is a superb French film set in the late 18th century. The plot involves the Marquis Grégoire Ponceludon de Malavoy entering the court of Versailles with the aim of persuading Louis XVI to support his engineering project: to drain the disease-infested swamps which are killing all the peasants in his region. His struggle becomes, quite literally, a battle of wits, as survival at court is all about holding onto one’s reputation as a bel esprit by making witty remarks that ridicule and humiliate others.

While re-watching Ridicule yesterday, I grabbed an A4 sketchpad and my sepia pen and filled a page with sketches, pausing the DVD for between 30 seconds and 4 minutes to draw.

I’m pretty sure Judith Godrèche’s cleavage didn’t really grow to those proportions over the course of the film. This was a fun exercise, though, and I might try it again sometime with La Reine Margot – another of my favourite French costume dramas. More heaving bosoms coming soon to a blog near you!!

Journal 26.01.09


The joyous consequence of pasting a piece of brownish Murano paper into my sketchbook on Sunday was the excitement I felt on turning the page and finding myself with a midtone background for my next sketch.

I don’t much care for pastry, particularly of the flaky variety, but croissants have found their way into my kitchen in an attempt to give Melody her first taste of Frenchness in preparation for our upcoming weekend in Paris. Turns out she loves them, and can devour one with alarming speed. Turns out also that they make an utterly absorbing sketch subject. This was drawn mostly with Stabilo pens, which I’d had no intention of using until I realised lazily that while my gouache and coloured pencils were out of reach, the pens (friends!) were right there in front of me. In the end I did stretch to coloured pencil in the final stages to inject a bit of warmer colour.

Coloured pens & pencils with white gel pen on Murano paper in Canson sketchbook

Sunday at the library


On a visit to the library with my daughter today, I got to wondering why I had never thought of people-sketching there before. Later I returned alone, tucked myself as inconspicuously as I could into a corner and put pen to paper.

For the figures in their surroundings I didn’t go in with pencil first: though pen-only isn’t my usual thing, when it comes to capturing live and fidgety subjects, I figure it’s the only way to learn to trust my own mark-making instincts. I then dug out my pencil for the travel mug and books. (If you’ve ever tried drawing a random heap of books in correct perspective, you will know what a heebiejeebie-inducing exercise it is.) What struck me was that it is much easier to draw people in a library, where they are poring over books or shelves or staring at computer screens, than when fully caffeinated and chatting animatedly in a coffee shop! The library environment also means that one’s personal space is respected to a certain degree, so I found this a less nervy experience than I’d expected.

The brown paper was pasted in as a fix for a mistake and subsequently excised chunk of page. While screwups in sketching are to be expected and forgiven (blokey on the laptop with his short-arse legs, for instance), sometimes I commit a real ugh and it just has to be obliterated. In this case, it’s enabled me to include some text, and I like what it’s done for the journal entry as a whole.

Journal 23.01.09


On occasion, the written portion of something I’ve just journalled strikes me as so banal that I feel silly sharing it – even with my fellow sketchers in the “Everyday Matters” group! In the notes around this sketch of vine tomatoes, I blather about tv and the supermarket.

Pen & watercolour with gouache highlights in Canson watercolour book

One day, however, when the 23rd of January is a sufficient number of yesterdays ago, as I re-read this entry I will judge myself less harshly, possibly even smiling at the random details of a day I might have let slip away forgotten, but did not.

That’s the idea, in any case.

About a boot


“One must always have one’s boots on and be ready to go.”* ~ Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

When I’m doing a contour drawing in pen and the question arises of whether to add colour, my frequent and inexplicable urge is to colour the background – in the colours of the subject – rather than the subject itself. For this sketchjournal page, I indulged that urge. I keep some blobs of gouache squeezed out in a small paintbox/palette which sits ever nearby in case I decide impromptu that it’s needed for my sketchbook.

Pen & gouache in Canson watercolour book  These boots were a gift from a friend whose little girl they didn’t fit. Melody loves them; their only disadvantage is that they’re way too smart to be worn when she’s jumping in muddy puddles – which is a favourite pastime, and precisely what she was doing (all wellied up, but still soaked to the skin by the time we arrived) on our meandering walk to nursery this morning.

Puddles of paint and puddles of mud. Life is so much fun when you’ve got the right equipment to hand – or, indeed, foot!

* “Il faut être toujours botté et prêt à partir.” Montaigne didn’t mean these words in quite the same way. But he’s hardly in a position to complain.

Pens … friends!


Teddy was sketched on a Hahnemühle watercolour card at my parents’ house on Saturday night, and posted to myself. Not having tried these postcards before, I found I enjoyed the canvas-like texture of its surface. I’m thinking my most lightweight sketching kit could include a couple of these cards, in place of my sketchbook: I could then mail my sketches home and paste them in later.

My card arrived yesterday, not unscathed, having undergone not only bending at the corner but also the cruel branding of Teddy’s right paws. This was all part of the experiment: if I were posting a handpainted card to someone else, I would now be certain to slip it into an envelope first, but in this case, I rather like the visible record of its journey. I haven’t asked Teddy what his feelings are.

It seems this is a week for playing with new materials. This lunchtime sketch was done in Stabilo Point 88, with a touch of white gel pen. I’d never built up a drawing in coloured pens before. It’s quite hard work!

In the classic words of Pauline the restart officer in The League of Gentlemen, “Pens … friends!” I’m not sure these Stabilos are my friends just yet, but this sketch has at least left us better acquainted.

A pair of sketches, a sketch of a pear


While we were staying at my parents’ house this weekend, my mother gave me a set of 6 pure graphite sticks ranging from HB to 9B. It’s been a long time since I used graphite for its own sake, rather than simply to make preliminary marks for sketches in pen; so I decided to put my pens down for a while, and used the 4B pencil to sketch my father in his armchair.

Graphite (sealed with w/colour wash) in Canson watercolour book

This led me to rummage among the upstairs bookshelves for The Complete Drawing and Sketching Course by Stan Smith, and before leaving, I noted in my sketchbook the various hatched shading techniques he describes. Back at home, I grabbed a pear and tried out the various marks with my coloured pencils: random and curved hatching, cross-hatching in 3 directions, erasing, blending with a finger, and dots.

Coloured pencil in Canson watercolour book

One thing I can say about going back to basics like this is that it’s very humbling. I have always felt hatching to be something of a mystery, and have therefore tended to avoid it. It’s time I did something about that.

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