Travel sketching in Venice

Last month I travelled to Venice by train.  I’ve tried many times in the past to keep a travel sketchbook but I’ve never managed to do more than a sketch or two while on holiday. But this time, thanks to the confidence Sketchbook Skool has given me, I drew lots of sketches while away, though I didn’t always find the time to finish them, and I’ve both finished those and done more since returning home. My sketchbook is the very best holiday souvenir. Here are some of my favourite sketches – I hope they speak for themselves.


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Converse Gondolastop

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What makes an artist?

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve had a lot going on, life-wise, work-wise and art-wise. I’ve done 3 Sketchbook Skool (SBS) kourses without a break (2 at the same time) since April so I’ve been drawing every single day and making what feels like a mountain of art.  I can’t believe it’s still not even a year since I joined SBS.  I took SBS’s Stretching kourse in April and May and that was followed immediately by Bootkamp – a free kourse which is offered to SBS members on completion of 3 SBS kourses. Bootkamp is a whole series of exercises set at a punishing pace with a new one every 3 days – and just a week into Bootkamp I started the Storytelling kourse, which finishes this week. So I’ve been working hard but, to my surprise, I’ve kept up with all my homework and have thrived on the challenge.  Even more surprising, I’ve found that some of the Storytelling homeworks that required a great deal of planning, preparation and pre-drawing have proved to be ones that I’ve really enjoyed. I already knew that I like to spend a lot of time on complex drawings but I’m not really much of a planner – I tend to just dive in. So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the planning and, even more, at how much it paid off. The highlight for me was Jean-Christophe Defline’s klass, when our homework included designed a cover for a favourite book. I designed a cover for Kirsty Logan’s wonderful book The Gracekeepers. I spent many, many happy hours researching ideas, sketching, designing, inking and painting my cover. My first painted cover was a disaster so I did a second. I love the final version – and when I shared a picture of the inked monochrome version on Instagram I was delighted to receive a message from Kirsty Logan herself saying “Oh my goodness, this is SO beautiful! I absolutely love it.”  I loved the process and I love the final result and in making this book cover, for the first time, I began to feel like an artist. So what is an artist? Someone who loves what they are doing? Someone who believes they are making something beautiful and/or meaningful? For me, it was that I knew exactly what I was I wanted to achieve artistically and I did it.  


Drawing My Classic Car Pool

The new Sketchbook Skool (SBS) semester starts on Friday with a brand new kourse, Stretching, but I’ve been having fun during the break discovering an unexpected talent for drawing classic cars and scooters on toned paper.

I discovered this new love for drawing classic vehicles when I was responding to one of the weekly challenges set by Sketchook Skool fakulty during the Easter break. This particular week’s challenge was set by fakulty member Brenda Swenson who challenged students to draw on toned paper of some kind (brown envelopes, wrapping paper, or any scrap of grey, brown or dark paper we could find) and use white ink, gouache or other paint to make highlights sparkle. I mostly used brown wrapping paper, which I found I really liked working on, with watercolour and white gouache. I drew the VW camper van above, liked the result, so then I drew a Vespa.

I drew a Lambretta. 

  

And a Mini.

 

And a Citroen 2CV.

You can find out more about Sketchbook Skool’s challenges during the Easter break on the SBS blog at http://sketchbookskool.com/blog/.  You can also see student responses to the challenges by searching on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest using the search term #art4all.


Monkey Mind, Healing Art and the Power of Supportive Kommunity

The past few weeks have been a difficult time for me. My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the first few weeks after her diagnosis I was finding that I was hating much of what I was drawing. In Sketchbook Skool (SBS) we call these critical thoughts our monkey, a term coined by Danny Gregory, one of the Skool’s founders (To find out more about the monkey visit Danny’s blog here). I call this state of mind “monkey mind” and after a few days of monkey mind I turned to the SBS kommunity for help, posting on our Facebook page asking for tips and ideas to get me out of this state of mind.  The response was immediate, creative, hugely supportive and felt like an enormous virtual hug. So, for those of you who might also suffer bouts of monkey mind, here are some of the suggestions students made:

  • Draw the gorilla that has you in his grip
  • Go through your sketchbooks and do different versions of specific drawings that you enjoyed
  • Draw/write/decorate quotes
  • Suspend judgement and just keep drawing
  • Pick something difficult to draw and just draw it repeatedly as an exercise; or paint something simple (e.g. a square) repeatedly
  • Create colour swatches
  • Practice lettering
  • Sketch and scribble things that are less precious – maybe on scraps of paper or post-it notes
  • Draw with your opposite hand
  • Sketch your mum or for your mum or things she loves

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I was also challenged by another student to take part in an ongoing 5 day challenge, which involved posting pictures of old or new work for 5 days.  I decided that rather than posting old work I would try to post new work for 5 days. The sketch above was one I drew on the second day. That challenge probably helped me more than anything, because I felt like some SBS friends were looking out especially for my daily posts and being so supportive and encouraging in their responses to them! And if it hadn’t been for that challenge I might not have drawn at all that week – so thanks Karla Stevens for nominating me keeping me drawing when I might have given up. The sketch below was made on day 4 in the car at 70mph (I wasn’t driving) while we were travelling to visit my parents.

