Museum of English Rural Life

My write-up of the Reading Urban Sketchers visit to the Museum of English Rural Life this weekend over on their new blog.

Urban Sketchers Reading

I spent a lot more time exploring the areas of the museum I’ve not spent much time in before. There is so much to see here, from small every day objects, through sheep in jumpers and up to huge tank-like machinery. Something for everyone.

I even got to see the famous 18th century chicken in trousers illustration with my own eyes :)

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Circus Strongman

Recently, I completed a Curtis Brown Creative illustration course on Children’s picture books. The course was online, with weekly videos and tasks from illustrator Sarah McIntyre. It was very fast paced with a big emphasis on getting stuff done and finished. We were a small group and the forum was a nice place to share work.

Continue reading “Circus Strongman”

West’s Bestiary

Over on Twitter, Colin West has been posting a new little rhyme every few days, featuring an animal for each letter of the alphabet. He’s then been inviting anyone who’s interested to create an illustration to go with the poem. I’ve been following along and here are my sketches. To keep up with the fast pace, and to keep it lively and fun, I’ve not tried to stick to a single style and I’ve created mashups of a few of the letters.

Continue reading “West’s Bestiary”

Sea Life Animal Alphabet

Each Monday, over on Twitter, people share their drawings, sketches and paintings of a specific animal that was announced the week before. Starting at A, each week is a different animal starting with the next letter of the alphabet on a specific theme. It takes six months to get through the whole alphabet (26 weeks!) so the theme changes twice a year. I’ve been taking part in the sea life theme since January and here they all are!

Sea life animal alphabet illustration
Continue reading “Sea Life Animal Alphabet”

Wet in wet

Much more like watercolour now! Less is definitely more with this digital watercolour stuff. So difficult to resist fiddling with it though – very much like learning to use real watercolours except when it all turns to mud on the iPad, you can undo :)

We are moving in the right direction and this is definitely something I’m going to continue playing around with.


This is an illustration for a limerick for an illustration course I’m taking. I didn’t get to choose the poem and The requirements were that the words needed to be presented along with the illustration and it should be in only black and white.

I struggled for a long time to come up with an idea and am super happy with the end result.


This is a little illustration for the prompt angler fish + ballet set by @studioteabreak over on Twitter. See the trouble I had drawing her shoulders and head in the speed paint below!

I’d also be super interested to know what you think of the framing with my details. I’ve become much more sensitive to copyright and image sharing issues since I started working digitally a large proportion of the time – when there’s no physical original the image on the screen is all you’ve got to show and keep for your efforts.

I’ve been resisting anything that distracts from full enjoyment of images such as posting in low resolution or adding watermarks but I know some people do that and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it all.

Farmer’s market

I spent this morning with the Reading urban sketchers at the Thames Valley Farmer’s Market, which takes over the Reading cattle market, on the outskirts of the town centre every third Saturday of the month. I came away with a few sketch, some cheese, butter and coffee beans :)

I’d planned on some ink and watercolour sketching but couldn’t find the bag I’d left my sketchbook in so ended up working on the iPad.

My favourite things were all the different patterned plastic tablecloths.

MerMay the 4th be with you

It’s the 4th of May and I’m still not bored with this mermaid thing so here’s Yoda as a fish-tailed curiosity. My first thought was a Darth Vader merman but then Yoda seemed like he’d be more fun. It’s also free comic day today. I’ve never read any comics, except the Beano as a kid, so I’m going to go check out my local comic shop and see what sort of art appeals to me.


So it seems this MerMay hashtag thing is all month and people will be showing different mermaid sketches each day. I can’t promise that, but I did have to create this one – particularly on my mind I think with the local elections yesterday. I can’t be the first person to have thought of this but also I haven’t actually seen any other illustrations of Theresa with a tail. I was going to leave her with just a plain black tail to represent her leather trousers (plus the leopard “shoes” obvs) but then remembered that it’s Friday so incorporated the colour collective colour for this week (celadon) into the background and texture of her tail. I’m not 100% on the background but the texture is great.


Been seeing lots of mermaid paintings, drawings and illustrations for the hashtag #mermay

I thought I’d join in with this crocodile headed version. I think, before I started, I had a vague notion that it would be a dark and mildly disturbing image 😂 turns out super cute instead! I love him and his cheeky, toothy grin.

Cheese fest

Today, for the first time, I took my iPad out to try digital urban sketching. It was a nice day and the annual cheese festival was on in the park in town so I found a bench and sketched away. It was good but a few differences to note compared to regular sketching:

In the sun the screen can be difficult to see – sometimes this was just colours not looking right but sometimes I couldn’t see much at all

The iPad is *heavy*. I did think about this when I decided to buy the large version and it is too heavy to hold out and sketch for a long time but I don’t regret getting the bigger version in the slightest.

