Next week I’m off to Edinburgh, so I thought I’d do a blogpost about what I carry with me when out sketching.
- Expensive watercolour sketchbook. This notebook was so expensive I was actually scared to use it for a bit, but it has excellent-quality watercolour paper. You can do several watercolour washes without the paper turning into mush.
- Seawhite’s of Brighton travellers notepad. This looks like a Moleskine, but it’s actually loads better – Seawhite’s do a selection of papers and notebooks which I highly recommend. This particular one has a hard cover, so it’s good to lean on when out, and the paper can take a bit of wetting with watercolour or ink. I put a sticker on the front because I have two identical notebooks, which I use for two different types of drawing.
- Furoshiki cloth. This is a piece of fabric used for wrapping things up. I wrap my sketchbooks in it so that they don’t get all dinged up in my bag. I brought this on a whim, and it’s become one of the most useful things in my bag. I can also wipe brushes on it.
- This is my pencil case; it’s part of a North Face satchel I brought last year. It detached from the inside of the bag, and I use it to carry around pencils and my watercolour set. On top of the pencil case is another notebook, which is a Fabriano “Venezia” book, which has great-quality paper in it. I like to have a pocket sized notebook for tiny sketches.
- Six-inch ruler (curved for use with fountain pen) and watercolour set. I could probably write a whole post about my watercolour set; I went to Austria to buy it, enlisting help from friends who spoke the local language. I’ve developed a palette, and like to mix up paint in specific areas. I could probably go down to a smaller watercolour kit, like one of the bijou boxes that are so popular right now, but I’d rather not buy a new one.
- Water bottle and pens. The water bottle is for both drinking and making watercolours. There’s a spare elastic band around the water bottle, which is used in combination or instead of the clip (also shown) to hold notebooks open. The pens here are a Pentel brush pen (it’s ok) a pair of cheapo water brushes (both large), a 4B pencil, and a Lamy Safari fountain pen with Carbon ink.
I usually carry around most of this stuff during the week, if I’m going somewhere, and at the very least I have my tiny notebook to hand so I can quickly sketch something that catches my eye. I’m constantly trying to get myself to do more drawing, because I’m pretty slack, so making the effort to carry around a notebook is a good push to get me to do something worthwhile with my time.
My new year’s resolution this year was to not hate Biggleswade. The past two years resolution’s have been to leave Biggleswade – frankly, it is an awful place, and if I revealed my true feelings about the place this would be an unreadable blog post full of hate. So let’s not go there.
However, things are looking up. A new vegetarian cafe has opened up, and I’ve even got a studio in Biggleswade! I’m finding it incredibly difficult to get into the studio though, so I end up either in my bedroom, drawing until the early hours of the morning (it’s how I do my best work) or sitting in the cafe, sketching out of the window and drawing flowers.
It’s tough living in a small town with almost no redeeming features. I’ve actually run out of black (indian) ink at the minute, and because of geography and travel it’s a two hour trip to get some more. Two hours! I could be more than half-way to Brighton in that time! But I don’t keep my drawing stuff in Brighton, so it’d be a bit weird.
Finally, I’ve been experimenting with computer graphics and drawing. I read about a process called ‘flatting’, where you can add in colours to line art, and gave it a go with the picture above. I’m not sure that it really works (it’s only a first attempt, so that’s not a problem) but it’s good to experiment with different techniques.
The top image in this post is a pencil sketch done with a mechanical pencil I found in a pot – maybe a H or HB – and then I increased the gamma value to make the lines dark. In the bottom image, I made the linework a layer, set that layer to “multiply”, and filled in the colour on a different layer. Multiply makes the white areas of an image become transparent.
The middle image is of a flower done with a brush pen. I got far more enjoyment out of looking at the flower than futzing with the computer, and it took a lot less time. I’m almost tempted to spend the next year drawing flowers.
I didn’t realise how nervous I was about travelling to Linz for ages. It was one of those trips that I knew was coming up, so I brought my tickets for the flight incredibly early, and forgot about them. This was possibly the only thing I did not panic about in the run-up to travelling to Pippa and Tim’s wedding.
