Earlier today I received notification from WordPress that my blog had just passed the one thousand followers mark – small beer in blogosphere terms but still a remarkable number to me. Many thanks to everyone who’s taken the trouble to visit, it makes all the time spent composing these posts worthwhile and has in turn introduced me to any number of unique and talented individuals via their own blogs. It’s a fascinating world out there – keep up the good work, people!

Here, to return to a well-trodden theme, are a selection of life-drawings from the last few weeks, both analogue and digital (you know the drill by now…).

Michaela, back from an extended period of travel:23Sept14–Michaela@SCACx4

Some sketches from a Picasso-themed drawing session hosted by Draw last month:22Sept14-LauraN-Picasso@TOM22Sept14-Picasso@TOM_iPad


Laura Kate:7Oct14-LauraKate@SCAC7Oct14-LauraKate@SCAC_iPad

… and finally Laura B modelling at SCAC last Tuesday (you might need your shades for that third image – apologies if your retinas start to burn):14Oct14-LauraB@SCAC_114Oct14_LauraB@SCAC(lo-res)14Oct14-LauraB@SCAC_214Oct14-LauraB@SCAC_3

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Sixty Reasons.

It was my friend Justin’s 60th birthday last week. You know – the chap with the chalet in La Clusaz where the self-styled ‘Sonneteers’ gather for their annual ski trip? That’s the fella.

Anyway, earlier in the year some of his other friends sounded me out on the possibility of commissioning a bespoke illustration as a birthday present. I was happy to take it on – there was plenty of time to fit it in and these private projects usually provide tons of artistic freedom and can be a lot of fun. I decided early on to go for a format I’ve used before when making birthday images for members of my family: a visual compilation of items of significance to the recipient, arranged in a grid of squares corresponding to the landmark age in question and headed ‘x reasons to be cheerful at x’ (where x = the relevant age). Make sense?

The x-factor this time round was, however, significantly higher than on those previous occasions…

Any project like this requires a very methodical approach and before any sketching could start, we needed to compile a list. I jotted down a few initial ideas but they fell well short of the requisite sixty. Try it yourself – it’s tricky, even for someone you know well. Fortunately, some of the others had known Justin since University days and were able to provide plenty of anecdotal inspiration and even a few extremely useful reference snaps. With the final list complete, I then found myself somewhat masochistically dividing it into separate topographical categories after I spotted that most of the sixty items would lend themselves to being placed into a particular section of an underlying background landscape. This in turn led to the eventual layout in which a scenic backdrop is anchored to a tightly-structured grid, with individual items alternately boxed-in or placed within the context of the background. Once the tortured logistics of all this had been worked out, the actual content thankfully fell into place with relative ease.

Here’s how it evolved. First off, the aforementioned grid; this provided the scaffolding for everything that followed. Boring but essential for a piece as complex as this:

Basic CMYK

This is the final rough sketch, after all the content had been fine-tuned and agreed on:


I then produced a basic, minimally-detailed background in Illustrator:


…followed by line artwork, drawn in six sections using SketchBookPro on the Cintiq. Dividing it up like this keeps the file size down and ensures a snappier performance from the software: Justin's_60th-Linework_section1

Here you can see the rough sketch with its opacity reduced, and the line artwork traced over on a separate layer: Justin's_60th-Linework_section2Justin's_60th-Linework_section3Justin's_60th-Linework_section4Justin's_60th-Linework_section5Justin's_60th-Linework_section6

The various elements were then assembled in Photoshop, with colour and typographic content (created in Illustrator) added on separate layers. Keep clicking image below to enlarge for a detailed look:


Finally, here’s the birthday boy with the finished item, giclée printed on textured art paper and simply framed in white. I’m pleased to say it was enthusiastically received and came as a complete surprise to him; everyone involved had kept impressively schtum.


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Cabinet of spontaneity.

I picked up a freecycled filing cabinet last week at a big clear-out of used office equipment just down the road from where I live (ta for the heads-up, Fred!). It’s not that I suddenly needed to accommodate a freak influx of un-filed documents, it was more a case of wanting some extra storage space for the ever-expanding mounds of studio clutter that currently have no obvious home.

