Three corners

Three sketches of the wonderfully ornate Victorian building on the corner of Westgate and Union Street in Bath. There’s about a year between each sketch, the most recent at the top, with a shift from fountain pen to bamboo dip-pen, and a steady increase in colour as I add watercolour and move from Lexington Grey to the technicolor world of De Atramentis inks. Next attempt I’ll try to include the top and the bottom in the same sketch…


Posted in bamboo dip pen, Bath, buildings, coloured ink, drawing buildings, Lexington grey, monochrome, street scene, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Urban trees

Sketches of nature in the city, making a change from scurrying shoppers, buildings and resting tourists! Here’s looming birch on London’s Hampstead Heath, the shady base of five plane trees in the centre of the King’s Circus in Bath, and a neighbour’s conifer; followed by some recent foliage studies. All in bamboo dip-pen (wonderful for feeling out foliage lines), mostly De Atramentis inks, and watercolour wash.


Posted in bamboo dip pen, Bath, coloured ink, London, trees, urban, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Improving a bamboo dip pen

My current favourite mark-maker is a bamboo dip pen.

I love the free-flowing lines that can wander around the page, and it’s great for ‘blind drawing’ of foliage, clouds etc. It delivers big juicy lines that can merge into forms if you want (see the brown and blue leaves below), but also fine lines when reversed and running dry. The amount of ink from each dip gradually runs out adding a further level of line variation, and the need to dip the nib adds a degree of deliberation and commitment to every line drawn.

The ones I buy are cheap (about £4) but benefit from a bit of tinkering to make the most of their potential, improving their ink-flow and nib feel. Here’s one straight from the shop next to one I’ve tinkered with.


I widen the ink slit and add a twisted wire reservoir, ensuring that the nib can both hold more ink, and deliver it consistently to a smoother tip. Here’s how to do it…

1 – First I use a small knife to open the ‘breather’ hole, and then ensure the nib slit runs all the way back to the hole. Then I use very fine wet/dry sandpaper to widen the slit, running the edge of a unfolded single sheet back and forth within the slit on both sides.

2 – You’ve now got a slit that’ll deliver lots of ink, but it’s too wide at the tip! So notch the two sides and use a short piece of fine wire to pull the sides together, twisting the wire on the reverse of the nib until the slit is closed at the tip.

3 – This length of wound wire then becomes the extra reservoir for the ink. Tuck the twisted length of wire back up into the nib’s ‘breather’ hole. Here’s the view from underneath…


The wire twist holds a larger drop of ink, in the way that the reservoirs below do on metal dip pens.

4 – Finally I use some extra fine grit paper (or a piece of cardboard, surprisingly abrasive!) to ‘run in’ the  nib tip. I run it back and forth, round and round, upside down etc, until I’m happy it’s smooth in all directions, and that it’s producing the width of line I’m after (fat and juicy the right way up, much finer when reversed)..

Here’s the newly adapted bamboo pen next to the previous one I did. And a test sheet showing how long it will write on a single dip of ink.



Posted in bamboo dip pen, blind drawing, dip pen, kit, technique, urban, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Sketchy selfies

The latest crop of selfies, including some in coloured ink and bamboo dip pen, along with blind drawing mirror fun (that’s the fourth one!). There’s the usual range of self-portrait expressions from sullen to severe via surly, and a higher frequency of sketches focussed on just the eyes… Enough ink to qualify for #inktober?nmnmn19nmnmnvvcve1nmnmnvvcveh1

Posted in bamboo dip pen, blind drawing, body, coloured ink, eye, faces, ink brush, line drawing, self-portrait | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Six distant hills

They’re all Stantonbury Hill, which I’ve sketched many times before, seen from North Bath. The first three were painted in quick succession in opaque watercolour on a rainy afternoon, then one in bamboo dip pen, and then a couple of quick translucent watercolours. After trying gouache and never really getting on with their chalky feel, I’m enjoying the opaque watercolours much much more. They’re smooth flowing, and just as rich and contrasting on toned paper. Three of them have joined Titanium White in my otherwise translucent new palette.


Posted in bamboo dip pen, Bath, comparisons, landscape, opaque watercolour, rooftops, urban sketching, watercolour sketch | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Barry’s book

My friend Barry is writing a book about his recent experience of learning to use a wheelchair and the wider impact this has had on his life. He’s kindly asked me to illustrate the reflections and anecdotes; some are positive, some not, and each illustration has a colour to match the mood of the piece. Here’s the latest batch, mostly of Barry out and about in Bath. After recent excursions into brush-pens, pencils and dip-pens it’s interesting revisiting my old sketching technique of fountain-pen line, Lexington grey ink-wash shadows, and water-colour; switching between media seems to be a good way to keep things fresh!jhkll jhkll2gjryj2

The rest of the sketches so far…

Posted in Barry's book, Bath, illustration, Lexington grey, monochrome, street scene, urban, urban sketching, waiting | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Walky, talky

Here’s a video of my lecture at the Manchester Symposium. It’s about an hour long and is an attempt to trace the history of urban sketching through old and vintage sketching books, and earlier art movements. Many thanks to the Symposium team for doing such a great job on the video, with proper sound and everything!

Below are a few of the slides from the lecture for your further enjoyment, including my estimate of the ways we really spend our time ‘urban sketching’, the key differences between old and new sketching books, some recommended titles, and a cartoon that reminded a friend of me (I don’t smoke a pipe)…


Posted in Manchester Symposium, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments