BAfM Conference

Today I joined the Reading Urban Sketchers at a special event drawing the annual conference of the British Association of Friends of Museums at Reading Town Hall. I joined the party for the afternoon session and while I drew the scene above in the beautiful Victoria Hall I heard about all kinds of projects – from the reopening of the Abbey Quarter in Reading to community engagement in Düsseldorf.

The atmosphere in the conference was great, quite a few of the delegates were interested in our sketching and a few joined in.

Before joining the conference I spent a little time in the morning sketching in Reading Museum, which shares a building with the Town Hall. Where else can you look in one direction at a classic 60’s TV set then turn your head slightly and see a giant boar’s head.

Portrait Party

This morning I went to a portrait party organised by Reading Urban Sketchers. Nine of us gathered together, sat in a circle, and took turns to pose for 10 minutes while everyone else sketched and painted.

10 minutes goes in the blink of an eye when you’re trying to capture some sort of likeness of a person on paper. 10 minutes stretches into hours when you’re sitting still and trying to ignore an itchy nose!

At the end of around two hours everyone had completed eight portraits and everyone had been drawn by eight other people. Furniture was moved and we managed to lay them all out on the floor so that each column was drawn by a single person and each row was all the portraits of a single person.

Some of us stuck to one technique or material throughout and some mixed it up a bit and tried out different approaches.

Everyone then took home the portraits of themselves. Here are all the lovely drawings of me curated in my high-tech gallery-quality display set up. I love them all!:

It’s interesting how no one image in particular looks perfectly like me but all of them together is definitely me. It’s as if my brain is taking features from each and piecing together a single representation. But it’s better than just one perfect image because here you have different angles and slightly different expressions. The result is more like a little animation than a still image.

And here are the eight portraits I completed today. I worked in pencil (0.9mm technical pencil and a giant graphite stick) and minimalist watercolour throughout:

I’d certainly be up for doing this again sometime and I think most people agreed. It was an intense morning but very rewarding and fun. Also, there were biscuits :)


Around Easter I spent a week in Hunstanton, my first trip to Norfolk. I took only my iPad (for art. I took clothes…) and dedicated the week’s sketching to trying out digital watercolour.

Digital watercolour is an odd concept because the joy of watercolour is its unpredictability and spontaneity. Digital is ultimate control! I found that it actually takes a long time and a lot of effort to make a digital piece look like a 5 minute loose and fluid watercolour sketch. You also need to be familiar and comfortable with how watercolour behaves in order to know how to recreate it. All the happy little splashes and colour bleeds have to be painstakingly constructed. It was an interesting experiment but I think I’ll stick to the meditative state I fall into with regular watercolour and use the iPad for styles that suit it better.

1. Hunstanton cliffs

The striking two tone cliffs between old and new Hunstanton.

2. Lighthouse cafe

An old lighthouse that is now a holiday cottage on the cliffs with a cafe next door. There was an awesome camper van parked nearby painted in myriad designs that I wanted to paint but it was gone when I went back in the afternoon so just this, shadows on white, sketch instead.

3. Wesley church

This is a little Methodist church on the outskirts of Hunstanton. A lot of the buildings in this area have the same red and white two tone effect of the cliffs, so I guess it’s all local stone.

4. Village sign

Alios Delectare Iuvat is the motto of Hunstanton and means something along the lines of “it is our pleasure to please others”

I saw this written on the coat of arms that is part of the Hunstanton village sign. The sign is a wooden and (I think) metal (it’s hard to tell) double sided sign standing on the green, in the middle of the village, looking out to sea.

5. Wash monster

The wash monsters are a pair of ex-US Army Light Amphibious Resupply Crafts (LARC), who now spend their days taking tourists on trips around Hunstanton. This one is called “Wizzy” and was used during the Vietnam war.

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.

All the words featured here are Colin’s and all the drawings are by me :)

A is for anteater 
Hey, have you met my nice new pet?
An anteater is he.
There’s just one hitch — l’m apt to itch
When serving up his tea!
B is for bat
The bat in flight at dead of night
Can flap about with ease,
For with his ears he somehow steers
A path between the trees.
C is for chameleon
Chameleons, whenever seen,
Are red. Or orange. Maybe green.
They’re one of Nature’s strangest sights,
Their colours change like traffic lights.
D is for dog
My dog is well-equipped to hear
A note too high for human ear.
With ears so big they touch the ground,
No wonder he hears every sound.


