Big update today, as I’ve now got the first 50 images edited and laid out. Notwithstanding some major issues with scanning, photographing and editing some quite nuanced watercolour work, I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere!
What’s in a name?
One major update however has been the front cover – as I’ve decided not to name the book after the instagram account (@nevertoomanychickens) but rather after the purpose of the project – To draw the chickens of instagram.
And so, I give you…
Chickens of Instagram (volume 1)
I ended up in a bit of quantum entanglement on this one.. will people know it’s the instagram project if I change it? But will it make any sense as a title? (especially as I’ve had notebooks, stickers and all sorts on etsy for ages using the same title, and with different fonts..)
But I finally settled because well, it does what it says on the tin. And with the “volumes” approach – it will keep me going with the project which was to keep drawing.. the chickens of Instagram.
So the next question, obviously, is who is going to be on the cover?!!!
To decide this, I am open to comments, messages and voting on the channel of your choice – you can:
• Comment on instagram
• DM on instagram
• Comment on here
• Send me any other kind of electronic communication of your choice.
I’ll publish the result as the front cover.. when it’s gone to print! 😅
The premise was that anyone with an account could nominate their own chicken, provide their name and I’d add them to my list.
List became very long very quickly. I also found it went out of date fairly often, so I had to keep re-asking for recommendations and permissions!
I’ll do a full project run down at some point in the future, but for now, here are some pics of my initial set up – as I take hi-res images of the originals, plus a short video because Fun!
Here I’m using the IPEVO V4K high definition usb camera, which I have attached to my MacbookPro. This is an upgrade to the basic iPhone photos I’ve been taking for the Instagram account, so should hopefully produce something usable for publishing.
I tried to be a bit prepared for this year’s Inktober, but as usual it came with its share of unexpected challenges.
As in previous years, I tried to have a bit of a think about the prompts before the day itself, mostly by creating a sort of mood board of inspiration for each word.
I was extremely excited to start this year’s Inktober, especially as I’d not been very active on Instagram for a while (Covid, busyness etc) so of course it was an extra challenge that I was immediately blocked by Instagram for two weeks for no reason and with no way to appeal.
So, I launched Inktober on TikTok, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest instead.
As far as each day’s drawing, I used one of my standard exercise books to draw one or several preliminary sketches for each prompt.
For this year’s final output I made an A3 poster of all the drawings on one sheet. I was really pleased that the dark image (Day 18 – Moon, which is the most dominant) fell in the middle of the series.
I’m lucky that instagram is full of chickens and chicken parents who nominate their critters to be drawn!
Look at this beauty..
Pencil (for once)
My first step is to draw a rough pencil outline, and then ink over the top. This is the only project I have where I actually use pencil first rather than going straight to ink. This is because, frankly, I’m not terribly good at drawing real chickens from life – hence I started the project to get better at it!
Once I’m happy with the rough shape and features, I then create a line drawing. Here I’m using Derwent Line Makers and using a standard plastic eraser. My pencil is quite light, and as I’m using pigment pens and erasing carefully, it doesn’t damage the ink work.
From there I just attempt to match the colours as well as I can. I have some key go-to colours from the Holbein Artists Gouache set that I have set up in my Daisy Palette.
Because it’s watercolour, I can let it dry out on the palette, keep it covered, and reuse it each time I need to work.
These are small drawings, so they use very little paint.
Using this little paint, with this much accuracy means it’s almost more like inking the image than traditional painting.
For Boudica, you can see that I had to go outside of my core colour base and add blue and green! Not your usual chicken colours!
I often get questions over on Instagram about what I use and how when making my ink drawings. So that’s what I’m going to cover today!
It’s probably important to know the “what I am trying to do” before any of the materials decisions make sense!
Pencil or no pencil?
The most frequent question I get asked is “where are the pencil lines?” Well that’s simple – I don’t use pencil. Not sure why, but I’ve always just gone straight to ink. I think it might originally have been laziness, or a dislike of the way most erasers damage the richness of the ink, or it might have been to stop myself over-thinking everything I draw!
Probably all of the above.
For black and white line drawing, I basically only use two things – pen and paper. I like to keep it simple, which I think is reflected in the work! Also, the fewer materials I have to carry round, the less set up – and this means I’m more likely to sit down and draw something wherever I am, rather than need some elaborate set up.
