Friday, 15 March 2019

Drawing Breath in 2019

Sketchy Plans

Bit of a slow start to the year but it's one of those times in life where apparently no-one has a clue what is going on, so we can be forgiven for winging it.

MK sketch group outside the new MK Gallery (Feb 2019)

Milton Keynes Sketchers

A couple of years ago I discussed the idea of setting up an new MK sketching group, as the one I'd joined had ground to a halt after three events. A neighbour gave me space on her Meetup account and I was also invited to take over a Facebook drawing group. Both of these sat relatively dormant until this year when I started to run events in February.

We had our first sketching social event in February, during a few days of unseasonably warm weather. This made for a lovely, sunny first event, where we sketched outside the new Milton Keynes gallery, which was in its final run up to opening in March.

The next event for the group will return to the gallery on 24th March, so that we can have a group tour of the building, catch the first exhibition and socialise in the new cafe.

If you like to join us you can find out more about the group and event details here:


The New MK Gallery

The MK Gallery has had a fab, shiny new £12m makeover and I'm looking forward to seeing in on its open day on Saturday 16th March. There was a private view on Thursday, which seems to have been very well attended. I'm buzzing for the official open day, which will have lots of free activities to indulge in from 11 am onward. I love free stuff.

The first exhibition looks like it'll be fantastic for fans of urban landscape, like myself.

"#TheLieoftheLand charts how British landscape has been radically transformed through changing attitudes to free time, culture and leisure." - MKG publicity . 

There are tons of articles about how the gallery has been redesigned by 6a architects with input from artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman to create a City Club harking back to the early days of Milton Keynes. Also, the new building incorporates a much-needed cinema and performance space, a stylish new cafe and a refreshed paint job inside and out.

"artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman have collaborated with 6a architects and graphic designer Mark El-khatib to create City Club, a sequence of new public spaces in and around the new gallery. This includes the foyer and café, plus a playscape, garden and a new façade for the existing gallery building." - a-n News

Monday, 8 October 2018

Sketching for MK Lit Fest

Sketch of the MK Lit Fest launch event for the MinK zine.

Live Event Sketching 

In September I was very pleased to take on an assignment for our local literary festival (now in its 2nd year). The MK Lit Fest organisers had seen an artist in residence at another literary event and approached me due to seeing my own sketches of last year's MK Lit Fest event on Instagram.

Sketching at an event is a fun an interesting mix of observational drawing and listening to the speakers. There are many ways to go about this but the one I use is to sketch 'live' on location, adding notes while I work or after the talk. I also take colour notes as I like to add watercolour washes to my sketches.

Another way to work might be to use the sketches as the basis of a more finished looking piece, possibly stringing together a theme or bullet points from the presentations. At this event we went with the immediacy of the loose sketching style which I use for urban sketching. My first sketches took in the launch event, including contributors to the MinK zine, followed by the first star guest. My notes are a mixture of comments from the speakers and background information which I researched when I got home.

VG Lee reading at MK Lit Fest

Sharing on Social Media

When the pictures of my drawings went up on social media, we also tagged in the various writers and local arts organisations. My literary festival sketches seem to have gone down particularly well with the writers from the Polari Literary Salon, based in London, who were delighted to find out that they'd been sketched whilst they were on stage. Other sketchers may have gone for a more flamboyant approach and could have made sketching more of a performance piece but my style is to sit quietly in a corner and to do candid observational sketching.

The organisers told me that posts on Facebook seemed to encourage more clicks and posts on Twitter seemed to generate more discussion. Overall the experience seems to have been a great success for both myself and the organisers, so I'd consider doing this again for another event.

Live Sketching Tips

For anyone looking for tips on practising this style of reportage, I'd recommend investing in a couple of sketchbooks, some pens or brushes that you feel comfortable drawing quickly with, a portable set of pan watercolours, watercolour pencils or gouache colours. Find a comfortable place to stand or sit while you people-watch, if you perch quietly in one place then people and animals tend to feel more comfortable than if you fidget or announce your presence. If you're uncomfortable with drawing people then start practising by drawing the environment and take some life drawing classes to improve the way you draw figures.

Also look at examples of urban sketching on websites. There are local sketch groups in Bedford and Northampton if you want to embrace the social side of sketching and a Facebook group for sketchers like myself in Milton Keynes.

To see more of  my MK Lit Fest sketches, please take a look at my Instagram account @srfirehorseart.

Note: an earlier version of this article appeared on LinkedIn.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Eventful sketching

MK Lit Fest 2018

MK Lit Fest 2018 announcement

MK Lit Fest 2018 announcement


It is the second year of the new literary festival for Milton Keynes and this year the organisers have selected me to be their artist in residence. This will be a new experience for both of us, so I'm excited to see how it'll work out. I'm always happy to sketch indoors with tea and books on tap, so it should be fun.

Last year I went to MK Litfest mainly to see how the event represented diversity and I was pleasantly surprised. I ended up enjoying the talks more than I expected and took some sketch notes at the event which I shared on Instagram, tagging in the event's authors and publishers.

The organisers liked my drawings so much that they've asked me back as their artist in residence. I'm looking forward to sharing my best sketches with everyone via Facebook and Instagram. I've already shared a sketch I made at one of their 'taster' events at MK Gallery.

I'm also looking forward to seeing a print copy of 'MinK, their new 52-page literary zine, at the launch event on the 21st September. There should be an online version too for those unable to attend the festival.

This year's event runs from Friday 21st through to Monday 24th September at the Holiday Inn in central Milton Keynes. You can find out more about it here:

Location sketching

If you want to see examples of other people sketching on location I'd recommend Dutch illustrator Maaike Hartjes for a cartoon (comics) based style, Canadian journalist and war artist Richard Johnson's line drawings, artist and author James Gurney for painting on location, plus a whole raft of urban sketchers.