“Art Before Breakfast” by Danny Gregory

Art Before Breakfast smDanny Gregory’s new book has more in common with “The Creative Licence”, one of his first books about creative freedom.

It isn’t really divided up into chapters or sections. Instead each page, or double-spread, offers of suggested drawing subject, or idea, to get your inspiration flowing.

It starts with a handful of very loose drawing lessons. Well, short drawing activities, really. Danny isn’t concerned with teaching the technicalities of drawing. But he is concerned with illustrating to you how easy it is to draw. How easy it is to find something to draw.

The rest of the book is a series of short prompts and thoughts on different subjects; from water-soluble pens to drawing unsuspecting people,  drawing what you eat (Yey!) to drawing top tens.

Untitled-1Untitled-2The cover reveals that this book is for busy people and it certainly is written for those too busy to pore over a long-winded art manual. Danny’s short prompts are brief and succinct, but  still powerful. his message is clear; draw little and often. No matter what skill level you feel you are at. That doesn’t really matter. Starting that daily habit of drawing, even for just ten minutes a day, can have a profound, positive effect – can lead to a richer, more fulfilling life.

This book would be a welcome addition to anyone who draws or who is thinking about drawing, at any level of proficiency. It is always welcome to be guided by skilled practitioners and to have so many bite-sized guides accompanied by Danny’s illustrations (demonstrating his economy of line and bravura colours) is a handy, pocket-sized guide.

159 pages

“The Sketchnote Handbook” by Mike Ronde

Journaling - The Sketchnote Handbook smA journalling book in all but name!

I bought Mike Rohde’s book  initially because I like the idea of making practical, illustrative notes in meetings. Once I sat and started to pour over Mike’s book, however, the more I realised that, essentially, this book is a guide to speedy .

Okay, it’s not exactly journalling. Mike’s sketch note idea is one of making very visual, and visually engaging, notes during meetings. Notes which can include character drawings, diagrams, bubble and 3D writing – radial paths and linear paths, modular like a comic strip or explosions of ideas like a spider-diagram. The book covers a wide range of ideas and many, many examples throughout of ways to make note-taking and enjoyable and rewarding experience.

For the casual note-taker this might seem like a radical change in note-taking direction.

To the sketcher and journal writer; I would say that this book offers a great many ideas for how your sketchbook or journal can be brought to further life through note-taking.

Untitled-11. What are sketchnotes? – In which Mike explains his frustration with traditional linear note-taking and some examples are given off sketchnotes ion practice.

2. Why sketchnote? – In which it is explained how one becomes totally focussed when creating visual notes (But us sketchers knew this already)

3. Listen up! – In which the secret keys to listening are revealed


Untitled-1m4. The sketchnoting process – In which we discover Mike’s seven steps in a sketch noting process.

5. Types of sketch notes – In which we are shown different patterns of layout for sketchnotes.

6. Sketchnoting approaches, hierarchy, and personalisation – In which we find out different ways to sketchnote, some ideas about structure and how to make it personal to you.

7. Sketch noting skills and techniques – In which we are shown ways to letter, ways to frame and a variety of sketching tips to quickly capture figures and objects.

205 pages


“Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon

Creativity - Show your work smAustin’s first book, “Steal Like an Artist”, looked at the fundamental How of being creative.

This book looks at the How of sharing that creativity and, perhaps, maybe, getting discovered (Like that rare lump of gold that you know you are!)

Once again, this is a book about being brave. If you’ve read Austin’s first book then you’re braved your inner voice to work on your own creativity. Now you can give that nagging inner voice something new to nag you about, by displaying your creative work to the wider, world-wide, audience.

Austin doesn’t give specific examples of which platforms to use. But, then, that’s not the point of the book. Austin’s not concerned whether you use Twitter or tumbr, hashtags or Myspace (and, yes, I did choose Myspace on purpose!) He’s more concerned with getting the reader into the right frame of mind. You want to share your creativity, properly share your work to world, then you’re going to have to face that inner voice again, this time on the world’s stage.

Untitled-1Untitled-2So, Austin’s next set of Ten Things;

1. You don’t have to be a genius – Instead; tap into the creative group

2. Think process. Not product – Share your creative process with others

3. Share something small every day – Sending out a daily dispatch

4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities – Don’t hoard, share.

show-your-work-list-poster-760px-500x6655. Tell good stories – Don’t expect your work to speak for itself.