Then, the day came to set off. I did so in the worst manner possible, by getting lost in a city where I spoke the language. Duh.
And it’s at this point I can start referring you to my notes:
The main problem with being on a plane and wanting to do some drawing is that there is nothing to look at on planes.
I got off the plane feeling a lot calmer. Then I found my hostel, and realised that it was in the red light district.
It was actually pretty nice, and they went to the trouble of looking up vegetarian restaurants for me. So I went to a vegetarian restaurant in Vienna:
As I had absolutely nothing to do with myself, I sat at my table drawing, until it got dark, and then walked back through the red light district. Just as I arrived back at the hostel, a bunch of tiny European teenagers were getting off a bus. The bus was from a company called “Rubes”, and I had a little chuckle at the thought of all these little rubes in the big city. That’s the sort of thing I find funny after international travel and no conversation.
Then, I sat in the bar area and did some painting. With a herbal tea.
The next day it was on to Linz:
I was, again, incredibly nervous about my train journey. I had printed out a ticket at home, using my printer, and it claimed to be my ticket. As somebody who is used to the UK train system, this level of convenience was unthinkable: surely, this piece of paper I printed at home wasn’t valid for train travel?! I screwed up my courage and went to ask the ticket inspector.
“Do you speak any English?”, I asked. “A little”, he replied, which in England would have meant “I can count to ten and possibly say something rude in your language”, but actually means “I can speak passible English” in Austria. Turns out my ticket was valid, so I got on the train. Somebody sat next to me, so I got to look like a crazy person drawing out of the window.
It turns out I was incredibly knackered from all this change to my routine, and it was at this point I had vowed never to leave my nerd-cave again. What was I thinking?! Why did I leave my house?! I was tired and emotional and I wanted to eat supermarket-brand cereal in front of the TV. Sadly, my new room didn’t have a TV and I couldn’t work out where to buy any soya milk, so I agreed to meet up with Pippa and some of her friends.
Above: my most hard-edged drawing I’ve ever done.
Pippa didn’t make it to that meal in the end, but I had the great pleasure of meeting Andreas and Josie. We had a great time eating delicious food! It was also at this point that I started to become too tired to do any proper drawing. I did take notes, so here they are:
I went back to the Golden Crocodile restaurant, where I had been with Tim and Pippa last year. Pippa ended up being unavoidably delayed, which is acceptable as she is getting married tomorrow, so I had a meal with a married couple from Berlin for the wedding. I also had a pint and a half, while Andreas and Josie (the couple) ended up having mint tea, which was like a complete reversal of the past few days. Caught bus to town and back, which was OK – it’s only a few stops. Now have no change, meaning no snacks from vending machine.
A brief note on Germanic vending machines: they are far more advanced than our puny English vending machines. Broken Britain again. The one at the hostel was actually so advanced that it took me several days to work out how to use it.
The next day was the wedding, and I ended up drinking and staying up until 3am, which is totally unheard of for me. Maybe the free beer helped, but it was mostly the great company. I even danced, although casual observers might have thought I was just holding my glass funny whilst walking across the dance floor. I had a great time, and it turns out weddings are a ton of fun. Who knew, right?
Back to my notes:
The day after, I slept until three in the afternoon, when I awoke and ate the baguette I had stolen from the buffet. This was a good idea, as the hostel was totally closed and I couldn’t figure out how to work the vending machine. I went along to Times Up! where the wedding party was being social, and after a few hours there I went for a meal with some people. However, afterwards I missed the last bus home and discovered the hard way that the hostel is on top of a hill.
