Monday, 18 April 2016

A bird's nest in Mayfair

London is a big place, and it's hard to think of it all as home. We all have our parts of town that mean most to us, and for me that's the north and the east, and parts of the centre I know best. So I become a bit of a tourist in places like Mayfair. It's one of the city's richest parts with impressive architecture and plenty of displays of ostentatious wealth, which I usually look at with bemused detachment. Above, though, nature takes its course. It may be an old, empty nest, but it survives in a budding tree just around the corner from the Ritz Hotel (below).

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Back to pencils

Derwent Graphic 4B

I drew with pencils (or charcoal) for years before I took up the thick black marker pen. The shift was for a variety of reasons, not least my love for intense blackness and the permanence of ink. But when I was sent a variety of Derwent drawing products recently, it was no hardship to try them out.

There's nothing quite like a pencil. I have written before about why I find them so fantastic: their natural, organic quality, their glorious subtleties of line, their apparent omnipresence (is there a home in the world without at least one, or a shopping street that doesn't sell them?), and their overall honesty (what you see is exactly what you get, and you're not left wondering how long it is before they run out).

Derwent Graphic 8B

The way you work has a big influence on what pencils you may need. I have rarely used the harder pencils from the H end of the scale in Derwent's Graphic set, preferring a 2B, 4B or 6B. Using softer pencils mean they need sharpening more often, if that is important, and that they get worked down more quickly, but this is a small price to pay. It's fun just to pull the point across the surface of the paper: the feel of a pencil on the paper is so nuanced you can sense the texture as the graphite is applied in a way that you never do with the ink of a marker pen.

The Sketching set is a softer, thicker graphite, in HB, 2B and 4B. I think it is only as I am using these that I realise how much I like the point of a pencil. It's the precision – the lack of "sketchiness" – that is appealing about a pencil, just as it is the uniform, relentless directness of a thick black marker pen that I find appealing.

Derwent Sketching 4B

My problems with pencils? They can be more subtle and "sketchy" than I like, and don't always show up strongly when posted on social media. A dropped pencil can mean the graphite shaft is shattered so a sharpened lead is quickly broken, especially with softer pencils (although getting a set in a tin helps to reduce this likelihood). But for all that, pencils are a beautiful thing – my thanks to Derwent for sending them for me to try.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Back at Millennium Mills

London's Urban Sketchers had their second visit to the huge £3.5 billion Silvertown redevelopment site in the old Docklands earlier his month, currently a deserted, windswept wasteland, but within the next ten years or so, we are promised, a booming new high-tech neighbourhood of waterside homes, jobs, shops and leisure. We have been invited to record the changes to the 62-acre site as work continues, although the major building work has yet to begin.

Since our last visit, the changes are, it must be said, not too obvious. But with asbestos removal complete, this time we were able to draw from the 11th-floor roof of Millennium Mills, a cavernous, derelict flour mill on the site that is under restoration. From its roof we could trace the Thames snaking through East London communities on its way to the coast, with the skyline of the city's financial district in the distance to the west.

The place has a gritty charm. It's popular with urban explorers and location managers. From the rooftop we could see police cars and the flames of a burning vehicle on a distant part of the site – surrounded by a film crew. And for all the rubble, nature has a grip: the sound of birdsong rises in between the roar of planes at nearby City Airport. 

You can find more about Silvertown and images by the visiting team – (above from the left) Adebanji Alade, me, Jo Dungey, Isabel Carmona, Simon Privett, Simone Menken, Nick Richards and Daniel Lloyd-Morgan – on the London Urban Sketchers blog, and there's more about our first visit here. Our thanks to Silvertown Development for inviting us.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Encre et Stylo: out now

My new book Pen and Ink is published this year, and first out of the blocks is the French edition, Encre et Stylo (Editions Pyramyd), on 11 February. Editions in English, German and Spanish are published later in 2016 – more news here when these come out.

The 208-page book explores the wide variety of approaches that the medium embraces, the range of pens and inks the artists use, and insights into how and why they use them. It includes around 100 images, by international illustrators, artists, urban sketchers and students – some you may know already, some you probably won't.     

