Saturday, 29 November 2014


Every year I try to draw a portrait of each of my granddaughters, for my own pleasure as well as a wish to keep a record of them as they grow up.  Photos are fine but there's nothing like trying to capture a likeness in pencil on paper.  This first picture of Sarah is one of my favourites taken from Facebook where she loves to post moody photos of herself and with her cat, Narvi, who you saw last week on her birthday card.
With them all as Facebook friends it's very easy for me to get hold of good, natural photos which they are always changing on their personal profiles. Steph spends the least time on Facebook so I have to keep an eye on the photos the others post from time time.  This one is very typical of Steph with her sunny, quirky personality.
Kirsty, the eldest, is at university now, so again it's easiest for me to catch glimpses of her life on Facebook.  I think this photo was taken last year in her special dress she wore for a school prize giving.
I remembered to scan the steps of the drawing as it progressed so you can see how the colours are built up.  I used my Museum coloured pencils on tinted paper chosen to echo the wonderful colour of her hair.  They have thick leads and can be used in layers that look a bit like pastels but without the annoying dust.
If you look closely you might see that I've scribbled some light blue in places as highlights in the hair to reflect the colour of her dress.  Kirsty was delighted with the portrait when I posted it on Facebook.
This collage of 3 separate portraits from 2011 was done in Derwent drawing pencils which have a wonderful range of earth colours suitable for this type of subject.
In 2009 I also used the earth colours having been inspired by studying portraits done by Leonardo da Vinci  and some of the Pre-Raphaelite artists like Dante Gabriel Rosetti and John William Waterhouse.
Way back in 2008 I was working in watercolours and produced this painting after first drawing the girls separately in pencil.  This one is still in a frame hanging in the spare bedroom.  The top 3 pictures are in frames in the hall and get changed each time I draw a new one.  I have now got quite an album full of all the earlier ones which make a really nice family portrait history. 
Maybe next time I'll take the plunge and share some of my early ones which are not very good drawings but it might be interesting for you to see how I started and how much my work has  changed and improved with years of practise!

