Archives for category: Graphic Art

It’s that time of year again – the 1 Week 100 People sketching challenge.

I’m not going to stress myself by trying too hard to hit the target of 100 people, although you never know – but I haven’t been sketching fast enough or for long enough. But for me that’s not really the point – I’m getting a lot of practice – and I’m using the challenge to sketch in different ways. Some more successful than others – but all fun.

I sketch a lot from the TV – anything I happen to be watching, news broadcasts, dramas, documentaries, films. People moving are a lot more interesting to draw than people caught in a still photo, and there’s such a huge variety of faces and expressions.

But then there’s always the challenge of doing a bit of a portrait study from a photo, and I realised I’m not even restricted to drawing living people – so here’s Robert Browning, from an incredible portrait photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron. The drawing doesn’t do the photograph justice – he’s actually far more charismatic and doesn’t look half as pale and worried.

I’d said I would draw from images of the students who survived the Florida school shooting and who have been campaigning for gun control and I have a number of photos that I intended to sketch, but today when I looked at them I felt very reluctant to use them in this way. I may come back to them but it doesn’t feel right at the moment. Instead I drew from a photo of two young armed women police officers who were patrolling the area around the school just after the shooting.

Impossible to record everything I felt as I sketched this; I haven’t caught the complexity of emotion on their faces but there was so much there – anxiety, determination, shock, and a sort of stoicism and sense of duty. I couldn’t help but be struck by the amount of arms and weaponry they carry which seems overwhelming, and the fact that they both look so young. I felt it shows a lot, too, about the way an incident like this traumatises the whole community and what a burden of responsibility is carried by the police and security services, and also all the teachers and staff at schools across America – who incidentally do not want to be asked to carry guns.

And when I can I sketch from life! The task of nail-cutting, requiring concentration and a lot of movement in the hands, which explains the confused blurriness of fingers.

The week goes on – I’ll post more towards the end of the challenge.

And a technical note: I’d recently ordered some De Atramentis Document Ink Thinner from The Writing Desk and it arrived just in time for me to try it out this week. I love it! You can use it to dilute De Atramentis ink and I’ve mixed this lovely pale grey using blue + brown mixed with thinner. Great possibilities…….

Throughout the whole restoration project at Cliffe Castle I was reluctant to draw the new glasshouses, at first because the site was mostly hidden behind security fences and was hard to see. I sketched the dome when it first arrived on site and later when it was raised, by a huge crane, and carefully lowered onto the framework.

And earlier still, right back at the beginning when things were being demolished, I sketched the old glasshouses to capture them as they were before they disappeared.

But for the last month or so the terrace has been complete (although we’re still waiting for the animal houses and aviaries to be finished) so I didn’t really have an excuse, other than the weather. I kept telling myself I really must have a go, but every time I looked at them I was alarmed by the technicalities – delicate white glass structures are hard to draw and the dome is full of complex elipses, (spot where I got that wrong) not to mention the perspective and the fact that whole thing is built on a hill. So in the end, especially as it’s still cold and often windy (today we’ve got intermittent storms of sleet) I took numerous careful photographs and worked from those. I don’t really enjoy doing this – it doesn’t give me the buzz that working directly outside on location does, and I never feel I’ve really connected with the place – but it does mean I could take my time working out how to get to grips with all that spindly white framework. Unfortunately it also made me work less spontaneously and fluidly and much more tightly than I normally do these days – but hey, these things happen. Now I know the structure better and next time I sketch it – from life, hopefully! – I’ll be more relaxed and look forward to drawing it in a completely different way.

Permanent waterproof ink for a fountain pen is an essential part of my sketching kit. For a long time I used just Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, which is a good waterproof ink – and then I discovered De Atramentis Document Inks that are available in black and a series of colours. These inks are a pleasure to use because they flow so well, never seem to clog or dry up in the pen, and are reliably waterproof.

Now there’s a third choice, Rohrer and Klingner Document Ink stocked in the UK by The Writing Desk. These inks state that they are ‘Permanent and waterproof inks suitable for all fountain pens, certified to ISO 12757-2. Water, light, alcohol and bleach resistant.’ I’ve been testing them against Noodler’s Black, and De Atramentis black and coloured inks.

Cat drawing, ink and wash

Cat; Rohrer and Klingner Black Document ink in a Lamy Safari fountain pen, with watercolour wash.


Toadstools; Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink and watercolour

Teddy Bears Picnic, ink and wash drawing

Teddy Bears’ Picnic; De Atramentis Document Ink Brown with watercolour wash

I decided to run tests to compare:
a) how the blacks vary in colour,
b) how resistant they are to water,
c) how well they flow in the pen and if there’s any tendency to dry or clog, and
d) how they feel in use – how freely they flow on the paper.


