Heading North…

All packed for four days of sketching indulgence at the USk Manchester Symposium, which starts tomorrow. I’ve done a few final brush-pen sketches about town (thumbnails of street-scenes and quick portraits of passers-by) in rehearsal for my demonstration, and have finished sourcing quotes and images for my lecture on books about sketching. I’ve never been to a Symposium before and am looking forward to being with five hundred fellow sketchers, sharing approaches and ideas, and happily sketching anything we please, whenever the fancy strikes! Maybe see you there?


Kuretake water-brush filled with dilute Lexington grey ink, watercolour, A5 – 5-10 mins each

Posted in Bath, brush pen, figures, ink brush, Manchester Symposium, people watching, street scene, urban, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hospital visit

Apologies for the lack of recent posts, all was put on hold due to an unplanned trip to hospital. I’m out now, thoroughly resting and with enough time and energy to post the sketches I made during all the empty hours in hospital… First there’s my room, sketched under the influence of Paul Heaston, who’s posted a fascinating short film about the science of wide-angle sketching. Then a self-portrait with IV drip (slightly backed up with blood, which is apparently quite normal, but I didn’t know this, hence the concerned expression). Then a series of quick sketches done in A and E while I was waiting to be admitted. Many thanks to the staff at the RUH who were lovely throughout my stay. All the sketches were done in pencil and watercolour; the Lexington grey fast continues. Now I need to get back into the ink-brush habit ahead of my demonstration in Manchester!


4B Grafwood pencil, water-colour, A5 – times hard to judge due to medication, sleep-loss etc!


Posted in Bath, body, hospital, Manchester Symposium, pencil, urban sketching, watercolour sketch | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Concertina sketchbooks

I’ve tried using concertina/accordion-fold sketchbooks in the past, but found them very awkward to use when out and about. They’re usually spineless (like this Seawhite version and my homemade one below) with no hinge between the covers, so you can’t use a double page when standing up, or without a table to rest on. The fun of concertinas is in doing wide, panoramic, overlapping and continuous sketches across several pages, so this lack of support is a problem, especially when urban sketching…


I tried adding a taped hinge to the two covers (how the Moleskine ones are constructed), but this only worked when sketching in the concertina one way; one side of the paper still didn’t get the support of both covers.

So… here’s a solution; a triple-cover double-hinged concertina sketchbook.


All the fun of using both sides of a full length strip of concertina folded paper, but with the ease of handling and stability of a conventional binding. You just need paper, glue, card, wide tape and a little time. Let me know how you get on, and any improvements or suggestions. At the very least it’s easier than my last ‘how to’

Here it is after a three day walk along the Mendips, both sides of the paper concertina full of sketches (note how the covers are flipped in the photos).


And here’s the concertina held open with a clip, creating a wide and stable base for sketching that doesn’t strain the hand.


To work!

1 – First buy the biggest possible sheet of your favourite sketching paper. For this book I used a sheet of Arches 90lb/200gsm HP, ‘Full Imperial’ 56x76cm. Decide how big you want the book; I went for 6 inches square. It’s small enough for a jacket pocket, and making it square means you can use it vertically or horizontally . Then cut the sheet into strips (I got three out of one sheet, with a thinner strip to spare) and use PVA to glue the strips together, placing the glued joints under weights to dry without buckling.


2 – Once the joints have dried, fold the long strip into the concertina, carefully aligning the sides to make a neat square folded stack.


3 – Cut three squares of reasonably thick cardboard, a fraction larger than the paper concertina.concertina05


4 – Join the card covers together using broad tape. It doesn’t have to be the best book-tape, so I used this cheaper version instead (Viktoria suggests duct tape). Press the tape down firmly around the edges of the covers to get a strong and flexible binding.


5 – Glue the end panel of the strip onto the centre cover, and weigh with a large book of your choice, keeping the rest of the concertina folded away from the glued section to avoid paper buckling.



6 – Finally you can glue in some end-papers to make the book lovelier; I’ve used some old maps. Keep the covers open and under heavy weights while drying to stop the cardboard from warping and the sketching paper buckling due to the damp glue.


It is done… Now go out and produce lovely long sketches that drift into each other. They’re especially good for journeys.

‘Here’s one I made earlier’ in detail, showing how the double spine allows the concertina to be used both ways. You fold whichever cover is ‘spare’ behind the book.


(Now, if someone could show me how to post a full length concertina sketch on this blog I’d be very grateful!)

Posted in concertina sketchbooks, kit, sketchbooks, technique, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

American artefacts

A couple of speedy sketches from the highly recommended American Museum in Bath“The only museum of American decorative and folk art outside the United States”. First a small bronze version of the famous 1909 statue ‘Appeal to the Great Spirit’. Then a huge ship’s figurehead from 1840, in the Folk Arts room, probably from a ship called ‘The Mohawk’; the head’s about four foot tall and much darker in life, with deeply carved lines on the face. I used brown and dark-blue Derwent pencils for both sketches, with light watercolour washes and white gel pen added at home to finish; no Lexington grey!


jkjkgklj5Derwent colured pencils, watercolour, white gel pen, A5 – 20 mins each

Posted in Bath, body, exhibitions, figures, museum, pencil, sculpture, statues, white pen | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apples and beets

More domestic than urban, some quick pencil and watercolour sketches from the late night kitchen, trying to break my over-reliance on dilute Lexington grey for tone/shadow! Although the grey ink wash is very fast and effective for quick shadows, it can make a sketch duller. I’ve added Payne’s Grey to my palette, which mixes with Raw Umber to make rich dark shadows, and used Titanium White to add a bit of ‘body’ to my otherwise translucent colours on the grey paper.


