Category Archives: sketchbook

Skim Sky Blue


From 2 – 18th May I’m going to be holding an exhibition at The Art Cabin gallery in Southfields, London, inspired by the river Thames. I’m still at the planning and researching stage, but you could say I have been researching it all my life as I’ve always loved the river and spend as much time as possible on it, in it or beside it. Last summer I sculled from Lechlade to Teddington in a traditional Thames skiff (about 120 miles), and also walked the upper, non-navigable parts from the source back through Cricklade. As well as soaking in the sounds and smells of the river I took dozens of photos, and have been using these for reference to draw lots of thumbnails of different aspects of the river. I’ve been preparing surfaces with oil paint and other media for making some collaged work. (I’ve got an excellent colour a friend gave me – it’s Gamblin Torrit Grey, the colour they create when they mix together all the leftover bits of paint in the factory. And it’s exactly the colour the Thames is in winter – perfect!)

Tate Britain has also been a good source of inspiration – I’ve been looking at Thames scenes by Turner, Whistler and Walter Greaves. Very interesting to see all Turner’s sketchbooks and colour trials too. I’ve also been looking at John Piper’s collages from the 1930s.

The exhibition will be called Skim Sky Blue, which is actually a quote from Charles Dickens that I came across while researching a family trail for Kew Bridge Steam Museum. Dickens visited the pumping station in 1850 to write an article in his magazine, Household Words, and when offered a glass of untreated Thames water he said it looked like “a dose of weak magnesia, or that peculiar London liquid known as ‘skim-sky-blue’ but deceitfully sold under the name of milk”. Although he didn’t mean it as a compliment, to me it sounds just right – a little bit ethereal and rather poetic.

Glass slugs and other delights


I spent the afternoon sketching at the Grant Museum of Zoology, part of University College London. It’s an amazing collection of zoological specimens and other oddities, such as the mid-18th century Blaschka glass specimens – beautifully detailed life size models of snails, slugs, jellyfish and squid. Other favourite items included a disembodied chimpanzee hand, a jar of moles (rather like a jar of sweets but more macabre, with little pink paws instead of wrappers), and a large model of an elephant’s heart.

Australia sketches

I saw lots of exciting and inspiring wildlife in Australia, from the embryonic Portuguese men o’war that look like inflatable blue slugs to some very very cute koalas including one that sat at the very top of a thin tree just like a pinecone. But my favourite is the bowerbird at the Melbourne Museum – I am going to write a new story about bowerbirds and their love of blue things. The cheeky runaway koala was at Sydney Wildlife Centre.

Sketchbook selections

Here are a few sketchbook images that I showed to children at Wimbledon Chase and Cricket Green schools to introduce the School Arts Partnership project.

Preparatory sketches for a painting of the Wandle Creek Delta

Study in acrylic of the Penthouse Restaurant at Daniel’s Department Store