6. Teach what you know – Share your trade secrets.

7. Don’t turn into human spam – Don’t turn into a name to be traded up – you need to be involved in the communities you fly with

8. Learn to take a punch – Be ready to take the goo, the bad and the ugly comments once your work is out there in the world.

9. Sell out – Don’t starve to death because of pride or because of the Romantic notion of ‘the starving artist’

10. Stick around – There will be ups and downs – don’t desert your carnival stall, just because there are a few less customers at the moment.

(Now, I know some of my chapter explanations are a little bit wishy-washy, but I don’t want to give Austin’s whole book away. As I wrote about his previous book “Steal Like an Artist” Austin writes in such an easy going, matter of fact and downright down to Earth way that one cannot help but be bowled over by his logic)


“Manage Your Day-to-Day” edited by Jocelyn K. Glei

manage your day to day smSome of my favourite types of books about creativity are the ones which help foster the creative spirit. Books like Danny Gregory’s “The Creative License” for example. I’ve noticed that the life of a creative, especially a freelance one, can be quite a lonely and unforgiving one. With a work day in which one is locked away from the rest of the world, in which it is all too easy to become distracted by other things in life. It’s good to get advise about how to get into the creative mindset. Almost into a spiritual mindset about creating.

Manage Your Day-to-Day is written by a group of creatives who share their insights into a variety of modern problems which may beset you in your creative path.

Chapters are written by a variety of creative alumni; Seth Godin, Stefan Sagmeister, Tony Schwartz, Gretchen Rubin, Dan Ariely, Linda Stone, Steven Pressfield and others.

Each of these ‘Chapters’ is broken into five ‘sub-chapters’ written by a range of different creatives covering different elements of

IMG_6496– Building a rock solid routine – How to develop a structure to your working practice and how to build that into a regular rhythm. and driving with a purpose.

– Finding focus in a distracted world – How to focus your attention on work that matters, rather than being distracted by work that doesn’t really matter.

– Taming your tools – Taking control of new technologies, so that ease workflow and increase your well-being.

– Sharpening your creative mind – How to push through creative blocks and keep moments of creative spark … er … sparking.

– Coda: A call to action – On taking things to the next level; how pro are you willing to go?

IMG_6495Some books have so few ideas in them, maybe one or two good ideas. But this one bristles with ideas on every page. Fantastic, practical ideas for your creative life, written by those who have worked through to that next level. Who are passing on their received wisdom of the creative life.

253 pages

“The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook” by Gordon Mackenzie

Watercolourists Essential Notebook smAnother lovely guide to painting with watercolour.

There are practically no photographs in Gordon’s book. But it’s cartoonish style makes the book feel friendly and approachable. As a result it makes the perfect kind of book to pick up and dip into. You’re sure to find some interesting nugget. Gordon doesn’t lay down any hard and fast rules, as such, but more general information to help expand your creative process.

Gordon seems to excel in the wet-in-wet process and many of his paintings within this book demonstrate his skill in painting natural subjects such as foliage and natural shadow effects.


IMG_64391 – Tools of the trade – Gordon looks at the different forms of watercolour paints, brushes, paper, palettes and other materials.

2 – Painting techniques – In which Gordon looks at various ways of applying paint (with brushes and with other tools) and how the paint interacts with water. He discusses washes and glazes and the process of fading out.

3 – Putting your composition together – By far this is the largest section in Gordon’s book. Where he discusses the various elements which come together when creating piece . Amongst other things he looks at subject, movement, values, colour schemes and negative areas. He also looks at different ways of IMG_6440approaching the composition and how intuition can work in tandem with planning. Lastly there is a section in this part of the book which looks at saving compositions from various problems.

A lovely book to use as both a reference book and to just to browse.

144 pages

“Essential Watercolor” by Birgit O’Connor

Watercolor essentials smThere’re such a wide range of books and guides about mastering watercolours and of course, I can only speak of those books which I have particularly enjoyed myself. (By which I’m not implying any mastery of watercolour at all! Quite the opposite – I still feel I have so much to learn)

Watercolour tutorial books tend to have the same format; guiding you through materials and then techniques and Birgit’s book as comprehensive as you need.

Materials – Birgit looks at all the usual paraphernalia that one needs to paint with.

Color – In this section Birgit looks at the vast array of colours which can mixed, as well has basic techniques for manipulating colour. She looks at creating washes and how to take advantage of blossoming.

Watercolor essentials 01Value – This is one of my favourite parts of Birgit’s book, as she demonstrates how to create subtle transitions between areas of colour. (To be honest this is probably my favourite section because I feel I need to learn from this section the most; creating a gradual change in value is one of the trickier aspects of watercolour painting, as far as I’m concerned)

The guidance which Birgit gives is accompanied by exercises which you can follow alongside Birgit to practice and develop your skill at creating value gradation in your own work.