Saturday, 22 November 2014


I have been asked if I'll do a step by step blog about the process of making the books I showed you last week.  They are 'double pamphlet books' which is a very simple and quick way of making a personalised sketchbook.
Here is my work table laid out with all the ingredients and tools needed for the project.  I have decided to make 2 books as it helps to 'multitask.'  The plain coloured card comes from a local office supplier in 60 x 75cm  sheets and is a useful size for this job and for making birthday cards etc as I can cut it to the required dimensions. The floral papers were given to me by Justine from a book of crafting paper measuring 30cms square. The reels of ribbon I found in Lidl in the Christmas wrapping display this week.
First cut the coloured card into a piece measuring 42 x 21.5 cms and make a fold 17 cms from the end as shown above top left. Then score 1cm in from the first fold with the bone folder on both sides and gently bend it to make it flexible but leave the sheet folded as you see here. If you haven't got a bone folder a small plastic ruler does the job just as well and don't forget to use a ruler to get nice straight lines!
Take 30 sheets of good quality paper, I've used 120 gramme A4 inkjet computer paper, and fold it neatly in half in batches of 3.  If you try to fold too many pieces at once the folds are not very precise and you will have trouble lining the pages up later.
Make a template for the holes by marking the centre of another sheet of paper and then dividing the rest into 3 so you have 5 holes in total. Number them from the centre as shown. and then take each batch and pierce the holes using a needle stuck in a cork. You will need to protect the worksurface with an old folded towel or similar and it also helps the needle to pass right through the 3 layers of paper so you have a good hole ready for the stitching.
Now put the pages together in 2 sets of 15 and line them up carefully so you can re-punch the holes to make sure they are easy to stitch.
Use the template placed in the centre of the cover card to punch the holes on the scored line 1 cm in from the fold.
Next step is to assemble your book. Lay one batch of paper face down on the table, lay the cover on top and then the second batch of paper on top facing up. Line up all the stitching holes and clip the whole lot together.
Now you can start the stitching with a strong needle and a length of heavy duty thread 3 times the width of the book. Tie a simple knot a few centimetres from the end and start in the middle at hole 1 going down, come back up through hole 2, go down again through hole 3, back up through 2 and down through hole 1.  You will have to manipulate the paper a bit as you go but by this stage the pages will all start to line up properly. From hole 1 outside come back up through hole 4, go back down 5 and back up again through hole 4.
You should have a neatly sewn book by now and just make sure all the thread is properly pulled through and the pages and cover line up nicely before finishing off by passing the needle under your first stitch and then knotting the 2 ends together.  Cut off the threads leaving about 2 cms.
This picture shows what the inside of the book should look like before you fold back the covers.
Here is the book inside it's cover, ready to be pressed for a couple of hours under some heavy weights.  I've had to weigh it down with a little pot to take the photo as it's very springy at this stage!
When the book is nicely flat after the pressing you can open it to see how it looks and you will notice that the ends of the pages don't line up.  This is because the thickness of the batch of paper pushes out the centre pages.  You could leave it but if you want a really professional finish it's a good idea to cut off the surplus. Lay a cutting mat between the back cover and the pages, put a new blade in your craft knife and lay the ruler along the edge of the pages.  Press down firmly then VERY slowly and carefully cut down through the pages of the book until you have a nice straight edge to the book.  This is quite difficult to do and it's worth taking your time, ignoring all interruptions till you've finished!
The next step is to decorate the cover.  Cut a piece off the printed paper so that it fits the width of the book and then turn the spare through 180 degrees and trim it again to match the width. 
Put a piece of scrap paper  under the cover and spread the adhesive on the front of the book only as far as the spine.  I'm using PVA diluted 5 to 1 with water so it spreads easier.
Stick on the first piece and use the bone folder to make sure any bubbles have been eliminated.
Turn the book over and repeat the exercise, adding the spare narrower piece to cover the extra for the fold-over.  You will notice we haven't put any glue on the spine of the book, this is so that it can open and close more easily.
Now all the remains is to score a couple of lines on the inside for the folds, The first is 1cm away from the edge of the pages and the second another centimetre from the first.  I have also trimmed the edge of the foldover at a very slight angle so it sits nicely inside the front cover of the book.
This photo shows you what the end of the book should look like when you've finished folding.
That small space inside the fold is just the right size to clip your pen to but if you don't want this little extra it's very easy to just make the cover to fit the book only by cutting it shorter at the beginning.
To add the finishing touch, wrap 80cms of co-ordinating ribbon around the book and attach it front and back with a motif cut from the spare paper and a good dab of glue.
I'm rather pleased with these and I hope you too will have a go at making these simple books.  If you want to use thicker paper, watercolour for example, it's a good idea to reduce the number of pages as it's quite difficult to stitch if the book is too thick, maybe 10 sheets is enough.
By the way these and more will be going on sale at Justine's garden party next April so if any of my friends and family followers want to reserve one please let me know!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


Today is my youngest granddaughter's 14th birthday and now that she has opened it I can show you her card I made this year.  It's a portrait of Narvi her favourite cat who spends a lot of time with her curled up on her bed.
I started by tracing a photo I took from Sarah's facebook profile page and then transferring it on to the tinted paper I had chosen, a lovely warm earth colour that reflects some of the colour in Narvi's fur.
I used a white Derwent drawing pencil to draw the outline first as these pencils have a thick lead and a very creamy texture that I wanted to use convey the fur in the picture.  I filled in the eyes first as if I had made a mistake I would have had to start again, then I started on the fur with the various earth shades in the Derwent collection.
I continued filling in the fur, gradually deepening in the shadows till I completed the portrait as you can see from the picture at the top of this post. 
I normally put in some money for Sarah to spend on something she wants and this time I printed off a section of the head and cut a slit where his mouth is.  I glued this on the inside of the card with a few notes stuck in his mouth.  I hope she smiled when she saw it as it did look rather funny as I closed the card to put in the envelope.
For cat lovers Narvi is a Maine Coon cat who has a black brother called Odin and an older cousin called Loki. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014


