Last Minute Gifts

If you’re stuck for Christmas present ideas for creative souls, here are two books which are worth considering (they’re on my Christmas list!).  Click on the titles to read my blunt reviews.

Sam Piyasena and Beverly Philp, Just Draw It! (Search Press, 2013)

Lynne Chapman, Sketching People (Search Press, 2016)

Which art and design books would you recommend, and why?  Please share your suggestions in a comment or get in touch here.

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‘Art Prof’ YouTube Review

Have you ever known an art teacher to demonstrate a drawing in full before setting you the same assignment? Me neither.  Until now.

When Art Prof Clara Lieu launched the September 2016 Art Dare (a charcoal self-portrait) the team also released 20 (yes, 20!) short video ‘highlights’ of Clara setting up and drawing a charcoal portrait, from start to finish. Filmed on three iPhones, without a professional cameraman or script, Clara teaches you the fundamentals so you can successfully complete your own charcoal drawing.  In her own words: “I ad-libbed the entire demo the way that I teach my classes.”

And for me, it is Clara’s warmth and relaxed approach to teaching drawing that helped me step straight into my discomfort zone and spend several hours looking in a mirror while trying to capture my apprehensiveness for a long drawing and ultimately, for becoming an artist.


Each video is under six minutes in length (some are barely over a minute), and capture three different views: the model Marianna, Clara talking to camera, and the drawing itself. They cover the following stages of Clara’s drawing:

  1. Intro
  2. Lighting
  3. Composition
  4. Thumbnails: Line
  5. Thumbnails: Tone
  6. Toning the paper
  7. Sketch to drawing
  8. Pressure
  9. Cross-hatching intro
  10. Charcoal pencil
  11. Cross-hatching lines
  12. Eraser stick
  13. Jump around
  14. Background
  15. Stepping back
  16. Details
  17. Refinements
  18. Style
  19. Contrast
  20. Finishing

I watched the first eight videos before getting stuck in, and chose to watch on only when I reached a point where I was stuck. I kept reminding myself that there was a virtual teacher for me every step of the way, so I didn’t feel as nervous as I normally would.

I loved the three-camera set-up as this helped me understand the full drawing process, and I felt I could complete a beautifully finished piece rather than my default incomplete sketches. Other pluses include the occasional pop-ups which complemented the narrative perfectly, and the conciseness of each video, so you can dip into the drawing process wherever you need some additional guidance.

My only negative comment is that the videos are not individually titled (yet), so I had to watch the beginning of each one to write my own content list (see above).

This month’s Art Prof Art Dare is Your Future Self: a drawing on black paper, and faces are not allowed!  The team have released a further eight YouTube videos to demonstrate how to approach a conceptual piece such as this, beginning with brainstorming ideas.  I haven’t watched them yet, but judging by the quality of their charcoal drawing videos, these will be invaluable in guiding me forward, and I can’t wait to get started!

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‘Sketching People’ Book Review

Something I’m particularly keen to try is urban sketching, and there are many titles to choose from, each with their own perspective.  Sketching People; An urban sketcher’s guide to drawing figures and faces by children’s book illustrator, author, and Urban Sketchers Yorkshire (UK) correspondent, Lynne Chapman captured my interest.  As a follower of Lynne’s blog An Illustrator’s Life for Me! and a ‘student’ on her Expressive Picture Book Characters Craftsy course, to say I was excited would be an understatement!

Lynne Chapman, Sketching People (Search Press, 2016)

The Basic Premise

The following statement was taken from the back cover:

“Lynne Chapman shows you how to capture figures with immediacy and honesty. There is plenty of straightforward, practical help to give beginner sketchers the confidence to draw all sorts of people in a variety of situations.”

My ‘Blunt’ Review

If you have ever attempted to draw people in an urban setting you’ll understand how challenging it can be. The human form is complex enough before you add in motion, and a social context.  My own urban sketches of people have so far been uninspiring, even unsuccessful, heavily influenced by my many years of life-drawing classes.  I’m used to people staying relatively still for extended periods, so I’m aware I need to develop a whole new skillset for drawing adventures outside the studio.

The first few spreads of this book are dedicated to explaining the what? and why? of Urban Sketching. The remainder is divided into four key chapters which cover the how? such as materials, capturing details correctly, where to draw people, and dealing with movement.