The ability to undo and redo layers and endlessly tweak means that I took far longer over this one sketch than I usually would any regular pencil and watercolour urban sketch.

I’ll have another go sometime but I’m secretly glad that the paper is not being put out of business just yet :)

Double bass

A little sketch for the mythical mashup prompt of flamingo + double bass. Also, today is draw a bird day so two birds with one, um, bird…

I also drew a Napoleon Snake fish for this week’s animal alphabet and it’s another freaky one – burrows into the sand with just it’s head sticking out. Thankfully only found in tropical waters so no danger here in the UK. Tiny silver lining of English weather…

First knitted jumper

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A medium term goal of mine is to knit a jumper from wool I spun myself. Having never knit a jumper before it seemed like a good idea to do a trial run with less precious acrylic yarn I had lying around (also good for using that up so I can concentrate on the woolly self spun goodness).

This is the result of that trial! I’m super happy with it even though there are more than a few dodgy things going on here :)

The ‘pattern’ I used was a top down raglan calculator from Knittingfool. I don’t know if I was just fundamentally misunderstanding something but all the numbers of stitches were odd and didn’t work at all for the ribbing. probably my fault and I’ve misunderstood something somewhere. But for this there was a lot of fudging to get all the numbers right.

The second issue is that for my gauge swatch I knitted stockinette back and forth left and right handed. It didn’t really occur to me that my gauge would be vastly different from when knitting fully left or right handed in the round. But it sure was!

The main body I knitted left handed and it is quite big. when I got to the arms I switched to right handed just to give my hands a change and rest and after a few rows the difference was very noticeable! see below the obvious switch to a much tighter gauge at the place I’m pointing:

There were many other weird things going on, most likely all my doing, but I ploughed n regardless and it’s all fine – a bit wobbly here and there but it fits and is nice and warm and cosy and I’m loving my last minute decision to have bright red cuff stripes :)

Here I am wearing it while making a start on the next (hand spun) jumper!

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Sunday Times Watercolour Competition 2018

The Sunday Times Watercolour competition 2018 exhibition ended its run in Basingstoke last week and I went along to have a look!

There were about 70 watercolour, gouache, acrylic and mixed media pieces in total across a whole range of subjects and styles. The three winning paintings were all huge! but that’s about all they had in common.

First prize The Prodigal Son by Sophie Charalamgous:

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Second prize was Growth of the Soil by Michael Chance:

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Third prize was Diving Boards, Crystal Palace by Richard Elliot:

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My favourite painting that I could just fall into and stare at for ages was Rear Window by Adrian Coleman:

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A few others that caught my eye and I liked very much:


and then there were some that I’d have been really interested to know the judges thinking behind selecting them over others:


Cemetery Junction


Cemetery Junction is a crossroads just outside Reading City centre, made famous by the film of the same name by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

I spent Sunday morning drawing in the walled cemetery with the Reading Urban Sketchers. It was a gloriously sunny day and lots of people turned up to soak in the atmosphere and be creative.

I focused on watercolour sketching some of the various statues and then, with 10 minutes until we were due to meet up, I quickly drew the entrance scene above in coloured pencil.

The throw down photo at the end of this post is just a small section of the sketches produced – several people had to leave early and then the wind picked up so we had to snap and move on before our sketchbooks blew away.


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Today I joined the Reading Urban Sketchers at the Hexagon Theatre in Reading to draw and paint the musicians during a rehearsal of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was an amazing experience and a great privilege.

We spread ourselves out around the balcony and settled down to a solid hour and a half of sketching where we couldn’t move position in case we disturbed the rehearsal.

Since there’s a lot of moving around on stage and the light level was too low to be caught up in details my approach was to concentrate on the rhythm and feel of the room. I created many quick sketches, far more than shown here. At times I found myself drawing with the pace of the music – faster and faster!

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we then had a little congregation and comparison of what we’d been up to. I was very impressed with all the watercolour people had managed in the gloom we were working in.

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Then we headed back in and settled down in different positions for another round. This time I dug out my brush pen filled with black ink (plus shimmery gold stuff) but it was disappointingly blocked. Not to be beaten, I unscrewed the brush bit and blobbed ink onto the page to then draw and paint with starting from a block. This worked really well and the gold shimmer broke up the slab of black nicely. The second half of the rehearsal was really short – only maybe 20 minutes – so we all managed just a quick sketch or two before it was time to go. These were my favourite of the day though – I was in the swing of things now.

