. I think I should do one every year, to see how they grow and change, and how their passions for their objects change too.

At our illustrators group, Courtney Dicmas set us the task of drawing something we treasure, in a medium we were unfamiliar with. Hence the magic-marker drawings of Alex – something I am continuing to experiment with, more to be uploaded at a later date.

The pictures of nan’s pots are really quite small but I love the watercolour over the thick, slightly shiny texture of the white emulsion paint. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it, but I like the all the accidental mark-making.

I’m quite keen on the tissue-paper studies of Sam watching the fish. I like the minimal look, the flatness and simplicity. But it’s a fiddle to do.

But is any of this me? The MA is for me to find out.

Calming the Rat Cage of the Mind

MeticulousPlantStudy CanvasShoesNarcissi

Romantic love is absurd
Romantic love is absurd

Drawing as a means to calm the mind. When I’m wandering aimlessly through my house, overwhelmed, I know there’s loads to do. I know I have things I ‘should’ do. The ironing pile is massive. I’ve got work to prepare for college but I don’t want to do it. The duvets need changing, the floor could use a mop. I need to go shopping, cook dinner or order that thing. I’ve got ideas for a poster, a book, world domination. I need to clear all that stuff away. I want to draw that dead beetle I’ve left on top of the microwave, those dried seed pods, next door’s window with it’s dead flowers, my stuffed rat, Alex’s latest soft toy. That skirting board needs repairing, this wall needs a paint. I have that picture to hang, the bookshelf to tidy and I haven’t cut the grass in three weeks. The flowers need watering and the veg patch weeding. I have to call my friend, sort the calendar, pay some bills and the school dinner account and arrange a babysitter for next Thursday night.

What do you do with all those thoughts, all at once, cramming through the doorway of your mind? Draw something complicated and detailed. And do it as scientifically as possible. That’s what you do.

It doesn’t get the washing-up done or the guinea pigs cleaned out, but it does make me feel a lot, lot better.

Minutes From Meetings


Caricatures of work colleagues
Staff From Chelmsford College, drawn whilst in a meeting

Minutes_03 Minutes_02 Minutes_01Minutes_06 Minutes_05 Minutes_04

It honestly does help me to concentrate. Except, that is, when the speaker is purely reading off the power point slides. Then it helps me disappear into my own head long enough to escape the torture.

Around every Cup of Coffee is a Soap Opera?

CafeNero_02 CafeNero_01 CafeDrawings_01 CafeCouple ManWithDeadDaffs SliceCakeRistretto CafeDrawings-RistrettoMan

I love to draw in cafes. It can be quite relaxing, a way to ‘get out of yourself’ and focus on other. A way to sit back as an impartial observer, give the imagination free range as the ‘drawing’ part of your brain concentrates on the marks, shapes and tones that make up the scene.

I say it’s relaxing and it is, mostly. Unless you happen to be drawing a big burly bloke who looks like he’d have no problem walking into a crowded MacDonalds with a sawn-off shotgun. And, you’re convinced he’s clocked you drawing him and is now wrestling with an internal demon telling him to go over and thump you one in the head. Either that or he’s wishing he had a bodyguard who will go over and do it for him, snatch the pencil from me and snap it in half dramatically shouting “Do you know who you are drawing? Do you girl? That ain’t just some burly bloke you know! Universal Pictures own all the image rights – and you’ve drawn him ugly. I see you near him again and it ain’t just your pencil that’s getting snapped!”

Well, maybe that’s just a little too imaginative… mostly people just come over and have a little peek, or ask to see what you’re drawing. I guess they’re usually thinking ‘poor girl, she obviously THINKS she can draw’ and saying things like, “er lovely, interesting…”

But the real reason I like drawing in cafes  is because I can draw all sorts of people and draw them without really being noticed (I’ve not been accosted by angry subjects yet). It’s like a life class with varying degrees of difficulty and constantly moving subjects, changing expressions and poses (all clothed though – I suppose I could request attendance at a naturist cafe). It’s character practice for the cost of a coffee. And I like people; I enjoy their conversations (mostly), and guessing at relationships and back stories.


A couple have just collected the woman’s younger sister from the bus station, they have with them, one weekend bag with wheels. The younger sister is the ‘black sheep’ of the family and doesn’t like the man. They are meant to be trying on the bridesmaid’s dress tomorrow, but the bridesmaid doesn’t want her sister to marry this man she feels is an oaf. She loathes him, or does she fancy him? Was there a secret kiss at a university party way back in the distant past on a drunken night? A hidden jealousy….? Or maybe they’re just siblings just out shopping for their mother’s birthday present.


Oh, I suppose I should tell you something about the ‘Ristretto’ man (in picture with the grey raincoat – see if you can spot the first drawing of him). I drew him in the Costa coffee at WHSmith in Chelmsford. I noticed him because when he was at the counter he asked for a ‘ristretto’. He didn’t look like the sort of man that would know what one was, so I liked the idea of him being this older bloke that you’d expect to be a stereotypical member of the older generation, mostly out of touch with modern life and it’s tyrannies of consumer choice, yet he loves a coffee and he knows the lot,

“A skinny latte with a vanilla shot to go, and a nice slice of cake” (said in a Yorkshire accent, of course).

I liked the idea of the contrast in that sentence, the ‘what-you’d-expect’ and the ‘surprise’. I think it says something about being human. We have expectations, yet people can and do surprise us – don’t you think it’s important to always remain open to that surprise?

One Zillion to One


Sam explained, “This one scores one billion million twenty five and that one scores 1”. Well I know which one I’m aiming for.

Boys Playing Computers


Drawn directly from life, using white paint and pencil on an envelope

AlexAtComputerSamPlayingiPhoneOnBed PlayingGames_05 PlayingGames_04 PlayingGames_03 PlayingGames_02 PlayingGames_01


I get a bit self-concious that a look through my sketchbook will reveal that all my children ever do is play Wii, iPhone or computer games. We do sometimes go out – even in winter – just that they don’t stay still long enough to draw.

Loving Guinea Pigs

Close-up of a small sketch
Part of a larger page