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

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.

Kalo taxidi


… or as we say in English, er, “bon voyage”.

For the next two weeks I will be internetless in the Ionian Isles, in a place I love but haven’t revisited for a decade. I hope to have at least a few small sketches to share with you on my return.

In the meantime, I have finally decided how to make use of my square-format hand*book journal, which has sat in a lonely drawer for a year and a half. On reading yesterday that the meditative doodles known as “zentangles” tend to be 3.5″ x 3.5″, I dug out that little blue book and produced my first zentanglish drawing as I sat thinking about the fortnight to come.

“Kalo taxidi”
Pilot pen in square hand*book journal
It very much resembles the kind of pen doodling I used to do loads of, years ago, but it’s more structured, more contained – and it was wonderfully absorbing. I have another pleasurable journey ahead of me, it seems.

I knit, you knit, we all scream for I Knit


The long-anticipated I Knit Day 060908 has been and gone, and three days on I haven’t shared any incoherent blather about it here. ‘Til now!

I was a knitting-show virgin when I attended last year’s Stitch ‘n Bitch event, the first show put on by Gerard and Craig of I Knit London. This time, I’d arranged to travel down by train to London with members of the Cambridge (and Ely) ktog: Liz, Rosie, Anne, Sue, Mary and Deb. There were delays to our trains both there and back, but having packed our “emergency knitting” (and anyone lucky enough to have been in the Yarn Harlot’s audience will know the impracticality of such a thing!) we were at least happily occupied chatting and knitting – or, in the case of three of us, crocheting. Liz also presented me with 2 skeins of gorgeous sock yarn from Indie Dyer, which I journalled yesterday: click on the image to largify if you wish to know the conditions I work in to bring you even scant sketchbook content these days!

Pen & coloured pencil in Canson watercolour sketchbook
The Royal Horticultural Halls were fairly buzzing with people I recognized from last year’s event, and with sparkly celebs of the yarn world such as Sasha Kagan, Erika Knight (whose Ribbed Shrug from Glamour I’m currently knitting) and “Rebel Knitter” Mazzmatazz. Not least, there was Jane Waller with her gorgeous 1940s collection, which totally transformed my perception of women’s fashions of that era when I heard her speak at last year’s I Knit Day.

The star of the show, however, was the famed Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, a ticket for whose sold-out talk in the Lindley Hall I’d snagged nice and early (another reason to thank Liz). As I’m only an occasional reader of the ‘Harlot, I really had few expectations of her before she stepped out on the podium: I think what I anticipated was something opinionated and witty and mildly entertaining. She gave us so much more than that!

I found her immensely engaging: funny, smart, articulate, composed, funny, compassionate, inspirational, funny and fascinating – and did I mention the woman is seriously funny? She took us on a tour through subjects ranging from Einstein, through theories of alpha, beta and theta states of mind to the outrageous price of Rowan in Canada, the laughable conclusions made by a potentially valuable Cambridge study into “repetitive visual-spatial tasks”, the perils of being a writer in the niche market of knitting humour, how yarn crafts might help to prevent Alzheimer’s, and the comments – at once hilarious and deeply offensive – made by strangers to those who knit in public. I came out of that hall feeling uplifted and empowered – and frankly, those are words I would never normally be caught using. I’ll stop short of saying the experience was life affirming. (Even though, ahem. It was.)

Here are Liz and Anne meeting Yarn Harlot (or should that be the other way round? It seems Stephanie knew who Liz was! And these two have now found fame among the photos Stephanie has posted to her blog).

I’ve gone a bit pretentiously for a “reportage” feel with the black & white pics. Here’s one showing SP-McP in glorious (coordinated) colour.

The Knitpickers sock bag I purchased was put to immediate use, holding a ball of Liz’s hand-dyed yarn and some dpn’s I’d brought with me …

Thus, I was able to continue in style my destined-to-become-a-tradition of casting on for a pair of socks while at the event. And since, by my reasoning, a space-saving solution such as this does not fall into the category of “materials”, it cannot be considered an indulgence and therefore doesn’t really count as an expense; happily, this meant I was able to splash out guilt free on a skein of Seriously Gorgeous (and believe me, it is) cashmere/silk – some of the softest stuff I’ve ever had the pleasure of fondling. I plan to use it in an attempt to knit a lace project (gulp), in the form of a small shawl to be worn at the next I Knit Day …

Finally, this is part of Alison Murray’s Gingerbread House, a huge, eccentric, delightful knitting project undertaken for charity.

