Wednesday 8 July 2015

Going BIG: Urban Sketching commission for The University of Salford

Last week I had the pleasure to complete a commission for The University of Salford, as part of their summer Undergraduate Open Days. Although I am, as a rule, teaching and pottering around campus working on recruitment events, this time (first time) my role was changed into what I do most behind the scenes (probably not as neatly dressed as I would be on a work day!). My manager at recruitment, Vicki had seen my work on Twitter and thought it would be beneficial to offer something different to the visitors coming to the open day. So there I was, on 1 July, in the sweltering heat, laying out all my brushes and my rather gigantic cotton paper, getting ready for what was going to be possibly the hottest day of the year so far. Manchester is seldom dry for more than 3 days at a time but this was the Sahara experience in itself, as the temperature rose to beyond 30 degrees. Saying that, the heat probably helped my watercolours a great deal, not to mention that I needed a top-up from my Tenerife tan which is probably going to be a thing of the past soon. To detail:

Day 1 - 1 July

My location, marked on the map with the little grey pin. This is basically the Frederick Road Campus,    home to Visual Arts and mainly health courses. 

Starting out, dressed as a Parisian flower-seller, I must have confused the bypassers quite a bit. My drawing board is laughable given its A2 size. The sheet was 1 m x 750 mm. 
I'm not the numeracy queen, am I?
Photo credit: Gary Duncan

...4 hours later. 

Photo credit: Salma Begum

...5 hours later. 
The final image is a combination of the pallette below and my newly-adopted Carbothello pastel pencils which I have become completely besotted with. Special thanks comes to Estates who have made sure
they provided regular check-ups on how the sketch was advancing and of course, provided me with the table.

The DIY pallette I used for this sketch. From top left to bottom right: quinacridone gold, olive green, cobalt turqoise, violet dioxide, phtalo turqoise, turqoise, permanent sap green (or should I say, what was),
Winsor blue, scarlet lake, Winsor yellow, yellow ochre, Payne's grey. 

Day 2 - 4 July

Day 2 was all about the blend between old and new. With Peel building in shot, I had a panoramic view across the main footpath 
that snakes past Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Peel Building (1896) and finishes at the future New Adelphi (completed cca. March 2016)

In addition, the weather decided to bugger off a bit. Note how I'm much less tropical in this one. I also posted myself under a fir tree to avoid
further sunburn. The downside was all about the wildlife falling from the tree at strategic times...mostly bang in the middle of a watercolour wash.
Photo credit: Fiza Ikram. 

An hour later...then, 3 hours into the process...

To the final sketch:

The colour pallette used here was the same as the one used previously with the exception of the quinacridone magenta. 

Both sketches will be framed and displayed in the recruitment office, respectively the reception area of Humphrey Booth House, which is currently undergoing cosmetic regeneration inside. 

All images ©Adelina Pintea and the authors, as specified.

Monday 19 January 2015

What’s in a drawing? The Strength of a scribble

A question on facebook recently about what sketchers get from drawing by artist and teacher Roisin Cure really got me thinking. I was actually already thinking about it but it got me even more thoughtful about certain experiences that have developed my approach, be it, a book (Drawing on the Right side of the Brain by Betty Edwards comes to mind), a course (Sketchbook Skool comes to mind) or a group (Urban Sketchers, particularly Urban Sketchers Manchester comes to mind). I have been starting to consider the great things about what it means to me to scribble and how it has changed my perception of the world around me. It may sound a little far fetched to say ‘it has changed my life’ but I certainly believe that drawing/sketching/making art has a huge amount to offer and really does change my perception and understanding of what’s around me.   From listening to and reading about others, this certainly doesn’t seem to be an usual response either, others are equally enriched by the process.  On reflection, here, in nutshell (or should I say in a very small sketchbook!) are the things I see as benefits for me, at this moment in time:

The process of sketching helps calm my mind and focus my attention        
I often have difficulty on keeping my attention focused upon one thing and this creates stress and
 anxiety. I flit from one thing to another and this compounds my ability to concentrate, creating a somewhat nervous disposition.  To be honest, its something I have come to live with and over the years, it seems to have worsened.  Through sketching, I am able to just focus on the drawing, nothing else. It calms my mind and enables me to relax. I become completely absorbed in the drawing and the process, giving me valuable ‘time out’.  I have not found anything else that is able to do that!