dffaa15B Grafwood pencil and watercolour, A5 – 20-30 mins each

Posted in coloured paper, domestic, food, fruit, kit, kitchen, Lexington grey, pencil, technique, watercolour sketch | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And now for something…

completely different. My last post was unexpectedly popular (a six-fold increase in visitors to the site!), and hopefully there are wooden sketchbooks now emerging from book-presses all over the world. Here’s a sketch from a small exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, the colourful wood carvings of Carlos Zapata. They’re like 3D illustrations and very lovely. The seven figures on the shelf are animal saints, and the ones at the bottom are from a series of altars depicting childhood, love, pregnancy, old age and death.

dffaa5Brown Faber-Castell Broadpen 1554, Lexington grey in water-brush, and watercolour, A5 – about 20 mins in the gallery, and 30 mins at home adding colour

Posted in animals, Bath, exhibitions, objects, statues, urban, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wood bound sketch-books


A practical post today, revealing the depths of tinkering and making that sketching has led me to. So please enjoy my ten-step recipe for making plywood covered sketchbooks that are perfect for urban sketching.

The key to their suitability is the binding, which allows them to lie completely flat when open…


…and to fold completely back on themselves without exploding. The plywood covers are light, but very rigid, so when open or folded completely back you can use a single clip to create a highly stable double or single page sketching surface; no extra board/table etc is needed. This is very useful when sketching in town and especially when standing up! No more cramped fingers trying to hold the book both open and steady.

The plywood is lighter and much stronger than cardboard and doesn’t need covering. And it looks lovely. And it wears very well, picking up a lovely patina. And it feels good. Yum.

I’ve made them in batches of two or three, and the total cost per book is about £4. This is cheaper than most sketch-books you can buy. But money can’t buy a sketchbook that you’ve made, with the mix of papers you love, between wood covers that work as a drawing board. If you’ve got any questions, comments, or suggestions please email me, mostlydrawing@gmail.com

To work… There are three main parts to the recipe: making the sketchbook interior, making the cover, then fitting them together. The first part would be the same if you were just ‘reloading’ a cover from an old diary/book etc, as I’ve mostly done in the past. It’s the second two parts that are a bit different…

You will need:

  • Paper of choice
  • 2mm plywood
  • 8cm wide Book tape
  • PVA glue
  • Tools (sharp knife, ruler, G-clamps, etc.)

1 – Fold your chosen papers into folios (fancy word for piece of paper folded in half) and gather them into signatures, about 4 or 5 folios per signature. I use Saunders and Waterford ‘high white’ watercolour paper, and 2 shades of Mi Teintes pastel paper.fghsgfs1

2 – Cut the signatures to size; my sketchbooks are about A5, or 6×8 inches. Very very very sharp knives are safer to use as you don’t have to press so hard, but they are very very very sharp…fghsgfs2

3 – Sew the signatures together. I’m not going to how you how to do this as it’s very well explained in different ways here and here and here. It can look complicated but isn’t, and it’s the key to perfect bespoke sketchbook freedom! If I can do it you can.

4– Once you’ve sewn the signatures together you can now glue the mull (any strong, un-stretchy fine cloth) into place along the spine using PVA glue. I clamp the book between two thick pieces of plywood to hold it all tight to ensure a tight binding. Make sure the mull is properly saturated in the glue, which dries into a clear pliable plastic. The glued mull works with the sewn thread to hold the signatures together in a strong but highly flexible binding, and makes the key structural link between the binding and the covers.fghsgfs3
– The clamps hold the signatures together while the glue dries. Once it’s dry you have a sketchbook that just needs covers. You’ll glue the rest of the mull onto the paper when you attach the covers.

6 – Now make the cover… Cut the 2mm plywood to make the 2 cover sheets, about 7mm less wide than the signatures; this gap, and the absence of any external ‘spine’, allows the covers to fold right back.


7 – Sand the cover sheets to remove the sharp edges and corners. Use very fine wet/dry paper at the end. I don’t oil or varnish the wood as I’m happy with the matt finish gathering a patina of wear and tear.fghsgf4

8 – Use tape to hold the cover sheets in what will be their final position on the sewn and mulled book, but not too tight. Then lay the cover sheets flat on the table, still attached by the tape that is keeping them the correct distance apart, and use book tape to attach them to each other. You wrap the tape completely around, forming a very strong and flexible link between the covers.fghsgf3

9 – Make sure the book tape overlaps to make a strong binding, and use a blunt edge to push the tape together all around the covers.  The first of the two photos below shows the inside of the covers, where the overlap is visible. The second photo shows the tape on the outside of the cover, pressed down around the corners.


10 – Put a sheet of polythene under the top sheet of the bound pages; this stops moisture from the glue buckling the paper pages while it’s drying. Then spread glue on the end sheets to glue the mull down, but DON’T GLUE ALONG THE SPINE! STOP ABOUT 7MM SHORT OF THE EDGE OF THE SPINE. This allows the book-tape to move freely around the spine, and the finished book to open fully. Then spread glue over the entire page. Press the wooden cover sheet into place. Repeat on the other side, ensuring the book tape has a snug fit along the spine of the book, and place the whole thing under heavy weights for as long as you can stand (24 hours at least).

Your work here is done.

Now you can flaunt your fine bespoke sketchbook in front of an awestruck public as you sketch around town. Or lurk in shadowy corners like I do…

Posted in kit, sketchbooks, technique, urban, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments