Teaching Superheroes

A good art experience at school is such a valuable thing; the right approach can set us up for an artistic life filled with robust experimentation, open-mindedness and enthusiasm, and appreciation for art in all its manifestations. Some of us will have been lucky enough to have been inspired by our school art teachers, but I suspect many others will have found their way to creative fulfilment despite the confines of their formal art education.

Without getting too political, it’s clear that ‘arts’ education in the UK is being marginalised, underfunded and undervalued by the government, yet still the vast majority of teachers remain passionate and dedicated to their subjects, striving to inspire young people. It’s why they are teachers.


A print by one of Mrs Jardin’s students

I came across Mrs Jardin’s Art Room on WordPress by accident, and found that I loved what I was seeing. I’m highlighting her blog here, because I find the work she’s achieving with her young students uplifting, and because I want to spread the word about how stimulating art education can be.

I really hope you enjoy your trip to Mrs Jardin’s class!

(P.S. I’m not a teacher, just a fan of teaching ‘done right’)


Exhibit A

Whilst on holiday we visited Edinburgh, and since you can’t spend all your time in Fringe comedy shows unless you’re very rich indeed, and because Edinburgh was very rainy, we took refuge in the National Museum of Scotland. What a museum! Housed in a Victorian building with a modern extension, it made a truly grand job of showcasing its treasures and curios – rivalling any museum I’ve seen. If you’re ever in Edinburgh I’d recommend a visit. (And, as with most British museums, entry is free).

Anyway, there was a huge burden of choice for what to sketch, and time being of the essence, I took the first item which caught my eye: this crane incense burner. It stood about 4 foot tall, and being lit from above cast a lovely shadow on the wall. I grabbed one of the folding chairs (yes, imagine our delight!) which the museum had thoughtfully hung at convenient intervals on the wall, and set to. There wasn’t too much passing traffic as it was still quite early, which definitely made sketching easier.

Crane incense tombow

In the end I didn’t manage to convey the absolute elegance and delicacy of the bronze original, but this sketch is enough to remind me of what I saw.

Fighting Chance

A visit to Leeds Royal Armouries, intended to please my son, turned into a good sketching opportunity for our little group of friends. The museum is arranged over several floors and to my surprise is not just about war – it also covers topics such as hunting and jousting, and displays plenty of accoutrements too. This was good, as I’m rather a pacifist, and didn’t fancy drawing machine guns or swords.

We didn’t have a great deal of time available for sketching, so it was important to make decisions quickly. My eye was first taken by this lovely Indian powder flask, dating from the 17th Century. I could easily imagine that this antelope was someone’s treasured possession. Its sweeping curve must have felt wonderful in the hand.

Poweder horn chinagraph

Then, my friend and I set a 15 minute sketch-off challenge, and choosing this funny steel jousting helmet to draw. It was the mustache that did it, really. I have to wonder whether the wearer wore a similar fancy mustache and bulbous nose under his helmet…one can dream.

Knight's Helmet chinagraph

Both pictures were made using a black chinagraph and white CarbOthello pencil, on Ingres paper. I wish I’d remembered in time that you can’t put white on top of black chinagraph with impunity, but never mind.

…And Relax

After my struggles with the previous sketch portrait we stayed in the garden, chatting and soaking up the last rays of sunshine of the day. I had an urge to draw a recently vacated deck chair, the evening light glancing off its wooden shanks and through its stripy cloth.

The gel pen seemed perfect for the job, and this is the result. I was going to include a little plate with its fork and vestiges of cake, which had been sitting on the grass next to the chair. However, by the time I got round to it, someone had already (kindly) whisked it away. Must sketch faster!

Deck chair gel.JPG

I have to admit, I’m really enjoying the way the gel pen performs on this black cartridge paper. I don’t think I can make it work for every subject, but there are some which just seem to sing out from the black. It’s such an interesting switch to be working with highlights as the driver, rather than adding in the darks as graphite requires. This must be good for the brain!

Face Time

We’ve just returned from a lovely holiday with some Friends In The North, who are also sketchers. So there were plenty of opportunities to get out the pad and pens, and scribble around a bit.

Our host was sitting fairly still in the garden, sketching my husband. His concentration was such that he had no idea I was trying to draw him. Whilst this little portrait study doesn’t look much like its subject, I am pleased that it does in fact look like a plausible person, but more practice definitely needed.

Andy tombow

One of the side effects of shading with Tombows which I really enjoy is that when you lift out pigment the black splits, removing the blue tones and leaving reddish ones, making the picture appear more colourful. I think that I could intentionally use this property to give an extra dimension to sketches.