It enables development of a much better awareness of the world around me and a deeper understanding of the places I live and visit   
Since becoming a member of the Urban Sketcher community, going out and about, particularly in Manchester with Urban Sketchers Manchester and beyond, I have developed a greater awareness and interest in the city I live in: from the new modern skyscrapers to the old Mills and other stunning historic buildings; their colours, textures, scale, detail. The same applies when I visit other places. Through the drawing, I am able to unpeel some of the physical layers and develop a better understanding of the place. This is an ongoing process of understanding and revealing!   What fun!  I am aware of more of the dynamics of the place, the festivals, events, traditions.  It makes for a much richer experience and helps with feelings of belonging, helping connect me with others, be it through social media or other means.  When standing outside, people may come up and chat, either about the process of drawing or about the place.  It all adds to the experience and the ‘Sense of Place’.

It provides me with a record and therefore a clearer memory of an experience, a visit etc.  Recording visits and trips in the form of a scribble, provides sketchbooks to revisit and remember-to recall ‘that time when I was drawing that’. Through drawing, I have to study the place/the person/the location so much more than I would usually do. I have to stand/sit and look and look. It etches it on my mind and provides a richer, more vivid memory.  This is where the reportage comes into its own in a sketchbook.  The notes accompanying a scribble provide valuable clues and dimension-I need to get better and creating these diverse and richer pages of narrative in my book!  Here are my scribbles from last year’s trip to Wales.  I remember it all the better for the scribbles!

 It enables me to see the extraordinary in the ordinary Even the most simplistic of everyday scenes have a depth, substance and interest when looked at carefully, with more than a cursery glance!  This narrative develops the more you scribble and draw. It provides you with a visual clarity, a fascination, a better pair of glasses!  Even the most supposedly ordinary of places and things, train stations, street furniture, queues are the most fascinating when you look carefully!

Sketching enables connection with like-minded people  
Through the drawing groups I belong to where I live and also on line. This type of support is great because it provides friendship and a forum for dialogue and development of understanding. It’s a richer and more fulfilling way of living! In addition, through sharing these drawings on-line, it enables engagement with others that may have some connection with the drawing, be-it a memory or sentiment about the place or an understanding of its significance or history.  This Cooperative building in Pendleton, Manchester is a good example.  The Manchester Tour Guides  posted a picture on social media and it prompted dialogue about the building, its history and me to go out and draw it!

Sketching gives me a voice and allows me to express my views of the world through a visual diary
Of course, there are lots of ways of expressing yourself, but I find drawing to be a great way of self-expression. Through the recording in sketchbooks, adding notes and other memorabilia I have a record of that time and place and of my ‘take’ on the scene. It is mine and mine alone, my visual signature.  You only have to attend an urban sketching session to see the variety of ways in which a scene can be seen!

Finally of course and perhaps this was the main driver in the first place:

Through regular practice, sketching enables me to develop my drawing skills and improve my artwork It is a slow and continuous process but also one where progress is clearly noticeable as time passes. Over time, my ability to see, and to tap into ‘The Right side of the brain’, continues to improve!

I'd love to hear other sketchers views on why they draw! 

You can check out more of my scribbling practice on my blog:

Best wishes and thanks for reading  

Saturday 3 January 2015

Reflections of a beginning urban sketcher...

...or what I wish someone had told me at the start of the year.

As I write this I’m sat at a cafĂ© in a small seaside town where my family live; I‘m reflecting on my urban sketching adventures and thinking about what I would tell myself as I sat here last New Years Eve having not picked up a pencil in 15 years. Perhaps this might inspire someone else to pick up a pencil and draw his or her life.

The remains of the pier in the seaside town where my family live

1 – draw, draw, draw – the more you draw, the better you get. It’s all about practise not making it perfect.

2 - Draw the everyday things around you, the coffee cup, the cake, the pens you use, and the shoes on your feet. 
The coffee table at a friend's house
3 – Don’t rub out those mistakes, learn from them and live with them. Often when I thought I had done a lousy drawing, I looked again, a while later and could appreciate it much more.

