Friday, 13 February 2015


It's been a busy couple of weeks, getting all my projects finished ready to go on holiday leaving my studio nice and tidy. 
 At Christmas we treated ourselves to a couple of special bottles of whisky and I made sure we chose ones that came in those smart cardboard tubes.  There were two sizes and I cut each of them into 2 pieces of 10 cms to make into pen pots.  I cut out some scraps of fabric to fit and stitched a seam so that they fitted the tube perfectly with a turning at the top.
I stuck the lids on to the tubes for the bases and spread a bit of glue around the lower part to help anchor the fabric before I turned the tops in and glued them to the inside.  I found I had to make slits in the turnings so that they fitted neatly on to the inner surface of the tub.  I lined the inside with sticky back plastic to hide the cut edges and decorated the base with a length of narrow ribbon.  I hope these will sell but if they don't I've got plenty of pens and pencils to fill them with!
   I made another 8 A5 sketchbooks in the double pamphlet style and 14 A6, all covered in assorted fabrics and craft papers and I also printed off a lot of my paintings and drawings to make into cards.

Why am I going to all this trouble you may ask?  Well, it's all in a good cause, my daughter Justine holds a charity garden party every year in aid of her local hospice.  Last year I made a lot of hand bound sketchbooks and did very well selling them as well as cards and gift bags.

We've already booked the ferry for a trip to England for this year's party and I'm really looking forward to it as I get to see all my family who come to support us and eat the delicious cakes made by my clever granddaughters.

Last year we had a dry day and were able to sit outside to enjoy the goodies, you can see Justine's pool house in the reflection in the window where all the teas and cakes were served.  In the morning I picked a huge bunch of bluebells from the copse outside her garden gates and made these lovely table decorations which co-ordinated beautifully with the garden furniture.

Here I am with my table of wares in Justine's 'beading shed'. I was also in charge of selling her beautiful hand made jewellery and hardly had a moment to sit down as lots of friends and neighbours all turned out to support our good cause.

This is the beading shed looking lovely with it's pansy window boxes.  Justine loves gardening and had produced a lot of seedlings and cuttings for sale all of which sold out.  At the end of the day we had made over £500 for Woking Hospice.

Last job of the week was to prepare for the holiday by getting my sketching kit together.  I made a pencil case last year from some odds and ends of fabric which holds all my museum pencils as well as a handful of pens and waterbrushes and a pencil sharpener.  I'll take a couple of sketchbooks, the new one covered in the embroidered fabric and a smaller one that I keep in my handbag for on the spot sketching. 
All that remains is to pack my case and catch the plane on Saturday afternoon so I'll say "au revoir et à bientot!"

Tuesday, 10 February 2015


I've been working in my mixed paper sketchbook no 28 and this page is a Fabriano pastel paper.  I have used a Faber Castell oil based sanguine pencil, which is like a cont√© pencil but less dry and crumbly and holds a good point.

I made a tracing from the photo and transferred it to the page using a sheet of Saral wax free transfer paper.  I only drew the barest essential outlines so that the features are in the correct places. 
I always start with the eyes as they can make or break the drawing.  For the iris I draw a tiny circle around the white highlight to make sure it is reserved, then the pupil line followed by the outline of the iris and start to shade it in.  If you make the highlight circle a bit larger than in the photo you've got a margin of error if you make a mistake as it's impossible to get  back to the white paper once you've drawn on it.

At this stage it is important to use lightly drawn lines so that you're not committing too much before you have a whole picture to work on.  For the mouth I only suggest the teeth as they can look very ugly if you try to draw the gaps and shadows.

I started on the hair which in this case was quite difficult as it seems to grow in lots of directions!  The main idea is to depict the shapes and shadows rather than individual hairs except on the forehead.  I also drew a line around the edge as I wanted to show that he was cropped by the photographer and I didn't quite know what the hair did in the unseen parts of the portrait.  I also think it helps to make the image more interesting if there is an area going off the side of the picture. 

Next I tackled the shading using the side of the pencil very lightly, gradually building up the tones.