E is for elephant
An elephant always remembers,
His head is quite stuffed full of knowledge,
And some of them even are members
Of Mensa, and study at college.
F is for flamingo
Flamingos are a shocking pink,
And use one leg to stand on.
The other leg they use, I think,
To practise how to land on.
G is for glow worm
I know a worried glowworm,
I wonder what the matter is?
She seems so glum and gloomy —
Perhaps she needs new batteries.

H is for hippopotamus
We thought a pleasant pet to keep
Might be a hippopotamus.
Now see him sitting in a heap,
And notice at the bottom — us!
I is for iguana
I have an iguana,
A plucky little fellow.
I fed him on banana
And now he’s turning yellow.

J is for jackal
The jackal, is he full of vice,
A sneaky and a snide type?
I like to think he CAN be nice,
A Jackal and a Hyde type.
K is for kangaroo
O don’t mess with a kangaroo
In either bush or outback,
For if you clout a kangaroo
The odds are it’ll clout back.

L is for leopard
The leopard cannot change his spots.
Those spots he’s been allotted
Are there (and here’s a paradox)
So he cannot be spotted.
M is for moose
What use
A moose?
Except, perhaps
For coats and caps.

N is for newt
I don’t know much about the newt.
I know he’s small, I know he’s mute,
I know he never is hirsute,
And lives life in his birthday suit.
O is for orang-utan
The closest relative of man
Some say, is the Orang-Utan,
And when I look at Grandpapa,
I realise how right they are!

Portrait Challenge

Every Thursday over on Twitter @StudioTeaBreak posts a painting, sculpture or other artwork from the past featuring people / portraits and invites anyone who wants to take part to create their own interpretation.

Some participants try to reproduce a good likeness in their favourite media, others create caricatures or switch the person for some other famous figure or reinterpret in a different style from the original. I’m probably in the first category – I normally try to create a good likeness of the original using either watercolour, pencil/ink or Procreate.

Studying good paintings from the past is a great way to improve your own artistic skills. I love to dive into the details – how do their simple individual brush strokes create sequins / hair highlights / cheekbone definition when you step back. Seriously studying the colour palettes is also fascinating – the colours you find used in skin and hair can be like rainbows sometimes. Also, when I first started drawing digitally the portrait challenge was a great way to learn my new tools without having to simultaneously make decisions about composition and other design elements.

I don’t do the challenge every week but maybe on average I’ve completed 2 month since my first back in November 2018. I’ve noticed over time that I’m particularly inspired when the portrait is of a woman and is in an impressionist or slightly illustrative style. Luckily, @StudioTeaBreak very often selects female subjects and they are not usually famous paintings or very well known artists and that’s perfect – I’ve seen a lot of amazing art and artists through this challenge that I might never have otherwise discovered.

This page collects together all the challenges I’ve completed and so is ever expanding, with new entries added at the top so you can pop back now and again to see the new pictures. The title of each section is also a link to either the original on which mine is based, or a separate blog post with more information and photos.

A girl wearing Breton costume

This is my Procreate version of an Elisabeth Sonrel portrait that you can see via the link above when it sold at Christie’s for £44,000, double the original estimate! If anyone wants to buy a print of my version then I’m very open to offers :) You can read more about Élisabeth Sonrel and her work here.

Pierre Wautier

Portrait of an Officer, possibly Pierre Wautier, painted by Michaelina Waitier around 1650. Follow the link to read more about the artist.

My version is a watercolour sketch in a new sketchbook – the paper reacts quite crazily to watercolour! but it’s produced some interesting effects in his hair.

Portrait of an Officer, possibly Pierre Wautier, painted by Michaelina Waitier around 1650

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, originally painted as an altarpiece in 1480 by Carlo Crivelli.

Pandam Paliya thovil mask

20th century, Sri Lanka, artist unknown. The original is Wood, jute fibre & paint. Mine is Procreate on the iPad

Pandam Paliya thovil mask by Nicola Schofield

Medea by Frederick Sandy

Originally painted in 1868, this has a wonderful gold leaf background and her expression is just wonderful. See the original and read all about it at the link.

Medea, painted in 1868 by Frederick Sandy

Moroccan man in green

Originally painted in 1932 by Zinaida Serebriakova. This charcoal drawing could have been done last week – the colours are so vibrant and the style seems very modern. My version was on the iPad and I tried to replicate the sketchy charcoal nature of the lines. I love this loose sketch style of working.

