Creative Lettering Workshop

I have just completed a month’s kourse (sic) on Creative Lettering at Sketchbook Skool taught by Andrea Joseph.  It was enormous fun and I learned a lot of new skills, which I can now develop further through practice. Here is some of my work from the kourse. 

Fitting words into complex shapes. I used the nutrients found in apples and pears to create the form of the fruit. The words near the base of the pear need to follow a deeper curve to better indicate the contours of the fruit. 

Using stationary tools as stencils to create a word. Were I to repeat this exercise, I would  find a way to write a lower case “e” for better rhythm. 

Using different fonts to create a text.  I was surprised how quickly I got the “feel” of a font. The quotation is from an article by Jeannette Winterson entitled “Books, the Universe and Everything” published in a now defunct journal ” Books and Company” (Summer 2000).

Fitting a word / words into a template. This was an initial attempt at using a ballpoint for hatching. I intend to work on this…


Visual puns…



Lettering with highlighters and fluorescent pens.  I also used a metallic liner and black glitter.

We tried our hand at graffiti. There are probably hundreds of graffiti fonts out there.  I was not a fan of graffiti before the course but am much more appreciative of the skills involved now.  I just wish graffiti writers would confine their skills to legitimate surfaces…

We played around with letter stencils, which can be manipulated to create more individual lettering. I will look for some larger letter stencils to explore this further. 

We looked at some different ways to create outlines. Using a self-coloured outline creates a very clean line, as the black lettering below shows. 


We tried out some different ways to create embellishments on our lettering including twirls and lines. 

We used continuous writing to create an illustration.  Were I to draw this again, I would draw the spaghetti a little more fluidy / “loopily”.

And we used continuous / one line writing to create a text. 

I also had a page in my sketchbook on which I had used up some old paint and I used this for a ground for continuous writing.  This was my first attempt and the letters were not of a consistent size at first.  The quotations come from Eliot’s Four Quartets which I was re-reading at the time. 

Am Poppelsdorfer Weiher

School has begun again already! However, Wednesday was beautiful and after a day indoors it was good to get out in the sun. I joined a group of sketchers on the bank of the Poppelsdorfer Weiher (pond) in Bonn, by the bridge.  There were at least a dozen sketchers plus lots of students and families enjoying the evening sun on the grass in front of the Schloss.  While drawing, a woman walked over the bridge with a giant bunch of balloons – I quickly scribbled her into the drawing with a pencil and then developed the figure with ink.  A group of students were playing football just behind us when suddenly we heard a loud  “Entschuldigung!” as their ball came flying through our group of sketchers. Luckily for us it didn’t hit anyone; unluckily for them it went rolling down the bank and into the water!  A couple of young men stared morosely at the ball for a while and then went away. Ten minutes later they were back in their swimming trunks!  With more onlookers on the bridge, they had quite an audience and much laughter and applause as they retrieved their ball.  (Not sure why it took two of them but one went into the water from each side – maybe they thought that one might have to rescue the other one!). I wish that I had tried to sketch them!  These incidental events are one of the joys of sketching outdoors. 


A5 Hahnemühle sketchbook, Pilot G-TEC C4 (0.4 mm) fineliner, HB pencil. 

Ruine Montfort

This old ruin is in the middle of nowhere.  The nearest public transport is a good 5 km away so I had to plan a hike between distant busstops that would take me past this old castle.  It was a gorgeous day – clear blue sky and around 25 degrees C – a perfect walking day with a sunhat.  On the way there, when just a few hundred metres away, the road was suddenly closed  for forestry work, I had to reroute through the forest and find another way.  I got lost in the forest which added another hour and 3-4 km to the walk. All the way there, more than two hours’ walking,  I did not meet another soul although I could hear the foresters at a distance.  I ate my sandwiches in the ruined castle and then looked around. It has been made safe for visitors and has marvellous views of the surrounding countryside. A new spiral staircase took me up to the ramparts from where I drew the first drawing, which gives an idea of the layout.  Near the top right hand corner of this drawing is where I sat to draw the next one. 

