Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Scrawlcrawl in Norwich

Yesterday children's illustrators and authors were on the streets of Norwich to sketch, write and be inspired by the city. The event was part of a Europe-wide sketching and live writing event staged by Europe-based members of SCBWI, adapted from the Sketchcrawl concept. Dubbed "Scrawlcrawl", the SCBWI version expands the idea of artists wandering around an area to sketch for a day to include children's writers too.

I organised the first sketchcrawl for British SCBWI in London last year (see my blog entry for 27 November), since when the idea has really taken off in other regions. Yesterday a Europe-wide Solstice Scrawlcrawl was held, with simultaneous events for children's book illustrators and authors taking place in France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, plus members in other countries walked solo scrawlcrawls without groups. The main UK event took place in London on the Thames south bank, but I thought it would be a great idea to run one in Norwich too.
In front of Tombland on our way to the Cathedral. L to R: Elaine Mitchell, Maureen Nisbet, Kat Erwin, Cathy Fiddy, Me, Joyce Taylor and Lisa Smith. Paeony Lewis took the picture, we were shortly afterwards joined by Matt Robertson

The Norwich event was free, open to members and non-members of SCBWI, and was well attended, attracting both established professionals and new faces. We gathered in Tombland in the morning and first covered the old town. I'll shortly post a full selection of participants work on the SCBWI Illustrators Blog, here though are all my own images from the day.

I particularly enjoy drawing the interaction of people with their environment, but being an ordinary working day the streets of the old town were largely empty, so in the morning I focused on architecture. My first drawing was a view of Tombland Alley, with it's well-known sloping building. I didn't have time to limber up and get my creative juices running before the event so this first image was perhaps a little fussy, it took a while to really get into my pace. Perhaps I was slightly overawed by the beautiful medieval streets, wanting to be careful I did them full justice.
Tombland Alley

Next was a rear view of one of the iconic buildings in Elm Hill. It was very tempting to draw the shop fronts, but they've been visualised so many times by hundreds of artists, I wanted to avoid the trap of rendering tourist scenes. The view behind the buildings on the other hand is a jumbled clutter of historic periods, reflecting how the formerly run-down medieval street was saved from demolition in the 1920's. I began this with a pencil drawing, intending to just drop in a light wash of colour, but as often happens with me the paint took over and buried the under drawing, one reason I tend to prefer pen and ink over pencil for sketching!
Back of cottages, Elm Hill.

Time had passed much quicker than intended and I only managed one more drawing of the river before lunch.
River Wensum from Elm Hill looking towards the Art School

More participants joined us as we lunched in the top garden of the ancient (built c.1420) Briton's Arms on Elm Hill. Amongst the chatter I was able to pull off a very quick portrait of Kat Erwin.

In the afternoon the group spread out around Norwich Cathedral. I found the cathedral a rich source of subject matter, with it's interplay of light and shadows, textures and architectural details. The position of visitors within this environment suggested many narrative themes, both for stories and images.
This rather frail looking tour guide appeared almost monolithic as he was rendered almost completely in silhouette by the light from the West Door, which my scribble only partly indicates.
Aged Tour Guide near the West Door
In a similar way I was attracted to this scene as the shadowed screen door frames the figures. In reality several people passed through the door while I was drawing, but this mother and child lingered just long enough for me to loosely scribble them down.
Screen leading onto the South Trancept

The cloisters could only be given full justice by using both sides of the sketchbook, and, conscious of how I lost the drawing in my previous painting in the morning, I drew it in pen and ink before slapping on some watercolour.
The Cloisters

The tombs are easy of course - perfect models who stay perfectly still for you...
Tomb of John Pelham

Finally another tour guide and just one of several eager listeners. This long-haired man stood staring at the floor like this for ages, I thought "if you're going to stand like that, I'll have to draw you" He did, so I did.
Another Tour Guide and fascinated visitor

All too soon time was up, I had to run off to collect my daughter from school, though the weather was gloriously warm and with daylight until after 9.00pm we could have continued for several hours more.  Thanks to everyone who turned up, it was a great day enjoyed I think by everyone there. I fully intend to organize more events for children's authors and illustrators in Norwich, if you're local do get in touch.

See the Europe Solstice Scrawlcrawl blog for reports from across Europe on the day.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

ICBA presentation

Recently I gave a talk in London at the Japan Foundation for the UK branch of the International Children's Bunko Association.

The ICBA is a volunteer organization which provides Japanese language books and other materials like kamishibai for independent children's library reading groups (called bunko) in various countries across the world. The UK branch has been running since the mid 1970's and maintains many bunko groups in locations across the country.
Some of my books on display

beginning of event (photo: Masami Atkinson)
I was originally scheduled to give a talk to the ICBA nearly two years ago but had to cancel at the last minute after falling ill, so this rescheduling had been planned for a long time. It was a greatly enjoyable and memorable event, not least because the fire alarm went off half way through my talk obliging everyone to temporarily evacuate the building. Fortunately it was a false alarm and I just carried on where I'd left off.
"kono kimochi desu...."

We talked about illustration, my books and my career in Japan and elsewhere, I hope everyone could follow my meandering Japanese, I was worried I'd be a little rusty! After the event attendees enjoyed delicious home-made snacks brought in by participants. 

At the end I was presented with some beautiful books by Yoko Morishima
I'm very grateful to everyone who came to the event, special thanks to the organisers Yoko Morishima, Masami Atkinson and Ms Arai. Thanks also to Miwa Naughton for kindly allowing me to reproduce her photos.

Monday, 6 June 2011

back from a sabbatical

I've been extremely quiet on the blog these last couple of months for which I offer wholehearted apologies. Since moving away from London there's been a lot of adjustment, finding school for my daughter, settling down etc, with a consequent backlog of things I need to catch up with. All in all it's taken me a while to get back into the swing of things so I decided on a self-imposed shut down from social media... only essential emailing, limited Facebook and Twitter, in the hope that it allows me to achieve more work.

Yes I've been thankfully very busy since re-settling in Norfolk. In addition there have been many things occupying my mind, not least the awful news from Japan. Having spent nearly half my life in Tokyo Japan is very much like home, so the news reports and developments have been particularly emotional for me. I experienced many earthquakes over the 21 years I was there, though nothing on the scale of the events in March of course. Though it's of little comfort, it seems that no-one in my immediate circle in Japan were hurt in the earthquake, however many are suffering in the after effects, especially under the dark shadow of the Fukushima emergency. No-one has been left untouched by developments. Some of my clients in Tokyo have expressed candid despair at the future of the country, however it seems everyone is pulling together and carrying on with determination.

My heart goes out to all those who have suffered. My thoughts are with my friends, associates and others in the country.