Moroccan man in green Originally painted in 1932 by Zinaida Serebriakova

Joan of Arc by Albert Lynch

I love the muted colour palette and delicate lines of this portrait. Getting into the details of the metal armour was the most absorbing part. A really lovely painting. This has been one of my favourites in terms of both the drawing process and finished portrait.

Hat with Bird: Anne Estelle Rice by JD Fergusson

The original of this was painted in 1907 in oils.

I decided to try and paint it using digital watercolour brushes and techniques. Getting digital art to look like realistic watercolour is a tricky business. I’ve tried a few brushes that claim to be watercolour but they’ve looked nothing like it. Then I came across this tutorial by aaaronorg and after an initial doodle try out I could see some potential.

Hat with bird is the first time I’ve tried to give it a go properly and though it’s still got a way to go, I think I’m moving closer. You can see some wonderful colour bleeding effects aaaronorg achieved in various examples on his blog

Lucky New Year Dream by Isoda Koryusai

My version of ‘Courtesan Dreaming a Lucky New Year Dream’, woodblock print, ink on paper by Isoda Koryusai, about 1775. This version done in Procreate, very simply, just with the standard pencil brushes.

Based on Lucky New Year Dream by Isoda Koryusai

Portuguese Soldier

A stylised, graphical interpretation of the detail on a salt and pepper cellar carved around 1600 featuring Portuguese soldiers. Four identical pieces exist, carved from ivory and might have originally been part of a set. One is currently found in the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

Portuguese soldier

Leon Bakst by Amedeo Modigliani

My version of a modernist portrait of Leon Bakst by Amedeo Modigliani, originally painted in oils in 1917. Leon Bakst was himself an artist and art teacher in Russia around 1900.

Lev Bakst by Nicola Scofield

Dr Albert Barnes by Giorgio De Chirico

painted in 1926. The original is quite sketchy and I went for an extreme version of that here.

Dr Albert Barnes

Self portrait in blue by Marguerite Vallet-Gilliard

This one was fun. The original is a self portrait by the artist and I found myself wondering what they would think about all these random people creating their own versions and then displaying and commenting as a group all on one day. Would they think it was a wonderful idea to get people to be more creative? be flattered by the attention? be insulted by the comedy versions? so weird to think about what might become of all our artistic content in a hundred years when we’re not around to object or have any input. I was going for a definite illustrative style with this one – trying out some new digital brushes – and I’m very happy with the result.

Marguerite Vallet-Gilliard

Ethel Bartlett by Laura Knight

originally painted in oils in 1926.

Ethel Bartlett

Corporal J. M. Robins by Laura Knight

Corporal J. M. Robins, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, painted by Laura Knight in oils on canvas in 1941

Corporal J. M. Robins
Corporal J. M. Robins WIP

Maud Wagner

Maud Wagner was a circus performer and tattoo artist. I love the photo this is based on – she has such a defiant expression. I had a few goes at this – I wasn’t quite sure what I was aiming at to start with. I’m super happy with this two colour version.

Maud Wagner

Ellen Mary in a White Coat by Mary Cassatt

The original of this is an oil painting oil from 1896.

Continuing with my Procreate and iPad endeavours here I tried a more painterly approach – starting by blocking in the big shapes and then working down to the details. Towards the end I was very engrossed and it felt very similar to the home stretch of a few watercolour paintings I’ve done in the past.

Ellen Mary in a White Coat
Ellen Mary in a White Coat

Selika Lazevski

Based on a photograph taken in 1891 at the studio of Paul Nader in Paris. Not much is known about her but what little there is you can read in the Paris Review article linked in the title

Selika Lazevski

Young Lady in a Boat by James Tissot

The original of this was painted in 1870, in oils on canvas. The little dog in the background is just perfect.

This was my first try out drawing digitally with the iPad and apple pencil. Here I’ve used just a single layer and the default pencil tool in Procreate to get a feel for drawing on the screen. Other than that though the process was exactly as I would sketch on paper.

Young Lady in a Boat

Léon Spilliaert

pencil sketch based on a Self Portrait of Leon Spilliaert from around 1907, who was a Belgian symbolist painter and graphic artist.