Seriously, that was some bitch of a walk back. I actually got a shin splint from the amount of walking uphill I had to do. I woke up on Monday with a duff leg, and everybody else from the wedding had either gone home or gone on a walking tour of the mountains. I decided to take what is billed on the tourist map of Linz as the steepest tram in the world, which takes you up the hillside and gives you a nice view of the surrounding area. It also takes you to some children’s amusements, which are supposed to be hilarious, and a large church done in a style that makes Rocco look restrained. I did a quick watercolour of the view:
I felt unmoved by the cheesy church, and decided to take a the tram back down. By this point I was absolutely exhausted, and ended up walking around the town looking for the Museum of Upper Austrian Dentistry. By the time I found it – next to the Doll Museum, as I guess they like to keep all their creepy museums in one place – I was too tired to go in, and ended up having some kind of noodle meal at a local restaurant. I think you can tell how tired and disjointed I was from the page I made:
Seriously, things were starting to not make sense to me. On the up side, I did manage to make the hostel’s vending machine spit out food and sugary drinks! I ate a pile of unhealthy things and went to bed early. That’s pretty much the end of my time in Linz, aside from a day spent travelling back (I got a lot of reading done, and took a lot of trains, but you don’t want to know about that). Thanks to everybody who hung out with me and put up with me alternating between tired rambling and excitable rambling, and a big ‘congratulations’ to the happy couple.
(Click above to see bigger, or here for full-screen thingy)
This weekend, I went out to Bedford to meet up with the Circus of Illustration. They’d arranged a meeting of local artists and illustrators, and it was nice to sit out on the grass and do some drawing in a group. Even if I did accidentally draw that baby with a huge head. Sorry baby.
I am pretty proud of the flesh tones in this. I’m using a ruby-red and yellow ochre to make a nice Caucasian skin tone. Up until very recently, I’ve been using too much yellow ochre, making people look really sallow – I’ve found that it has to look almost horrifically wrong when mixed on my palette, like I’m painting people the same shade as glamour model Jordan.
However, I’ve got a bit of a blog backlog going at the minute, so I’m going to be blogging my stuff in reverse chronology! I will make another two entries after this, probably over this week, detailing some of the stuff I’ve been drawing recently. Then I’ll probably have to go lie down in a dark room again, until all these interesting times blow over.
I drew this guy while he was ordering a pancake with his girlfriend, and then coloured it in when I got home. My skin tones with watercolours are still pretty bad – everyone turns out kind of sallow and pale – and this is one of the first times it actually looks like the guy I was drawing.
Before that, I had been in the Victoria and Albert museum, drawing in the cafe, and before that a quick jaunt through the Natural History museum. Just a quick aside, but I have never been in a museum where the other people where so rude as the Natural History museum, to the point where I had enough of people shoving their cameras, babies, and butts within my personal space as I was trying to sketch. It was not fun.
As opposed to the Natural History Museum, the V&A was loads of fun. They have plenty of stools available for drawing on, but I was kind of tired and had a lot of time to kill, so ended up sitting in the cafe again. The coffee there is excellent if pricey. I’ve no idea what the proper food is like as it’s too pricey for me, which is why I got told off for eating a sandwich in the 15th century sculpture gallery last time.
The Victoria and Albert Museum once ran a series of adverts, proclaiming that it was an “ace caff (sic) with quite a nice museum attached“. Since then, it’s become a world-class museum with a really motherfucking swanky café attached.
My plan was that I would hang out during the day, doing some figure studies in the V&A’s sculpture gallery, and then head over to the Science Museum’s “Lates” night in the early evening to catch a lecture. After doing a few pages of chalk studies in my slightly-too-large to scan notebook (doh!) I felt the first pangs of hunger set in. This was bad news, as the V&A café is not only super-expensive and super-swanky, but also not a huge amount of fun to sit in – it’s loud, dim, and a little on the cold side.
However, I managed to get a sandwich and a coffee for under a tenner, and then realised that it was the only place in the museum that I could do a watercolour painting – drawing rules say that only dry media is to be used in the galleries. So in between throwing the sandwich into my mouth, I did a short watercolour of the cafés’ pianist.
Afterwards, I went back to doing some chalk studies. My Edinburgh-based friend Cassandra Harrison had sent the chalk to me, and I urge you to check out her blog to read about her ongoing position as a working artist. I was using them to get a handle on the figure, copying the marble sculpture, and had a really great time – I’ll probably go back next week, with a packed lunch.