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The following Monday, after a very emotional weekend with my parents, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to draw at all when I received that week’s SBS challenge (in between kourses we have been receiving a weekly email with new challenges set by a different kourse tutor each Monday) because I was just too upset. But by mid-afternoon I was cried out and decided to have a go. The challenge was to draw on some kind of tinted paper with watercolour and white gouache. I’d never used gouache before but I had, by chance, bought some a few weeks before thinking it might be useful and I found some brown wrapping paper to paint on. Within ten minutes I was totally focused on drawing and then painting and in what I can only call “my happy place”.  I was drawing and painting for perhaps two hours and for those two hours all my worries were forgotten and my spirit was calm.  Now, a day later even looking at this painting makes me feel calm. And I can honestly say, since I don’t paint very much at all, that it’s probably the best painting I’ve ever done!

I’m not at all religious and I don’t believe in fate, but I can’t help thinking that that decision to join SBS last July was meant to be because right now I have art and SBS and this very powerful supportive kommunity just when I need them most.


Learning from mistakes

It’s the last week of Seeing kourse in Sketchbook Skool and I’ve been reflecting on all that I’ve that learned this past six weeks. Once again I’m amazed at how much progress I’ve made – my biggest achievement this semester has been to end it having lost my fear of using watercolour, as this sketch I made this week for Liz Steel’s klass shows.

It’s great to finish off with such a successful sketch, but some of the best lessons I’ve had this semester have come from mistakes. Danny Gregory, founder of Sketchbook Skool, insists that bad drawings are the best teachers, while SBS teacher Tommy Kane insists that a mistake never equals disaster; both he, Danny and other SBS teachers encourage students never to give up on a drawing because of a mistake. I’ve tried to take their advice on board and keep going with all my sketches no matter what, and have often been amazed at how well my sketches turn out in the end. The “mistakes”, which usually happen in the early stages of a drawing and are usually because I’m not “seeing” properly, I’m just not focusing on what I’m doing, often almost disappear into the drawing if I just rectify the line and keep going.

Take the example above. There’s a slightly thicker black line in the shadow on the left side of the lampshade. That was my first line, intended to be the edge of the lampshade. As soon as I’d drawn it I knew it was wrong – if I’d continued with that the line the whole drawing would have been wrong. So I drew the line again and carried on. And the drawing works. The line’s there, it’s visible but you don’t really notice it unless you look for it, but it’s a good reminder to pay attention when I place that first line!


A whole week of drawing selfies

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This week we’ve been drawing selfies in Sketchbook Skool’s Seeing kourse. I wasn’t looking forward to this particular week. I don’t like haven’t my photo taken; that’s one of the reasons why I first took an interest in photography – if you’re on the other side of the camera you don’t have to be in the photos! And I avoid mirrors as much as possible, so much so that I had to go shopping last Friday to buy a large portable dressing table mirror so that I could draw mirror selfies this week. And I very rarely draw people for all sorts of reasons – lack of models, lack of confidence, lack of practice.

But this week has been an absolute revelation – much to my surprise I’ve loved drawing selfies. I’ve not really got to grips with contour line drawings yet, my mirror selfies age me by 20 years but are enjoyable to do and once I’m in my comfort zone of pen and ink drawings from a photograph I’ve been having a ball!

Homework for the week was to do 2 mirror selfies, 2 selfies from photographs, 2 contour line selfies, and 1 selfie from memory of the imagination. I did many more (some far too awful to share!) but below are my 7 homework selfies.IMG_1299
I have used a few tricks to get the best out of these photo selfies. As I already mentioned I hate been photographed so rather than get someone else to take pictures of me I’ve taken photos myself (on my iPod touch) when I’ve been alone in a room using a selfie stick. That way I’ve felt comfortable enough to play around and make silly expressions and take lots and lots of pictures. I’ve then used the Snapseed app to turn the photos into a high contrast black and white photo to emphasise the shadows and I’ve used that photo as the basis for my drawing.

And here is my final selfie, which I drew after I’d published my homework… having so much fun with these I’m going to carry on and fill a whole selfie sketchbook!

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Sometimes, when it comes to drawing, ignorance is bliss

One of the key lessons I’ve learned in Sketchbook Skool (SBS) is that, when drawing, it’s important to focus on what you actually see, rather than what you think something should look like. So, if you’re drawing an orange, it’s important to look at the orange you’re drawing and draw the shape of the orange as you’re looking at it, rather than simply drawing a circle because you think oranges are round. I’ve tried hard when drawing not to name things but simply draw lines and shapes but then I find myself subconsciously falling back into old habits and drawing my dog’s nose and his eyes and realising that I’m relying on my memory of them as much as I am on actually looking at them.

This week I drew what is probably one of my most successful drawings to date and it was only when I posted it on the SBS Facebook page and read on of the comments that I realised why that might be.

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The drawing is of my daughter’s vintage typewriter. I’ve never used a traditional typewriter; I bought this on eBay as a gift for her a couple of years ago. Because I’ve never used one I’m not familiar with the parts, beyond the basic housing and the keys. It was only when I saw a comment from another SBS student referring to the “platen roller” that it occurred to me that I didn’t know what any of the parts were and, because they were so unfamiliar to me , when I was drawing it I was focusing very hard on what line connected to which other line. I was drawing what I saw because, although I had a vague idea of what a typewriter looked like, I wasn’t sufficiently familiar with it’s workings to be able to draw it without really looking as I worked.

I want to try some more drawings now of similarly unfamiliar objects to see if it is their unfamiliarity that is helping me to focus and produce better drawings. Or perhaps this was just a one-off, we’ll see. But I do know that this one drawing has increased my confidence enormously, not least because Tommy Kane commented on it with a “Pretty Awesome” – thanks Tommy, you made my year!


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