Testing for resistance to water on ‘challenging’ paper where I knew the ink would tend to lift

a) Colour: De Atramentis and Rohrer and Klingner are both rich intense blueish blacks; of the two I’d say the R & K is slightly darker. Noodler’s is warmer, more of a charcoal black.


Testing for water resistance on ‘reliable’ paper where ink seldom lifts with a wash of water – though Noodler’s can be unpredictable! Plus a test of a mix of R & K mixed grey, Light Blue with a drop of black.

b) Water resistance: both Noodler’s and De Atramentis achieve resistance to water by reacting to the cellulose in the paper, and I believe that Rohrer and Klingner inks use the same chemistry though I haven’t been able to find any technical information to verify this. Although all three inks are waterproof, this varies according to the paper so I did the first tests on paper I knew would be challenging, and a second set on paper that usually accepts the ink well. I did tests applying water over the ink immediately (the right hand columns on my test diagram) and then after about an hour (the columns on the left). Of the three the De Atramentis came out top, with R & K a very close second and Noodler’s third. On the ‘challenging’ paper you can see the ink has lifted and bled a fair bit in some cases; on my regular ink-friendly paper the Noodler’s still lifts a bit (OK, actually it surprised me and bled a lot – it’s more unpredictable than I’d thought) and the Rohrer and Klingner pretty much stays put, and so does the De Atramentis.

c) Flow in the pen: a lot of people report problems with Noodler’s ink drying in the pen or with it not flowing well, and although in my Lamy Safari I’ve never had this trouble I have found it a problem in a Sailor pen. (I now use De Atramentis in this and it’s a huge improvement). I tried the R & K in a Preppy pen as well as my Lamy Safari and found the black tends to dry in the nib a bit, so that when I came to start drawing after not using the pen for a while the ink wouldn’t flow until I got it going. (Rohrer and Klingner do tell you always to replace the cap of your pen when not in use, and I always do this anyway, with any pen). The coloured inks don’t seem to be so inclined to dry in the nib – the Light Blue in my Preppy pen behaved impeccably.

d) Flow on the paper: the Rohrer and Klingner inks are a joy to use. Like De Atramentis Document ink they feel wet and smooth as they slide onto the page and flow consistently so that drawing with them is a real pleasure and they performed well in all the pens I used to test with – the Lamy Safari, the Sailor with fude nib, and a Preppy.

imageI painted a quick colour chart of the R & K range and was able to compare the brown with the De Atramentis Document brown (which I use a lot); the Rohrer and Klingner is darker and cooler, the De Atramentis warmer and more orange (which I like, for drawing).


Finally, I realised that the Light Blue would make a lovely soft blue /grey with a touch of black added to it. From the colour charts online this Light Blue looks paler and slightly cooler than the De Atramentis Blue. I wonder how this mixture would compare to De Atramentis Fog Grey – (which I don’t have but would like to get). I’ve now mixed a small amount of black into the blue so I can try it in a pen.


Trying my mixed grey R & K ink in a Preppy pen – drawing some little bottles of liquid acrylic and then painting with watercolour. I wanted an even paler line colour than this – I overdid the amount of black I added to the ink mix – an easy mistake to make!

I’m impressed with the Rohrer and Klingner inks. They’re smooth flowing, very resistant to water and the colours are lovely. I particularly like the Light Blue because it mixes with black to make such a nice pale blueish grey. The black is beautifully luscious, rich and dark and flows nicely in the pen, and my only concern is that it doesn’t always start to flow straight away when the pen hasn’t been used for a while. I don’t know what would happen if you left a pen unused for several days or even weeks – I haven’t had the inks long enough to try this out.
Will I be using them? I certainly want to go on drawing with the light grey mix I’ve made, so the Light Blue is on my shopping list. The other colours are probably not really useful for me personally, but they’re tempting. As for the black, apart from mixing small quantities of it with Light Blue I’ll probably stick with De Atramentis Document Black, as it does everything I want it to do – but I’d happily use the Rohrer and Klingner Document Black as a replacement, and from now on Noodler’s Bulletproof Black is a fall-back, and going into reserve.

Cliffe Castle, Cricket and KiteI celebrated World Wide Sketchcrawl day sketching in the grounds of Cliffe Castle in Keighley and although I went there intending to draw the house (which is not really a castle at all but worthy of drawing nonetheless) to practice sketching architecture, as usual I got sidetracked as soon as I saw three generations of one family on one of the lawns with cricket stumps and a bat, and later on playing with a kite. Drawing people for me is irresistible and however difficult it is I just have to try. I’ve had such a good time following the advice and tips that Marc Taro Holmes has been giving out on his blog – wonderful resources that he gives away free from his workshops on drawing people in motion.

Cliffe Castle, Saturday afternoonI’d been following reports from the USK symposium in Singapore – wow! What a wonderful thing it’s been – just watching videos and reading posts has been enough to fill me with even more enthusiasm for urban sketching. And now we hear that next year the symposium will be in Manchester!