The cabinet, while in perfect working order, was a depressingly municipal brown & beige number so I decided to jazz it up with a quick re-spray and some entirely improvised black enamel graffiti. Gave it some Paul Klee and took the line for a walk; the sort of un-planned doodling that I generally do far too little of. It was, needless to say, great fun.

Here’s the ‘before’ version, with the handles removed and ready for spraying:


After one can’s-worth of spray paint:


After two:


I walk the line…


… et, voilà!


(other side):


Finally, in situ, one upcycled filing cabinet – looking right at home:



I’m pretty sure it won’t be too long before further items of entirely blameless furniture are subjected to similar treatment. This could become addictive…

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Deficit reduction.

The flesh deficit, that is.

Here’s a selection of life-drawings, all but one produced on the iPad, from the handful of sessions I’ve managed to attend over the last couple of months. It’s been a period full of extra-curricular activity and sundry distractions which has consequently left a lot less time to spend on drawing. Either recreational or, more worryingly, professional. The onset of Autumn (in the calendric if not, as currently, the climatic sense) should see a welcome return to something like normality.

From the top down we have Laura Kate, Izzy and Laura N, the latter from a couple of days ago.

On an entirely unrelated note, the Scottish Referendum is being held today. We could all be waking up in a significantly diminished Great Britain tomorrow.


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Gone West.

Just back from a week in one of our favourite English resorts – St. Ives in Cornwall. We’ve been there a number of times before but have still not properly come to terms with just how far away it is; the length of the drive down there always somehow manages to surprise me, as do the inevitable high-season traffic delays.

It passed by all too quickly in a blur of simple yet reliable pleasures: cycling, coastal walks, Cornish Pasties, wet-suited forays into the freezing Atlantic, pints of Doom Bar at the Sloop Inn, a visit to the unique Minack Theatre (very entertaining production of Spamalot on this occasion) and, in the odd spare moment, pulling out the sketchbook…

I’ve lost count of the number of drawings I’ve made of Lynn reading. Here she is stoically ignoring the plummeting evening temperatures in a fleecy winter top. August doesn’t get much more English than this.St.Ives-18Aug14

I don’t generally draw too many landscapes but the Cornish coast is a pretty alluring subject so I gave it a couple of quick shots.St.Ives-19Aug14

Sat sketching boats with Lynn from the harbour wall until they rose up (and changed their orientation) on the incoming tide. Heavens opened around the same time so took shelter and several cups of coffee in a nearby café. St.Ives-20_1Aug14

Chloë and her Australian friend Emma, who both joined us from Amsterdam on Tuesday. They wouldn’t sit still for a minute.St.Ives-20Aug14 1

Apologies for the name of the card game being played here. ‘Poo-head’ is a perfectly acceptable alternative in polite society.St.Ives-22_1Aug14

Porthmeor Beach; headland laterally compressed to fit on the page. That’s artistic licence, that is.St.Ives-22Aug14

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Cross-Channel Baggage Handlers.

Our daughter Chloë’s Erasmus year in Amsterdam has finally come to an end. All the early trepidation about spending a year living and studying abroad were soon banished and it’s fair to say that the whole experience has been one of the highlights of her life so far. Its value, in terms of that most fashionable concept ‘personal growth’, has been off the scale; to anyone out there weighing up the pros and cons of a similar decision for themselves or their offspring, I would say just go for it.

It came with certain parental advantages too, providing us with a welcome if barely-necessary excuse for a few visits to Amsterdam while she was there. The latest of these was last weekend, ostensibly to retrieve Chloë’s belongings and transport them back home but, aware that this could be our last trip to the low countries for quite a while, we extended it to four nights including two in Bruges, en route.

I’m pleased to have visited Bruges – it’s a picture-postcard pretty place as most people know – but it does feel somewhat like a film-set that exists purely for the benefit of tourists of a certain age (realise I have to be careful here – this is MY age I’m talking about…). In the evening, by 10pm, the restaurants had a definite ‘Haven’t you got homes to go to?’ atmosphere about them. Undoubtedly worth a visit but party central it ain’t.

