Tuesday, 16 June 2009


A few weeks ago I visited my local art shop in Cambridge to stock up with my favourite Winsor & Newton sketchbooks. I was disappointed to find that the familiar blue covered hard back books were no longer on display, and that the only Winsor & Newton books had black covers and a different weight paper - 110gsm instead of 170gsm. The shop told me that W & N still made the heavier weight books but that they had changed the colour of the covers from blue to black, and that they could order some for me, which they did. I collected my new books expecting them to be the same quality as the blue covered ones I have used for years, so was sadly disappointed to find that they were not. The paper did not respond well to wet in wet watercolour or heavy washes, the surface breaking up and going fluffy.

Since then I have experimented with different sketchbooks - a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook and a Fabriano Venezia sketchbook.

Meanwhile I wrote to Winsor & Newton to ask if they had changed the paper, and if so, why? This is the reply I received last week.

Dear Sue,

Thank you for your email to Winsor & Newton and apologies for the delay in responding to your complaint. I’m sorry that you have been disappointed with your recent purchase of our sketchbook and I would like to try and explain some of the recent changes that have affected this product.

The paper industry has been struggling for some time and we are aware of an increase in the number of paper mills going out of business. It’s likely that the increase in digital media and technology is partly to blame but also we notice that mills are closing down because it’s very hard to compete in this acutely price sensitive market.

This has had a knock on effect for us as we need a supplier who can help us produce a competitively priced, good quality sketch book. In 2007, our original paper supplier increased their prices making the books no longer viable from this source. As a result we searched the world for an alternative supplier who could offer a similar paper at more competitive prices. However, because the paper is from a different mill some of its characteristics were slightly altered which may be more obvious when painting with heavy washes and I think this is what you have noticed.

I’m sorry for your disappointment with our current product but as a gesture of goodwill I would like to send you some replacement Luxury Water Colour Hard Back Sketch Books (265 x 210mm) which have 200lbs NOT surface paper. Please email me your postal address and I will arrange for these to be sent out.

Kind regards,

Tom Groundes-Peace

I am very impressed by Winsor & Newton's response. I did not request replacements or a refund, merely an explanation and information, both of which were sent. The offer of new sketchbooks was entirely their idea and very generous on their part. I have received two of the new luxury hardback books containing 200lb watercolour paper (far too good for sketching!).

I am still on the lookout for the old style blue sketchbooks, they were such good value. I think it's still possible to find them online.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Open Gardens

Cawcutts, pen and wash, watercolour pencil

On Sunday our villages held an Open Gardens Day in aid of Histon Feast, Emmaus UK and Voluntary Service Overseas. In all there were 14 gardens open to the public, and I managed to visit five of them. Cawcutts was my first port of call. This house was originally the home of the Chivers family. Below is an extract from the programme.
...entering the garden to the left of the house, you see set amidst grey stone slabs, some Gertrude Jekyll type planting backed by a shrub and woodland area. Turning towards the main part of the garden there is a glorious rose trellis, and a patio area behind the house designed for dining outIt was a beautifully sunny and warm day and I was lucky enough to find a vacant bench to sit on while I did the sketch above.

TL4462 : Impington windmill, Cambs by Rodney Burton

Impington windmill, Cambs

© Copyright Rodney Burton
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
A short walk brought me to The Windmill, taken over eight years ago by Pippa and Steve Temple, who are gradually restoring the windmill to full working order and taming...
...a gloriously "romantic" garden decaying through neglect. Gradually replacing the dead trees by new, brambles by roses, clematis and honeysuckles we have created a path through the wilder areas. Maintaining the romance there are beds for different seasons, a wisteria archway, a herb bank, a rose and clematis pergola and underway a bed of grasses, bog gardens and a wild flower bank
Tours of the windmill were also on offer and I rashly bought a ticket. All was well while we were guided around the exterior and even up to the first floor, but one look at the ladder up to the next level was enough to convince me that there was no way I was going any further (I am not good at heights) so I chickened out and went and had a nice sit down and a peice of cake!

Next stop was a relatively new house on an estate at the far end of the village, not all that promising you might think, but this estate was built on the site of Impington Hall (home of Samuel Pepys' uncle) and the beautiful garden contains what was once the ornamental lake, and is flanked by a London Plane tree that was planted by Capability Brown.