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The local stone is sandstone, red and grey types. Some of the stone is covered with the most brilliant yellow lichen – I saw this elsewhere in the area but cannot recall coming across such extensive yellow lichen anywhere else. In bright sunlight, it was a joyous sight. While I was drawing, I could smell smoke – someone nearby was having an illegal barbecue just below the walls out of sight…

The Altenbaumburg in Altenbamberg

On an overcast and humid day, I persuaded myself that I needed exercise and I walked from Bad Münster am Stein to Altenberg, the nearest village on the Alsenz river, a tributary of the Nahe.  I walked through forest most of the way and then along a road up the steepest part of the hill (only 3-4 km altogether). The Altenbaumburg is a ruin although a part of the castle has been maintained and serves as a restaurant.  There are good 180+ degree views of the village Altenbamberg, below, and of the surrounding countryside. The ruin is overgrown (living up to its name which literally means “old tree castle”) but there are paths up, down and through it and some steps. Lots of kids running around – plenty to investigate. I ate my sandwiches in a grassy corner while looking at these steps:

There is a bridge that connects the castle, which is on its own “mound”, with the neighbouring forest.  From the other side of the bridge, I drew the next view.  I have overdone the foliage, which was as varied as the drawing suggests but I need to work on my mark-making-for-foliage skills.  I worked in a hurry because the weather forecast had predicted rain and possibly a storm and it certainly looked that way but, in the end, the weather remained dull and sultry – sticky headache weather. 

There is another castle ruin on the next hill, according to the map, and so I looked for this.  It turned out to be even more overgrown than the Altenbaumburg and, although I found some steps leading up above the foundations, they seemed to lead into brambles which may well have extended over the entire surface and I decided to leave well alone.  There was nothing interesting to see from the path just beneath. The view from the top of the hill included a good one of the hourly train, which I had just missed so when I arrived down below, I decided to draw a view of the village and wait for the next one rather than walking back in the balmy heat.  

Churches in central Rheinland-Pfalz often have towers somewhere between a straight spire and the Zwiebeltürme (“onion towers”) found in Bayern.  I just found space for the tower of the catholic church of St. Maria Gebürt & St. Mauritius.  The protestant church is almost next door but out of range of the drawing.  A drawing containing both would have been good because they are such different architectural styles but I am not sure that there would be a safe place to sit /stand to do this. The small circular structure on the right-hand side is an old wine press, a commonly-seen object in this wine-growing region. 

Recent drawings from along the Nahe river

I have just spent two weeks in Bad Münster am Stein beside the Nahe river in Rheinland Pfalz. This was my first trip to the region but definitely not the last.  Bad Münster has been a spa resort for just over a century and has mostly grown up since then as a modern but still small town with relatively few older buildings.  However, its character stems from its setting in a narrow gorge between dramatic and beautiful sandstone rocks, which limit the town’s size.  Most recent development has occurred in Ebernburg, the town that lies just across the river. The Nahe is at its wildest here with a series of bends providing a range of vistas, small weirs and rapids, interpersed with calmer sections of water. Herons and cormorants fish here and electric blue and turquoise dragonflies flit through the orchids that grow wild on the river banks.  The high rocks gradually become rolling hills in the surrounding area, on which lie vineyards.  The Nahe valley is a major producer of white wine, especially Riesling, in Germany.  

My drawings focused mainly on the many wonderful old ruins to be found in the area.  They were drawn with a fineliner and coloured using stubs of Derwent’s Aquatone watercolour sticks. This has been my go-to travel watercolour set for some time and is a really lightweight and compact paint set (it fits in a piece of polystyrene in a cough sweet tin) but I intend to switch to half-pans in order to change my colour range and make it easier to lather up the paint.

Burg Rheingrafenstein lies above the Nahe above the town of Bad Münster am Stein.  It can be reached by taking a ferry and then walking up a fairly steep path through forest.  The path becomes a winding set of steps – hard work but worth it for the glorious view from the top.  This drawing was made looking up from across the river, while a cormorant fished nearby.  There is also a very good icecream kiosk just there. 

From the balcony of my apartment, I could see the rocks further along the river.  The highest point is called the Bastei (ancient artillery fortification) and it is possible to walk along quite a long section of the cliffs, with marvellous views of the two towns and river below and the hills way beyond.  I drew the rock face at different times of day.  This one drawn mid-morning had the best value contrasts and best represents the magnitude and drama of the rocks.

This is a view from the balcony in the other direction.  Apart from the road and rail bridge, a second pedestrian bridge includes a sheltered seating area  (the odd “mushroom” in the drawing) from where one of the wilder sections of the river can be admired.  At this point, a second river, the Alsenz, enters the Nahe.  On warm days, it is a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the view and a cool breeze.  

An information board explains that JMW Turner painted here.  Here is a first and second link to Turner’s paintings of this area, both of which are in the Tate Gallery in London.  I feel slightly embarrassed placing my own work alongside Turner’s …..

One day, I began a walk from a village called Odernheim-am-Glan.  The Glan river is another tributary of the Nahe. As I got off the bus, I saw this wonderful old mill beside a weir and sat down to draw it. 