This is particularly useful at the moment, when I’m living between cities and without a single large studio to work in.
The most important thing for me is pigment ink; the work has to be light-fast. Also, I prefer pens that are waterproof as it reduces the chance of smudging, especially on a hot day!
I used them through Inktober 2020 and I still use Derwent Graphik Linemakers for my project @NeverTooManyChickens. I can’t remember why I didn’t use the Microns – it might have been that I didn’t have any to hand, or someone had given me these to try, but now it’s a habit I can’t break.
Part of me wonders if they feel slightly more robust when drawing on watercolour paper – that’s the only thing I can think of.
Unipins were the first drawing pen I ever used, and so they have a special place in my heart. I also still believe that their 0.05 is the finest out there without investing in the inky mess of Rotring Rapidograph.
#4 Molotow Blackliner
A late addition to my suite of pens is the Molotow Blackliner – but oh my these are delicious. I think I was gifted some to try and fell in love. They are really dark black and flow really well. I used them for my entire book The Wizards of Cattywumpus because they were just a joy to use. A little harder to control the ink flow, so I still stick with my Microns for day to day use, but I adore these.
Ok, so paper is tricky because.. “it depends”.
In general, these days I use sketchbooks not sheets or pads. But there are some exceptions:
Commissions – need to be on a single sheet so that I can work for a long time on a flat surface, and then send the single item out to someone
Books – I tend to do the artwork on sheets of marker paper because I know they will be scanned and turned into digital work – never sold as originals and therefore don’t have to be high quality rag paper
@NeverTooManyChickens – all on hot press watercolour paper, because well.. I’m then painting them with gouache
But for day-to-day use I tend to use sketchbooks because these days, the paper quality is excellent and I if I can manage to carry the same sketchbook around for a period of time, I tend not to lose them all!
Features of a sketchbook
I’ve been using them for a few years now, so I’ve ended up with a clear set of preferences:
1. Paper has to be thick
Generally, I need paper to be of a reasonably heavy weight. This is because I don’t want my beautiful dark pigment ink to soak straight through, and because I may get asked to sell a drawing and so I need it to be of a high quality outside of the sketchbook.
2. Paper has to be smoooth
I don’t know where this comes from, but I’m generally not a fan of bumpy paper. It makes the lines wiggly and generally life a lot harder than I want it to be!
3. Covers have to be hard
I used to use all sorts of sketchbooks, but with extensive travelling, I now prefer sketchbooks with a hard cover and a band around them, so that I can chuck them in a bag or case without too much worry that they’ll get squished
4. Paper usually has to be white
I prefer very white paper. Partly because I just prefer pure black on pure white, and partly because it’s so much easier to take photos for Instagram!
My go-to sketchbooks
So, the sketchbooks that meet the above criteria, that I use all the time are:
Stillman & Birn Zeta – I mean the whole series is to die for, but they hard hard cover and spirals which makes life super-easy. And the paper is the smoothest and whitest I’ve found. Heaven.
Moleskine hard covers – I used to use these all the time, but the paper is a little lightweight and usually a little cream/yellow unless you buy the watercolour/drawing paper versions. These will still do for me in a pinch, especially working with Microns because the bleed through isn’t too bad. It’s good that I can grab these at an airport for example, if I have failed to plan ahead properly!
Royal Talens – This is what I’m using the most at the moment. These were given to me and I was hesitant at first – because I didn’t choose them(!) and because the paper is not quite white – it’s a little off-white or almost cream. Also not as smooth as the Zeta. But for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on, I’m really enjoying them.
I think perhaps because the paper has a really nice weight to it, and the cover feels high quality and extends nicely beyond the end of the paper. Also, despite being a white cover, I have thrown them in and out of bags with no damage or marks either to the cover or the pages inside.
What else? (a cheat)
One more question I get is “how do you draw such straight lines?”
There are two answers to that:
In most of my sketchbooks, I keep pre-cut pieces of paper, or even post it notes!
