Monday, 9 December 2019

The Bookshelf of Life: How our Reading Journey Shapes Our Writing • by Natascha Biebow

Stories are fluid, malleable creatures that shift with the teller, the listener and the place.

So what tales influence us? How does our journey and relationship with story influence the kind of reader we are, what kind of person, even, we become, and the kind of story we write, illustrate, edit and design?

I'd like to share with you a little about my bookshelf of life, in the hopes that it might encourage you to do the same. When I looked at it, I came away with a startling realization – books speak volumes about us . . . and our world views.

Today, there is a lot of talk about diversity, and the need to be inclusive, self-aware and open-minded in this challenging world in which we live. But equally, it can be frustrating the assumptions some people make when countenancing diversity. Diversity isn’t just the colour of the skin, gender or ethnicity. 

A selection of diverse picture books

Diversity runs much deeper than that. It is often unseen, complex, shaped by our experiences as children and adults, the places we’ve been (or not), our families, our interests and links to the outside world. All of us, we want to be seen, to be heard, to be respected for who we are, to be given opportunities and to be valued. We are all diverse in our own ways. And, if we can appreciate this, together we can be more. 

So here are some of the books that tell you a little bit about me, that perhaps you might not have known before. They are stories I heard and the stories I read by myself that opened windows and doors and eyes and ears. And now the stories I write:
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen from
Favourite Fairy Tales from Andersen
illustrated by Paul Durand (Hamlyn)
We didn’t have many picture books at home - possibly because we lived in Brazil, a non-English speaking country, and possibly because they were expensive and people just didn’t own such things? I had this beautiful anthology of Andersen Fairy tales and I made my mother read to me ‘The Little Match Girl’ even though it always made me cry. I’m not sure what my fascination with such a sad story was, but I see now that it is a story of light and hope for the little match girl warms her hands and her soul with images from her imagination.

My first grade teacher read CHARLOTTE’S WEB to us aloud. Every afternoon, the story would unfold. There is something gripping about being read to. Magical.
Charlotte's Web by EB White, illustrated by Garth Williams
My favourite place in the school was the library. There we had a giant papier-mache elephant in the central circular area, where the librarian read aloud after we chose our books during the weekly class visit. 
The Library where Reading became a joy and a habit

I particularly remember this book, a Chinese folktale:

I read books in Portuguese too. This one – the story about family and big dreams – stuck with me. The main character is a girl who longs to be powerful and heard like grown-ups, boys and writers. Her dreams come to life in a series of characters stuffed into her precious yellow bag, including this feisty rooster.
From A Bolsa Amarela by Lygia Bojunga

Along with books from the library, the ones I owned were precious gifts sent by my grandmother, who lived in England. I read everything: horse and ballet books, fantasy, Pippi Longstocking, Paddington bear . . .

As well as many pivotal American authors (I went to an American school, though no one in my family is American), like Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, who understood the ordinary child, the misfits, and captured the journey of figuring out who you are in this world. I still haven’t read the book about growing up with a disabled brother like mine; perhaps I need to write it someday.

But the books that I was most drawn to were those with true story narratives. The stories of real people - the pioneers, the country vet, early people, the girl who survived with a pack of wolves, the writer - these are the ones that I was fascinated by and re-read countless times.

As I’ve mentioned, we didn’t have many picture books at home. Here is one that we did have. I loved the detailed pictures and worlds. 
What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry

Later, much later, at university, I started to discover the genre, which in the late 80s/early 90s was going through a boom. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to edit and admire lots of picture books. Here are some of my favourites:

And even later, books that showed different kinds of families - ones that lived far-flung across the globe, and ones with disabled people in them and two mums and two dads.

After a lot of exploration, I remembered that I liked true stories. As I child, I was fascinated by National Geographic WORLD magazine. I dreamt of becoming a writer for National Geographic. I found my calling as a children’s book editor and writer – I can’t get away from cool facts. I challenge myself – and you – to learn at least one new fact a day. It’s fun! And the truth is often stranger than fiction.

