(It’s gonna be) raining cats & dogs… ;)

Just a quickie, proverbially speaking – betwixt grappling with errant seagulls and diaphanous beings for the two-pronged (currently…), final, Masters Stage of the MA Children’s Book Illustration course:

This week’s post features a cat and dog sketch, both destined to join a multitude of others, that have each been individually crafted by my fellow course-mates, and which are to be assembled into some sort of fantastic throng by our very own Joe Lyward – soon to appear on exciting, purchasable items in support of our fundraising endeavour (more details coming soon!!). If you have a minute to spare, I’d be enormously grateful if you could cast your eye/s (depending on the percentage of ‘pirate’ in your heritage…) in the direction of our Facebook and/Twitter pages on this subject to find out a little more about what we’re all up to in preparation for launching the final, triumphal (*here’s hoping*) MA Show and accompanying Exhibition Catalogue. If you’d be so kind as to perform the appropriate ‘Liking and Sharing’ activities in respect of these, our Social-Media-dwelling progeny, that would also be most welcome. Ta very much. :)

Ooh…and on the subject of fundraising activities, if any of y’all happen to be in the vicinity of Anglia Ruskin University next Friday, there’s going to be a seasonally-decorated trestle table (or similar, produce-bearing apparatus) veritably groaning with tempting Halloween/autumnal cake-shaped treats in the main entrance building. And, also…FACE-PAINTING!!! We’d LOVE to see you there :)


A small, excitable Westie. With bluebottle.

A rather furtive-looking feline (I can't decide whether he's attempting to evade the proverbial 'radar', or reaching for something delicious - and forbidden - without being rumbled...)

A rather furtive-looking feline (I can’t decide whether he’s attempting to evade the proverbial ‘radar’, or reaching for something delicious – and forbidden – without being rumbled…)

Following several weeks of drawing (problematically wingèd) birds, I rather warmed to the theme of domestic-pets, and – after what will remain an undisclosed number of hours ‘researching’ cheek-achingly hilarious and downright odd cat-based YouTube videos – I had my own little ‘nuisance’ of cats. Here’s another…:


In flight. He makes it look pretty effortless, I reckon…


The rest of the week’s pencil wieldings are still trapped in my sketchbooks  (I will get around to scanning some of the more interesting morsels of that stuff soon. Probably. Most of it is in the form of increasingly-scrappy handwritten notes attempting to construct the bones of a workable story – complete with a volte-face at roughly 3-page intervals…), but I thought I’d include a progression from those rough tessellation ideas I had lighted upon, and then pretty much abandoned a couple of weeks ago…

(Do not adjust your monitor...)

(Do not adjust your monitor…)

Alas, I think there’s a little too much of the ‘Magic Eye’ effect to this pattern as it stands. I have tried a few variations on line weight and colour in order to achieve better differentiation between the birds, but have – I think – concluded that a more successful visual arrangement might arise from replacing one of the two seagulls with a budgie/parakeet (currently the secondary character in my constantly-transmogrifying MA picturebook project…). I have yet to work up a precise version of this in order to test its tessellation potential, but as it’s constructed on pretty much exactly the same tile shape as the one above, I am hoping it will be fairly straightforward to replicate – the rough idea is to be something like this:



I have a rather terrifying amount of work to do before our next tutorial session, so that’s all for now, but it looks as though it’s going to be a pretty awesome week ahead: a studio visit from the Publisher & Art Director of Hodder on Tuesday, followed by the brilliant Yasmeen Ismail (Time for Bed, Fred and Specs for Rex) on Wednesday, tutorial with the inimitable David Hughes on Thursday and (spooky) CAAAAKE on Friday!! I hope your respective weeks-in-prospect are brimming with excellent things, and thanks for reading – I look forwards to welcoming you to this little corner of the ether again soon!

AP x.




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Back to school…

OK, a good 5 weeks after actual schools (and, ergo, Marvellous Dave…), but yes, last Thursday, 2 October, was our first day back to the graphite- and miscellaneous-other-art-media-scented studios of the Cambridge School of Art, and marked the commencement of the Masters Stage of the course under the stewardship of Prof. Martin Salisbury, et al. Waking at 5am to shovel everything, tabletop-sweep-into-bin-bag fashion, into assorted receptacles and then into the car – along with myself – to drive over to Cambridge before the M25 traffic attained its customary car-park-pace flow was perhaps not optimal preparation for a day of work-in-progress presentations/’informal group crit’, but that – mysteriously – was the approach I plumped for…

These group presentations always fill me with a sort of trembling dread: for the most part, they are a fascinating insight into my peers’ working practices, ideas and creative processes – seasoned, liberally, with Prof. Salisbury’s observations and commentary, distilled from years of experience teaching similarly-aspiring picturebook illustrators, and interjections from fellow students as we ‘think around’ the challenges that invariably arise from amidst the pages of the sketchbooks/sheaves of paper being presented (although, as the day wears on – and the greenhouse-esque banks of windows in the studio work their incendiary magic –  there is a marked decline in occurrence of such verbal offerings…). For the remainder, though, (a variable period of time, usually contingent on the lateness of the day [by 3 in the afternoon, I think we were down to about 10-12 mins…]) they are a paper-fumbling, verbally-incontinent, horribly perspiration-suffused experience in self-explication (or self-apology, depending how I’m feeling about the work I’m presenting…) that frequently stutters to a conclusion with the realisation that the idea/ideas I had previously managed to convince myself would form a solid, perhaps even innovative (ok, that never happens…) basis for a substantial creative project are, in fact, hackneyed, derivative and distinctly mediocre, and in need of immediate and entirely transformative ‘reimagining’. Back to the proverbial – and literal – drawing board… Gah!