Top tip: when using guides that you inevitably store in the back of your sketchbook, a thicker sketchbook paper like Talens, rather than that of a Moleskine prevents any impact through the paper you’re drawing on. Most of the time I don’t use guides, but when I’m doing something like Inktober and I want all of the cartoon panels to be consistent – that’s what I use.
For the last two months I’ve been working on a commission for a community kitchen in Margate.
The brief was to create something along the lines of the Nando’s “check in chicken” (nope, I’ve never been to a Nando’s, so I had to google it), but to base them on my character “Señor Tortuga”.
Week 1 – Design
The first task was to design the overall solution. I decided to go with a wooden spoon and base, given the theme and remit of The Kitchen.
Having ordered materials from that source of all random and unwitting art materials, Amazon, I had to go about the task of drawing an initial paper prototype.
And check that it would fit inside the head of the spoon..
Then before I was able to draw any tortoise outline or add any colour, I had to turn the wood into a canvas – by using gesso to prime the surface.
Week 2,3….. – Priming
In total, priming took about 2 weeks as it required up to 4 layers, both sides, plus drying time across 12 “spoons”.
Week 4 – Outlines
The initial outline for each tortoise, on each side, was done in ink from the beginning – no stencil, no pencil – straight on in ink, copying visually from my initial sketch by hand.
At the same time as drawing 24 sides of outlines, I took one tortoise through to colour, to ensure that the outline would hold enough colour contrasts and combinations.
Week 5,6 – Colours
After establishing that the green colour combinations were successful, I then started the prototype for other colour combos, so I would end up with the following combos:
2. Red/Orange/Yellow (x3)
3. Blue/Blue/Yellow-green (x3)
4. Gold/Brown/Red (x3)
As you can see here, I also had to paint multiple layers of colour on each tortoise, (12×2 sides, 4 different designs). even with the layers of gesso as primer, colours quickly absorbed and needed to be covered over at least 3 times each.
After which, the original black line had been obscured, and so had to be inked over again. (12×2).
Week 7 – Finishing painting
At the end of week 7, several final layers of paint and final black outlines went on.
Week 8 – Drilling, sanding, gluing and lots and lots of varnish
It took a few goes to find a drill bit big enough for this. In the end, had to use 4 different drills sizes and work my way up. And yes, a router would have been easier if I’d had one 🙂
And they all needed to be sanded back afterwards, as the giant drill had basically torn the holes out..
Before gluing, I had to use this little fella to ensure that any remaining gesso was removed from the edges of the artwork.
And then gluing.. using titebond, non-toxic wood glue. Making sure that I left them for 24 hours to ensure no accidentally un-sticking occurred once I moved them for varnish.
Finally, I climbed out on to the roof (sorry neighbours) and applied multiple coats of Golden artists varnish. Initially, gloss varnish to seal the artwork, then a matt varnish to achieve the overall effect I was looking for.
Here you see my impromptu spray hood, with the aim partially of helping the varnish land, but more importantly, keep bits of Margate roof dirt (or seagull contributions) off the drying varnish.
Week 9 – Done & delivered.
Finally these chaps were delivered over to The Kitchen. Mission accomplished.
I have recently been experimenting with drawing on trainers, specifically; white Converse (or cheaper alternatives!). Although most of my work is ink on paper, I also enjoy branching out and seeing what materials allow me to draw on other surfaces such as walls, plastic, windows or even eggshells.
Initially, I tried both Sharpies and fine line permanent markers on old converse (grey) and cheap white canvas sneakers.
As you can see, although not dreadful, there is some bleeding into the material. The permanent markers gave me far more control than sharpies, so those were definitely the right pen – but how would I get the line to be crisper and cleaner and more like my work on paper? Especially as I wanted to move on from cheap canvas shoes to real Converse – and you don’t want to mess those up at £40+ per pair.
So, as with all things art supplies, I asked my friends at Jacksons Art what they’d suggest to help prime this kind of canvas so that I could create a cleaner line effect.
The recommendation from Jacksons was to experiment. Helpfully, they suggested 4 different types of primer that might work. And so the experiment began.
The following is an arts materials review. No doubt, I am not using the materials for their intended purpose and therefore apologise to the manufacturers if I am in any way criticising their products – I’m just trying to find a hack that works for this purpose.
Next, I took a Converse sneaker (this was actually my own pair of size 8s that I was testing..!) and marked out 4 squares for the test.