National Geographic World Magazine, published by National Geographic
Like the story of this man, inventor Edwin Binney, who had a knack for listening and making what people needed and whose love of colour and nature

From The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons
by Natascha Biebow, illustrated by Steven Salerno
led to the invention of Crayola crayons.

Whether the stories we read and tell are modern, mythical, magical, true or fictional – we want and need them to resonate, because then they ring true and, as such, they speak to us and our young readers. These are stories that inspire ideas, deal with fears, create a feeling of belonging, change preconceptions and so much more.    

Only you have YOUR pocket full of diverse stories, your individual beat. 

Trust it. Embrace the unknown, the strangeness. Sit with it. Discover your angels, your fears, your quirks. 


Natascha Biebow,
MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor
Natascha is the author of The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. She is currently working on more non-fiction and a series of young fiction. She runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Find her at


Monday, 2 December 2019

An Interview with illustrator Anna Doherty, by Pippa Goodhart

I'm very proud to introduce illustrator Anna Doherty to the Picture Book Den. She illustrated by story 'Fair Shares' with wonderful colour and humour, clarity and beauty. Anna and I met this summer at the Edinburgh Book Festival, sharing doing an event based on 'Fair Shares'. She's lovely!
So I've asked her a few questions -

- Were you a child drawn (sorry!) to drawing?I loved all sorts of creative things as a child. We always had an art project on the go, whether it was making seasonal decorations, toilet roll binoculars, presents, Christmas cards, or cardboard houses and teeny clay food for our Sylvanian Families.
We had a stack of continuous paper – A4 sheets all joined together in a concertina – and I would make books and magazines out of them.
I liked drawing pictures from books I was reading, and making huge illustrations of me and my friends on magical adventures, but I also liked drawing from real life too, like plants or flowers we had in the house.

Anna's drawing, done aged five or six, of her parents', clearly very happy, wedding!

Little Anna, already painting, decorating an egg box.

- How did you train to become an illustrator? What is particular about illustration as an art form?I trained originally at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. I chose to go there because they had a foundation year where you could try out all the different art subjects before choosing which one to specialise in. I quickly discovered illustration was the one for me! We did a lot of quite varied projects, like ceramics, editorial work, screen printing, stage design, posters, which was amazing because we learnt illustration isn’t just one thing.
After I graduated, I decided I wanted to focus more on children’s books, so I went down to Cambridge School of Art and did a Children’s Book Illustration Masters.
That course set me up for the publishing world, and at the end we had a graduation show which lots of editors and art directors came to see, which is where I was lucky to meet my first publishers.
For me, the thing I love about illustration is that it’s so often narrative, and has a story to tell. I’ve loved books since I was very small, so illustrating them is a dream come true!

- Please tell us about your experience illustrating Fair Shares, illustrating somebody else’s story and words.Illustrating someone else’s text is exciting, because so often as an illustrator you are working at home alone, so it’s lovely to know someone else out there is sharing your experience.
Fair Shares was the first picture book which I’d illustrated someone else’s text rather than my own. Sometimes, illustrating a pre-existing text is more relaxing because the story is already there – but it can be challenging too, as I was very used to starting with character and building a plot around them rather than the other way around.

When I began to illustrate Fair Shares, Pippa had already more or less finished the text, so I had a clear outline of the story.
At the very beginning I was really nervous, always thinking, ‘what if this isn’t exactly what Pippa had in mind in this picture?’ so I loosened up by starting all the way from scratch and spending ages drawing bears and hares from real life, so I could learn the shape of the animals in different positions.

Once I’d drawn lots of bears and hares, they naturally began to turn into the characters who are in the book.
After I had the characters, I began layouts, thinking roughly how each page would be laid out.

