Sketchbook Walks and Book Deals

Late November 2021. A meeting with a stranger in an Ambleside cafe. And one of the most amazing propositions I have ever received. OK, now don’t get too over-heated, it’s not what you think, it’s far more exciting.

Earlier in November I’d received an email, which I nearly deleted as spam. A Twitter acquaintance, Alan Cleaver – @thelonningsguy – had pointed one of his followers to an art portfolio that I’d set up a few years ago and now this chap was contacting me. When it actually sunk in that the email was bona fide I didn’t know whether I was terrified or excited by its contents. It took me days to make up my mind to respond but once I’d said yes, and agreed to meet up, the excitement dominated the terror. Thus, a couple of weeks later, I found myself sitting in Esquires cafe sketching to settle my nerves whilst waiting to meet Dave, who turned out to be tall and dark and very very interested in my sketchbooks.

Those sketchbooks were the reason Dave set up the meeting. He’s the founder of Inspired by Lakeland – @ByLakeland – a Cumbrian publishing company with a sustainable, ethical and local focus. As it says on their website “Everything we sell is designed locally, with a percentage of profits ploughed back into local business and Cumbrian-based charities”. It was not just the style of my sketches that prompted him to contact me but the content. He appreciated the contrast between the domestic mundanity of Lakeland life and the magnificent and majestic landscape. The hour stretched out as we discussed possibilities and by the end of the meeting I’d been offered a book deal for a sketchbook journal created over the course of a year in the Lakes. I left the meeting grinning with adrenaline, already so full of ideas and possibilities.

Since then we have been working on how to create a polished finished product. My sketchbooks are tatty and haphazard so I’ll be sketching in the field and taking reference photos to recreate clean copies in the studio. Even the apparently simple task of choosing paper has been a marathon of research. Although the book will evolve organically it will require a framework and a cohesiveness that my personal sketchbooks rarely have. So much needed to be prepared before the new year when I had to be primed and ready to go.

And of course all of this is now underway and January is over. I have thoroughly enjoyed creating the first few pages, and am planning walks and trips to all areas of Cumbria over the coming year. It’s rejuvenated my walking and running plans as I now have an even greater reason to head out into the fells with a backpack and sketchbook, but I’m also looking forward to joining the throngs of visitors by the lakes and at all the other wonderful lowland places the Lake District has to offer. Now all I have to do is walk and sketch and fend off imposter syndrome, so if you see me sitting sketching come over and say ‘hi’. Who knows, you may even feature in the book.

Every Picture Tells a Story

I’m an inveterate recorder. Before GPS and heart rate monitors were glints in their inventors’ eyes I was measuring maps, calculating ascent and logging walk details. I’m now addicted to all the lovely data my Polar watch provides and snap photographs for that same split second record. But I still love to record journeys by hand, be that as a handwritten account or a sketch. Taking time to look and sketch adds so much interest to a walk.

Whilst looking for inspiration and new ways of organising my sketchbooks Jo Beal’s four week online Art Journaling course popped up on Twitter. I thought that might be just what I needed. I’d been looking for some CPD as a precursor to an exciting new project lurking on the horizon and this course was perfect for my needs. Jo is an excellent teacher and motivator and the course is suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced artists.

One of the sessions looked at ways to incorporate maps into a record of a walk. It’s lovely to begin a page in this way as sketching the map creates a framework to hold together the drawings. Words and writing can be used to mask any lack of technical drawing skills and add interest to the page. Drawings and lettering can be layered onto each other to great effect and even the most tentative beginner can create a wonderful personal record of a day’s walk.

Because this was a prescribed task it was completed in my studio over the course of a few days in between other chores. I had headed out for a run along a nearby route in preparation for the workshop, snapping photos as I ran. The route begins near the lovely Hampshire market town of Alresford and follows ancient chalk trackways through the foothills of the South Downs. In autumn the hedgerows are wreathed in fluffy Old Man’s Beard, laden with blackberries and jewelled with blood red White Bryony berries. There are purple sloes and crimson hawthorn berries laced with rose hips. The paths are edged with creamy white yarrow and the occasional red splash of a late poppy.

Back at the studio during the workshop we looked at examples of artists maps and considered ways of creating a sketchbook page to incorporate a ‘map’, from a simple floor plan of a building to a more elaborate and precise route map for a guidebook. We all have our own way of creating art and I find that if I’m given plenty of time I’m very precise and ordered, but if I have less time my work is looser and flows more freely. I like the finished products of both approaches but it’s always the process that is most enjoyable. This piece was going to give me plenty of time to think through the design and layout so would be quite controlled and tight but future sketches ‘in the wild’ would be able to take this practice and develop it at speed.

I began with a very rough scribble in an ideas sketchbook then drew out a map of the route using an OS map for reference. I’m fascinated by old signposts so the one at the halfway point was always going to be a key feature. Over this I drew in pencil the images I wanted to incorporate – grapes and a vine leaf to denote the vineyard at the start, the picturesque cottage I always admire, a poppy for a splash of colour. Paint was added later as the page developed. As this was recording a run I wanted to place myself onto the page, but as a background rather than a main feature so I drew in a ‘ghost’ outline behind the signpost, enjoying playing with the scale. If I were to do this again I would not draw over the sign and I would dilute the ink to be paler so the drawing fades more into the background.

Despite being quite a controlled and planned sketchbook page it did evolve as each element was added. The rose hips were added to balance out the strong colour of the poppy and the blackberries were included to fill a blank space that felt too empty. I now think they are too dark and feel diluting the ink would have made them less prominent.

The path from my starting point is part of the Wayfarers Walk, a 70 mile long distance trail from Inkpen Beacon in the north to Emsworth by the sea in the south One of the lanes is part of an ancient trackway known as the Ox Drove Way, an old drove road which passes through the abandoned Medieval village of Abbotstone with its intriguing humps and bumps in the pasture. I labelled these as important locations and waymarks.

Finally lettering recording some of the flora seen en route was added to create a frame around the whole page, completing the piece. I’m really very pleased with it and looking forward to my next walk when I can try out some of the ideas buzzing around my brain.

‘You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone’ – Lockdown Diaries

“Well you don’t know, do you?”

“It’s in Leeds and Bradford now”

“They should keep those cruise ships down there. They shouldn’t let them back up here”

“You have to do that hand washing – all between t’fingers and everything”

“‘Owd folk have been told t’stay indoors. Well you can’t do that, can you?”

This conversation between two elderly people in a Skipton cafe was recorded in my sketchbook at the beginning of March, the start of one of the strangest periods of my life. Continue reading “‘You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone’ – Lockdown Diaries”

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