This latest crit was no exception, and I have already pretty much jettisoned one of the project ideas I presented in favour of something I hope will be rather more congruent with the picturebook-associated/child-centric brief for this stage of the course. However, I have to admit that I am still, here in week two at least, clinging stubbornly to the seagull-based idea I have been working on over the summer – chiefly because I am really quite fond of the character and his alternately conceited and moralistic approach to the life of an avian, seaside resident. But, also, because I have now given him a budgie-shaped secondary. I thought I’d include a few more pages from my sketchbooks on this project as I try and claw my way through the morass of awkward plot turns and rendering experiments towards something like an intelligible storyboard and a convincing, empathy-inspiring character with whom I can get along over the next 6 weeks, or so…

My seagull protagonist - temporarily christened Sylvester - has successfully infiltrated the home of the budgie's octogenarian owner, and is considering the potential for tea-and-cake acquisition...

My seagull protagonist – temporarily christened Sylvester – has successfully infiltrated the home of the budgie’s octogenarian owner, and is considering the potential for tea-and-cake acquisition…

A cockatoo or, er, two...

A cockatoo or, er, two…


Birthday gull.

'90s rave gull - can't fight that house beat

’90s rave gull – can’t fight that house beat


These two were colour experiments using Inktense pencils. I’m not terribly satisfied with the end result, but I do quite like the smudgy, intense colour you get by working over the initial washed pencil marks again with the intense colour – it really seems to pick up the ‘tooth’ of the watercolour paper.

More cockatoo/budgie-type birds... The exchange between the seagull and smaller, more exotic bird at the bottom of the page IS rather cartoony (TOO cartoony, I have since decided...), but I wanted to have a go at quickly colouring up digitally (as per next image)

More cockatoo/budgie-type birds… The exchange between the seagull and smaller, more exotic bird at the bottom of the page IS rather cartoony (TOO cartoony, I have since decided…), but I wanted to have a go at quickly colouring up digitally (as per next image)

A bit on the rough-and-ready side, and the cockatoo looks rather like he might have applied an all-over feather-mask concocted from some particularly lurid budget toothpaste, but (on the plus side) I like the new digital brush...

A bit on the rough-and-ready side, and the cockatoo looks rather like he might have applied an all-over feather-mask concocted from some particularly lurid budget toothpaste, but (on the plus side) I like the new digital brush…


Mmm, chiiiiips....

Mmm, chiiiiips….

I can't remember if he's squeezing his way into or out of the budgie cage, but my hope was to show that it would not be an easy or comfortable endeavour.

I can’t remember if he’s squeezing his way into or out of the budgie cage, but my hope was to show that it would not be an easy or comfortable endeavour.


Giving ‘it’ some thought

The budgie is still very much at the development stage, but I am slowly wending my way towards a ‘look’ that feels right in terms of embodying the rather more circumspect nature of this character, and this one to the right seems like it’s the closest at the moment. The colour one below was a bit of an indulgence – worked up as the image for a lovely illustrator-friend’s birthday card, and a great excuse to draw…C-A-K-E!!!

Afternoon tea with a cockatiel, anyone...?

Afternoon tea with a cockatiel, anyone…?

I’d also been attempting to play around with the idea of tessellating seagulls, beginning with the repeating patterns of M. C. Escher – celebrated Dutch mathematician & graphic artist (aim high…) – particularly those that work in tile-based patterns, such as ‘Two Birds’ and ‘Bird & Fish’ (Adam Marelli’s blog post on Alex Webb and Escher, ‘Masters of Confusion’, is an interesting source, featuring these images), and then the less regimental and more progressive, creative deconstruction-type works such as ‘Liberation’ and ‘Day & Night’. However, it quickly became apparent that my primary-school SMP-card-based lessons on tessellation were not going to stand in me in sufficiently capable stead to tackle the realisation of this idea without some considerable practise (see heinous attempt, below – any self-respecting 7-year-old would, no doubt, be horrified at the ineptitude there displayed) – and probably a closer look at the geometric foundations of a successful tessellation… *sigh* It is a fascinating visual system, though, so I have decided against completely abandoning the idea – the work of trying to fathom a workable (i.e. tessellating) seagull-esque shape is (very ponderously…) afoot!