I tried to have a mixture of full page and vignette, and of close up and far away illustrations, so that it’s interesting for the reader to look at. I drew ideas of what each page might look like very quickly and roughly, so there was lot of options, until I found the one that works best.
Then, it was time to draw the illustrations for real!
The very first page I drew was Bear reaching up high to try to grab some juicy pears. I originally drew it just to test out the colours and textures, but I liked it so much that it became a page in the book!

- What next for Anna Doherty, illustrator?!Lots, I hope! I’m working on some new idea nuggets at the moment, and I have the fourth book in my Fantastically Feminist series of non-fiction picture books about real life women coming out next year, which I’m very excited about!

Thank you, Anna. Maybe we’ll work together on other books in the future? I hope so!

Monday, 25 November 2019

Eight Tips for Being a Great Guest Blogger • Lynne Garner

A few months ago the talented Moira Butterfield wrote a fab post for us (Tips on writing picture book non-fiction). Now, I've supported a lot of guest bloggers over the last eight years (eight years - where has that time gone?) as part of the Picture Book Den team by posting their content. Sometimes this has been a nightmare. The content I've received needed so much work that it took a lot of work to upload, format and check. However, being the pro that she is Moira's post took less than ten minutes to load, format and check. As soon as I received the content I knew I had to use my experience as a basis for this months post. I'll admit I have also used as my July (8th) post on Authors Electric.
One of Moira's many non-fiction books

So, what follows are the things Moira got right plus a few things other guest writers got right.

Tip one:
First and foremost send your content in plenty of time. Everyone I know leads a busy life and there's nothing worse than receiving content the day before it's supposed to go live. It adds to the stress of everyday life and means there is no time to resolve a problems or ask any questions.

Tip two:
Send everything in one folder giving documents and images simple names e.g. blog, picture 1, picture 2 etc.

Tip three:
Send the text as a word document. Do not format it. If you include formatting it can cause issues. It's therefore easier for the person uploading the post to format as they go, rather than spend time fixing the issues caused by the formatting in the first place. If you want formatting e.g. bullet points then add instructions in red.

Tip four:
Typically as a guest blogger you are introduced at the beginning of the post. If you want to make the life of the person uploading your post even easier then include your own introduction and ensure you write it in the third person.

Tip five:
Within the text state where you want any images to go and include captions if you want some added. For example "image one here - with the following caption........."  To make it clear they are instructions make them red.

Tip six:
If you want internal links to be included then provide these either at the bottom of the main post or as a separate document with an appropriate name.

Tip seven:
Don't forget to help your post be found 'labels' can be added in the post settings. So, if you can think of any labels that will drive traffic to your post then include them. This can be at the bottom of the main post content (remember to label them) or as a separate document in the folder (again with a file name that makes sense).

Tip eight:
Don't write a post that just sells your latest book. Give readers information, advice, share something of interest. It's fine to include an image from your book or the front cover as long as it supports the information/advice you are sharing. Alternately do as I do and place a plug at the end of your post, once the reader has learned something from you post. It also gives the reader the opportunity to follow to the links to your books or ignore.

If you have any other tips on how to be the best guest blogger please share in the comments section.

Last but not least - Moira Butterfield - thank you for giving me the idea for this post.

Blatant plug time

Love a short story? 

Then check out my short story collections (available as ebooks and paperback):

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm (ebook 99p/99¢ - 10 stories)

Fox of Moon Meadow Farm (ebook 99p/99¢ - 10 stories)

Ten Tales of Brer Rabbit (ebook 99p/99¢ - 10 stories)

Ten Tales of Coyote  (ebook 99p/99¢ - 10 stories)

Anansi The Trickster Spider (ebook £1.49/$1.49 - 16 stories)

Monday, 18 November 2019

How 'I am a Tiger' became a series- guest post by Karl Newson

This week, I am delighted to welcome to the Picture Book Den the wonderful and incredibly talented Karl Newson- picture book author and illustrator extraordinaire!