Leon Spilliaert

Only hope holds my heart

This is a plate from the Wallace Museum with an inscription of ‘Only hope holds my heart’. It shows a profile bust of a woman and was made by an unknown artist in Deruta, Italy, some time between 1515-1540. It was maybe made to mark a betrothal. I have a separate post on the drawing of this so if you follow the link in the title you can read more about it, see the original and lots of in progress photos

Only Hope Holds My Heart

Mrs Mounter by Harold Gilman

The original of this was painted in oils. My version is fairly thick watercolour. I painted this in many layers and took plenty of photos as I waited for each to dry so I have a whole separate post about this painting. follow the link in the title to read and see more.

Mrs mounter watercolour by Nicola Schofield
mrs mounter watercolour

Lucius Verus by Carlo Albascini

This was my very first portrait challenge, back in November 2018. The original is a bust sculpted in the 18th century. My version is a monotone watercolour.

painting of an 18th century bust of Lucius Verus by Carlo Albascini

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

Putting them all together at the end was a bit of a challenge. For the next alphabet I think I will spend some time at the start to decide on a common style / size / shape that I’ll stick to throughout. I might also incorporate the letters into the illustrations, rather than adding them after.

These are a mix of watercolours and digital drawings. Keep scrolling to see each animal up close and read about them and / or the drawing process used.

A is for Angelfish

This is watercolour and pencil with a little black ink for the eye

Angelfish watercolour illustration

B is for blue crab

This is a female blue crab, which you can tell from the red tipped claws. The proper name for the blue crab is Callinectes sapidus which means beautiful savoury swimmer and so, unsurprisingly, the internet tells me they are very popular foodstuffs.

Blue crab illustration

C is for clown fish

Iconic black, white and orange of Finding Nemo fame.

Clown fish

D is for dumbo octopus

The Dumbo Octopus gets his name from two fins on the top of his head that look like ears. He flaps these to move through the water and uses his umbrella webbed tentacles to steer.

Dumbo Octopus watercolour

E is for elephant seal

The male elephant seal can grow up to around 20ft long and more than 4 tons. They are much larger than the female seals and have an inflatable snout that resembles a trunk.

The females are pregnant for 11 months of the year, give birth to a single pup, nurse it for a month without eating (they live off their fat reserves) before getting pregnant again and repeating the whole thing.

Elephant seal watercolour

F is for fangtooth Fish

This guy is freaky, looking up photos made my skin crawl a bit. I had enough time to read that they only grow to about 6 inches long, so maybe not too nightmare inducing, before I had to stop looking. This is the first illustration in the series I did digitally rather in watercolour

Fangtooth Fish

G is for goblin shark

Trying to look up images to draw kept bringing up one particular animated gif of it eating a little orange fish in one big gulp, billowing out the red slashes (gills I guess…) in a crazy undulation.

The goblin shark can protrude its jaw almost to the end of its snout and it has more than 30 rows of teeth in both the upper and lower jaw.

Goblin Shark

H is for hourglass dolphin

Back to watercolour again for this one

Hourglass dolphin

I is for immortal jellyfish

The original illustration I did of this was in watercolour but with a splashy, drippy background. You can see that version by following the link above (it’s got some lovely in progress photos) and read all about it’s immortality. This version was done in Procreate.

Immortal jellyfish

J is for Japanese sea horse

Found around Japan, Cambodia, China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. This version is watercolour and coloured pencil.

Japanese seahorse watercolour

K is for king of herrings

The king of herrings is a species of oarfish and the world’s longest bony fish at up to 17m long. It’s ribbon-like and swims in an undulating way, so possibly is the cause of many scary sea serpent stories.

King of Herrings

Here are the first 11 illustrations all together. You can see here why I needed a second version of the immortal jellyfish – having a solid colour background would not have worked with the other drawings

A to K animal alphabets

L is for lobster

I have a separate post on this lobster painting because I took lots of in process photos. You can check that out by following the link above. This is watercolour and different colours of pencil.

Lobster illustration in watercolour

M is for mantis shrimp

I did this illustration a week earlier than everyone else as it was used for the announcement of that week’s letter. These little guys are awesome! They are between around 10cm and 40cm in length and are famous because the variety with calcified clubs (smashers) can punch with such force they smash aquarium glass. Other varieties have spear claws (spearers) to catch their prey. Both these types can strike with speeds of around 50 miles per hour from a standing start with super fast acceleration. The smashers do this in order to break into prey with shells while the spearers hunt soft bodied fish.

