111115 nearly there


Today I am putting the finishing touches to my children’s picture book, “Stick.” I’ve been working on it for the last six months and tomorrow a kind friend is going to help me overlay the text so that touchwood I can send out a mock up book to potential publishers next week.

It is a children’s picture book I have written and illustrated and was inspired by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. I already have ideas for the next three picture books which are  Shed, Sugar and Saved, so watch this space. It is very exciting.  I feel as though I am about to send my baby out into the big wide world. So fingers crossed!

Quentin Blake’s Imagination 101013


I was thinking about sources of inspiration for artists and writers.

Here’s a top tip from Quentin Blake: draw from your imagination. I read his Words and Pictures book recently with delight , hanging onto his every word. In it he recommends drawing from memory. Having attended life drawing classes at Chelsea, for example, he’d return to his studio and redraw the set up using the extraordinary powers of his imagination to add in and take out the bits he fancied. Hhmm, I bet he did I hear you say. Seriously though, working like this is truly liberating and exercises the brain in a completely different way to straight, observational, real time drawing.

Working at an art college a couple of days a week I suddenly realise what a huge resource for my imagination the art students are: a veritable cocktail (or should I say cauldron) of shapes and sizes; from the tall and lanky to the short and broad, from the fair and spotty to the dark and broodingly gothic; they are a hotbed of characters from which to draw, each trying to outdo each other more creatively on a day by day basis.

I figure all I have to do now in my studio is grab aspects from each one, put them together like a game of “consequences,” and Bob’s your uncle I have a unique team of outlandish ghouls and grotesque beauties – pick’n’mix style – so much so that I fear I might start scaring myself to death.

So I’d better tread carefully, taking each one of the characters with a pinch of salt, constantly reminding myself that beneath those frightening exteriors lurk soppy interiors with (mostly) sensitive soft centres.

So thank you Quentin Blake for your liberating advice. Stuck for inspiration? Just dig deep, rummage around, and use your QB inspired imagination as a natural source of inspiration.

Quentin Blake inspired.


Today I finished a book of drawings or should I saysomeone else’s book- The Story of the Mind by J.M. Baldwin- is now filled with my reed and ink studies of the female nude. I drew on every second page leaving the interim as text only; the endpapers were drawn on too. The book is 263 pages long so there must be approximately 70 images altogether. This weekend I hope to photograph the drawings so that I can upload one onto each blog. In time order you should be able to note a miniscule development of the drawing style; the artist becoming used to a previously unfamiliar medium: the reed pen. Inspired by the beautiful drawings of Quentin Blake I shall continue to use this wonderful drawing instrument.

It is a relief to feel the book is complete; it feels substantial to hold and flick through. It works in a limited way as a flick book; glimpses of different poses viewed as the pages flip past. Ideally I would draw on every page but I was conscious of the ink coming through the old pages which I wanted to avoid . I now have to find another book to work with, another one to fill,  which I know will take over and become equally addictive. Oh! the creative mind: a ne’er fulfilled state.

I can imagine this book on a shelf long after I have gone. It is like the illustrations waited one century to arrive; the new and the old coming together. Some of the drawings are rough, expressive and complex whilst others are more slowly crafted, simple and calm to look at. I like working in both ways and the approach is usually governed by time available; a one minute study will always be different to five minute study.

I have an impatient fast style and find two minutes more than enough to complete most drawings. I am alaways astonished to see how slowly most of my students work even with me egging them on to draw faster and faster. They have sketch books on the go and regularly work on ten, five, two and one minute studies. I enjoyed starting the book and finishing it but the middle was riddled with angst as the project  was incomplete.

Sadly I  have to ask the question what was the point in the exercise? Why did it feel important for me to draw over someone else’s tome, someone else’s pride and joy? This I cannot answer except to say I find the end result interesting and believe it gives a dusty old book – destined for the skip –  a new lease of life. I would say I was also compelled.

Having filled numerous blank page sketchbooks I see this one as a new departure since it was not only conceived and executed within a week but also on previously printed pages; a “seven day wonder” making the style consistent and giving it a particular momentum. I look forward to a family of books of similar ilk emerging in all shapes and sizes. I have to say I’ve enjoyed the small intimate scale; this book with its blue cover is just 10cm x 15.3cm, published by George Newnes Limited, Southampton Street, Strand, London in 1902, and printed by Cowan & co., Limited, Perth. It is a link with the past, a link with the other side of the world; a link with life itself.

Roald Dahl is my inspiration


I love the work of Roald Dahl. I can’t say I’ve read all his books; just Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Twits. Oh, and a brilliant short story about Henry Sugar.

I am currently dipping in and out of his biography and keep flicking to the end to read more about his writing of children’s books. That’s what interests me and that’s what I want to do. They appear so original, so effortless, and so complete. If only I could write like that; come up with such satisfying  ideas, just one would do. Mr Dahl, like everyone else, I revere you.

I have just set my students a project asking them to choose a Dahl book, select any chapter, character, or sentence, and allow it to inspire an illustration. They’ve had to look at Quentin Blake’s illustrations first, then get on with their own. The results are stupendous: exciting, fresh and lively. I’m proud of them, if not everso slightly envious.

Having spent six months extolling the virtues of twig and ink  to everyone I know, and filling sketchbook after sketch book with my drawings, I read somewhere that Quentin actually uses reed pens; so  I’ve just bought my first (very expensive) set from Shepherd’s, (previously Faulkeners)  in London. They arrived yesterday, by next day delivery in a cardboard tube, wrapped in an old fashioned green and white striped paper bag, complete with reservoir.  This is a brass reservoir, just like the long bit on a paper fastener, but without the head bit. The pens look like cheap ends of bamboo that have been chiselled and drilled a bit but I shall try them out tomorrow in the life room; spend all day dip dip dipping my new pens into inky egg cups of  black ink. If the results are promising it will be a worthwhile investment. I’ll let you know!

Funny to think I used to rub shoulders with Quentin Blake and Dan Fern as they wandered around the illustration department at the Royal College of Art; I actually tried to change from printmaking to  illustration but they wouldn’t have me. Never mind.  I did however exhibit with them in the 1988 Folio Society exhibition with my illustrations of Evelyn Waugh’s “The Loved Ones”. I was into collages in those days; different graph papers, tracing papers, and oh! lots of staples.  Ah! Happy memories.