How 'I Am a Tiger' became a Series

I didn’t set out to write a series. And Macmillan (my publisher) didn’t ask for one. Luckily for me, it happened accidentally…

I Am a Tiger was written in the summer of 2016 (which seems like an age ago now!) during a head-scratching session in which I thought ‘Why isn’t there a character who declares confidently that it IS what it clearly is NOT?’ A simple idea that grew legs and whiskers and then took over.
I knew the ‘IS what it ISN’T’ comparison had to be something ridiculous - something small being something big or vice versa - and a mouse was the obvious choice for the small side of the story. I thought the text would be best delivered in dialogue, to show off mouse’s confidence (she is in charge here, there’s no narrator required to tell her story), and once mouse’s voice showed itself, the story pretty much wrote itself: I knew we’d need some opposition to mouse’s claims and that she should shake off their protests with seemingly easy but unexpected explanations; I knew at some point she would have to face the very thing she says she IS and that the two characters side by side would be a powerful image and text combination that would create a tense moment, perfect for being smashed with humour – with mouse’s witty retorts and clever thinking; and I knew that it would be wrong to just leave it as that, with all being exactly as mouse had said it was… it would be a rather flat ending wouldn’t it? There had to be a twist! It was right in front of my nose... the twist was a complete spin on the very words mouse had repeated the whole way through the story. Really, it was just one thought leading into another that took no more than 4 pages of my notebook and an afternoon’s scribbling. Really-Really, though, mouse wrote it all for me and it probably took years of thunks to think it up.

The ‘big’ side of the story was initially going to be a bear, but because I already had two bear picture book stories in the making, my agent (Jodie Hodges) suggested we use a tiger instead. It gave the book that extra bit of GRRR! it needed.

When Macmillan offered to publish it, I was absolutely delighted! When they said Ross Collins would be illustrating it I let out a big excited ‘EEK’! And when I first visited my publisher and editor,

Penny, and the books designer, Kerrie, I knew this book was going to be something special. Together with Ross, they, and the whole team at Macmillan, took that little mouse and made it shine. And it was around this time that I discovered Mouse wasn’t done with me yet… 

A simple idea fell into my notebook about rhyming ‘roar’ with ‘dinosaur’. It’s a well-worn and obvious rhyme, I know, but I went with it to see where it took me. It had all the right whatnots for a picture book and it had a fun title, but I slowly began to realise I knew this character’s voice already… it was way too close to the feel of I Am a Tiger. I was annoyed at myself, at first, for wasting a good idea on something that I couldn’t use (I couldn’t pitch a story similar to one I already had under contract, of course), but it felt too good to scrap, so I went with it... I let the main character BE the mouse it wanted to be and then I scribbled it all out again, in her voice. And it worked. But I was stuck. I had a story that I hadn’t intended to write and that could only ever be sent to one publisher. And to make it worse I was brand new to them and my only contracted book was still in the early stages itself… they hadn’t asked for a sequel at all. I Am a Tiger wasn’t due out for months yet so I couldn’t even use hopeful sales figures as a cheeky ‘Would you like to do a sequel?’ incentive. It was either I send it as an uninvited pitch or I leave it in my head for a while and maybe bring it out again once Tiger was out and getting feedback. I was worried it wasn’t author etiquette to send emails about sequels so soon into a contract. But I couldn’t help thinking that if I sat on it and then discovered at some point that a sequel might well be an option, then I’d have lost all that time (and possibly the buzz for it too). So I had a biscuit and sent it to Penny at Macmillan with a note saying ‘I know you haven’t asked for this and I feel really cheeky in putting it in front of you but it just sort of happened and I don’t know what else to do with it’.

To my utter relief Penny liked the idea for the story, and to my surprise I was offered a new two book contract with the intension to write a third mouse story. I snapped it up, of course! (I was the crocodile, that day).

Mouse was now free. She had officially taken over. And her next idea was to make that accidental sequel I had just written into the third book in the series, and write another one to join the two together to make a linear threesome. So we did.