Last weekend found me at the Fortean Times Unconvention 2011, thanks to a last-minute invite from Ian Simmons. Sadly, I wasn’t feeling up to much – getting up early enough to be in London at 10ish in the morning really takes it out of me – but I enjoyed the talks I did see.
I expected the crowd to be all fat men with beards, but there were a lot of really normal people there. When I attend a conference I usually spend a lot of time drawing rows of people from sitting level, and I think I’m getting pretty good at doing the back of people’s heads now. In fact, I think I’m going to have to break out a bit, and get beyond the back of people’s heads. Sadly, it is the only thing that keeps my attention span on the talk – otherwise I would have missed the wonderful talk by Ted Harrison (top) about various prophecies about the apocalypse. His best line was when he opened to questions from the floor, saying “… and before anybody asks, I don’t know the date!”
I like going to conferences both for intellectual stimulation, and to spend time drawing people. I’ve recently been spending a lot of time staring at my own face in the mirror, so I’m getting pretty good at drawing beards – but I’d be the first to admit I have no skill at drawing women. If only they would grow facial hair, I’d be on more solid ground.
What I can notice, looking back at my drawings from early this year, is that I’m tackling bigger crowd scenes. I had to split before the final session of the day (what looked to be an excellent film by Nina Conti on ventriloquist’s puppets) as I was already worn out.
Finally, a big thanks to Ian for getting me into the conference as his “plus one”. I missed his talk about extreme taxidermy (yes, it was that kind of conference) but it was great to see him again.
So, I joined an online dating site.
And then I fucking hated it.
I messed around on the site for about three hours, filling in an endless questionnaire (which was kind of fun) and generated the above graph. It reminded me of the time that I went for a job interview at a Subway Sandwich shop, and they tried to see if I would be a good employee by asking me multiple choice questions. Just like after that interview, by the time I finished clicking an appropriate number of questions my brain went all squishy and useless.
Then I went and drew in my notebook for twenty minutes, and I felt loads better. I cannot stress how much better this simple activity made me as opposed to my digital socialising. Crazy, right? Who knew the introverted, artistic, unadventurous person would actually enjoy doing something that didn’t involve repeatedly clicking a mouse.
In my day-to-day life, it’s very unusual for me to even see a woman under 50, let alone talk to one, so it was nice to see that the wider world still contains people my own age. But the sort of online site that involves putting up a picture of you (Facebook, Google+, and dating sites) seems to totally do my head in, and part of my continued recovery is learning to avoid what does that. Still, I did get a nifty graph out of it.
As well as doing self-portraits, I often find myself idly sketching the corners of my house I can see from my favourite chairs. From left to right, the images above are my bedroom, the window ledge in my bedroom, and the home entertainment center beneath our TV. Click on the image above to see it larger.
I’ve arranged them left-to-right, earliest painted first. These are all painted on watercolour postcards that you can get pretty cheaply from art supply places. You can see my style of watercolour postcard change, as I figured out things looked better with a border, and then got better at using the Schmincke set I got on my recent holiday. You remember the Schmincke set, right?
When I finished the black and white picture of my bedroom I wanted to mail it to somebody, saying “wish you were here!”. I racked my brain for ages, but I couldn’t figure out who would appreciate the joke without thinking it was me cracking on to them. Or, alternatively, who would find a painting of my messy room really attractive. That’s right, ladies; I’m single and have a messy bedroom. Grrrr!
I swear to you, I’m not an insane person who loves myself so much I have a website where I post pictures of myself. I mean, that’s what LookBook is for (although I was tempted to make an account of myself in my usual, scruffy charity-shop clothes there as a counterpoint to all the fashion-obsessed teenage girls – I just felt that it wasn’t going to be a great venue for my form of humour).
I got the idea for doing self-portraits from the talented artist Mike Mitchell, who said that he learned to paint by doing it. His style is a very attractive sort of cartoon-based form which can also produce really realistic images, and I’d recommend a nose around his site.