Heading out of the estate and across the road brought me to Burgoynes House

The garden comprises three distinct areas, a small parkland area in front of the house, with several magnificent trees set in wide lawns including chestnut, beech and whitebeam. On one side leading off the terrace is an enclosed garden, which is walled down on side, crating a beautiful secluded space.

In this space was an intriguing piece of sculpture which was just asking to be sketched. It is made out of a whole trunk of a willow which had to be felled as it was growing too close to the house. Each twisting branch represents a member of the family and is carved to represent something important to them eg binary code to represent computing.

I just had time to visit one more garden. This was a complete contrast to the stately home type gardens I had seen so far, it was much smaller, and full of quirky ornaments and odd pieces of furniture! The owners say it is a haven for wildlife, but the presence of two cats made me wonder about that!

By now it was 6 o'clock and the gardens were closing, so time to head home. My newly purchased pedometer says I have done 13,478 steps 0r 5.9 miles!

This was the second event of this kind and it is hoped to be repeated biennially. The garden owners and organisers have put in a tremendous amount of effort and hopefully raised a substantial amount of money for the supported charities. I look forward to the next one when hopefully I can get to the gardens I missed yesterday!

Finally, here is the kit I took with me.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Cambridge Botanic Gardens

I've been too busy lately to do much sketching, so I thought I'd post some more of the photos I took last time I went to the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge

Saturday, 23 May 2009

From my Bookshelf - 5 Books About Sketching

1. Sketchbook Secrets by Moira Huntly
2. Creative License by Danny Gregory
3. An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory
4. Everyday Matters by Danny Gregory
5. The Tao of Sketching: The Complete Guide to Chinese Sketching Techniques by Qu Lei Lei

10 Great Places to Sketch Around Cambridge

1. University Botanic Gardens
2. Fitzwilliam Museum
3. Market Square

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Sketching in the Botanic Gardens

Cory Lodge, pen and wash

I spent a delightful day at the University Botanic Gardens in Cambridge today. I am very lucky to be able to get a bus from the end of my road that takes me all the way to the Station Road entrance in about 30 to 40 minutes, so loaded with my sketch kit plus a few additions I set off this morning to do some sketching. My first stop was the cafe, where refreshed with a mug of Blackberry and Nettle tea and a slice of Florentine I settled down on the terrace outside to do the above sketch of the building called Cory Lodge.

"Cory Lodge" before wash was applied

Outside the hothouses, coloured pencil in Moleskine

This is a coloured pencil sketch. I don't do much sketching from life in coloured pencil and need to practice more!

Gardener's trolley, pen and wash

I was looking for something to do a quick sketch of before heading home when I caught sight of this trolley which was obligingly parked opposite a sheltered bench. I got some funny looks from the gardener who was watering the border that he had just planted up!

My sketches cannot do the gardens justice so I took a few pics as well : )

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Biscuit finished

Here he is finished. I might tweak a few things here and there, but it is essentially done. I just need to think of a title.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Biscuit WIP update 3

I have had a bit more time today, so managed to get quite a bit more done.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Biscuit WIP update 2

Here is an update, I haven't had much time to spend on this, and there are still things that need fixing, but it'll get there.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Biscuit WIP update

Here is an update. Now it's on the screen I can see all that's wrong with it. His coat colour is proving very difficult, especially in the shadow areas. He is a very pale ginger tabby with a white bib and paws and white on his face (a tuxedo cat).

The Immortal Stone

Chinese jades from the Neolithic period to the twentieth century

Jades from the museum’s collection covering the most important periods in Chinese history. Included will be jades for burial; animal sculptures and luxury utensils from the Ming and Qing periods and jades from the imperial collection, as well as fake jades from the late 19th to early 20th century. There will be a catalogue available to accompany this exhibition.

I visited this exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge last weekend. My first impression was that it was quite small, the Octagon is not very big, but I was soon absorbed by the exhibits. There is one fascinating exhibit depicting the various forms of forgery that have been used to make pieces of modern jade look like antiquities. They went to a lot of trouble to do this, copying pieces from catalogues and then scorching them to discolour the jade.

As photography is not allowed in the museum I pulled out my sketchbook to draw the horse below, but unfortunately the nib of my pen snapped and I had to complete the sketch with a non waterproof gel pen. I surreptitiously added watercolour using my tiny watercolour box and waterbrush as only dry media are allowed in the galleries, but it is so small that nobody noticed.