Having never before written a series I had no idea of the rules I had already put into place inside the text of the first story… rules that would now have to be applied to all three stories! This, in a good way, gave each one a structure that I could follow. But I definitely felt the pressure to make each one be better than the last. It had to have the same feel, but be a little bit different – a little bit more extreme, maybe, in mouse’s mousey-ness, and be funnier, too. I’m not allowed to give too much away because only I Am a Tiger is published as of the time I’m writing this, but I’ll try to go into a bit more detail on how the next books came to be…

First, book three, the original sequel (a line that makes it clear this is being written by Mouse!). In book one (I Am a Tiger), Mouse simply shrugs off the other animals with silly but simple points and carries on regardless, before dealing with the tiger in a similar fashion and then declaring them all to be something they didn’t know they are – a distraction for a get-away. In book two, this had to happen too, but in a bigger and better way. It needed an edge. (Just to confuse things, remember book two eventually became book three, so I’m talking about a story that’s not been announced yet anywhere). The main hook this story had was in its title. And so it became an action filled book. A guide, of sorts. An interactive read-along. But now this was to be book three and I didn’t have long to write a new sequel to fill the gap as the slot for Ross to begin the artwork was fast approaching. I had book ends, of a sort. Each true to mouse, but still being different to each other. The third story I would write –the second to be published – had to sit comfortably in between the two, without treading on eithers toes, and without out-shining them, but had to be a gradual step up from I Am a Tiger and a lead into the third story. This one did prove quite difficult, even for mouse.

The first story was a show of confidence. The third was an all-singing all-dancing interactive read, the second then - it seemed to me - had to be half way there. A bit of singing, maybe.  And the idea for it came from a t-shirt I’d made for an event I was doing at Latitude. My shirt combined two of my stories – A Bear is a Bear (except when he’s not) (illustrated by Anuska Allepuz) and Here Comes the Sun (illustrated by Migy Blanco) both published by Nosy Crow. It combined the two main characters in those stories, an owl and a bear, in a simple play on words: ‘GROWL LIKE AN OWL’ (the site team at Latitude found it to be quite a weird thing to have on a t-shirt (I’d written it on in a sharpie) and they heckled me about it on my way in and out!). It was worth it though, as those words became the basis for story I needed.

I followed the same train of thought I had when writing I Am a Tiger, letting the mouse take it for a walk, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t the start point, but more of a middle, so I ended up writing to the end first, then going back to the start to finish it off. It was a tricky one to get right! I sent it off to Macmillan and kept all my whiskers crossed, and Phew! it was accepted. Together we worked on making it as strong as we could (that’s Penny, Ross and Becky, the designer for this book and me), and I hope it will be a pleasing follow up to I Am a Tiger.

Its title is I Am NOT an Elephant (a spin on the theme of book one) and it publishes on 6th February 2020. I can’t wait!

Book three in the series publishes in October 2020 (Ross is working on the final artwork for it now, and, having had a peek, I can say it’s even better looking than the first two stories. What he does with characters is amazing! The guy is a genius.

I got incredibly lucky with these three stories, in finding the mouse character, having an agent who knew how to make it stronger, having a superb team behind me at Macmillan and of course being teamed up with Ross Collins. I am a little mouse in their shadows. A little mouse who is currently waiting to hear about Mouse’s next big idea… whiskers crossed!

Big thanks to Picture Book Den for allowing me to squeak on for all this time. And to everyone who has bought I Am a Tiger or any of my stories – thank you for your support!

Best whiskers!