Watercolor essentials 02Techniques – This is, by far, the largest section in the book and where Birgit Guides you through about twelve techniques for creating effects. Such as using salt and masking fluid.

Each technique is accompanied by several exercises to flex your technique-muscles.

Applying The Techniques – In this final section, Birgit demonstrates several of the techniques from the previous section in a series of paintings.

One thing I love about this particular guidebook are the wealth of photographs. Each individual technique has something like 12 photographs of Birgit demonstrating. It almost feels as if your standing over her shoulder whilst she guides you.

The accompanying DVD helps fill in even further: Birgit covers the same information as in the first four sections of the book. The techniques section could have done with it’s own DVD sub menu to allow quick recaps of the various techniques shown. Although not all the book is presented within the DVD, over half of the book’s material is presented on the DVD (The contents page of the book clearly shows which subjects are presented on the DVD).

It’s certainly nice to see her techniques in action and it makes the book come alive even more.

127 pages

The Sketchbook Project 2015

Sletchbook Project 2015 smI’m nothing if not persistent.

My little sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project 2015 arrived today.

And how delighted am I?

This year!

This year I going to finally complete the darned thing and be able to send it back so it can go on a darned tour!

You see, this is the fourth year in a row that I’ve received a Sketchbook Project sketchbook  and for three of those years the sketchbook has sat, unfulfilled.

Well, that’s not actually, entirely true …

The Sketchbook Project

This fascinating project is run out of the Brooklyn Art Library. Since 2006 thousands of artists from all over the world have joined in, submitting little sketchbooks for an annual world tour.

Little sketchbooks full of all manner of illustration, painting, collage and what not.

sketchbook projectAll apart from mine, which have sat on my bookshelf.

I came across this exciting project in 2011 and joined the upcoming 2012 Sketchbook Project.

I even wrote about it on this here blog – all excited-like.

My overly ambitious project was to sketch places in Yorkshire of significance to myself and write a little about them.

Ambitious because Yorkshire is one of the biggest counties in England. Okay, okay, I know it’s not like driving across Texas, or the Russian Steppes, but it can sometimes be tricky to fit county tours in with work and visiting relatives.

So I failed to complete my little book.

Sketchbook Project 2012 smI did get close to completing several of the pictures, but when it began to be obvious that I wouldn’t be able to complete them all in time for the deadline I kind of lost heart.

One of the things I noticed about the project was the sense of letting go.

Quite often our sketchbooks are very precious things. Now, I’m not so precious that people have to wear silk gloves when handling them, nor do they have to wash their hands before turning the page. but I do draw the line at licking the pages.

Anyway, I digress. A couple of years ago I bought Keri Smith’s wonderful book “Wreck this Journal”; which is all about ‘letting go’. Sketching and drawing and creating art … and then destroying and/or damaging it as you go along. Very counter-intuitive, but a wonderful, freeing lesson.

Sketchbook Project 2012 brighouse sm

Brighouse – which is a little market town close to where I live.

I think I’m in a much better position to work on and complete my Sketchbook Project book this time.

(Either that or I can epically fail once again!)



“Urban Watercolor Sketching” by Felix Scheinberger

This book is such a treat!

Urban Watercolor Sketching smAlex Scheinberger approaches sketching with such energy and vibrancy that it’s hard not to get carried along on a journey through rediscovering drawing and painting in an exhilarating and refreshing way.

Essentially the book is Alex’s take on various aspects of water colouring. While it doesn’t particular cover anything groundbreaking, the way Alex approaches the various ideas are exciting and fresh.

It is a delightful book, packed with all manner of dazzlingly coloured sketches.

The book is divided into sections which consist of about ten or so chapters


Intro – Looks at the basics of paint; what it is

First attempts – Covers various techniques with paints and inks

Excursion in colour theory – Looks at where colours come from and how the watercolorist can manipulate them in various ways

Your own style – How to find your own style

Basics/tools – Looks at the various tools needed to Urban Sketch

Out and about – How to Urban Sketch in different atmospheric and weather conditions

Tips and tricks – A whole slew of practical tips. from how to ‘Undo’ mistakes, to ‘How much is your picture worth?’, to ‘Working with colored paper’

Urban Watercolor Sketching 01 Urban Watercolor Sketching 02

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in sketching and painting from life.

154 pages