I’ve only recently realised that sketching soft toys can be almost as interesting and challenging as drawing people – or at least it is when the individual in question is a loved and cherished character. It’s just as important to get a good likeness, and the shapes and textures are just as unpredictable and unknown. I occasionally draw a stuffed rat that I’m especially fond of (he came from IKEA).

Soft Rat

On the 11th August I’m going to try to be at the Teddy Bear’s Picnic at Cliffe Castle; there should be plenty of subjects. Little stuffed creatures are somewhat easier to draw because they don’t move about much, but accompanied at the picnic by their owners this may be less so. And I may find myself distracted once again by wanting to draw people. Who knows?


I’ve been sketching people quite a bit lately and mostly while they’re moving about, which is a challenge, to put it mildly – but it’s what I want to draw more than anything else at the moment.


I find it irresistible and at the same time frustratingly hard. I realise that I’ve forgotten much of what I knew about figure drawing and it’s such a long time since I attended a life drawing class – which I’d love to do again – but in the meantime I want to understand more about how bodies move – what really happens for example, when we walk? There’s nothing like direct observation – watching and drawing as much as possible is the best way to improve – but I don’t have enough opportunity.

I trawled the internet, and after a few red-herrings and blind alleys I came across this tutorial from Elfwood, called Figure Drawing: Basic Pose and Construction.

It’s really designed to help animators and graphic artists but it’s a good step-by-step workout to help you understand how the body is constructed and connected, and how it moves, and it’s all about using stick-figures, or what we used to call pin-men.


This is where it all became a lot of fun. I hadn’t drawn stick-figures for years, and I’d forgotten how expressive they can be. But this lesson takes you further than just those rather stiff little pin-men everyone loves to draw, and introduces an advanced species of figures that have shoulders and pelvises, who have all the major human joints and a bit of spring and curve in the spine. Before long they’re capering about across the page and doing things you recognise but would have struggled to draw. I was hooked.


The next step is to flesh them out and give them a bit of substance, and here I’ve departed a bit from the tutorial which sticks to a more geometrical approach with simple cylinders for the trunk and limbs, but I was in a hurry to get my little tribe looking a bit more lifelike. They took on a life of their own remarkably quickly.

The question of whether all this helps when drawing real people from life was answered for me when the boiler repair men came and I drew them surreptitiously from behind while they were working. One of them was stretching and peering and grappling with the boiler while the other watched, and I realised I could sum up each movement rapidly in my head as if I was looking at a stick-figure with clothes on.


This is them, on the left and right of the page (though not at the top left – they didn’t arrive holding a flag on a pole or hopping on one leg -) and although baggy combat trousers don’t help show off what the legs underneath are doing, stick-figures really helped me see what his whole body was doing as it moved – even if I didn’t have any idea about what he was doing to the boiler.

There are days when I want to draw and just can’t get started.
Just like writing – sometimes I need to play around and not think, but just get some stuff down on the paper. I came across a lovely idea the other day from Moose Allain, and it’s more than just fun – I never know quite where it’s going to take me.

You start by splodging some colour in blobs on the paper. (I didn’t photograph that, I was too busy wanting to get to the next stage.) Then you draw simple faces on some of the blobs. And then you see what happens next….


Some background setting puts things in context (though doesn’t necessarily explain things, which is part of the fun). A few more details…


……and a story starts to emerge. Then it’s just a question of trying to work out what’s going on, and listening to what’s being said.


It’s a bit like slipping down a rabbit hole and finding yourself in another place, in a world where anything can happen.

Where to next?

Window sill vase

I didn’t think I’d be able to do this.

On the window ledge in my bedroom is a translucent glass vase. It has a bunch of very beautiful peonies in it, artificial but lifelike and nice to gaze at when I’m resting in bed. I particularly love watching it as the light outside fades at the end of the afternoon and the glow from the street lamps slowly collects in the glass, as if in some magical way light is drawn into it and then trapped there. I thought I’d try drawing on my smartphone while lying down – just to see if I could – and to my surprise I soon realised that this is one very compelling reason to use a drawing app. Even on very small screen (I have the smallest smartphone on the market) I managed to draw most of what I wanted. I just had to cut off the tops of the peonies. And I could never have done this on paper or in a sketchbook from my resting position on the bed.

When I started playing with digital drawing I didn’t think I’d be likely to take it seriously but somehow I can’t put it aside, and I’m not sure why. I need to get more comfortable with it, and faster too; but even at this stage I can see some of the advantages. I also need to avoid some of the pitfalls, one of which is the relative ease of making images that are pretty and slick but not honest, not really well seen. An easy trap to fall into. But it’s going to be fun grappling with this, and that’s important; having fun is good.