You’ll note the similarity with Escher’s ‘Two Birds’ pattern (you WILL…) in the pencil sketch; I thought that, if I could get a handle on that, I might be able to translate some sort of osmotically-learned tessellation skill to building my own pattern – and, having abandoned that, hoped that I might be able to use various different bird poses to fill the gaps between shapes that were blatantly NOT going to fit together in the required seamless fashion… (*coughs*)

I feel that all the above sketchbook page is missing is a “See Me!” in spidery red biro…

The following image, though, is just something that I thought might be amusing to practise my embryonic and only-partially-remembered Photoshop, er, skills that I managed to dredge together last term; again, although distinctly unpolished – nay, horribly raw in places (see the terrible grey blob of generic ‘land-mass’…) – I actually rather like this, and the idea of a flock (or ‘screech’) of almost mechanical/lobotomised-looking seagulls all flapping inexorably towards the unsuspecting ice-cream-toting crowds of beach-holiday-makers is one that I find curiously appealing… ;)



In other news… The fabulous House of Illustration at King’s Cross, London, is to exhibit work by Paula Rego and Honoré Daumier (whose wonderfully atmospheric, theatrical lithographs I revelled in exploring as part of my dissertation last semester) in an upcoming exhibition entitled ‘Scandal, Gossip and Other Stories’, due to run from 14 November 2014. I absolutely love Daumier’s often rather grotesque – and almost always unflattering – caricatures, and am intrigued to see how the works selected will ‘speak’ to Paula Rego’s own dramatic and satirical pieces in this space: I CANNOT WAIT!!! :D

Meanwhile, I bid ye a mellow and fruitful autumn weekend – or some such other seasonally-appropriate greeting – and hope to ‘see’ you here again soon-ish! :)


AP x


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Flock of seagulls (no, not THAT one – I’m FAR too young… *cough*)

So, to call this a, er, “weekly” blog would be something of an ENORMOUS LIE. Ah, sorry about that… A rather event-stuffed summer has segued a little awkwardly (i.e. with a few disastrously unproductive, navel-contemplating days and a number of other miscellaneous unscheduled excursions/emergency relay races […!]/administrative disruptions) into the – now terrifyingly brief – build up to the recommencement of the MA course. Here, on the cusp of returning to Cambridge – albeit in fleeting, weekly (not a lie) morsels – I had, delusionally, pictured myself primed with a whole clutch of promising story ideas and associated preparatory sketches, together with a smattering of character design sheets, a few sheaves of potential storyboards and perhaps the odd piece of trial artwork. Ha! Obviously, being the colossally indecisive individual that I am, this scenario bears no resemblance to the one I find myself in on this slightly drear and oppressive late-September afternoon…

After desultorily sketching around an assortment of potential creatures I might bend to my picturebook-making will (including – but, alas, not limited to – hippopotami [or ‘potomuses…?], chimpanzees, raccoons [abandoned the second I came across Marta Altes’ latest, glorious picturebook, My New Home], chinchillas, penguins, geese and swans), I settled upon the much-maligned seagull. For now. (I forecast a last-minute lurch off-piste in pursuit of a hitherto untried [and, doubtless, for myriad very good reasons] species of picture-book protagonist that will transpire to be patently unsuited to its pivotal function – a decision that I will bitterly regret, but one that I will stubbornly cleave to over the subsequent 4 months before succumbing to some sort of hideous sauvignon-and-Battenburg-fuelled meltdown mere days before the Final Show. Oh yes, I am, regrettably, all-too-familiar with this particular lump of grey matter’s M.O. …)

So, herewith, a smattering of pages from my sketchbook, together with a cheeky little brushpen-and-graphite sketch from earlier in the summer (that – apologies – some of you may have come across before if you’ve beaten the considerable odds and chanced across one of my picture-shaped tweets over on the Twittersphere):

The notion that seagulls will eat anything - and have a particular penchant for junk food - is an erroneous one. Some are, in fact, rather discerning...

The notion that seagulls will eat anything – and have a particular penchant for junk food – is an erroneous one. Some are, in fact, rather discerning…

Ice-cream, though, is ALWAYS fair game

Ice-cream, though, is ALWAYS fair game

...And the stereotype definitely originated with some grain of truth...

…And the stereotype definitely originated with some grain of truth… (please excuse the rather wonky litter bin…)




He's coming for you...

Caution: Thieves operate in this area. (You HAVE been warned…)

Aside: if anyone reading is unfamiliar with the eponymous (A) Flock of Seagulls, you can discover the glorious coiffure-serie and synthy audio you have been missing (yes, I can sense how achingly incomplete you now feel your life is from all the way over here…) via the wondrous YouTube, or use this as an entirely valid reason to (re-)watch The Wedding Singer [1998] (look out for the chap at the flight check-in desk. Mighty hair.)

Well, ‘better crack on… I have A LOT of procrastinating and vacillation to squeeze into this next week! ;)

Wishing you all a delightfully aerial-meance-free weekend and perhaps I will manage to muster up another post soon/before Christmas…

AP x

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Inter-wedding post (an unapologetic[ish] miscellany)

Well then… Another long ol’ hiatus from the blogosphere – precipitated, I would just mention, by an inordinate number of social engagements and hither-and-thitherings, the abundance of which myself and Marvellous Dave (M.D.) have been, hitherto, somewhat un(or perhaps, more accurately, ‘under’) accustomed… Betwixt hen weekends in the wilds of Eskdale and ‘neath canvas in deepest Kent (this latter incorporating an artistic challenge to craft Lionel Richie’s/the bride’s head from quick-drying clay – to a soundtrack of the wildly disturbing ‘Hello’ video, by aforementioned crooner, on merciless repeat [if you are not familiar with the video – as the majority of us were, rightly, not – it is available in full technicolor glory here, but the decision to view is not one to be made flippantly: it cannot be ‘unwatched’, that’s all I’ll say…]) to keep the creative juices, er, flowing*) and various other nation-wide excursions, I have undertaken a few private commissions – including a brand identity/logo illustration and special anniversary portrait, as well as a handful of personalised cards (although I should probably admit the chief recipient as being M.D. in this latter case…).