4 – Don’t get sucked into thinking you have to have the right materials to draw – use what you have, if you don’t like it what you have then ask for advice from others, borrow stuff and try it out and if you don’t like something – perhaps, find it a new owner or home. Don’t think that having the most expensive stuff is the key – three pencils, a waterbrush and a pen were used in my favourite sketch of the year.

5 – Try not to work across too many sketchbooks – taking them all out makes your bag very heavy.
I’m now working across 3 – an A4 moleskine, a medium sized one and a Stilman and Birn Epsilon book…

6 – Date your sketches and number your sketchbooks – it helps to see your progress

7 – Your sketchbooks are precious –but not so precious you are scared to make mistakes or not use them.

8 – Ask for advice and feedback from others, it can be a little nugget of advice that can move you forward. One of the best I received was two words about drawing people ‘draw bigger’. Thank you, Lynne.

Tram bridge in Sheffield, one of the pieces produced in a workshop run
by Lynne Chapman - Afraid of Colour?
9 – Add your thoughts to a sketch, it helps to remember what you thought of it, what mistakes you
noticed and what you thought went well.

10 – Carry a sketchbook and a pencil or pen… always.

11 – Draw often, short but everyday is better than 4 hours once a month. If you think you don’t have time, turn the TV off and turn on your creativity.

12 – You don’t have to share your sketches until you are ready to. My early ones were not seen by anyone.

13 – Drawing ‘bits’ is less intimidating – a nose, ear, foot, window, door rather than a whole person or building.

14 – The ephemera of life can be worth keeping – I spent a lot of time on trains – those tickets are stuck into the sketchbooks… collage is art…

One of the many train tickets from this year.

15 – Review your sketching kit regularly otherwise you will take everything including the kitchen sink. Make each piece earn a place in your daily kit. Thanks Liz Steel.

Part of my kit, drawn one evening

16 – A little bit of perspective knowledge goes a long way

17 – Simplify – you don’t have to draw everything, exactly as it is.. embrace wonkiness. See the stained glass window in this painting.

I simplified the stained glass in this window and experimented with wet in wet watercolour (with bunny)

18 – Eventually you find some materials and a style, enjoy them but carry on developing, experimenting and learning.

19 – Add observations to your sketches – my favourite from a gentleman while his daughter watched me ‘it’s like photography, only slower’

20 - Seek out and share inspiration with others, follow them on facebook, twitter, pintrest, flickr, post your sketches online, join an online class, watch a you tube video… look for those nuggets to help you move on.

This was done after taking Paul Heaston's class on Craftsy

21  - Don’t give up, when you look back you will be able to see progress.

With thanks to all the Urban Sketchers who I have met, followed and/or drawn with from across the world. Particular thanks to Lynne Chapman, Simone Ridyard, Mike Dodds, Adelina Adelydee, Ann Marie Percival, Andrea Joseph, Paul Heaston and Liz Steel.

Below is my picture of the year; one of the totem poles in the British Museum - a culmination of all the advice from above :o)

I blog at and am on Twitter as @bunnyscribbles

Sunday 19 October 2014

Finding the time to sketch

It’s often an excuse we give ourselves... never having the time to sketch. The group meetings get us together and give us an incentive to draw. But what about in the meantime?

Personally I get a bit jittery if I haven’t sketched for a while. If a weekend has gone by without at least one page in the sketchbook completed then I feel somehow unfulfilled. Yes, I have to admit that over the last 18 months I have become a little obsessed about urban sketching, maybe even a little addicted. It does that to you.

But finding the time is always the challenge and yet, looking back at my sketchbook over the past week, I realise that I’ve managed to get something down on paper most days.

I’ve taken to splitting a page lengthways and then, if I only have 10 minutes, I start to draw something from the left and seeing how far I get. The next time, I draw from where I left off. Over a week or so the page builds up to be an interesting visual diary of where I’ve been. In this case, mostly train stations and park benches... and waiting for my son to appear from rugby changing rooms!
The quick sketches build up to make a 'visual diary'
Sketching doesn’t always have to be in our sketchbooks either. The idea of having to sit for an hour or two to complete a full page sketch in our favourite book can be daunting and gives us another excuse for not drawing.