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This was a brilliant way to spend an afternoon and a wonderful opportunity to sketch people. Everyone seemed to leave in an uplifted frame of mind. There was mention of possible similar days in the future and I’m looking forward to them already :)

Thank you to The Hexagon, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Reading Sketchers for arranging it.


A quick sketch is a nice way to wind down after work on a Friday evening. This was prompted by the colour “serenity” which, it turns out, is this pale blue. I first was trying to think of blue animals that I could draw but none came to mind that sparked my imagination so I moved on to grey animals since you can draw these in blue tones and have them accepted as appropriate. I’m sure I must have drawn an elephant in the past but not in recent memory so an elephant it should be! I looked up a few reference photos and decided standing in water would be a nice setting. In fact the blue can be the water and I’d just use regular grey for the elephant. Ah ha, a baby elephant would be close enough to the surface to have a nice reflection. And there you go, the idea for the image was born, I looked up some images of elephants in the correct posture to get the proportions right, made up the water and there you go. A little insight into my thought process.


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This is my new spinning wheel – the Kromski Fantasia! I bought an unfinished version and spent the last weekend painting it all before putting it together. The main reason for getting the unfinished version was that it was quite a lot cheaper – like 20-25% cheaper than the varnished versions and I wasn’t very keen on the look of the varnish finishes. But now it’s finished I love it so much and am very happy I was forced into painting it all.

I’ve been thinking about getting a wheel for about six months and I went back and forth on whether I would really get a lot of use out of one and looking at all the options and repeatedly putting the fantasia into a shop basket but then sleeping on it and deciding to put it off for a little while longer. My main reason for waiting was that I’ve never spun on a wheel and I worried about buying before trying and ending up with something I found uncomfortable. But the only reasonable option for trying out some wheels – the local spinners and weavers guild – wasn’t an option because they only meet on Wednesdays and I’m busy at work. After months of looking though the fantasia had all the features I wanted and was really the only model I could afford. The price jumps up extremely quickly if you want any more exciting options. So I went for it…

…things didn’t start well though. The wheel arrived last week and was left on the doorstep even though we were in at the time. When I found it I saw that the box had clearly been dropped and was badly damaged. There were quite a few more holes than you see below.

On opening the box I was relieved to find that most everything was in ok condition. The instructions were all scrunched up, which does’t matter, but also the wheel itself was damaged which was much more upsetting.

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The damaged part was small though and shouldn’t affect the spinning so I didn’t complain as the only outcome would likely be to have it replaced at much time, stress and expense. I would be painting the wheel anyway so maybe I could try to hide it a bit.

All parts were unfinished and the wooden parts would need different treatment from the MDF wheel. After researching all the options I decided to oil the wood with some sort of curing oil. I chose “worktop” oil in the end which is some blend meant for solid wood kitchen surfaces. It was easy to apply and gives the wood a very subtle pink tinge. I applied 3 coats to all the wooden parts over the course of the weekend.

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lessons learned – use gloves! for the first coat I didn’t bother and I didn’t realise it happening but I ended up with a solidified layer of oil all over my fingers which was very difficult to remove and felt very unpleasant. I used gloves for the remaining coats. Secondly, since I hadn’t put it together yet I didn’t really realise how the pieces fit together and unwittingly oiled shut the slits of the rods connecting the pedals to the wheel. These slits are opened up to put the whole thing together. A pizza wheel worked really well to split them apart again :)

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The wheel is mainly made of MDF and this needs special treatment – you can’t just paint it with whatever you want because of how super absorbent all the fibres are. So first I gave it a coat of MDF sealer which promised I would only need a single, quick-drying coat and then be able to do whatever I wanted. What I wanted was something light and painterly and I dug out a collection of emulsion paint sample pots I bought on sale and have had stashed away for ages. My first attempt looked like this:

when it was dry I flipped it and painted the back and then when that was dry I looked at the front again and decided I wasn’t keen any more on the obvious paint strokes or the hints of yellow. I started to paint a second coat with a fluffier, blended look. I wanted to apply (imitation) gold leaf and rather than wait for a second coat of paint to dry and then glue the gold I thought I would just use the wet paint to stick it. This worked well and I applied a big chunk in one place then tailed it off around the wheel.

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once the paint was dry I brushed off all the loose bits and worked the gold into the grain of the paint for a crackly, distressed look.