I would’ve liked to be able to share something of the logo design on here by now, but it doesn’t seem as though the new business for which it was created has quite launched so it would be wrong to post anything by way of cheeky preview just yet… However, in the hope of proving that I haven’t been entirely idle during the gaping time-void since my last entry, I thought I’d offer up a few words and pictures re. a handful of the other projects, and respectfully request that you indulge my romantic (and only a little bit fictional…) notion of myself as a whimsical, flibbertigibbet of an illustrator – whom intersperses time at the drawing desk with other noble, summery pursuits, such as blackberrying, ice-lolly making and carefree, barefooted garden-skipping – to account for the gaps between…

Over the last few years I have undertaken a number of portrait-type commissions – sometimes entirely ‘straight’ representations, but often accompanied by a request for a touch of that most mercurial of treatments, the deployment of ‘artistic license’, to manipulate the ‘truth’ as it might be captured in a photograph and, instead, imbue the image created with a flavour of the subject’s life and character – sometimes including pertinent props, or locating them in a rather stage-managed scene – or to cast them in a particular manner, e.g. leaning towards caricature or cartoon. Frequently, these pieces have been commissioned to mark a wedding, uniting the happy pair in watercolours that they can – hopefully – both enjoy (and not be too unsettled by confronting a depiction of themselves over the fireplace (I flatter myself…)/on the stairwell wall/back of the downstairs toilet door on a frequent, possibly daily, basis). Rendering people you know, some (and their extended family…) very well, can be a rather tricky exercise – especially where a ‘degree of caricature’ has been called for (how much is too much…?! Almost without exception, I would recommend always erring on the side of caution/flattery – bulbous noses, fiercely-square jaws and ‘Royal’ ears can be applied later…). Familiarity with the subject(s) exerts so much more pressure upon the process of arriving at a really convincing likeness – perhaps because this ‘closeness’ hijacks the objectivity required to really ‘see’ the salient structures and curves of a face that describe its essential, recognisible identity, to unequivocally differentiate it from any other similar face. Learning to observe in an abstract way, to dissociate experiential knowledge of a subject from the process of rendering it, is one of the most important technical lessons I have taken from the MA in Children’s Book Illustration, but successfully achieving that distance when there is personal investment can be quite a challenge.

When I received a request from an old school friend to create a portrait to mark the occasion of her brother’s milestone 30th birthday, though, a new dimension was revealed to the burden of expectation upon my skills of representation (and which, in this case, I really feared would transpire to be woefully inadequate…). Although it would take a little back and forth to refine the exact details of the composition, the concept here was to unite two of her immediate relatives –  her younger brother and her baby (now emphatically toddling!) daughter – in a way that no photograph could (well, not without the nefarious interventions of Photoshop): my friend’s brother had taken his own life two years previously in, as one might imagine, desperate circumstances and only shortly after his sister’s wedding – meaning that, tragically, he and his exuberant baby niece (born the following year and whom, as her family unanimously reports, seems to share his musical inclinations) will never meet in the same temporal moment. Happily, a drawing is not constrained by the tyrannical governance of time, enabling one to manually construct a reality from components of one’s own personal choosing – components that may be entirely anachronistic in relation to one another and that may be plucked from anywhere on the time continuum to exist together in a perfect/idealised, alternative ‘reality’. While acknowledged as inaccurate by conventional understanding, this construct arguably has the capacity to represent a more significant truth to the creator (or commissioner, in this case), a distillation of their experience of that person (or persons) that it may take many hundreds of photographs to communicate. I don’t for a moment imagine that my humble efforts have this power – and confess that, for all their limitations, (many) photographs of both subjects formed almost all the source material (bar a hazy memory or two from my school days) for this piece – but I hope that my determination to honour the privilege that my friend and her family showed me in offering this commission has resulted in something that will bring them even some small comfort as they negotiate their lives after Martin’s death.

So, with apologies to those on Facebook whom have almost certainly already seen this, here is the result of several nervous weeks of photograph-studyings, preparatory sketchings and compositional discussions – together with a couple of the original pencil sketches I made to ‘find a way in’ to each of the subjects:

An imagined companionship

An imagined companionship




On the subject of birthdays/other anniversaries – and with considerably less preamble, you will be relieved to hear – I thought I’d also just gratuitously shuffle in the M.D.-themed couple of cards that I produced earlier this month… Well, on reflection, perhaps just the anniversary one: the birthday card was, admittedly, not one of my finest and is a particularly niche creation, somewhat inelegantly smashing together a few of aforementioned husband’s key interests (Marvel comics, card/board games, cryptic/nonsensical aphorisms…). This year marks our 4th of marital bliss *cough*, and – having been embarrassed in previous years by failing to adequately research the significance of the year (to the uninitiated in the catastrophe-fraught art of wedding-anniversary-gift-buying, each of the first 10 [or 15, if you have the misfortune to be observing US tradition in this regard…] years is denoted by a particular material, gradually increasing in value, it would seem) – ‘topical’ was definitely this year’s buzz-word. Alas, year four is celebrated by fruit and/or flowers (I wasn’t exactly inundated with ideas…): we visited a Surrey vineyard (Denbies – home of the Bacchus half-marathon [athletic activity, steep gradients and alcohol – what could possibly go awry here…?]) – where we selflessly sampled the fruits of their, er, fruits – and I presented M.D. with a totally organic, environmentally-sound wine-factory (a fruiting grape vine plant, obvs – hereafter referred to as Percy [don’t ask me…]). The card, crafted in traditionally last-minute fashion as the sun rose that very morning – and which, miraculously, I managed to avoid bleeding on despite two hours’ wrangling with a scalpel that had trouble slicing through anything more resistant than sun-warmed butter – attempted to splice together the fruit/flowers theme and my husband’s other great love: model-building for table-top gaming – here represented by an effort to evoke the spindly, plastic sprue-frameworks that litter so many corners of our tiny house:

4th Wedding Anniversary card (I think I could do with a new scalpel blade...)