Karl Newson

Monday, 11 November 2019

Writing a Bedtime Book by Abie Longstaff

My son was a brilliant sleeper.  He was such a chilled baby that he could nap anywhere. I used to take him along to art classes in the pram, lay a coat over him and he’d soon be snoring. Then along came my daughter. She was a little ball of anxiety; colicky, wriggling, crying. She wanted constant back-patting, warm reassurance. And, no; she did not like going to sleep.
If I were placing a curse on my worst enemy, I would give them a baby who did not sleep. It’s a hidden problem – you drag yourself around like a zombie and no one knows quite how exhausted you feel: tired to your very bones. If you also have a toddler, add to this the need to be smiley and bouncy and present for your older child. Every day you hope this will be the night the little one sleeps, every evening you do all the right things – the bath, the calm singing, the back patting. But invariably your hopes are crushed as the second you sneak out of the room, the cries start up. It’s tough going. All you can do it ride it out.
As my daughter grew, together we read a big pile of sleepy baby books. They brought great comfort: for me in knowing that mine wasn’t the only child who wanted to stay up and play; for her in seeing her behaviour mirrored in a picture book. She wasn’t naughty, she just wanted adventures or reassurance.
We loved Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown), How do Dinosaurs say Goodnight (Jane Yolan and Mark Teague) and Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book, and our absolute favourite was The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed by Helen Cooper. 

Of course, my own baby grew up. Then my sister called in a state of utter exhaustion – her little one wouldn’t sleep. It took me back to those tired days, and all the wonderful bedtime books. I decided to create something sleepy and soothing. The result was Who’s going to Bed? (illustrated by Eve Coy).
So, how do you write a good bedtime book?
Of course every picture book needs to be interesting and engaging, but there’s a fine line to walk here – don’t aim for too much excitement. You want to find a comfortable level: a bit of adventure, but in a familiar environment. Think of sleepy feelings: swinging, flying, floating, rocking and try to set your story around these. In Who’s Going to Bed, I chose familiar story characters – teddies, animals, pirates, knights - to create a comfortable, recognisable world.

You need to find a rhythm to your text, something almost lyrical to lull a child to sleep. Repetition, sibilant sounds, soft consonants, long vowels. I’ve included words like ‘sleep’, ‘yawn’, ‘shhhh’, ‘tired’; and increasing their frequency of use toward the end of the book. 

Illustrator Eve Coy has used a limited palette of sleepy blues and greens – there are no loud, sharp colours here. She’s created something soft and gentle and magical. 

The End:
With a bedtime book, you don’t want the end to be too funny or surprising. The aim is to settle and soothe. You want something safe – concepts like home, kiss goodnight, parents, duvet, bed, snuggling, cuddling. And if you can, try to bring the focus onto the reader, rather than the story characters.

I’ve had lovely messages from parents saying their child is yawning at exactly the right moments! I hope the book brings comfort and pleasure. Most of all, I hope the book brings sleep.

Visit Abie's website to find out more about Abie and her wonderful books

Monday, 28 October 2019

Sketchbooking with Mini Grey


Here is my shelf with about 20 years of sketchbooks on it. If you count them you’ll see there’s only about one big one a year. But they are pretty full.
In this post I’m going to look at all the different ways I use sketchbooks and the many different things a sketchbook can be.  

An example of Sketchbook One being investigated by a kitten

Sketchbook One
At the moment I have about 4 different sizes of sketchbook I use most of the time.
Sketchbook One is my main workbook. It’s spiral bound which means it can grow as more stuff gets stuck in, and it also lies flat. This sketchbook’s job is partly to be a bit like a box, a bit like a scrapbook.

Badgery stuff for a Badger Patronus for Booktrust

Pic of one bulging sketchbook
It has different areas.  At the back is the zone for scribbled story ideas, for collected snippets, for useful bits & bobs, a place to collect material.  
Here are some interesting news snippets I found stored at the back in case they come in useful.

Report of a suspicious smell haunting a German classroom

Cats vs mice at the British Museum

I return to the back - to find beginnings, take them into the main part of the next sketchbook and see if I can make something happen.

From the back - the scribbled down beginnings of the Last Wolf
More from the back - ideas for a garden story (which never really worked.)

Sketchbook One is also a reference library – some of the sketches from life I return to again and again.  

Snail Central down the bottom of the garden

At the Natural History Museum

Also this sketchbook is for collecting things that feel in the zone of your book. Here I am collecting my favourite tree illustrations when I was thinking about the last wolf.