This post is part of a series in the Draw More Project – an investigation into what drawing means to me, what it can do, and why it’s important. It’s a practice, an exercise, and a journey of discovery all rolled into one.


I’ve been looking at different apps for sketching and painting on a tablet, and it’s a pretty confusing thing for someone like me who trained long before anyone had computers in the home or studio, and digital artwork was unknown.

I was at Goldsmiths’ College in the 1970’s. This obviously wasn’t my only source of learning and I’ve been adding to my understanding of materials and techniques ever since – adding things like printmaking and silversmithing through courses and workshops – but I’ve never had the chance to learn things like photo editing, and until I recently got a tablet and a smartphone, I’d never tried digital drawing or painting.

I’ve experimented with a few different apps, but I like to approach the learning of any new skill by trying to grasp the basics so in the end I opted for the simplest one I could find, Mobile Sketch, which does seem to do most of the things a more sophisticated app will offer without being too confusing. Since they all come without instructions and assume you know what things like layers are, and what they’re for, (I think no-one who designs these things can actually bring themselves to believe that there are still people like me on the planet, who didn’t grow up almost permanently attached to one electronic device or another) I’ve had to discover what’s possible by just splashing around and experimenting – which isn’t a bad way of learning. If I pursue it I’ll seek out tutorials on YouTube!

The first thing I did after simply covering the screen with various different swooshes and speckles and colours of infill was to try a stylus rather than my finger, and found that with this simple app most styluses (stylii?) work OK, so I can draw in a way that is not too unresponsive. Finding this rather fun I then realised that I could edit and adapt and add to photos, so after entertaining myself adding the effect of mist and fog to some landscape photos, I imported a watercolour sketch of the trunk of a beech tree I had in my sketchbook and added a background to the plain white of the paper, which was easier than I’d thought.

Saving the picture to the device (this is on a Samsung Galaxy tablet) seems to reduce the original jpeg to a much smaller png file, so the resolution is not all that great, and when I experimented today with a quick drawing of a glass vase done on my smartphone, the end result was the same – a very small file. This doesn’t matter for the time being as I’m only keeping anything I do like this as a kind of digital sketchbook for now, but nevertheless it’s something I want to understand more about.

digital, glass vase

There’s no point in pushing a medium to do something it’s simply not able to do all that well, so I’m not trying to replicate the kind of drawings I’d do if I were holding a pencil or a brush. I’m interested to see what I can do on my tablet and phone that I couldn’t do in a sketchbook. I’ve been looking at all sorts of digital art and admiring what some people do – there’s some incredible work out there and the best digital art looks like just that, good digital art, not pretending to be a watercolour or a pastel or an oil – but I’ve also seen a lot that seems a bit lazy and predictable. Drawing, for me, is always about recording, exploring and learning, so that’s what I want to use this digital thing for – another new tool, new skills, new possibilities.


Walking The Dog

Continuing to draw in ways I wouldn’t normally choose I picked up a very soft, thick graphite pencil lead and tried to think in terms of areas of tone and not line.

Line is actually an abstraction – we don’t see outlines around objects, and so defining the contours of something or showing tonal values by hatching with lines is a graphic convention that we have learnt to accept and understand. We don’t see like that. I am extremely short-sighted and without my glasses the world is composed of blurry masses. When I got my first pair of spectacles at the age of six, I remember being astonished to see that trees were more than fuzzy masses and that it was possible to see individual leaves and twigs even at a distance. I sometimes wonder if this is why I have always been inclined to draw fine detail and not to use bold, broad strokes, and why the first tool I’ll always reach for is always a pencil or a pen, not charcoal or a brush. Ever since that first pair of glasses I’ve been celebrating the fact that I can see more than the broad picture. But the devil is in the detail, and a drawing is not just the sum of its parts. The whole, in the end, is far more important than each tiny composite portion.


Old Sheds

It can sometimes be a good idea to make things a bit difficult by choosing materials that might not seem right for the job. I’m no masochist and I’m not trying to jump through hoops for the sake of it, but if you go on picking up the same tools every time you start drawing you’ll find yourself going through the same process – and some of that will be repetitive and predictable, which means you may not learn much.

This can be uncomfortable to say the least. You can find yourself on a path that is unrecognisable and you can think you’re lost. It can make you feel rather miserable. But the good news is that in many ways, feeling lost can be a very good thing because it’s when you’re lost that you do more looking, in order to find your way forward.

This is drawn on not very good quality tissue paper, with areas of colour printed from paint applied to a sheet of plastic. I deliberately didn’t start by drawing with a pen. In the end I drew into it because I couldn’t resist pulling it together with some line drawing, but before I did that I had looked harder and made discoveries I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

I probably would have learnt more if I’d been braver and not reached for a pen. But it’s a toe in the water; and that at least feels good.