4th Wedding Anniversary card (I think I could do with a new scalpel blade…)

I’m afraid the message incorporated into my white paper-sprue is not the pithiest of anniversarial mottos, but it was the best my sleep-deprived brain could muster at 5am…

There are several more cards on the horizon this month – chiefly wedding-related (our third and final wedding of the summer being in the gorgeous, undulating Eskdale next weekend [Dave is already stockpiling travel-sickness paraphernalia…]) – but I have spent the last couple of days revisiting ‘the child’, in the hope that I might improve upon the naturalness and authenticity of my depictions of children’s movement ahead of the final, Masters stage of the Children’s Book Illustration MA in October. So…in lieu of anything more entertaining, and following the rather disparate, rambling theme of this catch-up post, I thought I’d scatter a couple of these drawings in here, with the hopeful suggestion that my next posting will be a rather more coherent and structured affair…



And an ‘incidental’ of my little nephew – Theo, sporting a look of mild consternation, tiny faux-electric guitar just out of shot, as he regards my teenage niece strumming her interpretation of a Dave Grohl classic on her excruciatingly out-of-tune acoustic one.











*Lionel-lovin’,  in Das modelling clay (see, just the same…)

I think the bride's version was better - and she was blindfolded...

My heinous effort. I think the bride’s version was better – and she was blindfolded…

...and the original, from that *special* video...

And the original, from that *special* video…

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Oodles of Doodles!

While grappling with a couple of other projects this week that have proved rather more troublesome than I had anticipated, and desperately casting about for new procrastination exercises – having exhausted all the usual suspects, and a few other more seasonally-specific ones (mowing the lawn; doing a, frankly, unnecessary amount of washing just for the thrill of sun-dried laundry [yes, I said ‘thrill’ – I am over 30 now, y’know…]; inspecting all my freckles for signs of potentially-cancerous mutation; etc.) – I was reminded of the brilliant Daily Doodle , courtesy of an unusually welcome update in my Facebook newsfeed (a supremely timely intervention – I was teetering on the brink of having to break out the Emergency Procrastination Activity List: as it is, the oven remains slightly grimier than is probably ideal, but I don’t have to reclaim the Marigolds from my mono printing kit. Win!).

Daily Doodle, brainchild of the brilliant Mark Chambers – award winning illustrator and writer of children’s picture books, and generally highly talented chap (represented by The Bright Agency) – is a daily theme, posted online (Facebook and Twitter), open to doodlers of all ages and abilities to have a bit of no-pressure, sketchy, scribbly (or highly finished, as in some cases) fun with. The ‘creative outcomes’ are then posted back to the online community – via Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram – to enjoy and be inspired by :) It is a masterstroke of an idea – not dissimilar to Illustration Friday and Sketch Dailies (although IF is a weekly exercise, and SD – from what I understand – focuses more on character-based themes) – and a happily-indulged addition to the Procrastination arsenal. It’s a great ‘warm-up’ activity if you’re creative grey matter is behaving a little sluggishly – despite multiple caffeine-based offerings – or your drawing muscles need a spot of encouragement. Part of Daily Doodle’s appeal is its transience: if you aren’t especially moved to creativity by a suggested theme, there’ll be another along tomorrow, and there’s less pressure to create something really ‘finished’ than might be perceived in, e.g., a weekly challenge. It’s a great ‘warm-up’ activity if you’re creative grey matter is behaving a little sluggishly – despite multiple caffeine-based offerings – or your drawing muscles need a spot of encouragement.

However, some weeks the temptation to indulge in truly daily doodling is just too compelling to resist – this week being a perfect case in point: Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake-themed week, to coincide with the ‘Quentin Blake : Inside Stories‘ exhibition opening this week at the newly-minted House of Illustration in King’s Cross. Woohoo! (Thrillingly, Sir Q.B. also appeared on ITV’s This Morning, alongside Lauren Child and the perennially-dour [some might say morose…] Axel Scheffler – you can still watch the, lamentably-short, segment on ITV Player here for a few [4] more days.) Alas, I did miss one instalment – the #JamesAndTheGiantPeach theme – but, as this is my least favourite of Roald Dahl’s otherwise undeniably awesome tales, I am reconciled to perhaps catching up at a later date (i.e. over the weekend, when I suspect there may be other less fun projects to dodge…). According to the afore-described nature of Daily Doodles, these sketches have already all been posted online, but for those whom might have missed them and be interested, I have included them below. Daily Doodles also collates a gallery of images from each day’s theme within its Facebook photos, so please do mosey along there to see the many and varied ways in which other doodlers responded to the topics – there is some fantastic talent out there!