The exhibition is on until Sunday 31 May in the Octagon (Gallery 10)
Admission is free

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Biscuit WIP

Prismacolor on Sennelier pastelboard

I've started a new piece in coloured pencil. This is one of my cats, Biscuit sitting on the fence between our and our neighbours' gardens, where he likes to sit and torment the neighbours' dog while they are out. She can see him through their kitchen window and goes mad while he sits smugly and safely out of reach.

Kachōfūgetsu - the natural world in Japanese prints

I went to see this exhibition on Sunday at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

"This exhibition explores the illustration of the natural world in Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and books selected from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collection. Birds, insects, fishes, shells and flowers appear in a miscellany of guises. The centrepiece is the trio of books designed by Kitagawa Utamaro (c.1756-1806) on natural themes, known popularly as the ‘Insect Book’, ‘Shell Book’; and ‘Bird Book’. These are generally considered among the masterpieces of book design and printing, and visitors will be able to explore them more fully in a special virtual display. This is also the first chance to see Hokusai’s print, Convolvulus and Tree-frog, recently acquired by the Fitzwilliam with the help of the Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund."

As well as the exquisite Utamaro books the exhibition includes prints by Hiroshige and Hokusai. The Utamaro books are worth seeing on their own and if you are unable to visit the museum you can access the excellent online interactive version, where you can view each book page by page, while clicking on the various notes will transalate the text and identify the birds and animals illustrated. You can also use the interactive display at the museum to do the same thing, as obviously you cannot turn the pages of the real book!

The exhibition is in the Shiba room, gallery 14 until Sunday 17 May. Entry is free.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Sketching Kits

Tulips in coloured pencil

Well my computer seems to be behaving itself again so I'll carry on with the posts about sketching kits I was going to do last week.

First of all, here is the coloured pencil kit I've put together.

Coloured pencil rolls

I couldn't confine myself to just one pencil roll, so I have two, roughly split between warm and cool colours. These are all Prismacolors.

Cp accessories

Next a few accessories - Prismacolor colourless blender and Derwent blender, Prismacolour sharpener, Jakar battery eraser, putty rubber and small metal tin to keep it in, and cotton buds tissue and make up pads in a small ziplock bag.

Cp kit

And here it all is ready to go, two pencil rolls and a pencilcase with accessories. Just need to add asketchbook and it's done. Here I was, thinking I'd get to go out and do some sketching with it, with all the kids at home for Easter, what was I thinking of! So a bit of indoor sketching for now, before i take it on the road.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Computer Problems

Jar of Olives pen and watercolour

I've been having problems all day with my printer, which suddenly doesn't want to come out to play. This has to happen the day before my son's GCSE Art exam, when he needs a load of photos printed for his final piece. I have managed to get it to print from the main pc but it steadfastly refuses to talk to either of our laptops, grrr! So I am feeling frazzled and am only posting an old page from my sketchbook for now.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Cactus Monday

Here is my contribution to Cactus Monday this week. It is a Zebra Plant done in Prismacolor and Faber Castell Polychromos coloured pencil in my A5 Winsor and Newton sketchbook. Hope you like it.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Sketching Kits

My small watercolour sketch kit

Since doing the coloured pencil course last week I have been pondering on a kit to take out and about for plein air sketching in coloured pencil. Up until now I have generally used pen and ink and watercolour in a small Winsor and Newton sketchbook. I very much like this minimalist approach, and can take this small kit in the smallest of handbags or even a coat pocket so it is always to hand.

A coloured pencil kit takes a little more thinking about. Which colours for example? With watercolour it is possible to mix most colours from a basic set of primaries and perhaps a few earth colours, but when I start to look at my cp collection I find it almost impossible to limit myself to just a pencil roll full! During the class I took 120 Prismacolours, 72 Coloursofts, 40 Polychromos and various other Pablos and Derwent Artists and still had to borrow from the teacher because I didn't have the right shade that I needed.
And then what about accessories - sharpener, eraser blender etc? I normally use an electric sharpenern at home as I find the handheld sharpeners don't give such a good point and tend to break the leads (especially the Prismacolors).

Where to start? I decided to have a look at what other artists do. By far the most informative blog posts on this subject (and many others) are those of Katherine Tyrrell.

Katherine Tyrrell's everyday sketching kit

She has written about plein air sketching and sketching in general on her Pastels and Pencils site. There is also a great post about plein air sketching on her Travels with a Sketchbook blog.
Another good source of ideas is the Flickr sketch kits group, but most of the images are of watercolour kits. It seems that there aren't that many artists doing plein air coloured pencil!