This shading takes a while as it's very easy to overdo it but you can lift off if necessary using a putty rubber which you just dab on carefully instead of rubbing as you would with a plastic eraser.

Go over the portrait carefully with the pencil till you're happy with it, I very carefully put in the shadows in the corners of the eyes to make them look right and to keep the whites next to the iris as bright as possible.  I've only suggested the gap between his front teeth although there is a bigger darker one there really.
This is as far as I went with the portrait and I'm quite happy with it, it's quite a good likeness if you compare it with his photo below.

I'm working on another version now but it's not ready to share as I want to take my time and do something a bit different.  This single colour sketch is a good practise run to get my eye in for any potential difficulties later.

Thursday, 5 February 2015


I spent a few days at the end of last year making some beautiful new sketchbooks.  I was inspired by an embroidered skirt I found in a charity shop when I visited England. The size was far too small for anyone in the family so I spent £8 and brought it home.

I chose a selection of Mi-teintes papers to co-ordinate with the embroidery and bought full sheets which I then tore down to the size I had chosen.  Full sheets always have the maker's brand embossed down one of the long sides which I had to tear off first, I took about 10 cms so that I could use the narrow strips for a tiny sketchbook or small loose sketches. Then each sheet was torn in 4 across the short side to give me pieces measuring 40 x 16 cms. These sheets were then folded in half and pressed with the bone folder you can see in the photo.

I collected all the folded sheets and made pairs of sheets which are called signatures in bookbinding. Depending on the thickness of the paper you can have more sheets per signature but as this was quite thick I decided 2 was enough. Then I arranged them in a pleasing colour sequence and prepared for the stitching. I have a 'cousoir,' a stitching frame I bought 2 years ago when I took a lesson with the local bookbinder, which I set up with the tapes as you can see here. The process of stitching the signatures together is quite complicated so if you want to know more I suggest you have a look at some of the Youtube videos that are very easy to find.

After the stitching comes the glueing of the spine and the reinforcement with a strip of fabric, for which I use a piece of cotton from a sheet. The glue is intended to seal the spine of the book so that you don't get any gaps when you open it fully.  I put each book in turn in the press and spread and press the glue into the paper before leaving it to dry.  The ribbon page markers are stuck in first before the cotton so that they are well anchored.

I unpicked the skirt and pressed it carefully as the linen fabric around the embroidery was a bit puckered.  I worked out how I would cut the covers to make the best of the beautiful flowers and then ironed a piece of interfacing on to the back of each one.  This is essential to seal the fabric otherwise the glue would come out through to the outside when I stuck the fabric to the boards.

The next step was to cut the cover boards and make the spines to join them together. I keep old watercolour and sketchpad backs for this purpose and use offcuts of thin card for the spines as they need to be flexible.  I found that the fabric covers were too thick in places to roll over the edges to give a good finish so I stitched a narrow strip of plain fabric for the turn ins.  I then had the job of glueing the fabric to the boards, very nerve-racking, as it's all too easy to get the glue on the outside if you don't take care.

Now I have to assemble the books by glueing the pages to the covers, taking care that all the components are square and centrally placed.  I put sheets of plastic between the cover and the first page of the book to prevent any glue spreading to the pages and then I put each book in the press overnight to be sure they were completely dry.  As you can imagine this is a very time consuming process as although I can make all three together the final construction part has to be done one at a time.  I'm very pleased at how these three books have turned out and my sister loved the one I gave her for her birthday.

I've put a pocket inside the front cover to hold scraps etc and this is how I decorated mine, with quotations from Van Gogh who is also on the front page as you can see at the top of the post.
I'm looking forward to taking my new sketchbook on holiday with me in 10 days time so you'll be seeing a lot more of it when we return at the end of February.
By the way I also have a Facebook page called Colours in the Breizh where I post pictures as I draw them so please do go and take a look there if you are on FB.  Please 'like' the page too and then you'll get an update each time I post something new.
Thank you for reading so far and I hope you've enjoyed our foray into bookbinding, my next project is a portrait step by step of my grandson so look out for that in a few days time. 
Hope to see you soon!