Also, Daily Doodles announced yesterday that some of the doodles that have been submitted over the course of the week would be selected to be shown at the House of Illustration’s House Party slideshow tomorrow night, as part of the celebrations: I was delighted to hear that my foxy poultry-pilferer will be one of them! :)


Matilda – ProMarkers and brush pen

The BFG and Sophie - ProMarkers and pencil

The BFG and Sophie – brush pen and pencil

Fantastic Mr Fox - ProMarkers and brush pen

Fantastic Mr Fox – ProMarkers and brush pen

The (delightful) Twits. Revenge is a dish...that wriggles! ProMarkers and brush pen, again)

The (delightful) Twits. Revenge is a dish…that wriggles! (ProMarkers and brush pen, again)

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Lured by the promise of bargain-price Faber Castell pencils (I’m a total sucker for a cleverly-targeted marketing campaign email…), I paid Cass Art in Kingston a visit over the weekend and was persuaded to avail myself of a few other art-material goodies, including a new trio of grey, Letraset ProMarkers together with some appropriate paper. The thinking was that any paper ground less absorbent than the sponge-like cartridge paper of my sketchbooks might return better results than I had previously experienced – which had precipitated a disgusted abandonment of the first ‘trial’ pens (by no means a cheap experiment…) when they ran dry after only a couple of uses. I still don’t really understand them (all suggestions towards demystifying their apparently perennial appeal welcome…) but, having resolved to give them another shot, I decided I’d harness them to the task of tackling this week’s Illustration Friday challenge: herewith, a rather abundantly bearded chap for your Tuesday morning…

7B pencil and grey ProMarkers on generic Marker  Paper

7B pencil and grey ProMarkers on generic Marker Paper

(I’m not 100% certain, but I think he may be an Orkney fisherman, mildly disgruntled upon discovering that he’s left his fish paste butties at home, and slowly reconciling himself to the prospect of a day on the water with only fresh, sea air for sustenance…)

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MA musings (3 of 3)

The final instalment (well, y’know, until the next one…) in my slightly-scrabbling, 3-part catch-up series of Children’s Book Illustration MA posts (I am literally blown over by the  audible sigh of relief from t’ blogosphere…). This is a rather less structured offering than the previous two (I know: you didn’t believe it possible… I am, you see, brimming with surprises!), on account of my having galloped through recounting Modules 2 and 3 of the course, and having arrived, somewhat abruptly, at the roadblock that is Module 4: the Diploma Review, or ‘dissertation’ as I have previously (and rather grandiosely, for a 6,000-word document…) described it.

While grappling with that particular word-built ogre, we were encouraged to continue developing work initiated in the previous module, both to capitalise on the progress we had made during those previous six weeks – by using the creative momentum accrued to propel our visual language’s evolution and creation of finished pieces – and to function as a ‘differently expressive’ (i.e. more intuitive, visual) foil to the, by now, disorientingly unfamiliar practise of  essay structuring and keyboard-tapping (it was clear from the briefing that some on the course foresaw boredom of sanity-compromising proportions without some mitigating activity of this order). The freedom to intersperse self-reflective, Review research with project work during these weeks was invaluable in allowing a ‘dialogue’ to develop between the discoveries and connections I was forging, and the illustration work I was producing, the one informing the other in a way that really helped train my focus on a more well-defined trajectory (where previously I had tended to cast about in all directions, hoping to ‘hit’ on something that would somehow immediately identify itself as ‘The Right Thing’ and solicitously guide me onwards towards the successful resolution of my creative quandary).

How this actually manifested, however, was as me studiously avoiding the reproachful presence of the laptop (in fact, actively burying it beneath a slew of messily arranged notes and photocopies as a primitive defence against its shinily-chiding surfaces) and scurrying off to the printroom at every opportunity – luxuriating in hours of ink daubing and smearing to test out my newly-devised approaches to achieving a quality of mark that I felt would exactly attune with my narrative purpose for the Module 3 project. Frustratingly, some of these ventures (occasionally entire days…) were rather less than satisfactory – the most extreme of which involving roughly 5 hours’ meticulous plate-inking preparation (which, on initial appearance, promised to be rather good in relation to previous attempts [if I do say so myself, etc., etc.]) almost entirely undermined by a moment’s lapse in concentration at the crucial pressing stage when, engaged in some casual chit chat about vegetable alternatives to flour in cake-making (or some such other scintillating topic), I placed the expensive Japanese tosa washi paper I had just purchased wrong-side down under the blankets… Gah! The result was a less-than-crisp, disappointingly grey print (see below) as reward for a whole day’s careful ink manipulation. The trouble with (and, perversely, joy of) mono printing is, as the term suggests, its absolute uniqueness: you only get one shot before the plate is wiped clean and that ephemeral image is obliterated forever, preserved only in whatever impression you have managed to lift with one sheet of paper*. One of those “chalk it down to experience” episodes that people ‘tactfully’ chirrup when they can see you’ve totally ballsed something up entirely due to your own ineptitude…

The unedited, raw print from the inked sheet of perspex I had been working on slavishly pretty well all day (there were many 'rubbings out', with veg oil, and re-applications). The ink hasn't taken to the beautiful, diaphanous paper as it should have, had I set the sheet correctly in the press... *sigh*

The unedited, raw print from the inked sheet of perspex I had been working on slavishly pretty well all day (there were many ‘rubbings out’, with veg oil, and re-applications). The ink hasn’t taken to the beautiful, diaphanous paper as it should have, had I set the sheet correctly in the press… *sigh*

I had to 'bump up' the contrast a little in Photoshop to try and help the image along a little.  Although I really liked the shape and movement of the mouse in the ink drawing, following my efforts to make him more 'legible', the resultant edit has definitely robbed him of some of that exuberance. Boo.