The day ended with more delayed trains – not entirely a bad thing, since it gave Liz and me time to enjoy an extra G&T, and led to us bumping into Susie, with whom we chatted (and whose fabulous shawl I oohed and ahhed over) on the journey home.

Been amazing the people next door …


How can shoes this small come with such a big price tag?

I’ve no idea why octopuses feature twice in this post. I’m just grateful we humans aren’t eight-footed. I’d have to pay out for four pairs of shoes every time my offspring grew out of hers.

Lily lily


My mother-in-law, who’s been staying with us this week, is a bad influence on me – but in a good way. And I think, and hope, I am a similar influence on her.

This afternoon, when my work was done (or mostly!), and I had somehow been persuaded while shopping for new prescription glasses for her to order a pair for myself (with pink frames … which sound so totally un-me but which I fell in love with and am very excited about) we arranged on the kitchen table the flowers we had purchased in Ely Market, filled every inch of the remaining space with our Inktense pencils and watercolours, and set about a couple of hours’ sketching. My lilies look cleaner on the page than on the screen. I’m not sharing the rushed sunflower sketch that followed, because my concentration was shot by that point. Maybe tomorrow I’ll re-attempt it. Who knows.

Something from the weekend


It was a weekend of unpredictable skies, toddlers’ birthday parties, fun summer purchases and not-so-fun goodbyes. This is how I’ll remember it, from the two pages I filled in my Canson watercolour journal.

EDM #155: Draw something with steps

I’ve been meaning to attempt a drawing our child-unfriendly, lumpy, bumpy, twisty staircase for ages – both to challenge my aversion to straight lines and to play with a triad of burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow deep. It proved a tricky subject.

Pen & watercolour in Canson journal

Canson d’amour … and 2 EDMs


Thursdays are the day I try to put guilt and unfinished tasks aside for the purposes of making some sort of art, or at least feeding my creativity.

Today, eagerly clutching my new Canson watercolour sketchbook, I started out by sketching my panini (EDM Challenge #162: Draw your breakfast) – the first time I can recall being bold enough to use my watercolours in a coffee shop. I went on to draw one of the little yellow garden chairs I’d snapped up for my daughter for 50p apiece at a local playgroup, which I picked up on my way home (EDM #30: Draw a chair). A small drawing of two of the pencils I used for today’s instalment of Every Day in May completed the page.

The Canson is a sexy beast: beautiful red cover, black linen binder and corners, and two page markers. The watercolour surface is smooth, with a texture close to good-quality cartridge paper that also happily accepts fine pen, coloured pencil and gouache. I’m so happy to have it, I find myself hugging it at frequent intervals. Sketchbook nerdism. What can I say.

Thought(s) for the day


Whether it’s typical of works done in Inktense I can’t yet say, but neither a scan nor a digital photo seems able to capture what it is that I really like about my first full-colour drawing done with watersoluble ink pencils: its vibrancy and richness. So, I apologise for the washed-out, streaky image. But since life is too short to spend repeatedly scanning and snapping and uploading a 6×4″ drawing, you’ll have to take my word for it that these pansies, photographed yesterday morning and Inktensed directly from my laptop screen, are more appealing on paper than they are in pixels. This is 6×4″ on RWS watercolour paper. I also made use of 2 Pilot pens: a black pigment liner & a white marker.

The name “pansy” comes from the French pensée, meaning “thought”, and the flower itself has long been a symbol for freethinking and atheism. With their rich mix of mauves, reds, warm yellows and deep inky purples, they are also more gorgeous than I ever realised before stopping to look at them yesterday morning.

Still here


And so the artist emerges from hibernation, blinking and stretching and in need of a cup of tea.

The little piece on the right is 4×6″, in pen, watercolour and coloured pencil on paper. It’s based on a photo of dendrobium orchids.

Below, you can see the 3×3″ leather-bound sketchbook that I bought in Camden Market last month, and a montage of pages from it. This tiny book is encouraging me to fit in a scribble when I have a few minutes to spare, without stressing over the quality of the finished (or unfinished!) sketch. It’s precisely the kind of thing I should be doing more of in my regular hand*book journal, but ho hum, that just isn’t happening; and as opportunities to paint have been thin on the ground these past few weeks, at least the novelty of my little book has kept my sketching hand moving.

To quote Danny Gregory: “The drawings don’t matter. The drawing does.”

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