Mantis shrimp have the the most complex eyes ever discovered with at least 4 times the types of photoreceptors humans possess and the ability to tune their colour vision to adapt to their environment. They are compound eyes on stalks and can see from deep ultraviolet to far red and polarised light.

This mantis shrimp is a particularly colourful variety known as the peacock mantis.

Mantis shrimp

N is for napoleon Snake fish

These guys hide in the sand, waiting to strike!

Napoleon eel fish

O is for ocellated wasp fish

Venomous spines! is the only fact that jumped out at me. Apart from that I think he just generally swims about and minds his own business.

Ocellated Wasp Fish

P is for pufferfish

Everyone knows about these crazy little (then big!) Fish. When looking for a reference photo I became distracted for quite a while watching videos of them deflating in slow motion.


Q is for Quillfin Blenny

Even more of a punk rocker than the pufferfish

Quillfin Blenny illustration

R is for red lipped batfish

Crazy. Odd little front legs to walk around the seabed instead of swim. Why do they have huge red lip? No idea. Maybe they fell for all the cosmetics adverts on the tube. From the Wikipedia page: “From appearance, to physical ability they are far from ordinary”

Red lipped batfish

S is for sea sheep

The sea sheep is actually a little sea slug and it eats so much algae that it can photosynthesise!

Sea sheep

T is for Thornback Cowfish

This fish is a sort of box with bits stuck on for eyes and mouth…

Wikipedia tells me it actually has “hexagonal, plate-like scales which are fused together”. So there you go. It is a poisonous box fish that has variable colour to match the environment. I think this means they come in different colours depending on where they live rather than they can change colour…

Thornback Cowfish

U is for undulate Ray

Here is the pink underside with his sad looking little face

Undulate Ray

V is for velvety sea star

Velvety sea star

W is for weedy seadragon

These guys look like little kangaroos covered in sea weed. Back to watercolour and coloured pencil for this. It was lots of fun and some nice granulating effects came out of it.

Weedy sea dragon

Watercolour detail

X is for Xantic Sargo

A lovely silvery, shimmery fish. A type of grunt fish, so called because their lips rub together and make a grunting sound.

Xantic Sargo

Y is for Yellow Tang

a popular salt water aquarium fish, this is watercolour. My scanner has issues with certain shades of yellow so this is then tweaked quite a bit in Photoshop to bring it back to life.

yellow tang watercolour

Z is for Zebra Lion Fish

a member of the scorpionfish family with venomous spines along its back. They are immune to other Zebra Lion fish venom though they keep to themselves anyway.

This is the last letter of the sea life alphabet!

zebra lion fish final watercolour illustration

Cartooning the Tory Leadership Contest

Contest background

Yesterday, Theresa May’s resignation as Conservative Party leader officially took effect. She’ll now remain in office as Prime Minister only until her successor is chosen. This will happen via party leadership elections from now until July.

on Monday at 5pm, those candidates who have been nominated and have enough official backers will go through to take part in rounds of voting where the contenders with the lowest percentages of votes are knocked out until only two remain. They will then go head to head and a new leader crowned in July.

Cartooning background

Until recently, my cartoon experience was limited to a few issues of the Beano and attempts to copy the celebrity caricatures from the radio times as a kid, followed by a fleeting obsession with The Far Side as a teenager. I never really ‘got’ political cartoons. It seemed like I either didn’t have a clue what they were about, or there were so many labels on everything that the drawing felt redundant. As I got older and developed some small interest in politics and what was going on in the world I realised two things:

* they are very specific to time and place

* they are not generally supposed to be “laugh out loud” funny

One good thing to come out of the craziness of Brexit and Trump is that I now have a huge appreciation for political cartooning. Done well they are little shining nuggets of perfect clarity and satire. They make me feel sane – someone else also sees the absurdity of everything!

I’m still not a fan of all the labelling you see in some though. I think that if you’re familiar with the topic then small visual cues should be enough to clue you in on what is happening to who and if you’re not familiar with the topic then labels don’t really help. This becomes very obvious if you look at some cartoons from other countries’ newspapers. No amount of labels will help me understand because I don’t know who those people are or why they might be slapping each other with dead fish. Or whatever. You get the idea.

One person I’ve recently started following is Stephen Collins. I love his ideas and his artwork.