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I then applied a coat of spray varnish to seal the gold. This is likely not really needed and I only applied it because we had a half can spare from a different project and I wanted to prevent the fake gold from reacting with moisture in the air. probably I’m being overly cautious and there would never have been any issues but now my mind is at ease.

Then it was just a matter of putting it together!

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This was pretty easy and didn’t take very long. only a couple of bits were tight and difficult to push into place but the instructions were clear and I knew what needed doing at each step.

Ta da!

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and then of course it was time to try it out. It was very squeaky until I gave it all a bit of oil and now it’s running smooth and silently.

My first attempt was a disaster! :)

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I was pedalling like I was on a mountain bike and this wound the wool so much and so tight it was springing all over the place.

In my next attempt I tried to counter this by drafting at high speed to match my manic feet and this worked to a certain extent but the yarn I ended up with is crazily chunky. I went through 100g of wool in an hour and got 53 meters of super chunky stuff that I have no idea what to use for :) it was fun though and I was mostly just getting used to how the whole thing worked. Happily, although the finished yarn is all thick and thin, I seem to have achieved overall consistency – when plying the two 50g chunky, thick and thin singles I ended up with only a very short length of one single left over – the two singles were almost exactly the same length.

I’ve relaxed into it now and am trying some thinner stuff with gentle slow pedalling and it’s going well so far. This fibre is some crazy mix I ordered along with the wheel. it’s got super slippy bits. shiny bits, fluffy crimpy black bits and they all want to go different ways but it’s keeping me on my toes :)

I think spinning thin is the way to go to for me for now just to make the fluff last longer and not run out super quick and have to buy more!

immortal jellyfish


I is for immortal jellyfish.

This jellyfish can revert back to it’s immature polyp stage and then become mature again over and over whenever it gets old or sick.

This was fun to paint and I think I may prefer some of the early stages of the painting over the finished piece. Less is more!

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battery human

I recently started an online illustration course. The first assignment is to illustrate three song lyics. This is my first. The song is Battery Human by Stornaway. Below are my initial ideas, thought process and sketches. I also made quite a few paper snow flakes but they didn’t scan in very well.



I’ve been using up all the weird bits of wool I’ve had lying around forever and am not realistically going to use for anything else. some of them are just small bits that are not big enough for much, others are a bit itchy or colours that don’t really go with anything else.

I used hdc stitch throughout and just increased ~8 stitches per round. normally, when trying to create a flat circle you’d increase 6 stitches per round in dc or 12 stitches per round in tr so hdc should probably be 9 stitches per round but it depends on how tightly you crochet. with this I had to be a bit flexible and do more or fewer increases as required because of the differing thicknesses of yarn. I crocheted with 3 different yarns held together and a 10mm hook. I used the smallest bits of yarn to start with and the largest at the end so that the stripes were not too wide or chaotic.

I worked in a spiral and used stitch markers to keep track of the increases but I changed the position of the increases every few rounds to keep the shape circular rather than faceted.

It’s big, and I haven’t weighed it but i think it’s very heavy!

It’s nice to sit on :)

Jade city

A reimagining of the emerald city in jade for the colour collective challenge this Friday. I’ve been playing Wizard of Oz Fluxx this week so it was in the back of my mind.

A lesson learned on Procreate with this – don’t be too trigger happy with merging layers. My first version of this had a door in the wall arch. Once I thought it was done I decided it would be a better composition if the road was allowed to flow through the page, also the gate gave a slight feeling of a hurdle Dorothy would soon have to face. Instead I wanted the viewer to be feeling the same wonder as Dorothy at seeing the city for the first time and for their eye to flow to the emerald building and find joy in its shine.

It wasn’t too much hassle to change but would have been far easier if I hadn’t merged all the layers half way through.


A little sketch for Valentine’s Day. Walking past the local charity shop last weekend I saw they had red helium balloons decorating the window spelling out “love”

I snapped a photo as the range of colours from dark maroon to pink and white caught my eye. A useful reference for this sketch but I thought I’d keep it simple with just a single heart shape. This was done on Procreate, just using the coloured pencil brush. I copied the brush they supply you with and tweaked it a few times so I now have a fat round one for colouring in and a smooth one for writing. Their default is good for outline drawing.

chair revamp

A quick post to show you my kitchen chair transformation – they were originally covered in black leather (I think leather – may be fake leather). The surface was deteriorated and peeling away on a couple of them so I decided to recover the seat pads. I had some nice cream and purple floral fabric with birds, a staple gun and a tin of Scotchgard. It was fairly simple to unscrew the pads, cut off the old cover and staple on the new one.

before (this was the worst one, some were ok)
during – naked chairs!
after – pretty!