I've been really busy this week binding some books as gifts for my family so I can't show them to you just yet but here are some I made earlier that I can share with you. 
I made some double pamphlet books with decorative covers for my granddaughters, sister and daughter as they are so much easier than a fully stitched and hard bound book and can be dressed up in all sorts of ways. 
This red one for Kirsty has a crinkly red paper cover with a co-ordinating chinese printed paper for the lining.  I added a flap to the back cover and ribbon to close the book and left space for a pen to be clipped inside between the pages and the flap.  I also gave her a Chinese brush pen that I hope she will use for her Chinese language studies at University.
Sarah's book was covered in a fabric that I stitched to card  before sticking it to the book itself.  I sandwiched strips of card inside the flap for the closure and sewed the ribbon on with a few decorative beads on the front. The fabric has a Parisian fashion theme with slogans like 'you're the cat's whiskers' so I added a sketch of Sarah with her favourite cat to the inside.
This Japanese paper was a find in the craft department of our local store and I just couldn't resist buying several sheets to cover these books with. Because the sheet is a square it has to be cut to fit the pamphlet book.  I sliced off the bottom to use for the flap inside and the swallows on the back of the book were originally to the right of the lady in the kimono.
I cut out the stamp from the bottom slice to use to anchor the ribbon to the back of the book before slotting it through the front beneath the lady. I've made several versions of this for family and friends as well as the prototype for myself: sketchbook no 28 which I'm working in at the moment.
On a technical note, a pamphlet is a simple book made by folding a stack of folded in half paper and stitching down the middle, like a school exercise book.  To make a double one you take two sets of paper and stitch them together back to back with a cover sandwiched in the middle.  I have used this method and the added the decorative covers on top of the original cover for more body. 
 I hope you have enjoyed this little foray into bookbinding and I'm looking forward to sharing more methods with you later in the year.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


On our way home from Caen we stopped for 3 days on a campsite at Pontorson, only 10 kilometres south of Mont St Michel.  It's not a very large one but very popular, especially in the summer as it's right next to the river that runs into the sea at the Mont.  The landscape around is very flat like the Dutch polders, being reclaimed from the sea for agricultural purposes.  The only hill for some distance has this charming little windmill on top which was working hard while I stood to draw it from the cycle path.
The cycle path goes all the way from Pontorson town to the foot of the Mont following the river.  We were parked barely 50 metres from it in the campsite so it was a delight to set off through the camp gate on a lovely sunny autumn morning to visit this amazing edifice. The Mont gradually came into view and I persuaded Bob to stop for a rest while I captured it shimmering in the distance.
A common feature of the French countryside is the sight of the poplar trees in winter when the mistletoe becomes apparent when the leaves have fallen.  I've always been fascinated by the vision of these great balls of foliage suspended on the delicate seeming branches.  As I drew them one of the fishermen from the riverbank came to see what I was doing so I took the opportunity to ask him for the name in French which is 'gui.'
As we came closer the river widened out and we could see the new barrage which has been installed to control the waters as the tide rises and falls.  There was a very informative panel explaining how it works and the benefits for the Mont itself. It's also been designed as a work of art with various quotations engraved in the stone work and a large area where people can sit to admire the view unencumbered by the sight of the crowds heading towards it.
We parked our bikes and crossed the new 2 kilometre long causeway built above the sands which will eventually be the only access to the Mont when the work to clear the old dyke is completed, leaving the Mont as it was before with the water surrounding it at high tide.  We joined the hordes passing through the arch and started to climb the narrow cobbled street looking for somewhere to have a beer and a rest after all our exertions.  How lucky to find a bar with a table looking across the street to this narrow alleyway with a view right up to the pinnacle where St Michael stands sparkling in the sun.
We stayed in the same place for lunch before setting off for the walk around the ramparts and back to our bikes.
This was our third visit to Mont St Michel, the first being about 35 years ago with the children.  The second visit was in November 2007 when we had just bought the camper car and decided to try some winter camping.  We arrived in the morning and discovered that for only 8 euros we could park right opposite the Mont for 24 hours so we chose an excellent spot with a direct view and set off to explore.  We visited every part from bottom to top including the cathedral itself, which I can honestly say is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  We had the fortune to be in the nave when a monk appeared to ring the midday bell and I have strong memories of him being lifted off his feet as he worked pulling the rope to get it moving before it started to toll very loudly!
We arrived back at the car by 4pm and I spent a very happy couple of hours drawing and painting the view from our window.  We'll never have such an opportunity again as now all vehicles have to be parked about 2 kilometres away!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