Where are you going with all this?

Ok, so this is a long winded way to tell you about a book I recently bought and show you some little doodles. I recently saw someone recommending Cartooning the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm. It seemed interesting so I found a cheap second hand copy and gave it a go. It is a wonderful book! It reminds me of those museums created from private collections – floor to ceiling stuffed full of artefacts. I’m talking about the museums that have not one, not two, but 364 swords / hat pins / shrunken heads, all different sizes, shapes and styles, piled up together in a single glass cabinet. This book is like that, but for cartoons and individual cartoon features, postures and emotions.

5 stars. Highly recommended.

So, I’m browsing that and contemplating the thousands of different cartoon eye / nose / mouth combos you can make from a few lines and dots and at the same time I’m seeing an upsurge of people sketching politicians because of the crazy all encompassing nature of politics at the moment. I decided to join in. I would love to try some full blown caricatures at some point and there is a whole section of the book on that topic but I decided as a first step I would just see how much of a likeness I could achieve with simple shapes and lines.

The contenders

At this point (June 8th 2019 – Saturday afternoon), there are six candidates with the necessary number of backers to take part in the leadership contest. That seemed like a good number of sketches to start with and has an added advantage that if I display them together then they become more recognisable as part of the group than they would be individually. Here they are, in order of current popularity. I talk about each in turn below, but see if you can recognise them first:

It was so interesting drawing these guys! Some were super easy to get a likeness and others took a while and lots of redrawing with tiny changes. My eye was often not good enough to see exactly what was wrong but just that something looked a bit off, so there was a lot of trial and error. I realised that face shape was vital in all cases but after that it depended on the individual as to which feature was critical to bring the whole thing together.

Boris is out in front with 40 MPs supporting him. This sketch was super easy – round face, wide fat lips, mop of hair and no neck. The defining feature was his droopy eyes and they’re very different from any of the others. The nose is fairly generic.

Michael Gove is in second place with 27 MPs supporting him. This sketch is a bit of a cheat because he’s the only one with glasses so instantly recognisable in the group but perhaps less obvious on his own.

Jeremy Hunt is just behind Gove with 25 backers. He was really hard to draw! He has a fairly normal face so it was difficult to get a likeness. This was one where the face shape was very important. He has very defined cheekbones but trying to draw that from the front kept making him look chubby. I just kept trying slight variations until something worked. The other key was the mouth. The difference between what you see here and a version with the bottom lip as a closed shape is far greater than you’d expect.

My other half thought this was David Cameron when I showed him the finished collection 🙄 I didn’t think this was anything like Cameron, so of course I had to have a little go at him too…

Not perfect, but I think you can see he’s very different from Jeremy. Anyway, on with the contestants!

Dominic Raab has 21 backers, putting him in fourth place. Face shape, together with a thick neck seemed important in this one. The large slab forehead of course and the wide set eyes. I’m not sure though, how much the wide eyes were influenced by other drawings I’ve seen of Raab rather than my own analysis of his face. I drew Raab first, for no particular reason, but it was the version below. I redrew him as above after I’d completed a few of the others and decided they should all be full face views.

More than Dominic Raab this version reminds me of someone else, perhaps an actual cartoon character, but I can’t quite put my mind on who.

Sajid Javid is in fifth place with 16 backers. Head shape, nose and lips were the keys to this one I think. I drew his ears several times as I kept making them too big and pointy so he looked like either a leprechaun or Spock.

Finally, we have Matt Hancock with 11 supporters. This was extremely difficult because I’ve no idea who he is. Even though I used a photo as a reference I don’t really know if this is a good likeness. I realised that with all the others I’ve seen them speak on TV, I know their mannerisms, posture and tone of voice. Somehow this was a huge help when trying to get a likeness; I could sort of picture the sketch becoming animated and saying something typical of the person and if it didn’t feel right then I knew I needed to tweak some feature until it did. With Matt Hancock It’s like I’m groping in the dark for something. If he makes it through a few rounds then maybe I’ll see more of him and have another go.

11th June update

Yesterday, four more hopefuls got enough backers to join the contest so I drew the new ones and added them to the group – here they all are. 10 in total.

The four new hopefuls are Rory Stewart, Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey, and Mark Harper. Having not drawn any women in the first set I thought it might be different, or difficult. It was actually lots of fun and I enjoyed the long hair and not always drawing the same tie and suit!