I have a smaller book, only 5x6 inches, in which I scribble on the bus, while watching television, or as a warm up to a ‘proper’ sketch. I don’t often show this one to anyone and was a bit taken aback the other month when I did and someone said they liked this one better than my watercolour Moleskine!

So, as some sort of catharsis, here are a couple of (edited!) pages from my small book.

A smaller book for those 'scribbles' and experiments
But there’s more to finding the time than literally finding the time and, looking back at The Creative License, I see that Danny Gregory agrees. He writes: ‘Is time your problem? Or fear?  I find that people have the write to me and tell me they don’t have the time to draw. Weird. In the time they write the note, they could have done a drawing or two.’

So, there it is. We can all find a scrap of time, a ballpoint and the back of an envelope, but maybe what holds us back most of all is the fear of making an inadequate drawing. Maybe I should have done a couple of drawings rather than writing this blog post; and maybe you should have done one rather than reading it!

How do you find the time to draw? Or what stops you from putting drawing pen to paper?
Post some comments here or on the Manchester Urban Sketchers Facebook page.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Manchester Urban Sketchers goes to Liverpool for 44th World Wide Sketchcrawl

After a week of work and some procrastination that preceded getting down to actually doing some planning for my badger books, I got so distracted that I nearly forgot that Manchester Urban Sketchers were going to Liverpool this weekend for a bit of sketching. I knew the Mondrian  and His Studios exhibition was still on at The Tate so it got me quite excited about doing some doodling at the docks. The weather up here in the north has been surreal for the past few days, with the usual 'it's hot but pass me the oxygen mask' feeling being completely absent, to everybody's relief. No doubt the rain will start swiftly moving in and soon we will be back in our July scarves and gloves. Nevertheless, this summer has to be enjoyed while it's here, and that's exactly what I did today.
To start off, the docks are a vast collection of sketching subjects and being apprehensive about my fear of contraptions and vessels, I set off with a clear understanding that this would not be a walk in the park. Instead, it would be constantly challenging due to the people constantly passing by, stopping to watch me sketch and oh, the worst, asking me about what I was doing. Don't even get me started with the 'oh, how lovely, my eldest son has just finished his work for one of his art projects in high school, he also loves watercolours but I haven't got the time for that' line because I may start hyperventilating and become aggressive. To my absolute delight, the only substantial disturbance I had to survive today was a group of French students who genuinely liked what they saw in my sketchbook and politely asked to take a photo, asked me the axiome-like 'do you like Paris?' question and swiftly cleared the scene.
Trying to squeeze the Museum of Liverpool, the Liver Building, a dazzle ship and a ton of chains and fencing on a small landscape Moleskine sketchbook was not only ambitious but also dangerous to my tendency to lose control. What really caught my eye in this one however, was the dazzle ship, seen on the right hand side. This one is actually a new addition to Liverpool's docks. The First World War vessel has undergone the stripe treatment not too long ago in an attempt to recreate the concept of the 'dazzle ship'. The idea, born in 1917, was used as a strategy of distraction by the British merchants against German U-boats in WW1 and ultimately, served as a method of causing confusion for the opponent. Some of the original dazzle ship designs are even more incredible than the one at the docks, but all in all, I find this very example quite cute and weird. 
As I said, today,much more than any other time, I felt that I had to be led by colour because as soon as I let go of the Sailor pen, the lines would just build and build, until I would completely overdo the entire scene. Therefore, I lay a few washes of gray, red, yellow, blue and red and let the lines take control afterwards. I must say, this is an approach I take when I get spiral eyes from too much detail and it hasn't let me down yet, nevertheless, today I feel like I could've taken it a bit more lightly.
Strangely, the most enjoyable bit of this sketch was the repetitiveness of the colourful triangles. I know, I'm sad.

As much as it's thought that I spit these drawings out like a laser jet printer, today I moved at  a snail's pace, took 10 minutes to have my nomad-style flask soup on the bench with Lucie, a fellow sketcher, and before I knew it, bang goes 2 pm and we moved over to the Museum of Liverpool. This is were I got completely charmed by my new discovery: LAMBANANAS.

