I’ve just come back from a 2/3 day sketching trip to Naples.
My mum’s friend visited Naples and described it as ‘a shit hole’. I can see her point. Naples is busy, polluted, dirty and smelly. Yet – there’s something incredible about it. It feels very foreign for a European city. It’s not particularly touristy. It’s really ancient; it feels as if time has simply passed here, that so much has changed and yet nothing at all.
My main aim was just to draw. I am writing a picture book story that is loosely set in Naples. It’s not essential to the story but Naples will be threaded through it. So I went to spend a few days just observing (and walking lots too). I did one or two touristy things, not a lot – and I tried to capture something of the enormous complexity and manic busy-ness of Naples. I was utterly convinced I had failed, and today, scanning the drawings I mellowed a little and thought some of my drawings might actually be OK…
I learnt some things that could be useful about travel-drawing/urban-sketching:
Take only one type of sketchbook, whichever is best for you. (An A5 Moleskine will be my choice from now on – God only knows why I didn’t do that on this trip).
Use a very limited range of materials – whatever you like, but don’t try endless combinations.
In the case of massively complex views (such as you might encounter in, oh – I don’t know, a city such as Naples)… decide your method of attack beforehand. For example I was poncing about with washes and graphite powder and white Poscas for a while – before realising (on my last day) that I just needed to focus on line drawing.
Lastly – practice before you go away to some strange land. Draw regularly near and about your home area. It’ll help you work these kinds of things out.
Now my challenge is to keep on drawing – urban sketching – as a regular practice. There’s nothing like a few intense days of work to get you focused – and that’s something that I very, very rarely get. I’m going to do my best to devote some regular time to this (albeit in quieter spots, without noisy Italians, mad motorbikes, fab coffee and huge croissants literally stuffed to bursting with Nutella) . Sketches of areas near me (probably whilst drinking Nescafé) coming soon…
NB. Most drawings were done on location – but a few were worked-up after (using iPhone pictures for ref) in my AirBnB room after it had got too dark & cold to draw outside!
So I did some more sketching from my comfortable, safe window. With coffee (and maybe cake).
I added a little colour here and there. I used Tombow bush pens again, which are fabulous (because not all brush pens are created equal), and pencil which (perhaps surprisingly) isn’t the quickest of drawing mediums.
As usual, it’s hard to find the time to draw. With kids, single-parenthood and a teaching job… but today I treated myself to a coffee in a large-windowed cafe with a view onto a popular street. People were walking up and down this little street, affording me a few seconds to try and capture them. I was attempting to exaggerate their proportions and make them into characters – its very handy to do that behind a window, as there’s almost zero chance they’ll ask to look at my sketch and see themselves portrayed with a giant body, pin-feet and a tiny head.
I recently made a breakthrough with my illustration of Matti, and I’m very excited to have rediscovered printmaking. There will be more coming on this subject, but for now I’m just going to leave these here… I’ll be back very soon with more (and not just Matti).
(In defence of my recent long silence – I have just moved house for the second time in a year! Now I am settled and won’t be moving again – so you can expect to hear more from me).
I just came back from a short trip to visit a friend who lives high in the Swiss Alps. My children skied on snow for the first time (and I marvelled at how fearless they were) and I skied – terrified and slowly – and despite all this activity (clearing paths, trying to build igloos) I managed to do a little sketching too.
I like these sketches because I am not trying to be ‘realistic’ – I am leaving a lot out of the drawing and looking for a pattern, a story almost. I hope to do some more because this was fun – and, as with the cacti – I think it shows.
You could also call this process ‘method illustration’. After the phrase ‘method acting’ of course. I coined that term for the approach to illustration that is strongly advocated and encouraged on the MA. It’s the first semester’s topic and requires students to venture out & about with a sketchbook and draw on location. The idea being that a place can be found which really grabs the attention and excites the imagination – the kind of places and spaces that can bear stories on the air.
Unfortunately, I was restricted to school hours (as my children were very young at the time) and to a town that I found interminably dull. I won’t mention which – (but I am sure a very little sleuthing could discover it). So I can’t say that I found a space that really excited me… well, until I went and asked to draw old people in an old people’s home in the second semester – more about that here.
But here I am – being a ‘method’ illustrator, albeit in a slightly different way.
This is ‘proving the tin’ – you have to find a tin that can handle the heat!
The chopped-up, peeled willow pieces
Rebuilding the fire around the tin – which has proved its worth.
Heating the tin full of willow pieces… will it work?
Yay! It might be a bit ‘overcooked’ as its gone a bit curved… but I can draw with it, so I count that as very successful for a first try.
My kitchen table when I made my unsuccesful plant-leaf brushes
Charcoal on a stick – helps keep the paper and your hands clean
Er, me. Clearly thinking ‘maybe I could be completely self sufficient…’
Making my own art materials – much as my character – Matti – would have done.
I’ve made charcoal – you can see from the photos – and I’ve made charcoal holders, experimented with making some (unsuccessful) brushes from plants but will try fur soon (excuse me whilst I go and brush the cat). I’ve experimented with making inks from berries [actually should write more about that in another post – berry inks do some strange and unpredictable things].
The blue here in Matti’s hair is not natural – it would be hard for me to create that and I’m not sure I’d want to try – clearly stone age children did not have blue hair – so if she does end up keeping her hair blue in the final published version (one day, one day…) it doesn’t need to be naturally created.
But I would really like to make some acorn ink for her dress and maybe some wax crayons too. I do love making things – so I hope this isn’t simply distraction from THE WORK (of making a picture book)! I’ll blog about it when I do. And in the meantime if anyone reading this would like to donate me some goat, sheep or horse hair for brushes – let me know!
I did these for a small pop-up art fair in my home town.
I got into the flow of it and PLAYED. Initially I had been drawing cool retro mugs (something else I like) but that just wasn’t going well. Clearly not organic enough.
So I looked through some old sketchbooks and found these. They had been an exercise in working in a minimally, stripped-down, get-to-the-essential-stuff kind of way – one where you consciously decide what it is you want to say with the image. Instead of merely slavishly copying all there is in front of you. I guess the story I want to tell with these cacti is how much fun I think these types of plants are.
I used watercolour & pencil , even drawing on small boards painted with gesso – which works really nicely with watercolour.
I’d definitely like to find the time to do more – maybe more closely related to actual types of cacti and succulents but without being slavish to the truth. It makes sense that I enjoy plants as a subject matter because I love growing them – how you feel about something, well – I think it usually shows in the drawing, you know.
There’s few subjects more fun than these weird plants (except, perhaps, dried frogs).