Thursday, 16 June 2016


Some sketchbook drawings done of Alice at about 8 months pregnant, and with newly born Téo:

IN THE LAST TWO POSTS I wrote about incorporating a photo of a tree’s shadow on cobblestones within an illustration. Continuing with the photo and resulting images, I explored the idea of the tree (and its shadow) within its city environment, using the patterns made by the branches and the similarity that branches can have to roots.
I had previously filled several sketchbook pages with ‘readymade’ backgrounds that might suit the ‘China’ work I might do, and chose this double page from my sketchbook:


On the left hand page, with a coral Sharpie pen I quite freely drew, branch shapes, but growing downwards – and went with the effect of roots not just growing into the ground but clambering over it too. I then used a black fineliner to create some interest and pattern in the roots; and also picked up the ‘mottles’ in the gouache background to suggest a cobble-like pattern and texture. Again I forgot to take photos at each stage but this is the finished left hand page with some close-ups:

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This was very much experimental and made up as I went along, but the effects that have resulted I was really quite pleased with; whilst not consciously aiming to evoke or capture my thoughts about Shanghai I did become aware during the process that the colours and patterns and resonances did in fact echo my responses to the city – Shanghai was not at all as I expected and I feel I never got to grips with it or located its charm as ‘the Paris of the East’. Some of the French Concession buildings were in grey brickwork, with contrasting coral patterns; and the trees lining the streets here were lovely, but growing up out of grey pavements, set against brick and concrete buildings.
So in the drawing above I feel that the coral and grey reflects that but also suggests veins, arteries, lifeblood but also a quite visceral struggle against unremitting manmade surfaces and barriers. Separately, I also like the way that the mottled gouache, with fineliner in places, looks almost photographic.


We also, as required, visited the Pudong area or rather viewed the futuristic buildings and lighting from the other side of the river (along with hundreds – maybe thousands – of other people, cameras popping and flashing everywhere you looked). I’m afraid that this kind of view is wasted on me – I preferred the old banking and financial buildings nearer to hand but what I enjoyed most was the heavy black silhouettes of the working barges passing silently and darkly through all the glitz and neon; not very good photos but just about discernible:

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In my tiny A6 Chinese sketchbook I did have a go at a colourful take on the scene, using oil pastels on rice paper:


But on my return, and having done the tree images above, I wanted to try a more stylised approach. Also I had just bought some Sharpie chalk liners/markers and was keen to try them out. As with the trees, I worked without reference to photos and used the impressions I had stored in my mind. I am always partial to a sun, or especially a moon; although red is not one of my favourite colours, I do like it as an accent with black or grey and white and it is of course a hugely significant and much used colour throughout China:

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I’m really pleased with the chalk paint and the way its opacity varies. The ‘slit’ in the sun was an accident but I immediately liked it. I like that some of the details/close-ups work as images in themselves, and that the textures can become more significant when enlarged.  Another thing that is satisfying to me here is that there was no use of any digital/Photoshop intervention.
The double page – they work well together I think. I now remember that I did the right hand page first, being eager to try out the chalk pens:

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Following on from the previous post about using found material in art and illustration, I remembered that I had done quite a bit of work around a photo taken in Shanghai of the shadow of a tree on cobblestones:

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On return to England, I used the Posterise filter in Photoshop to stylize and emphasize its features and also adjusted the hue:

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Quite a few weeks later I returned to the idea, beginning by going with the original brown/sepia tones and sketching a very simple autumnal tree over the photo, which I’d printed onto cheap printer paper so that it could be torn around more softly to become part of the image more easily:
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In the following, I have inverted the photo and added it again to the lower half of the drawing:
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Continuing on the facing page in my sketchbook, I created a mirror image of the lower half, flipped it and pasted to replace the top half; I then used fineliners on the photo/image – to emphasize and create patterns in the tree trunk and branches and also to make something more of the ‘join’ section:
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More of this fineliner ’embellishment’ was added in and around the whole illustration, but not on the cobbles themselves; unfortunately I was getting so carried away by this stage that I forgot to take sufficient photos, but here are three:
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A final experiment was to fill in the right hand surround with black, then adjust the hue of the whole double sketchbook page in Photoshop, giving the scene a wintry rather than autumnal feel:
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It was fun, exciting and productive to explore using a photograph, this photograph of a found pattern, in this way and it showed me many more possibilities.
However I have found this exercise very useful, especially as I had to revisit it after several months – as I did not write it up at the time. It’s very easy to forget and lose what can be actually significant moments, ideas and occurrences as you forge ahead. I appreciated the reminder that I can generate and develop ideas which, unless I forget again, can be utilised at a later date.



The following sketch of a girl in China was done on a wash in my sketchbook – hence all the ripples in the paper. The facing page was an attempt to suggest the general state of the masked out sun in Beijing and Shanghai, and the murky yellow or grey light and skies:
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Several of the numerous photos I took in China were of ‘found’ patterns and textures:
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 and one was of this ageing, eroded metal door in a Shanghai hutong area:
In Photoshop I played about with hues and saturation on the ‘background’ then layered and incorporated the sketch to create the final illustration:
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Recently I searched through my ‘China pictures’ and found these photos I had taken in Shanghai, Beijing,  and from the cable car for the Great Wall..
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Without wanting to get overly philosophical, I think that the impulse that draws me (and others) to capturing such textures and patterns, ‘accidents’ that are not contrived by anyone (artist or otherwise) is that they count for something true and genuine where the lack of any deliberate artifice both grounds me and allows/gives permission for the artifice I will perpetrate when utilising it in an illustration. I don’t think that has been expressed very well but I hope it makes some sense.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

October portrait studies

Some charcoal portrait sketches done recently.

30 minute sketch, A3

A3 tonal

A3 - charcoal and white pastel