Matti & Printmaking

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).

Saas Fee

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.

Making Charcoal

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.

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’m using a book, The Organic Artist, by a chap called NICK NEDDO – it’s very good and I’d totally recommend it.


Christmas Cacti

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).


11 December 2017

It’s been a difficult day to know where to focus my energy. The weather was awful, the house was a mess… it was hard to focus. Much of what I was doing did not go well. I had previously been looking through some old sketchbooks, and an image from one of them inspired this little sketch(?) in my sketchbook.

What can I pluck from the tree of 11 December 2017?

I’m hopeful that I will eventually get some fruit from the tree…

Developments with Matti

Matti – you can make out other scribbles from the pages underneath her



Matti is slowly becoming a book I am really proud of. It’s a much, much stronger book than it was when I first conceived of it in the Summer of 2015.

I’m now working hard on getting a dummy ready for after Xmas, but especially for Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018.

Here are just a few experiments with drawing her, over & over again – sometimes whilst half-watching the telly. I think I am actually discovering ‘my voice’ for drawing imaginatively (I feel I have a different ‘voice’ when I am doing my event illustration, and one that I feel quite confident and comfortable with). ‘Voice’ by the way, in more layman’s terms – is a bit like ‘style’. Sort of. And that’s a whole other story…

Matti with watercolour hair
A sketchbook page



Here are a few sketches that I have recently got very excited about… the sketchy, uncertain nature of the drawing. The earth-coloured pencil.


I’m very excited about my book once again, and one day I hope a publisher will be too.

You know…. I’m just wondering if I’ve ever talked about Matti before on here. Perhaps I really should have entitled this post ‘Introducing Matti’…

The Fading Light of Summer

I’m blogging about these because I have been enjoying doing sketchbook-diary pages as a way back into working on my stories and picture books; after having recently moved house and my aunty dying in early June.

It’s been a hectic summer and my children and I have been left a little with the feeling that it just passed us by (August being so damn wet didn’t really help). So I guess this is a way for me to take some time out, to breathe and to record the small things, the beauty of nature all around me.

We’ve moved to a beautiful place on an estuary – and I love it. The small things are right here. The sounds of the estuary birds, the loud ‘parping’ of the train as it passes, the rise and fall of the hills (it’s unusually hilly for this area). I feel happy here, so I think I notice the small things more. Drawing them is a way to appreciate just being here, a way to feel alive (some people ski down black runs or throw themselves from aeroplanes. I draw rocks and leaves – I’m no endorphin junkie!).

My sketchbook-diary entries are like Julia Cameron’s morning pages. And – just as the morning pages are intended to do – they help expand the feeling I have of being a creative person – somehow helping me to be more productive, despite having only tiny amounts of time to do my own work. The picture book I am currently working on, although progress is not fast, it feels overwhelmingly as if it is going in the right direction. And that feels good.

Its all very ‘Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady’ but the botanist, scientist & explorer lurking within me is enjoying the light of day (or the fading light of summer?). And most importantly perhaps, it’s fun.

Honduras in 1997

In 1997 when I was just 26 and living in Bristol, I travelled to Honduras to stay with a friend who I’d shared a house with. We’re still friends now.

I have rediscovered this sketchbook because I’ve just moved house and found all my sketchbooks in the loft. And when I say all my sketchbooks, I mean ALL of them – every one since the age of 16.

I actually had to throw some away. I simply don’t have the space to keep them all. In this move I decided to ‘accept’ the fact that I am in my middle age by ‘letting go’ of some of my past (this meant dumping many sketchbooks and past letters) – However, this is one of the sketchbooks I saved.

And why? Because its a travel sketchbook (I think it might of interest to my children one day when they start thinking about venturing into the wide world). But also because I particularly like these three sketches. They are perhaps some of the most unselfconsciously ‘illustrative’ sketches I can recall doing. Linear, and playfully so. There’s a deliberate lack of precision and a conscious editing of detail in order to create a sense of the ‘otherness’ of the scene – the unEnglishness of it (I don’t know if that’s a word, but I like it!). I don’t think I often see that in my old sketches. Anyhow, I figured they deserve to be on here, so here they are.