The three of us made a little Vine all about Belgian culture while we were there (hover over the image to access the volume control):

The trip accidentally became a bit of a Jan Van Eyck pilgrimage after I discovered a previously-unknown painting (to me), Virgin and Child with Canon Joris van der Paele in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges. The gallery houses a wonderful collection, particularly of the so-called ‘Flemish Primitives’ but this piece towered over everything else there. A miraculously detailed, hyper-real oil painting from 1436, when the medium was still relatively new; a stunning work. While in Amsterdam we discovered that Van Eyck’s generally-acknowledged masterpiece, his Adoration of the Lamb altarpiece (to my shame, another artwork I previously knew little about), was exhibited at St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, a short detour from our route back to the ferry terminal in Dunkirk, so we stopped off on our way home to take a look. The interior of St. Bavo’s is extraordinarily ornate – a rococo explosion of religious iconography – and justifies a visit in its own right but the undoubted centrepiece is the Van Eyck polyptych, which is encased in glass in its own room (admission 4€ inc audio guide) to be gazed upon in awe-struck reverence. The religious significance, as ever, was wasted on me but artistically, it’s a thing of wonder. If you get a chance, do go and have a look for yourself – reproductions cannot come close.

I’m aware that the chronology of this account is now veering all over the place but also while in Amsterdam (keep up), Chloë took us to see a fascinating project on the north bank of the Ij, the 3D Print Canal House, where experiments in 3D-printing are being carried out including the construction of a house from components made with the huge ‘printer’ they’ve installed on-site. This is still a fledgling technology but there are clearly some highly creative minds already exploring its game-changing potential across a whole range of applications. It will be very exciting to see how this all evolves; the possibilities seem virtually limitless.

I think it might be time for some pictures, albeit with only a tenuous connection to any the above.

The weather in July was wonderful and what joy it was to be living by the seaside. Here’s my post-swim better half drying off in the sun:26July14

My Mum came down for a few days recently and also enjoyed Mediterranean-style conditions:2Aug14

The DFDS Dover – Dunkirk ferry. We’d had a very early start:7Aug14_1

A bit of mutual sketching at a bar on the Markt Square by the Belfort in Bruges:7Aug14_2

Sheltering from the rain with a bowl of superb bouillabaisse:8Aug14_1

Taking a break from dismantling Chloë’s spectacularly disordered room in Amsterdam:9Aug14_1

Biercafé Gollem in Amsterdam. There’s something indefinably perfect about this tiny bar; a plethora of effusive online comments to that effect suggest plenty of others agree. Tucked away but, if you’ve even a passing interest in beer, well worth seeking out:9Aug14_2

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Fish Stick.

For the twenty-three years we’ve lived at our current address, we’ve had the same neighbours to one side of us: two elderly brothers, Dave and Roy. Actually, our twenty-three years makes us relative newcomers to the road – these two have lived here their whole lives. Literally – the house previously belonged to Dave and Roy’s parents and they’ve been here ever since. We were made to feel welcome from day one and our relationship just went from there.

Just recently, Roy, an inveterate angler, has had some quite serious health issues and one of the consequences is that he now needs to walk with the aid of a stick. So, in the spirit of ‘if you’re given lemons, make lemonade’, he decided that if he was going to be carrying a stick with him from now on, he might as well use the opportunity to make a bit of a personal statement at the same time. Which is how I came to be asked to decorate his walking-stick with fish – my first ever such commission, you won’t be at all surprised to hear but one I could hardly refuse.

I won’t pretend that a thin, cylindrical object is an ideal canvas, that I’m a natural fish artist or that my choice of matt emulsion (a most unforgiving medium) as the ideal paint for the job was in any way inspired, but once it was finished and given a couple of top-coats of varnish, it actually looked pretty striking and Roy seemed genuinely delighted with it.

It’s difficult to do justice to a wrap-around image in a single photograph, so I cobbled together the following, which inevitably ended up looking like one of David Hockney’s photo-montage pieces:



… and in use:Roy&Fishstick

The fish, in case you’re interested (or in case it’s not obvious – far more likely) are, from top-to-bottom, Brown Trout, Salmon and Rainbow Trout. So there.

We had a new model at the club last week – Irma, who’s over from Spain for a few months studying. She was very good; here are a few 10-minute sketches from the evening:


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