This is a row of Lambananas outside the museum of Liverpool. I just think they look like sheep that have had a sniff of hallucinogenic materials. Photo credit: TripAdvisor.

I found a brief but interesting history of what and where the Lambananas came from here, so I'll spare you the babbling I would otherwise go into trying to explain it myself. The Lambananas are in short, an epic fusion of the present and future, science and art, a banana and a sheep. The last bit is just my two cents...I  obviously had to soon get over my fascination and start sketching but the sheer geometry of this place was quite sharp and cold. I suppose I always prefer places with more variation in perspective and architectural detail so good job the aforementioned sculptures were there to infuse the experience with a bit of fun.
For a building that was finalised in 2011, there is something very 'sixties' about it. LAMBANANA ON THE LEFT!(I'm not shouting)
Time flew once again and by 15:30 we were all back to the Tate to showcase the work we'd all done. An official photo should be up on the Manchester Urban Sketchers page soon, so that will be a testament to the number of people who turned up today and hopefully, had a very good time. I took a couple of pictures of all the work that's been laid out on the floor, but such a general image would not do justice to the quality of work produced today.

To everybody's amusement and my obvious excitement, Mike, a fellow sketcher and must say, most organised art supplies owner I've ever met(his bag is a precisely organised art shop I could never aspire to) pulled out a miniature Lambanana fridge magnet out of his bag. I now own the Lambanana and I shall paint it soon!

Need I explain? I said I'm sad.

Once the day was done, we got some chocolate ice cream to reward ourselves, successfully got in the car and more successfully managed to find the M62 back to Manchester. That's enough to warrant another ice cream. Thank you!

Friday 9 May 2014

Sketch Your World

For my dad it was always cigars before he gave them up. Then stem gingers became the default present for birthdays and Christmases. Happily for me – since I started drawing last year – the latest sketching book comes my way on these occasions. I just have to drop a hint as to which one and my partner and children are happy to oblige. Problem solved.

James Hobbs’ Sketch Your World was on my wish list for my latest birthday and, some months later, it still has prime spot on my bedside table. I am still unearthing nuggets of creative wisdom.

Like our very own Simone and Caroline, James is a correspondent on the Urban Sketching main site where he’s described as a freelance journalist and artist. He’s a former editor of Artists & Illustrators Magazine and has been shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize.

I’ve admired his work for some time. One evening some months ago I even took my Sharpie marker and tried unsuccessfully to emulate his distinctive style. Not even close, but that’s how you learn, right?

James’ book works on so many levels: there’s basic stuff about pens and sketchbooks, as well as profiles from a range of contributors all with words of wisdom and encouragement. James writes about everything from learning to look, to how to make your own sketchbook; there’s chapters on architecture and reportage, people and nature.

As you might expect from someone who combines ‘new’ technology with his hand-drawn sketches, there’s a section on digital tools. ‘Drawing’ on the phone or tablet is not for me just yet. So much of my professional time is in front of a screen I really don’t want to spend precious leisure time doing the same. Besides, I’m enjoying the very basics of making marks on paper. Maybe it’s a bit like the Kindle versus the smell-and-the-feel of-a-real-book debate.

Increasingly relevant to me is when James talks about time. ‘How long have you got?’ he asks. And it’s so true. I think a lot of people use a lack of time as their excuse for not drawing. And yet it is easy enough to find five or ten minutes even on the busiest of days. I have a couple of books on the go: a small one for the ‘quickie’ on the bus or train and a larger version for the more considered attempt. Actually I’ve lately taken to dividing a page in the larger book into smaller squares which does the trick too.

One of the contributors, university lecturer, Steve Wilkin talks about keeping up with his drawing by sketching his fellow train passengers on his daily commute: “In all the years I’ve been doing it, nobody has ever come over and asked me to stop,” he says. That’s good to know. His portraits are wonderful and Steve offers encouragement and advises us all to just keep doing it... we will improve. That’s good to know, too!

This book hits the spot again and again for me. It inspires you to keep going, keep looking, try new techniques and it sets you off investigating established sketchers. Better than stem gingers any day.

Sketch Your World by James Hobbs

View on Amazon here and buy online here.