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?

A Word about Blogging in Underwear

First sketch (whilst on loo)
Lots of different ‘anatomy’ – trying to work out the shape of it
The Less ‘Lady-like’ Version

I ought to just briefly mention that the inspiration for drawing myself blogging (one-finger typing) in my underwear comes from a book I have considered purchasing, called “Freedom is Blogging in your Underwear” by Hugh Macleod.

The upshot of this is that I am, in fact, just as likely to be seen blogging in a freshly pressed shirt and designer jeans whilst my children sleep soundly upstairs after heartily devouring a plate of vegetables whilst discussing the finer points of the Oxford Reading Tree.

Besides clarifying that I am not really a careless mother with her head in a laptop (well, not always), I thought I’d post a few images of how that drawing happened. I mean, the process of drawing it – not the idea. Because it might be the drawing process itself that will change whilst I study on the MA; so why not expose that, examine it? My instinct is to hide those few, terrible, first sketches. This would help to encourage the idea that I am a Mozart-like genius who produces ‘perfect’, uncorrected drawings on the first attempt (actually I would still perfect the sketch yet). Instead I am going to show all the awful messes that led up to the drawing I published on the ‘Why Blog?’.

I am very interested in the creative process of other artists. How do professional illustrators arrive at these wonderful, finished drawings that seem to me to be so flawless and ‘complete’? So, as part of this idea that here is where I ‘expose’ myself (ha ha – underwear!), I am allowing a peek into my less-than perfect, less-than-genius process.

Now, is the process of drawing a scene from the imagination something that I will get better at? Or will the final drawing be the thing that changes, a different style? More confident mark-making or use of colour? A more accurate drawing? A more ‘polished’ look, or less? What I am looking for is a clearer idea of who I am as an artist, not just as an artist that ‘outputs’ but as an artist who communicates.

This is part of that journey. I am desperate to begin.

Why Blog?

I am a newbie to blogging and this is my first blog post. I like computers, I am not a Luddite. I like writing and I draw. I have, more or less, always done both. Now I am doing it on a computer (in part) and publishing it. Cool. Exciting. But why?

For most of my life I have kept sketchbooks, and for the past three or so years I have done so with a passion and a vision of what it is I want to do. And what I want to do is to write, and draw, for a living (with maybe a bit of teaching thrown in too). I have always wanted to do this, but I have never believed it possible. I still don’t. Not really. That sort of good fortune and opportunity is the stuff of other people’s lives. When I was a kid that’s what my parents, my school teachers and every adult thought, and told me, so I knew it to be true. This is where my journey begins, to believe it might be possible.

In two weeks I begin a part-time MA in Children’s Book Illustration. I wish I could do it full time and sink into it with all my body and soul, but I must pay the bills. Yet it’s a journey; a journey of faith, and of self-belief.

If I look inward at my soul and if I draw and document the people, places and things around me, then all seems well with the world. I am purposeful, as when travelling. But if I stop doing that and look outward: at the competition, the need to make a living, at the tightened circumstances of publishing, the impossible odds… then I am frozen with fear, a rabbit in the headlights waiting for the crash. After all, an illustrator wouldn’t stay long in the hot air balloon slowly loosing altitude (relates to a ‘game’ once played at school in an English class).

Well, in part, this blog is about documenting that adventure. The changes that will take place in my art – the development of my drawing skills and my ability to transfer those skills to an ‘illustration’ (I am a ‘Fine Art Refugee’ as Martin Salisbury puts it).

Another part of the blog is as an extension to the sketchbook – a public forum for my sketchbooks. I have always kept sketchbooks (did I tell you that already?). I usually write in these sketchbooks, alongside the drawings. Knowing that people like to look through them I never write anything that I wouldn’t be happy to share and a blog feels like a public expression of this. Instead of waiting for a convenient and ‘natural’ moment to thrust my sketchbooks under someone’s nose and demand they look through them, I can now post sketches and comments LIVE and to thousands (ahem… from little acorns. mighty oaks do grow).

Why is this important? Why now?

Occasionally I have uploaded some artwork to Facebook, sketchbook pages etc and find I am beginning to see something creative in this. Last winter I mentioned to my friends that I’d like a sketchbook with lines one side and a blank page on the other. They duly found me one, and a personal tradition of writing and drawing was re-discovered. A blog is simply the updated version. A picture and writing. On line. Public.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I think I’m going to.

Sleeping Boys

Facing the door
Facing the doorBoysSleepinginTent AlexSleepingWithSpotty

Sam asleep in my bed
Sam asleep in my bed
Alex asleep
He looked too cute not to draw him