I then applied each medium/gesso to the patch of canvas directly above, let it dry, assessed the effect, then drew on top to see how the permanent marker interacted with the gesso.
Findings – impact of gesso on canvas
What I was looking for was a light gesso, that wouldn’t make the canvas too stiff, wouldn’t remove the texture of the material, and wouldn’t darken or dirty that brilliant white.
Golden Matte Medium
This one had the biggest impact on the material in that it darkened it considerably, even when dry. This picture is of the heel of the shoe which I thought might have contributed, but I did another test near the toe and it did the same thing.
2. Golden Fluid Matte Medium & 3. Liquitex clear gesso
These two were probably best in terms of impact/effect on the canvas – they neither left dark stains, nor were so thick that they obscured the texture of the canvas.
4. Winsor & Newton Clear Gesso
This one came out the thickest, obscuring the most of the canvas texture. Unlike the Golden Matte Medium, it didnt darken the material and kept it nice and white, but it almost looked like a thickly primed painting canvas.
Findings – drawing on gesso
For the next stage, once the gesso was dry I use the permanent marker to create some sample drawings.
Note: if you see someone with partially drawn on white converse, that will be me..
Golden Matte Medium
This didn’t work for me. It felt like I was drawing on hard lumpy plastic or hardened glue. You can probably see from the way the roof of the turret is bumpy where I lost control of my pen on the uneven surface. Control is absolutely paramount to me so this, combined with the darkening effect puts this gesso in last place for me in this test.
2. Golden Fluid Matte Medium
This one was much easier to draw on than the Golden Matte (non-Fluid), but still felt a little bit scratchy compared to the next.
3. Liquitex Clear Gesso
The thing I liked about this one, was the ease of drawing (i.e. smoothness), compared to the level of detail I could achieve.
4. Winsor & Newton Clear Gesso
Remember, this is the one that went on thickest and removed the texture of the canvas. It was relatively easy to draw on (because it had smoothed out the texture underneath) and the black seemed to look blacker as a result. However, for some reason it seemed that I couldn’t get the same level of detail as the Golden Fluid Matte Medium and the Liquitex Clear. Take a look at the hat in the drawing, and the way the lines are almost blurring together.
I’m keeping the Golden Fluid Matte Medium and the Liquitex Clear, and would definitely buy both in future for this purpose, depending on what I could get my hands on. However, I’m starting with the Liquitex on all my current projects and commissions.
Now check out the difference between primed and unprimed – the expensive blimmin failure that was this pair of baby/kids Converse!!
I’ve been a bit obsessed of late with the concept of Kintsugi – the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold – also know as Kintsukuroi. The underlying idea – that an object is more beautiful for having been broken.
Cue an opportunity to get the gold leaf out again and practice my l33t gilding skills, when an exhibition opportunity arose at the Mill E17, to be part of the printmaking exhibition Ink, Press, Go.
For this piece, I took the concept of Kintsukuroi into the (always challenging) world of linocut.
I make no secret of the fact that linocut really stretches my skills and my patience. I like the control of pen and ink. I know what is going to happen and I have complete control. Whereas with linocut or lino printing, I have no idea if the thing is going to work until I take it out of the press and peel back the paper from the plate.
It’s probably good for me, and good for my practice, to relinquish control from time to time. But I still find it stressful, especially with a deadline looming.
So, back to Kintsukuroi.
For this piece, I drew and cut a lino plate of a generic vase, which in itself was neither particularly hard, or particularly interesting.. excluding my various attempts to get it to print evenly.
And then I kind of freaked out my lovely instagram followers by doing this..
I admit, I freaked myself out a little too.
Next, I attempted to glue it back together with gold leaf. This is where I learned the importance of LETTING THE INK DRY FIRST.
Yeah, that didn’t work. It’s meant to be a fine straight line. As you can see, the gold stuck all over the place including off the print. Fail. Well, this is how we learn.
So, back we go and fortunately I’d made a few attempts at the linocut print, so I could tear even more of them apart! This time, waiting until everything was dry…
Bit more careful with the glue this time..
And of course I remembered to wear gloves to avoid tarnishing the gold with my human hand oils 😉