Ram(eses) Packed

As I’ve mentioned, I was lucky enough to get down to London recently to meet a friend for sketching. We thought the British Museum would offer some good sketching opportunities. Perhaps we’d given slightly less thought to the crazy numbers of visitors heading to the same venue.

When it came to sketching, we tried to find a room which had rather fewer visitors, but this seemed to be impossible. In the end, I plumped first for a carved Paleolithic ram platter (for ceremonial meals). I loved the ram’s expression, with its painted eye, and the vast exaggeration of its body and tiny legs. I’d happily have oven-to-tableware like this.

Ram platter tombow

In the Enlightenment I found a slightly sad rat, badly stuffed, and not greatly helped by my execution. His toes were all broken and wiggly with age. I don’t know why I chose him – perhaps it was his wistful little face which drew me in. These two sketches were done in fineliner and black Tombow with waterpen – quick to work with and compact, both useful properties when you’re surrounded by jostling onlookers and you just want to get your sketch done!

Stuffed rat tombow


The last picture was done in the Egyptian hall, the spectacular bust of Rameses II. There was a handy bench right in front of him, and one little space left for a tired sketcher to sit. (That’s why we can see more up his nose than might usually be expected.) But I quite enjoyed the opportunity to sketch at a more extreme angle, and to study this wonderful piece of ancient sculpture. Chinagraphs on Ingres paper for this one, and my favourite of the day.

Rameses 11 Chinagraph

We felt we’d earned our post-sketch ice creams.

At the Beech

Sketching today in a local village called Boughton. It’s a really pretty spot, with a big duck pond surrounded by yellow irises, which itself is ringed with a few mature trees and picturesque houses. A truly bucolic English scene.

The sun was beating down (yes, it’s finally put in an appearance) and there was a lovely bench in the shade under the spreading copper beech, where my husband had a good view of an extremely attractive cottage to sketch. He’s on roll with drawing buildings at the moment. I decided to brave sitting just in the sun to look slightly up into the tree and capture him working away. It was the interplay of light and shade which attracted me, and I was especially grateful for the white fence running along the house boundary which made the shade behind seem even deeper. I used a fineliner and black Tombow with waterbrush, on what for me is a fairly light (160gsm) paper – I find I can make the pigment glide across this smooth surface easily, and pick it up to use in other areas.

Boughton beech tombow

As I sketched I was visited by a mother mallard with thirteen ducklings trailing behind her – such a sweet sight. The dragonflies and damsel flies were zooming about in the sunshine, and all was peaceful. I’ve a feeling I’ll be back to sketch here again, there’s so much to see, and even a few choice benches positioned just where a sketcher would like them! What more could one wish for?

To Hand

This is a simple little funsize fineliner sketch, made on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, while waiting while my son played in his brass group. Uninspired by what was around me, I opted for the closest of subjects, that which was literally to hand. Looking back on this sketch, I really like the broken, wiggly line over the knuckle, and the darks under the fingernails and in the palm.

Funsize Hand

I suspect this will be the last of the Saturday sketches (although there are a few other I haven’t posted yet) because I’ve been invited to play in the brass group too, as they’ve just lost their second trumpet. My ‘dead’ time will be filled in future with a lot of puffing and blowing, instead of scribbling. However, my funsize sketchbook will continue to travel with me, because you never know…

On the Line

Yesterday was a beautiful day, with light breezes, big scudding clouds and intermittent warm sunshine, a good day for sketching outside. Inspiration was slow in coming, but finally I decided to have a go at the washing line, attracted by the lovely purply-blue shadows being thrown onto the gravel and the shed.

In the end this picture took an awful lot of fiddling with to arrive at this stage. I struggled with the sky because the paint dried even faster than I’d expected and, even with lifting out, the clouds are rather lumpy. Getting the foliage dark enough to contrast with the sunlit areas seemed to take ages and many goings-over; in doing so, I did get to try out my new W&N Neutral Tint, which seems a very useful addition to the palette. On the plus side, I am pleased with the colour of the shadows of the washing, and also that I managed to get the paint edges crisp and dark enough not to have to use my fineliner to add definition.

Washing watercolour


It’s Behind You!

This little ‘funsize’ sketch (3x3ins) was made on a visit to the ancient and very pretty Spanish hill town of Besalu, with its impressive medieval bridge. The weather was fine, so two of our party sat down at river level to draw the bridge; however, I didn’t think the tiny format of this sketchbook would cope very well with the bridge from our vantage point.

Fortunately, just looking in the other direction offered a  rather picturesque view of the buildings clustered on the side of the hill, in the shadow of a mountain, and this is what I chose.

Funsize Besalu

This little sketch is made in black fineliner and shaded with a black Tombow watercolour marker and waterpen to blur the paint. I was pleased with the effect and depth I achieved here, despite a fairly minimalist approach to materials.