I had to ‘bump up’ the contrast a little in Photoshop to try and help the image along a little. Although I really liked the shape and movement of the mouse in the ink drawing, following my efforts to make him more ‘legible’, the resultant edit has definitely robbed him of some of that exuberance. Boo.

*Usually. Degas himself often made a second print from his monotype plate – a sort of ‘ghost’ image – then he then worked into with, e.g., or used as a ‘base’ for a painting.

Needless to say, this image did not make the ‘final cut’, and I think qualifies as a ‘blind avenue’ of creative enquiry, as Prof. Salisbury might describe it: I had a theory, a strategy for achieving a particular atmospheric, visceral (what I came to refer to, for my own purposes, as ‘a bit grubby’) quality that I had found in Degas’s monotype-based works and that I hoped to harness for my own, illustrative ends – it’s just that it hadn’t quite ‘come off” and I realised that I had underestimated the medium I had chosen. Ink demands a certain degree of autonomy from the authorial process, a freedom to work its inscrutable magic beyond the tyrannical grip of ‘the vision’ that will, ultimately, lend it a life and vigour of its very own. Well, that’s what I think anyway… And that’s what I’m attributing the above abortive endeavour to: my own jealous grasp on the image, approaching the plate with a strong vision etched (ha! Printmaking pun for you, at no extra cost…) in my mind that I fought against the ink to direct into being on the plate, instead of keeping in mind a sense of what I wanted to depict and allowing the physical process of brushing on and wiping away ink to determine how that would eventually reveal itself.


The Macmillan Prize brief also constituted a highly alluring distraction from the rather more word-centric task at hand, although by the time I had resolved to try and complete a dummy-book and sufficient finished artwork spreads (almost certainly nibbling at the heels of the very last days to risk submission by post, if not into digital-submission-only territory…), I was also beginning to revel in the research element of the Diploma Review. (I’ve included a few more spreads from my Stage Fright [almost wordless] picturebook entry, taken from the dummy book [pdf thereof] that was required to be submitted alongside the finished artwork pieces, below…)

Front endpapers

Front endpapers

First 'true' spread after title page

First ‘true’ spread after title page

(Climactic...) middle spread.  There was a version of the story with text, in which this spread would have been the only wordless one (with the exception of endpapers and title/copyright pages), designed to enhance its narrative impact

(Climactic…) middle spread. There was a version of the story with text, in which this spread would have been the only wordless one (with the exception of endpapers and title/copyright pages), designed to enhance its narrative impact


The pivotal moment… In the (almost) wordless version of the dummy submitted, this was the only spread with any text (excluding title/copyright page and, if you’re of a pernickety disposition, the first spread where there is wording on the poster).


Collective horror amongst the emphatically amateur corps de ballet upon hearing that they are sharing the stage with a small, though ambitious, rodent.

A Macmillan Prize Highly Commended-er herself, my first interview subject for the assignment (I had settled on the [perhaps inevitable, given my preoccupation with this in my own work] sprawling subject of ‘tonal’ qualities in children’s picturebook illustration, my title now being: ‘In a Theatrical Light: an exploration of tonal variation in children’s picture books, with particular reference to a parallel aesthetic in theatre and film’) was the super-lovely Paula Metcalf - accompanied, on the day, by her little dog, Walter [‘Wally’] (a very sweet, white Westie). Paula’s work – well, that which I had chosen to focus on particularly (characterised by Mabel’s Magical Garden and Poddy and Flora), but which no longer really represents her increasingly loose, fluent visual language – is wonderfully ethereal and perfectly blended to lend her images an immediate sense of a believable, real space, one that the reader can immediately inhabit, but which glows with a sort of dreamlike, fantastical quality that defines it as a magical realm of experience. She spoke of her early belief that tonal and linear marks were mutually exclusive, that one compromised the power and integrity of the other – her early ‘methodology’ privileged purely tonal rendering of objects and spaces, working as she did on a tiny scale to create meticulously gradated pencil drawings that she then overlaid with colour (for and of which she has an enviably natural affinity and understanding) – but emphasised that, following a fairly recent ‘epiphany’, this was no longer true and that she was enjoying exploring more spontaneous, expressive mark-making that combined both with colour to achieve images with a powerful sense of movement and life.

Mabel's Magical Garden, by Paula Metcalf. Publ. by Macmillan Children's Books, 2005.

Mabel’s Magical Garden, by Paula Metcalf. Publ. by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2005.

Throughout our multiple-venue interview (it transpires that the pub of Cambridge are not as accommodating of a small, impeccably-behaved dog as one might expect, or at least hope; we resorted to a selection of old-fashioned ‘boozers’ that, inevitably, practised rather bizarre opening hours), Paula was really generous in recounting her own not-always-positive experiences as an illustrator – particularly insecurities dating from her MA-student-era – and in crystallising from these the moments that had proved most valuable for her. While my enthusiasm for the subject of my Review was growing with each rambling question Paula patiently tried to interpret and answer, I found the little chestnuts of personal experience she shared seriously competing for attention and threatening to entirely occlude my focus!