Who is in Pen and Ink? Here's a list of the 34 artists who generously agreed to let their images be used. My heartfelt thanks to them all.

Phoebe Atkey, UK
Cachetejack, Spain
Cynthia Barlow Marrs, UK
Michelle Cioccoloni, UK
Caroline Didou, France
Nicholas Di Genova, Canada
Jedidiah Dore, USA
Rohan Eason, UK
Joan Ramon Farré Burzuri, Spain
Pamela Grace, UK
Marina Grechanik, Israel
Tyga Helme, UK
Amer Ismail, UK
Sabine Israel, France
Nina Johansson, Sweden
Loui Jover, Australia
Òscar Julve, Spain
Eleni Kalorkoti, UK
Fred Kennett, UK
Olivia Kemp, UK
Ch’ng Kiah Kiean, Malaysia
Chris Lee, UK
Dalit Leon, UK
Michael Lukyniuk, Canada
Fred Lynch, USA
Joe Munro, UK
Fraser Scarfe, UK
Rolf Schroeter, Germany
Suhita Shirodkar, USA
Mike Slaton, USA
Swasky, Spain
Susan Toplitz, USA
Patrick Vale, USA/UK
Wendy Winfield, UK

There are some drawings by me as well.

You can order the French edition on Amazon now.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The view from a Welsh window

Here's a view of the cottage in which we stayed over the new year: a good, deep window ledge on the first floor, well-insulated windows, half-finished cake, the Guardian's prize cryptic crossword (also half finished), the strains of BBC Radio 4, and wild acres of rain-drenched Welsh fields across the valley to draw. And time.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Back from the Beacons

We had a quiet few days over the new year in the rural isolation of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. Isolation is a relative term – it was only a few hours' drive from London along the M4 – but from the window of the converted barn at a sheep farm we were staying in we could see only one distant farmhouse in the broad panorama across the valley. When darkness fell, theirs was the only light we could see. Apart from one night, New Year's Eve, when the clouds drew back to reveal a dazzling range of stars of the kind you never ever see in London, our time there was accompanied by long periods of rain and more rain. The fields oozed under our feet, and torrents ran down the lanes.

The broad window ledge of an upstairs room was an ideal place to perch to draw the scene. Buzzards, or perhaps red kites, sometimes as many as four or five, drifted across the sky. Occasionally, the heights of the distant hills would become blurred by passing clouds. The number of cars passing outside our barn at Tircapel Farm during our entire stay? We didn't see one.

The UK is a small, highly populated country, but its green lungs, such as the Brecon Beacons, remain fantastically unspoiled. And uncrowded, too, at this time of year and in this kind of weather. But with thick stone walls and few, small windows, the barn was a calming refuge.

Happy new year.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

New from Simone and Pete

Two new books have been published in the past few months by artists well known in urban sketching circles, and I have drawings in both of them. Archisketcher by Simone Ridyard and Creative Sketching Workshop by Pete Scully are both published in the UK by Apple. With Katherine Tyrrell's Sketching 365 and my own Sketch Your World, they make up a quartet of drawing books published by Apple that reveal themselves through the similar covers and designs (well done that RotoVision team).

Simone's Archisketcher focuses on the nitty-gritty of urban sketching: architecture. It has drawings by about 40 artists, and I particularly like the way it gets beneath the surface to look at how cities have changed and developed, focuses on different architectural styles, and explores the characters of neighbourhoods well known to particular contributors. It is great to be led through the streets by Simone, who is a Manchester-based architect and senior lecturer — she is playing a central role in the annual Urban Sketchers symposium that heads to that city in July 2016.

Pete Scully is based in Davis, California, but English — we've only met once at a sketchcrawl he organised through the East End. His book, Creative Sketching Workshop, takes the form of a series of workshops by 12 artists who each explore their own approaches to particular themes, such as drawing in bars, making travel portraits or street sketching. Each section starts with a jumping-off point to get you started, followed by a series of examples by the artist. It's a book, like Simone's, that urges us to get out and draw.

They are on sale in the usual places, usually close to Sketch Your World and Sketching 365.