12th June: first vote

The first round of voting by MPs took place on Wednesday morning. Three contenders; Leadsom, Harper, and McVey failed to achieve 5% of the vote and were eliminated.

Here’s the current situation – they are reordered by the number of votes they received. A green vote tally means they got through and red means they’re out.

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…

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.

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.


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.

only hope holds my heart

This is a plate from the Wallace Museum with an inscription of ‘Only hope holds my heart’. It shows a profile bust of a woman and was made by an unknown artist in Deruta, Italy, some time between 1515-1540. It was maybe made to mark a betrothal.

While drawing this I rediscovered the joy of drawing wavy banners. I loved drawing these as a kid! I think it was one of my first realisations that you could easily make flexible things look ultra 3D in just a line drawing. It was good for banners and flags and ribbons and that was about it so I drew those things a lot :)

Also I only noticed the secret hidden face in this plate as I was drawing it! pretty freaky. can you spot it? It’s in her giant pendant. Is it a photo of the guy who holds her heart? Is it a mirror and so a self portrait of the plate artist? I guess we’ll never know…

The drawing is all in coloured pencil – brown, orange and blue. Below you can see just the line drawing. Then the blocks of colour are watercolour -pretty much just ultramarine and yellow ochre.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you’re having a great day so far and get chance to relax with the things you like doing most.

For me it’s been a bit more digital sketching:

A shiny red disco bauble with a pearl string and lights in the tree for Christmas day. Branching out (ha ha) from the “pencil” and “fineliner” brushes I’ve been keeping to until now, here I tried various types of paint, spiky texture for the fir needles and a very exciting and effective glow brush for the fairy lights.

Astro shooter

Digital sketching on Christmas eve. This is my view from the sofa – a pile of presents in the corner surrounded by old toys from the attic to keep little people happy until tomorrow. The astro shooter is brilliant – a proper mini electromechanical pinball table from the 80s. The bits of stuff in the foreground are various half transformed transformers. The yellow ball is a metal blob geode transforming thing. It’s cool.


Because of decorating I was moving furniture around and found 10 full watercolour sheets under the bed! A present from the me of Christmas past :) I vague remember stashing them there to keep them flat.

I thought I’d take advantage of the psychology of them being a bonus to freely scribble away on a whole sheet without the stress of worrying about ruining expensive supplies.

This is an enlargement of a little pigeon sketch I did a long time ago. Lots of splashing ink and paint to evoke the flustering of feathers in a crowded urban square.

I think I still prefer the spontaneity, colour and blooms of the original little scribble but it was still fun to work so big for a change. One disadvantage of painting big is that it doesn’t fit in the scanner and photos of watercolour never quite capture the colour and detail properly. You can see in the scanned sketch below the granulating watermarks and texture of the paper.



This is a steam lawnmower. Apparently the status symbol of its day!

Today I joined the Reading Sketchers at the Museum of English Rural Life. I’ve walked past a few times but never made it inside til today. It’s much bigger than I thought and there was lots to see and do. I could tell it was going to be good as I walked up and saw the awesome yarn bomb entrance:

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Outside is a nice big garden with natural sculptures and a big tractor (for children…) to play on. Inside is crammed full of farm machinery and history, as well as a gallery of ladybird books. There’s stuff to watch and play with and a learning room that looked like it might have stuff for dressing up. Plus the usual museum cafe and shop (filled with more brilliant knitted and crocheted things).

It was tempting to sit outside in the sun and draw the building itself but I thought that I should really try and tackle some of the machinery since I wasn’t likely to find anything like it to draw elsewhere. Wonderfully, there was a rack of stools at the entrance to the gallery (all museums, please do this and encourage people to draw your stuff!). I took one and wandered around looking for a good spot. Red and green was a definite theme running through all the machinery and eventually I settled on a steam lawnmower tucked away at the back. Below you can see my favourite bit of this device – some sort of crazy, loopy, spring loaded gauge – reminds me of the stuff in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory :)

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Museums don’t usually allow wet media to be used inside so I prepared the watercolour background at home and just sketched using fountain pen, grey marker for the shadows, some red and green pencil/pastel things and a white gel pen for a couple of highlights at the end.

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Everyone was attracted by something different and we had lots of nice sketches at the end. I’d definitely like to visit again, to draw some more, but also just to look around generally at everything on show.

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