I've had a lovely time visiting the family in England and found myself drawn to making sketches of the interiors while relaxing. This first one was done on Sunday morning while Jimmy watched TV and his parents finished unpacking boxes from the recent move to their new home.  I had made several attempts to draw my grandson but he couldn't sit still for more than a minute at a time so abandoned that idea and drew the lounge instead!
I had some art materials delivered to Joanna's house and among them were some of the new Derwent Grapphik line makers and line painters.  I had a lot of fun trying them out and in these sketches I've used the line makers in 'graphite.'  There are 3 different thicknesses in the pouch and I used all 3 in different parts of these sketches.  I also ordered some extra colours to add to my collection of Museum watercolour pensils which I've used to colour these sketches.
After a few days with Jo and James at Whitstable it was time for the 'Granny hostage exchange' and we met up with Justine, Steph and Sarah in Reigate.  We had a delicious lunch together with Great Granma, Bob's mum, at a local pub with 4 generations at the table.  Then it was on to stay at Justine's for a few more days.  The weather started to cool down so Kevin lit a log fire one evening and got himself in the picture while hogging the heat!
Eventually it was time to go home and this time I took the ferry from Portsmouth to Caen and was fortunate enough to have the company of my darling sister and her husband on their way to spend a week with friends in France.  We decided that as it's a 4 hour drive from home that Bob would pick me up in the camper car so we could spend a few extra days together exploring the area. Our morning routine starts with tea in bed for me which Bob makes before shaving and settling down to read the news on the ipad, a great opportunity for me to sketch the interior of our second home!
Visiting Jo's new home reminded me of her first home in Farnborough, Hampshire, that she bought when she came back from several years working in Hong Kong.  We helped her with the house hunting and moving in as well as making the blinds and curtains.  I drew these in my No 1 sketchbook as I had only just started keeping a sketching journal.
It was a lovely little Edwardian semi-detached cottage with tall sash windows and a pretty garden front and back.
The bathroom had been added at the back of the house and had this wonderful traditional tub. 
There is something rather nice about sitting in a warm home drawing the outdoors when it's cold outside, I think I'll have do do more of these now that winter is on it's way!

Saturday, 1 November 2014


I've been off the internet for a couple of weeks visiting family and doing some sketching along the way but before I scan all the new pictures I decided to share what I was up to before I left. 
Anyone who lives in England can't help but know what this is a sketch of.  The field of ceramic poppies is almost complete around the Tower of London now and has been seen by millions of people, in life by my sister in law who took the photos that inspired this, as well as on TV.  I think it's a shame that the installation will be dismantled on Nov 11th as I'm sure many more people would love to see this amazing spectacle.
The amazing weather we've been having lately has kept many plants growing in the garden long after their normal time although the hydrangeas always keep their flowers till I cut them off in the winter.  Compare this one with the summer version I drew for my 'Mad about Hydrangeas' post from July this year.
Every year I pick a flower head to try and find as many colours as possible from a single plant and this year is no exception with the outer flowers going purple and the underneath ones pale greens, pinks and blues.
Our Sunday lunchtime treat occasionally is to get 18 oysters from the local producer to eat with a glass or 2 of bubbly followed by a tasty cheese and a bit of salad. We usually get some for our friend Stephanie, the baker, as she's always too busy working to go and collect them herself and anyway we need to pop in for a fresh 'baguette tradition' to have with them.
Another of our locals is the creperie, Ty Breizh, where we've been going on and off since before we moved here.  The latest owners are a charming couple who insisted we inspect their garden last time we ate there.  They have an amazing datura plant, covered in flowers, growing on the compost heap.  I took a couple of blooms home to draw and having checked the plant out I discovered it's poisonous so I was very careful to wash my hands after handling it.  I hadn't counted on the lovely fragrance which developed in the evening though, which after a couple of hours made Bob and me feel rather ill.  I put the flower outside and soon we began to feel better but I don't think I'll accept their kind offer of cuttings!
On our walk back from the port we pass through a lovely chestnut wood and I recently picked up a pure white eggshell which I identified as a wood pigeon's.  When I later posted this on .   I found out that it was most likely that the fledgling had been eaten rather than survived to grow into an adult bird.