I will try putting a kit together and take it for a test run later this week.

EDM 2 Draw lamp

EDM 2 pen and watercolour

This is the second item on the Every Day Matters list, a lamp at our local Chinese restaurant, The Pheonix. I've got a very long way to go to catch up!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Janie Pirie

Janie Pirie SBA

I have just spent the last three days at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens attending a course taught by Janie Pirie. The course was Illustrating fruit and vegetables in coloured pencil and was held over three days this week. The first day was spent watching Janie demonstrate technique and tips and doing practice exercises before starting our finished pieces on the second day, although only few managed to finish by the end of the third day. My unfinished effort is below.

I'm sorry about the quality of the photo, it was taken under artificial light - there will be another pepper to the right of the spring onion when it is finished.

The classroom at the Botanic Gardens

I had a wonderful time and learnt a great deal doing this class. I have attended several courses here but this was the first one in coloured pencil. I would wholeheartedly recommend doing classes like this to anyone as in my opinion it is the best way to improve. You can only learn so much from books and iternet forums (valuable and useful though they are). Janie offered a high level of one to one tuition as well as group demonstrations which I found very valuable.

Janie Pirie is a member of the Society of Botanical Artists and the United Kingdom Pencil Society, you can read more about her on the UKCPS blog.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Cactus Monday

Cape Aloe, Cambridge University Botanical Gardens hothouse, watercolour and ink

I have just joined a Flickr group called Cactus Monday and added the above sketch to the pool. It is not strictly speaking a cactus so I've added another one, a sketch of my conservatory windowsill

Conservatory windowsill, watercolour and ink

Saturday, 21 March 2009

EDM 1 - Draw a shoe

I've decided to make a start on the EDM list at last, although this is a bit of a cheat as it's a sketch I did a couple of weeks ago. I've got a lot of catching up to do!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Moo cards

My Moo cards arrived today, they are so cool!
The one's above are business card size with different pictures of my coloured pencil work on the front and contact details on the back. They are a lovely matte finish and "quality"feel to them, I like them very much and can't wait to start giving them out. They come in a cool little box and I also ordered a Troika card case to keep some in my bag.

I actually think these Moo minicards are even cooler, I've made about 20 different designs from my sketches on Flickr and again ordered a neat little holder.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Warm again

The heating is back on, hooray. Tom is happy to be sleeping in front of a radiator again.

Still in the kitchen

Still no heating or hot water, so still trying to keep warm in the kitchen. This is a sketch I did a while ago when I got a new Winsor and Newton paintbox.

I bought these tulips to cheer me up and forget about being cold.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Kitchen Sink Blues

My house is upside down today and tomorrow as we are having a new boiler fitted. We have no hot water or heating for the next two days so I've retreated to the kitchen in search of warmth!

Monday, 16 March 2009

New Website

Painted Ponies
Coloured Pencil
Copyright Sue Smith

I have a new website for my fine art work, http://sitekreator.com/SueSmith mainly coloured pencil at the moment, but I will add some more soon. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Flowers and plants

Pen and watercolour in Winsor and Newton sketchbook

It's a cold grey day here in the East of England so here are some spring flowers to cheer us up.

Pen and watercolour in Winsor and Newton sketchbook

This perlagonium sits in my front porch windowsill and is the first thing I see when I come in the door.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

More cats

Now that I have managed to add the Imagekind button (thanks to the very kind help of Katherine Tyrrell of Making a Mark), you can see some more cat pictures.

Or you can just see them here.

Coloured Pencil
copyright Sue Smith


Tabby Cat
Coloured Pencil
Copyright Sue Smith


Snow Leopard
Coloured Pencil
Copyright Sue Smith

"Snow Leopard" won The Leisure Painter Award For Newcomers to Coloured Pencil in the 2008 UKCPS Keswick Exhibition.

Cat Photos

Let me introduce the models for my sketches.

Tom in characteristic pose, i.e. about to fall off something.

Biscuit in playful mood.

Both these kittys were adopted. Biscuit came first from the Blue Cross with his brother Felix, a handsome black and white tuxedo cat. Sadly Felix was hit by a car two months later. He joined the various guinea pigs and hamsters buried in the garden. (If we ever sell this house the new owners will be in for a few surprises if they dig up the flower beds). We thought Biscuit was lonely so when we heard of another male cat of similar age was needing rehoming (next stop RSPCA) we took Tom on trial and he made friends with Biscuit straight away.