I’ve got lots of exciting new projects in development for 2016. One is a picture book about a bowerbird and an orangutan – more on this later I hope, but in the meantime here are some character sketches using household paint, watercolour pencil, and good old Quink.
I’ve been a fan of Viviane Schwarz’s wonderfully inventive and interactive books for a long time, so when I spotted that she was offering a one-day workshop looking at illustration from a theatrical perspective, I thought it was too good to miss.
Art Kraken is a creative studio run by Viv together with Ellan Parry and Sarah Grange, both of whom have theatre backgrounds – all of which added up to a very inspiring, playful and invigorating day. I won’t go into too much detail about what we did – but it was a huge amount of fun, involved experimentation AND costume changes, and I really recommend booking on the next one if you get a chance.
I spent yesterday afternoon up to my chest in the river Wandle in the glorious October sunshine, using crowbar and steel toecaps to loosen up mystery objects and remove rubbish from the riverbed. The Wandle Trust holds river cleanups once a month, and I’ve been a regular volunteer for over 12 years (you can see my Wandle Alphabet here).
Casting about for a subject to try making a graphic short (or even long) story about, I decided something set in the river would be perfect. I know every bit of the river so well, and just how it feels to be working in the water, how it smells and sounds. I started thinking about some characters who work in the river, but was lacking a story – until Polly, who works for the WT, told me about The Ghost Carp back in August. Apparently it’s a giant white fish, rarely seen, and it causes a frisson of interest among anglers.
Inspiration struck when I remembered Herman Melville’s epic, Moby Dick – the ghost carp can stand in for the great white whale, transposing the setting from Cape Cod and the wild Atlantic to an urban river (and trout stream no less).
Now the story is coming together, and I’m planning the pages. I took a bit of time out from being in the water yesterday to sketch my fellow cleaner-uppers, to use for reference later. Watch this space!
I’ve been very busy with my scissors lately, working on spreads for a brand new picture book to be published by Otter Barry Books next year. It’s a charming text by Paul Stewart about a penguin who wishes he could fly – with many other bird species included in the story, so great fun to illustrate.
I’m doing the book entirely in collage, so have been racing through the Pritt sticks. My studio is covered in colourful swatches, and I even have a box of eyes of all sizes ready to be used. It’s a medium I really enjoy working in – I’m using all sorts of scraps, some made with paint, others ink, and some are fragments of monoprinted textures left over from my community art project in Twickenham earlier in the year.
I loved comics when I was a child, and used to go off to the shop on a Saturday to buy the sadly long-gone ‘Whizzer and Chips’ or ‘Shiver and Shake’. Later I made my own comic books as a teenager, mostly inspired by daily life and my sister, while others included a fantasy inspired by a young couple I had seen in a documentary.
Many, many years later a friend told me she had enjoyed a course at the Royal Drawing School, ‘Drawing the Graphic Novel’ – and something struck a chord so I signed up. I’ve just finished the second of two terms there, and loved it – our homework in week two was to keep a comic diary, and I am still going with that, five months later. Our tutor was Emily Haworth-Booth, who was a very inspiring teacher: I really recommend this class.
Shown above is a story I started to develop in class based on some things I had recorded in the diary. These included a dream about an Environment Agency Fisheries Office who investigated murders in his spare time, and a story my old schoolfriend told me about the police combing the railway embankment behind her home for evidence in a murder case, and finding her escaped tortoise. Earlier in the year I visited the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent, where I saw a range of Victorian murder figurines – in those days people could buy a set of murder-themed figurines, including murderer, accomplice, victim and crime scene – incredible! So I am planning to work this into the story too…
The final class of term was when everyone presented their work – and the range of stories was fascinating. I’m looking forward to hear more of all the stories as the class have agreed to keep in touch and share work in the future.
I’ve always loved making trails and guides – I first made one for our family back garden when I was a child. But it was a double-treat to be asked, earlier this year, to design one for one of my favourite museums – the V&A.
This amazing treasure-house is somewhere I often go for fun and inspiration anyway, so it was delightful to be able to walk round the collection with a sketchbook and say to myself, “this is actually work.”
The family trail has now been printed and is available for free for any families visiting the V&A – it takes you round highlights of the collection on the ground floor, with suggested activities and some space to draw.
After six months of research, planning, workshops and tonnes of scanning – it’s finally here! My community art project with Sue Edkins was launched yesterday at Diamond Jubilee Gardens, Twickenham, under a blazing hot sun with many of the participants – from age 8 to over 80 – there to see their work on public display for the first time.
As I posted when we first began in January, the project is Twickenham’s version of the ‘Fourth Plinth’ – a public work of art that changes every couple of years. In Twickenham’s case, however, it also involves the community, and the work of many, many hands can be seen in the three finished pieces.
Four classes of children from St Stephen’s Primary School took part, producing the most characterful set of drawings based on stories and postcards showing Twickenham’s involvement in WW1, from sporting heroes at The Front, to the Belgian refugee community, to Richmond Park as a training camp and convalescent hospital. They also made monoprinted textures, and experimented mixing paint to create panels for collage.
We also had a huge number of collage motifs, created by two groups of older people and also by members of the public who came to a drop-in workshop in the park. These form a decorative border around the three panels.
With a red-hot scanner burning up from working so hard, we pieced together these hundreds of individual elements digitally to create three colour-keyed scenes telling the story of Twickenham’s War.
The frames were appropriately covered up with camoflage netting to increase excitement as we waited for the big moment – then the children helped whisk off the net and then immediately rushed around spotting their own work – a lovely moment we’d been waiting for a long time!
The work will be on display until 2018 when the centenary years of WW1 come to an end – so if you are near Twickenham, do go and take a look – there’s an excellent cafe in the park and a lovely river view into the bargain.
Many thanks to the many people who made the project possible – to the Arts Team of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames at Orleans House especially Rachel and Carla for commissioning us, giving us studio space and being fantastically supportive, to everyone who helped with the research, especially Helen Barker, and to Ruby, Anna, and Ashley who all helped with the workshops, to St Stephen’s Primary School for taking part so enthusiastically, and to the Greenwood Centre in Hampton and St Stephen’s Church Monday Fellowship Group for producing beautiful motifs. And finally to Jagon, Chris, Luke, Roger and Mark for helping install the work in Roger’s amazing Frame!
I’m busy in the studio experimenting with different media for my new book, Pink Lion – to be published by Walker some time next year. Because of the story, the predominant colours are yellow and pink – sadly not complementary colours, so I have become very fussy about exact shades of mustard, coral, bubblegum etc. in my attempt to find the right ones.
Browsing through a book of Picasso’s drawings and paintings, I saw that he often used household paint. So I nipped down to Homebase and came back with a bag of tester pots with delicious names like Cumin and Hibiscus, and have been having fun experimenting with some very rudimentary old school brushes, scribbly pencil and line applied in Indian ink with a chopstick. I’ve also been trying out a more digital approach.
More on this project soon!
We’re putting together three huge images for display in Diamond Jubilee Gardens, Twickenham, all inspired by Twickenham’s role in the First World War.
The launch is planned for June 26th, so I can’t show any more now – but here are just a small sample of the wonderful drawings produced by Year 4 and Year 5, which I have coloured digitally. They are full of such freshness, life and character, I am rather envious of the children’s drawing skills…