In addition to considering the work of an array of illustrators whom work tonally (including Ian Andrew, Chris Van Allsburg, Stephen Lambert and Aaron Becker), I contacted three other professional ‘practitioners’ in the course of my research – Jim Kay (A Monster Calls; new ‘visual imaginer’/illustrator of the Harry Potter series; a pretty awesome [and, probably, equally terrifying] gig, by anyone’s reckoning!!); Portia Rosenberg (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell , soon to be recreated in film [casting began in March this year]; she gave a great interview about her work to the SCBWI online magazine, Words and Pictures in March 2014, which you can still read here); and Alexis Deacon (part-time lecturer on the MA; works, including but not exhaustively, While You Are Sleeping, Slow Loris, Beegu, Memory Palace, The Selfish Giant, Jim’s Lion - this last published this month [June 2014] and showcased at The Illustration Cupboard in St James’, London); Lindy-Hopper extraordinaire; general, all-round genius). All were incredibly patient and helpful in their responses, despite my characteristically verbose question-framing style: with each successive interviewee, my focus narrowed a little further, the line of enquiry became more ‘honed’, so that Alexis (whom I was most trepidatious about approaching…) was treated to the most clearly formulated set of questions – although, unfortunately, that isn’t saying much (they were hardly what one might call ‘pithy’). I won’t subject you to all my findings, but there were a couple of things that I thought might be of interest:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, illustrated by Portia Rosenberg. Publ. by Bloomsbury, 2004

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, illustrated by Portia Rosenberg. Publ. by Bloomsbury, 2004

Portia Rosenberg, whom also studied on the MA, said that she very often begins a drawing with the element(s) that most interest her – despite a more technical sense to take a broader, ‘mapping out’ approach to the scene – and that these are usually the faces of people, being especially interested in exaggerated characterisation and informed by sense of the humorous in humanity. She mentioned that one of the things she had discovered on the course, and throughout her own illustrative career, was that the ability to draw, to render visual images in a particular way, was something that it was possible to improve and develop with learning and practise; that, while one person might seem to have an innate ‘talent’, another with what might be perceived as a lesser facility for drawing had the capacity to build on their skills through intelligent observation and diligence (or sheer bloody-mindedness…) to achieve results that far outstripped what they may’ve imagined themselves capable of previously. A cheering thought.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (from original idea by Siobhan Dowd) and Jim Kay. Publ. by Walker Books, 2012

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (from original idea by Siobhan Dowd) and Jim Kay. Publ. by Walker Books, 2012

Jim Kay, discussing his ‘crude use of tone’ in A Monster Calls (his words, emphatically not mine…!!) – where the interpretive impulse of the reader is called upon to construct meaning from the “pixellated ‘noise'” of the marks – as representing something of a struggle in the creation process: that wonderfully free, expressive line that skates across the surface of the paper – often ‘skipping’ in places as the texture of the drawing surface catches/eludes the, e.g. charcoal tip, sometimes took between 30 and 40 attempts to ‘get right’, as any eraser work suddenly altered the quality and intensity of the mark, disrupting the illusion. Reassuring to hear that even the brilliant are plagued by dissatisfaction from time to time! ;)

While You Are Sleeping, by Alexis Deacon. Publ. by Red Fox Picture Books, 2006.

While You Are Sleeping, by Alexis Deacon. Publ. by Red Fox Picture Books, 2006.

On responding to a question pertaining to sources of inspiration, Alexis Deacon talked about the importance of remaining/becoming receptive to all things/people as possible sources for learning. I’m afraid I’ve definitely been guilty of being fairly dismissive of certain things/people out of a rather presumptuous sense that, either, they were merely reiterating things I already knew (albeit in the most superficial terms, sometimes) or that they were not relevant to me. Although I’m pretty sure the inclination to ‘filter’ the information I’m exposed to everyday – a reflex I think we’ve all evolved to some degree in the age of relentless sensory bombardment – will stubbornly linger, I would like to think that I am at least a little more aware of when I am ‘censoring’, and more readily disposed to interrogate whether this is done rightfully/advisedly, or whether I might learn more by disabling the filter…

In the unlikely event of any further interest, I do have a version of the final thing clogging up a few 22.1 MB of my hard drive (it includes a lot of pictures…), although I think I’d be rather reluctant to offer it up for more thorough public scrutiny; by its nature, as a ‘review’, and contrary to the usual, more scholarly form of dissertations, it is pretty subjective and focuses on my own creative development in the latter sections. (Unfortunately, next year’s 1st-year full-timers – and 2nd-year part-timers – will be offered my Diploma Review, along with everyone else’s, as guidance for their own studies at the start of this module, with no indication as to its relative merit as example…)


Here endeth the recap. And now, on with the summer!!! To whet your, ahem, appetite for forthcoming posts (I hope…) I offer one of my submissions for another, recently discovered creative warm-up/procrastination facility: Daily Doodle! (You can find them on Twitter, @Daily_Doodle, where you should be able to identify the day’s topic [either from the image contributions in their feed, or from the recurring hashtags…], and they also have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DAILYD00DLE. Open to all – doodle away, people!! :D

AP x





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