Trees by Emma Chichester Clark, Sara Ogilvy, Dave Barrow and David Litchfield

Sketchbook One can also be a workshop or research lab for working things out: trying out character drawings,

Drawings of Mrs Magpie for Money Go Round
Collecting the colours for Money Go Round
Trying to work out Walter Rat for Money Go Round

collecting colour schemes, working out The Rules (every book should have some), trying some paper engineering, working out layouts, trying out colour sketches for spreads.

Colour sketches for The Bad Bunnies Magic Show

Working out a recipe for Red in The Last Wolf

Sketchbook One is also a place for collecting responses, trying out a story splurge – responding to words with pictures or vice-versa; picture brainstorming on a theme.

Collecting ideas about foxes

Messing with a bit more colour and the foxes again

Sometimes a way of collecting is drawing to find things out (draw to explore) Scrap paper is often better than a clean sheet.
Sometimes it’s just drawing what’s just happened, as in this Goldfish Emergency.

The very sad ends of Paul and Lewis

Here are drawings for things that ended up on my blog.

Trouble at the Supermarket with Doris the Hen

Doris discovers the truth about meat

Experimenting with the RestoftheWorldists

And here’s my sketchbook from just a few days ago. You can see I’ve been trying to work out how to tackle ducks and kippers and making a puppet version of AF Harold.

What are the rules?

Sketchbook One usually stays in my studio. But on to more roving sketchbooks. Here are the Out & About Sketchbooks.

Out & About One: The Moleskine
The Moleskine: has a useful pocket and elastic.

Here it is out & about at Oxford Natural History Museum, on holiday, at the zoo.

Oxford Natural History Museum

Oxford Natural History Museum

Grant Museum of Zoology

Acer in a garden

Also, sometimes it is to be found taking notes at talks. Here are some of those:

Katherine Heyhoe talks about Climate in Oxford

John Vernon Lord talking about Alice in Wonderlan

George Monbiot on Capitalism

But I had repeated problems fitting giraffes into the Moleskine, especially the giraffe Skeleton at Oxford Natural History Museum.

Out & About Two: The Little Landscapey One

 So here’s The Turner landscapey sketchbook: its interestingly narrow format forces unexpected things to happen. At last I can fit a giraffe in.

Looking at the contents, some themes emerge; Heads on Columns; Tall Gawky Birds; Drawing Trees when Waiting For Buses; Waiting at Stations in Paris, Pub Gardens.

Stranded in Paris I realised the power of sketching when you’re stuck or waiting – it’s a totally enthralling pursuit which makes time swim by.

 But also the process of looking is captivating. Drawing from life – changes your insight into what you are observing; paying attention to it means you will always notice it when you encounter it again. 

Here are some anenomes and hydrangea – and I know that drawing them has made me feel a bond with anenomes and hydrangeas and notice them too.

Out & About Three: The Teeny One 

Lastly, here is the Teeny Moleskine: it’s one with thin paper so there are lots of pages & it doesn’t matter if you use loads of it or it gets torn out. It’s always in my bag along with a black pen & a magic pencil.
Sketching is a bit like hunting!!! It’s trying to capture something. (Often in restaurants bars and pubs I notice.) Here are people out at the Cazbar on the Cowley Road.

Drawing Together

 The back of the Teeny Sketchbook is where Drawing Together happens. This usually happens as a thing to do in pubs and restaurants with Herbie (now 13).
The rules of Drawing Together: Take turns. Each person tells the other person what to draw next. And you have to accept what you’re given. So to finish, a gallery of characters from Drawing Together with Herbie over the past year….  

The Drawing Together Gallery

Mr Rumnus
Doctor Bockter of the Wastelands
Stringthin Johnson ridin' Cupcake

Rex the Guard Dog

Mr Incatible
Herman Tartiflett the Speed Skier

Edward Spinoquerilus

 ...and I guess what this all ultimately shows is that: as a family, we spend an awfully large amount of time down the pub.

Mini Grey. 
Click here to view Mini's blog, Sketching Weakly.