This book is jam-packed with informative advice and examples from Lynne’s own sketchbooks and those of other practicing Urban Sketchers from around the world. There are many styles, approaches and subjects to take inspiration from, and Lynne’s chatty, approachable personality shines through in her informative commentaries.  There are also step-by-step demonstrations dotted throughout each chapter, so you can see how simple techniques can give the illusion of a more complicated drawing.

I loved the balance of text to illustration in this book, and the huge variety of artists and work represented. Urban Sketching is about capturing your own perspective, and Lynne truly understands the obstacles that beginners may fear.  Her suggestions and examples will alleviate some of them.  Practice in the field should alleviate the others!

If, like me, you’re venturing into this genre for the first time, or have some experience and would like to improve your people drawing skills, I would recommend this book. Affordably priced at £12.99, this is one title I will definitely buy.

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Watercolour Challenge

My watercolour journey continues with another online resource I just have to share. Since starting with my Daler Rowney Aquafine paints a few weeks’ ago I’ve gradually become more frustrated as I realise how little I know and how hard it is to find the information I want.

If you’re familiar with watercolour, you’ll know how the colours dry with a hard edge; a quality I adore, but also something I’d like to know how to avoid.  My own sketchbook try-outs dried as messy splodges.  Despite my local library’s seemingly abundant stock of watercolour books, the beginner titles I looked through didn’t quite explain the basics of the basics.  Not even Alwyn Crawshaw could explain how to achieve a soft edge in his book Watercolour Painting Course: A Step- by-Step Guide to Success.  Having worked through the first few lessons on applying and mixing paint, for all the writing and demonstrations in the book, there was a fundamental lack of nitty gritty technical detail that I had hoped for.

A quick internet search took me to Dawn McLeod Heim’s very comprehensive Watercolor Painting and Projects website.  An absolute must for beginners, and exactly what I needed.  Following her instructions I have, so far, painted three colour wheels, and was very surprised at the results, achieving oranges, purples and greens I thought I would have to buy.  I am now working through the Beautiful Peace Rose step-by-step project, with… softened watercolour edges!  Yay!

I have yet to perfect a watercolour wash, especially in small shapes, but with practice and Dawn’s comprehensive instructions, mine will become perfect. Why not dip in and see what you discover?

WordPress Prompt: Abundance

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‘Just Draw It!’ Book Review

There are a plethora of drawing prompt books out at the moment, and Just Draw It! by Sam Piyasena and Beverly Philp is one title that my local library just happened to stock, so I thought I’d take a look.

Sam Piyasena and Beverly Philp, Just Draw It! (Search Press, 2013)

The Basic Premise

The following statement was taken from the back cover:

“Aimed at anyone who would like to pick up a pencil and just draw, this book provides a foolproof way to pick up the skills – and the confidence – to sketch without the hang-ups that can… get in the way of our creativity.”

My ‘Blunt’ Review

Now, I’m going to admit that when I first flicked through this book, I was a little disappointed. These creative prompts were going to take me out of my comfort zone and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be nudged out of it!  Each of the six chapters has a particular focus, such as Line and Mark Making (Chapter 1), or Movement and Gesture (Chapter 4), with at least five different ‘drawing’ prompts to inspire you.  This structure is perfect if you want to focus on a particular aspect of drawing, such as tone or composition.

As someone who defaults to line drawing, I jumped straight to Chapter 2 – Tone and Form, and set about stretching my boundaries. Inspired by ‘Seeing the Shapes’, where you draw the negative spaces within a still life of stationary items, I blocked out the foliage of a rather prolific basil plant.

Tip: water foliage at least half-an-hour before you intend to draw it, as any limp leaves will move as they perk up.  I haven’t attempted any other prompts yet, but there are several I’d like to try.

This is a contemporary drawing book, and after I set aside my preconceptions (as you may have to), I saw how I could benefit from each challenge. At first glance, you may not be inspired to draw a fizzy drink can through a series of physical changes, or to draw a room in the dark.  But you could adapt many of these creative prompts to suit yourself, or accept the challenge as it is written and see how your own perspective shifts.  There are prompts for still life, portraits, urban sketching and doodling, but you’ll need more than just a pencil and paper for many of them (different pens, tracing paper, needle and thread).

Dotted throughout are further ‘Look Up’ lists of artworks by traditional and contemporary artists, so if a prompt speaks to you but the example doesn’t, look up the authors’ suggestions and see how you can make each prompt your own. Priced at just under £10, this title may be finding a home on my bookshelf soon.

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