Another drawing from the balcony…this time looking straight ahead across the river to the the small town of Ebernburg.  In order to practise continuous drawing, I tried to draw the rooftops without lifting my pen from the paper too often. Hence, a somewhat wonky drawing…

In the centre of the neighbouring spa town of Bad Kreuznach is this splendid old bridge, complete with a house in the middle of it!  The bridge is currently being renovated – the entire structure beneath the house must be renewed bit by bit! 

Transforming old drawings using mixed media (2)

I am so into this process that I tried again on a larger scale. A couple of days ago I found a life drawing in an A3 sketchbook that I had drawn a few months ago. I didn’t much like it – in particular, the head seemed too small and I am never too happy with the way I draw feet!  I have really liked some of the blue images painted and drawn by some other students on my course that I decided to paint the figure with cobalt blue acrylic paint. I was not sure where I wanted to go next with it and so left it for the time being. This morning, while on an internet diversion, I came across the poetry of Mary Szybist and read a poem of hers called Happy Ideas.  The poem contains wonderful imagery including a reference to a “blue soul” so I knew immediately the direction that I wanted to take with my blue figure. I began by writing out the poem in full and then added excerpts from the poem that rang true for me and some of the imagery, too. It is not a finished image – I may add some text in dark blue, or stamping, to the orange space at bottom left, which seems a bit empty. 

I would love to be in a class or group using a particular poem as a starting point. The poem would have to speak to everyone, of course. It would be fascinating to see how others might interpret a single poem through imagery. 
The process:

The initial life drawing – the neck is too long, the head too small – overall odd!

Cobalt blue paint over the  figure, adjusting the head size. Next, text was added (see above).  The poem refers to a pair of blue velvet shoes and these were added spontaneously – not sure I like them – might re-draw them because they are a rather odd shape or might look for an interesting pair to add as a collage element.  The poem is the starting point for the image but it can diverge and become something else.  The poem has one life, the image another. 

I selected particular lines from the poem that touched a chord and wrote these out on the surface of the blue figure (and later around the figure, too.

As a next step I used emulsion base (gesso-like) and brushed and rubbed this over the surface around the figure. The text still shows through in places. After it was dry,  I added some “blue globes”, direct imagery from the poem and placed dots of acrylic paint in cadmium yellow pale, cadmium orange and deep yellow in the space around the figure and blended them thickly using the emulsion base.  While the paint was still wet, I stamped into it and applied the wet stamp elsewhere in the image to create some texture around the figure without detracting from it. I repainted the head and tried to find a way to convey the sense of a face using the title of the poem. I may work further on this image but for now…

Transforming old drawings using mixed media (1)

I have long admired mixed media pages but I have never really been happy with my own efforts.  In the last week of the Polishing Kourse (Sketchbook Skool), our tutor was Juliana Coles. Our homework was to take a drawing that we didn’t like and to transform it through layering.  The essential stages were …

  • writing – responding to a prompt
  • emphasising / selecting words from our text 
  • painting in acrylic or gouache 
  • adding collage
  • mark-making (e.g. writing, stenciling, drawing, stamping…)
  • reconciliation (finding ways to connect layers, finding personal meaning in a piece)

This was so much fun and once I had begun, it was just intuitive  – try this, try that. I began with a pencil “portrait” drawn a few weeks ago, which I didn’t like. 

As a first step, I outlined the figure in black acrylic ink, painted the hair with blue ink, painted the face and wrote a text on the left hand page that responded to the question “why do I draw?”. I then gessoed (see note on gesso below) over the text and carved lines through it. I added some lines to the opposite page with a broad spatula with a toothed edge, as well as a few gold stars.

I wanted to “lose” the text as well as some of the intensitivity of the colour and so masked the lines….

…. and then added more gesso which I rubbed into the surface with a paper towel to allow some of the colour through but more subdued. I did not like the face and hair so used more gold stars, this time as stencils and gessoed over them, removing them quickly before the paint dried.

Finally I stamped over the image with a homemade stamp and  added a few stencilled words from my original text and stamped a few circles of different sizes. This left me with the problem of the head which the process had emphasized more than concealed.  I looked through my collage collection and found a face from a magazine, which I had already separated into its features.  This seemed to work with the other elements of the image and eliminated the dominance of blue hair. A little warm yellow paint was added to brighten and balance the red.

The red is more dominant than I would usually choose but when we become absorbed in process we make decisions more intuitively and we may never have imagined the outcome!  This exercise has taught me something about working in layers and enabled flow such I could let go of the end result.  I am pleased with the final image.  

That’s it…. for now!  But maybe the process never ends…

Regarding gesso: I have taken to using paint used to create a base for household emulsion paint rather than gesso, it is a type of acrylic paint and so brushes can be cleaned in water. It is thicker (can be thinned with water) and also cheaper than gesso.