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

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.